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!

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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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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!

The World’s Best Pizza is in Naples!!!! And my bonus- some shopping!

I am a bit out of order for my posts, but I have had Naples on my brain this week, and I must first do some sharing about our trip to Naples, then I can go back to the order of our trip. I must also say how thankful I am that I blogged a good portion of our trip while we were still traveling. I have found that since we got home, that my “normal” life gets priority to my travel blogging…  But Today, I MUST write about Naples!

The first impression of Naples from the train station.

How and why we went to Naples for part of a day: We as a family decided when planning our trip, that we all wanted to visit Pompeii as a day trip from Rome. The high speed train took us from Roma to Napoli, then to Pompeii, and for the return I booked our train tickets so that we had 4+ hours in Naples for 1 reason- PIZZA!

Is pizza all the same in Italy? NO!!!!! Just like eating pizza at home from places like (YUK) Pizza Hut, Dominos, or even at a nice Italian restaurant, they will all be different in size, shape, and taste.  BUT, the one thing that I love about eating pizza in Italy is that you are in Italy, eating ‘real’ pizza. So when being so close to the birth place of pizza and not go to one of two restaurants that have been making pizza for decades, we had to make it work to stay for just long enough to experience the real thing. And as I write this, my mouth is watering thinking about THAT PIZZA! OH MY!!!

MY GOAL: To eat pizza at the following original Pizzerias!

From the book, Eat, Pray, Love. Serves only Marinara and Margherita pizza.

The other Pizzeria, Trianon- across the street from da Michele.

At the train station we found the TI to get precise directions for how to walk to both of the original Pizzerias- Pizzeria da Michele, and Pizzeria Trianon. What I did not realize was that da Michele had become widely popular to even more tourists since the book and movie, Eat, Pray, Love because this is where Elizabeth Gilbert went to eat pizza for the day. How I did not clue into this is beyond me, because I have read the book twice, and have also seen the movie. We were warned that it might be very busy, so on the way as I held my purse as close to my body as I could we discussed our plan of attack on these restaurants. Our plan was that we would eat first at the restaurant with the shortest line, then we would go to the next one after.  But one other deciding factor that ultimately helped us to decide where to eat first was that Trianon had air conditioning, which was welcomed by us all after a day in the sweltering heat at Pompeii.  Luckily Trianon had no line up, and da Michele did, and it was not even open yet.

Instead of explaining our choices of Pizza, here is a picture of the menu. Could there be a wrong choice? NO!

Oh my! Instead of each of us choosing our own pizza, the kids each chose one, and Kim and I decided to share so that we could save some room for more pizza across the street at da Michele.  After we ordered and were taking in the simple yet, thankfully cool atmosphere, I went over to the also simple pizza kitchen to take some pictures. What I was not expecting was being welcomed into the kitchen to not only take pictures but really be a part of our pizzas being made and cooked.  Follow the pictures to see the simple process from dough ball, to table process.

Dough balls being shaped.

Adding the toppings.

Posing for the camera

Time to go in the Pizza Oven

Each person has their own job. His is the kitchen greeter (at least to me) and to cook the pizzas.

Our pizzas cooking in the VERY HOT oven.

After only approximately 2 minutes, our pizzas were cooked!

Our Naples Pizza! YUM!

The pizza Kim and I shared. They were all HUGE! And they were better than we imagined they would be! The kids each had their own- our little piggies…

AHHHH…. Is how we all felt after finishing our cold beer, Fanta (Noah), and our Amazing Pizza. BUT, could we find any room in our stomachs for more pizza at da Michele?! Unfortunately no. We were stuffed! Plus, this is what it looked like outside of da Michele.

Da Michele was now open, and the crowds were getting bigger.

So off we went back on our journey back to the train station. Why I call it a journey is because,  Naples is hmmm, how do I describe it but a little crazy. On our way to find our pizzerias, we were stopped by someone on the street selling Ipads (most likely stolen), we saw many, many people selling knock off items like bags, watches, jewellery, etc on the street, and guys trying to make money washing windows for the cars stopped at red lights. The traffic was crazy, there was a tonne of graffiti and vandalism, and you could see the poverty everywhere. Naples was very different from any other Italian city I have been to, and not a place that was telling me to stay for more than just a pizza.

