12 Offbeat Travel Ideas For 2013

My annual New Year’s Eve tradition is to reflect on all the places I visited during the year and plot out where I want to go in the New Year. 2012 was a banner travel year for my family because we put all of our things in storage for five months and traveled extensively in Europe and North America. We gorged ourselves on donuts and thought we got scammed in Western New York’s Amish Country, learned how to flatfoot on Virginia’s Crooked Road, were heckled and intimidated at a soccer game in Italy, and drank homemade wine with the only two residents of the village of San Michalis, on the Greek island of Syros.


For those of you who have made resolutions to hit the road in 2013, here are 12 travel experiences and destinations, most of them a little or very offbeat, that I highly recommend.

12. Donut Crawl in Western New York’s Amish Country

Unlike Lancaster County and other more well known Amish areas around the country, Cattaraugus County’s Amish Trail is a place where you can experience Amish culture, and let’s be honest here – candy and donuts – without all the tourists and kitsch. I love the Amish donuts so much that I went in January and again in July. Because there aren’t many tourists in this region, you’ll find that many of the Amish who live here are just as curious about you as you are about them.

11. Soak Up Colonial Era History in Marblehead, Massachusetts

I’ve been visiting family members in Marblehead for nearly 20 years and I never get tired of this beautifully preserved, quintessential New England town. Marblehead gets a steady trickle of day-trippers from Boston – but don’t make that mistake – book a B & B in this town and dive into one of America’s most historic towns for a full weekend.

10. Save The Turtles, Eat the Fish Tacos and Ride The Waves in Safe, Scenic San Pancho, Mexico

If you want a low-key beach vacation in Mexico but aren’t into big resorts or large cities, look no further than San Pancho, which is only an hour from the Puerto Vallarta airport. It’s about as safe as Mayberry, and you can volunteer to help preserve marine turtles, eat the best fish tacos you’ve ever had and surf and frolic on a huge, spectacular beach.

9. Visit Gangi, Italy’s Most Charming Hill Town You’ve Never Heard Of

Italy is filled with enchanting hill towns, but many of them are besieged with tourists. If you want to check out a lovely hill town in Sicily’s interior that hasn’t changed much in centuries, check out Gangi, where you’ll find everything you could want in an Italian hill town: a perfect central piazza, a medieval street plan you will get lost in, and perhaps the world’s best gelato at the Seminara Bar (no relation to me).

8. Eat the Real Black Forest Ham in Historic Freiburg, Germany

Freiburg is a gorgeous, highly underrated city in Germany’s Black Forest region that is a pedestrian and gourmand dream. Here in the U.S., companies can get away with calling any old ham “Black Forest ham” but in Freiburg, you can sample the real deal and you will taste the difference.

7. Discover Old Time Music on Virginia’s Crooked Road

Southwest Virginia has a 253-mile music heritage trail that’s a glorious little slice of Americana where you’ll find terrific homespun music played by passionate locals who have Old Time Music in their blood. Don’t miss venues like the Fries Theater and the Floyd Country Store and bring your dancing shoes.

6. Check Out Evita Peron’s Ride at Italy’s New Ferrari Museum

I’m not even a car buff, but I loved visiting the new Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena, a picture-postcard small city in Emilia-Romagna, near Parma, that doesn’t get nearly as many tourists as it deserves. The museum pays tribute to the founder of Ferrari, who was born in the house next to the museum, and the automotive heritage of the Motor Valley, home to Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ducati and other companies that make vehicles suitable for rap stars, professional athletes and others who like to be noticed.

5. Eat at the World’s Best Greek Restaurant in San Michalis, Syros, Population:2

Syros is just a short ferry ride away from Mykonos but it gets only a tiny fraction of the tourists and I’m not sure why. It’s a gorgeous little island, with a thriving port, great beaches and To Plakostroto the best Greek restaurant I’ve ever been to, located in a striking, end-of-the-world village where you can see six neighboring islands.

4. Experience Bluegrass Nirvana at the Rosine Barn Jamboree in Kentucky

Every Friday night from March through early December, local musicians gather to jam at an old barn and general store in Rosine, Kentucky, the tiny little town where Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music was born. This might be the best free music jam in the whole country and best of all, the regulars are the sweetest people you will ever meet.

3. Patmos & Samos Not Santorini and Mykonos

I’m obsessed with the Greek Isles. If I could spend my holidays in just one place anywhere in the world, it might be here. But I get a little frustrated by the fact that most Americans visit only Santorini & Mykonos. Both places are undeniably beautiful, but there are dozens of less expensive, less crowded islands that are just as nice. Patmos and Samos, in the eastern Aegean, are absolutely gorgeous and aren’t as crowded or expensive. Samos is known for its wine & honey, while Patmos is home to one of the most interesting monasteries in Greece.

2. Eat an Obama Pasticciotto in Italy’s Heel

The fact that Salento, a peninsula in Italy’s heel, has a chocolaty, gooey desert named after President Obama is just one reason to visit this very special but relatively off-the-radar part of Italy. Lecce is a baroque dream, a lively place with a great passegiata, unforgettable food and wine, very friendly people and fine beaches in the vicinity.

1. Make Friends in Valletta, Malta

I had but one day in Valletta and I spent a big chunk of it trying to track down a retired Maltese civil servant who chided me for misrepresenting the country at a school model U.N. in 1986, but I saw enough of this city to want more. Valletta is a heartbreakingly picturesque port, with gently decaying sandstone buildings, warm people, dramatic Mediterranean vistas and artery-clogging pastizzis, which were my favorite treat of 2012.

