About bellasabroad

I LOVE to travel! I also love to eat, drink wine, and shop (shoes are my weakness). Doing all of these things together is La Dolce Vita, The Sweet Life! I am excited, and motivated to find deals, and things that are different than what I can get at home. So, being able to travel more, eat and drink more and of course buy more on a budget is BUONO!!!

Did you know Fondus was French?

After a nice siesta at our hotel we walked to Montmartre which was within walking distance of our hotel. Techically anything within around 30 minutes is walking distance we have discovered in France.  It is so different from home, but so good for us. Plus there is always so much to see along the way that the walk is always interesting.

One thing Kalyna said that she wanted to do in France (she just informed me of this in Paris) was to have a Fondu one night. Cheese? Sure, why not! And since there was a recommended Fondu restaurant in the Montmartre area, we were able to combine things from our to do lists.

This area is a unique part of Paris, as it suddenly becomes hilly, like in San Francisco, which you then know that you are headed in the right direction, especially since NOTHING is symetrical in Paris, including the streets.  Sacré-Coeur is up on a hill (that the Parisians call a Mountain???) which overlooks Paris. The view is stunning, and the people watching is a great sport if you have time to sit on the steps.  There are ample guys there selling water, and even Heineken by the bottle while you sit on the steps beneath the Cathedral if you did not come prepared.

(Check back later as I have some great photos to put here, but I can NOTdownload them onto my tablet as someone changed my camera setting from JPEG to NEF, and do not have the bandwidth to change all of my 1000 pics with limited wifi- NOAH……)

The one thing you need to watch out for are the men from Africa- I am unsure of where in Africa, so I apoligize that I generalized; Africa.  There are numerous of these men and they are agressive! They are all holding unfinished string bracelets in their hands and they have no sense of personal space or boundaries, and can make you feel unsafe. They initially approach you and ask you where you are from- ignore them and say No Merci (thank you). They then try to put a bracelet on you- firmly say, No Merci! Walk away, and keep walking past the rest of them that will continue approaching and will keep talking to you. Some tourists just end up giving them money to get them to go away, and that does not help. Some use this as a distraction to pick pocket, but really they are looking for money.  As you walk away annoyed they will say, &Don’t worry, be happy!& Ironic as we were perfectly happy until they harrased us!

We were both starving so we made our way to Le Refuges des Fondus using my Ulmon map app on my phone. What did we ever do without a GPS in our hands at all times???

Refuges des Fondus is a popular restaurant as there were several people waiting outside. I spied that there were baby bottles on each table and after saying, &Why the heck are there baby bottles on the tables, a young group of American women who were going to school in Paris explained that they serve the wine in baby bottles as it is so cramped in the restaurant that this prevents wine spillage. So smart!!! Plus this was a part of the unpretencious charm this restaurant had.  When the owner came to tell us that there was a table ready, there was another couple also waiting, and as the 4 of us were polite we all looked at each other not knowing who should get the table, as we were usure who got there first we ended up sitting together at the same table and even split and shared a beef and cheese fondu. They were in town for an HIV conference- Alex was from London and Alesia was from Italy, but worked as a Physician in the UK.  We had such a lovely dinner with them, and just in case you were wondering what I ate with the cheese fondu- they gave me potatoes!  The meal cost €25 per person, and incuded a glass of Kir, an apertivo plate, 1 type of fondus per couple, 1 baby bottle of red or white wine, and desert, which also was gluten free- a home made marshmallow with a caremel sauce drizzled on it. OMG! YUM!

The next best part of eating at Le Refuges is the experience. It is family seating- against the wall is a bench, and in order to get in and out unless you are at the end of the bench is to climb over your table. It is definetely close seating, so you get to know your neighbors, which I loved!

