Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Eating and Living Like Italians Do

“Sorry, there´s no magic bullet. You gotta eat healthy and live healthy to be healthy and look healthy. End of story.”  Morgan Spurlock

When I learned I was moving to #Italy, my initial reaction of joy was followed by worried  thoughts of the amount of weight I was going to gain after my three year assignment.  I worried all the #pasta and #bread were going to be impossible to resist.  I dreamed of Pasta al Pesto Genovese in Genova, Tagliatelle al Ragu in Bologna, Spaghetti Vongole in Amalfi, Tiramisu... I also had nightmares about stepping on a scale.

Being worried about gaining all that weight I started thinking why, generally speaking, Italians are not overweight?  And on top of it, they live long lives, especially women!  My friend is traveling next month to see her grandmother for her 100th birthday; how many of us can say that?

Good looking Italians on a regular day.
Not being an expert on the matter, I can only talk about my observations:

#Italians care about they way they look.  Some more obsessively than others, but both men and women care about looking presentable when going out.  You will never see them running errands wearing baggy sweatpants and flip flops.  Now, if you have to wear your nice clothes all the time, you make sure to fit in them!

People walk a lot more than in other countries.  Since parking is a big nightmare, as I've discussed previously, many people take public transpo, which involves getting to bus stops, metro stops and train stations...walking.  If you are downtown, it's a lot easier to walk places than it is to drive there.  No need for pedometers, walking is just part of life.

Food is fresher, and everyone cares about buying nothing but the best: the freshest, the purest, simply the best you can buy.  They have the mentality that if it's Italan it's the best, and that makes for eating food that comes from nearby places, not from the other corner of the world.  Eating "farm to table" is not a trend, just the way they've been doing it for centuries.

In the supermarkets you will only find produce in season, so if you want artichokes in the summer time you won't find them, they are in season now (January).  If you want peaches in the winter you just won't find them, you have to wait until they are at their best, in summer time.  As a result, restaurants serve seasonal dishes and it's all fresh, it's all good.

Their food industry is regulated is such a way that many products sold in the U.S. and other parts of the world are forbidden here.  And if they are to be sold, they have to come with a warning label stating the effects of the dubious ingredients (normally chemicals and additives).  For example, American Mac and Cheese, comes with a big label saying that certain ingredients alter children's behavior.  My youngest loves Mac and Cheese, but how can you buy the product knowing its possible effects?  I actually stopped buying it and now make Mac and Cheese from scratch, every time we want to have it.  

I have talked to many #Italian friends and they say that at home they normally don't eat pasta at dinner time.  They might if they go out to a restaurant, where, by the way, I've never been offered unlimited amounts of bread, the basket of bread is fairly small and costs a couple of euros. 

All and all, I haven't gain weight, maybe only for the holidays but that is true no matter where I live.  After a year in Italy I have given myself permission to savor it all, but in moderation.

1/2 pounds elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of flour
1 tablespoon powder mustard
3 cups milk
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon of paprika
1 egg
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
1 teaspoon of salt
fresh black pepper

Preheat oven at 350 degrees F.  In a large pot boil the pasta in salted water until it's "al dente".  While pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter.  Whisk in the flour, mustard and keep moving for about 5 minutes.  Stir in the milk little by little making sure no lumps are formed.  Add the onion, bay leaf and paprika.  Simmer for 10 minutes and remove the bay leaf.  Temper in the egg.  Stir in 3/4 of the cheese.  Season with salt and pepper.  Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour it nto a casserole dish.  Top with the remaining cheese.  Toss breadcrumbs on top and bake for 30 minutes.  Enjoy!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Making It Work: A Good Attitude Is a Must!

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

This #expat life, and maybe life in general, is not easy sometimes, but facing problems with a good attitude will help you keep your sanity!  Packing all your belongings and flying half-way around the world to a strange city, one where you are unable to communicate and where things don't work the way expect them to, it's stressful to say the least.  On top of everything you are carrying with you the emotional toll of having said goodbye to family and friends.  If you've done it, you know exactly what I mean...

