Joy of Keeping A Journal

Variety of Journals Kept While in Rome, 2012
Variety of Journals Kept While in Rome, 2012

This morning I walked out on the deck. The air was cool and the cloud streaked sky reminded me of a morning in Rome.  On days like this I find myself walking to the bookshelf and choosing one of the many journals I kept while living in Italy.  Randomly reading through the daily entries brings me great joy and allows me to re-experience a trip now almost two years in the past.

Whether you’re going for a week or staying for an extended time I urge you to take a few minutes every day to jot down an impression of your visit.   Noting a place you’ve visited, a person you’ve met, a meal you’ve experienced is something you will be thankful for when you get home.

Choosing a journal is also a great way to get out and about.  Visiting the shops that sell amazing varieties of paper, beautiful pens, leather bound journals can be a fun way to create your own walking tour and usually will take you to neighborhoods you may overlook. From higher end stores like Fabriano to the creative and colorful options at the larger bookstores such as Feltrinelli there is something for everyone.

Keeping a journal is one of the best gifts you can give yourself!!!!!

Excerpts from my Travel Journals – Italy 2012

Writing a Travel Journal – Finding Your Voice by Mo Redman

Living the Dream

Joe and I are many months home from our Roman journey.  Just this morning I saw an online article in TIME about the benefits of studying/working/living abroad.  “Research shows that experience in other countries makes us more flexible, creative, and complex thinkers.”  Not sure I am smarter but I am definitely more flexible and creative.   Thinking about the article prompted me to share briefly an update about how our experience opened our minds to creating a new future.  We will be opening a cafe and coffee bar in Baltimore in about 3 months.  More on the nitty gritty of that journey and experience in an article in the Good Men Project.  “Under the Tuscan Sun, guy version”

On this rainy Wednesday in Baltimore it is important to note simply that our experience living abroad motivated us to create a new future, with ups and downs for sure, that we own from beginning to end.   We have embraced wholeheartedly one of my favorite quotations, “The worst regrets in life are the risks not taken.” – Anonymous

For more insight on our experiences in Rome visit or to watch our progress with the cafe visit our Facebook page or our website.

Soon to be Park Cafe & Coffee Bar

Down to the bare walls and studs, May 2014Down to the bare walls and studs, May 2014

A blank canvas - post demolition, pre-construction - October 2014
A blank canvas – post demolition, pre-construction – October 2014

Architectural rendering of new space, 2014Architectural rendering of new space, 2014


Day Tripping – Rome to Gubbio

Gubbio, Italy, 2012
Gubbio, Italy, 2012

Known for its Maiolica, Italian tin glazed pottery, and the Corsa di Ceri, St. Ubaldo’s Day every May 15th, Gubbio is a hill town and comune located on the slopes of Mt. Ingino, a small mountain of the Apenninines, in the far northeastern part of the Italian province of Umbria.

Well worth the effort to reach by train or bus from Rome and definitely worth renting a car and driving northeast from Rome.  The trip really becomes beautiful once you exit the Autostrada and wind your way through the hills toward Gubbio.  We happened to go in late October and while chilly it was nice to have the town mostly to ourselves.

Roman Amphitheter - 1st Century BC, Gubbio, Italy, 2012
Roman Amphitheter – 1st Century BC, Gubbio, Italy, 2012

The historical center of the town definitely has a medieval feel and at times seemed desolate because of the enormous amount of stone, narrow streets, and Gothic architecture that surrounds you.  Many of the houses in the town, built by a wealthy merchant class, date to the 14th and 15th centuries.  Walking around the town you will find most every kind of shop to walk into and I strongly encourage you to stop in the local wine shops.  We stopped at Enoteca Calzuola and met Corrado Angel who helped us pick out some fantastic wines, Sangrito di Montefalco, to ship home for friends and family.

Palazzo dei Consoli, Gubbio, Italy, 2012
Palazzo dei Consoli, Gubbio, Italy, 2012

When visiting a hill town expect to climb a lot of stairs.  Gubbio has the distinction of a rather unique way to get to the top of Mt. Ingino.  Residents and visitors can use the Funivia Colle Eletto, an open air birdcage attached to a cable, to go from town to the sanctuary of Sant’Ubaldo.   Opened in 1960 and carrying passengers ever since.

Joe riding the Funivia to Vasilica di Sant'Ubaldo, Gubbio, 2012
Joe riding the Funivia to Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo, Gubbio, 2012

One of the best day trips we have had and definitely a place I hope to return to in the future!  Buon Viaggio!

