My 50th Birthday Gift – A Singles European Cruise – Featuring Hidden Treasures of Italy

By:  Judy McMurtry

January 10, 2021

As I reflect on past travels, I reminisce about my special trip on Norwegian Epic cruise ship to Western Mediterranean. It was a 7-night cruise that started and ended in Barcelona with stops in Naples/Rome (Civitavecchia)/Florence & Pisa (Livorno)/Cannes/Palma, Majorca. Of the three countries that I visited my favorite was Italy. I enjoy taking cruises because it allows me the opportunity to visit many places to determine which ones, I like the best, and this trip was my dream vacation that I planned my entire life. I’ve had fantasies of traveling to France, Spain, and especially Italy. I loved Italy the best and look forward to visiting this exciting country for more than a couple of days in the near future. My favorite city was Rome, in addition to the cruise experience which also included culture, friendly people and lots of fun was something that one could not forget. A great deal of preparation went into the trip such as, making arrangements for the necessary travel documents and studying the culture, historical sites and the history of each country, so that I can truly have an experience and not just enjoyment.

                        The travel experience in Europe was wonderful. It was educational as well as a culture awareness learning experience. The country with the most culture experience was Rome Italy, because out of the three countries it was the one that retained most of its old charm and heritage. It was still the authentic version of itself; Italy remained the same image with a few small changes over the years. I learned from my studies that in 1700s the modern pizza was birth in Naples, Italy. I had an opportunity to enjoy a couple of slices of the famous Margherita pizza, which was named after Queen Margherita. The Queen requested her favorite pizza maker in Naples, whose name was Rafaelle Esposito to create 3 different types of pizza. The Queen selected the pizza that was made with mozzarella, tomato sauce, and a spring of basil. I indulged in a Margherita pizza at a family-owned café, sitting outside enjoying the beautiful setting and the flavor that burst with all natural home-grown ingredients.

http://royal-splendor.blogspot.com/2018/10/queen-margherita-pizza-margherita.html

The friendliness of the people and the taste of the food. Everyone in the restaurants were so laid back and relaxed, no rushing, but simply taking their time eating and enjoying the company of whom they were dining. The staff were very friendly and they understood the art of customer service. The next stop on my journey was Rome Italy, this was a dream come true. I was only in Rome for one day and it was not enough. I decided to purchase a tour bus trip ticket to maximize my stay in Rome, because there were so many sites that I wanted to see. The bus tour allowed me the opportunity to hop on and off the bus at all the tourist locations I wanted to visit. The bus stopped at great tourist sites like the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Pantheon to name only a very few. I took lots of pictures and just wanted to be in the presence of greatness. It was a wonderful, but short tour of one of my favorite cities.

I decided to do a little shopping in Rome, because I heard about the great leather made for clothing and shoes in Italy. I found a great shop that sold beautiful shoes and another shop sold leather jackets, so I purchased a cute pair of sandals and a leather jacket.

Leather shops – Saddlers Union the best Italian leather stores in Rome.

One experience in Rome will always stand out, Gelateria | Caruso and I went to a nice café in Rome. It was located on a quiet street, with very little to see around it. The tourist bureau recommended it to me, because I asked for a nice quiet café that served gelato. The café served freshly made gelato of many different flavors; the ladies only spoke Italian and it was quite remarkable to communicate with them, however I managed. It was a great experience; the shop had an old time feel to it and the recipes were probably past down from generation to generation. This was the last stop before my time was up in Italy, was to locate the best ice parlor for the famous gelato. I was very excited to have discovered a beautiful place called Gelateria | Caruso that served the best gelato that I have ever tasted in my life. I enjoyed the pistachio and it opened up my taste buds to new levels. I have not been able to find anything like the gelato at Gelateria | Caruso and I have tried.

My trip to Italy was over 8 years ago and I remember it as if it was only yesterday. I will hopefully return soon to Italy and I plan to stay at least 14 days to really enjoy this beautiful country; especially, Rome. I would encourage you to one day travel to this wonderful place and I promise you will not leave there the same.

