Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Getting Your Flower Fix in Rome

“The earth laughs in flowers.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rome is a beautiful city, but in spring time, it's like the prettiest woman wearing her best dress.  There are many ways to enjoy spring to the max in Rome.  Read on to see where to get your flower fix!

1. The Rose Garden
Rome's rose garden is a magical place, open to the public from
April to June ( April 21st to June 19th this year).  Over a thousand types of roses are in bloom and their perfume is something you will never forget.  Address: Via di Valle Murcia 6.  You can get there taking the metro's B line and getting off at the Circo Massimo exit.  It's hours of operations are 8:30 am to 7:30 pm.

2. Flowers on the Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps are a great spot to take a break from all the walking you do around Rome.  Tourists and locals alike sit down in these ancient steps and enjoy the view of downtown Rome and the fashion houses around Via Condotti.  In spring, the city displays hundreds of azaleas in bloom making this spot even more memorable.  This year however, because of the maintenance being performed to the ancient steps, the azalea display will be moved to the steps of the Campidoglio (Rome's city hall).

3. The Garden of Ninfa

This garden is for serious flower lovers, it is one of the most beautiful gardens in the world!  It is located outside of Rome's city center so you will need to arrange transportation there, but it is a paradise on earth.  There are guided tours and now you can make reservations online.  Click here for more information.  They only allow a small number of people to visit the gardens every year.  So if you are serious about adding this stop to your itinerary, plan ahead.

4. Villa D'Este
Located 30 minutes outside of Rome in Tivoli, Villa D'Este with it's 16th century garden is one of the best examples of a Renaissance garden.  Adorned with fountains and statues, it will make you feel like a queen or king, especially during the spring time.

If you are planning to visit Rome in April or May, make sure you get your flower fix in these top four Roman gardens and find inspiration for your own garden at home.

Arrivederci for now,

Friday, February 26, 2016

Alfajores Recipe

"Sweets for my sweet, sugar for my honey; I'll never ever let you go"  from Sweets for my Sweet by The Drifters

Hello!  We are still in February, the month of love, the shortest month of the year.  Did you celebrate Valentine's Day?  Do you hate #ValentinesDay?  I've been married for many years now, and there have been times when we just didn't bother celebrating. Maybe we've been married for too long, maybe it fell on a Tuesday...  

This past Valentines Day I read several posts from single friends against this particular celebration of love.  And yes, I know, it's all about the marketing and marking up the price of chocolates and roses.  But I've said it before, there is nothing wrong with buying roses on February 18th, they will still be appreciated.  So why restrict the celebration of love to one day or one type of love.  Life is too short to put restrictions on LOVE!

If you associate love with sweetness like I do, here is a great recipe for Alfajores.  If you've never tried them, they are a South American sandwich cookie filled with caramel.  Oh yeah! That spells L-O-V-E in my dictionary.

Mix the flour, cornstarch and powder sugar in a bowl.  Incorporate the butter until you have an oatmeal-looking mix.  Add cold milk little by little while mixing it in, until your dough comes together.  This should feel like a pie crust dough or sugar cookie dough.  Make a ball with your dough, and cover it with plastic wrap.Let your dough rest in the refrigerator for thirty minutes.  

Then, work in batches.  Take a piece of dough, roll it out and cut circles with a small glass of a round cookie cutter.  Bake the rounds for 12 minutes in a 300 degree oven.  The circles should stay white.  Let them cool.

Take some caramel and spread it on a cicle.  Cover with another cookie, making a sandwich.  If you get creative you can make them in heart shapes as an extra way to show your love.  Last step, but very important one, sprinkle with powder sugar and enjoy!

Arrivederci for now,

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Off The Beaten Path: Orvieto

“A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.” Lewis Mumford

Sometimes we have this idea that in order to disconnect and recharge we have to go to far away lands or to an exotic paradise.  While living in Italy, I was hoping to see all its regions and whenever I had a chance to travel, I went to destinations as far from Rome as possible.  I kept putting nearby day-trips aside for later.

