How TripAdvisor is Ruining Travel

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Travel takes time and planning.  Many believe that the planning is part of the fun.  Poring over guidebooks, searching the internet, talking with friends in search of recommendations for that hidden restaurant or travel tip that you can’t do without.  With so much information at our fingertips, it is easy to hop right on the internet and find thousands of comments from our nearest and dearest strangers. TripAdvisor attracts over 40 million visitors a month but popularity does not necessarily mean quality. There is some debate about the veracity of some of the reviews.  There are marketing companies who have publicly advertised services related to “seeding” online review forums (for a fee, of course). 

 We read TripAdvisor reviews like they are gospel.   Please don’t do that anymore.  The person who gave that fabulous hotel overlooking the Ponte Vecchio a poor review and said it was a waste of money?  He’s a bitter cheapskate who was just dumped and went to Italy to drown his sorrows. The romance in the air was like a slap in the face and clearly influenced his entire experience.  My point?  The problem with Trip Advisor (or Yelp, or any review sites) is that there is no context.  What were the expectations of the reviewer, how were they affected by past experiences, was the trip a once in a lifetime splurge or just an annual trip?  All of these factors come into play and influence a person’s experience.  I am not saying that reviews are not helpful.  They certainly can be.  But you should definitely embrace the philosophy of caveat lector- reader beware.   Read dozens of reviews, throw out the best (those honeymooners who are skipping through life and would be happy sleeping in a cardboard box along the riverbank as long as they were together) and the worst (see jaded, single guy above) and see what those people in the middle of the road have to say.  Read the comments carefully and think about whether or not they pertain to you.   “This hotel did not cater to my children at all”  - not going with kids??  Then this negative review might actually be a positive.  And a bored millennial writing “there is nothing to do at this place at night” might just mean that the reviewer missed the point of a villa turned luxury hotel in the Tuscan countryside.  This solitude may be just what you were seeking.

We have friends who own a hotel and I can tell you that the online review system has become the bane of their existence.  One poor review and their ranking on TripAdvisor plummets.  And if they respond to the comments, their reply seems like an excuse.  It really is a no-win situation.   Reviews are regularly “created”, i.e. made up, and while TripAdvisor is doing what it can to combat this, it is inevitable.  Friends and family are keen to add their always favorable comments about a property just as they can write something equally as unsavory about a competitor.  There is no requirement that you have to prove you stayed in said establishment.

My point is that your trip is yours.  While it is important to learn about the places you are visiting and the anticipation and planning certainly add to the whole experience, do remember to consider the source.   Trust your friends.  And maybe not all ofyour friends.  Let’s be honest – we all have friends who are fun enough to hang out with but are very different travelers. Those who choose to eat at McDonalds all around the world because they know what they are getting, those who think the coffee in Italy is terrible, those who think that Michelangelo is overrated.  Maybe not your best source for recommendations (unless that is your thing too).

A good travel consultant will take the time to know you and what kind of traveler you are.  She will ask the right questions about your preferences (luxury or more modest, traditional or modern, city or country) and she will have a large inventory of properties that will suit your needs.  Who would you rather trust:  a consultant with years of experience in the industry, who most likely has actually stayed at the places she is recommending or a review from Joe S. from Boise, Idaho who has only traveled out of the country once in his life?  Put yourself in the hands of the experts.  And for goodness sake, once you choose a place, stop reading the reviews on TripAdvisor. Somehow, the one poor rating is going to stick with you while the hundreds of glowing reviews are going to seem overrated.   Just go on your trip.  And then you will know what it’s like. And you can post all about it on TripAdvisor.

 

 

 

The Food of Romagna - A Photo Essay

Nothing tastes good. It may be that I am still jet lagged or that the bug that was being passed around our little group of bloggers made its way to me. Or maybe it's that once one feasts for four days straight and is treated to three hour banquets of fresh, delicious food, the need to eat is really secondary for quite some time.   So while I munch on toast, apples and baked potatoes back here in the States, I will dream of the glorious food of the Romagna.  I dare you not to drool....

Passatelli - A Romagnolo tradition

Passatelli - A Romagnolo tradition

It takes a lot of restraint to eat only two!

It takes a lot of restraint to eat only two!

Our picnic in Santarcangleo

Our picnic in Santarcangleo

Ciambella

Ciambella

ravioli with juniper berries

ravioli with juniper berries

a sweet finish

a sweet finish

I will be featuring the recipes and stories from my most excellent adventure on the blog over the next few weeks so stay tuned.  I am really #lovingromagna and can't wait to introduce you to the people of this beautiful land. If you are looking for another drool worthy post, check out my fun adventure on Context Travel's Florence for Foodies tour. 

The Wine Store Wanderer

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I love wine. Red, White, Sparkling- it’s all good as long as it’s not too sweet.  With all apologies to my dear sister-in-law Linda, I do not drink Moscato or White Zinfandel or anything that makes me reminisce back to my high school years of drinking Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers.