In spite of it all, having a good #attitude can make or break your experience as an expat.  On the flip side, traveling to a new country, learning a new language, experiencing life from a different perspective could be lots of fun and very rewarding!  So there is a good side to every situation: right?

I am currently living in #Rome, and just thinking about how many people save for a long time to visit Italy for a few days (a recurrent point in bucket lists), makes me feel very fortunate for having a longer stay here.   However, there are some bad days in paradise, too.

I live right next to a school.  Going into or out of my dead-end street during drop-off and pick-up times is just a nightmare.  There is no such thing as a Kiss and Ride lane.  People double and triple park and sometimes they simply park on the middle of the street.  As long as they have their hazard lights on, they are OK.  I try to avoid at all costs the times when I know this craziness will happen, but one day I came back home at school release time and as I was trying to get into my street as the entire universe was trying to come out of it.  I fought like a mad woman, trying to gain space on the road, it took me an eternity to park and I was furious!

That same week I came back home at the wrong time again and I decided not to go into my street, but to continue and drive straight to the #Gelato place.  I double parked (hey, when in Rome...) put my hazard lights on, ordered a Frutti di Bosco and Chocolate gelato, and enjoyed heaven in a cone.  Then, feeling very zen, I drove back home to an empty street with plenty of parking.  This has become my new routine when timing is wrong.
"Il Pelicano" my neighborhood gelato place...

Yes, having a good day is a decision you make every morning, and for those days when things prove to be a bit more difficult, there is always gelato (or wine, why not).

  • Come Il Latte: Via Silvio Spaventa, 24 26 Roma.  They fill their cones with chocolate before serving the gelato, soooo good!
  • Giolitti: Via Uffici del Vicario 40, 00186, Roma.  Serving gelato since 1,900.
  • Grom: Several locations around Italy.  Organic ingredients.
  • Frigidarium: Via del Governo Vecchio 112, Roma.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Saying Goodbye is Always Hard to Do (but Staying Connected is Not)

 “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” A.A. Milne


It's always been a very challenging part of the #Expat experience.  After a few years settled in a new city, some of your friends start reaching the end of their assignments, and the #farewell parties begin.  I've attended so many...

One of the wonderful aspects of living international is certainly the people you meet.  Most likely you will meet people that come from different corners of the world, some with whom you'd think there is nothing in common, only to discover you share the same strong values of family and community, or maybe you share some common interests that bring you to discover a new #friendship.

I have met truly amazing men and women in my journey, but I have also said #goodbye to most of them.  Nowadays, however, it's easier than ever to stay connected.  With social media, and the internet friendships can go strong long after you both left a posting.

When the children were little, moving did not have an emotional dimension for them.  They were with their parents and the family stayed together at all times.  As they have grown older and had to say their own goodbyes, I was worried how they would express their feelings or how they were going to be affected by them.  

Farewell party organized by the moms of those leaving at the end of the school year.
Fortunately, in today's world, even if their #bestfriend was a block away, they would still communicate virtually, so the problem has revolved more around calculating time differences and vacation schedules.  My youngest often plays video games with his best friend sitting an ocean away; during their game they also video chat, so they not only interact as characters on a game but they see each other and chat while playing.  OK, so it's not the best scenario, they cannot physically play ball together, but it's a second best, don't you think?
I have also made an effort to reconnect with friends as they move.  I stay connected with the mothers of my children's friends.  And every time we are in the same part of the world we meet to catch up and share a meal.  With some of my personal friends I've felt that no matter how long it's been since the last time we saw each other,  the friendship has remained intact.

Lastly, I know people who have flown back after leaving a post, just to let their children see their old friends and spend a vacation in their old city.  EVERYWHERE IS ONLY A FLIGHT AWAY!

The Italian word "Arrivederci" is normally translated as "goodbye", but it literally means: until we see each other again.  How appropriate!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Market Day: With Recipe!