Author Judy McMurtry BIO:

For 33 years, I was the person behind the scenes of successful businesses making it all happen. Driven by my passion for leadership development, I had a successful and diverse leadership team. My name is Judy McMurtry, and during those years, I thought I had it all. Maybe you’ve been there too. 6 years ago I realized that I was stuck and wanted more than just a career in someone else’s corporation. That’s when I decided to retire from the corporate world and start a new chapter in my life. On this journey I’ve been trained and mentored by world-class leaders. I am equipped with the tools, resources and experience to help any team improve productivity, performance and profitability. Now instead of leading successful teams myself, I help leaders find success through their teams and grow organizations, from the outside-in. If you’re looking for a team transformation, email me at jmexcelconsultant@gmail.com and I’d love to sit down for a free exploration for together we can transform your team.

Niente di Grave – A Hidden Treasure of Italy

Niente di Grave

January 1, 2021

By: Pam Lazos

          What is it about Italy that makes our imaginations soar and our spirits run free?  Is it the incredible array of art and architecture?  The notion that many of the world’s most renowned painters, sculptors and thinkers were domiciled there?  The amazing Italian wines or the food, which miraculously, and perhaps due to the Italians energetic emigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a way to escape both poverty and the rise of fascism, has made its way across the globe?  Today, Italian Americans are the fifth largest ethnic group in the U.S.  [https://to.pbs.org/3rBIfcq] and I am happy to claim my spot alongside them.  Descended from Italian grandparents on my mother’s side and Greek grandparents on my dad’s side, I grew up in a mixed-marriage family.  That sounds odd to say now, but ethnocentricity was everywhere half a century ago. 

          Still, I was never sure what all the fuss was about.  My friend, Rosina, who grew up in South Philadelphia but spent about a decade of her life living in Rome would say “una faccia una razza” — one face, one race — meaning there really was no difference since the two countries practically grew up together.  Sometime between the 8th and 7th century B.C., Greeks began colonizing Southern Italy (Sicily was at one time known as “Greater Greece”), but eventually the Romans took over, occupying Greece when it conquered the Greek peninsula in 146 B.C.  If you’d been living together for centuries, you’re going to be swapping more than a few recipes so it’s no wonder the two cultures share such similarities.  [https://greece.greekreporter.com/2019/11/16/una-faccia-una-razza-the-fascinating-story-of-greco-italian-bonds/]

          It’s also no wonder that on each of my trips to both places I’ve felt so at home that I’ve dreamed of a reverse-emigration — or at least fantasized about spending my summers there.  Art, beauty, history, education, World Heritage Sites and more awaited me in both countries and I used every excuse I could to get there when I could, living in Athens for a summer on a study abroad and adding several weeks to my journey home by taking a few-week romp through Italy.  Maybe I was in search of my roots or perhaps just some good gelato, but whatever the excuse, the excursion was always well-worth the time.  A couple dozen years ago, I convinced my then husband to take a three-weeklong honeymoon and do a European tour of our roots, Germany for him, Italy for me, and Switzerland thrown in for kicks so we could visit friends there. 

          We started in Germany, and I’m glad we did because after five days of eating bratwurst, sausage, schnitzel, sauerbraten and pickled veggies, I was gastronomically in distress.  I practically kissed the ground when we crossed the Alps into Italy.  It was late in the evening, so we went to the first restaurant we saw where a plate of spaghetti and meatballs and a nice glass of red wine tasted like 5-star fare.

          The next day we drove to Trastevere, today a hip neighborhood [https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/perfect-day-in-trastevere-rome] that was once a Jewish Ghetto as well as home to the first Jewish settlers in Europe.  [http://www.understandingrome.com/jewish-ghetto-trastevere-tour/]  Rosina’s apartment in a 2,000+ year-old building in Trastevere boasted a 20 or so-foot double-wide arched doorway with cobblestone rails running at the edge of each side — originally constructed so charioteers could pull right into the building.  The actual working door — cut into the larger door — was dwarfed by the size of the arched doorway.  Throughout the four-story building, niches had been cut into the walls of the hallways where statutes of the Madonna and other saints sat patiently and protectively watching over the building’s inhabitants.  The food in Trastevere was brilliant, as is the food in most places in Italy, but Rosina, herself the daughter of an Italian immigrant, was no slouch in the kitchen and some of our best meals were at her table. 