Finally, one day I decided to visit Orvieto, a town north of Rome, located in the Umbria region and only an hour and a half drive from Rome.  I've heard of it, but I didn't know the true jewel I was going to find there. 
TIP: Many times, due to time constrains, travelers have to decide between visiting the north or the south of Italy.  If you choose to tour Southern Italy, a visit to Orvieto will give you a taste of the northern medieval towns without too much of a detour from Rome.  The town sits on top of a hill and once you get there there is a fantastic view of the country side from the municipal parking area. 

I was fascinated by the charm of Orvieto.  Its cathedral with horizontal black and white stripes on its sides and vertical pink and blue lines on the facade, in addition to the elaborate decorative stone work is so beautiful you want to sit on the other side of the piazza and just stare at it for a while.  

Another spot you must visit in Orvieto is Saint Patrick's Well.  Completed in the year 1,537 was originally commissioned by Pope Clemente VII to ensure proper water supply for the city during times of turmoil.  The engineering of the well is impressive.  A center circular shaft 200 feet deep is surrounded by two spiral staircases built in such way that they don't ever collide.  It was design so two mules could access the well at the same time without crossing paths.  Each staircase has 248 steps, and for the modest sum of five euro and a little bit of courage, you can descend to the bottom of the well.  A fantastic experience! Make sure to take breaks and look up or down through the arched windows that provide light to the entire structure.

If you are tired after the stair master class, take a break on the main piazza, sipping some wine and maybe buying the beautiful umbrian pottery.

That is all for today, arrivederci amici!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thing To Do While in Rome: The Trevi Fountain

"Marcello, come here, hurry up!" Anita Ekberg as Sylivia in La Dolce Vita

The Trevi Fountain is one of the most magical spots in Rome, and after going through seventeen months of renovations it reopened to the public last month.  A stop at the fountain is a must for any visitor.  The legend says that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you will come back to Rome, and who doesn't want to be back!  I threw more than one coin and I hope to be back soon.

The streets that lead you to the fountain are typical narrow cobble-stone alleys and when you turn the corner and the area opens up to this wonderful fountain you do need a a few seconds to contemplate it and take it all in.  

The fountain is a iconic symbol of the city.  It represents the taming of the waters by Oceanus, the  god of the seas.  It beautifies the facade of a historic building and is so large in size that overpowers the small square that hosts it.  This fantastic fountain was featured in Fellini's film La Dolce Vita.  In the film, a beautiful and voluptuous Anita Edberg, wondering the streets of Rome late at night, stumbles upon the fountain, and gets in it calling her love interest, a very handsome Marcello Mastroianni, who eventually gives up and joins her.  If you have not seen the movie, check out the scene here.

The fountain dates back to 1762 and it is fed by one of the oldest aqueducts of the city of Rome.  It is a busy tourist spot but if you get there early in the morning you might just have it all to yourself.  Of course the fountain becomes even more beautiful at night, and now, after the renovation, night-time illumination has improved tremendously.  

If you happen to be visiting the fountain close to dinner time, eat at trattoria Al Moro (Vicolo delle Bollette 13, Phone  Is always better to make reservations.  They are known for their typical Roman cuisine, and everything I tried there was wonderful.  (If you want to learn more about what dishes to order when in Rome read this)

I hope you get to visit this wonderful piece of history and don't forget to throw your coin to ensure your return to Rome!!

Arrivederci for now,

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Decorating with European Flair

"The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it." Ralph Waldo Emerson

I've been searching for inspiration ideas that I can use to make my home have more of a European flair.  I understand that architecture styles and features are vastly different, and I do like modern and minimalist as much as I like the charm of the old world.  Is there a way to possibly mix them both? I think so!  And since I have not found much after hours on Pinterest, I've decided to write a list of the things I loved while living in Europe so I can refresh my memory and help myself focus at my task... this exercise may help you too, so read on!

Things I Love About European Decor:

1. Not everything matches!  In America we tend to want a furniture set, a bedroom set, everything has to match perfectly.  I have news for you, in Europe they tend to mix new pieces they love with pieces they have.  My friend Joana, who is a master at mixing and matching, applied the idea to her dinning china, every plate she owns is different, every tea cup is unique, and it works!!  She can pull it off, I hope you can do too.