“Even Socrates, who lived a very frugal and simple life, loved to go to the market."  Jack Kornfield

Today was #market day, as I headed out with my rolling shopping cart, I decided to take my camera with  me to share with you snapshots of my morning in a regular #Roman market.  I am fascinated at how well #Italians eat.  They shop for the day and buy nothing but fresh food (no preservatives, no colorants, #nochemicals!).  No wonder they all live a long life! I am grateful for my time here and I want to learn the good habits of this culture to take them with me wherever my next stop will be.

I've been curiously staring at this super weird broccoli for a year now.  I finally asked, and was told it's called #Broccoli Romanesco. Apparently, it tastes like a mix between regular broccoli and cauliflower.  I had to buy it today, to photograph it and figure out how to cook it. 

As the days have been rainy and cold, I baked some #zucchini bread, perfect for my afternoon coffee break.  This recipe makes two loaves, but the first loaf disappears within seconds in my house, so I am OK with it.  You can always cut the quantities in half for one loaf.


 3 1/2 cups of flour (I use whole wheat)
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 teaspoon of cinammon
2 cups of sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup of water
2 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon of lemon
1 cup chopped walnuts
(you can add raisins or dry cranberries if you wish)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  In a bowl combine all dry ingredients.  In another bowl combine all wet ingredients.  Mix the wet into the dry ingredients.  Add nuts and fold them in.  Bake in two buttered and floured #loaf pans.  They are normally done in one hour (or until a toothpick comes out dry).  Enjoy!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Coffee Break

“I took another slug of my coffee—like most of my old boyfriends, it was strong, dark, Italian and slightly bitter. . .” Rosie Genova, Murder and Marinara

Ah, the smell of #coffee, it's so good I would love to be able to drink it.  Yes, for some strange reason coffee doesn't agree with me.  And what a pity that is, since I would love to walk into a #bar and order "un caffe per favore".  I would also avoid the looks I get when I tell people I don't drink coffee.  How could you not!!  For an Italian it's unthinkable, unimaginable to go through life without coffee.  Actually I've seen 11 year olds drink #decaffeinated versions of #cappuccino for breakfast.  Yep, an Italian citizen in the making.

So what is the deal with coffee?  Here in Italy, coffee is drank for breakfast at the bar, standing, on your way to work or to where ever you go in the morning.  And there are so many types of coffee! Here are some of the most popular ones:

Un Caffé: is an espresso.  Nobody orders an espresso, if you order a coffee is assumed to be an espresso.
Un Caffé Doppio: A double espresso.
Un Caffé Ristretto: A short shot of espresso (less water).
Un Caffé Macchiato: Is an espresso with a splash of milk, normally foamed milk.
Un Capuccino: A third of milk, a third of espresso and a third of foam, ONLY to be drank in the morning, before 10 am preferably.
Una Moka: Coffee made from a macchinetta,  a special pot that works on the stovetop.
Un Marrocchino: Is an espresso with powder chocolate and a splash of milk
Un Americano:  An espresso watered down.
Un Caffé Corretto: An espresso with a shot of liquor normally grappa or zambuca.
Un Caffé Shakerato:  Ice cubes, a Baileys-type liquor and a shot (or two) of espresso.
Un Latte Macchiato: Is milk with a splash of coffee.

Decaff wanna-be's (and my new found best friends):
Any of the above but with the word "decaffeinato" at the end.  All types made with decaff coffee.
Orzo or Ginseng: coffee looking beverages without caffeine.

And don't forget to say "Per Favore" (please) after your order.

Coffee is such a ritual here in Italy that the good coffee bars warm up the porcelain cups so when the coffee is poured into them the temperature of the beverage will remain hot.  If they would pour it into a cold cup it will automatically lower the temperature of the coffee and that is not acceptable.  Some drink it out of a glass because the flavor is supposed remain unchanged by the glass.

