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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lawrence, KS: Reliable, Affordable, Professional Shuttle To Kansas City Airport

SDM Transportation 
P.O. Box 3783 
Lawrence,  KS   66046
Email: reservation@sdmtransportationks.com
Web: sdmtransportationks.com
Phone: 785-979-2428
Fax: 785-371-4024

Hours: Hours based on availability, primarily evening, nights, early mornings, weekends, holidays and all day Thursday services.

I found SDM Transportation on a University of Kansas (KU) Questions and Answers page when my friend bailed on a promised ride home from the airport a week before my arrival. They had several options available, but arriving late at night (midnight) left me few options except for a dedicated vehicle. The few I contacted wanted $100 to $125 for a midnight ride from Kansas City International Airport to Lawrence, Kansas. Shannon, SDM's owner and sole driver, came back with a very fair quote of $65. Sold!

Shannon was very professional and responsive from the start, quickly confirming availability and pricing, then sending me a reservation confirmation in an email. On the day of my arrival, he even sent me a photo of the vehicle and information about where we would meet, leaving nothing to chance.


When I arrived, he was outside the arrivals baggage claim doors as promised, helping me to put my bags in the car even though he is disabled with Cerebral Palsy (his disability does not effect his driving, he is an excellent and very safe driver). Shannon gave me a brief overview of his business to put me at ease and we spent the next 50 minutes chatting as we made our way to Lawrence. He helped me with my bags when we arrived and he even waited until I found my keys and opened the front door before leaving.

If you want reliable, friendly, professional, and cost-effective transportation to and from Kansas City Airport and surrounds, then Shannon should be your first choice. The only drawbacks being his schedule and the size of the vehicle. He works full-time at another job and has no other employees, so his availability is limited to Thursdays and nights only. The vehicle, a Hyundai hybrid, is large, new, and comfortable, but it has a rather small trunk and seats four comfortably, making it a challenge to fit more than two riders and a bag or two each in the car. I also recommend that you contact him as early as possible if you want to ensure that he is available.

CombatCritic Gives SDM Transportation 9 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!




Read Chris S.'s review of SDM Transportation on Yelp

Title: Reliable, Affordable, Professional Lawrence (Kansas) To Kansas City Airport Shuttle

Key Words: SDM Transportation, SDM, transportation, Lawrence, Kansas, airport, MCI, Kansas City, international, shuttle, Shannon, McCoy, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, food, definitive, review

* Photos courtesy of SDMTransportationKS.com

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Marina of Ascea, Italy: Super Value, Nice Variety In A Beach Town With Few Dining Options

Da Franco
Restaurant and Pizzeria
Via Elea 213
84046 Marina, Italy
Phone: +39 0974 972979
Prices: $$$$

For a tourist/beach town, Ascea is noticeably lacking in a selection of decent restaurants, particularly on "the Corso" or main street. We went to Pizzeria and Ristorante Da Franco with a friend who lives in Ascea. The restaurant is at the far end of Corso from the town center and they have a reasonable €15 menu del giorno (tourist menu; primo, secondo, contorno, coperto, servizio) for dinner. It is quite big inside, but being a nice evening we sat on the small terrace in front on the street. The service was very attentive and good. 

I went with the menu del giorno and a primo of penne boscaiola (meat, mushrooms, and peas) with scallopina ai funghi (meat scallops in mushroom sauce) as my secondo and patatine (french fries) for a contorno. The boscaiola was creamy, earthy and robust, the scallopine light and savory, and the fries crispy and hot. An excellent meal at just €15.

My wife and her friend had pizza which was as good as expected in Southern Italy, particularly anywhere within 100 miles of Naples. The crusts thin, yet sturdy enough to hold the toppings without getting soggy with just the right amount of tomato and other ingredients, not too many and not too few.

Da Franco was quite a good value in a beach town with remarkably few options, particularly for those on a budget and is recommended when visiting Ascea.

CombatCritic Gives Da Franco 8 Bombs Out Of 10 ... Bombs Are Good!




Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor ... And Don't Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: Super Value, Nice Variety In A Beach Town With Few Dining Options

Key Words: Da Franco, franco, Ascea, restaurant, ristorante, pizzeria, pizza, menu del giorno, menu, giorno, review, travel, value, Campania, Italy, Italian, pasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Monday, July 27, 2015

Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations

Pensione Bencistá
Guest House And Restaurant
Via Benedetto DA Maiano, 4
50014 Fiesole, Italy
Phone: +39 055 59163
Web: bencista.com
Prices: €€€

This review is on the restaurant only.