2. Pieces with History:  Some pieces can be passed down from one generation to the next, and even though you may have a different taste than your grandmother, one separate piece can find a spot in your decor and you will even have a cool story to tell about it. 

3. Texture:  Because most places are old in Europe, you have many textured walls done with plaster, and the effect of a nice bright painting over an old wall is magnificent.  Old and new, keeping your history and looking into the future.  Isn't that what life is all about?  To try to recreate the effect,  check out the Ralph Lauren Polished Patina finish and you'll know exactly what I am talking about.

4. Small is O.K.: Most people wish for a bigger place.  Small can be wonderful too.  And bigger some times is just bigger (not better).  It's all about picking you pieces well and utilizing your space to the max.  Have you ever seen the terraces of European apartments?  The bottom one in the photo is at Piazza Navona, Rome.  Tiny but full of life!

5. The Magic is on the Details: Crown molding, a special fabric on a pillow, tussles, you can find beauty on the details for sure.  If you cannot afford a new sofa, maybe you can afford a new throw to embellish the piece.

I believe you should get a sense of peace and harmony when you step into your least for one second before the kids start with "mom, I'm hungry!".

And that is all for today.  Arrivederci for now,

Friday, October 30, 2015

5 Tips for Celebrating Halloween Overseas

"For some of us, Halloween is everyday" Tim Burton

In America the excitement is contagious, Halloween has been in the stores and supermarkets for a good month now.  You've had the opportunity to think about your costumes, decorations and of course, candy!  But what happens with Halloween when you are overseas?

Depending on your location, you could be on a Halloween-friendly country or not.  If you are not finding the enthusiasm Halloween deserves here are 5 places where to find it or where you could start a campaign for a new tradition.

1. If you have school age children, most likely Halloween will be celebrated at school in some way or form, a parade or a spooky party.  Who doesn't like to dress up and eat candy?  This is a great place to volunteer your Halloween cheer.  

2. Is work associated with an American/expat company or enterprise?  Offices can turn into great spaces for trick-o-treating.  Door decorating contest anyone?  Or each area could decorate their spaces with a different theme and let employee's children go around asking for candy.  It does take asking permission from top management, but it is a great opportunity to bring people together, so pitch your idea and start a new office tradition.

3.  Do you live in a building where there are other expats?  Maybe you can make the kids trick-or-treat around the building.  Or make a map of the Halloween-friendly houses in the neighborhood, grab a flash light and go get that candy!!

4.  Trunk-o-treat is another popular way to celebrate, with everyone decorating the trunk of their car and handing out candy.  You need to find an open space or parking lot, that's all.

5.  If everything fails and you are not finding the Halloween love around you, why not plan a private party at home?  If you and your children love dressing up, you can invite some friends and have a good time together.  

If you are trick-or-treating out in your neighborhood with the kids, try to avoid negativity by only knocking at the houses that are decorated.  Beware that the country where you live may be celebrating another holiday that same day (in Peru October 31st is the night of the creole song, half of the country celebrates Halloween and the other half goes to local music halls to celebrate their music).  I was greeted with not so friendly remarks a couple of times (don't take it personal, it's supposed to be a fun day for the kids, ignore and move on) but all an all have had good Halloween fun around the world.  

And remember... When witches go riding and black cats are seen, The moon laughs and whisper, 'Tis near Halloween.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dressing Like an Italian: Fall's Ultimate Accessory

“Wear that scarf," he said, pointing to a blue cashmere scarf hanging on a peg. "It matches your eyes." Cassandra Clare, City of Lost Souls

Fall is definitely here and in Italy the cooler weather is synonymous with scarves.  They come in all shapes and colors, are made of different materials and you can buy one as cheap as five euro.    A scarf adds a drop of style and a pop of color to your outfit and Italians wear them best.

