Vent de Voyage: Artisan Handbag Shop of Saint Malo

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Vent de Voyage

Vent de Voyage 3 Rue St. Thomas Saint Malo












One of the best things about shopping on vacation is discovering local treasures.  While anyone can bring back an Eiffel Tower key chain (and I do that too,) it’s more special to have something that speaks to the region and reminds you of your wonderful vacation long after you’ve returned home.  A shop just like this can be found in Saint Malo.

A notorious pirate town, Saint Malo is nestled in the crook of the English Channel and the Celtic Sea.   This hamlet IS nautical.  Saint James Breton shirts abound, pirates in costume and seafood galore, this lovely seaside resort is also home to a lovely little jewel of a shop, Vent de Voyage.   Located at 3 Rue Saint Thomas this workshop is a one of a kind place making one of a kind bags.

Inspired by their nautical home, Yann and Christine, the proprietors, complete all their work in the shop creating beautiful bags from sailcloths.

The Port of Saint Malo

The Port of Saint Malo

Yes.  Sailcloths.  Water resistant, sturdy, and durable, these beautiful bags are clean, modern, simple and sleek, much like the shoreline.

To walk inside the shop is to know you’ve found something special.  Each bag is hand-crafted, signed and dated.  They offer sizes from tiny clutches to beautiful tote bags.  You can buy off the rack or customize a bag.  If you don’t plan on being in Saint Malo, they even offer a webcam service where you can Skype with them to plan your bag.  The shop, much like the town, is charming and unique.  Of course, I had to purchase a bag, and I decided on the “La Conchee” in canvas.  I swear I can smell the ocean when I carry it…

La Conchee Tote

La Conchee Tote

Ten Things To Know About Eating In France

Kir Royal at Le Lutetia, Ile Saint Louis

Kir Royal at Le Lutetia, Ile Saint Louis, Paris

People have made the “rude French waiter” into a cliché.  I don’t really understand why.  Every single person who waited on us in France was kinder and more personable than the next.  That being said, there are some things that you should know in order to, well, order.

1.  Do not call your server, “Garçon!”  That’s a derogatory title much like, “Hey, boy.”  Call him “monsieur” or if it’s a woman, “mademoiselle” or “madame” depending on her age.

2. Do not ask for extra condiments.  The chef prepared the meal for you and it’s seasoned the way it’s meant to be.  It’s like a lead balloon asking for salt.  It’s an insult.

3.  Your server will not return.  When they bring you your meal, that’s going to be it.  You know how in America you get your food and then three minutes later when you have a mouthful they’ll ask you, “How is everything tasting?”  Doesn’t.  Happen.  In.  France.  Their culture dictates that it’s rude and too intimate to speak to strangers as they eat.

4.  Don’t be in a rush.  Paris, especially, is a people watching kind of place.  The cafe chairs are set up outside in theater style.  You don’t even face your companion.  People like to sit and watch the world go by.  With the purchase of your meal (or your kir royal,) you are entitled to all the dinner theater you can imagine.  They won’t rush you and you certainly won’t get your main course while you’re still eating your salad.  You’ll have to ask them for the bill, (Le Cheque.)  They feel that angling sideways up to the table as they put the bill on it, even if they say, “I’ll take that whenever you’re ready” is the same as, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?”

5.  Knock, knock.  Who’s there?  Olive.  Olive who?  Olive France.  Rather, France loves olives.  Everywhere you go to eat, when they bring you your cocktails, they also bring a bowl of olives.  Both green and black, the only utensil you’ll receive is a toothpick.

6. Don’t tip.  In France, most of the servers, waiters, bartenders, etc. are grown men.  You’ll nary find a teenager with his phone in his back pocket.  It’s a life long career here, not a stepping stone for unemployed actors or college kids.  They take exceptional pride in their work.  The bill has a 20% gratuity built right in, it’s called “Le pourboire.”  It’s a respectable profession and it’s insulting to leave a tip.  That being said, if you leave just a few coins, (under a euro or so) that’s just a little “thank you.”

7.  Secondhand smoke comes free with every meal.  I’m sorry, but it’s true, especially if you eat outside.  I tell myself that smoke inhaled on holidays doesn’t count much in the same way as calories consumed on vacation.  If you make a big stink about it, you’ll be the one led to the door.  Ask to sit inside to help alleviate it.  You’ll be the only one in there.

8.  A Rosé by any other name…Especially in the summer, the French drink rosé wine.  It’s not that super sweet bubbly rosé we drink here.  Rather, it’s a bit more dry and it’s served cold.  Everyone drinks it.  If they aren’t drinking this, they’re having a Kir that consists of white wine with a splash of fruit liquor in it.  (So it’s a homemade rosé.)  You could go crazy and ask for Kir Royal so they switch out the white wine for champagne.  The point here is, folks, they drink simple wine based drinks.

9. Keep your elbows on the table.  Yes, you read that correctly.  At least, keep your forearms firmly planted on the table ledge so your hands are visible.  The French get funny if your hands are in your lap.  They want to see what you’re up to.  I’m serious.

10.  Bread goes on the table.  Well, duh.  I’m not talking about the bread basket, I mean the actual bread.  You won’t get a bread plate.  You’re expected to rip the bread with your hands and then you leave it on the tabletop.  This works closely in alignment with #9…keep your hands where I can see ’em.



A Photo Essay of Saint Malo: The Walled City of St. Malo in Bretagne, France


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Saint Malo is a beautiful port city that keeps watch on the northern tip of France overlooking the English Channel. Steeped  in history, legend and faith, this tiny hamlet that lives “Intra Muros” (inside the walls) encapsulates the beauty of Bretagne. I have ownership of all the photographs, but please inbox me if you’d like to use one.

La Cour La Houssaye: 15th Century House of Anne of Brittany in St. Malo

La Cour La Houssaye: 15th Century House of Anne of Brittany in St. Malo

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Saint Malo, France

Saint Malo, France

At low tide, you can walk out to this island.

At low tide on St. Malo, Brittany, France. You can walk out to this island in The English Channel

Crepes from St. Barbe of Saint Malo

Crepes from Biniou, Saint Malo, Brittany, France

Menu from Biniou


Grand Rue of Saint Malo


Bakery of Saint Malo on Grand Rue

The Port of Saint Malo

The Port of Saint Malo


Saint Christopher in the Wall of Saint Malo


Charming town of Saint Malo


Bookstore of Saint Malo.

The Oldest Bookstore in Saint Malo

The Blessed Mother over the doorway of the oldest bookstore in Saint Malo



Intra Muros cobblestone streets of St. Malo


Hard Cider, the speciality of St. Malo


Saint Malo’s Crockery


Creperie le Saint Barbe, Saint Malo, France


Creperie le Saint Barbe, Saint Malo


Crepes of Saint Malo


Crepe Complete: Cheese, Eggs and Ham


Dessert crepes at Creperie St. Barbe

Dessert crepes at Creperie St. Barbe







Place Chateaubriand, Saint Malo

Shores of St. Malo

Shores of St. Malo, Brittany, France on the English Channel






Train Station of Saint Malo, France Photo by Cynthia Dite Sirni

Train Station of Saint Malo, France 

The fortress of Saint Malo

Ramparts of the fortress of Saint Malo, France


The beaches of St. Malo

The beaches of St. Malo: The English Channel

The Train of Saint Malo

The Train of Saint Malo

Over the Main Portal of St. Malo

Over the Main Portal of St. Malo

The Cathedral of St. Vincent

The Cathedral of St. Vincent

Walking the Ramparts on the Wall of Saint Malo by Cynthia Dite Sirni

Walking the Ramparts on the Wall of St. Malo

A feisty pirate lass from Saint Malo.

On The Wall, St. Malo by Cynthia Dite Sirni

On The Wall, St. Malo 

The Shores of Saint Malo, France by Cynthia Dite Sirni

The Shore of Saint Malo…look how clear that water is!! Did you know the English Channel could look like this? Me neither!

Sweeping Ballad to The Portes des Liones: How to Get into The Louvre Without Waiting in Line

My view from inside the Louvre....

My view from inside the Louvre….

I just deplaned from many miles,

In search of Mona Lisa’s smile,

I do not want to wait all day,

Just see the gal and be on my way.

-Yep.  I wrote it myself.


It’s true.  The Louvre has some spectacular pieces of art.  It’s a bit overwhelming.  I read somewhere that if you look at each piece for a total of one minute it would take you like thirty seven years to see everything.  Uh, I’m as cultured as the next buffoon, but I really just want to see The Big Three; Venus di Milo, Winged Victory and oh by the way, DaVinci’s gal, The Mona Lisa.  Does that make me less of an urbanite?  No, but I only have said amount of time here and in an effort to say, “check” I have to make the best use of my time.  Besides, you’ll see literally thousands of pieces of art as you look for these. If you follow my directions, you’ll almost feel sorry for the poor slobs standing for miles when you view them from the window inside.  Almost.  I just felt gleefully condescending looking down on the peons who didn’t know any better. (Don’t judge me, you’ll feel the same way.)


Venus di Milo

Venus di Milo

The Louvre is totally, completing and thoroughly intimidating.  (Are you waiting to for me to say, in a good way, ’cause honey, it ain’t happening.)  I want to make this as painless as possible.  It’s hard to ask for help because everyone speaks French and if you decide to dress up and look Parisian it will backfire because guess what, they will answer you in French.  There’s something to be said for dressing like a hapless tourist to get the locals to speak English to you.  You can understand them perfectly through the disdain.


OK.  So the Portes des Liones.  The Louvre is like a giant U shaped castle.  Walking along the side of the Seine, continue past the main doors and the arches and the statues.  Ignore your complaining husband, yes, you know what you’re doing.  Even though NO ONE is standing there, go in the doorway between the giant green lions.  Head to the right and prepare to be scolded by a French woman.  She’s not telling you to get out, she’s telling you that your bag must go through the X-ray machine.  Act perfectly cool as you present your museum pass. Go up the stairs to the first floor.  (You were just on the ground floor.)  The Mona Lisa is on the First Floor, Denon Wing, Room 6.  You can’t miss her because they have signs like this everywhere. IMG_1728   Even if somehow you don’t see the signs, follow the noise. Head straight down the hall and on the left side of the gallery you’ll see the paparazzi. There’s really no better way to describe it.


IMG_1725 Shrouded behind a wall of glass she grants photographs, but no interviews.  Prepare to have your breath taken from you.  You’ve seen her so many times before, on television and in books and movies, but there’s no preparation for when you meet her in person.  Bring a tissue.IMG_1723

Tips for American Tourists

Planning a vacation can be part of the fun.  While there is a fine balance between having no plan at all and having every minute of the day assigned with an activity, it’s important to be informed before you leave on your trip.

Leaving the United States is a big deal.  Whether you know it or not, there certain unalienable rights that we as American citizens enjoy.  When you leave American soil, you’re at their house.  While it’s important to know their local customs, it’s also important to protect yourself.

Traveling with a passport means your activity can be logged.  When you register and check into a European hotel, they will ask for your passport.  Don’t panic, as this is customary.  They will make copies of it and keep it on file during your trip.  You are a foreigner.  It’s worth your while to find the American embassy in whatever city you are in and let them know you are there.

Follow the directions in your passport.  They put them there for a reason.  What are they, you ask?  Well, make two copies of your passport.  Leave one at home with somebody you trust.  Bring the second copy with you and DO NOT KEEP IT WITH THE ORIGINAL.  If, God forbid, your passport is stolen, you have some proof to bring with you to said embassy.  Also, if you are traveling with others, don’t keep all of the passports on one person.  Split them up.

I’ve said before, and it’s worth restating.  I love the United States.  I am so proud to be an American.  Yet, out there my little grasshoppers, are people that do not like us.  Unfair.  Illogical.  Whatevs.  They do.  These are some tips to keep you from sticking out and making yourself an easy target.

