Monday, November 29, 2010

"I Love Wine And Italy - Wine Touring In Apulia"

I Love Wine And Italy - Wine Touring In The Apulia Region

So you have decided to go to Apulia, the heel of the Italian boot surrounded by the Adriatic Sea and the Gulf of Taronto. This is part of the south, in many ways the real, unspoiled Italy. The boot's spur is the beautiful Promontorio del Gargano (Gargano Promontory). You may want to visit the Foresta Umbra (Shady Forest), a real ecological delight bursting with animal and plant life. There's the mysterious eight-sided Castel del Monte. Don't miss the unique Apulian habitations, Trulli, that look like limestone teepees. Would you believe that some have been transformed into wineries? The Grotte di Castellana form the largest network of caves in all Italy. Finish your tour in the relatively unknown city of Lecce, sometimes called "the Florence of the south." You'll find baroque architecture, a cathedral, historic churches, a Piazza, and the remains of a Roman Amphitheater. Why not finish your tour at the inexpensive Wine Bar Corte dei Pandolfini?

Apulia, also known as Puglia, is a very high-volume wine producer. The plains are hot and fertile, so that sounds like three strikes against fine wine. To some extent this is true, but forward-looking producers are making a real effort to trade quality for quantity. The region's best-known wine is Castel del Monte DOC, which is produced near the capital Bari in the central north. It is made in a wide variety of styles, but I wouldn't usually write home about it. A usually better choice is the red or rosé Copertino DOC made from Apulia's signature red grape Negroamaro in the south near Lecce. If you manage to locate any Aleatico di Puglia DOC, grab it. The same goes for Moscato di Trani. These wines are both sweet and perhaps fortified. They are unfortunately rare.

Common white grape varieties include the local Verdeca and Bombino Bianco said to resemble a child with outstretched arms, Trebbiano Toscano, Malvasia Bianca, and Chardonnay. Common local red varieties include the local Negroamaro, Uva di Troia, and Zinfandel's cousin, Primitivo. You'll also encouter the Italian varieties Sangiovese and Montepulciano.

Companies that sell wine tours of Apulia include iExplore, Rustic Cooking, Wine Lovers Tours, and Alabaster and Clark Wine Tours Worldwide. Apulia wineries accepting visits include Conti Zecca in Leverano, Leone de Castris in Salice Salentino, and Azienda Vinicola Rivera S.p.A. in Andria. A few words of warning are in order. Make sure that you check ahead of time for opening hours and whether English is spoken. Some places may charge admission; others may expect that you buy some of their products.


Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but he prefers drinking fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods and people. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his Italian travel website which includes information on Italian wine and food.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"The Paucartambo Festival - Peru's Best Kept Secret"

The Paucartambo Festival - Peru's Best Kept Secret

If you have booked, or are researching, a Peru tour to discover the delights of the country, be sure to try to include the Paucartambo Festival. This festival, held in July each year, is a celebration of worship of the Virgin of Carmen, the patron saint of the small town of Paucartambo.

For the vast majority of the year it is a quiet, remote rural town, located amidst magnificent scenery at the convergence of the Mapacho and Qengo Mayo rivers, about three hours from Cusco along a dusty narrow road.

Then for 3 days in July the town explodes! The main thrust of the spectacular Paucartambo festival takes place from July 15th to July 17th with thousands of visitors coming from all over Peru and the world to watch the town play host to one of the most fascinating and exciting fiestas in all of South America. The population of the town swells from around 1500 people to over 12,000 over these few days.

On July 15th, the festival begins with the entrance into the principal town church of all the sixteen different dance groups wearing costumes and masks in accordance with their respective customs and traditions. Meanwhile the most important dancers, Capaq Negro and Capaq Qolla, come into the building from the rear entrance singing a salute to the Virgin.

During the festival, the entire population of the town gathers itself in a spiritual mass that carries on along the main street, holding flowers, candles and other offerings. In the evening hours there is a glorious display of fireworks in the main square, during which different groups of Chunchos, Capag Qollas and Sagras wildly dance in the square, jumping through bonfires that have been set around the plaza. At midnight, all the dancers come together again without their elaborate costumes to solemnly pray for the Virgin in front of the closed doors of the church.

The primary day of the festival is July 16th and in the morning, the people of the town return to the main square after attending mass to receive gifts of handicrafts, fruit and toys made for them by the majordomos of each dance group. In the afternoon, the Virgin, beautifully decorated and escorted by the Capaq Chuncho, is removed from her resting place next to the main alter of the church and is carried through the crowded streets and squares of Paucartambo to the head of all the dance groups. The groups are now in their festive costumes and the respective band for each group plays its distinctive music, creating an uproar that resounds against the surrounding mountains.

The next day is a ceremony reminiscent of the ancestral cult of the dead. Each dance group parades to the cemetery through the townspeople lined up along the streets and sings to remind themselves of their ancestors and their listeners of their own mortality. In the afternoon the image of the Virgin is carried through the narrow streets of the village for the last time to the bridge named after Carlos III of Spain where all the townspeople gather silently to pay their respects and the Capaq Qolla and Capaq Negro sing a prayer of farewell.

The main square then fills again for the fiesta's grand finale once the Virgin has been put safely to rest. Dramatics take place as dancers imitate Spanish bullfighters and a mock battle occurs recalling a war at the time of the Incas. Fighting ends when the fallen warrior dancers are taken away and the Qolla king is killed by the king of the Chunchos as his wife is taken as a trophy of war. The fiesta is officially closed the next day by the dancers doing the traditional cachapari or farewell dance.

