May 12 Martina Franca- Alberobello

Martina Franca

Martina Franca – Olive Crusher

Alberobello

Alberobello House

Alberobello Church

In the morning we drove to the town of 50,000 called Martina Franca where we had a tour of an olive oil company named L’Acropoli di Puglia that has been making olive oil since 1889. The owner gave us about an hour demonstration on the making of the olive oil and showed us how they grind the olives, filter the oil, etc. We then had a tasting of several types of olive oil similar to the way you might taste wine at a winery. We had clear plastic shot glasses with a small amount of oil to smell, swished gently in our mouths and then swallowed. Some of the oils had a very peppery taste while others were very smooth going down. They also stressed how important it is to not heat the oil olive but instead to use it at room temperature on pasta or salads just before serving.

After the oil olive tasting we took a walking tour with a guide into the small town of Martina Franca. She took us to a small museum where they had a variety of religious artifacts like chalices, paintings and vestments beautifully displayed. After the visit inside the museum we were taken downstairs to a café where we were served a variety of local products:  several types of cheeses, ham, salami, olives, tomatoes, wine and a local pastry for dessert.

In the afternoon we visited the town of Alberobello which was about a forty-minute drive from our hotel. The word Alberobello means beautiful tree and is a small town in southern Italy with about 11,000 inhabitants. The town dates back to the 16thcentury when 40 families were granted land to farm in the area. The area is full of stones which led the inhabitants to build houses out of dry stones without the use of mortar. These limestone circular-shaped houses with pinnacled, conical roofs are called Trulli. This concentration of about 400 local Trulli homes have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996.

We had a walking tour of the most significant Trulli-style homes and were even able to visit the interior of one that has been owned by the same family for nearly a century. The elderly woman who was kind enough to open her home to us was born in the home and years ago, she was one of fifteen children living there. The home is quite small by today’s standards with a decent sized living and dining room, a bedroom alcove with small bath attached and a third room that functioned as a kitchen and additional sleeping area. Each of the rooms is made of stone walls and the conical shaped roof rises above each room. In this family many of the children had a loft in the cone shaped room over the main living space where they slept.

We visited a Trulli-style church with a beautiful simple altar and walked the many streets of the UNESCO site where many of the old homes have been converted to shops and restaurants. All of the buildings in the area are required to be white washed and no color is permitted as was traditional. At the peak of some of the roofs they would add an ornament of some type to reflect their religious beliefs in most cases.  Some owners would also mark/whitewash their roofs with symbols of their religious beliefs.

The streets were busy with tourists and locals alike who had come out to see a hot air balloon being launched from the main town square. We stopped at a small shop where they sold several types of sausage sandwiches on rolls for a bite to eat. Our next stop was a charming gelato shop along the main street where we enjoyed a refreshing and delicious gelato. Others chose to go to dinner at a local farm with folkloric show but we retired early as Mark was catching a cold and wanted to rest.

May 11, 2018 Bari-Lecce-Alberobello

Bari – St. Nicholas Statue

Bari Old Town – St. Nicholas Church

Bari – Old Town Pasta

Lecce – Old Town Gate

Lecce – Pasticciotto Pastry

We took a walking tour through the city’s oldest district called the Bari Vecchia. This oldest historic part of the city is located on a small peninsula and once had a wall surrounding it, although much of the wall is now gone. The area is a labyrinth of small narrow cobblestone streets with laundry hanging from the balconies. The main square is where we found the Basilica of Saint Nicholas. Here it is believed are some remains Saint Nicholas, one of the most worshipped Christian saints. The basilica was built in the 11th century. St. Nicholas was a saint who helped children including the less fortunate and is represented in statues and paintings as a saint holding three balls. These balls represent three bags of gifts that he gave to three young women who were so poor they would not be able to marry without a dowry. This is where we get the St. Nicholas connection with Santa Claus who hands out toys.

On one particular street in the old town, the women make a local type of pasta known as ears (orecchiette) because of its shape. You see them in their ground floor kitchens rolling out the dough and creating the ear shaped pasta. After drying it in the sun outside they bag it and sell it to the locals. It is said that women will only be able to marry if they can make this type of pasta. The test of whether or not you can make it well is when your future mother in law thinks it is good.

After our visit to Bari we headed to the historic town of Lecce with a population of approximately 95,000 inhabitants. Because of the rich Baroque architectural monuments found in the city, it is often referred to as the Florence of the South. The city is filled with ornately decorated buildings and many small squares to explore. This is also an important agricultural center for its olive oil and wine production. It also exports a soft limestone suitable for sculpture and they also produce ceramic products here.