Recommended by the Michelin Guide (no Michelin stars) and with rave reviews on TripAdvisor (this was their first review on Yelp), we were eagerly anticipating our 11th Anniversary dinner at Pensione Bencistá's restaurant. Arriving by bus (€1.20/person each way) from our apartment in Florence, it was a short walk down the road from Bus #7's stop "Regresso" following the signs.


The pensione is a beautiful 14th Century villa, overlooking the valley and Florence below. The Duomo and other landmarks are clearly evident from the terrace where we were taken and our reserved table awaited us. The tables were a bit too close to one another and the back of a chair from the table next to us made it awkward to sit comfortably. One of the owners finally moved the table when the guests arrived and it became clear that it was not going to work very well for either party. A nice young lady took our order from the fixed-price (€25 per person) menu with just four primi (pasta) selections and three choices of secondi (meat), including the tagliata (sliced steak - €40/kilo with one kilo minimum).


The wine list was reasonable and we ordered a Syrah (€32) from northern Tuscany which was very good. Wine is extra, but water, dessert, service, and coperto are all included in the fixed-price. The Syrah was good, a robust, deep red with hints of berry, complimenting the meal very nicely.






















For our primi (first course), my wife had the penne con zucchini and I had the penne al ragu (meat sauce). They boast about serving only De Cecco pasta on their website which I found a bit odd because De Cecco is good pasta, but it is mass produced, not locally produced or handmade. My wife's pasta with zucchini was swimming in olive oil, a bit off-putting, but otherwise the dish was fair, nothing special, with small chunks of zucchini, onion, and little else. She had to add grated cheese to the dish to give it flavor, something she almost never does at her mother's house in Napoli or in restaurants. My ragu was very good, but like my wife's dish, there was very little pasta and it took little time to consume. Not overly impressive, after all De Cecco is not expensive pasta.


While eating our pasta, the French family next to us received their secondi (main courses), porchetta, which is one of my favorites and not offered to us an as an option by our server. They were also served their contorni individually by the waiter whereas ours would later arrive on our plates from the kitchen. Maybe they were French celebrities we had never heard of, the King of France perhaps? I am joking obviously, but I thought it a bit odd in any case.


When our secondi arrived, there were the potatoes, peperoni (sauteed red bell peppers), and a small portion of melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant parmigiana) even though I had specified in my reservation that my wife was allergic to tomatoes. We pointed out the faux pas, they apologized, and her plate was removed. My tacchino rollatini arrived shortly thereafter, but we waited and waited, seemingly forever, until her veal sans tomato finally arrived. The owner also asked if we were having the porchetta, but I told him that the server had not given us that option, so he promised to bring a few slices as a courtesy.


The tacchino (turkey breast) was rolled with ham and cheese inside, then lightly pan-fried. It was delicious, but extremely small once again with just one little rolled breast. The potatoes, melanzane, and peppers were all very good as you would expect at any decent restaurant in Italy. The scaloppine was also quite delicious, a reasonable portion, not small, not huge, white and tender as real veal should be. It is just a shame that we could not enjoy our anniversary main courses together.


For dessert we were offered a choice of plum cake, torta di mele (apple pie), or biscotti (hard cookies with almonds) and a small glass of Vin Santo. We shared the torta di mele and biscotti con Vin Santo. The apple pie was simple and tasty, an Italian version slightly similar to American apple pie but drier. The biscotti were good, looking store-bought, and the glass of Vin Santo, a sweet white wine famous in this region, was very small, but big enough to dip the three cookies in as is the tradition. Again, the French family received dessert and something we were not offered by our server, fruit and cheese. Why our server failed to tell us about the additional options for secondi and dolce (dessert) is still a mystery.


For the price, the meal was good and a fair value in Florence where comparable fixed-price meals start in the €30 to €40 range (including wine however). The setting idyllic, a beautiful ancient villa with an incredible view, the experience was better than the meal alone. The food was very average, with very few basic selections and small portions. The service was very friendly and punctual, but the numerous mistakes detracted greatly from our overall experience, particularly being our wedding anniversary.


