Leaving for Italy in Two Weeks

Oh my God – All of a sudden I feel the time crunch – I am leaving for Italy in two weeks and  just realized that I still had not booked all my train reservations. So today I spent time on the Trenitalia website rectifying the situation. I still have  a few to do yet, so tomorrow you know what my agenda entails.

FrecciarossaI love that I have come to know so many people in Italy and around the world thanks to Twitter. One of the great things about social media is interacting with others with similar interests. I have come to know so many people that I feel comfortable asking for advice and taking advantage of their expertise for information.

Gondolas in Venice

Gondolas in Venice

Here is an example. I will be going back to Venice this trip and am excited about it, because it is one of my favorite places in Italy. I have only been there twice before and neither time have I experienced the flooding which is associated with high tide, or acqua alta. My luck is due to change, I’m told, because Venetian locals have had to deal with an unusual amount of rain this year.



Thanks to Karen Henderson, Venice tour operater and fellow blogger on Italian Talks, I now know to expect that and to be prepared. “Disposable boots are a great option, you don’t have to carry that extra weight in your suitcase. And the latest models are sturdy enough to be reusable, and come with a little carrying case,” Karen mentions to me in an e-mail. She advises that I will have plenty of advance warning, saying “if the water is going to be above 110 cm- you will know it! The sirens will go off all over town. If you are sound asleep,it will wake you. If the water is going to be extremely high, you won’t even need boots, you won’t be going out in it. Everyone waits a few hours for the water to recede.”

It’s this personal advice from a local that is something you don’t find in typical travel guide books. I also found this convenient app, called hi!tide Venice. It monitors the current tides and informs you which areas in Venice are flooded. Pretty cool. I will be in Venice near the end of my trip so stay tuned for weather from Venice updates and photos.



Posted in Italy Travel, Italy Travel Planning, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Winners Announced – Book Giveaway

Thank you to everyone who left a comment in response to my celebratory book giveaway. I appreciate all of you more than you know! Through a random drawing, the following fifteen people are winners – CONGRATULATIONS!

  1. Leila Harris
  2. Gloria Walsh
  3. K. Smothers
  4. Doggydd
  5. Jean Brick
  6. Ishita Sood
  7. Carol Sansone
  8. Sister Therese Ann Rich
  9. Nicole Ray
  10. Gina Lipari Jack Williams
  11. Jack Erickson
  12. Giuseppe
  13. Alessandro Zamboni
  14. Jackson JC9
  15. Sandra MacBryde

My Love Affair with Sicily book cover

My Love Affair with Sicily book cover


Memoirs of a Solo Traveler - My Love Affair with Italy

Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy

As stated in the original post, I will e-mail each of the winners and you can choose which book you’d like~either Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy or My Love Affair with Sicily. Ten of the winners will receive e-books and the following five winners will receive autographed paperback editions:

Gloria Walsh
Gina Lipari Jack Williams
Nicole Ray
Jean Brick

I hope you enjoy traveling with me through Italy and Sicily.

Mille Grazie.

In a few weeks I will be in Italy so please stay tuned for up-to-date posts and photos from Milano, Napli, the Amalfi Coast, Lucca, Bagni di Lucca, Colle d’Anchise, Desenzano, and Venice!





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Time to Celebrate with a BOOK GIVEAWAY

book-signing-event-1024x680I am leaving a month from today for Italy and am excited since I will be discovering some new places. One is Naples and I am fortunate enough to have the services of the knowledgeable Tina from Discover Napoli Destinations.  Much more on that while I am in Italy, including photos.

Today, however, I want to announce a GIVEAWAY as a THANK YOU to all of you! I started this blog a little over three and a half years ago, while I was preparing to travel to Italy for three months by myself. I wanted a blog so I would share my photos and write about what I was doing. That way my friends and family could keep up with my adventures. Little did I know that I would end up writing a book, based on this blog. And thanks to all of you, Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy is selling well.

book-cover-print-version-amazon2-196x2942My blog has reached a milestone with over 5000 followers now and almost 100,000 hits. So to celebrate this, I am giving away 5 autographed copies of the paperback edition of either of my books, winner’s choice. I am also giving away 10 e-book versions of either book, winner’s choice. If you already have the book, you can give it away as a gift! So 15 of you will be winners!