Before walking home, I needed to take Kalyna to see Moulin Rouge and its famous red windmill. Funny that this was my 3rd time to Paris, and I also had not seen this iconi Parisian landmark. Moulin Rouge use d to be a hip place to go in Paris, but as we walked towards the windmill, it started to feel more and more seedy. We both said we saw Moulin Rouge and quickly left as the &good time& that we could have found there was not &our kind of good time& if you know  what I mean.

Instead of walking home through this crazy neighbourhood, we took the nearest Metro, and that is where we had a @subwaycreatures experience! I follow @subwaycreatures on Instagram (follow me t_tymko) and get easily amused, disgusted and totally grossed out at what happens in the subway in New York.  We were quietly sitting at a seat waiting for our train, when a homeless? man, who either had mental issues or was totally drunk, approached me and proceeded to point his finger at me and said,  &T’es moche! Dégolasse! Molle!& He also said a lot more, but he was talking fast and it was slurred, but this was the general idea of what he said to me, as he was actually pointing at my right leg, which had some scratches on it.  I had no idea what he said, and I just said back, &Je parle en englais- I speak english& He repeated himself, and I said the same thing back. He looked at me confused then luckily the train arrived and we quickly walked a couple of cars away from where he was to get away from him.  Kalyna then told me what she thought he said to me- &I was disgusting, stupid and gross (dégolas) At first Kalyna thought moche was mushy, and apparantly he didn’t like my calves.  We didn’t know if we should laugh as we were just very confused. I did howerever text my Subway Creature friend- LIndsey to tell her about my encounter, then as we were walking out of the Metro, we saw a Dispicable Me poster with the Minions on it, where is said, &Moi, Moche et Méchant  2& So was I also Dispicable since he called me Moche? We laughed at the coincidence!

Our first full day in Paris was full and Great!

First full day in Paris- Hotels, Eiffel Tower, Peti Cabs, and Galeries Lafayette

Paris Day 2

Today was our 1st of 2 full days in Paris and even though we went to bed at a decent time, my body refused to figure out that I need a good nights sleep. Instead it was in nap mode, and I kept waking up thinking I was done my nap multiple times. Still groggy, we started our morning at 9am with breakfast, which was included with our room at Hotel 34B, Astotel Paris

Choosing hotels is not an easy feat with all of the choices that are available to us on the internet, and if you are the one in charge of choosing a room/ hotel/ B&B, etc and it isn’t great all fingers are pointed at you! So, no pressure. This said, we Loved Hotel 34B! It was escentric, whimsical (check out the decor in my photos) and all the services and ammenities included were great! While walking in the hallways, we felt as though we were on location of the movie, &The Shining&, waiting at any minute for Jack Torrance to jump out and say in his creepy/ crazy voice, &Here’s Johnny!& Creepy yet yet funny at the same time! They had an complimentary snack bar including soft drinks, water, coffee and juice just off the lobby open till 2am. As well as in our room we had a mini bar stocked with the same drinks- complimentary as well. The Wifi was great, and the beds were comfortable! It was in a central location (9th Arondisment) with a Metro stop (Grands Boulevards) very close. The Opera House and Galeries Lafayette were also very close to walk to with ample choices for upscale shopping.  

One of the things Iike about Europe, is taking the Metro in the big cities. I don’t know why, but it feels like a part of the adventure. Luckily having Kalyna with me, she was able to be the navigator as my eyes were still pretty blurry and interpreting the signs and metro map was a challenge for my eyes. A smile was put on my face when a man playing the accordian came aboard our car and gave us the full Parisian experience.

We arrived at Trocadéro, the station closest to the best visual introduction to the Tours Eiffel- Eiffel Tower. After taking multiple pictures of us and for other tourists, we walked towards this Grand Monument! It became quite real very quickly that many security measures had to be taken as a result of the terrorist activity in this city. We waited in line for over 30 minutes in a somewhat short line to be checked and cleared to enter the general area under the Eiffel Tower.  We then waited in a much longer line for over 1 hour to buy a ticket to be able to walk up the stairs of the tower- I did not remember having to pay to walk up last time, and there most definetely was not a long wait to walk up, or my tired 3 children and husband would not have followed me to the staircase back in 2012.  