Celebrating Italian Style In Boston’s North End

In Italy, feast days tied to saints are the glue that binds communities together. Bands practice all year long so they sound just right when they lead processions through city streets. People get dressed up and buy cannoli and other treats for their neighbors. Young people use the social occasions to hook up, and, everyone, everyone eats and drinks well.

Boston’s North End still clings to the same tradition, albeit with a more commercialized flavor. I stumbled upon the neighborhood St. Anthony Festival, an annual celebrtion started by Italian immigrants from the Italian town of Montefalcione in 1919, a couple weeks ago and was reminded of how important feast days are in the old country. We were driving by the neighborhood, which is directly adjacent to downtown Boston, and when my sons spotted two blowup jumpy houses we were compelled to stop.

My family hopped out and I was tasked with finding a parking spot – no easy chore in the North End, where a good spot is more valuable than a lifetime pass to the Playboy Mansion. I’m generally a very impatient person, but when it comes to parking, I’m frugal enough to hunt for meter spots because I hate paying a lot to park.After about 20 minutes of fruitless searching, I gave up and pulled into a lot, but pulled right back out when a small grumpy man in a folding chair asked me for 40 bucks. Three other cheaper lots were full, and another placed wanted $35. After another 15 minutes, I found a meter spot and felt like I was ready to pop open a bottle of Champagne. Alas, there was also a sign indicating that the spot was only for North End residents from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. But I decided to park there anyway and take my chances.

The streets were filled with vendors selling pastas, pizza, fried calamari, and more traditional American street fair food, like frozen bananas covered in chocolate, and New England staples like lobster rolls. The crowd was a mixture of tourists and locals but heavily accented by older people who knew each other and clearly still lived in the neighborhood.

A classic rock cover band cranked out a Doobie Brothers tune but turned off their amps as a spirited procession with two bands wended its way through the neighborhood streets. Teens and tweens played carnival games in the hopes of winning cheesy framed photos of starlets and celebrities (see photo). I stood and studied the faces that were marching by and was again reminded of Italy – none of the participants would have looked out of places in the villages my grandparents came from in Sicily.

As we sat on someone’s stoop, chowing down on gnocchi, ravioli and calamari, a woman who lived in the apartment next to the one we were sitting in front of stopped to tell us that we had a “beautiful family.” For Italians, there is no better compliment. And before we were done eating, a guy that lived in the apartment we were sitting in front of needed to get out, but my kids were blocking his path, tomato sauce dripping off their chins.

But he was gracious, practically apologizing for wanting to leave his own apartment. Everyone’s in a good mood on a feast weekend in the North End. And so were we, even though we had a $40 ticket waiting for us on the windshield of our car.

[Photos and video by Dave Seminara]

Brits continue to self-congratulate on cleanliness

Brits are the best-behaved hotel guests, according to a survey by TripAdvisor. More than 3,000 participated in the study, and the results are certain to reinforce stereotypes. Forty-three percent of hotel guests from the UK make their own beds every morning … which is nothing compared to the 79 percent who put their clothes neatly in the closets.

But, tidiness comes with a price. Travelers from the land of the stiff upper lip are also the most accident-prone. They tend to break things and block up the toilet – the latter distinction shared with the Germans.

Shockingly, the French are the quietest (fewest noise complaints), and those from Spain are most likely to dip into the mini-bar without paying. Italians are both the worst tippers and most likely to leave underwear in the room.

Here’s the best part: 10 percent of all survey participants admitted to replacing minibar items with cheaper, store-bought stuff.

Off the Beaten Path: Making Out in Italy

Those 30-year-old Italian bachelors who still live with their parents–and hence lack the indoor space to make out–are saved. The town of Bari, Italy, opened a park where couples can have sex freely (but not for free). All they have to do is pay a $4 admission and $2 for every half hour they stay.

It’s not unusual for Italians to live with their parents until they are in their late twenties, even thirties. In fact, this study says that 8 out of 10 Italian men aged between 18 and 30 live with their folks.

My friend who lives in Spain says that many Spanish young adults do the same thing because they a) cannot afford to rent/buy their own place and b) don’t want to give up mom’s cooking. Many of them use their cars for romantic escapades since they can’t really bring their girlfriends home. Apparently, visiting parking lots after 10pm can be pretty entertaining…

Word for the Travel Wise (10/09/06)

Today is Columbus Day and though we know Columbus was Italian born and he sailed under the flagship of Spain when he discovered the New World, to pay small tribute I leave you with this word from a neighboring country of the two. Why? Well no good reason really. Besides, I’m sure it’s closely related to the Italian and Spanish word, although I could be wrong.

Today’s word is a Portuguese word used in Portugal:

barco – (baar-koo) boat

Easy Portuguese online offers a small dictionary of useful words, useful phrases, and a couple of short lessons to get you started. Most have audio clips including our word for the day found here. Portuguese Language dot net has excellent historical info on the language and numerous tools to help you get motivated and be successful at learning the 6th most spoken language. For Portuguese heard in Portugal you can download mp3 audio from BBC, which I’m sure there are several similarities between the two countries. Those interested in classroom study abroad can click here for more info at Franco Americano.

Past Portuguese words: xixi, bronzeador, lanchonete, esquerda,
crianças, noite