Monday, December 30, 2013

Puglia Italy: affordable retreat/Tour with Blissful Travels with Margaret

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Call 860.978.8111

Blissful Travels with Margaret presents

Get Blissful in Puglia, Italy” May 13 – 20, 2014 or May 13 – 23, 2014
Margaret Sylvester & Ylenia Sambati have created a fabulous, affordable Retreat/Tour for 8 guests.

If you are a foodie, wine lover, a shopper, like art and history, love being pampered, want to relax by the pool and eat healthy… join us!

Yle has been planning and organizing cultural experiences in Puglia for over 10 years. She was recently recognized in the Huffington Post as one of the best tour guides in Italy! Yle was Margaret’s Tour Guide for 6 days in 2013 showing her Puglia’s treasures. We put this special trip together for YOU!

Our Daily Itinerary
Day 1 – Tuesday, May 13 - Welcome to Puglia!
You are picked up upon arrival at Brindisi airport.
Welcome to Masseria Provenzani
Enjoy a “Benvenuti” (Welcome) Aperitivo Pugliese.
Unpack, relax by the pool…
Welcome Dinner
Meet your hosts Margaret and Yle and learn about the week ahead!

Day 2 – Wednesday, May 14 - Cooking Class with Special Healthy Puglia Recipes
Enjoy a relaxing morning at our beautiful accommodation.
Cooking Class and lunch at the Masseria using traditional healthy recipes.
Relax by the pool this afternoon and Massage in the privacy of your room.
Buffet Dinner

Day 3 – Thursday, May 15 - Guided Tour of Lecce
Lecce tour, a “passeggiata” in the city of Baroque
Cartapesta (Papier-mâché) Experience with famous local artisan.
Free afternoon to explore Lecce or relax by the pool.Cooking Class and bread making together with a Private Wine Tasting by Sommelier at the Masseria. Dinner based on our creations.

Day 4 – Friday, May 16 - Wine and Olive Oil Day
Wine Tour We will visit two famous local wineries with tastings.
Picnic Lunch, delicious, healthy, local recipes, enjoyed in a gorgeous Olive Tree Grove and Private Olive Oil Tasting.
Back to the Masseria for relaxing and Dinner.

Day 5 – Saturday, May 17 - Excursion to Gallipoli
Morning Tibetan Bowl Meditation and Reiki with Margaret and an all Levels Yoga Class.
Private Wine Tasting in a Southern Winery
Gallipoli Tour the “beautiful town of fishermen”
Picnic Lunch on a white sandy Gallipoli beach.
Back to Masseria for afternoon Wine Tasting/Aperitivo
Dinner at the Masseria with a special Cheese and Wine Tasting Session.

Day 6- Sunday, May 18 - The Trulli Valley Tour
Photography Day in the Itria Valley and its rural landscape of “Trulli”, cylindrical buildings with conical roofs. We visit Cisternino,
Ostuni, and Martina Franca.
A Light Lunch on our way sampling the delicious “Focaccia Barese”.
Free time to explore and delight in the labyrinth of whitewashed village streets, the olive trees and the bright blue color of the Adriatic Sea.
Back to Masseria for Dinner

Day 7 – Monday, May 19- Excursion to Otranto
Morning Tibetan Bowl Meditation and Reiki with Margaret, all Levels Yoga Class
Excursion to Otranto
Beach Day on the Otranto white sandy beach with Picnic
Late afternoon Painting with Local Italian Maestro.
Dolce Cooking Class and Dinner at the masseria.

Day 8 –Tuesday, May 20 - Abbracci Day
Time to finish packing, relax by the pool and say our good-byes.
Transfer to Brindisi Airport.

What’s Included:
7 Nights accommodations at Masseria Provenzani with pool, ensuite, wifi, private bath.
7 Breakfasts, 2 Lunches, 7 Buffet Dinners Prepared by Mamma
1 Massage at your accommodation
2 Yoga Classes
1 Day Winery Tour and daily Wine Tastings
1 Olive Oil Experience and Picnic amidst the olive trees
Cooking classes at the Masseria.
Pick up and drop off at Brindisi Airport
Beach time with picnic lunch
All land transportation
Services of a local travel expert
Integrated Energy Session, Reiki, BioMat, Tibetan Bowl.
Note: Itinerary is subject to change with or without notice. Sequence of day trips may vary.
COST: May 13 – 20, 7-Nights/8 days 1350 Euro = $1850.00 P.P. Double, Single, add $275.00