Unsolicited car window washers on the streets of Naples

Streets of Naples

I must tell you that we received many warnings from Italians about going to Naples. We were told to not wear any jewellery, including watches, there are pick pockets everywhere, and to be careful in general.  Filipo told us that many people, including motorists get their watches stolen when stopped at red lights. Whether the watch is on your left wrist, and your arm is resting on the side window, rolled down, it can be stolen. Or for those that have clued into this, and wear their watch on their right wrist, the thieves then burn the left arm resting on the window sill with a cigarette, and when you go to swap the hurt, they steal the watch from your right wrist while swapping what is hurting you. Crazy!   So, as Jordan bought a watch from a man on the street selling a variety of watches, we thought of Filipo’s stories of watches being stolen…  We were nervously cautious as we walked to and from the train station. We walked with intention when crossing the streets like we were told to, and we made it back to the train station, so that I could do some shopping. Yes, you heard me correct! They had some great stores that I had been waiting to find in Rome, and hadn’t yet, so with the extra time budgeted for the 2nd pizzeria, I did some greatly anticipated shopping. And once again I found myself saying AHHHHH!!!!!

Tuscany, My Italian home!

Welcome Home!

I am very honest about my future intentions to live in Italy, and Tuscany would be my top pick of locations. The landscape is breath taking, the people are warm and friendly,the food speaks for itself, and it is a nice central location to visit many other beautiful parts of Italy from.

After my last trip to Italy, and the wine tour I went on, I knew that I must go back to Tuscany, for more than just a day. I knew that we could rent a villa, but when I started searching, I discovered that there are 100’s of choices. My criteria for searching was as follows:  allow a 4 night rental (most had a 1 week min.), a pool, air conditioning, close proximity to Florence and/or Siena and in our budget. Well, without a doubt, the Universe made sure that we chose the perfect place to stay in Tuscany. Agriturismo San Fabiano, owned by Philipo and Rachel.

We took the train from Monterosso to Pisa, and spent 4ish hot hours there, and once we arrived in Sienna, we were all excited to get to our villa and jump in the awaiting pool. But first we had to figure out how to get there. I was only given driving instructions for how to get to our villa, and I knew there were buses, but I was not confident after asking at the train station, and finding out there is a train to our town- UGH (wish I would have know that before then), how to get to our villa that we would get there ‘easily’ so we jumped in a taxi hoping that we would not be taken for a ‘ride’ and get there in a fair amount of time for a fair price. As much as I love Italy, and its people, a lot of taxi drivers don’t have the best reputations. They can be maniacs, and drive like Mario Andretti would have on the race track as we discovered in Rome, overcharge regularly, and passionately swear at their passengers, and everyone on the street as they listen to their football team not play well in a soccer match on the radio.   Luckily with the driving instructions- in Italian and English, I could figure out where we were, and as luck would have it, we ended up in an honest taxi driver’s taxi and he delivered us in around 30 minutes and charged us E35. Not bad.

I must say that I was all smiles as we drove into the Tuscan countryside. It was very dry from the drought that they were currently experiencing, but everything else was as I had remembered and thought it would be. Rolling hills, Cypress trees, farm land, Villas and Castles. Oh my, how I love it here!

The Tuscan Countryside

Wheat fields have already been harvested.

Drought conditions

We arrived at our Villa, and were warmly greeted by both Rachel and Philipo. While Philipo gave us a tour of the Villa, little Rachel carried our bags up to our apartment. I immediately felt at home- maybe from the tour from Philipo in his ‘pink’ bathrobe, or from the many games and activities outside for families, the other families outside at the pool, and one with a puppy, or from the ‘lived in’ office next to their entryway. I am not sure, but we all were happy to be there.

Stairs leading to our apartment

Il Forno Apartment, the door on the left

Master bedroom

Living room, with 3 single beds

Our little kitchen is just enough for our needs.

Kim helping to cook supper our first night in Tuscany

Courtyard area

Ping pong table, and outdoor eating off the courtyard

Our current address

Courtyard

Our Villa

San Fabiano

Community bikes to ride to town with.

Individual Villa home.

Our backyard!

Outside enjoying Philipo’s many stories.

Original well

My new mailbox…

After swimming, Philipo and David took us into town the evening before so that he could show us the town, and also so that we could pick up some groceries. Surprisingly we cooked that night! We had pasta with pesto, bread, meat and cheese, and a salad from the local grocer. I must say that this was the 1 and only meal that we cooked in our 23 days away from home.  Kim and I ‘cooked’ and the kids cleaned up, then we broke into the gelato we bought from the local gelato store. MMMMMM….

This is what Gelato to go looks like.

Our first morning we decided to sleep in, and just chill so that we could enjoy our surroundings. I asked Philipo the history of the Villa, and he proceeded to take us outside, sat us down and told us many stories of his family and how he and Rachel met, and came to take over the abandoned farm house, completely renovate it (renovate is a small word for the HUGE job it was to get it to where it is today) and now live in this lovely Villa, and rent out their apartments.  To make his long story short, his stories and his family history is Amazing! I will try to retell it as best as I can… He was raised in Rome, and his father was a Count! He came from a very important family that owned a factory that made large equipment (Kim loved that!), and one day when he was young, his father took him to Tuscany to show him all the land he had purchased for the ‘rich mans game’ of pheasant hunting.  All of this land was turned into farm land, and MANY years ago they had 500+ heads of cattle, and 5000 chickens, in addition to the land they farmed. Many farmers were hired to farm the land, which is why the landscape is lined with many farm houses like our Villa.  His father then built himself a castle, which is still in the family; Philipo’s brother owns it, and we could see it from our Villa.