After buying our tickets, and clearing another security check point, we make the trek up. The weather was cool and starting to rain but once we got to the 1st platform to admire the 360⚬view, it felt worth the wait.  We then waited in another cattle corraling line up to take the elevator to the top. It was now officially raining, and of course we didn’t have an umbrella or rain coats, but Ihad an Italian scarf for my head and Kalyna had a light jacket on.

1 necessary thing to do in Paris was checked off our list! Next stop was the Champs Elysée and L’Arc de Triomphe.  I am able to do things that I wouldn’t do when Iam not travelling with my husband, Kim. How do I say this in a nice way, expept that Imiss out on opportunities to experience something different due to not wanting to spend a bit of money or cheaping out. Since it is just me and Kalyna I can decide when to make a splurge, and when we saw some fun petticabs on the street, we jumped into one. That said, we handpicked one that was a bit fancier than the rest and even had speakers for music. This next part is where you will also see an experpt in Scams and Scammers. These &guys& have creative marketing. They are quick to show you a flyer with a list of all the places they will take you with the price next to it.  Their goal is for you to decide quickly and get you to your destination, so that when you hand them the €15 the flyer showed, the driver then informs you that was Per Person, so in reality it was €30. We noticed the same &discussion& from many other passengers wherever we saw the petticabs.

The quick grab and go options for food are an issue for me with my Gluten intollerance, so to keep the Hangries away from Kalyna we grabbed a typical french baquette with cheese for her and an espresso for me as we wanted to avoid the typical tourist trap restaurants along the Champs Elysée plus it was crazy busy from the Tours de France just ending the day prior.

Another great part to staying at the hotel chain we did, was we could visit any Astotel property and use their wifi, restrooms and even have their snacks and beverages. I picked up a fresh nicoise salad from a Patisserie and we relaxed for a bit at 123 Champs Elysées before heading to Gallerie Lafayettes.

Gallerie Lafayettes- where to begin with this shopping experience? It is a Beautiful building in itself, then you add in every designer name brand spread out over its 10 floors. We stopped at 5, and had no idea it had 10 floors until I googled this fact…. To be honest, we stopped at 5 because of  the crazy crowds of bus loads, and more bus loads and even more bus loads of Asian tourists, with no sense of personal space or manners. It was just too overwhelming for us.

It was time for a siesta at our hotel…. Then more venturing…..

France with my Daughter

Paris- Day 1

It is July 23, 2017 and Kalyna who is now 18, and I have landed in Paris for the start of our 16 days in France together; a Grad gift that was promised to each of our 3 children if they graduated from French Immersion.

Want to give your child some incentive to go to University and get a job, so that they can support themselves in a lifestyle that they grew up in and were acustomed to, then take them in the way you like to travel, BUT let them know that this is THE LAST time that you will be paying for anything like Business class, or nice hotels. So this may be Kalyna’s first and last time flying business class- she now writed her own destiny after this trip.

We landed just after 1pm, and we both are exhausted, so the decision was easy to just jump into a taxi rather than navigate the metro, bus and walking to find our hotel in the 9th Arrondissemant. After the last month I just had, I needed to push as many &easy buttons& as possible, even if the cost was more.

What happened in the last month?  The hightlights are: I had eye surgery the end of June, which was supposed to be routine- Refractive Lens Exchange (cataract surgery), which was going to fix my asigmatism, and enable me to not wear glasses anymore. 2 weeks later, my vision was very blurred and my eyes were blood shot, and during a follow up appointment, a spot was found on my left retina, which was later diagnosed as an Edema at an emergency appointment with a Retinal Specialist over 2 hours from where Iive and only 2 days before I was scheduled to leave for France. Further tests were ordered for most importantly, when I returned from France!  During my recovery from eye surgery, KIm and I were both actively involved in the planning and excecution, in addition to being the Title Sponsors of an International Airshow in Lethbridge, where we live and have a business. Rest was NOT in my vocabulary, and that Kicked me in the Butt HARD!