Add 3 nights with Breakfast, May 20 – 23, $300.00 P.P. Double, Single, add $150.00 at the time of print.
Adjustments will be made upon final payment.
NOT INCLUDED Airfare, personal expenses, snacks, drinks and meals not listed on itinerary and travel insurance. Please purchase insurance when purchasing your airfare.
To hold your space: 50% down, payable with Credit Card. Capitol One and a few other companies do NOT charge conversion fees. Check with your Credit Card company. Call Margaret at 860.978.8111 for deposit or information.
Final Payment due 60 days before trip, March 12, at 860.978.8111

Margaret Sylvester has spent years of traveling, experimenting with foods and flavors, and learning about living healthy. Blissful Travels with Margaret is a small group of 8 travelers, making special memories while exploring fantastic destinations with stunning scenery in Sedona, AZ, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos, New Mexico, the Colorado Rockies, New England, Sicily, Puglia, Italy and more.
We tour local sites and partake in yoga classes and massages. Each day starts and ends with recipes that include seasonal, local and organic ingredients. By hosting these peaceful yet exhilarating trips, the name Blissful Travels with Margaret sums up our mission.
The more I travel, the more I realize that the trips I've taken in small intimate groups have become my favorite experiences and my fondest memories. Often my fellow travelers have become life-long friends.
I am also the owner of Blissful and Balanced. We believe the integrated blend of Reiki, Sound Healing and the Amethyst BioMat promotes wellness of Mind, Body and Spirit. I am a Reiki Master Teacher, using this combination of therapies to lower blood pressure, to reduce stress & anxiety, to enhance the immune system, promote healing, relieves pain, and more.
I use Tibetan Singing Bowls during your session to help restore balance & energy. You will be lying fully clothed on a massage table, lined with the gentle warmth of an Amethyst BioMat that delivers therapeutic Far Infrared Rays and Negative Ions as I incorporate Reiki. My integrated sessions are portable and are offered to you on all trips.
What makes your vacation with us Blissful? In addition to luxurious accommodations, fabulous food, hiking, visits to museums, galleries, wineries, and national or historical sites and more...Yoga classes and a massage are ALWAYS included!
Blissfully Yours,
Margaret Sylvester

Monday, December 23, 2013

Italian Christmas lights, not your common mini bulbs....

The great Artists of Florence are seen in the wonderful street lights.

My contact in Florence just sent me some wonderful photos of Christmas street lights.
She explained to me while I was in Florence, that each neighborhood or street would sponsor the holiday lights each year.
All photos by Sheila Ford who will show you parts of Florence to photograph that you might never find.
Sheila constantly tells me to LOOK UP!   And photos are all about the LIGHT!

On you next trip to Florence contact Sheila.  She will show you parts of Florence you have never seen.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Venice High Water, Acqua Alta

I have heard about the seasonal flooding in Venice that turns tourists into ‘children’ playing in the expansive puddle that is St. Marks Square and is only an inconvenience for the local Venicians, but I have never been in Venice when the event occurred.

During my visit this year acqua alta occurred on three days.    DSCN4132
The flooding is slow as water seeps in from all the canals and lagoon.   A signal is blasted in the morning to announce that the flooding had started.  I would be more than 6 hours until the water started to recede.     During this time the locals will pump out their first floor stores, walk to work or begin their shopping with knee high boots and think little of the event.

But travelers and visitors embrace the novelty.   Local vendors sell inexpensive plastic boots in bright colors.   Your options are plastic foot covers, wet shoes or waiting out the flooding.   Not all streets are flooded but many of the main routes will have portions with more than 4 inches of water.     Some of the vaporetto routes were closed until the water level under the bridges lowered enough to allow the boats to pass.



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Rome at Christmas: what surprised me

15 Impression from my Solo Christmas trip to Rome: 

Although I travel solo to Italy every year and try to stay as long as possible I have never been Home To Italy during the winter.   Usually by November I head back to the southern part of the USA to wait out the ice and cold across the Northern Hemisphere.

An additional thrill was an invitation from the author of Browsing Rome to write about any insights on Rome from my solo my solo trip.    Since I no longer travel as a tourist but as a traveler, my trips will not appeal to anyone who spends every day following a tour book. 

My December trip was devoted entirely to finding what xmas traditions Italians practice that Italian Americans also observe.    Therefore my visit did not include museums this year or monuments but rather the seasonal foods, street festivals and markets where Italians were enjoying the holidays. 