Now, there is another reason why Italians use these wonderful scarves and it's called the "colpo d'aria" meaning a blast of air/wind.  And wind my friends can be a dangerous thing in Italy, at least for Italians.  Don't get me started with a blast of air conditioned breeze, that is deadly!  It is believed that if cool air hits your neck, you will certainly get sick or worse.  Hence, as soon as the weather starts getting colder women, men, kids...everyone! wears a scarf called "sciarpa" (pronounced: sharpa) in Italian.

How to use one you may ask?  There is the monochrome look, where you tend to stay in the color palette of your outfit.  There is also the pop of color, where you use a colorful scarf to add detail to a more serious outfit (read this to learn where else you can add color to your outfit).

I had a few scarves when I arrived in Italy but I have to confess that my collection grew while living in Rome.  A simple google search will show you a million ways of wearing this fall's ultimate accessory.  Go to your drawers, I'm sure you'll find one, and play with it.  Have fun with your outfit, life is too short to be too serious.

Enjoy the fall weather, the color on the leaves and the beautiful scarves!!

Arrivederci for now,

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fresh Pasta Recipe

“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.”  Julia Child

Whether you are missing Italy, wishing you could be there or just really hungry, do not despair, a  dish of fresh pasta will have you instantly feeling happy or like Italians say: Felice.  This post started with my dissatisfaction with the the local spaghetti found at my grocery story.  After living in Italy for three years and coming back to America, it was hard to even have the courage to try Italian food here and be disappointed.  So, after the all-Italian U.S. Open final (tennis, for those who don't follow the sport) I was ready to celebrate with an Italian dinner, simple but good.

As in many other times, where I wasn't able to find the food I craved in a strange country (read bagels in Sri Lanka or pizza in China), I decided to try to make fresh pasta at home.  If you are interested in eating clean or un-procesing your food give making home-made pasta a try, it's not that difficult.  Here is how to do it:

You can make as much or as little as you want.  For each egg, use 100 grams of flour.

1. Start by pouring the flour on a clean surface and making a volcano.
2. Crack your eggs in the hole of the volcano you just made.  Add the pinch of salt.
3. Take a look at your volcano and strengthen the sides that are too thin.
4. With a fork, start by gently whisking the eggs incorporating the sides of the flour volcano, bit by bit.  There are tons of videos on how to do this.
5.  Once the wet egg/flour mixture starts getting harder to move, drop the fork and start mixing the ingredients with your hands.  Make a ball of the dough and start kneading for 15 mins.

6. Let your ball rest for 30 minutes covered in plastic wrap.
7.  Take you dough and in a floured surface use a rolling pin to start flattening it until you reach a 1/2  millimeter thickness.  Or use a pasta machine to roll your pasta out to the desired thickness (use small chunks of dough, not the whole ball).  Let your final pasta dry for around 20 minutes after sprinkling a little bit of flour on top and covering it with a plastic wrap.

With the sheets of pasta, depending on what you do with them, you can get, lasagna sheets, tagliatelle, fettuccine, ravioli, even bow ties (make a small rectangle and pinch it in the middle).

That day I made baked lasagna and it was over before I could take a picture of it.  I hope you give this recipe a try.  I messed up the first batch letting my eggs escape the volcano too soon, the second time I did better.  Don't give up, the results are super yummy!

Arrivederci for now,

Friday, September 11, 2015

Small Little Victories

“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”  Anthony Trollope

The life of an Expat family is full of surprises.  Sometimes they are nice surprises, sometimes they are not.  At the end of the day one thing is a constant: change!  This summer it was my time for change.  Picking up all your belongings and moving them across oceans is no easy task but for us expats, it's just part of life.  I often get blank stares when I talk to non-travelers and I even get remarks like: "are you crazy!?" "how can you do this to your kids", "it must be so difficult!".  Truth be told, I've always enjoyed my moves, and thinking back on all the adventures I've experienced with my traveling family, I wouldn't change our lifestyle for any other. 

