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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Stop in Naples for Pizza and Caravaggio

On the way down to Amalfi Coast, we stopped for an afternoon in Naples to wait for our friends to arrive at the train station. We left our bags in Left Luggage and walked straight to the pizza joint Elizabeth Gilbert went gaga over in "Eat, Pray, Love," L'antica Pizzeria da Michele Forcella. There's close to 1000 pizza places in Naples, often referred to as the birthplace of pizza, and Michele Forcella make's everyone's Top 10 list, from the Guardian to Yelp. We took a number, waited about 30 minutes with a mix of locals and travelers and then were squeezed into a long table in the last room. You have only two choices, margherita, with a fresh dollop of mozzarella or marinara, tomato sauce only with oregano and garlic. We ordered one of each (Gilbert ordered the double mozzarella in her book) and waited as the pizza come out of the wood-fired oven at breakneck speed. Each of the thin-crust pizzas, which come whole, not sliced, were delicious. But if I went back I'd go with Gilbert's order. The cheese was so fresh, it made each bite sublime. 

We had a couple hours to kill so we wandered the bustling streets of the city, walking past university students at a college before coming upon a handful of restaurants all with the artist Caravaggio in their names. I turned to Lisa and said there must be something by Caravaggio somewhere around here. Lisa went online and quickly realized that we were standing directly in front of a church, Pio Monte della Misericordia, that was home to one his seminal works, The Seven Works of Mercy (1607). We bought tickets and then went inside to see this impressive painting, one of his largest works. Caravaggio arrived in Naples in 1606, after fleeing Rome when he killed a man in a brawl. Luigi Carafa-Colonna, a nobleman who was a member of this congregation, protected the artist after he fled from Rome and then commissioned Caravaggio to execute what would be one of his great masterpieces. The painting depicts the seven works of corporal mercy to which the activities of Pio Monte were dedicated: give drink to the thirsty, bury the dead, house pilgrims, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry and comfort the sick. In Rome and Florence, we would see Caravaggio's best works with crowds of other admirers. Here in Naples, we had the place to ourselves. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/23/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, October 22, 2018

Strolling Florence’s Oltrarno Neighborhood

To escape the crowds in Florence, all you have to do is cross over the Arno into the far more residential Oltrarno neighborhood. Walking the narrow streets, I spotted a child being picked up at school by her grandfather and scooped onto the front of his bike to ride home. We found a wonderful row of boutique shops just off the Palazzo Pitti on Sdrucciolo dei Pitti and then wandered into a massive church, Santo Spirito, where a crucifix created by Michelangelo at the age of 18 still hangs. The highlight was a stop Lisa vividly remembered from studying abroad in Florence over three decades ago, the Brancacci Chapel. Inside this off-the-beaten-track church is one of Western art's most important works, the fresco by artists Masaccio and Masolino (started in 1383), most importantly Masaccio's Expulsion of Adam and Eve. The figures in this work reflect light, giving them a sculptural presence as Masaccio was one of the first artists to use single-point perspective. We ended our day with dinner at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, a wonderful restaurant suggested by our friend, Nina. The bruschetta was overflowing with ripe tomatoes and garlic and my tender veal scaloppini was covered with eggplants and peppers, all washed down with good Sangiovese wine. Perfecto! 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/22/18 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, October 19, 2018

Climbing the Duomo in Florence

We chose to stay at Hotel L'Orologio in Florence, an easy 5-minute walk from the train station and just as close to the Duomo. It's located at Santa Maria Novello, a quiet piazza overlooking the historic 14th-century picturesque church (worth a visit to see the wonderful cloisters in the back). We dropped our bags off in our spacious room and then walked over to the Duomo where the crowds were immense, even in October. There was a long line, at least an hour long to enter this grand building, the cornerstone of the city. Thankfully, we had already purchased timed tickets to climb to the top of the dome. I can't recommend this enough. Not only do you gain entrance to the Duomo by skipping the line, you climb the twisting stairs (463 steps) for an up-close view of Brunelleschi's crowning achievement, built between 1420 and 1436 and an architectural feat to this day. It's breathtaking to see the interior of the dome so close and to look at Giorgio Vasari's frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572-9), including many ghastly looking devils. An added bonus was the chance to walk outside and get a panoramic view of the entire city. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/19/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Villa La Massa, The Ideal First Stop in Italy