This theme proved to be perfect.     It was easy to do a visual inspection of holiday decorations as I progressed from Zurich to Como and down to Rome, but also the tourists were minimal, locals were more available to chat and the topic of Natale was universal to all.   

By the time I had arrived in Rome for the first visit (I returned at the end of my trip as well) I had already been through snow, a train strike, VERY COLD weather and had contracted the flu.   But when you only have one month a year to visit Italia, none of this stops a true traveler.   You just keep going!


1.      Street lighting:    In every town and city I visited the streets were blazing with Christmas lights.  No plastic snowmen, candy canes or Rudolf but street after street had displays of white lights.  Each street was different.   Some designs, such as the ‘jellyfish look’ were very unique.   I could not find anyone to ask if each neighborhood decides what lights they used nor do I think that question ever came up!

2.       The Christmas Markets

I left the USA with a list of markets that would be featured in each of the towns I planned to visit.

Apparently an outside Christmas market can be found in most Italian towns.   In Florence it was a German market, in Prato they had a Chocolate fair.   Rome has a huge market in Piazza Narvone that goes on for weeks.   I visited several times to try to see everything.

In addition to the stands offering sweets and snacks the popular items were something like an oversized donut and crepes filled with Nutella.    I enjoyed watching children eating cotton candy for the first time and learning how to eat it!


Since an outdoor market is a perfect location for a solo traveler to spend time, observe, interact and not become the object of everyone’s attention I found lots to keep me interested and except for the biting cold, would have spent more time there.                                                                                                                       The puppet stand had me transfixed.   Who can you identify?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Italy: the cost of one apple

In a country with wonderful cakes, chocolates, christmas treats and of course pasta, it takes a concious effort to eat healthy.
So during this 4 week trip I try to buy an apple for a night time snack.  YES gelato is far better but the great taste ends up on my hips.

The cost of an apple in Italy depends on who you are.
You can purchase an apple in the supe rmercato as long as you remember to put on the plastic gloves BEFORE you select your apple
You then must identify the fruit with the number on the scale and print out a price ticket.  DO NOT go to the check out without a price sticker.

You can purchase an apple at one of the many fruit ‘trucks’ on the street corners around Rome.  The woman I have passed every day this week works from early in the morning and was still there at 9:30 pm tonight when I went back to the hotel!     Her I selected the ‘type’ of apple I wanted and the cart owner picked the piece she would sell me.  It was weighed and I paid the price asked.
Yesterday at Campo di Fiore there is a fruit and vegetable market in the mornings.   I spotted an older woman with a very photogenic face.  Thinking I would buy my daily apple and ask her for a photo I selected a red apple.   But this woman was no fool.  She must have read the word TOURIST on my forehead because she picked an apple, gave it to me and THEN said 1 euor!   That is about $1.40 for one apple.

I did not argue with this savy woman.  I had already touched the fruit.  She was NOT going to take it back.  But I am sure she is still chucklying about the TOURIST that paid a Euro for an apple   And NO I did not get a photo.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Four Star Hotels can have problems.

Traveling off season often allow me to insert a luxury hotel into my 30+ day trips to Italy.   4 start hotel in the winter can be the same price as the 3 star hotels I use during spring or fall.

I expect the amenities to be different in the  rating of each level but I did not expect to find a corresponding ‘difference’ in treatment.
Perhaps at check in the reservation is coded to indicate which guests have paid a discounted on line price………….that might explain the times I am often invisible when I try to check in.  

Odd hotel observations
The number of towels is controlled by the number of stars:  two towels (only one larger than a face cloth) for a 3 star hotel
Why is the reception desk so tall?    If you cant see the employee eye to eye there is a level of initiation. 
                    short employees will not have to look ‘up’
Uniforms:  a Rome  4 star requires the desk staff to wear pin stripes
                     they had bellman and they wore a uniform
Rooms are larger.   And single rooms can be the size of a closet.   I stayed in the smallest room ever at the Hotel Opera.  I could not even open two suitcases yet they
                    offered a makeup mirror in the bath.  A feature not available in most hotels.
Hotel rooms in converted office buildings:   hotel booking web sites and hotel web sites SHOULD indicate on their sites that the hotel rooms are NOT connected with the reception areas.   Four of the reservations from my 22 days in Italy never indicated that the rooms were NOT part of the hotel.   In Sorrento I had to wear a coat to travel to the reception area for breakfast!    In Rome at two locations the rooms were several stories above and in a secure section of the office building.    As long as you don’t need hotel services there is no inconvenience  but there IS a sense of isolation.
There is also nothing pleasant about being told you are in an annex and then taken or sent to a location that is NOT the hotel you booked.