Related Information



Recommended Reading – Made in Italy by David Rocco

"Made in Italy", David Rocco
“Made in Italy”, David Rocco

Admittedly I am a cookbook addict and when I find a new cookbook that captures my attention for more than a week I know that I have found a good book.  Such is the case with David Rocco’s, Made in Italy .  I am working on cooking my way through the entire book of 140 recipes featuring simple rustic food.

I had no idea that David had a cooking show on TV when I purchased his book at the Feltrenelli Bookstore on Via del Babuino.  I liked the cover and I liked the pictures.  Leafing through the book I saw many of the dishes that I have come to love eating and was hopeful that I would be able to remake many of them when I returned to Maryland.  I wasn’t disappointed!

Some of my favorites from Made in Italy include; Gateau di Patate (Potato Cake) pg.100, Le Mie Polpette Preferite (My All-Time Favorite Meatballs) pg. 303, and Caponata Napoletana (Caponata Naples Style) pg. 72

The Year in Pictures – Italy

Thinking back on the past year having spent quite a bit of it in Italy I am grateful for the many opportunities and experiences that I have had and especially for the friendships I continue.   Some of my favorite photos are those that capture colors – sounds – smells I remember, special moments, and places I enjoyed the most.  They are not always the best photographs but they bring back the best memories.

Via dei Fori Imperali - Early Morning
Via dei Fori Imperali – Early Morning
"I love you from here to the end of the world again indefinitely", Graffiti, Tiber Embankment, Rome
Graffiti, “I love you from here to the end of the world again indefinitely”, Tiber Embankment, Rome
Joe, Steps of Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
Joe, Steps of Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
My favorite view - Blue Sky from our Apartment Window
My favorite view – Blue Sky and Clouds from our Apartment Window, Piazza Capo di Ferro, Rome
Detail, City Ordinance, Rome
Detail, City Ordinance “Forbidden to Post”, Rome
Detail, Fountain, Piazza Farnese, Rome
Detail, Fountain, Piazza Farnese, Rome
Preparing for Wreath Laying, Campidoglio, Rome
Carabinieri Preparing for Wreath Laying, Campidoglio, Rome
Appian Way, Rome
Appian Way, Rome

Celebrating Italian Holidays – L’Immacolata Concezione

A year ago Joe and I were living in Rome and focused on packing to head home to Maryland.  I was intent on enjoying our last few weeks especially the Christmas decorations that were magically appearing around Rome.  Not wanting to miss any new displays I would take a daily stroll around 4:30 pm to see the new lights that went up the day before.

Christmas Lights, Piazza Navona, 2012
Christmas Lights, Piazza Navona, 2012

Now and again I would cajole Joe into coming along.  Fortunately this was the case on December 8, 2012.   I think maybe we had read somewhere that this was a big day in Rome but as we approached the Spanish Steps we knew something really big was happening. There were barriers, carabinieri, and police everywhere.  It was about 2:00 pm and as we walked down Via Condotti we found out that Pope Benedict XVI would be arriving to pay homage to the Virgin Mary by making a pilgrimage to Piazza Mignanelli, to pray and leave a floral wreath, in an annual tradition dating back to 1958.

We suddenly found ourselves at the bottom of the Spanish Steps standing just behind the barriers set up around Bernini’s Fontana della Barcaccia “Leaky Boat”.   Thankfully we had dressed appropriately, gloves, hats, scarves, as it was one of the coldest day’s we had experienced thus far.

Piazza Spagna, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2012
Crowds around Piazza Spagna, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2012

After a few hours of waiting we heard the wail of the sirens and the huge roar of cheering crowds as the Pope’s motorcade wound it’s way down Via Condotti.  As luck would have it the lead car turned left as it approached the Piazza Spagna and rounded the fountain on our side of the barrier.  We were about 10 feet from the side of the Pope’s car as he passed by.  Joe cheering and me madly taking photos.  An unbelievable day toward the end of our journey.

Pope Benedict XVI, Rome, 2012
Pope Benedict XVI, Rome, 2012

December 8th, as well as being a Catholic holy day (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) is also a national Italian holiday, with all public offices and schools closed.  Shops however, remain open as it is generally seen as the official start of the Christmas shopping season.

For those of you who find yourself in Rome in the coming days, especially on December 8, I highly recommend that you walk over to the Spanish Steps around 3:00 pm and get a glimpse of Pope Francis I and enjoy the holiday spirit of Rome.

Cooking Sicilian Style – Arancini di Riso

There is a saying that cooking is good for the soul and this is definitely the case when cooking italian food.   Whether you are cooking for a special occasion, for family, for friends or in this case trying something that you have seen often but have never tried before.  Inspired by watching one to many Detective Montalbano episodes Joe and I decided to get to it!!