Driveway to the family Castle

The Castle

In 1970’s the laws in Italy were changed so that the owner of the farmland and the farmer no longer had a 50/50 split of the profits (0 if there were losses that year), and the owners, like Philipo’s father had to pay wages, and benefits to all the farmers. This caused much dissension for the owners that lived far from their land, and the owners stopped farming the land for many reasons, including when the cat is away the mouse will play attitude adopted by some of the farmers, once the farmers were no longer invested in working hard for good crops with the loss of the 50/50 split. The farmers then moved on, and abandoned their homes. This is why you see many still abandoned farm houses in the Tuscan countryside.  This is also where Philipo acquired his farm house, as it was one of many on his father’s land, and transformed it into what it is today.  Philipo’s English is Amazingly polished, as he traveled the world as a mechanical engineer before he married Rachel, and let me tell you he has many more stories about his travels. We so enjoyed his company!  Rachel is equally as nice as Philipo, however with the extreme heat outside, we did not see her as much as the carefree Philipo.

Oh the many wonderful stories from Philipo!

I know that we will be back to San Fabiano, but next time we will definitely rent a car so that we can explore more of the Tuscan countryside, visit the many wineries, and explore the other towns. There is something said for independence with your own car.

In my next blog post, I will tell you all about our day with Philipo and David when they took us exploring, as well as our adventure to Siena.

Ciao!

Tales of Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre, Tiamo!
This was my 2nd visit to C.T. My 1st one was in April, and I remember saying that I wondered what it would be like there in the summer. I also remember seeing restaurants like Ciak, who serves some of the most amazing looking seafood dishes, made by a man that looks like Popeye, with an animated personality in his kitchen, and thinking that my husband and kids would LOVE to eat there. So here it is August, and I am visiting Cinque Terre with the plan of taking my family to dine at Ciak, swim in the sea, hike the hikes I was unable to, and see all of the miracles that the locals in Monterosso and Vernazza performed from October until now.
I was excited beyond belief to arrive on the train in Monterosso. It was like I was there only days prior, as I got off the train and knew exactly where to go, which was a very nice feeling, rather than having to establish yourself in a new place once again.
We checked into our room, with one queen bed, 1 twin beside it, and 1 set of bunk beds, a small bathroom with 1 toilet, 1 bidet, and a shower. Our room also had a balcony with enough room for 4 chairs, and a small table to set our drinks on, and another window on the wall facing the beach so if there were ANY wind, we would get a cross breeze to cool off our room. There was no wind… Luckily though our room was cooler than ours in Carcasonne. Enough said.

Our first stop in C.T. was to share a few dishes at Gio, on the boardwalk, where Kathy and I had dined at many times in April last year, it was that good.  We ordered the pesto gnocchi, pesto lasagna, and bruschetta, oh and  of course I had a Spritz. The Spritz was great, but the rest of the food was a bit disappointing unfortunately.  Our next stop was for gelatto, and then the old town to check out the flood damage and repairs.

As we passed through the tunnel that connect Fagina (new town) and the old town, I tried to explain to the kids once again the extent of the damage from the floods of water, mud and rocks that had swept through this small town, and buried part of it, in late October, but it is hard to visualize. We reached the old beach and it looked like it had in April. The overpass and underpasses that took us to the old town looked amazing. I was shocked at had I not known about the tragedy that struck this town only months earlier, I would have never known from how things looked.
What was different was how new many things were like the interior of the shops in the old town, the restaurants, and kitchens. They were all shiny and so modern.
Day 13: We hit the beach in the morning along with the locals and it was lovely to relax on a beach that had more sand than rocks. Also the water was less salty than in France.  The beach we went to was under the Gigante, and it was chosen because it had a big rock in the water that Kalyna and Noah could jump and dive off of.
In the afternoon we took the train to Riomaggiore to explore the town, and show the kids, and Kim the real wonders of this area, which is how the homes are built into the rocks and cliffs over the sea, which Monterosso is not known for.
It was HOT,so no one was into too much exploring where there was not any shade for a reprieve from the intense heat. But I did somehow convince the troops to walk the Via dell ‘Amore high above the sea to Manarola.  We saw the many huge Agave plants growing on the cliffs, jelly fish in the sea, and of course the many locks left by those in love as a symbol of their love.
Manarola was a place that Noah wanted to revisit because it had a HUGE rock that people were jumping off of- the next day’s plan.
Tonight, we must eat at Ciak!!! And YES, it was everything we thought it would be and more! Our BEST meal yet!!!