After the overnight flight to Rome and a 2-hour train to Florence, we took a taxi to our hotel for the first two nights, Villa La Massa. Only 7 km or a 20-minute drive from the crowds of Florence, this 16th-century former Medici family estate feels a world away. You're whisked away to a serene setting in the Tuscan hills along the Arno River. Rooms are spacious with tall ceilings and glorious panorama views. We took a short stroll under the tall cypress trees and past the herb and veggie gardens before wandering along the Arno shoreline watching men fish and families bike. Then we had our first negroni and aperol spritz of the trip on the patio next to the outdoor pool. Dinner was also perfection, beef tenderloin with porcini mushrooms, washed down with local wines and served by a highly professional staff. A relaxing start to our trip to Italy, the perfect place to unwind after a long flight before facing the mass of tourists that swarm Florence. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/18/18 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, September 28, 2018

Caribbean Getaways, Munich Hotels, and Away Luggage Featured in Our September Newsletter

This is the time of year when ActiveTravels is busy booking warm weather destinations for clients who want to escape the cold this coming winter. So it's no surprise that we focus on the Caribbean as our main feature in the September newsletter. Oktoberfest has also arrived, a good time to discuss favorite Munich hotels. We also describe Lisa's latest luggage, Away, where you can charge your phone directly to the carry-on. She'll put it to good use as we leave for Italy today. We'll be checking out Florence, the Amalfi Coast, and ending in Rome. The highlight is biking with good friends on a 6-day bike ride in Puglia with DuVine Cycling. We'll be even more well-versed in all things Italy upon our return, so we can better help you on your forthcoming trips there. Amy is also out of the office as she is taking an exciting cruise circumnavigating Newfoundland with Adventure Canada. We'll all be back on October 17th. Until then, enjoy Autumn and keep active! 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/28/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Travel Like a Local on These Guided Day Trips

If you're planning to visit New England over the next month to see the fall foliage, it might be wise to get away from the crowded roadways and sign up for one of these authentic day trips with local experts. Authenticity is the buzzword in travel these days, the chance to live and feel like a local, not a tourist. Thankfully, there are many opportunities in New England where you have the chance to go beyond the boilerplate tours and get a real feel for the region while being led by an expert on the subject. These dozen day trips, which I reported for Yankee Magazine, strive for genuine authenticity and hopefully reward you with lasting memories. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/27/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

1793 Blogs and Counting

I've been blogging since 2009, which adds up to quite a lot of content over the years. A good friend recently told me to emphasize the Advanced Search function on the blog page. Simply type in the locale you want to visit and up pops the blogs I've written about that destination. For example, I typed in "Mississippi" in the Advanced Search line and again on the second page Keyword line and 19 blogs I wrote on the state appeared. This includes one of my favorite stops, "Staying at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, Mississippi" on March 28, 2011. Before you go on your next trip with ActiveTravels, be sure to use the blog as an added resource. Much of the content, like the Shack Up Inn, is still topical. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/26/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

After 5: Medellin

Home to vivid street art and a bounty of sculptures and paintings by Botero, Colombia's only public transit system (including cable cars), and a burgeoning dining scene, Medellin has transformed from Pablo Escobar's former hangout to one of the safest and most vibrant destinations in South America. It doesn't hurt that this city of 4 million people sits in a valley surrounded by mountains at an altitude close to a mile high, offering sublime temperatures in the 70s and 80s degree Fahrenheit year-round. This lends itself well to outdoor cafes and bars, the ideal place to start your night out on the town. To see the rest of my story on Medellin in the latest issue of Global Traveler, please click here

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/25/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, September 24, 2018