          Is it an Italian thing to say that as long as you have beautiful food on the table and friends and family around that it makes no matter how rich you are because your life is already magnificently abundant?

          A few days later, we drove to Manciano, a feudal town with its own castle situated in the rolling hills of Tuscany.  Manciano has a long history — the castle was built around 1188 — and much to boast about, being less than an hour’s drive from the Mediterranean Sea where sun, sand, and squid pasta — they use the ink from the squid to make it black — await you.  Rosina’s friend had a house in Manciano, a small two-story, two bedrooms that he had been painstakingly rehabbing for the past several years, one room at a time.  It was laborious work since the walls were at least a foot thick, but it was a labor of love and well worth the effort.  Across the very narrow street, maybe 12 feet away — it felt like you could touch the neighboring houses from the second-floor window — I gazed up at the winding cobblestone street for a short distance before the street disappeared around the bend where I knew it continued on, circling the town all the way to the top where the castle sat, looking like the fortress it would be used as in the 14th century.  Everyone had pots of herbs and flowers outside their doors and some had laundry strung out to dry.  It was glorious, a scene from a movie of an era long gone, but it was not without its drawbacks.

          Imagine a trip to one of the most beautiful places on earth, as many would likely agree Tuscany is, long on history, architecture and agriculture.  [https://www.summerinitaly.com/guide/manciano]          

Manciano, like the rest of the globe, has suffered a bit from an overpopulated world and an infrastructure that has not kept pace with the times.  In order to service those who lived there, a few concessions needed to be made and one of them was no electricity after 9:00 at night.  That in itself was not a big deal, but it also meant no running water.  So, if you had to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, you also had to pour water into the toilet tank after you flushed. The toilet was gravity-fed and could transport the waste away from the domicile, but it was not regenerative without the electricity so the next person to use the bathroom would be out of luck.  To remedy this, Rosina’s friend filled several gallon jugs and left them in the bathroom each night for users to fill the tank when done.  Not quite camping, but possibly a level of activity that we in the States would find inconvenient on vacation.

          In almost any other situation a lack of access to clean water, especially if it’s a 24/7 thing, would leave me feeling disturbed and distressed, but if you’re still reading this, maybe you have guessed my reaction at the time which was — thank you; everything is fine; I have no complaints whatsoever. 

          If you have food on the table, and good friends and family around, then what are the lack of a few creature comforts?  Niente di grave — no big deal.

About the Author:

Pam Lazos is an environmental lawyer with a passion for assuring access to clean water for all, a blogger, and author of the novel “Oil and Water”, about oil spills and green technology, and “Six Sisters”, a collection of novellas about the family ties that bind us.  She practices laughter daily.

Pinocchio – A Hidden Treasure in Orvieto

By Joanne Natale Spigonardo

December 1, 2020

As the Holiday Season begins, I have fond memories of my trip to Orvieto, many Decembers ago.  Orvieto is located in the Umbria region of Italy.  It is rich in history and the town has numerous artists that sell their wares to locals and to tourists. The city is quant and breathtaking with its beautiful Etruscan and Roman facades. It is known for its white wines but produces many notable reds as well.  One of the most delicious meals I have ever had, is the fettucine with white and black truffles.  We enjoyed a delicious Trebbiano wine with our meal. We walked to the enchanting Duomo after dinner and found a wonderful café where we sampled the local and luscious semolina cake encased in bittersweet chocolate.

To burn off our sumptuous meal we strolled along the narrow streets. I was amazed by the many Pinocchio shops in its narrow streets.  One shop in particular will always remain in my memory with an elderly man as the owner.  I do not remember his name, but his image is clear.  I felt that I stepped into another century. The whole experience was surreal.  The gentleman had a mane of white hair and kind eyes.  He had many versions of Pinocchio, in many different sizes, and they were made by his hand and they were unpainted.  I asked him why he opened the shop and if he had an apprentice. He simply replied that he loved to carve wood and that the character of Pinocchio was always an inspiration.  He had not found an apprentice yet that wanted to commit to his standards.

While the story of Pinocchio originated in Tuscany, it is a part of Italian culture throughout the country. The Adventures of Pinocchio was written by Carlo Collodi in 1883 while he was living in Florence.  The book has influenced so many versions of the story and several films, one of the most famous by Walt Disney.  Pinocchio is a moral story about the value of truth and of accountability.  Parents world-wide read this story to children hoping to teach the values it projects.

We left the shop with several small Pinocchios, some of which I have passed on to my family, and some that I still put out every Christmas.  When I place them on my mantel I always think of the beautiful shop and the hidden treasure of Orvieto.  I always recall the altruistic artist and his passion for his work, and the meaning of Pinocchio, that truth is the foundation of morality. This message resonates with me, especially this year.

About the Author: Joanne Natale Spigonardo

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, history wine and cuisine. She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. For more information about Joanne please visit her Linkedin page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/

Truffle Festivals in Tuscany

One of my favorite hidden treasures of Italy is the truffle. I seem to find treasures in food and the experience it has to all senses so thought it would be so interesting to share a few of the many  Truffle festivals that take place in Tuscany, and hopefully, post pandemic, will once again allow us to enjoy this delicacy.

Truffles are found underground, near the root of tree and give off a very pungent odor which is why both dogs and pigs are used to “hunt” them. Truffles are harvested, generally between September – December and festivals mostly fall in line with the harvest season.

If you would like to plan a trip to Tuscany, and want to enjoy the festivals, here are few to start. 

San Miniato Truffle Festival is generally the last few weeks of November.  Here the town hosts market stalls through the squares and offer wide variety of tasting opportunities.  While you are there, you can try the tradition recipes of the white truffle.   The town itself is lovely, and the landscape make it a prime environment for the truffle.  In fact, the world’s largest truffle was found in San Miniato

San Giovanni d’asso Truffle Festival is hosted in late spring as they harvest their truffles in December, and while they are not the luxurious white truffles, they are just as delicious. If you go, you can taste the various dishes, and purchase truffles.  If you do purchase a truffle, there is a time limit on how long they will last, so you could ask a local to prepare your truffle for you.

Volterra Truffle Festival offers an experiences to taste white truffles in wonderful recipes along with enjoy other gifts of the area, including wine, cheese and oils.

While each festival may seem similar, it is best to explore each one, and see if you have a favorite.  Go and find a favorite recipe, take in the beauty of the region and the people.   Taste, touch, see and feel the truffles and hear all sounds of people who are creating wonderful dishes and treats.

Maybe after you visit a festival, on your next visit to Tuscany, you can plan time on a truffle farm and join in the hunt for the fabulous truffle.  And food for thought, there is a specific dog breed that is recognized as a truffle hunter.  The Lagatto Romagnalo dog is trained to point at the truffle so it can be gently removed with little damage to the ecosystem.  You may want to go truffle hunting just to be in the presence of this adorable dog.

Bon Appetit!

Contributor Karen Titus

Karen recently retired from Delta Air Lines and has always enjoyed traveling the globe, with special love and interest for Italy as it was her first trip to Europe.For more information about Karen, please visit:   https://www.linkedin.com/in/karen-titus-22b4a1b/

Cinque Terre – Town Hopping Along the Foot Paths

Linda Thatcher Raichle

November 2020

Exploring this gorgeous stretch of Italy’s northwest coastline by foot is exciting and exhilarating. My husband and I were on a cruise and had the opportunity to explore this wonderful part of our favorite country.  We hiked all 5 towns of Cinque Terre in one day! Each small town is connected by foot paths along the cliffs overlooking the sea.  Even though we spent only a short time in each town,  we discovered hidden treasures of Cinque Terre including a wonderful little coffee shop with amazing views of the coastline through a sculpture of 2 lovers,  a bakery fulling our ongoing quest for green olive bread, bathers lounging like seals on the warm rocks, colorful homes nestled into the high, steep cliffs and lush, terraced vineyards.

While in each town, we sought out a café, a piazza or simply strolled the streets along the harbor. We sometimes had to weave our way among fishing boats moored along the roadside because the harbor was not large enough to accommodate all the boats.

The 5 “lands” or “earths” comprising Cinque Terre are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Trains are an easy and convenient way to travel to the towns.  Start at either the most northern or southern town and hike the paths connecting each town. We took the train from the seaport and started in Riomaggiore and ended our hike in Monterosso where we wished we had time to enjoy a quick dip in the sea at the end of our hike. Or, you might start in the other direction and enjoy a refreshing aperitif in Riomaggiore at the end of the day.

 If you have time, consider staying longer in Vernazza, the most popular town with its meandering streets and colorful houses or Riomaggiore with its castle and church of San Giovanni Battista.  Be sure to save your energy to climb the 377 steps to the town of Corniglia, the only town not directly on the sea.

Cinque Terre is beautiful, sometimes rugged and always breathtaking with amazing hidden treasures.  See if you can find more of them on your next trip.

About the Author: Linda Thatcher Raichle

Linda’s quest to become an Italian citizen began when she found her Sicilian grandfather’s birth certificate (born: 1858) in the back of her cousin’s closet. She is now a proud dual citizen of the US and Italy. Linda and her husband, John, an avid photographer, have enjoyed their retirement years “Dolce far niente”(the sweetness of doing nothing) by traveling extensively throughout Europe and Asia.  Italy is a frequent and favorite destination. 

Resources

Cinque Terre Train schedules and prices: https://www.trenitalia.com/  or https://www.omio.com

Green Olive Bread Recipe:  https://www.instructables.com/Herbed-Green-Olive-Bread/

The Treasure of Fashion in Italy

When traveling through Italy, part of the intrigue is the fashion that you see on the street, in cafes and restaurants, and on both men and women while riding on a Vespa, an art in itself.  The fashion capital of Italy is Milan, and the fashion is like visiting a museum.  The colors, patterns, textures you see on both men and women are intoxicating and the shopping can be an event that lasts forever in you memory.

While in Milan, recommend taking a leisurely walk through Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga as this area houses famous brands such as Prada, Gucci, Bulgari.  It is so much fun to window shop, and if you go in, you may be offered a glass of champagne or sparkling water, which allows you to spend some time taking in the beauty, creativity and art of it all.  Whether you make a special purchase or not, it is a memory that you will have for a lifetime and one that will always bring a smile to your face, as I know it does for me! 

In addition to luxury shopping, there is endless possibilities of boutiques, markets and department stores.  If this is more your interest, please take a walk down Corso Vittoria Emanuale II, a little history fact, the street was named after the first king of unified Italy.  Here you can stroll, shop, window shop and stop at a café for an espresso and maybe a gelato or panettone, or sit for dinner or lunch.

Enjoy the art and hoping you can bring a piece of it home with you.  Whether it is a fabulous, artfully wrapped package specially for you or pictures of moments in your mind of the joy you experienced while in Italy, 

Fai ricordi

About the author: Karen Titus

Karen enjoys traveling the globe and has a special love and interest of Italy as it was her first trip to Europe many years ago. She has recently retired from Delta Air Lines and looking for the next chapter and adventure of her life.
For more information about Karen, please visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karen-titus-22b4a1b/

Bocconotti – By far one of the most unique pastries in Italy – A traditional delight and a hidden treasure of Castel Frentano

Joanne Natale Spigonardo

October 16, 2020

Castel Frentano is a spectacular rural town in the beautiful Abruzzese area of Italy. The town dates back to the 13th century and is surrounded by majestic mountains as well as the amazing Adriatic Sea. While these natural and historic wonders are hidden treasures of their own, the bocconotto stands tall as a traditional and delicious jewel.

The first time I had a bocconotto was when I visited Castel Frentano, my husband’s home town as a young bride. I come from a family of home bakers but I must say that I was astounded by the bocconotto and still am, as one of the most delicious of treats. If you are a chocolate lover hold on to your seats, this is a chocolate lovers dream!

Bocconotti are filled with lots of chocolate, almonds, and jam. There are many variations of the recipe that are secretly guarded by generations of bakers in Castel Frentano. The most difficult part to master is the pastry shell. It is a cross between a cookie and a pie crust. Biting into a bocconotto is an enticing melt in your mouth experience. If you can get a family member or a friend to give you the recipe that would be the most authentic, although you can find versions of the recipe online.

Celebrations in Castel Frentano often include bocconotti, they are the centerpiece of any dessert table. Mostly they are part of the many vibrant and original celebrations of the amazing Abruzzo region. I hope you will visit Castel Frentano, in the province of Chieti on your next trip to Italy, and make sure to have a bocconotto while you are there!

About the Author: Joanne Natale Spigonardo.

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, history wine and cuisine. She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. For more information about Joanne please visit her Linkedin page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/

Gelato, a hidden treasure

What could be better than indulging in gelato for breakfast, lunch and dinner when in Rome? While on my first visit to Rome, I found love, in gelato!  This is a treat I have never had in the United States, or if I did, it didn’t seem to come close.  Could it be simply being in Rome made it all taste so good, or was there really a difference?  So I set out to find to explore and find my favorite treat of Rome. 

Each morning, I wandered the streets of Rome, off the normal tourist path.  This curiosity would help find the ideal place at that perfect moment that served Gelato. I started my quest with a taste of hazelnut and chocolate to see how delicious it was.  In the late afternoon, as I strolled the fabulous city, I would find a new tucked away spot and taste a few more flavors while I sat watched people go about their day.  There is something so special about those moments that I will never forget.  Was it simply the art of eating gelato? Was it simply being in Rome that made it taste so good? Or perhaps was it me fantasizing how much I would love to pack up and live in Rome that brings back such bold memories? 

For me, after several days I came to the conclusion that pistachio gelato is my favorite.  To this day, whenever I think or see pistachio gelato, my senses bring me immediately back to Rome and the glorious simplicity of it all.  Taking a turn down a narrow street, choosing a flavor, sitting down and watching the beauty and all of its hidden treasures.  

About the author:

Karen Titus has retired from Delta Air Lines and has a live long passion for travel, and is a fitness instructor, and an avid lover and advocate for animals. 

The 900 Churches of Rome – Starting with the Church of the Gesu

By Joanne Natale Spigonardo

On one of my trips to Rome, I was amazed to find 12 churches in a two-block radius. It was a beautiful October day, perfect for leisurely exploration. I though that if I took a full day that I could explore all of those 12 particular churches. I was looking to find how rich they were in history and in art. It was a revelation to know that so many renowned sculptors and painters were to be admired free of charge. I thought that I would start with the Church of the Gesu. I particularly wanted to visit this church because I so admire the Gesu Church on the campus of St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia.

The Church of the Gesu on Via degli Astalli in Rome, is an amazing work of art in its entirity, from its façade to the tremendous paintings and altar pieces inside the church. It is of the Baroque style and was designed by Giacomo da Vignola in 1568. It is the mother church of the Jesuit Order. Jesuits are known for their devotion to education, beauty, and art. The ceiling is a masterpiece by Giovanni Battista Gaulli and is called The Triumph of the Name of Jesus. It was inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola and his teachings.

Many of the tapestries, sculptures, and paintings have been on exhibition in the past years in various museums globally. I hope you get a chance to visit the Church of the Gesu on your next trip to Rome. It is one of the hidden treasures of Italy.

I didn’t get a chance to visit any other churches that day, as it took hours to fully enjoy the wonders of the Church of the Gesu.

About the Author:

Joanne Natale Spigonardo is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and has a long history of travel experience. Joanne admires the Renaissance, art-history, and women’s studies. She is also the author of the novel, White Widow, available on Amazon.

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com