Category Archives: My Favorites

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 http://www.dreaminginitalian.org 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

 

 

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.

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!

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

Recommended Reading – Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks

Italian Neighbors, Tim Parks

I am always looking for books about Italy that help me to better understand the idiosyncrasies of modern Italian culture.  This easy to read book with short chapters chronicles the life of Tim Parks and his Italian wife Rita as they insert themselves into the city of Verona.

For anyone who has visited or lived in Italy for either a short time or a longer stay this book will undoubtedly bring back memories, more than a few laughs, and validate your own experiences.

The first in a series of books that I highly recommend, Italian Neighbors (1992), An Italian Education (1996), Italian Ways, On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo (2013), in addition to Tim’s numerous other books, both fiction and non-fiction, about Italian history and culture.

“his eye for the illuminating moments in the miniature worlds he describes—condominium meetings, beaches, nursery scenes, and elementary-school parents’ groups, to name just a few—is so sharp that the ordinary gains a kind of magical lustre, and the particular becomes universal.” – The New Yorker, June 6, 2013

Day Tripping – Rome to Frascati

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAView of Frascati from belevedere at Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati, Italy, 2012

Just south of Rome, in the Alban Hills, lies a string of hilltowns, villages, and vineyards called the Castelli Romani.  One of my favorites is Frascati the largest and best known for it’s wines and beautiful villas.   Amazingly many of these towns survived the heavy bombing of World War ll.  More than 50% of Frascati was destroyed in the war.

Located a short 12 miles (20km) southeast of Rome, Frascati is easily reached by train, car, or taxi.  I recommend taking the train from Roma Termini station.  Depending on the specific train It takes between 30 and 40 minutes. The regional trains cost about 2 euros one way and it is best to buy a round trip ticket at Termini as sometimes the ticket counter in Frascati is closed for lunch or coffee breaks and you don’t want to miss a train or get on a train without a ticket.

Home to many well preserved villas including Villa Aldobrandini, Villa Falconieri, Villa Parisi, Villa Grazioli, Villa Lancellotti, Villa Muti built by Popes, cardinals, and roman nobles, Frascati is easy on the eyes.  Not all the villas are open to the public but many allow access to the gardens.

We were fortunate to visit in the Fall and the weather was beautiful.  The day was as crisp as a bottle of the well known wine.   I will tell you that you do a lot of walking and stair climbing in this town.  I am not telling you this to discourage you but to ensure that you are mentally prepared.  The effort is worth the amazing views of Rome and surrounding area which you will have many opportunities to photograph.  The city center is easily walked and there are many good restaurants to choose from.

If you have unlimited energy I would recommend a walk up past Villa Aldobrandini along Via Cardinale Guglielmo Massaia to the church of San Francesco d’Assisi part of the Monastery of the Cappuccini.  It is a beautiful walk and the monastery and church at the summit are charming.

Convent of Saint Francesco, Frascati, Italy, 2012Entrance to the small church of San Francesco d’Assisi (1575), Frascati, Italy, 2012

After exerting yourself enjoy lunch and of course some Frascati wine at one of the many cantinas, osterias, and trattorias in the town.  Make sure you bring your camera and your appetite.  Buon Viaggio!!

Tree Covered Trail, Frascati, Italy, 2012Tree lined walk, Frascati, Italy, 2012  

Other Recommended Day Trips

Car Spotting – Rome, The Quintessential FIAT Cinquecento

The Fiat 500, Cinquecento, is a city car designed by Dante Giacosa and produced by the Italian manufacturer Fiat (Fabbrica Italiano Automobili Torino) between 1957 and 1975.

Launched as the Nuova (new) 500 in July 1957,it was a cheap and practical town car. Measuring only 2.97 metres (9 feet 9 inches) long, and originally powered by an appropriately sized 479 cc two-cylinder, air-cooled engine, the 500 redefined the term “small car” and is considered one of the first city cars.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFiat Cinquecento, Rada in Chianti, 2009

Like all tourists I can’t ever get enough of looking at or remarking on these cars as they go whizzing through Rome and all of Italy for that matter.  Weekends seem to be the best time to spot these beauties especially those that have been restored and are in perfect condition.

Cinquecento, Trestevere, Rome, 2012Fiat Cinquecento, Trestevere, Rome, 2013

I often think about what it would be like to bring one of these original beauties home to Baltimore.   In 2007 similar to Mini Cooper, Fiat reintroduced the Cinquecento with strong styling cues from the original ’57 and sales have skyrocketed.  FiatUSA

Cinquecento, Rome, 2012Near Perfect Condition Fiat Cinquecento, Viale della Trinita del Monti, Rome, 2012