Recommendations for a better experience:

1)      Handmade pasta or a least a top-quality, local pasta like Pastificio Chelucci for example
2)     Much less olive oil in pasta dishes
3)     Better consistency in the treatment of guests, making sure all options are available to everyone, not a select few
4)     Slightly larger portions
5)     Attention-to-detail. When someone has a food allergy, it is critical that they are not served the food in question


Keep in mind I am comparing this dining experience to establishments with similar formats and prices in Italy, for example, Incontro in Ariano Irpino where the same €25 fixed-price meal has five abundant, delicious courses (choice of meat or fish, two antipasti, primo, secondo, contorni, and dessert - pastas are made in-house), including all the wine/water you require, coffee, limoncello, service, and coperto. When comparing Pensione Bencistá to Hotel Incontro's superb restaurant (10 Bombs Out Of 10) and other excellent restaurants we have tried around the world, we enjoyed our meal well enough with the result being …

CombatCritic Gives Pensione Bencistá 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!


Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp - "Elite '14/'15" - And On TripAdvisor - "Top Contributor" - And Don't Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations


Key Words: Michelin, Pensione Bencistá, pensione, Bencistá, Fiesole, Florence, Firenze, Tuscany, Toscana, Italy, restaurant, villa, anniversary, fixed, price, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor, star

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The "Value" Leader In Travel ... Follow Me To TravelValue!


C.T. Sorrentino, aka CombatCritic, is a world traveler, having visited 41 countries and counting. An amateur chef, he studied for 3 years in Pozzuoli, Italy and is a published author of reviews, editorials, articles, a popular blog, and is the producer of a successful YouTube channel. 

On the Front Lines in the Battle Against Mediocre, Overpriced Travel, Food and Accommodation ... Follow Me To TravelValue


CombatCritic is Yelp ELITE '14 and '15, TripAdvisor "TOP CONTRIBUTOR", Booking.com "GENIUS" and Foursquare "INSIDER"

Title: The "Value" Leader In Travel ... Follow Me To TravelValue!

Key Words: YouTube, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, follow, me, world, destination, restaurant, hotel, review, reviews, menu, food, critic, Italy, India, Europe, Asia, 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pistoia (Tuscany), Italy: A Wonderful Pasta Factory Tour In A Historic Villa Seized By The Nazis During WWII

Pastificio Chelucci
Food Tours, Pasta Factory
Via di Valente, 7
51100 Pistoia, Italy
Phone: +39 0573 42011
Prices: € € € € 


Hand-crafted pasta since 1912, the owner Giuseppe has been in the family business since 1950, is extremely friendly and informative, and made us feel welcome for our free, private tour.

During World War II, the Nazis took over the building, a villa, making it their headquarters in 1942. The family had to walk for two days to Florence while the Germans occupied their home. Once the Nazis fled from Allied Forces in December 1942, they returned home to Pistoia and were the first pastificio (pasta factory) of 36 in the area to resume operations after the war. They are the only remaining pastificio of the original 36 in Pistoia.


The factory has been automated since 1950, but the pastas are still dried the old fashion way and hand packed. In fact, Giuseppe's sweet 94-year-old mother Dina still processes and packs the maccheroni by hand from time to time. The same machine from 1950 is still being used today. They have numerous varieties of pasta, including their signature pastas like "Quasimodi", made with only Tuscan flour from the Pisa area and their secret ingredient, pure local spring water. They recently unveiled a pasta in the shape of Pinocchio characters called "Le Bugie" ("the lies"), the result of a scholarship competition in the local schools.


The factory employs only six people, but they produce a wide variety of pastas using old family recipes and processes. The small river behind the factory once spun the turbines beneath the building which allowed them to resume operations so quickly after the war. Special drying units maintain constant temperatures between 32 and 35 degrees Celsius (90-95 Fahrenheit), ensuring that the pasta does not break, reducing waste, and resulting in quality products. Pastas take from 24 hours to six days to dry depending on the shape (versus two hours for mass produced brands).


The bronze pasta forms used to give the pastas their various shapes result in a special consistency not found in mass produced brands (De Cecco, Barilla). Their pastas take much less time to cook (5 minutes versus 12-15 minutes for comparable mass produced pasta) because the pasta from the brass forms allow the boiling water to saturate the pasta instead of cooking it from the outside. The water they are boiled in also has much more starch then that of the mass produced brands, allowing the water to be used to better thicken sauces before serving.

The valley in which the villa sits is quiet, green, lush, and much cooler than smoldering Florence, so it was a breath of fresh air, literally, after a month in 100 degree Florence and its wall-to-wall tourists. The temperature and humidity in the protected valley setting creates the perfect environment for making top-quality pastas. Giuseppe is working on adding a small gift shop and cafe, culinary demonstrations, and possibly pasta making and cooking classes in the near future, but in the meantime a tour of their operation is a must if visiting Tuscany (I have also included it in my article: Top 19 FREE THINGS TO DO In And Around Florence) and tell him CombatCritic sent you!