When  I summarize the total cost for this adventure it should all average the daily per diem goal I set for long term travel.   Splurges can be afforded.

Monday, November 18, 2013

When a trip is a disaster, for a short time

Sometime a wonderful trip home to Italy hits some snags…..and you wish you never left home…

But if you can bear it (the grin may come later) it works out.   The disasters one at a time are not difficult to manage.  But when they hit in groups that I am stretched to the limits.

1.  Today,  finally understanding that the heat is on from 8pm to about 10pm but the hot water is off until the next morning…..  today it did not start until 9 am.   When you have an early train this allows you to skip a shower or run to the train.  And washing your hair is out of the question, no dryer in the room.
Working through this small inconvenience I reach the station with lots of time.  
2.  the ticket office tells me there ‘might’ be a train strike for MY train.  But she is not sure….
Strikes in Italy are frequent and sometimes for short periods of time so I drag two bags to the platform and wait.  
The announcement comes and now hundreds of my ‘new best friends’ race to the ticket office to change their tickets.   Some of the hopeful passengers had no idea this was a possibility and stand on the platform stunned.   Some obvious tourist (like me) from non English speaking countries can not understand the Italian only announcement  and do not know which way to go.  
Meanwhile I am racing to the the ticket counter.

#3.  The ticket office employee has had a bad day.   She knows the strike will bring hundreds of passengers into the office and she is having none of it.  
Her scowl could break china!
But now she creates problem #3.  She enters something into her computer and her next words are ‘mamma mia’.    She runs into the supervisors office.  She talks with her co worker.  Next the supervisor comes out and looks at the computer.  It goes on and on and the line grows with every head shake.

#4.   ticket in hand for a direct train not affected by any strike is for the WRONG seat but I am sent off with the closed sign shoved into the window.  Guess she had had enough.

#5 and no ones fault.  This train goes to a different train station in Florence and I have no idea where it is.   But if the train takes me to the next town with the next hotel room with hot water and a hair dryer, I will take care of the rest. 

Now I have a few hours to continue visiting Verona, certainly not a hardship.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Christmas viewed from Italy

Buono Natale from Italy
The sights, The sounds, The smells of Christmas in Italy
Visiting Italy during the winter reveals a side of Italy without the crowds of tourists.
Locals reclaim their towns and celebrate grape and olive harvests, truffle hunts and prepare for the Christmas season. Travelers can see how Italians celebrate the biggest holiday of the year and sometimes become part of the celebration.

Every town and city will be working to create special Christmas events and displays during the weeks prior to December. On trips Home to Italy during December I found traditions similar to ours in the USA and others that I hope to will become part of our traditions.

Christmas Decorations
You will not see plastic snowmen, candy canes or Rudolf. Excessive commercialism found in most American cities is replaced with communal decorations and events. The single outstanding feature in every town and city has been the street lights. Always done in white lights, no matter if it is Lake Como or Rome, street lights are over whelmingly the signature holiday decoration. Each town has different light designs. Often individual neighborhoods will adopt a particular light theme. clip_image002 In Sorrento there was only one design throughout the entire town. In Rome every main street was unique: from cascading waterfall lights to snowflakes. The store window displays become secondary to the stunning street lights. Italians enjoy una passeggiata (evening strolls) and during this season they may spend more time admiring the lights and visiting with friends on the streets.

I have been told the street is their ‘living room’ where Italians will meet and greet friends.

Italian Christmas Markets
Almost every town has a Christmas market in the weeks before Christmas. The larger cities create markets that can be enjoyed for three weeks in December. Often the market is a series of huts or booths constructed specially for vendors selling food, crafts, gifts, nativity scenes, decorations and toys. Music, plays and ‘enactments’ are often part of the towns’ market events.

Possibly one of the largest markets in in Rome in Piazza Narvona. This huge public square is filled with booths, a carousel, entertainers and most of the families in Rome!
I watched a child try cotton candy for the first time, vendors making crepes and oversized donuts with nutella. A mainstay in Rome is the puppet man.


Hundreds of puppets and no two alike! Antichi Burattni fills a booth that delights children and adults. Pick your story book character, public official etc and he probably has it on display.