The post of today is all about settling in a new place.  The laws of settling-in apply exactly the same no matter where you go.  Since I just went through the process, or better yet, since I'm in the middle of it, I thought I would share one very important tip about moving to a new house.  Here it is:

"Small little victories"

Remember that phrase!  When you move, there's a million things you have to think about: school for the kids, vaccinations, registrations, shipments, boxes.  There is no planner big enough for the flood of tasks we have to face when moving to a new destination.  On top of it all, you don't have your "stuff", until you finally get it and with it comes the chaos of reorganizing a home for your family.  So, take it easy.  Choose one important task a day and tackle it.  If everything else falls apart in the mean time, fudgetaboutit

A couple of weeks ago, when I was overwhelmed with boxes from past lives and some from my latest life in Italy, I decided, eating was really important for my family so I forgot about everything else and concentrated on cleaning one side of the kitchen so I could have counter space on which to prep meals.  Maybe for you the "task of the day" is to have the desk space clean to be able to telecommute.  Maybe it's to schedule your internet connection so precisely that you will not be one second without an on-line presence.  Whatever it is, concentrate on one task at a time.  It will help you keep your sanity.  

Some days, just organizing one single drawer will feel like a victory, a small little victory.  And step by step, little by little, you will continue putting everything in its new place.  And like my friend Monica says, some days you just have to close the door and go for fresh air.

If you moved or are moving this year, I feel your pain.  If you have another tip that will help the expat community, please share it with us.  We'll certainly appreciate it!!

Arrivederci for now,

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

10 Things You Should Do BEFORE Moving to Italy

“Open my heart and you will see graved inside of it, "Italy".”  Robert Browning

Do you want to sell it all and move to Italy?   I've had the joy of living in Rome for the last few years and I am thankful for that amazing experience.  I still didn't realize the kind of pull Italy has on so many of us until last summer.  During a stay in Washington DC I took my sons to the Koshland Science Museum.  One of the interactive exhibits asked people to write down their biggest dream; as I browsed through the answers I was shocked to find so many entries about visiting, touring, and even moving to Italy.  I realized at that moment I was one of the lucky ones who was actually living the dream.  I also consider myself a realist and I know that even if you think you are living the dream, there are some days when you can have a nightmare or two...

Have you read the news about Italy lately?  You'll see words like "crisis, strikes, decline.."  What is that all about?  Italy is as wonderful as it is complicated, you can choose which side to dwell on, but you still have to live with both.

If you are visiting Italy (read this first!) you can concentrate on the beauty, the art, the wonderful cuisine and the wine.  But if you are moving there you do have to open your eyes completely and see the reality of the daily life.  Here are some pointers that will make your move a little less complicated:

  1. Learn the language, learn the language, learn the language!  Your experience will be completely different if you can communicate and eventually meet local friends.  The Italian language is beautiful but its grammar is very complex.   Any time you put into it will pay off at the end.
  2. Change your mind set.   Easier said than done.  Take the time to observe, and absorb the culture.   Read about it (I personally recommend "As Romans Do"by Alan Epstein), watch Italian films, get to know the local idiosyncrasies...  Do as the locals do (if you insist on finding eggs for breakfast you'll be disappointed, if you change to coffee and cornetto, you'll find yourself in the right place all the time!)
  3. Be patient!  Everything happens at a different pace over there.  Slow down and enjoy the vino!
  4. Make connections.  In Italy you're a stranger or you're family.  When you first get there you'll be a stranger, it takes time to make connections, start with your local market vendors, practice the Italian you've learned, be patient.  Try to go the same stores so the clerks recognize you and  you'll eventually become family.
  5. Enjoy your surroundings, if you are having a bad day, go for a walk around town and it will remind you of the reason you moved there in the first place.
  6. Look for a support group.  Find other expats in your city, they know what you're going trough and can help you when you hit a road block.
  7. Take it easy!  Rome wasn't built in one day.  And your life in Italy won't be either.  Italian bureaucracy is known for being complicated beyond belief and just the fact of  moving can be very stressful, so take it easy!
  8. Travel! Even after you settle in one city, there are 20 very different regions in Italy.   Venture out to the not-so-touristy ones.  See as much as you can, they are all wonderful!
  9. Stop comparing!  There is nothing helpful about comparing your new life to your old one.  If you moved there with children, read this! One Easy Think you Can Do to Help your Kids Adjust to a New Culture.
  10. Be patient!  The first year it's all about settling in, if you survive it you passed the test, you've made it! Every time after that will be a bonus.  

I hope these tips can help all the serious Italophiles have a better reality when they get to live the dream.

Arrivederci for now,

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Beware, we are in Ferragosto

"When all else fails, take a vacation" Betty Williams

Hello! If you are in the northern hemisphere I  hope you are enjoying a wonderful summer.  If you were in Italy right now, you would be immersed is some strange but lovely phenomenon called Ferragosto.

So what is Ferragosto?  Officially, Ferragosto is an Italian holiday celebrated on August 15 a tradition born 2,000 years ago when the Romans celebrated the end of the grain harvesting season with well-deserved festivities and a break from work.  The Church being unable to stop the festivities added the celebration of the Assumption of Mary to August 15.  But to say Ferragosto is a summer holiday would not be even scratching the surface.

In Itay and many other parts of Europe, most people take their vacation during the month of August (Agosto in Italian, hence the second part of the Ferr-agosto word).  If you are planning to  travel to Europe during the month of August make sure you book your accommodations well in advance, unless you want your only overnight option to be a yacht for 36,000 Euro a night; been there, have not done that.

But let's look a little more into the realities of Ferragosto:

  • As every employee wants to take their vacation during the month of August many small businesses just close completely for a couple of weeks in August.
  • If you are trying to get anything done during the month of August, Forget About It!  Just accept the fact that everyone you have to deal with is on vacation, about to go on vacation or not even there.
  • You can basically scratch the month of August from the calendar and join everyone else at the beach (like Sperlonga or Vieste) or the cooler mountains.
  • Be prepared for tons of traffic anywhere near the ocean.
  • If you decide to stay in the city, enjoy the abundance of parking spaces and zero traffic but remember, most businesses will be closed and is really too hot to do anything anyway.
  • There is even a word in the Italian language for the day when everything goes back to the normal daily routine:  "Rientro" meaning re-entry, after Ferragosto, or course.  
  • Look for the religious festivities of the Assumption of Mary, being one of the most popular celebrations the one in Siena.

As I day dream of past Ferragostos and get ready to continue the tradition this year, I hope you are enjoying the warm and long days of summer.

Arrivederci for now,

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Off the Beaten Path: Gargano

“Life is a paradise for those who love many things with a passion.”  Leo Buscaglia

You ask me where would I like to go?  I'll always choose somewhere, anywhere, near the sea.  I was born a few miles from the ocean, and I'm still under its spell.  So when it was time to choose a summer-time destination I chose the Gargano National Park.  If Italy is a boot, the Gargano National Park is the spur.  Located in the region of Apuglia (Puglia in Italian), the Gargano is a round penninsula surrounded by the Adriatic sea. And why would you want to go there?  Because it's summer time, because it's beautiful and because simply staring at that amazingly clean water is enough to recharge your batteries back to 100%.

The Gargano natural reserve is a protected park that houses the Umbra Forest.  It's winding roads go on for miles surrounded by olive groves,  and beech trees (side note: if you get car sick, like me, get ready for it!), but what it is most famous for is its wonderful beaches.  It certainly looks like paradise on earth.

One of the most picturesque towns in the area is Vieste, known as the pearl of the Gargano.  If you are interested in other than sunbathing, take a ride to visit it.  Its narrow streets and amazing ocean views make it a perfect break from the beach.  I had a very nice meal at Ristorante La Tavernetta (Via Celestino V, 5, Vieste).  Even though you're near the ocean and will want to try some fish or seafood, don't forget to try the region's famous "orecchiette" (little ears) a round shaped pasta with lots of texture. (Read this too: 10 Things  You Need to Know Before Eating in Italy)

If shopping is more your thing and you're looking for souvenirs, pick up their little sculptures made out of a lava rock that weight practically nothing.  

Whether you visit Gargano for its natural beauty, its beaches or its wonderful cuisine, you will be seeing a spot of this world that certainly resembles paradise.

Hope you are having a nice summer!

Arrivederci for now,