CombatCritic Gives Pastaficio Chelucci Tour The Coveted 10 Bombs Out Of 10 ... IT'S THE BOMB ... More Bombs Are Better!



Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor ... And Don't Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: A Wonderful Pasta Factory Tour In A Historic Villa Seized By The Nazis During WWII

Key Words: Pastificio Chelucci, pastificio, Giuseppe, Chelucci, Pistoia, Florence, Firenze, Italy, Toscana, Tuscany, pasta, factory, tour, travel, value, review, guide, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

An Outstanding Lunch Value, Possibly Overpriced As A Dinner Option

Osteria dei Centopoveri 
Restaurant and Pizzeria
Via Palazzuolo, 31r, 50123 
Florence, Italy
Phone: +39 055 218846
Website: centopoveri.it
Prices: $$$$

Air conditioning on a 100+ degree day in sweltering Florence, Italy ... HOOAH!
Tortellini Panna Prosciutto Con Piselli

Reasonably priced at €10 for a two course lunch, including wine, water, service and tip, this osteria (it is not spelled "ostaria", just like pizzeria is not spelled "pizzaria") and pizzeria is one of many value options near train station Santa Maria Novella in Florence. There are better and worse, but the food and service were pretty good and the price excellent.

Insalata Caprese
The restaurant is large and our group of six were quickly seated even though they were pretty busy. Five adults ordered off of the fixed price menu and the lone, very hungry child ordered a Margherita pizza, what else. Four of us had the tortellini panna prosciutto con piselli (ham, cream, and peas) for our first course and one had the pasta alla Sorrentina. The tortellini were mass produced, but very good, and plentiful served in a creamy, garlicky sauce with diced ham and peas. The sauce was so good that I ignored my wife's pleas and performed "scarpetta", cleaning my plate with the fresh, local bread and happily consuming it. The pasta all Sorrentina did not look all that appetizing, but what could we expect in Florence? There was no sauce, only a small amount of crushed tomato and a little mozzarella mixed with a lot of store-bought pasta.
Frittata di Patate

The very hungry child did not receive his pizza until after our second courses were served, but he was very patient nonetheless. A pizza lover, he was not impressed by his pizza although it looked good from where I was sitting, so 3/4 of it went uneaten. Our main courses were the Caprese salad, frittata de patate (potato omelette), and scallopine ai funghi (pork cutlets in mushroom sauce). The Caprese was decent with fresh fior di latte (cow's milk), not mozzarella di bufala (made with water buffalo milk in the region of Campania) as you would get in and around the Island of Capri, its namesake. The dish's signature fresh basil leaves were notably missing and replaced with lettuce, something you would never see in Southern Italy, but it was not bad at all. The frittata di patate was pretty good, although my wife did not think it was good as her friend Giovanna (from Naples) mother's version. Giovanna had the scallopine, which she said was "so-so", coming in a thick, creamy mushroom sauce along with green beans on the side. It looked good, but I did not taste it, so I cannot corroborate her evaluation.
Scallopine ai Funghi

We received a liter of local red wine for the five of us, five bottles of water (we had been walking in the 100 degree heat for four hours), and five after-meal espressos with the bill coming to a very reasonable €60.50 for six people, a relative bargain in Florence. The menu is basic, nothing fancy, but the food good and the value exceptional. They are quite a bit pricier for dinner, in the €25 to €40 range per person, so lunch is a major value.

My only complaints were: 1) the child did not get his pizza as fast as he should have; 2) the sparsely adorned pasta alla Sorrentina; and 3) the lack of basil on the Caprese Salad, otherwise we were quite pleased with our meal.

CombatCritic Gives Osteria dei Centopoveri 7 Bombs Out Of 10 (3.5/5 Stars) ... BOMBS ARE GOOD IN THIS CASE!





Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor ... And Don't Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube


Title: An Outstanding Lunch Value, Possibly Overpriced As A Dinner Option

Key Words: Osteria dei Centopoveri, osteria, centopoveri, restaurant, pizzeria, Via Palazzuolo, Firenze, Florence, Santa Maria Novella, Italy, menu, review, travel, value, pasta, wine, pizza, CombatCritic, Yelp, TripAdvisor, tourist

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

CombatCritic's "TravelValue" - Nearly 45,000 Views In The Past Year - Thanks To You!

Total Monthly Views (May 2014 - July 2015)


44,065 Views Between July 2014 To June 2015

Growing Exponentially ... We Owe It All To You ... Thank You For Your Loyalty!


Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor ... And Don't Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title:  CombatCritic's "TravelValue" - Nearly 45,000 Views In The Past Year - Thanks To You!