Kindle Cover (3)

All you have to do is leave a comment on any of my blog posts with the hash tag #MilestoneGiveaway and you will be entered in a random drawing to win. I will run this promotion for 10 days and will announce the winners on another blog post at that time. Good luck!

And once more, grazie mille dal mio cuore. Thank you very much from my heart. Your support means more to me than you will ever know.6559354337_8e6e15e248_m (240x240)


Un abbraccio e baci! A hug and kisses.

Photo credit of heart to Rare Class from Flickr.

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New Concept in Travel ~ Custom Luggage from UGOBAGS

DSCN4481 (640x481)I am so excited about my new custom luggage from UGOBAGS. A brand new company, UGOBAGS is based in California, where each piece of luggage is assembled, after being customized to one’s specifications.

As a participant in their Kickstarter campaign this past spring, I recently received my own customized carry-on size bag. It is perfect for weekend trips when I don’t need to check a bag, and I’ll be trying it out this weekend, in fact.

DSCN4486 (478x640)For my upcoming trip to Italy though, I decided I need the mid-size bag, so I ordered one with the same custom logo as my smaller bag. I couldn’t be more pleased!

DSCN4475 (640x479)The construction is 100 percent polycarbonate in a choice of white, silver, or black. I chose the silver. The four wheels are the 360-degree spinner type and seem very durable. I was able to choose the color of my choice for the wheels, bumpers and handles.

The fully-lined interior has numerous separate pockets and zippered spaces for efficient and organized packing.

DSCN4470 (640x480)DSCN4473 (640x480)Even the lock is TSA approved.

DSCN4474 (640x480)To customize you can either use one of UGOBAGS’ designs or upload your own photo and logo or text. Their designers are glad to help with the details at no extra charge. I found the entire process to be pleasant. Both persons I spoke with during my customization process were friendly and more than helpful.

I was so impressed by the care UGOBAGS exercised in the packaging and shipping of my luggage. Shipping was free and my bag arrived within a few days.

DSCN4465 (640x481)Delivered by FedEx in a sturdy cardboard box, my luggage was completely wrapped in bubble wrap, and beneath that, was enclosed inside a fabric bag with a drawstring. I may use the bag as a laundry bag when traveling. It was apparent that every detail was carefully considered. they even included a luggage tag.

I recommend this company to anyone who needs some new luggage and wants something unique. As for me, having this bag customized with the logo from my blog is great advertising for me. For a limited time, you can take advantage of a 15 percent discount from UGOBAGS by clicking on the words below. I am not receiving any compensation from them for posting this. I would like to see that the company does well since I like the product so much, and am happy to help promote it.

UGOBAG MargieTemplate

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Made in Italy – Italian Shoemakers

photo5 (640x481)I rarely go to the mall, but last week I was delighted to find a new store in the Treasure Coast Mall in Jensen Beach, Florida. Italian Shoemakers sells authentic Italian footwear which is 100 percent made in Italy. With a name that speaks to me, how could I miss it?

photo3 (640x480)Of course I went inside and couldn’t have been more excited when Clara, one of the managers, spoke to me in Italian. Her ancestors are Italian on her father’s side and Hispanic on her mother’s side.

Photo hanging on wall in the store

Photo hanging on wall in the store

She informed me that all the shoes are made in Tuscany, Italy, near Florence, outside of Lucca. Of course, the leather capital in Italy. The store features photos of shoemakers working and scenes from Florence.

Photo of shoemaker from wall in the store

Photo of shoemaker from wall in the store

Clara further explained that in Italy the business operates quite a few factories, although many have closed due to production that has moved to China to save costs. What amazed me the most was the cost of the shoes here. All are discounted and many were between $20 and $30.

photo9 (640x480)I purchased two pairs of sandals and the minute I tried them on, they were extremely comfortable.

photo4 (640x481)Florida operates five stores with a sales and distribution center located in Miami. Italian Shoemakers has been in business since 1982, and their goal is quality at an affordable price.

photo2 (640x480)On my second visit to the store I had the pleasure of meeting  Cheryl, the other manager, who could not have been more accommodating and congenial, explaining more about the company and sharing a brochure with me. I bought my third pair of sandals during this visit.

photo6 (640x481)I noticed the special touches like I often see in Italy – the quality bags used to carry home my purchases, and even some chocolates wrapped in gold foil for the customers.

photo10 (640x482)photo (640x480)

