Independent Travelers – An Exceptional Dining Experience in Pulignano a Mare, Puglia, Southern Italy

“Honey, I still don’t see any action in the restaurant!”

We were sitting on the balcony of our hotel high above the Adriatic with a view directly into a large, empty, open air restaurant built in a cave which was also high above the crashing surf. For experienced independent travelers we were getting a little concerned. Did we just make a big leap of faith on a good friend’s recommendation to go to this isolated location for an exceptional dining experience?

The Journey of Faith and a Twinge of Adventure

After a 3 ½ hour long, uneventful drive from Positano on the west coast of Italy to Pulignano a Mare on the east coast of Italy we arrived at this ancient village located several miles below Bari. We rarely plan a one night visit as it is against the ‘mantra of slow travel” but this was a very special restaurant and hotel highly recommended by our friend who lives in Milan. With adventure in mind, we made the exception.

We arrived in the middle of “riposo”, or “nap time”, so this small town was literally closed up for a quiet period. One of the telltale clues were the single chairs in front of the doorways. In this southern part of Italy the chair’s orientation sends the message of ‘do not disturb’ if their backs face the street and If their backs face the doorway, then a guest is welcomed… simple but effective.

We had time to spend since our room was not available so we toured this very old fishing village and came across a World War II Memorial that had fresh flowers and an American flag! The town still remembers the American Troops that helped to liberate it back in the day.

The Hotel and Restaurant

Pulignano a Mare was settled in prehistoric times and is believed to be the site of the ancient Greek city of Neapolis of Apulia. Today one of the main attraction is the Hotel Ristorante Grotta Palazzese which is considered one of the most romantic in the world. It has 25 rooms of quality and uniqueness with spacious, arched ceiling accommodations built into the solid limestone rock. The beautiful dining area has been hosting the local nobility since the 700’s and the fortunate visitors since.

Our room would soon be ready so we parked the car and went in search of a wine merchant to buy a bottle of local wine to enjoy in our room before dinner… it is one of our traditions. That would not happen. Nothing was open.

We returned to the hotel and explained to the hotel manager, in our best Italian, that we had been out looking for a nice bottle of wine and he was puzzled… “Why would anyone search for a bottle of wine outside the hotel if we have wine here that we would be happy to deliver?” Well, OK, that was logical and in a few minutes a bottle of sparkling wine, in an ice bucket, with two glasses arrived on a silver tray. So we sat on our stone balcony watching the waves crash 100 feet below on the side of the hotel, anticipating a fabulous dining experience.

The Dining Experience versus Anxiety

So, now it is close to our 9:00 pm reservation time. We are dressed and still looking towards a dark restaurant. This is silly… we are now really hungry and we know it would be all but impossible to find somewhere else to eat. We might have to dip into our road rations of Chez-its and Goldfish crackers!

We poured another glass of wine and began to feel a little anxious and discussed a Plan B (Snack Food and Asti Spumante). To the refrains of… “I’m sorry… I hope this doesn’t turn out to be a bust”.

At that moment we suddenly see a dark figure walking amongst the empty tables. A candle is lit, then another, and then another! Soft lights appear as do more waiters in white gloves and tuxedos adjusting table linens and silverware. There is LIFE!

At Last… Dinner in a Grotto

Having been ready for over an hour, we bolt out the door, walk around the entire hotel, finding the obscure entrance, hurrying down a narrow flight of stairs to beat the crowd just off an Italian tour bus and finding that our reservation was intact. The restaurant is in a cave. The ceilings and walls are rock. You can feel the fresh, salty air wafting in. It was truly magical.

We were led to a beautiful table on the side against a railing that was at least 100 ft above a surging ocean in the dramatically lit grotto.

And now dinner begins.

First we ordered a beautiful white Italian wine, Fiano de Avellino Fenli Disen Gregorio… and they started us with an appetizer of smoked, lightly breaded shrimp plus marinated cucumbers and radishes complimented it with a glass of Asti Spumonti.

The waiter spoke a bit of English but wanted to speak very fast Italian. He was rushing us and, in my best performance, I said, “scusi, lentamente per favore!” (slow down, please!) and we were good for the rest of the meal. Don’t let the servers rush the meal. They truly believe that Americans want to eat and run. Not us. We want to savor every bite.

And so we continue with Mare di Adriatico, (a seafood medley from the waters of the Adriatic), artichoke crab cakes, Sea Bass Carpaccio, Linguini a Mare, Ravioli a Mare, octopus in tomato sauce, each one better than the other. Every plate we ordered seemed to be delivered with a complimentary dish we did not order! And a never empty glass of the sparkling wine.

When it was time for the main dish, a beautiful whole sea bass, skinned and filleted at the table, we could only taste a small portion. There was simply no more room in our stomachs. Then they brought biscotti and lemon sorbet.

Basta Finito… Enough, we are FINISHED! A true dining experience in true Southern Italian style… the restaurant was still seating at midnight!

The next morning upon checking out we found that the meal was included in the price of the room… the wine was extra so our meal came to about $40.

We rank this exceptional meal as one of our TOP TEN dining experiences and It was certainly worth the drive across Italy… now we are off to Rome!

Travel Journals – Take Your Imagination on Vacation

Travel journals are supposed to be fun. We use them to capture our travel experiences on paper, so we never forget our journeys to places around the globe.

Are you and your travel journal getting along? Are you bored with it? Perhaps when you got home after a long trip, you fell out of love with your faithful companion. Now facing another trip, you are tempted to leave the trip diary at home.

This is a simple case of writer’s block. Writers experience boredom all the time. It is so common, that there are hundreds thousands of books and exercises that writers use to get themselves back on track.

If you are looking for ways to spice up your travel journal, here are some ideas.

Get a new trip journal. Select one that feels good. Does it bring you pleasure? Is the cover pleasing? Run your fingers along the pages. Do they have the right texture and weight? Does the journal fit you?

Pack your favorite pen. Write in your journal before you leave home to make sure the pen feels good on the pages. Bring a spare pen.

Show, don’t tell. It’s perfectly fine to say, “Today I saw the Eiffel Tower.” If you want to spice it up a bit, try something like this, “A sparkling blue sky shined through the lattice of the Eiffel Tower.”

Use your senses. We tend to write what we see, such as “saw the Washington Monument.” What we hear is the next most frequently used sense. If you were kept awake by a barking dog or a clanging elevator, write that down. Food is a big part of travel, so describe new taste sensations.

Touch and smell are often overlooked. When you held a local craft, what did it feel like? What did the air smell like? Smell is especially important because our memories are easily triggered by odor-even if we are just remembering the scent.

Describe your feelings. The world is filled with amazing sites. When you see something, how does it make you feel? Jot down your emotions. Record them even if you are disappointed. Perhaps you were looking forward to seeing the Liberty Bell, but someone stepped on your foot.

Play with words. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway wrote a story using only six words: “For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” Although there is no proof that this notion came from Hemmingway, the six-word memoir is now popular. Try writing a six-word memoir every day you travel or one summarizing the entire trip.

Try stream of consciousness. This is when you write down anything that pops into your head. Do not censor anything as this clogs the process. Imagine looking at the Statue of Liberty. Write down anything that comes to mind, for instance, “green, big, windy, postcard, people from all over the world.” Without writing a complete sentence, you can capture the moment.

Make a gratitude list. If you are not sure about what to write, keep a gratitude list in your travel journal. By listing those things for which you are thankful, you focus on the highlights of the trip. Moreover, gratitude helps us maintain our perspective.

Travel journals are more than precious keepsakes. They add depth to our journeys and help us to see the world with new eyes. Have fun with your trip diary. Once the creative juices are flowing again, it is like falling in love.

Tips on Finding the Best Corporate Travel Agency

Have you heard of deals for discount first class airfare? You might wonder how “discount” and “first class” can be in one phrase when talking about air travel. It is possible to get affordable deals while getting the same first class treatment. If you are finding it difficult to believe, you might not be looking at the right places. You can get your way around soaring prices through simple techniques. Most people who have gone on first class flights follow these simple steps:

Reserve your seats early.

Airline companies offer tickets in lower price range if you reserve your seats one or two months prior to your planned flight. As there are fewer seats in the first class section, you might easily run out of available seats.

First class seats are more comfortable and have additional benefits unlike the business and economy class. There are more legroom, large reclining seats, a mini-bar, workstations, personal television, and sparkling clean lavatory when you travel first class. Comfort and privacy are common reasons why some people choose first class seats. You do not have to be wealthy to experience all of these, as some airlines offer affordable promotions during off-season.

You may quickly book your tickets through online travel websites. On the day of your trip, you can head straight to a special check-in counter for the first class section.

Compare prices.

Go online and check the prices airlines offer. They will have varying prices when it comes to first class flights. Carefully check the benefits you will get from each flight and decide which will be a more cost-effective option. Never settle for the deals they advertise. There might be hidden charges so make sure to inform yourself well on the packages they offer. Contact the customer service for clarifications on specific deals. It is not enough to rely on your own research, especially when you are new to purchasing first class tickets.

Be a member of travel websites.

You may get notifications or newsletters for discount first class airfare when you sign up on travel websites. As a member, you are the first to know when the airline cancels a flight. You may also get exclusive deals during holiday seasons.

Hire a corporate travel agent.

Travel agents can book you for a discount first class airfare whenever you need to travel. They can negotiate more affordable deals and take care of the necessary paperwork. Most people who go for first class are business executives who want a more comfortable flight experience. They hire a corporate travel agent to help them maximize corporate discounts.

If you are worried you might spend so much on your luxurious flight, a corporate travel agent can help organize a budget for you. They can also find discounts for hotel accommodations and car rentals. If you experience problems with your flight, they can assist you with rescheduling.

Knowing these techniques can help you get better deals on any type of airline travel.