Ingredients for Arancini di Riso, 2013
Ingredients for Arancini di Riso, 2013

Arancini di Riso (Sicilian Rice Balls) – the Arancini because the size and color of the finished rice balls approximates an orange – is a typical sicilian dish of fried rice balls that have assorted.  Typical for italian recipes there are almost as many versions as there are sicilian grandmothers, however I prefer recipes that include some type of meet ragu for the filling.

I have attached a video link (in italian OR click to convert to english) for one particularly good recipe but encourage you to google “arancini di riso” to explore the many versions of this recipe on the internet.  This link provides the ingredient list as well as shows you the technique which I found very helpful.  Arancini di Riso – How to Video 

Cooking meat filling, 2013
Cooking meat filling, 2013

Ingredients – Filling

  • 150 grams ground meet (beef or pork or a combination of both)
  • 80 grams peas (fresh are best but you can use frozen)
  • 150 grams Provola Cheese (soft provolone or you can use mozzarella – not the white but the pale yellow)
  • 40 grams tomato paste (use double concentrated that comes in tube)
  • pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • 100 ml red wine
  • 1/2 onion
  • 25 grams butter

To make the filling heat the butter and olive oil in pan.  Cook for approximately 5 to 8 minutes until onion is translucent.  Add ground meat and cook through.  Add wine and cook for approximately 5 minutes.  Add tomato paste and cook to reduce about 10 to 15 minutes stirring often.  Season with pepper and add peas and take off heat.  Stir a few more times and then leave to cool.  Filling should be thick and not to runny.

Joe cooling rice mixture, 2013
Joe cooling rice mixture, 2013

Ingredients – Rice

  • 500 grams (long grain white rice)
  • one packet of saffron
  • 30 grams butter
  • 100 grams grated cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • salt

To make the rice cook rice per instructions on package.  Remove rice from pan to large bowl and add saffron, butter, grated cheese, egg yolks, and salt and mix throughly.  When finished spread rice out on large flat plate.

Joe assembling the Arancini, 2013
Joe assembling the Arancini, 2013

Assembly and Deep Frying

  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs beaten

Watch the video for this part as the visuals are so much better than any explanation I can offer.

Arancini di Riso, 2013
Arancini di Riso, 2013

Day Tripping – Amalfi Coast to Paestum

Temple of Neptune, Paestum, Italy, 2013
Temple of Ceres, Paestum, Italy, 2013

Spending time on the Amalfi Coast is as close to what I imagine heaven being like.  While it may be hard to pull yourself away from the beautiful seaside towns of Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello there are many wonderful places in the surrounding area that I would recommend visiting if you have time – Pompeii and Paestum being two of these.

Paestum located in the Campania region of southern Italy is about 120 km to the southeast of Naples near the Amalfi Coast.   Several ways to get to Pasteum from the Amalfi Coast (Solarno, Positano, Amalfi) – By car (recommended), by bus, or by train.  All require some planning but I assure you the reward is worth it.

Buses run on the SITA line and trains via Trentitalia.  More information can be found by visiting Rick Steve’s website, Rick Steves Europe.

Pasteum, 2013
Temple of Neptune (foreground) and Basilica, Pasteum, 2013

Paestum originally the ancient city of Poseidonia was founded by the greeks in 600 B.C. and later became a colony of the Roman Empire in 210 B.C.  I have discovered that there are more intact and well preserved temples in Italy than there are in Greece and Paestum will not disappoint on that score.  In addition to the temples and ancient ruins which include remains of residential homes, forum, amphitheater, swimming pools, etc. there is a wonderful Museum founded in 1952, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which displays some of the artifacts found in the nearby burial grounds including sculptures, bronzes, ceramics, terracotta, and actual tombs with beautifully painted details. The most famous of these tombs from the 4th century B.C. is the tomb of the diver which has recently been restored.

Pasteum, 2013Roman Road, Via Sacra, Pasteum, 2013

On this particular trip we drove from Positano down the coast through Amalfi, they should hand out awards, to Salerno and then inland across beautiful plains to Paestum.  Parking is easy and inexpensive (2 euros) and there are plenty of quaint places for lunch and many souvenir shops some selling quite beautiful reproductions of Paestan Ceramics.  Truly a bargain when compared to the same items in Rome or Naples.   While I recommend visiting Pompeii, Paestum is much less crowded and we often had no one in sight when walking through the ruins – you truly feel like you have been transported in time.  Make sure you bring your camera.   Buon Viaggio!