Our plans for Paris were quite simple- Chill, eat, sleep, shop and do some exploring. As this trip was without my travel buddy, Kathy, chilling was on the agenda but not too chill as I would need to wean Kalyna off of her adiction to Netflix and constant SnapChatting!

I would normally tell people that no matter how tired you are when you arrive in Paris to go to the Eiffel Tower, but there was no way possible that this body could rally to do this- instead we napped then went exploring and found an Amazing Crepe shop with a huge selection of Gluten Free options, including Gallettes, which are buckwheat crepes. We then had an Amazing French meal consisting of Escargots, beef carpaccio, french fries, salad and a couple glasses of Rosé. On the walk back to our hotel we stopped for Gelatto and Macarons, then easily crawled into our comfy beds for a good nights sleep. 

I saw DEAD People in Palermo! And so much more!

Dead people? YES we did see them, but first we eat and drink café!

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After a busy first day in Sicily, and even though we were exhausted by the time we returned to our room the night before, we still stayed up until almost 2am, so when I awoke after 8am, I felt refreshed, and HUNGRY! We were very happy when we entered the breakfast room to see a spread of Amazing food all set out for us at our own table! The day before, when we checked in,  I had told Rosario that I was “Celiaca” and ate “Senza Glutine”. I could see that he understood, and was MORE than accommodating, as the selection for me to eat was above and beyond my expectations! 20160917_020252In addition to the regular pastries, meat and cheeses, he had gluten free cookies, rice cakes, 2 kinds of GF crackers, and a soy drink that also was labeled as gluten free!

20160917_02124720160917_020602We felt like queens with the delicious and generous spread of breakfast items, and whatever kind of café we desired!

On our agenda for the day were 2 important things plus a couple bonuses: Visit the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, the Cattedrale, revisit Quattro Canti, and the fountains from the night before before we pick up our bags then pick up our rental car at 4pm.

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Our needs are quite simple, but I must say that we are very easily distracted by some shops we were looking forward to seeing in Italy! We did take at least 1 quick pit stop to shop, AND a stop for café and an Affogato, after which we continued to get our sight seeing done.

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From the small amount we had seen so far, we didn’t feel that Sicily was much different from other places we had been in Italy, but then we came across the Cattedrale. It was different from other churches we had seen, including the lofty palm trees. The Normans started to build it in 1185, and also has Gothic, and medieval influences. It is said to be a pantheon for the Normans, and has 6 royal tombs inside the church, a museum, and crypts in the basement.  We paid the full admission price to be able to also climb the stairs to the roof, so that we could experience the breathtaking 360° views.

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The inside of the church was was beautiful and different from any other church we had seen in Italy before- evidence that Sicily absolutely is more of a melting pot of ethnicity than the rest of Italy.

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Cattedrale: √  Now to go and see dead people!

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We used our app City Maps2Go to supplement the signs that we periodically found to direct us to the Catacombes.

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You may be shocked to hear that once again we were distracted! This time by Yummy food!

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One of the Sicilian ‘street foods’ that I was wanting to try were Aracini balls, and as we passed by this nice looking Café with some yummy looking deserts, we went in to see if they had anything gluten free. Just my luck their Arancini balls filled with ragu were senza glutine! YUM! I was hooked! For those of you that do not know what Arancini is, they are rice balls that are filled with a variety of fillings, including cheese, ragu, meat and peas, etc, then deep fried. Another ‘food’ that is from Sicily are granitas, a semi frozen desert made from ice, water, and a variety of flavours, somewhat similar to sorbet, but better because it is Italian….. We each bought one to go, and continued on our way to find the Catacombes.

dsc_0225The Cappucin Catacombs, is the place where the living meet the dead! Not kidding!

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The pictures shown were found on Google Images! I DID NOT take them, as they were very specific about NOT taking any pictures or video once inside. That said, I was very annoyed to see others sneaking pictures.  I am a bit of a rule breaker, but when it comes to showing respect for other cultures, I try my best to observe and follow the rules. Yes, Mom, I would make you proud in this instance!

We paid the admission fee and went down the flights of stairs, and instantly you were in a place very unique and eery. There were rows, and rows, and rooms, and corridors of corpses in wooden caskets, display boxes, but mostly they were hanging! Yes, hanging! Some were all bones, and others you could still see some features! I swear that one was watching me! They were all fully clothed.

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There are several corridors dedicated to specific people including for whom this all began for, the Friars. Also were corridors for priests,  women,  families, and professionals including lawyers, surgeons, etc and a chapel for children.  The last body was that of a 2 year old girl named Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920. Her body is remarkably still intact as her body lays in a small casket, which is roped off and displayed on her own.  So, yes we did see dead people in Palermo!

Before we left for Italy, I found very little from Rick Steves on Sicily, but the one thing I did find  was of him visiting Palermo and the Cappucin Catacombes. If you want to see more, please watch his YouTube video.

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On we went to see the other things on our list including Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena. The octagonal square is the crossing of 2 main streets in Palermo, Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

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The four corners each have a baroque building, each with almost an identical facade, but each has a fountain and a statue to represent each of the 4 seasons, the 4 Spanish Kings, and of the patronesses of Palermo. As this is not a traditional Piazza, to which is pedestrian only, if you are not paying attention to where you are, or know of any history of Palermo, you can walk or drive past this square without realizing where you are.

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Our final stop before collecting our rental car was  Fontana Pretoria, the large fountain that we briefly saw the night before.  The magnificent Fontana Pretoria is a work of art done by the Florentine sculptor Francesco Camilliani in 1554. One of the things that I love about Italy are the fountains. It is astonishing to me how 100’s of years ago with none of the technology we have today that they were able to build such beautiful fountains, all with unique statues.

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This square was once known as the “square of shame” because of the naked statues around the fountain. It is located next to Palermo’s Municipal building, which is in the heart of the historic center.

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The Piazza Pretoria, which was not shameless at all, was a wonderful place to end our quick 24 hours in Palermo.  I look forward to visiting Palermo again, and exploring the many beautiful sights!

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Bellas in Sicilia- Palermo in 24 hours

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It has been 4 long years  and I am back in Italy!  We have 7 days to explore 1/2 of Sicily, and we are starting in Palermo, Sicily’s capital.  From the airport we take a bus to the downtown bus station, and walk to our B&B. Kathy used this Amazing app that I had never heard about and am fascinated by it! It is called CityMaps2Go by Ulmon In advance of going somewhere, for example Palermo, you download the city map and when you are there it uses GPS- NO Data to help you to get to where you want to go. It was most useful when walking as there are no voice directions, which is needed when driving.  It is crazy how it works, and I honestly don’t understand it, but it works great!

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Our first accomodations are at a B&B called Liberty Teatro Santa Cecilia. It is run by a lovely man named Rosario. He happily greeted us and showed us our room. It is lovely!  It has no view, and we had a private bathroom, but it was down the hall. That said, the breakfast in the morning was AMAZING! I will tell you more about it later….

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We hit the ground running as we knew we only had 24 hours to explore this large city and it is already late afternoon.  We discovered immediately that there was a sense of community here. Every Piazza we came across there were locals gathered, and children playing.