We stopped to taste a local delicacy called the pasticciotto, a type of Italian pastry traditionally filled with either ricotta cheese or egg custard and served warm. The pasticciotto are often eaten as a breakfast item but can also be eaten any time of day and are a traditional Easter pastry. They are a little larger around than a cupcake but only about an inch tall and the tops are brushed with egg to create a shiny look. Today you can also find these pastries filled with fillings like almond, chocolate, pistachio, vanilla or fruit flavored preserves. Accompanying the pastry, we had an almond-flavored iced coffee which was very good. They use iced almond milk with hot espresso coffee poured over the top. It was very sweet and delicious for those of us with a sweet tooth.

We then headed to the town of Alberobello where we checked into the Casale Del Murgese Hotel. This hotel is an ancient Baron’s farmhouse with views of the gorgeous blue sea and surrounded by olive groves. The 31-room hotel is elegantly decorated in shades of whites and cream tones. There is a large infinity pool surrounded by relaxing chaises and cabanas.

We had dinner in the large white dining room of the hotel where we were served an appetizer course of fried dough like balls and bread with fresh tomatoes like a bruschetta. For the pasta course they served gnocchi potatoes with a red sauce. The entrée was what they called a chicken stew but was not what we might call a stew. The small pieces of chicken and cut up potatoes were in a small amount of clear broth like we might call a soup. It was all very bland and not particularly exciting. For dessert they served a tiramisu. We ate with the three Australian gals and another Australian couple.

May 10, 2018 Naples-Bari-Polignani a Mare

Naples

Naples Arcade

Bari Shopping Street

Polignani a Mare

Polignani A Mare Street

With one million people, Naples is the third largest Italian city after Rome and Milan. It is located on the west coast of southern Italy. Its historic city center is the largest in Europe, covering 4,200 acres and is a UNESCO World Heritage Center. The city has many important museums and is home to some 448 historic churches.

We took a city tour on the bus to see some of the highlights around the city of Naples before a local guide gave us a very brief tour of a few places near the port. We them had an hour or so to explore on our own before meeting up at a local pizzeria to try the Neapolitan pizza. They say that Naples has the best pizza due to the quality of the water in the area. The pizza was a simple bread dough with a small amount of sauce, some cheese and a basil leaf for decoration. It was simple but good.

After the pizza and drinks we stopped in to the shop next door to sample four flavors of the local Limoncello. They were sampling the traditional lemon style, as well as a crème/lemon flavor, an anise flavor and a cantaloupe flavor Meloncello.

We then headed east towards the heel of the boot on the Adriatic Sea to the town of Bari. Bari is located on the east coast of Italy on the Adriatic Sea and is home to about 350,000 inhabitants while the surrounding metropolitan area is home to 1.3 million people. The city is a university city and has a port as well. The distance from Naples is about 200 miles and the landscape changes dramatically. Near Naples there are many hills and mountains around the city while in the Bari area the land is mostly flat and filled with agriculture. They claim to have more than sixty-million olive trees in the area and we saw many vineyards, citrus trees, vegetables and walnut trees growing.

Our hotel for one night was the Grande Albergo delle Nazioni Hotel located along the waterfront near the port. It was a very modern hotel with very unusual furnishings. The walls in our room were upholstered in a powder blue tone on tone print fabric, the headboard was blue and white in a modern shape, the chairs were powder blue with a crème colored lacquered table and the accent in the room was an orange cabinet that hung on the wall and housed the mini-bar. The bathroom was very modern with a powder blue vanity top, irregular shaped mirror and a molded plastic shower pan like I’ve never seen before.

We took a short walk into the newer part of town to get an overview of the city before heading out again for dinner.

In the evening we visited the quaint town and fishing village of Polignano a Mare. The village is the birthplace of a local famous singer by the name of Domenico Modugno who sang the song Volare. The narrow streets are filled with shops and cafes, one of which we stopped at to try the local fish cuisine. Much of the fish in the area is eaten raw similar to sushi. Mark had a shrimp sandwich that was on a delicious roll with cheese, potato chips, lettuce and who knows what else. Kent enjoyed the mixed fried fish plate with shrimp and calamari. Unfortunately, they fried the shrimp whole so it was a bit of work to shell the shrimp before eating them.