  • Do not fiddle with your map in the middle of the street.  Even in a town heavily visited by tourists, you don’t need to advertise that you’re entirely lost.  Take ten minutes and sit down somewhere, or better yet, map yourself out at the hotel.  If you look like a wounded antelope, well….
  • Respect the local dress code.  I know you like to wear what you like to wear.  Get over it.  Take the time to learn the customs.  Europeans do not take shoes off when they enter someone’s home.  They’ll think you’re rude for pulling those smelly shoes off your barking dogs.  I know we think we’re being polite by not tracking in dirt, but they perceive it as too familiar.  Did you know that pants were illegal in France for women until….like last Thursday?  I’m kidding.  No, I’m not.
  • Do not, under any circumstances wear a mesh fanny pack.  The circling thieves won’t be able to get near you because I’ll be in the way slapping you upside the head.  There are so many options that are classic and practical.  Do yourself a favor and find one.
  • Contact your credit card companies and let them know you’ll be traveling.  They will red flag your card if you suddenly start showing purchases on the other side of the globe.
  • Don’t go into a trance at the ATM machines.  Seriously.  People do this.  Be aware of your surroundings.

Continue reading

Sicily in Somerville, New Jersey….Really.


After a long day of traveling, my husband knows me well enough that I need a bowl of macaroni to set me right again.  In Somerville, New Jersey, in the dead of winter, we stumbled upon Da Filippo’s Restaurant.  Located at 132 East Main Street, it’s “autentica cucina.” Right from the moment we pulled up to the cozy burgundy awning adorned with tiny white lights, it felt like coming home.  We were greeted immediately at the door by Filippo’s beautiful Swiss wife, Berti.  She shook hands and introduced herself as she took our coats, chatting amiably like an old friend.   It was early on a snowy Monday night so it was quiet, but  the fireplace was inviting.  There was a man in the back polishing each glass to match the twinkle in his eye.  He made menu suggestions and smiled broadly, like a favorite uncle.  It was only after Berti suggested something “per cominciare” that we discovered he was Filippo Russo himself.Pennette con Piselli

She suggested “La Rustichella”:  a flat bread panino with mortadella, arugula, provolone cheese, tomatoes and onions grilled to perfection.  This dish alone is worth the trip to Somerville, and we were just getting started.  I ordered the “antipasto caldo” (hot antipasto.)  Again, arugula was featured, making it one of those magical foods that can go with anything.  This Frittelle di Rughetta was arugula dipped in a batter and fried with anchovies and garlic melted into a parmigiano reggiano cream sauce.   So different.  So delicious.

There is something at once complex and simple in good Italian cooking that makes it so wonderful.  Simple ingredients and a creative mind can work wonders in the kitchen.  There really is nothing like a good dish of pasta.  I was not disappointed in the pennette with peas in a meat ragu.   It’s comfort food at its finest.

I look forward to returning to Da Filippo’s to see the Russo family once again.  They were as charming and delightful as their restaurant, from the front lobby with portraits of their four beautiful grandchildren to the photographs of Filippo’s hometown of Carini, Sicily hanging on the wall.  It’s a night well spent, trust me.  I hope to return again soon!

SoBe: So. Be. South Beach

South Beach, Miami
by Cynthia Dite Sirni
by Cynthia Dite Sirni

by Cynthia Dite Sirni

So.  Be.  What a great maxim for living each day.


Being in South Beach for New Year’s Eve, I was able to see all walks of life come together on the shores and it got me to thinking….

  • So. Be content.  Someone will have more than you, someone will have less than you.  If you have enough, then, you have enough.
  • So.  Be prayerful. Sunrise is the first poem of the day.  Offer a prayer and go from there.  See what happens.
  • So. Be excellent.  Whether you’re unloading the dishwasher or performing heart surgery, do your best.
  • So. Be demonstrative.  Kiss your loved ones, cry if you’re happy, (or sad.)  Hold hands.  Link arms.  We’re stronger together.
  • So.  Be joyful.  Joyful is different than happy.  Joyful is a state of being, happy is a feeling.  We can have joy in all circumstances.


How to Plan a Trip to Italy: Part One

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Siena: Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

Siena: Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

Congratulations!  A trip to Italy is a wonderful and memorable time.  It’s something you’ll never forget and it will forever change you even after you return.  That sounds like a tall order, but it’s absolutely true.  You won’t know until you go.

Planning is an essential part of Your Tour of Italy.  While you can sign up with one of the many tours that are offered, the internet makes it so easy to design your own trip and go on your own.  You may find that there are places and things you would like to see that an organized tour just doesn’t offer.

There are lots of things to consider.

  • Are you traveling with children?
  • Are you going for a specific holiday?
  • What landmarks and cities do you most want to see?
  • How long do you plan to stay?
  • How much money do you have to spend?

When you think of Italy, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?  That’s what you should see.  For some people, it may be “The David” in Florence, or Lake Como at the base of the Alps.  Some people are going to find  their long lost relatives and retrace their own family history.  Some people want to eat and drink their way through the landscape.  Others plan to see museums.  Some people just want to travel to one city and “get the feel of it.”  All of these are honorable and excellent choices.

Be warned.  It can be  overwhelming and very confusing planning a trip to a place you’ve never been.  Once you tell people you’re going, they immediately offer their advice.  You’ll feel your brain spinning with so much unsolicited information. Stay focused!

Greve in Chianti

Greve in Chianti

There is a reason that Rome is called The Eternal City.  My dear cousin, Laura, spoke volumes about it when she stated that, “I have lived here all of my life, and still, there are things I have not seen.”

Keep that in mind when you begin to plan.  I’m sorry.  You can’t see everything.  However, you can prioritize and plan.  No matter what you do, from seeing famous works of art to standing in line for a gelato,  YOU ARE IN ITALY.


Here’s a very preliminary step by step to get you started.  Consider this the first of many ways to spend winter evenings as you conspire with your traveling companions.

  1. Put on some classic Italian music and open a bottle of wine.  (Why not start enjoying Italy now?)
  2. Make a list of all the things you want to see.  No cities, no itinerary, just name what’s important to you.
  3. Get out a map of Italy.  Use one that you can write on. (Barnes and Noble has them.)
  4. Mark off where those landmarks are located.
  5. Get a travel journal.  Begin to write down facts, times, and dates.
  6. Look at the map and decide which cities you want to see the most.  (I won’t even tell you what you SHOULD see, only you can answer that.)
  7. Draw lines from the cities that you’ve chosen to see if there are reasonable modes of transportation to get from one to the other.  The Italian train system is vast and efficient, so don’t be afraid.
  8. Use the internet.  Travel websites, blogs, on line magazines and newspapers offer a plethora of information.
  9. Use your basic skeletal map to flesh out where you will actually go.  For example, if you have decided you want to see the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi, begin to  research Assisi.  Trip Advisor offers a lot of honest and solid information.
  10. You may find that your trip will change.  Logistics, distance, time and money are all factors that can’t be ignored.  (Mi dispiace.)

    The Cat Sanctuary, Rome

    The Cat Sanctuary, Rome

If you’ve noticed, there IS a lot of planning and research.  This is really not a chore.  It’s exciting to sit and plan your trip.  The more information you have, the better decisions you can make.  Going to Italy the first time is not a trip that you just hop onto a flight and hope for the best.  You want to be informed and aware.  You’re entering another culture and you’re leaving American soil.  It pays to plan.

So now, go get that map and notebook and start thinking about What Italy Means to You.




Lucca: The Walled City of Cycling

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The top of the wall in Lucca

The top of the wall in Lucca


An ancient hamlet nestled into the hills of Tuscany, Lucca was once a bustling town that prospered from its rich banking business as well as its silk trade.  Housing churches of great importance and beauty, it was the perfect stopping point for pilgrims throughout Europe.

Today, it is still the perfect stopping point for tourists.  One of the best parts of Lucca for tourists is that ironically, it is not loaded with tourists. It has a gentle, meandering essence to it that you won’t find anywhere else.  This is why it lends itself to being the perfect cycling city.