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Soon it was time for Aperol Spritz! We decided to stop at a spot where a lot of locals were gathered and fresh seafood was being grilled. OMG, it was AMAZING! I had some fresh octopus, that had been boiled, then grilled and seasoned with olive oil, salt, chilis and lime. So simple, yet SO GOOD!dsc_0045 dsc_0043

dsc_0048I honestly had not done a tonne of research on Palermo before we left, and what I had read was not terribly positive, so I was not expecting much.  That said, we soon discovered that 24 hours would not be enough to explore this intriguing city. I honestly had ndsc_0057othing bad to say about anything that we saw and experienced in Palermo! The food was All yummy, and CHEAP, which once we had finished our trip we realized. The first night we ate at an Osteria called Pane e Alivi, and it was a wonderful start to our Italian adventure. I had a seafood risotto, which had mussels, clams, octopus, and sword fish, Kathy had a swordfish dish, we shared a liter of the house red wine (which the waiter didn’t think I should be ordering this much; silly boy), a caprese salad to start, and we finished off with desert- Kathy a canoli, and I had a dish of the canoli filling. The bill was only €31 total!

dsc_0065As we only had 24 hours we decided to stay up as late as we could and walk as much as our feet would allow us.  As we walked through different neighborhoods, we discovered that there was a celebration happening. We were unsure of what it was, but there were many decorations, including beautiful lights everywhere.  After seeing a couple of posters, and researching once I got home I found out what Festeggiamenti in onore di Maria SS. die sette Delori was.  It was a liturgical feast for Maria Addolorata Lady of Sorrows and is a celebration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the cult of the seven sorrows of Mary.

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Everywhere we turned we came across something of interest, and not by coincidence, and a lot of what we had read about, we stumbled upon. First was the Quattro Canti, which is the historical center of Palermo, and where 2 principal streets intersect, Via Maqueda and Corso VittorioEmanuele, which we actually did not realize at first as we were distracted by the rickshaw looking vehicles.  As we kept on walking, now starting to feel tired, we then stumbled upon a large fountain in another square. We didn’t know where we were, and after looking at our watches, we realized it was almost 11:30pm and we had been up for over 40 hours! Too tired to find out what we were looking at meant, we needed to get some sleep and start fresh in the morning! Buona Notte Bellas! dsc_0076

 

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My “New Skin” in the Heart of Firenze!

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It is amazing how Karma works, and you would not believe it until you are not only a witness to its wonders, but can actually touch it when it comes full circle.

On September 24, 2016 my Karma came full circle in the heart of Firenze in a store; Benheart! It has been just over 5 years since I had my bad experience in Florence when buying a leather jacket from a store at the San Lorenzo market and I am now the owner of my “new skin”, the most beautiful leather jacket courtesy of Benheart!

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Only 11 days prior to my Sicily, Florence trip, I received an email from Tommaso Barletta,  a manager for BENHEART, an Italian Brand which designs, produces and sells Leather clothing and accessories, all artisanally hand-made Made in Florence. He wanted to share the story of Benheart, including of the story of Ben, stylist, and owner of Benheart. They were intrigued by my story and wanted to be able to collaborate in some way as my blog has been well received not only in Florence but around the world.  After checking out their website and social media, we set a date to meet when I was going to be in Florence. This day literally changed my life!

It was our first morning in Firenze, and the skies were blue and the air was crisp. In anticipation of re-discovering Florence, and my meeting at Benheart, I was too excited to sleep in our beautiful apartment overlooking the Piazza Della Republica. The walk along the river was wonderful and exciting, as I kept recognizing places from shots from Benheart’s Instagram posts. A turn at Piazza Carlo Goldoni, then a slight right onto Via Della Vigna Nuova, and we immediately saw BENHEART.

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We were greeted by Tommaso, and the store manager, the beautiful Letizia. I was immediately blown away by the store- the fragrance of fresh, quality leather was intoxicating, and the variety of colors of jackets, shoes, bags and belts were beautifully and artistically displayed.  I immediately wanted to start touching everything, which can be taboo in many places in Italy, however I was encouraged to explore which I did with a Huge smile on my face!

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Trying on my new shoes!

