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.

Questions?

 

 

Travel Journals

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One of the nicest things about going on a trip is remembering it after you have returned home.  The sensuous aspects of travel, touch, smell, taste, and sound can evaporate from our memories.  Our photographs serve to help us remember what we have seen, but a travel journal is an excellent way to flesh out the rest of the memory.

I know you’re thinking that you’ll remember, but trust me, nothing will haunt you like not being able to remember the greatest restaurant you ate at, or the best bottle of wine you had.  Keeping a journal while you travel helps create a souvenir you’ll keep forever.

Children love this idea as well.  Even small children can be given post cards and crayons to fill in a journal.  Ticket stubs, train tickets, business cards, all of these things help to make up a memory.  It will become a family treasure as you laugh again over the anecdotes included inside.

Before you leave on your trip, choose a journal.  Get a pretty one that you’ll be proud to put on your bookshelf.  It’s an autobiography of sorts, so make it something special.  Make sure you can fit it into your day bag or pockets to keep with you as you journey along.  Be sure you have a pen.

Don’t create this into a monstrous “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” burden, but rather, think of it as an observer’s notes.  Simple things will strike you as you’re waiting for the train to arrive.  You’ll want to record some memories of your people-watching.  Write about the sounds.  Fountains gurgling and music playing don’t transfer into photographs.  Tell what you’re feeling.  Did you have a blister?  Was the heat unbearable?  How was the jet lag?  Include the different scents and the fragrances, both good and distasteful, to remember.  (Some of the most picturesque cities in the world smell of pollution.)  How did the food smell?  Your hotel soaps?   You get the idea.

Journal pages....

Journal pages…

While you are on the plane, the train, the boat or the car (provided you aren’t the driver) you can jot down memories.  It doesn’t have to be flowing and flowery.  Write down the name of the restaurant you’re eating at, tell what you ordered, something funny that happened during the meal. Most restaurants have menus and business cards at the exits.  Take a picture of the restaurant and add it to your book later.  Take the label off your wine.  Save the price tag off the souvenir you bought.

Tuck these mementoes inside the journal.   These little eclectic talismans become tangible memories when you return home.  You’ll be amazed how a $2.99 cloth journal can suddenly becomes one of your most treasured possessions.

 

Siena: A Shopping Secret

Siena: Neighborhood flag guarding its territory
Window sills overlooking Siena

Window sills overlooking Siena

Siena is The Quintessential Medieval City.  Shouldered between Florence and Rome, she is the quiet, elegant sister who needs no introduction.  Each year, thousands of people shimmy themselves into her walls to get a glimpse at the famous horse race, Il Palio.  Two days a year, July 2nd and August 16th, she is like a rock star, and then the rest of the year, she is a monarch, perched upon her hilly throne, regal and beautiful.  She beckons you to discover her secrets, because once you think you have discovered her, there is something else that you never knew.  Each alleyway brings you to an entirely new section of the town.  At once, it is crowded and deserted.  There are times when you literally will not see another soul.

Window display in Siena

Window display in Siena

This is when you are able to find the most unique Things To Buy.  On the Via Della Sapienza, there is a tiny little wine shop, La Cantina Del Brunello.  It sells the most amazing…

 

Cycling Jerseys.

It’s true.  You would never expect to see this, but there it is.  The jerseys have the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) on them, indicating a true Chianti.

If you are a cycling fan, then Italy is your long lost home.  If you are a wine lover, well, Italy is your long lost home, too.  So there we were, a cyclist and a wine lover.  We had to go in.  The most adorable, quintessential little old Italian man was at the register.  We greeted him, (remember what I said about shopping in Italy.)  He was about 5 feet even.  My husband is 6’3″.  As this beautiful man flitted about him like a tiny bird trying to find the correct size jersey, my husband begged me not to take his picture.  I obliged him out of love, but can I tell you, it was a spectacular moment.  We had found The Most Beautiful Cycling Jersey….in a wine shop!

The man spoke very little English, but we knew from his mumbling that he could not find an XL.  His face lit up as he lifted his finger to us, and took the jersey right off the mannequin.  We purchased the jersey, of course, but honestly, I can’t remember if we even bought any wine.  He was so gracious and kind to this oversized giant American with a heart for cycling as big as his own.  He smiled and smiled  and took both of my hands.  Then he offered us some olive oil in tiny precious bottles.  “Un assaggio” he advised me.  (A taste.)  We took the tiny bottle with us and savored it with some bread after we had returned home to the States.  Long after the olive oil was gone, the memory is still so rich.

That’s the way it is window shopping in Siena.  You feel as if you are browsing for a new long lost friend.  They are so gracious, and they are thrilled when you try to speak a bit of Italian to them.  You feel comfortable trying because they are so encouraging and delighted.  It’s like taking your first steps or something the way they cheer you on with each phrase.  Of course, some things cross language barriers; handshakes and smiles, of course, but eye contact, and knowing that “Il Campionissimo”  was Fausto Coppi.  If you are a cycling lover, you know what I’m talking about.

Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

 

Florence and The Negroni

Ponte Vecchio Over The Arno River, Florence

Image 1Italians have mastered the delicate balance of Just Enough.  They are able to push right to the line that blurs gaudy and good taste.  (This is why they are among the most fashionable humans on the planet, yes?)  The Negroni is no different.  It is, as is much Italian fashion, bold, yet somehow simplistic, colorful yet classic,  clean and vibrant at once.

Yes.  The Negroni is an Italian original through and through.  One of the best parts about this drink it that is truly is a triumvirate of taste.  Each one of the three components is played off the others.  Made with equal parts of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, the Negroni takes three liquors that can stand well enough on their own, and somehow make them…..better.  Elevated.

The legend of the Negroni originates in Florence.  She is one of the city’s greatest contributions to the world.  The story goes that Fosco Scarselli, the bartender at the Caffe’ Casoni, obliged the Count Camillo Negroni when he asked him to add more of a punch to his cocktail, the Americano.  (Don’t you think they should call it the Scarselli?  He was gipped!)  Scarselli changed out the soda water and instead, substituted it with gin, creating the first Negroni.  Garnished with a bit of orange it becomes a metaphor for the Arno River at sunset.  It is dark with color.  It has shimmers of light and it is rich and deep.   In fact, sunset is the best time to enjoy a Negroni.  It is a true Italian Aperitivo, designed to open the palate to prepare you for the dinner that will follow.  Don’t go to Florence, (or any part of Italy for that matter) without having a Negroni.  Once you’ve had one there, each time you enjoy that unique flavor anywhere else in the world, you will be in Italy again.

 

The author and a Florentine Negroni

The author and a Florentine Negroni

 Negroni Recipe

  • 2 ounces of Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 ounces of gin
  • 2 ounces of Campari, (or any type of bitters)
  • orange wedge

Combine the liquor into a shaker filled with ice.  Shake well.  Serve immediately over ice with the orange garnish. 

 

Cafe CaNole: Restaurant Review…Get Your Coat And Get There!

Is there anything more decadent?
 Thanks Dean!!!
Is there anything more decadent?  Thanks Dean!!!

Is there anything more decadent?
Thanks Dean!!!

So.  There’s nothing like a home cooked Italian meal…(especially if you can get someone else to make it for you.)  If you are looking for authentic Italian cuisine, you have to make the trip from where ever you may find yourself on the planet to Cafe CaNole.  This small business is a jewel, located at 1 Campion Road, New Hartford  in Central New York.

Owned by the Nole brothers, Dean and Jason, they offer True.  Italian.  Cuisine.  If you’re looking for spaghetti and meatballs, you won’t find it here.  Instead they offer the dishes from your Nonna’s table.  In fact, I would venture as far as to say that if you don’t know what Rabine greens are, you haven’t eaten true Italian food.  Yet.

Traditionally, Italian food (as the Italians know it,) is different than what we’ve come to expect here in the states.

This restaurant has found the perfect balance of upscale Italian food and good old-fashioned, peasant, comfort food.  Served in an urban style of sparse class, the chalk board walls have the daily specials as well as the finest list of wines this side of Greve in Chianti.

Dean is a perfect host, both gracious and gregarious.  He flits around the restaurant’s two kitchens overseeing the creations being wrought from scratch.  Whether your preference is for savory or sweet, they have both.  The menu for both lunch and dinner is presented on plates in the European style of contorno .  This means that each part of the meal is celebrated for the work of art that it is.  (Much like a “contour” in art, it completes, gives depth, and adds color.  Here, is the added bonus of taste.)  They use tiny sauce pans to serve their risotto and truffle potatoes, which allows you to appreciate and register the tastes of each separate component of the meal.

When you are seated, the ambience is both convivial and intimate.  There is a screen showing old Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin movies and the tables are cozy, especially once the fresh baked bread arrives.  The bread plates beckon for olive oil.  Jugs of the best, buttery olive oil are the centerpiece of each table.  When you are presented with the bread and cheese, pour some olive oil onto the plate, sprinkle it with the cheese and dip your bread.  By the time your meal arrives, you will already be satiated, but keep on going…the salads are huge and fresh and beautiful.  Findings like beets, gorgonzola cheese, apples, and tomatoes are like little gems hidden among the baby lettuces.

Whatever you order, you will be thrilled and filled.  There is a relaxing atmosphere that invites you to linger over espresso and pastries.  Be sure to look in their bakery case.  Whatever you choose will be fantastic.  They have a plethora of favorites coupled with creative and delicious delights.  They also make wedding cakes, as well as everything from First Communion to birthday cakes. Theircookies are the kind that everyone’s Zia used to make, but no one ever wrote the recipe down.

Almond Paste Cookies

Almond Paste Cookies

Enjoy your meal.  I’ve said before that “Buon cibo loda Dio.” (Good food praises God.)  Here, that old Italian expression is a full on worship service.

…and when you go, tell them Cindy sent you.