This beautiful little town encapsulates all of the quintessential aspects of “The Perfect Small Italian City.”   It contains All Things Italian.  It starts with cycling.  That’s right.  I am not beginning with art, churches, wine or food.


Do I have your attention, bike lovers?  It appeals to cyclists because in fact, the outer wall is really a track of sorts for both casual strollers and bicycle enthusiasts.  The wall is the perfect way to see the city.  Tourists and locals alike spend the day on the wall, cycling and walking, eating gelato.  It’s a beautiful vantage point; it allows you to see the entire city from the perimeter.  Each steeple and tower is at the perfect level for photographs.


The bike ride itself will become one of your favorite souvenirs as you can relive it in your heart forever.  You can bring your own bicycle, and it is extremely easy to rent bicycles for the afternoon, the day, an hour or the week. There are bike shops everywhere, and the bikes themselves have little sign emblems on their spokes to advertise as well.  Follow one back to the shop.  I should say shops, as this small town has more bike shops than La Bella Roma.  Everyone rides bikes everywhere.


Be prepared, if you love cycling like the Italians love cycling, you may never get out of the shops to actually ride.  There are things for sale here you won’t see anywhere else….think pink Bianchi.  (If you are a cyclist aficonionado, I’ve already peaked your interest.)


See.  I told you.


Here is a list of some shops…I have added the websites when one is available.  Noleggio, so you know, is the Italian word for “charter” which means they have rentals. Most of the shops have them whether or not it is in the title of the shop.  Just look for the word, “noleggio.”  Happy riding!


  • Berutto Nedo di Franceschi Riccardo

Via De Gasperi 83/A – 55100 S. Anna


  • Biciclette Poli

Piazza Santa Maria, 42


  • Bike Passion: Vendita, Accessorio, Riparazione e Noleggio

Via Pisana, 54


  • Chrono’Bike di Paladino Meschi

Corso Garibaldi, 93


  • Cicli Bizzarri

Piazza Santa Maria, 32


  • Cicli Max di Pumilia Massimiliano Riparazione e Vendita

45, Via Civitali Vincenzo


  • Ciclidea di Cini Giacomo

Via Borgo Giannotti, 361


  • Cini Roberto: Ciclidea Riparazione Vendita

Via Borgo Giannotti, 317


  • Fast and Furious SRL

186, Via S. Donato


  • Franceschi SRL

502, Via Pesciatina


  • Mercatone Uno

Viale Giacomo Puccini 1718


  • Orsucci Bike Vendita, Riparazione e Noleggio

Via Orsucci, 50


  • Punto Bici

8, Via Del Crocifisso




Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany

Houfbrau House Munich, Germany
Houfbrau House in Munich Photo by Cynthia Dite Sirni

Houfbrau House in Munich
Photo by Cynthia Dite Sirni


Inside the Biergarten by Cynthia Dite Sirni

Inside the Biergarten
by Cynthia Dite Sirni


The author...

The author… in the English Gardens of Munich


A True Bavarian Gentleman, Munich, Germany by Cynthia Dite Sirni

A True Bavarian Gentleman, Munich, Germany
by Cynthia Dite Sirni


The Band!

The Band!

Do you know when Oktoberfest begins?

Trick question.  It actually starts in mid- September and continues into the first weekend in October.  Depending on what day of the week October 1st or 2nd falls on, it runs for either 17 or 18 days.  October 3rd is German Unity Day, so they have it coincide with that.  In Munich, where the biergartens as well as the beer is plenty, Oktoberfest is a special time for the people of Munich.  Since its onset in 1810, the festival is a celebration of All Things German.  In fact, only certain beers can be served during Oktoberfest.  All of them must be made in Munich.  This is the short list.