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It is important to the ‘family’ of Benheart to educate those that walk in the doors about their leather, and the quality and uniqueness of their goods. You are not just buying a leather jacket; you are buying a second skin. Their shoes are also just as unique- hand sewn, and garment died, and OH SO Comfortable! Please watch this video as Tommaso explains more about their shoes.

 

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When I say family of Benheart, I use this word as a verb, as the actions of all that I met acted extremely proud to be a part of this special family. It was quite moving to witness. A great example was when Ben arrived at the store;  You could see the love and affection and respect that they have for each other.  Ben is a dynamic personality and one of passion and purpose and wears an aura of love that is inspiring.

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Meeting Ben

As I was already pawing at the many jackets, but urged to wait for Ben to introduce the jackets to me and size me, he quickly got me in one of his creations. I was immediately struck by the comfort and workmanship. There was NO way that this was going to wrip, tear or do anything that a San Lorenzo market jacket will do. It literally felt like a second skin!

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The unique placement of his Benheart zippers are fashionable and flattering. I also appreciated his use of different textures on each jacket- again keeping each piece unique in design.

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This is THE ONE!

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Once my craving was filled to try on and pick out a leather jacket, Ben and I had a conversation about his touching story, and why he and friend Matteo created Benheart.

Ben is the mind of our company, and his story is totally unique. Muslim and of Moroccan origin, Ben came to Italy when he was seven years old, and worked in the leather business, in Scandicci, the epicenter of leather in Italy for many famous brands including Gucci, Prada, and Ferragamo to name a few.  His developed a love of working with leather over the more than 12 years that he was then designing jackets and purses. One day, during a soccer match, he suffered a massive heart attack and went into coma. After 7 months in the hospital, his life was saved thanks to the donation of the Christian heart of a young man. When Ben recovered, he decided to start his own dream, together with the friend of a lifetime, Matteo, and founded Benheart – which literally means “Son of the Heart”.

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The selection of Made in Italy belt buckles

Everything is singularly, hand made in Scandicci, through the hands of experienced Italian artisans, according to traditional methods, handed down over generations.  All of Benheart’s creations (that is really what they are) and all raw materials, leather and accessories, are 100% Made In Italy. Their creations are sewn by hand and specially garment-dyed in traditional tanneries, so every product becomes one-of-a-kind. Everything we sell comes Certified and with a Lifetime Guarantee.

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Ben sharing his story

Our conversation flowed with ease, and even with the successes that Ben has created in the 4 years since starting Benheart he was humble. If anything he was excited to get a jacket on me and share with me his story, which he did.  As I listened I looked over at Letizia and I could see the emotion on her face as well. She had heard his story 100’s of times, but as she said you can not help but be moved no matter how many times you hear Ben share it. Another sign of the love and respect they have for each other.  You see, Letizia used to be a customer of Benheart, and her love of not just their creations, but their story she then became a part of the Benheart family; Brilliant!

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Then a bombshell was unexpectedly dropped on me. The Beautiful, Unique and one of a kind red jacket that I could not keep touching as I was wearing it, just as a pregnant woman can not keep from touching her baby filled belly,  was gifted to me. As Ben was telling me that he would like to give me this creation, I had tears in my eyes, as well as Kathy. We had come full circle together.  I was in total and complete shock to think that one moment I was going to be making an investment, then the next it was being stamped with my initials, and handed to me with love! As I write this article, I am still in disbelief that my beautiful red leather, 100% Made in Italy jacket is mine! But it is!!!dsc_0381Then what is a girl to do? Keep shopping! I was already eyeing the custom belts, and had picked out a pair of shoes, which I happily bought. My shoes were of course a compliment to my new skin, and my belt was fit to my waist for size, the buckle was classic and perfect for my, and then it was stamped with my initals.

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The work bench at Benheart where creations are made!

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Letizia fitting me for my custom belt

The saying, time flies when you are having is fun rang true, as we looked at our watches and we discovered we had been at Benheart for 3 hours!  During those 3 hours, the store was buzzing with old customers, and of course new ones also. It was wonderful to feel that I was now a part of this wonderful community! Everyone we spoke with was genuine and of course happy with their Benheart creations.

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My new friends- Ben, Letizia and Tommaso at Benheart

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Grazie Mille Letizia!

What I have take away from the hours spent at BENHEART is something that I knew in my heart when I started my blog almost 6 years ago, to share my story and experience with buying leather in Florence; there is so much good in the world and specifically in Florence.  I made sure to say to buy leather in Florence, but to be aware of what you are buying.  I am happy and honoured to have met Ben, Tommaso and Letizia with Benheart, and just as I spread the bad news, I will spread the good news, which is called BENHEART!

One day I hope to celebrate your store opening in Canada- a goal that Ben shared with me!

Should your travels take you to Firenze, Roma, Milano, Verona, or San Francisco (store opening soon), make sure you stop by Benheart! You will be happy you did!

Bellas’ Next Adventure- Sicilia and Firenze (Sicily and Florence)

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I am up way to early this morning as I can not sleep. The wheels in my head are turning and won’t stop, as I leave for Italy in only 4 days from the time I am writing this post.  I am travelling with my good friend Kathy, who is my fellow Italy lover and travel partner; this will be our 3rd trip to Italy together. We will be on the ground for 10 days, but away from home for 11 days. This was all that we could get away from our families as we both have children in school, working husbands, in addition to our own jobs. So we are exploring half of Sicily in what we are calling our Part 1 trip, and ending our trip in our Italy home- Florence.  Part 2 will be sometime in the next year, to which we will finish exploring the other half of Sicily.  You can only imagine the eye rolling our husbands did when we informed them of that tidbit of information??? I keep telling my husband I am more than just good looks! His response, “Yes, that is what I am afraid of!” wink, wink!

We will be experiencing many new things on this trip, including renting a car, staying in B&Bs and renting apartments rather than hotels, which Kathy has not done yet in Italy and me being Gluten Free. I won’t bore you with my diagnosis, but I have an auto immune disease to which I am extremely gluten sensitive. I have never been healthier in my life right now, so when people ask me if I am sad that I won’t be able to eat everything in Italy, the answer is easy- NO.  Also I have been doing more than the usual amount of research for this trip, and have been pleased to find many resources from Blogs but the best resource has been the AIC website. It is the Italian Society for Celiac disease. Canada and the U.S have A LONG way to go to catch up to Italy- home of Pizza and Pasta with their Celiac and Gluten Intolerance education, and awareness!!!  There are SO MANY options of food for me to eat that I will have NO problem gaining the inevitable weight from the Gastronomic adventures in Italy that I will be having!

That said, I will be Blogging and Vlogging (video blogging) while we are in Italy, including EVERYTHING gluten free and of course so much more!

WE will be your good looking, female version of Rick Steves, but with our own zest for life and ALL things Italian!

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Our goals for this trip are quite simple yet fitting for Italy- Drink Espresso, Eat with the locals and what the locals eat, daily Aperol Spritz at Happy Hour, eat Gelato when we aren’t hungry, explore, get lost, learn some Italian, relax and live La Dolce Vita, and of course shop in Florence. I will also be visiting an artisan leather shop in Florence, and sharing their story, enthusiasm and talent for leather and design, as my bad experience with a leather shop in Florence was the whole reason why I started this blog.

Here is our basic Itinerary:

Palermo- 1 night

Rent a car

Cefalu- 2 nights

Syracuse/ Ortigia- 2 nights

Taormina- 2 nights

Fly to Florence

Florence- 3 nights

We will be visiting more cities and towns than listed, some of which we don’t even know yet as we have no idea when and where we will get lost….

Stay tuned to hear about Trina and Kathy’s Italy Adventures!

CIao, Ciao!

Trina

P.S.  Remember that sharing is caring! If you have any advice for me, please share! Grazie Mille!