I hope when I am in Tuscany I can tour one of their factories. It would be a real experience to see quality craftsmanship where it originated. I know I will be a frequent customer at Italian Shoemakers because you can never have too many shoes, and in Florida, too many sandals.

photo11 (640x480)

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La Passeggiata – The Evening Stroll in Italy

Spanish Steps in Rome

Spanish Steps in Rome

One of my favorite  aspects of the Italian lifestyle is the late afternoon and early evening ritual known as la passeggiata, or the evening stroll. Each evening, between the hours of 5pm and 8pm, Italians take to the streets, to walk and socialize. The name originates from the verb passeggiare, which means to walk. Sociologists label la passeggiata a cultural performance, and on Saturdays and Sundays entire families participate, this frequently being the main social event of the day. Afterwards, everyone heads home together for the evening meal.

In her book titled The Passeggiata and Popular Culture in an Italian Town,  Giovanna Delnegro states that this custom “reinforces a sense of belonging.” Individuals greet their friends and acquaintances, while sharing all the latest news and gossip. Women frequently hold hands, walking together in what appears as an informal parade. As they mark the end of the workday, men can be heard to say andiamo a fare qualche vasca, or “let’s go do some laps.” Not only is the custom of la passeggiata a social bonding experience, but also good exercise, and I can use all that I can get!

Busy Piazza in Capri

Busy Piazza in Capri

Originally, one of the purposes of la passeggiata was to display the charms of young women who were eligible to be married, and in this process, parents of these girls encouraged them to be flirtatious. They wanted their daughters  to fare una bella figura, or to look good. This could be one of the reasons that generally people change their clothing after working, and put on their finer attire, dressing to impress, for the evening stroll. The goal is, after all, or to see and be seen.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

In the larger cities such as Rome, some streets are just packed with people, making it nearly impossible for cars to get by. One of these streets in particular is via del Corso, known for its shopping. As people are walking, it is not uncommon for them to stop and do some window shopping. Another favorite spot for everyone to congregate during this evening ritual is the piazza, and Piazza Navona is a wonderfully entertaining spot. Usually in the early evenings, you will find mimes performing, musicians entertaining and vendors demonstrating the latest new items. Piazza di Spagna, or the Spanish Steps, becomes another crowded spot for la passeggiata.

As an integral part of everyday life in Italy, la passeggiata is an endearing custom in Italy, one that I enjoy very much.  Italians like to share things and be with one another, and they like to be outside, as their homes are frequently small. Unless it is raining, you can count on la passeggiata to occur in every city, town, and village in Italy every day of every week.





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Gelato – Italy’s Sweet Treat to the World

Gelato in Maiori

Gelato in Maiori

Gelato is one of Italy’s great gifts to the world, and once you have tasted authentic Italian gelato, you understand why this is true. Italians consider gelato to be their ice cream, but it really is quite different from American ice cream in many ways, and when you are in Italy, you simply cannot leave there without sampling this refreshing sweet almost-frozen dessert.

Forget sampling~I made it an almost daily ritual! Strolling the streets with a gelato in hand has certainly become part of the Italian lifestyle of today, with different regions claiming to have the best gelato in Italy.

Gelato dates back to the 16th century, and it is not really clear who should receive the credit. Two Florentine men, Giuseppe Ruggieri and Bernardo Buontalenti were the first to create this sweet treat for the Caterina de Medici family, but a Sicilian, named Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli is the one credited with being the first to sell gelato to the public. In 1686 he opened a café in Paris, which still exists today and is the oldest restaurant in Paris.

Gelato vendor in  Lucca

Gelato vendor in Lucca

Gelato differs from American ice cream in four distinct categories: fat content, texture, taste and ingredients.

  • Fat content – Gelato is made with approximately half the butterfat used in American ice cream. Most gelato has between four and eight percent butterfat compared with 10-18 percent in ice cream. In fact the FDA sets standards of a minimum of 10 percent fat for a product to be labeled ice cream.
  • Texture – Gelato is softer than ice cream because it is only partially frozen and is served that way. It is intended to be eaten on the same day it was made in most cases. Certain types of freezers, known as “forced-air freezers,” prevent the gelato from becoming completely frozen, helping to maintain its softer consistency.
  • Taste – The taste is more pure, partly due to the decreased percent of air in gelato compared with ice cream. A stronger taste is realized particularly in the sorbetti, which are made without milk, using water in its place. Sorbetto or non-dairy gelato originated in southern Italy and is particularly popular in Sicily. The less sugar used produces a grainier texture and also a more intense flavor.
  • Ingredients – Gelato is made using pure fresh ingredients including whole milk, sugar, flavorings, especially fresh fruit. Occasionally there are eggs and cream in gelato, but not always.
  • Gelato in Italy

