Saturday, November 1, 2014

A word about Italy from author Patricia Schultz in her book, "1,000 Places To See Before you Die":  

During a newspaper interview about her world travels, the author was asked by a reporter: "What's your favorite destination?"  Patricia Schultz says: Italy. "I can't get enough. I lived there for five years, loving the idea that I was blending in with the locals......... At the same time I was the gung-ho tourist who scoured the country every weekend, from the big cities and the small towns to the islands and the Alps."

This edition of the blog will focus on one of my favorite regions in Italy. It is Sicily, and for many reasons which I will talk about here.

I have an admitted bias for Sicily because my roots on my father's side are in Sicily. He came to the USA as a 13 year old. I have many cousins still in the "home town" of Santa Caterina Villarmosa, in the heart of the island. The home my father was born in is still there occupied by cousins.

I think if you haven't yet visited Sicily, you will want to go. There are many reasons to like this island. The cuisine is remarkable with influences over centuries from Spain, France, Greece aand North Africa. The blending of the various herbs, spices, styles, etc. provide for the most distinctive cuisine in all of Italy. Of course there are many other reasons to visit this island. There are beautiful vistas along the miles and miles of coastline. The climate is the mildest in Italy mainly due to its location north of Africa. The wines have come into their own and there are beautiful wineries to visit. It is a fun place to drive. The main roads are excellent and allow you to criss-cross the island. There are many Greek ruins in Sicily, some of which are in better condition than those in Greece. There is of course, the most famous of volcanoes, Mt. Etna, just north of Catania near Taormina, one of the most visited areas of Sicily. Taormina sits high above the Ionian Sea with breathtaking views of the coastline.
There are fascinatiing cities to visit, Palermo, Catania, Messina, Siracusa, Agrigento, to name a few. There are very historical and well-preserved towns such as Modica, Noto, Taormina, Cefalu, Enna, and many more. The people of Sicily are warm and friendly. They love that you love their island!
A week is really necessary to see the island as it should be seen, but if you have less time, one can choose a few highlights and see them in 3-5 days. Note that Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean so it takes time to see it thoroughly.
You can fly into Catania or Palermo from almost any Eropean hub as well as connect in Rome, Milan, Naples and from most airports in Italy. There are ships and trains that also travel to Sicily from ports, and major train stations. There is even a ferry train for your car!

Well, that is enough talk. I will let some pictures speak for themselves.

By the way, the Spring and Fall are wonderful times to visit Sicily as part of your trip to Italy. The weather is great and there are fewer tourists. Another note, things in Sicily are somewhat cheaper then other tourist areas of Italy, especially if you stay outside the obvious tourist areas and take day trips to visit them.

Santa Caterina Villarmosa

Hillside near Taormina

View of Ionian Sea 

View from on high in Taormina

Amphitheatre in Taormina


View from Taormina

Ionian Sea

View from villa terrace

Mt. Etna entrance

Crater of Mt. Etna

Grapes for Nero d'Avola wine

Cathedral in Siracusa

Ionia Sea

Siracusa waterway

Ionian Sea at sunset from villa

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Italy, 2014

Happy New Year to everyone. I hope you have a great year.  Think about including a trip to Italy in your plans for 2014. Perhaps a celebration of a special birthday or anniversary is in your plans. Why not have the "party" in Italy. You will never forget it!!

To help you consider a trip to Italy this year, I thought that instead of the usual blog describing an Italian region or city, I would pass on this article from the Huffington Post published on December 28, 2013. It was written by Lisa Miller.  I think that it is right on the money as it points out some of the less obvious reasons for visiting Italy. It goes beyond the food, the wine, the history. I hope you enjoy it. Those of you who have travelled to Italy will appreciate this article because you have experienced these seven things. 

Here is the article:

If you've spent time in Italy you know that life in Italy and life in America are very different. While both cultures have their pros and cons, we think Americans can learn a lot from the way Italians live.

Traditionally, Italians have an easy-going and positive outlook on how to go about daily life. Italians live "la vita bella" (the beautiful life). But the beautiful life doesn't mean the luxurious life -- it means a relaxed, family-centric lifestyle.
Check out seven lessons Americans can learn from Italians below.
1. Eat slowly, locally and with others.
There's really no such thing as Italian fast food. Sure, you'll find a McDonald's here and there, but in Italy the concept of eating transcends "fast and cheap." Italy is all about "slow food." Dinners are unhurried and eaten around a table (not a TV or computer screen) with one's family. In Italy, food is natural, authentic and sourced locally.
2. Drink a little bit, but not too much.
Italians love their vino. But they don't overdo it. Here in America, there's a culture of binge-drinking. In Italy, a bottle of wine is shared among friends or around the dinner table. Stumbling around drunk in Italy is not viewed favorably. Italians like to drink, but they know how to keep it classy.
3. You should indulge a little every now and then... perché no??
There are so many delicious treats in Italy -- rich gelato, mouth-watering pastries, decadent chocolates. Much like the philosophy on drinking, Italian culture has a "perché no?" take on treats. "Perché no?" translates to "why not?" The idea is to treat yourself by having a little bit of something tasty (because, why not?) but not having so much that you're gorging yourself. Take Italian gelato shops for example... the normal size of a "coppa" (cup) would look tiny compared to the average size of a cup of ice cream in America.
4. Stop hurrying, start relaxing.
Life is less hurried in Italy. People don't rush around with to-go cups of coffee, but rather sip their espresso at the "bar" (aka coffee shop). Meals tend to linger, whether they be at restaurants or at home. Pedestrians tend to meander. There's significantly less emphasis put on being on time -- rather, the emphasis falls on how that time is spent. Many Italians take a siesta of sorts -- a break during the day, from 1 p.m. - 3 p.m., to eat lunch and relax.
5. Having family nearby is the best thing ever.
Families in Italy tend to stay in the same area, rather than moving around. Grandparents often care for grandchildren, siblings remain close and extended families are huge and welcoming. While it's more common in the U.S. to go away for college and settle down somewhere other than where you grew up, it tends to be the opposite in Italy. Having family nearby is deeply valued in Italy. Having nonna(grandma), aunts, uncles and cousins drop by for dinner during the week or having a weekly extended family meal every Sunday is common and brings everyone together.
6. Gather and spend time outdoors.
Part of the great communal feel of Italy comes from the fact that people tend to congregate outdoors. Friends will meet up at a piazza and hang out there, rather than in a home. Piazzas are vibrant, outdoor hubs where tons of people gather, children play and tourists roam, creating a lively atmosphere. Similarly, many Italians do most of their shopping at a mercato, outdoor markets where vendors sell everything from food and wine to clothing and leather goods. In America, we have malls -- which are great. But there's nothing like wandering a mercato, sampling the fare and interacting with other locals.
7. Maintain a "bella figura."
Bella figura literally translates to "beautiful figure" -- but it's more idiomatic than that. The idea of maintaining a bella figura is more like the idea of maintaining a good public image. Italians don't get drunk in public, eat while they walk or wear pajamas to the dinner table because it would have a negative impact on their image. Bella figura is more than just looking good, it's a way of life that emphasizes aesthetics and good behavior. 
Thanks to Lisa Miller and the Huffington Post.  She is absolutely right. I have experienced all of these things and so will you when you go to Italy.
To further entice you, here are some photos:


Italian Riviera


Lake Como

Wines form Chianti Region