Accommodation is difficult to find over this crazy weekend, so the best thing to ensure you can witness this fantastic and unique cultural event is to plan well ahead and get in touch with a Cusco based tour operator who has links to the local community and service providers. With their connections they will try to ensure you either get accommodation in Paucartambo or at least transport to and from the town on the days of the festival. This way you can have the rare experience of being one of the few foreigners to enjoy these incredible celebrations.


Gary Sargent is the Managing Director of the tour companies Escaped to Peru and has lived in South America since 1998. Gary is passionate about life here, the people, customs and places. Visit Gary's website for more Peru travel advice or to book your next Peru vacation at

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Timeless Travel Games"

Timeless Travel Games

If you have ever traveled with children, you have definitely heard these complaints before! Going long distances in the car can be stressful, especially when the kids are in tow. Keeping children occupied is one of the fundamentals of an enjoyable road trip. Fortunately, there are several timeless travel games that will keep the kids busy and allow you to spend quality time with your family.

The license plate game is a classic. To play this game, you list all of the states on a piece of paper. As you drive along the highway, pay attention to the license plates of the other cars and check off the states that they are from. The goal is to find a car from every state. Because this goal is, realistically, almost impossible, you can alter the rules to make it more fun for the kids. For example, you can award points to whoever spots the license plates. Another way to play this game is to try and find every number and every letter on the license plates. Instead of listing states on a piece of paper, write out the alphabet and the numbers 0-9. Then, as you pass the cars, check off the letters and numbers that are on the plates. This version of the game, because it requires players to be quick, can be done individually, with each person having their own paper. The first player to check off every letter and every number wins.

Although a driver could, theoretically, participate in the license plate game, it is best that he or she is not involved in anything that will distract them too much from the road ahead. The word game, because it does not require the driver to look in another direction, is perfect for everyone in the car. To play the word game, one person starts off by saying a word. The next person then must say a word that begins with the last letter of the word the first person said, and so on. This seems easy, but there is a catch: you cannot repeat a word that has already been used. As you play this game you will both enjoy the time together and strengthen your children's vocabulary.

The best part? They won't even realize that it is a learning game!

Another remedy for the boredom of car travel is the picnic game. In this game, each person says one thing they will bring on a picnic; however, each thing must be in alphabetical order. For example, Dad says "apple," Mom says "bread," and daughter says "cantaloupe." Sounds easy, right? Wrong, there is another catch! In addition to adding to the list, in alphabetical order, each person must also recite the entire list before they add their item! This is a great way to exercise your memory while having a wonderful time traveling with family and friends.

Next time you and your family set off on a long car trip, do not fear the never ending are-we-there-yets. These timeless travel games will keep your family busy and the time on the road will fly!


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Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Preparing for a Trip Down South: Getting Your Cell Phone Ready to Use in Mexico"

Preparing for a Trip Down South: Getting Your Cell Phone Ready to Use in Mexico

Preparing for a road trip to Mexico entails some planning. You have to get your car or RV in good mechanical condition, get a Mexican auto insurance policy (or Mexican RV insurance policy) and you need to find yourself a good Mexico road atlas. There is one item that many people fail to take into account during the planning process, and that is getting their cell phone read to use in Mexico. It's pretty simple to set up and use your cell phone in Mexico, and it can make your trip a whole lot easier.

1. Unlock your cell phone. Many cell phones are 'locked' so that they can only be used by your current carrier. To see if your cell phone is locked, simply replace your SIM card with one from a friend who has a different service. If your phone recognizes the new SIM card and starts working, then your cell phone is unlocked. If not, your cell phone is locked. To unlock it, check online and find the unlock code for your cell phone or contact your carrier and ask them to unlock it for you.

2. Once you are in Mexico, go into a cell phone store and get a new SIM card for a carrier of your choice. There are two in Mexico: Movistar and TelCel. The rates between the two are pretty similar. However, Movistar tends to offer wider coverage, which may or may not be important to you depending on where your travels are taking you.

3. You will have two options for cell phone service in Mexico. You can either sign a monthly contract or you can pay as you go. If you choose to pay as you go, you will simply have to buy a phone card to re-charge your phone once you have used up all the minutes. These can be bought at most stores in Mexico. Cards are sold in increments of 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 pesos. Smaller amounts are valid for only a couple of days and larger amounts are valid for up to a month. If your minutes expire you can retrieve them as long as you buy more minutes to recharge it within 7 days. Instead of buying a card, you can also go into a store that is an authorized dealer and pay them to recharge the card by phone. This can be easier if you are not good with punching a long sequence of numbers using tiny cell phone buttons.

4. You will need a passport number and valid ID in order to sign up for service. It normally takes 30 minutes to 1 hour to get the service set up and working. Once your service has been set up, simply put your new SIM card into your phone and turn it on. You should now have cellular service in Mexico.

Next to getting Mexican auto insurance, getting your cell phone set up to use in Mexico should be your top priority when planning your road trip to Mexico. You will be able to call ahead to hotels, touch base with family and friends, and in case of an emergency, you will be able to call for help immediately. Just because you are in Mexico doesn't mean you have to forsake your cell phone and all the conveniences it brings!


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