    Gelato in Italy

Regional gelato specialties

  • In Sicily, you can have gelato in a brioche, and some Sicilians love this for breakfast. The first time I saw this was in Cefalu and I thought it was gelato in a hamburger bun. It has become quite popular and is available in mainland Italy now also.
  • Rome’s Tre Scalini, in Piazza Navona in Rome, lays claim to its specialty tartufo, which means truffle. It is not truffle-flavored gelato, but rather a dessert made of deep chocolate gelato and topped with whipped cream, shaped like a little cake. They have been serving this sweet treat since 1946. I must admit I have not had this yet, but you can be sure that it is on my list.
  • Pistachio gelato at the Riposto Marina in Sicily is said to be the best anywhere because the pistachios are from Bronte. I tried it and in my opinion, it totally was. Riposto is approximately 15km south of Taormina.

Serving Choices
Gelato is served in a cup or a cone and of course the brioche. Frequently in Italy you can choose several flavors (gusti) for one cup or cone. The prices are almost always clearly marked for the various selections, and in most gelaterie or bars serving gelato, you pay first, telling the cashier what you are ordering and then take the receipt to the person serving the gelato. You then tell this person what flavors you want, and they happily provide you with your gelato.

DSCF4995 (640x426)Gelato is available in an endless number of flavors, limited only by the inventiveness and creativity of the gelato maker. Some of the more popular flavors include stracciatella (chocolate chip), nocciola (hazelnut), amarena (black cherry), tiramisu, cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate), pistachio and Sicilian cassata cake. I have tried them all and it is hard to say which is the best. I only know that I am smiling as I am walking down the streets in Italy with a gelato.

Sharing gelato in Riposto with my Sicilian friends, Angelica and Teresa

Sharing gelato in Riposto with my Sicilian friends, Angelica and Teresa


Posted in Italian Culture and Lifestyle, Italy Photo, Italy Travel, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Surprise for a Writer

July 13 -
Some days are better than others – for everyone. This is a simple fact of life and everyone knows it. And yesterday fell in the “better than others” category for me.

When my day was almost over yesterday, I opened an e-mail from a name I did not recognize, but the subject line was the title of my first book, Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy.

Book cover print version Amazon2 (2)My initial thought was that someone had left a comment on my blog, or had read my book and wanted to talk about it. So I opened the e-mail, and was stunned to read the first two lines ~

Dear RPLA Finalist:
Congratulations on your entry making the final cut.

Immediately I knew that the e-mail was from  the Florida Writers Association and that  my book is in the running for an award. I didn’t quite realize the full meaning though until I continued reading the rest of the e-mail.

I had submitted my book  in May along with an application to the Royal Palm Literary Award Competition. Since I had not heard anything yet, I had sort of forgotten about it and assumed that I must not be a finalist. No big shock, especially since this was my first book.

I am still overwhelmed with this news and will have to wait until the Florida Writers Conference Awards ceremony at the end of October to find out the results. I am excited and as they say in Hollywood, it is an honor to even be a finalist.

RPLA Finalist BADGEBeing recognized like this for my writing means much more to me than selling a lot of books, although that is always great too. For a new author like me, this is a validation of the quality of my writing. I am very humbled and grateful.

I do have to thank my editor, Almut Metzroth, who was brilliant in her meticulous editing process. And I also owe her a thank you for encouraging me to submit my book to this competition. You are the best, Almut.

Stay tuned for more on this come the end of October. It is wonderful to be a writer!



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More Travel Planning for Italy

Milan Duomo

Milan Duomo

With every passing day, I am closer to returning to Bella Italia and am firming up some travel plans. In less than three months I will be on my way and I am starting to get excited. Of course I have the peace of mind that travel insurance provides. After last year’s experience of having to change airline and hotel reservations, I now automatically buy travel insurance for extended flights and trips.