As a result of the floods in October, I found a blog belonging to a now friend of mine, Nicole. who lives in a city just outside the Cinque Terre, called La Spezia.  http://culturalcomments.blogspot.it/ We have been in touch and I was able to meet her in Vernazza after our morning of hiking and cliff jumping armed with Ziploc bags to leave behind for Nicole. Can you believe you can not buy Ziploc bags in Italy! We had a great visit in the Piazza Marconi, and I know that is just the first of many visits for us.
It was interesting talking to Nicole and someone else we met through Nicole, Christian, who grew up in Vernazza and runs some rooms and apartments there. Nicole met her Italian husband in Vernazza, so between her and Christian we heard first hand some stories of the floods, after math and the rebuilding process that is still happening. The situation in Vernazza is quite sad and  uplifting. As you walk own the main street they have blown up photos of the exact location you are standing in after the flood. In many pictures you can not see the door to the shop or restaurant because it is literally buried. What you see are the windows to the apartment 1 floor above the shop and dirt below it. It looks like the apartment is on the ground floor. That is how much they had to dig out to reclaim their lives. Plus EVERYTHING had to be replaced, including tables, chairs, ALL food, and retail items once they dug themselves and their neighbours out. So as I sat in the Piazza and looked around, I realized the extent of having to replace EVERYTHING. Every postcard, t-shirt, umbrella, towel, napkin, glass, cup, picture that I saw just at a quick glace was ALL new in every store and restaurant.
You have to understand also that this community received very little money from the government and then more money that was promised was not delivered because of the earthquake that happened in another part of Italy in June. Also if any of the residents had insurance, this was not covered because it was a natural disaster.
However, the uplifting part of this story is that a community that had become disfunctionally divided before the floods for several reasons had been brought together to rebuild and start from scratch together as a community. They are also still helping each other out financially where and when they can, through paying each others rent, etc.
I have to say that I was moved to tears when I stepped into their church, because I felt that I was a witness to the resilience of this community that all came together through their mourning, suffering, sweat and tears, and kept themselves grounded through their strong faith in God.
So, long story short about these communities. They still need help through donations and tourism. It is especially evident in Vernazza, as the Piazza or the restaurants were not full. We must tell everyone that they are open for business as they desperately need our tourism dollars. If you did not know about the flood, you could be there and honestly be oblivious to their needs, as they cleaned up and rebuilt so much for the tourists. But still in Vernazza alone, a hotel that has 30 rooms is not yet ready to reopen, and those potential guests help the rest of the businesses to survive now, and eventually thrive. Also there are other businesses still under construction, plus many residents unable to return to their homes.
For more information, go to:
http://www.savevernazza.com. and http://www.rebuildmonterosso.com

So, we survived the heat. We hiked, explored every town, swam in the ocean, jumped off rocks and such,drank Spritz, ate foccachia, pesto, and Amazing seafood at Ciak, and spent time just relaxing. And we survived getting caught in a tourist trap restaurant in Corniglia. Never eat at the first restaurant you see, and Always check the prices first… Believe it or not we had way over priced Horrible pasta in Italy. One bad experience out of 100’s of good actually made it comical.

Once again, Cinque Terre did not disappoint. Except when it was time to leave, there were tears in my eyes.
Until next time…

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Ahhhhh, Italy!!!

Just landed, and already out exploring!

Yes, we are lucky, lucky girls! Yes, we were just in Italy only 5 months earlier, and here we find ourselves here again, and already!

The first stop on this adventure is Venice!

Now, I have to explain why this is the first picture I am posting. After returning home after this latest trip, I was looking at a photo album I bought just after our November Italy trip, and the picture that came with album on the front cover was of the Rialto Bridge! I understand that there are no coincidences, but WOW, how great to understand that I had just experienced something truly Amazing, yet completely a part of my destiny!

BUT, let’s score Destiny 1, Determination 4. Why Determination 4? Because we not only travelled to Venice, but to Milan, Cinque Terre, and Florence (again).  AND, because we made it to Italy twice in less than 1 year!

What you can expect from this blog is information on how and why to travel. How to travel on a budget and not on a budget. When, and where, and where not to travel.  I will give you recommendations on where to eat, drink, and be merry. I will give you some Amazing shopping tips, like where the deals are, what to buy, and who to NOT buy from.  And, scams, scumbags, and walking taxi drivers…

Balance is the game of life, and I am living it!

Ciao Bellas!