  •  Augustiner-Brau
  • Hacker-Pschorr-Brau
  • Lowenbrau
  • Paulaner-Brau
  • Spatenbrau
  • Staatliches Hofbrau-Munich

All of the aforementioned beers are served in the quintessential stein.  (Yes, the waitresses REALLY do carry them by the dozen.)  Even though the beers are HUGE, they are not always strong.  During the year, some have a high alcohol content, but others are mixed with lemonade.  During Oktoberfest, the beer must meet the 6% alcohol content, (13% according to the Bavarian Purity Law or “Reinheitsgebot.”) Food is always part of the biergarten, especially pretzels.  It helps to offset the suds.

Do you know what they call Oktoberfest in Bavaria?

Another trick question….”die Wiesn.”  This is the shortened version of the word, Theresienwiese (The Meadow of Therese.)  This is one of the fields where the festival is actually held.  Munich is peppered with “biergartens” that are very much a place for all people.  Families with children, young couples, the elderly, they all go to the biergarten.  There are some rules that are good to know….

One of the first rules is that really aren’t any rules other than you can’t bring your own beer in.   The music, the food, the tables and the people are all in perfect harmony with one another.  One concession I do know of is that in Hofbrau House in Munich, there are color coded table cloths.  Tourists are allowed to sit anywhere they would like, unless it’s deemed a table for the locals.  (The blue tablecloth is for locals, and the ones without a cloth are for tourists.  No one tells you this…)  These tables are “reserved” for the local townies.  However, you may ask the locals at the table if you may join them.  They invariably say yes, but they  do like to be asked.  (Certain times of the day, the week, or during a festival, it is very difficult to find a seat.  People are seated family style, and you literally squish in where ever you can find a spot to sit.)

Menu from Houfbrau House in Munich, Germany

Menu from Houfbrau House in Munich, Germany

Whenever anyone at the table gets a fresh beer, EVERY SINGLE TIME , everyone clicks glasses.  Everyone. It creates a feeling of connection.  Strangers become friends.  It is a convivial time to share food and drink with people.  Even the language barrier does not interfere.  A smile is universal, to quote probably one of the world’s cheesiest cliches.

It’s amazing how welcoming and….homey it is.  People from literally all over the world are seated together to break bread, or bread dumplings, or pretzels….

So this September, as Oktoberfest begins, take some time and enjoy autumn, Bavarian style.

The author and her husband in The Biergarten

The author and her husband in The Biergarten 

Shopping in Rome, Florence, Venice, Italy: Etiquette You Need To Know About European Shops

Shopping in Rome, (well in most of Europe) there are different social norms and customs that patrons are expected to know.  In the United States, people paw the merchandise, carry it around and then usually leave it somewhere it doesn’t belong.

This. Does Not. Happen. In. Italy.

Entering into a shop is like entering into someone’s home.  (While the larger mall like stores are more lax in this custom, for this article, I am addressing the small shops.)  When you enter into someone’s home, you immediately greet them.  This is expected in an Italian shop as well.

Vendors are ready to wait on you.  They want to serve and they are attentive.  When you walk in, say, “buon giorno” and smile.  They will greet you as well and may ask something along the lines of “Che cose’?”  This means loosely, “what would you like?”   It is expected that you do not touch the wares. Italians are very meticulous in their belongings and they frown upon the idea of someone else trying it on and touching it. In fact, if you are choosing to try it on, it is almost an unspoken expectation that you plan to purchase said garment.

Wha?????  How do I know I like it?  How do I know it will fit?  Trust me.  The salesperson will have sized you up correctly the moment you darkened their doorstep.  They will know precisely what size you need.  (An aside here is it may not be the size you want.  Sorry.  Their sizes are different anyway, so it doesn’t matter.)

If you are looking for a particular color, they will be happy to help.  When you walk into a shop, the first thing you may notice is that it is very sparse.  There may be one or two mannequins dressed in an ensemble, but that will be it.  The wall are usually lined with drawers or doors that host the goods.  Italians do not like to be overwhelmed with too much at once.  Much in the way they prefer their meals to be presented in unadorned sequence, they use the same principles for clothing stores.

You may like the scarf or the skirt on the mannequins so you can point to it and say, “Lo mi piace.”  This means “I like it.”  Suddenly, before  your very eyes, there will appear a bevy of this particular skirt or scarf or shirt in an array of colors and patterns and sizes.

If there is a certain color you are looking for, it would be a good idea to learn how to say it in Italian. (Most of the shops are housed with salespeople who can in fact, speak English, but they are so happy and proud of you when you attempt the native language, it’s adorable.)

Once you have decided what you will purchase, you can say something like, “Lo prendo.”  This means, “I’ll take it.”  This is the best part.  The salesperson will whirl you up to the cash register and prepare your new belongings for their journey home.  They use tissue wraps and ribbons and beautiful reusable bags with zippers.  It is a treat in itself to watch them.  The excitement overtakes you as you make your lovely purchase.

Try and maintain your dignity when you leave.  At least go around the corner before you begin squealing in delight.  Once, I purchased a scarf (well I made my husband purchase a scarf for me) on the via Condotti and I was so proud of myself for not tearing the package open and rolling around the streets on my new treasure.  That kind of behavior is an entirely different article.


Review: Cliffside Inn, Newport, Rhode Island

The Cliffside Inn, Newport, Rhode Island
The Cliffside Inn, Newport, Rhode Island

The Cliffside Inn, Newport, Rhode Island
Photo by Cynthia Dite Sirni

They say that the negative ions near the crashing ocean shore reacts with our own body systems and it improves mood, increases appetite, and helps fight off disease. The English were famous for having a holiday near the sea specifically for these benefits….think Bath, England. (I can’t get enough of the Jane Austen….) They believed it helped to improve a weak composition. This idea carried on to this side of the ocean where every year, people flock to the beauty of the water. This is why we feel so relaxed and refreshed after a beach vacation.

One particular place where the ocean beckons is Newport, Rhode Island. The famous Mansions there are a testament to the legacy of “Old Money Families” that helped to build up the nation. ….Their sea side castles were their stomping grounds until they became part of the public landscape. Now you can take the Cliff Walk and tour these magnificent homes and imagine life at the turn of the century. The Cliffwalk includes a walkway up to another particularly spectacular building.

The Cliffside Inn is a renovated 1876 Victorian home where the artist Beatrice Turner lived. Perched like a regal grand dame above the cliffs, this bed and breakfast itself is a reason to come to Newport and feel your mood improve. From the moment you cross the threshold, you feel as if you have been welcomed home.

Each room is a work of living art. From the swan towels, to the candles, to the sheets, you feel pampered. Each room has its own something special. The Tower and the Garden Suites are both two level havens perfect for rest, relaxation and romance. The St. George’s and the Turner Suites both offer cozy respites with skylights and reading nooks. My favorite is The Loft. When we stayed in this fantastic bird’s eye room, we were lucky enough to have it rain during the night. Is there anything more cozy than a slanted ceiling and a skylight when it’s raining?

While Newport in itself is reason enough to travel to the shoreside, the inn beckons with epicurean treats as well. The breakfasts are spectacular! There’s a side room that acts as a library that offers coffee and tea for even the earliest riser, but the full breakfast is what gets me to the table. They have sweets and treats sprinkled throughout the house. The cocktail hour is a wonderful time to relax on one of the porches and have a drink before you venture out into town for dinner. Nancy and Bill, the innkeepers, are charming, helpful and engaging. They helped us find places for dinner and told us about little tidbits that we would have otherwise missed. It really feels like home, they even have a charming dog, Koty, who takes part in the welcome. (Cliffside Inn was actually voted Top Ten Places in the USA for bringing pets!) They have rooms and rates for you and your under 30 pound pup.

All in all, it’s a restful and relaxing home that truly is a living museum. The decor is spot on, and the history of the house and those who have lived there is a testament to Bill and Nancy, as well as Beatrice Turner herself. I know myself, I am looking forward to returning to the seaside at The Cliffside Inn. After all, Jane Austen said it best in Pride and Prejudice….

“A little sea-bathing would set me up forever.”

Mrs. Bennet
Pride and Prejudice, volume 2, chapter 18