Cooking Roman Style – Peperonata (Stewed Sweet Peppers)

Ingredients for Peporanata, 2013
Main Ingredient for Peporanata – Cubanelle and Yellow Peppers, 2013

This recipe is one of my favorites.  Their sweet and sour flavor makes them perfect for pairing with – pork roast, sandwiches, as part of your antipasto, and they are perfect all by themselves on top of a crusty baguette.   You can serve them warm right out of the pan or at room temperature.  Easy to prepare filling your house with a wonderful aroma they last for a long long time in the refrigerator – I usually double the recipe.

While most any pepper will do and bell peppers seem to be the staple at the grocery store try to experiment with different types of peppers – the sweeter the better.  At the farmer’s markets I look for the Cubanelle Peppers (typically long slender red peppers) which are especially sweet.

Thinly Sliced Garlic, 2013
Sautee Garlic and Onions for a few Minutes before adding Peppers, 2013
While most recipes don’t call for roasting the peppers this extra step imparts a rich flavor and if you have the time go ahead and try it.  You will look like a pro at the very least roasting peppers over the flame on your stovetop.  (instructions for roasting peppers-4 easy methods)
Pepper Strips, 2013
Peppers, Garlic, Onions, Olive Oil, Water, Salt and Pepper – Cook on low heat for about 45 minutes, 2013
Peperonatta (Stewed Sweet Peppers)
Ingredients (makes 2 cups) 
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 assorted red, yellow, and orange bell peppers (or other variety of sweet pepper), cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4″ to 1/2″ strips – don’t worry about being exact
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced crosswise – the thinner the better
  • ½ medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Instructions (total prep time 15 minutes, total cook time 45 minutes to 1 hour)
  • Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat.  When you begin to smell the olive oil
  • Add garlic and onions and saute for a few minutes
  • Add peppers and ½ cup water and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until peppers are soft, about 1 hour.  About 20 minutes if you have roasted the peppers first.
  • Stir in vinegar, turn off the heat, and mix together
  • Transfer to a serving bowl if you will be serving right away or let cool in the pan before transferring to a storage container
  • As is the case with most italian food I always find these better the next day or several days later.   Easily made in advance and have on hand for later.  Buon Appetito!


Almost finished, 2013
Almost finished, 2013

Italy by Train – Centovalli Railway, Lombardy

I can’t speak for everyone but I surely enjoy traveling by train especially in Italy.  The highspeed, “Alta Velocità”, trains move you from one major city to another quickly and comfortably.  I often wonder why we can’t develop the same hightech railway system in the States? More about the Alta Velocità, Freccia – Argento, Rossa, and Bianco in another post.

In addition to the high speed trains there are many regional railways that offer service to some spectacular locations.  One such regional railway is the Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi (founded 1898) in the Lombardy region of Italy near Milan and the Lake District.

Centovalli Railway, Italy, 2012
Joe Checking The Train Schedule, Centovalli Railway, Italy, 2012

I can say unequivocally that the scenic train ride between Domodossola, Italy and Locarno, Switzerland traveling through the breathtaking “Hundred Valleys” was one of the most visually thrilling train rides in my life – so far!  We took this train in the late fall, November 2012, and the views were unimpeded by leaves allowing us to see things most likely hidden in the late Spring and Summer.

Trontano, Italy, 2012
Trontano, Italy, 2012

Not only is this region of Italy one of my favorites it is also one of the most naturally beautiful in the world.  Along the route the train climbs into the mountains along steep gorges, through tunnels (34), across stone bridges (83), and past picture postcard towns with centuries old churches.   Wildlife, chestnut groves, waterfalls, vineyards, and snowy peaks are some of the beautiful views you have along the 2 hour journey from Italy into Switzerland.

View of the Alps, Centovalli Railway, Domodosolla to Locarno
View of the Alps, Centovalli Railway, Domodossola to Locarno, 2012

Once you arrive in Locarno, Switzerland you have many options and you are able to see quite a bit in several hours before heading back.   A walk along the lake, or a visit to one of numerous churches, or a ride on the Funicular (highly recommended) for a spectacular view are some of your choices.   NOTE:  Remember you are in Switzerland which is not part of the European Union.  You should plan to visit an ATM for some Swiss Francs as not all places will accept the Euro and those that do charge a premium.  The upside – Swiss Francs are beautiful.

Camedo Station, Centovalli Railway, Italy, 2012
Camedo Station, Switzerland, Centovalli Railway, 2012

Before getting on the train to return to Domodossola be sure to stop for a sweet if not lunch at one of the many wonderful restaurants in downtown Locarno.  Swiss food while rich is certainly delicious and if you are a chocolate or cheese aficionado you can indulge to your heart’s content.

Chiesa Madonna del Sasso, Locarno, Switzerland, 2012
Chiesa Madonna del Sasso, Locarno, Switzerland, 2012