Who is Le Befana?
Witch dolls can be seen hanging in stores along with traditional nativity set. According to Buzzle, ( “an old witch flying on a broom, known as La Befana, who leaves toys for children during epiphany. According to legend, the three wise men stopped at the home of La Befana, seeking directions. They invited her to go with them and meet Jesus, but she refused. Later that evening, she changed her mind. Gathering up toys from her own child, who had died, she flew off to meet Jesus. However, she lost her way, and has been flying ever since. On Christmas Eve, she stops at every child's house and leaves a Christmas gift, just in case Jesus is there”. La Befana never came to New Jersey at Christmas.

Babbo Natale:
clip_image010. The Italian version of our letter to Santa.

Children and some adults write appeals to Babbo Natale and attach them to an evergreen. This 20 foot tree was in the main train station in Rome 

Cioccolata Calda 
Hot Chocolate so thick it looks like pudding. I was told this seasonal drink was made with “chocolate, “milk without water” (condensed), sugar”. Special machines churn the mixture constantly and heat it to 70 degrees. Panne or cream is added to each cup.

Tombola: Originating in southern Italy, I had never heard of the Italian game that our Bingo must have evolved from.

clip_image012 clip_image013
Photos from Amazon and EBay sites

The entire family will play Tombola at Christmas time. There are 99 numbers in Tombola and each has a separate meaning. An example: #1. L ’Italia means Italy #2 La Bambina means little girl.*

As it was explained to me by Caterina, my video translator, “tombola is similar to bingo; each player has a card with some numbers divided in rows. There is also a board with all the numbers from 1 to 99 and one of the players picks up a number from a bag”. “Once you find a number on your card you mark it, if you mark 5 or 10 numbers in a row you win a prize. But the biggest prize is for who first marks all the numbers on his card”. My friend in Firenze tells me the players use fava beans to mark their cards.
Interesting that it is played only at Christmas time when American play at any opportunity

Many of our Italian American Christmas traditions mirror those in Italy: letters to Santa, street lights, markets. I find our Italian friends do a very special Christmas that we would all enjoy.

* For a detailed description of rules of play consult an article by Francesca Di Meglio

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

When travel by ship is the same price as business class

Just received this from Alitalia.  Call or check on line for current prices

Choose the comfort of Magnifica-Business Class for your holiday escape to Italy. Great holiday fares starting at $2512 round-trip. Don’t miss them!

Hurry and book until November 30th, 2013.

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Click on each offer to read the fare conditions.

Seats are limited and may not be available on all flights and dates. Tickets must be purchased by November 30, 2013. A 14 day advance purchase is required. The minimum stay is three days and all travel must be completed by January 7, 2014. A $450 fee will apply to any date changes, in addition to the applicable fare difference. Outbound travel is from December 14, 2013 through January 4, 2014. Return travel must be between December 25, 2013 and January 7, 2014.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Panettone an Italian Fruit Cake?

Panettone the Italian version of the Fruit Cake?

clip_image002You know the holidays are around the corner when you see the pyramid of panettone boxes stacked in the local Italian market.
The cakes were baked and shipped months before they would be shared with family and friends at Christmas. Not as dense as the American version of a fruit cake, this Christmas cake has dried fruit and nuts mixed in.

Until I spent the weeks before Christmas in Italy I had never tried a FRESH panettone. It was moist with a rich taste and not many pieces of dried fruit. NOTHING like the panettone I found in New Jersey.

 Olga Stinga from Sorrento shared with me how panettone are brought as a gift when you visit family or friends. And often the family will receive a large number of panettone. So when they in turn go out and visit they will ‘re-gift’ one.     Re-gifting started in Italy.  According to Maria, an English teacher in Salerno, Panettone is a Christmas fruit cake which arrives in the shops at the end of October. “The cake shops make their own with fresh ingredients and have a shorter sell by date as they use no preservatives.” clip_image004 clip_image006

Italy does have a ‘fruit cake’, panaforte. I am told it is a specialty of Siena and is denser than panatone.  Il Mercato Italiano’s web site describes three versions of panaforete: “A flat, dense, round cake made with honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied citron, citrus peel, cocoa, and spices. It contains a very small amount of flour, just enough to hold the cake together. After baking, panforte becomes firm and chewy”. (from clip_image008

Specialty Christmas cakes in Italy are works of art and are NOT inexpensive. While shopping for a thank you gift in Lecce, I purchased a panattone. The prices ranged from $20.00 to more than $50.00 and I am sure some of the gorgeously wrapped cakes were far more. Not your usual fruit cake.

Photos from google and the Italian Market site.