Coffee is a very social part of the day.  Most people stop at the same bar (coffee bar) everyday, where the #barista knows them by name.  They also know which bars are the better ones and everyone has a favorite.  Coffee is drank again at mid-morning, after lunch, mid-afternoon and after dinner.

Coffee is drank at 10:00 am at the beach in a hot steamy day.  Because, no #Italian can go about their day without a coffee break.  It's time for mine, arrivederci!


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Italian Food: What to Order While in Rome (with recipe!)

“After arriving on the ancestral soil I figured out pretty quickly why that [Italian] heritage swamps all competition. It's a culture that sweeps you in, sits you down in the kitchen, and feeds you so well you really don't want to leave.” Barbara Kingsolver

Italian food is very regional.  Every region, or better yet, every town has a specialty item or dish that you must try while you are there.  In my quest to learn more about the secrets of Italian food, before I travel anywhere, I research what are the must-have dishes of the place I'm visiting, so I make sure I order their specialties.

My children could not be more different and this fact transpires also in their favorite meals.  While one prefers pasta with tomato sauce (Pasta Pomodoro), the other one loves it with pesto.  Since I cannot make both sauces all the time, I make a batch of pesto sauce and freeze it in ice trays where an ice cube can be easily retrieved every time my youngest wants pasta pesto.

As soon as we set foot in #Rome, my oldest was enjoying his Pasta Pomodoro while my youngest  was flabbergasted to find that Pasta Pesto was never on the menu!  Why? Because basil pesto is a Ligurian specialty and not typical from the #Lazio region where Rome is located.  We had to convince him to be adventurous and try the Roman #specialties.  He eventually found new favorites that normally do not appear in the menus of #Italian #restaurants around the world.

Some of the popular pasta dishes from the Lazio region we've come to love are:

Pasta Cacio e Pepe:  Cacio means cheese and Pepe is pepper.  This dish has to be the original idea from which #MacAndCheese was born.  Every kid loves it and I love it too.  I really appreciate those three-ingredient dishes where if every ingredient is good and fresh, the dish becomes spectacular!  For those fussy eaters, it's a hit!

Pasta Alla #Amatriciana: It's a pasta with tomato sauce and guanciale which is a type of bacon that comes from the cheeks of the pig.  Don't dismiss it yet, try it! It tastes just like bacon.  The sauce is also made with pecorino cheese and white wine.

Pasta alla #Gricia:  A very old recipe invented by the Lazio shepherds with the only few ingredients they had at hand.  It is similar to the amatriciana but without tomatoes. 

Pasta alla #Carbonara: This is the most famous of the four outside of Italy.  It includes percorino cheese, eggs and the guanciale bacon.

1 pound (400 grams) of Spaghetti
160 grams of grated Pecorino Cheese
Pepper to taste

Boil #Spaghetti according to package instructions, additing a little bit of salt to the water (keep it "al dente" which means that you have to be able to bite into it).  Once they are ready drain them keeping some of the pasta water aside and put them back into the empty pot.  Add a couple of laddles full of the pasta water and the pecorino cheese.  Mix well in order to make a creamy sauce with the cheese and the pasta water.  Add freshly ground pepper.  And enjoy!!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Choosing the Right School for Your Child

“What is a teacher? I'll tell you: it isn't someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.” Paulo Cohelho

Choosing the right school for your child overseas is one of the most important factors when evaluating or even accepting a foreign assignment.  If there is not a suitable school for your child you may even decline the opportunity.

Once you've checked there are a few viable options this important decision becomes one you can manage.  Here is what I do when choosing a school for my children.

If schooling is not part of a salary package the cost is always the first thing to consider as international school can potentially be more expensive that a college tuition.

Then I pay a visit to their websites, check their mission statements and find out which school holds a  curriculum that will give my children a smoother transitions in the academic front.  If your child has already been attending a British or American or Montessori school it will be easier for them to continue with the same style of education to which they are accustomed.

If you know someone already living in what will be your new city, ask for names of people that will be willing to give you references.

International or American schools have always been my first choice, but I know people with longer assigment lenghts that have chosen local or bilingual schools in order for their children to acquire the language skills and fully immerse in the culture.  I have seen children acquire foreign languages in record amounts of time (specially younger kids), and local or bilingual schools may be the better options for those moving permanently or for extended stays.

Through my experience I have learned that most international schools are proficient at communications specially with applicants.  If you couldn't get contacts through others, ask the registrar or admissions officer for the e-mail addresses of people who are willing to answer your questions regarding the school.

Find out the ratio of locals vs. foreign students.  Decide whether is important for you (or even possible) to immerse yourself in the culture or maintain an international perspective.  Know that locals attending International, American or British schools overseas are most likely of well to do families.  These local children may have several people tending to their needs, nannies, drivers, etc and this could be a bit of a cultural shock or in the worse case scenario make for a strong divide between locals and expats. Find out if there is a strong integration policy as part of the school culture.

Are sports a big part of your child's life? Check the school sports facilities and find out how active they are at competitions and even if they offer after-school sports and the cost associated with them.

Younger children adapt easily most of the times, but know that it will take at least six months for your child to feel a true sense of belonging.  For older children it may take longer.  The first year can be hard until they make friends and become more familiar with the new system.

We are all different on what we hold important and every child is a universe but the more time you spend doing your homework before hand the better things will play out later on.

How did you choose the school for your child?  I would love to hear and learn from your experience...

Monday, January 6, 2014

10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Italy

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy” Giuseppe Verdi


Every day there is something new that I learn about #Italian culture that amazes me.  For everything I knew about #Italy before moving here, there are a million things I didn't know and that I wished someone had told me.  Here is a list of my top ten things to know before coming to Italy as a tourist, for a long stay or permanently.

1. I hate hate hate to start with a negative but it is the first thing you need to do after you arrive at the airport.  Watch your belongings, don't leave your purse in the seat next to you while you wait for your bags, don't put your sunglasses at the table in the coffee bar, and be specially vigilant if taking public transportation (train station, subways and buses) and in crowded places.  It will be better once you arrive to walk with a copy of your passport and leave the actual passport in the hotel's safe.  Don't put all your money in your purse, but put some around in ever pocket in case your purse gets snatched.  It happens everyday.

2. Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let's talk about breakfast.  Italian breakfast consist mainly of a shot of #espresso coffee and a crescent shaped pastry called "cornetto".  The cornetto can be plain or filled with jelly, chocolate or cream.  Breakfast is also something you do on the go: stop at the bar, take your shot of coffee, eat your cornetto (all of this standing at the bar) and off you go to continue with your day.  Most hotels offer with their breakfast buffets a bigger selection including cakes and some fruit but you will not commonly find eggs, bacon nor anything savory.  If you go out in the morning and decide to sit at a table in a coffee bar and expect the waiter to come and ask you what you would like to order, you will be paying triple the price!  An espresso costs around 80 cents to 1 euro, 2 euros if you are downtown at a fancier place or if you ask for one after a meal at a restaurant.  The cornetto goes for less than 2 euros, so your breakfast should be less than 5 euro per person.  Oh, and no Italian would ever ask for a capuccino after 10 am.  Why? because it has milk and milk is only for the mornings.  Nobody orders a capuccino after lunch, like people usually do in other places of the world.  Sometimes they won't even serve it to you.

3. Now that your belongings are safe and you had breakfast, let's talk a little bit about lunch.  There is no such thing as "spaghetti with meatballs" there is no pasta Alfredo, there is no pasta with chicken legs on top and despite popular belief, Italians do not eat spaghetti with a fork and spoon.  An Italian meal is divided into five coursesAntipasto, is your appetizer.  Primo is your pasta dish, mostly without meat, sometimes with seafood.  Your Secondi is your meat dish but it doesn't come with side dishes which are called "contorni".  After your secondi you can order "dolce" which means sweet and is your dessert, and lastly your coffee, of course.  The great thing about eating in Italy is that you are supposed to take your time at the table, enjoy your company, laugh, talk and eat with pleasure.  Nobody will rush you, you can stay for hours at the table.  The waiter won't bring the check until after you've order your coffee.  Take advantage of being here, lower the RPMs and enjoy the Bella Vita!  Of course you can order only a pasta dish and the check, but you can still take your time with that.

Pizza Al Taglio
4.  You may be in the mood for a lighter lunch or not have much time as there is so much in your itinerary that you prefer to get a pizza.  Pizza is another thing Romans do on the go.  Most pizza places offer #Pizza al Taglio (pizza by the slice, which is square).  These places look like a take out spot and consist of a counter with many rectangular pizzas with different toppings.  The person behind the counter will ask which flavor you want and will place scissors in about what consists on one serving, if you want more than that, move your hand signaling a bigger (or smaller) piece, and he or she will then cut your piece, weigh it, warm it up if necessary and give it to you wrapped in a piece of paper or on a paper plate.  When I first came here I would order several squares of different flavors, I wanted to try them all.  Think sun dried tomatoes, artichoke and brie pizza, yummm!!  So remember, Pizza al Taglio (pizza by the cut).  Try different flavors, they are all good!  My favorite neighborhood place is Ippo Pizza which will sell you a meter of margarita pizza for 10 Euro!  My kids love it.

5.  Waiters here receive a salary, they don't work on commission.  There is no need to leave a big tip.  If you had a pasta lunch and wine, a one euro tip is very acceptable.  If you were with a group of friends and had the waiter coming and going, you can leave a bigger tip but not necessarily a percentage of the bill.

6.  Outside of the downtown area, stores close from around 1 to 3:30, and times are not set on stone, if they say they open at 3, the clerk may be showing up at 3:20 and not in a rush, be patient and plan around their closing time.  I don't ever attempt to go to any store until after 4:00 pm. 

7.  It's getting late and you are ready for dinner at 6:30 pm, well.... you won't find restaurants open that early.  The earliest I've seen them open is 7:30 but even then, they may not be ready to serve you yet.   6:30 is really time for the "Aperitivo", basically happy hour.  The restaurants that offer them offer also finger food, so you can last until after 8:00, when it's still early but OK to head to a restaurant for dinner.

8.  There is no parking.  That's it.  If you rented a car leave it in the garage or wherever you parked it and walk.  There is no parking, and locals double and triple park because there is no parking.  If you are the lucky person who found parking, white lines on the street mean it's free parking, blue lines mean that you have to pay for parking using the parking meters, get the ticket and put it in your car, on the windshield so the guards can see it (some cities sell parking cards in the Tobacco stores and you have to scratch the date and hour of your ticket, they look like lotto cards).  Yellow lines mean handicapped.  Again, there is no parking in big cities.

9.  Many Italians own dogs and dogs are taken everywhere: to restaurants, to malls, with them on trips, everywhere.  I saw a dog in a shoe store, shoe shopping I imagine. Nobody picks up after their dog.  Watch your step.

10. Lastly, a word that you need to know because it is something to watch for: "Sciopero".  It means strike.  There are many transportation strikes in all of Italy and they mostly happen on Mondays or Fridays but not necessarily.  As buses and metro are required to run during rush hour they mostly stop during off peak hours which affect the tourist principally.  Check for "scioperi" as soon as you have dates for your trip.  I check #WantedInRome, an English language portal but you can go directly to the Italian transportation authorities if you speak the language.

So there they are and I may post some more in the future.  Arrivederci for now.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ringing the New Year Sicilian Style

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been” Rainer Maria Rilke

Hello and Happy New Year!  I'm back from a few days in #Sicily, making new memories to savor for years to come.  I found so much beauty in so many different levels it will be hard to tell you everything at once, but I will try.

Before we set foot on the island I knew more or less what everybody knows about Sicily: island on the south of Italy with great food and great weather.  Obviously Sicily did not disappoint in those areas.  The capital #Palermo, on the northern coast of the island, is a big and buzzing city where old mixes with new and shabby with chic.  We walked the night-scene of Palermo where I found refreshing how fruit vendors, gourmet restaurants and toothless friends enjoying drinks in a garage coexist as necessary pieces of the puzzle.  The low end places offered cocktails and shots for only a couple euros while a meal at a nice place will go for around 50 euros per person.  I was able to have a date night while in Palermo and I highly recommend restaurant GAGINI (Via Cassari,35 -90133 Palermo).  The food was amazing, the chef was able to redefine some old traditional recipes in sophisticated ways that respect the essence of the original.  Very very good!  If you didn't already know, most restaurants in Italy open for dinner at around 8 pm, so have a snack mid afternoon to be able to enjoy not only the food but also the ambiance.  

From Palermo we traveled by car and set base in #Catania, a charming city on the eastern coast of the island located at the foot of the Etna volcano, which lends its architecture the uniqueness of the lava stone.  There, the main squares (Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Universita) were all decorated for the holidays.  Most Italian cities host concerts for new years and people gather for the countdown at midnight.  Another Italian tradition is to get together with friends for a big meal, in Italian "cenone" that consists mainly of fish and seafood dishes.  If you ever take part on one, be ready to eat and eat and eat some more.  Our new year's eve dinner started at 8:30 and it ended a few minutes before midnight, with just enough time to run outside to see the fireworks and watch the concert at the square.  The one attraction I would have liked to see was the museum of the World War II Landing of Allied Troups in Sicily.

#Siracusa, another important city of Sicily of a completely different feel offers picturesque narrow streets, and wide open spaces near it's cathedral.  It is also the birth place of Archimedes of Syracus, a leading scientist and mathematician of classical antiquity.  An interactive museum dedicated to explore his work is great for children of all ages.

When looking for a restaurant in most of Italy, I try to stay away from the ones in the main squares as they gear towards tourists and may not be the most authentic.  If you feel adventurous, try to walk a couple of blocks from the main streets or squares.  We've found some of the best mom and pop restaurants that way.  I also try to find recommendations on line, but it doesn't hurt to ask the locals (store clerks for example) where do they eat.  In Syracuse we ate at Trattoria Kalliope (Corte degli Avolio 4, Ortigia, Siracusa) and had a great and affordable meal.

#Taormina, a charming city on top of a mountain is one of those places where you have to park a bit far for the center of town.  Then a free shuttle bus is offered to the doorways of the old city.  Oh what a great place to people watch!  As Taormina is located at a higher point, the views of the ocean are spectacular, but I came out with the impression that locals were out only to parade up and down the main street, to see and be seen.  The three photos below were taken in Taormina.

If you are a fan of Italian pottery plan an excursion to Caltagirone.  A Sicilian town know for its production of pottery, terracotta and maiolica.  Most city streets are lined with ceramics stores, my favorite one was owned by Angelo Varsallona who has a facebook page with countless photos of his products (listed as Angelo Vasallona Ceramiche Artistiche).  He also takes orders and ships internationally.

Lastly, another attractive small town, this time on the western part of Sicily, is #Trapani, know for being the city of salt, for its salt pans and old wind mills.  There I found this great restaurant called Ristorante Antichi Sapori, where you can savor all the typical Sicilian dishes and as most #Italian restaurants, they will put together a simple pasta dish for the children even if it's not on the menu (ask for pasta pomodoro which is pasta with a simple tomato sauce or spaghetti aglio olio, which is just pasta with olive oil and garlic, kids always love them).  For the adults however, I recommend you try their couscous with fish broth and fried seafood, it was out of this world!  During our lunch several locals stopped by to get their couscous and fish broth to-go.  You know you found a good restaurant when it's patronized by the locals.

And that is what I was doing for a few days between the old and the new year, recharging my batteries and getting ready for more exciting adventures as Gaby Around the World.