Key Words: CombatCritic, TravelValue, eZine, travel value, combat, critic, view, views, stats, 2014, 2015, statistics, audience, customer, customer service, annual, monthly

Summer 2015 Florence Crime Spree And The Tale Of A Seasoned Traveler

Florence, Italy: Out of 15 individuals associated with a major university's Study Abroad Program in Florence, 4 (27%) have had their ATM cards skimmed or pockets picked on public transportation with over $1,000 stolen during the month of July alone.

A couple of days ago, I told you about two students in the Study Abroad Program who recently had their bank accounts drained after using the ATM machine at the Chiantibanca located in Piazza del Duomo (Florence), Italy. The ATM machine in question is next to the bank at #58.

Then this past Sunday (July 19th), another student had her wallet stolen out of her purse on a Florence bus. She did not leave her purse open or unattended, it was secured around her neck in front of her and the thief had the nerve to unzip it, grab the wallet from inside, and scurry off when the bus reached the next stop. These guys are good and their out in full force!

I, on the other hand, am a seasoned traveler, having visited 41 countries so far and countless large, theft-ridden cities (Naples, Paris, Venice, Sofia, Budapest, New Delhi, Tokyo, Seoul, Los Angeles, New York, London, Rome, Ljubljana, Kotor, Dubai, Riyadh ... you get the picture) without ever having been robbed, pick-pocketed, or the like. I am always aware of my surroundings and take the necessary precautions, keeping my wallet in my front pocket and so on ... until yesterday.

I feel like such a fool, never having thought it would happen to me because of my experience, my diligence ... my naïveté. We were on our way to meet friends for dinner, catching the #17 bus from Piazza San Marco in central Florence. The area has several bus stops and was quite busy around 7pm, so as the bus arrived a man carrying two large painter's canvases (100cm x 100cm) was making it difficult to board the bus. Looking back, he was likely an accomplice causing a choke-point at the door while his comrades slipped their hands into open bags. 

I sometimes carry a borsello, a leather bag (some might call a purse, BUT IT'S NOT, I SWEAR) commonly carried by men in Italy and on this day I did not have it zipped, but my hand was securely clasping the top in anticipation of such an event. But this time I must have been distracted for just a moment, leaving a window open for the thief to dip his hand in, nab my wallet (that I often have trouble locating myself), and slip off into the evening without me even noticing.

It was only when my wife and I started talking about the poor student who had her wallet stolen the day before that I reached into my bag to find ... MY WALLET WAS GONE! I knew that I had brought it with me, but could I have left it on the table at home instead? Surely I could not be pick-pocketed. Wrong!

Fortunately, there were only €10 in my wallet and I cancelled my credit and debit cards before they could use them, so it was an inexpensive lesson as well as a poor "take" for the crooks who likely snatched the €10 and threw the rest in the nearest trash can.

The morales to this story are:
1) When in Florence, or anywhere else for that matter, be vigilant. Times are tough and people are desperate FOR YOUR VALUABLES - purses, wallets, cameras, phones, tablets, sunglasses, etc.
2) Avoid crowded places where pickpockets often lurk (buses, trains, stations, popular tourist areas)
3) Diversions are common place among thieves, so if someone bumps into you, trips in front of you, spills something on you, or otherwise creates havoc around you, clutch your valuables and keep your eyes open.
4) If carrying a small wallet, keep it in your front pocket and if carrying a purse (or borsello), wrap the strap around your neck, clutch it in front of you or securely under your arm, zip the zippers, and keep any external pockets next to your body. 
5) Do not think "it can't happen to me" because it can!

ATM SAFETY: ALWAYS CHECK TO MAKE SURE THAT THE SKIMMING DEVICE, KEYPAD, CAMERA, AND ATM FACE ARE PROPERLY SECURED TO THE WALL BEFORE MAKING A TRANSACTION, COVERING THE KEYPAD WITH YOUR OTHER HAND AND USING YOUR THUMB TO ENTER YOUR PIN (IT IS MORE DIFFICULT FOR THEM TO RECOGNIZE YOUR PIN IF USING YOUR THUMB THAN IT IS YOUR USING YOUR INDEX FINGER)


You Can Read Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor ... And Don't Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title:  Summer 2015 Florence Crime Spree And The Tale Of A Seasoned Traveler

Key Words: crime, bank, banca, bus, pickpocket, pick, pocket, Florence, Firenze, skimming, skimmer, ATM, scam, criminals, tourist, tourists, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, thief, steal, stolen, police

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