The beauty of travelling in Italy is that I usually just go for the house wine and it is always pretty good and pairs quite well with the local food.   When I do buy bottles, it is often times at a vineyard and I have just tasted the wine that I am about to purchase.  That really does take the mystery out of the whole process. 

Shopping for wine at home is a totally different story.  Sure, I have my favorite go-to wines. But sometimes, I really would like something new and different and I wander aimlessly through rows and rows of bottles, inspecting every label and in the end coming home with the same wines I always buy.  I curse myself every time, longing to be more adventurous, wishing that the liquor store had a wine guardian angel to guide me along in the process.    Thankfully, all that has changed.

Now I have a wine guy. His name is Gary.  Those of you in the social media world have heard of him I am sure.  Gary V. has a new venture on Instagram and I encourage you to check it out.  It’s called Wine Deals and everyday (often a few times a day), he posts a deal on a wine that he has selected.  He describes the wine, the nose, the taste and what it will pair well with.  All you do is follow the link in Wine Deals Bio, enter the promo code and fabulous wine is delivered to your doorstep with free shipping.   This week I got four bottles of Tuscan red for $27.   I trust Gary’s assessment of wines.  He is honest and down to earth.  This is not Wine Spectator.  It’s wine for real people.  

Check out wine deals on Instagram or at Wine Library.

Thanks Gary for making my Friday family dinner even better!  Salute

What are you drinking this weekend?  Let me know in the comments below.

Perfect Pairings: 4 Delicious Italian Flavor Combinations

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I don’t know who invented the Reese’s peanut butter cup but I think I speak for all of us when I say that we owe you a debt of gratitude for your pioneering ways in putting together such a delightful flavor combination.   I love the combination of the unexpected – sweet and salty I suppose is my favorite.  Some of my choices were (are) suspect to some but really, you can’t knock it until you try it. My childhood was filled with grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches, fried bologna sandwiches with iceberg lettuce and yellow mustard, and pretzel sticks folded into Stewart’s (my Upstate NY peeps get it) Fudge Ripple ice cream. 

My palate has become a bit more sophisticated, though nostalgia always calls.  The quest for delicious, unexpected combinations was fulfilled in Italy.   Here a few of those perfect pairings that you must try when you are there (or recreate them here to bring Italy to you):

Figs & Prosciutto - figs don't seem to be a favorite amongst Americans.  Most immediately think of Fig Newtons which bear no resemblance to this mid-late summer fruit.  Figs are delicious and sweet without being overly so and just like the cantaloupe, they pair perfectly with salty prosciutto. You will see the sweet salty combo becomes a recurring theme. 

Lemon Sorbet and Prosecco (plus a dash – or two – of vodka) - this little after dinner delight is called sgroppino. Not quite a dessert, not quite an after dinner drink but absolutely perfect on a hot summer night. You can find the recipe (and about 25 others) in my cookbook: Italy, One Dish at a Time

Nutella Pizza -  the very first time I went to Rome, I discovered the beauty of pizza al taglio, pizza which is priced by weight. There are rows of pizza with all different types - pizza with mushrooms, white pizza with gorgonzola, pizza with potatoes and rosemary, pizza with sausage. And then in the corner, as if it is almost shameful to even suggest it, is the pizza con Nutella.  Pizza Bianca sliced open horizontally and filled with Nutella.  The sweet chocolate hazelnut filling with the coarse salt topping of the pizza.  Let's just say we ate it every night.  And thank God we were walking a lot….

Pears & Pecorino - cheese and fruit is nothing new but bears repeating.  Especially when topped with honey.  It is still one of my favorite combinations.

Strawberries and Balsamic Vinegar - balsamic vinegar is like gold.  Let me correct that. GOOD balsamic vinegar is like gold.  If you ever have the opportunity to go to a balsamic vinegar producer and see the process, I highly encourage you to do so.  Once you see how the vinegar is made and everything that goes into it, you will never again complain about the price.  The aging process takes place in five different barrels made of five different types of wood.  The best stuff is aged for 15 to 20 years and can cost up to $70 per ounce. In such a case, you use what is called a salva amica or friend saver. This contraption is put on the opening of the bottle and dispenses the ambrosia one drip at a time to keep your friend from dumping $40 worth of vinegar on his iceberg lettuce.   This precious liquid is thick, can stay on a spoon and has a sweet smooth flavor unlike anything you have tried from the grocery store. In Modena, where it is primarily made, they fill chocolates with it and strawberries and balsamic is a must for dessert.  Get the best you can afford and give it a try.  Just a drizzle.  

Have discovered new and delicious flavor combinations in your travels?  I would love to hear about it.  Leave a comment below.

Tastefully Yours, Ashley