A Memorable Trip to New Brunswick

Guest Post and Photos by Amy Perry Basseches 

Continuing my exploration of Canada, I recently spent 3 glorious sunny days in New Brunswick, part of "Atlantic Canada" (along with Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland). Although New Brunswick is more than 80% forest land, I was on the southern coast, in Saint Andrews and Alma, adjacent to the Bay of Fundy and Passamaquoddy Bay, not far from Maine. This area was full of trees but oriented towards the sea.
My first stop: Ossie's Lunch in Bethel, just outside of Saint Andrews, for the best lobster roll I've had in a long time (identifiable lobster parts, minimal mayonnaise). Family-owned since 1957. Got here just in time. They closed September 16 for the season. Once in Saint Andrews, I had the pleasure of staying at the Rossmount Inn, a 3-story country inn with 18 rooms, situated on 87 acres, at the base of Chamcook Mountain. I thoroughly recommend its ambiance and dining room. My Bay of Fundy haddock was mouthwatering. 
It was easy to while away the hours in Saint Andrews, visiting historic sites like the Blockhouses built to protect New Brunswick against the Americans during the War of 1812, drinking local beer at The Chandler Room on the main drag, admiring flowers at the 27-acre Kingsbrae Gardens, driving on the seafloor at low tide out to Ministers Island to admire the 500-acre summer estate of William Van Horne (the driving force behind the Canadian Pacific Railway), and marveling at humpback whales with Island Quest Marine's afternoon whale watch. Lots of American tourists were in Saint Andrews on road trips, and I can see why.
My second base was in Alma, population 232 (in 2011), the hopping-off point for Fundy National Park. Locals rely on lobster and scallop fishing. Thus, fortified by Bay of Fundy scallops and a good night's sleep, I headed off to hike on Matthew's Head Trail (many lookout points of vast coastal views, about 1.5 hours, not difficult), and to visit Hopewell Rocks. Fundy National Park boasts the highest tides in the world, up to 48 feet of change. Each tidal flow contains 100 billion tons of water, and its strength carves the formation at Hopewell Rocks. You can only visit at or near low tide. 
My only regret in Alma: I didn't get a chance to sea kayak with Fresh Air Adventure. I observed lots of people taking part, and it looked great. Plus Gina, the owner, winters in Hong Kong and summers on the Bay of Fundy coastline. How fascinating! Steve has written about kayaking with Gina here: 
In closing, my idea of a terrific getaway includes seeing new places (especially small towns and natural things of quiet and beauty); being outdoors in the sunshine with time to walk, read, and think; being near the water/on the coast (seeing it, smelling it, hearing it, feeling the breeze); and eating good healthy local food and drink -- just fresh and simply prepared. New Brunswick had it all! Let ActiveTravels know if you are interested in "Atlantic Canada."

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/24/18 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, September 21, 2018

Refurbished Hawks Cay Resort Begins a New Era on the Florida Keys

Almost a year after Hurricane Irma passed through the Florida Keys, Hawks Cay Resort, one of the region's most renowned properties, has reopened following a $50 million renovation. Owners of Hawks Cay, situated on Duck Key near Marathon, used the opportunity to enhance the resort's appeal to travelers. Expect completely renovated rooms, two new restaurants and a new oceanfront, adults-only relaxation area called Oasis Cay with pool, food and beverage facilities. With the reopening of Hawks Cay, the Keys lodging inventory is now over 90 percent operational following the Sept. 10, 2017, hurricane and nearly all resorts impacted by Irma are projected to be fully open before the end of 2018. An added bonus is the addition of many new resorts. The all-inclusive adults-only Bungalows Key Largo is to be unveiled later this year. Also in Key Largo, the new 200-room Baker's Cay Resort, a Curio Collection by Hilton, is scheduled to open by late fall. In Marathon at mile marker 47, the all-new 24-acre, 199-unit Isla Bella Beach Resort will offer a 4,000-square-foot spa, five pools, four food and beverage concepts and a marina when the property opens in early 2019. After last year's hard winter rebuilding, the Florida Keys is ready to welcome you back this year. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/21/18 at 06:00 AM
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about us
photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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