There is a large statue of Domenico Modugno along the shore where people stop to take photos with him. There is an older walled portion of the city that is pedestrian only with meandering narrow cobblestoned streets. The narrow streets are filled with tiny shops about the size of a living room that are beautifully decorated and their merchandise is spilling out the door onto the streets. Many people were wandering the streets stopping at restaurants, bars and gelato shops for something to eat. We stopped at a gelato shop that Kent thought had the best chocolate and Nutella gelato he had ever tried.

May 9, 2018 Pompeii and Sorrento

Pompeii Street

Pompeii Amphitheater

Amalfi Coast

Positano Coast

Positano Roadside Market

Positano

On this day, we visited the ancient Roman town of Pompeii which was mostly destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79. It is believed that the town was founded around the 7th century BC and at the time of the destruction had about 11,000 inhabitants. The volcanic eruption occurred so quickly that some residents were unable to evacuate and the town was perfectly preserved under ash and lava. It is estimated that about 2,000 perished.

At the time of the destruction the town had already developed a complex water system, an amphitheater, a gymnasium and a port. The town had been lost for about 1,500 years until it was initially rediscovered in 1599 and more broadly rediscovered in 1748 by a Spanish engineer named Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre. Archaeologists were allowed an extraordinary insight into the life of a city during that time. Today many of the uncovered artifacts have been moved to a national museum in Naples but visitors are able to walk the streets of this ancient town and see many of the structures that existed at that time. We walked past wealthy homes, the public baths, the town square, the main marketplace, the amphitheater, the red-light district and some of the commercial streets of the day.

The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today and is one of Italy’s most popular attractions with 2.5 million tourists annually.

After our visit to Pompeii we had a couple of hours to rest before heading south along the Amalfi Coast to the town of Positano. The twisting curving streets along the coast drop dramatically to the sea below. The views are beautiful with colorful homes dotted along the coast and lush landscapes cover the hillsides.

The town of Positano has a population of about 10,000 residents and meanders up and down steep hillsides above the coast. The narrow streets are filled with one shop after the next selling all types of clothing, jewelry, ceramics, art, pastries, food and more. Footpaths meander the hillsides between the streets and the beach and are filled with shops as well. Some of the shops and restaurants are very expensive but there are reasonably priced places to eat and shop as well. We had a couple of hours to wander the hillside shops and restaurants and it was an enjoyable time.

We saw a couple in Positano who had stood behind us in the customs line at the Rome airport. They were in Italy for a wedding. We didn’t learn their names, but we recognized each other. Small world!

May 8, 2018 Sorrento Coast-Capri

Capri Hillside

Capri Park

Capri Cliff with Walkway

We took an excursion to the Isle of Capri in Italy’s Bay of Naples on the west coast of Italy on this day. The island is famous for its rugged landscapes, high-end hotels, designer fashions and the liquor called Limoncello. The Jetfoil ride from Sorrento to the island takes only about 30+ minutes. Once on the island we took a funicular to the top of the island where we visited the village of Capri for a guided walking tour of the local sights.

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative this day and it rained most of the time we were on the island of Capri. Even in the rain it was obvious that Capri was a beautiful island with steep jagged hillsides of rock and lush green beauty. The village atop the island has many meandering pathways lined with a mix of private homes, shops, restaurants and hotels. The shop windows were exquisitely displayed with clothing, jewelry, perfumes and luxury gift items. There were window boxes, flower pots and flower beds everywhere filled with colorful flowers all neatly maintained. Due to the narrow lanes around the island most of the merchandise, food, shops goods and hotel guest luggage is transported on very small carts only about thirty inches wide and maybe 48 to 60 inches in length.

Capri is also where the name Capri pants were derived by fashion designer Sonja de Lennart in 1948 and rose to popularity in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Grace Kelly was among one of the first celebrities to wear the Capri pants on the Isle of Capri.
We returned to our hotel in Sorrento by about 3:00pm for a rest before heading out to dinner at a local farm at 5:30pm. The family farm grows their own vegetables, lemons for cooking and limoncello, cows for milk used in mozzarella and ricotta cheese, chicken for eggs and cooking, sheep, and more. We were given a short tour of the farm in light rain.

Inside a large dining room, we were served a delicious dinner prepared with all items from the farm. The starter plate had fresh tomatoes, grilled zucchini, eggplant and peppers, mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese and some greens, stuffed zucchini blossoms with cheese and ham. The next course was a pasta plate with a tube pasta with red sauce and a artichoke pasta strips with a white cream sauce. Next came a platter of French fried potatoes, a platter of grilled meats of chicken, sausage and beef steak. For dessert we had a cheese filled cake and the family’s limoncello.

May 7, 2018 Rome to Sorrento, Italy

Popes Palace Formal Gardens

Popes Palace Chapel

Popes Palace Hall

Located about 16 miles southeast of Rome we visited the small town of Castel Gandolfo with about 9,000 inhabitants. This scenic community has served as a summer residence and vacation retreat for the pope at the Papal Palace of Castle Gandolfo. The Lateran Treaty of 1929, in which Vatican City was recognized as an independent country, gave the Villa Barberini Castle–along with the adjacent Villa del Morro and Villa Cybo–to the Vatican. The adjoining Lake Albano is surrounded by summer residences, villas, and cottages, many of which were built during the 17th century. The lake was also home to the rowing events during the Rome Olympics.

The grounds were expanded later by Pope Pius XI by acquiring some additional land as a small farm. Today the farm has many chickens, cows, sheep and other animals. The grounds of the villas are exquisitely maintained by twenty full and part time gardeners. There are fountains, statuary, boxwood gardens, and a huge variety of walking paths and terraces, plants and flowers. The grounds are approximately 135 acres in size.

The Pope’s residence is a three-story palace where the first floor is occupied by office space when the Pope is in residence. On the second floor are photos, vestments and memorabilia from all of the Popes. The third floor is the main living quarters of the Pope with many rooms where the Pope can have private meetings with parishioners, an office space, sitting rooms, a small chapel and a large bedroom. The current Pope (Francis) does not visit the residence and prefers instead to make visits to a neighboring monastery in the woods near the lake. The residence has been open to the public as a museum for the last few years.

During World War II it is said that Pope Pius XII opened up the grounds of the Castel to refugees escaping the fighting in Rome. On January 22, 1944, the first of what became 12,000 people began arriving, bringing with them cows, horses, mules and sheep. Included were many Roman Jews, and other non-Catholics. During the time they lived there, 36 children were born, many of whom were named after the Pope. It is believed that the Pope’s private apartment was converted into a nursery to house all of the new born children.

After our tour of the Pope’s summer residence we traveled by bus about four hours including a break for a quick lunch at a roadside stop. We checked into the Towers Hotel before heading out to see the town of Sorrento. The drive into town was along a twisting turning road along soaring steep cliffs jutting up from the sea. The town is very hilly and covered with homes, vineyards, citrus gardens, vegetable gardens and Kiwi vines. The town is very charming with many shops along a pedestrian street, cobblestone streets and window boxes with colorful flowers. Views from many restaurants overlook the Tyrrhenian Sea.

For dinner we headed to a very large restaurant overlooking the sea (although it had begun to rain and so we were unable to enjoy the outdoors and the skies were gray and filled with clouds). For dinner we started with an appetizer plate of cheese, prosciutto, salami and deep-fried pasta dumplings. Next came a slice of pizza before an entrée course of pasta and ravioli. This was followed by a shot of the local liquor Limoncello and a pastry similar to pound cake covered in a lemon cream.

May 6 Rome, Italy

 

Rome’s Spanish Steps

Altar Della Patria

Rome’s Trevi Fountain

Rome’s Colosseum

 

Rome is the capital of Italy with a population of approximately 4.3 million inhabitants. There is archaeological evidence that Rome has been inhabited by humans for at least 14,000 years. Everywhere you walk or drive in the city you come across historical buildings, remnants of walls from bygone eras, museums, monuments, fountains, squares and architecturally interesting buildings.

The buffet breakfast in our hotel was very plentiful. They had a selection of cereals and yoghurts, breads, cheeses, meats, bacon, eggs, fruits, coffee and more.

After breakfast we took the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour around the city to refresh our memory of the city since it has been 20 years since we were last in Rome. The city tour took us to many of the main sites like the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Castle Saint Angelo, the grand building of justice as well as many parks, fountains and monuments. Everywhere we went it was extremely busy with tourists from all over the world. The bus ride took more than two hours to make one loop of the city tour.

After the bus tour we walked down the Spanish Steps and visited the famed Trevi Fountain before heading back to our hotel. We stopped along the way at a small Italian café where we had lasagna and tiramisu for lunch. By that I mean Mark had the lasagna and Kent had the tiramisu.

Our first meeting with the Globus tour group we are traveling with met in the breakfast room for a meeting at 5:00pm. Out tour leader is a gentleman from the Sorrento area by the name of Giacomo. Our group of 40 is a bit larger than we are used to traveling with when we travel with Vantage Travel. Most of the Vantage Travel tour groups are only about 24 guests.

After our initial meeting we were taken by bus to a local restaurant called Ristorante Mino where we enjoyed a welcome dinner. The dinner started with a lovely plate of melon and prosciutto and a bruschetta (a large thick slice of bread grilled with olive oil and topped with chopped fresh tomatoes, celery and basil). Next, they served us a pasta course consisting of a slice of lasagna and a scoop of tube pasta with mushrooms and peas in a cream sauce. The main course consisted of two slices of pork roast with roasted white potatoes. For dessert they served a berry ice cream with a fresh berry sauce. They also served unlimited bottles of red and white wine, soft drinks and bottled water.

Kent and I sat with three ladies from Adelaide, Australia who are traveling together. They were very friendly and were having a lot of fun chatting over dinner about most everything.

May 4-5 San Diego to Rome, Italy

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica Altar Made of Bronze

 

 

St. Peter’s Basilica Statuary

Our early morning flight departed San Diego at 6:15am bound for Newark, New Jersey, we had about a three-hour layover before departing for Rome, Italy. We arrived in Rome about 8:00 in the morning local time. There were a tremendous number of visitors and very little supervision in the custom’s hall where we needed to wait in lines for an hour or so to have our passports stamped before entering the country. My brand-new piece of “It” luggage guaranteed for life against breakage was dented but survived the airport baggage service. We took a shared taxi into Rome to the Della Conciliazione Hotel just a few blocks from St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican. The hotel is fairly small with only 67 rooms but it is neat, clean and has everything we could need for our short visit here.

As our room was not yet ready, we took the short walk to St. Peter’s Basilica where we had a small wait to go through metal detectors before entering the spectacular cathedral. Marble covers nearly every square inch of the massive cathedral, from statues to the floors and walls. Thousands of visitors were roaming the church snapping photos everywhere. They call St. Peter’s the largest Christian church in the world as it covers 5.7 acres of land, 448-foot-tall dome, 163,200 square feet of floor space.

We stopped at a local restaurant near our hotel for a bite to eat before returning to our hotel. Many of the local restaurants set up tables and chairs under umbrellas in the streets and alley ways for guests to dine al fresco. For lunch we tried the pork sausage filled olives breaded and deep fried. Interesting flavor and texture but not necessarily something to rush back for. Kent had the gnocchi with pesto sauce and Mark had a very dry and a bit flavorless four cheese pizza. The pizza had a small amount of cheese melted on a nice piece of dough but no sauce and not much spice. We were sharing our plates so the waiter asked if we were brothers: if you are men and you eat off the same plate you must be related!

We were able to check into the hotel about 2:00pm and immediately collapsed on the bed and were fast asleep for about three hours. After our nap we took a nice walk to the Plaza Navona in the center of town by crossing the Tiber River on an ornately decorated pedestrian bridge. All of the railing posts had elaborate sculptures of dragons and gargoyles. It was lightly raining but lots of people were out walking the streets, eating in the outdoor cafes and restaurants.

For dinner we stopped into a very small pasta shop near our hotel. This small shop only has a license to sell a very limited number of items like pastas and drinks and is not allowed to serve food on real dishes. They serve the pasta in plastic bowls and the drinks in plastic cups. The owner was very welcoming and happy to chat with his guests. He said that he felt his beautiful city was now in a state of decline and he found it very frustrating. He was concerned about things like the poor condition of the roads and the fact that young people are too busy on their cell phones to speak to the people around them. When we told him that this was the same in San Diego, he could not help but translate it into Italian and tell some other guests at a nearby hotel. He was surprised that in America we might have problems with our streets.

We returned to our hotel by 9:00pm and retired for the night.

October 18, 2017 Luang Prabang/San Diego

Luang Prabang Monks

Luang Prabang Market

On our last morning in Luang Prabang we rose at 5:30am to help feed the local monk community out in front of our hotel. Each morning hundreds of monks from 113 temples can be seen walking the streets collecting alms or food and money. Our group leader had arranged for long carpets to be placed in the street with tiny plastic chairs placed in a row. In front of each chair was a woven basket with a lid filled with cooked sticky rice, a staple in the diet of the local people. We were given sashes to wear and we had to remove our shoes as a sign of respect to the monks. As we were seated, the local monks paraded by us, open the lid on their pots and we would place a golf ball sized lump of sticky rice in each of the monks’ pots. They continued to come in several groups over a period of time of about 45 minutes. The locals start their day at 4:00am when they rise to begin cooking the sticky rice that they will give the monks that morning. They sit on small stools with fabric sashes as well. Very interesting.

Next, we were taken by minivan to the local morning market where the locals go each day to pick up groceries for the daily meals. The narrow alley ways were filled with one stand after the next and the locals were busy shopping for all things from the common to the exotic. The fresh fruits and vegetables were beautiful, the fish, poultry and meat not so appetizing, but then there was the exotic. We saw live chickens, live ducks, live bats, live crabs, live toads, barbecued rats, live eels, live snakes and most anything else you might could imagine.

By 11:00am we were headed to the airport for the long and exhausting trip home. From Lunag Prabang we flew about two hours to Bangkok where we had a four-hour layover. From Bangkok, we flew about three hours to Hong Kong where we had a 90-minute layover. From Hong Kong, we flew about 13 hours to Los Angeles. By this time, it was too late in the evening for us to fly to San Diego that night so we had to transfer to a local hotel for the night. The next morning after our 11-and-a-half-hour layover we flew the final one-hour flight to San Diego. A very long trip home, but glad that we went.

October 17, 2017 Luang Prabang

Royal Family Palace Museum Temple

Luang Prabang – Food being dried on the streets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weaving Village

Our first stop on this morning was at the former Royal Family Palace Museum and Residence called Haw Kham. Built for King Sisavang Vong and his family in 1904 during the French Colonial era, it was later occupied by Crown Prince Savang Vatthana and his family. In 1975, the monarchy was overthrown by the communists and the Royal Family was taken to what they called re-education camps and the palace was converted to a national museum. The palace was built within a large walled compound with lovely lily ponds, lush trees, meandering paths and green grass lawns.

We visited a temple located just inside the main gates of the property that houses the museums most prized art, a small Buddha called Phra Bang. The statue dating back to the first century was cast in Sri Lanka of gold, silver and bronze alloy and is about 33” tall and weighs about 110 pounds. Some question the authenticity of this Buddha being the original, but it is highly guarded and no photos are allowed. They require you to remove your shoes to climb about 20 steps to the entrance of the temple, but no one is allowed inside the door. You can only look through the open door.

The main residence is also highly guarded and they require you to leave all bags, large purses and cameras in lockers before being allowed into the building. The royal residence is very nicely preserved and is filled with much of the original furnishings, family jewels, wall murals and gifts to the royal family. Outside the residence there is a large garage where some of the royal family’s cars are preserved including an Edsel, a Jeep, a Lincoln and a few others. Outside there is a large statue of King Sisavang Vong on the palace grounds.

We then took a short drive to a local temple where we met with a local monk who seemed more interested in his phone than speaking with us. He did not speak English so Sone was interpreting our questions and relaying the answers to us. Not a highlight of the trip.

Our next stop was the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre where they celebrate the ethnic cultures and diversity of the Laos people. They have 49 ethnic groups and 15 languages in the country. The museum is small but had a nice assortment of handicrafts, traditional arts and displays about some of the local groups. The museum shop was very popular with our group and many folks purchased some of the handicrafts offered for sale.

We had a huge lunch at a local restaurant where the food did not stop coming. They served a beautiful array of local dishes like spring rolls, lemongrass chicken, chicken curry, vegetable soup, rice, stir fried vegetables, eggplant and dessert. Everything was delicious but way too much food.

In the afternoon, we took an optional tour to a local village where they create several types of handicrafts including silk weavings. In the local village, they grow the silk worms, process the silk yarn, dye the yarns, all before beginning the weaving process. This village also creates a lot of handmade paper which they sell to local artist for painting on, they create paper bags, they create wrapping papers and greeting cards. Of course, they had a gift shop where you could purchase the local items and many of our folks did some damage.

We then took a short walk down to the Mekong River’s bank where we boarded a boat for a sunset boat ride on the Mekong. Onboard they served us roasted peanuts, potato chips, wine, beer and soft drinks. The ride along the river was very nice although not too much to see other than the beautiful surrounding green mountains and a few homes and villages along the river.

Dinner was back in town at a local restaurant that served us many traditional Lao dishes that we had not seen previously. Things like chips made from river weeds and barbecued water buffalo which was very tough but tasty. The dishes were plentiful and we probably sent back to the kitchen more than we ate.

All in all, our visit to Laos was very interesting. We were not that enthralled with our visit to Vientiane but we really enjoyed our time in Luang Prabang. The small-town feel, the clean streets, the charming cafes, unique restaurants, local handicraft shops and more were all very interesting. The locals in Laos were not as friendly as in Myanmar.