FrecciarossaI have all my accommodations booked and now am deciding whether it makes more sense to take a train or fly, specifically from Milano to Napoli. My original plan was to book one of the low-cost flights from Malpensa Airport to Naples Airport, since the flight time is only an hour and a half, compared with a four-and-a-half-hour train ride. And the price is not that different. A flight is as low as $43 on the no-frills carrier EasyJet and the fare on a Frecciarossa fast train from Milano Centrale to Napoli Centrale is just under $40.

Milano Centrale

Milan’s main train station

After careful consideration I decide to the train and here is the reason: Since I will be in the city center of Milan, the train station is easily accessible. The same goes for the train station in Napoli. Its location is a short taxi ride away from my reserved B&B.

To fly rather than travel by train requires a train ride to Malpensa Airport via the Malpensa Express for $16 or the Malpensa Shuttle bus for $13.50. The bus takes an hour – I know from previous experience, and to fly requires early check-in at the airport plus weight restrictions of checked baggage and carry-on. Then once arriving at Naples Airport, also known as Capodichino Airport, I would have to board a bus to the city center and then take a taxi to my accommodation. So flying would cost more, but more importantly, it would cut into my time in Milano. Thus the train it is!

Now I know that I can look forward to a leisurely ride where I can relax, enjoy the scenery, and catch up on writing.

I enjoy making these travel arrangements and especially when I realize that they are to my best advantage. Italy – here I come!!!

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How to Plan for a Trip to Italy

Gelato and cold drinks on the street

Gelato and cold drinks on the street

By now you must know that I enjoy travel planning almost as much as I enjoy traveling…well, not quite. But I do like figuring out my own itinerary when I go to Italy, and I also like the idea of finding the best deals I can.

In fact this is how my fall trip to Italy materialized. My original plan was to wait until next spring, but then the more I heard about others taking trips to Bella Italia, and the more time that went by, I really wanted to go. So I made a deal with myself to go to Italy in the fall, but only if I found a fantastic airfare, since that is one of the most costly parts of a trip to Italy—airfare and accommodations.

Milano Centrale

Milan’s main train station

Well, I found a nonstop airfare from JFK Airport in NYC to Milan for the incredible price of $643 round trip, half the cost of my last transatlantic flight, which was definitely not a non-stop flight. so that was it and planning for Italy in the fall became a reality. Without needing to worry about vacation requests, since by then I would be retired, I chose the time frame of three weeks and booked my flight.

I spent a couple of months figuring out an itinerary, and have been having fun looking for hotel deals and deciding whether it is better to take a train or a cheap flight within Italy. It turns out that a cheap hour-and-a-half flight from Milan to Naples is a better deal than a four-and-a-half-hour train ride. And not only because of the time but the difference in cost is negligible, even factoring in the €7.50 price for the Malpensa Express bus ride to the airport in Milan.

Since I wanted to make this trip as inexpensive as possible, I have booked a three-night stay in a monastery in Venice, although this is not the same one in which I stayed three years ago; that one is booked.



So this place is in the Castello sestiere, not too far from the Rialto Bridge, and a neighborhood I would love to explore.

Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal

Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal

Venice is known to be one of the most expensive cities in Italy; it has been my experience that the nice hotels in Rome and in Venice rank as some of the highest. So this is perfect to be able to stay in Venice for three nights for less than $250!



I have also decided to spend time again on the Amalfi Coast and had considered the monastery in Maiori, where I had stayed before. I actually liked the idea of staying in Amalfi this time, so I did a little research and found a great 4-star hotel right in the heart of Amalfi with a view of the sea! (OK Splurge – I have dreamed of writing here and being able to relax.) After making the reservation through Booking.com, I found that the hotel website was actually cheaper. I made a short phone call to Italy via Skype and a pleasant English-speaking receptionist named Vittorio made a reservation for me at the discounted rate. She even made it refundable, up to four days ahead. Sometimes it pays to book directly with a hotel. And guess what? The cost of four nights in this hotel ended up to be only $33 more than the cost of four nights in the monastery.

I am still firming up a few other details and places for this trip, but stay tuned, because I will be blogging from Italy again in just a few more months. I love finding travel deals. If travel agents’ salaries were more lucrative, I would have to seriously consider it. In the meantime, I will keep having fun planning more trips to Italy for as long as I can. Who knows?  This may be the subject for yet another book!

Gelato vendor in  Lucca

Gelato vendor in Lucca

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Posted in Italy Travel, Italy Travel Planning, Photography, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments