Private Boat Tour to the Blue Grotto

By: Linda Thatcher Raichle

March 2021                                                                   

In June 2019, we had the pleasure of spending 11 magical days cruising from Rome throughout the Mediterranean Sea including stops in Italy, Malta, Greece and Croatia. Anticipating our stops along the Italian coastline, we pre-arranged a small, private boat tour for ourselves and 2 other couples. Our tour included the services of a local captain and tour guide. We spent a glorious day cruising along the Amalfi Coast with stops at the Furore Fjord, LiGalli Island and the Blue Grotto. Our day included time for swimming, snorkeling and a stop for lunch at a small restaurant nestled among the high cliffs of Positano overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. 

The highlight of the day included a stop at the Blue Grotto (Gotta Azzurra) a jewel of a sea cave located off the coast of Capri in the Bay of Naples. As we approached the Grotto, we were met with a floatilla of boats bobbing and weaving in the turbulent sea near the cave. We heard a cacophony of shouts from the boat captains wanting their occupants to have a chance to see the Grotto.  Since visitors may only enter the cave in small, official Grotto rowboats at low tides, time is of the essence and a sense of urgency prevailed amongst the chaos.

When our turn came, we were instructed to quickly climb into the official rowboat and lie flat so we could enter the ever-decreasing small mouth of the cave as the waves ebbed and flowed. The rowboat captain stood in the boat with his oars poised high while shouting orders.  I was positioned in the stern next to our somewhat larger friend. A former football player, whose wide berth was limited by the size of the boat, his head seemed to protrude far above the limits of the small cave entrance.  I worried he would be injured as we entered the small opening of the cave and expressed my concern.  He agreed and tried to wiggle his way further down into the rowboat while pushing my head down shouting “get lower” to give him more room.  Years afterwards, we continue to laugh about the scene we must have created.

Once inside the Grotto, we sat up and the chaos of the past few minutes was immediately hushed by the brilliance of the turquoise water.  The reflection is caused by sunlight entering the cave from outside and inside through an underwater breach, creating bluish-green colors depending on the time of day and weather conditions. We were among only 4 or 5 boats in the Grotto at the same time.  We slowly made our way around the cave in quiet reflection admiring the stalactites (gallery of the pillars) and the underwater rocks shown through silver reflections.  The rowboat captains began to gently sing O Solo Mio with the melodious tune softly echoing in the cave.

We were captivated and awed by the Grotto’s beauty. While we spent only about 5 minutes in the cave, we emerged with a sense of serenity having witnessed the beauty that only nature can create. 

This is Italy.  It is sometimes chaotic and crazy, bubbling with turbulence and energy, but always revealing something new and seductive…always wanting us to return. 

About the Author: Linda Thatcher Raichle, PhD

Linda’s quest to become an Italian citizen began when she found her Sicilian grandfather’s birth certificate in the back of her cousin’s closet. After a 5-year quest, she is now a proud dual citizen of the US and Italy. Linda and her husband, John, a semi-retired surgeon and 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.  They look forward to more travel as the COVID restrictions are lifted.


The 10 Best Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) Tours & Tickets 2021 – Capri | Viator

The Grotta Azzurra, Italy’s Amazing Blue Grotto (

Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) – Isle of Capri, Italy –

The 3 Tenors O Sole Mio 1994 – YouTube

Golfing in Italy

By: Karen Titus

As there seems to be a little light that one day soon we will once again be able to travel, I started daydreaming of where I would want to go first. Of course, Italy is top of the list, and then wondered how could I make this trip different.  I have never had the opportunity to golf in Italy and in the last several years have fallen for game of golf, so why not combine the two.

If you are thinking of the same, you can find over 150 18-hole golf courses in Italy, with the majority found in the north, specifically the Piedmont, Veneto and Lombardy regions, all stunning in their own way.  

There are several courses in Piedmont, one of which was designed by Robert von Hogge, and is considered one of Italy’s most spectacular courses. Circolo Golf Bogogno. This course boasts of the backdrop of the Alps and Monte Rosa. Here you have a hotel, restaurant, wellness spa, fitness center and a pool. 

On Lake Como, sits Golf Club Monticello.  You can spend the day here, be short distance from the restaurants around Lake Como and Milan. You can combine your day of golf and then take in sightseeing Visit Duomo of Como and highly recommend one of my first and favorite places in Italy, Villa del Balbianello.  From here, you can wander the garden, take in the view of the lake, one of the best in the area.  And there is so much history here, and fun fact, it was in scenes in James Bond movies as well as Star Wars.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month and most recently International Women’s Day, I am thinking this would be an awesome girl’s trip.  While golf can be intimidating, and tends to be a male dominated sport, why don’t we make some changes to that.  Pick up our clubs, take a trip and spend some time on the courses in Italy.

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:

International Women’s Day — The Struggle is Real

By Pam Lazos

March is Women’s History Month in the U.S. and March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day whose roots stretch back to places across the globe beginning in the early part of the 20th century when the first such gathering was held on February 28, 1909 in NYC. Women took to the streets seeking basic civil rights such as the right to vote (check); better working conditions (check-lite); equal rights (working on it); and ending sex discrimination (very much still working on it), to name a few. We’ve been at it for awhile now, ladies, but hopefully it won’t take another 111+ years to get across the finish line.  Sadly, economists are now saying that Covid may set women back a decade or more.

Women already held more precarious positions in the work force — working fewer hours, for less money, with shorter tenures and in lower-ranking jobs than men. The loss of child care limited many working mothers’ hours and availability even further, meaning they were often the first to be selected for layoffs and unpaid leave, the report concluded. And it noted that many families appear to be deciding that if they need one parent to give up a job and prioritize child care, it should be the lower-paid parent — usually the mother.

A.Taub, Pandemic Will ‘Take Our Women 10 Years Back’ in the Workplace, The New York Times (9.26.20).

Despite over a century of growth in the right direction, the ill wind known as Covid may have blown us here again, but take heart ladies, as there is one thing that cannot be taken from you and that is your education — and what you intend to do with it.

No one knew that better than the Italian innovator, Maria Montessori, a physician and educator who helped the cause for women immensely when on January 6, 1907 she opened the Casa dei Bambini — the Children’s House — in San Lorenzo, an inner-city district in Rome, for children aged seven and younger. Originally a daycare center, Casa dei Bambini evolved into an education center that would ultimately change the landscape of and traditional thinking behind teaching by developing the “Montessori Method,” a practice of instruction that adapted each child’s individual learning style in creating their curriculum. By letting the child lead, learning came more naturally to each because it was paired with the child’s own inherent learning abilities, allowing children to pursue what interested them, leading to success. Add self-assessment and self-correction as integral parts of the learning curriculum and the result is self-driven, self-aware, and smarter students.

Born to parents that believed strongly in education, Montessori’s own childhood was filled with museums, libraries and other places of learning, and as young as 13, she was breaking down traditional barriers by enrolling in an all-boys technical institute to study engineering. She later switched to medicine and after some false starts, graduated from medical school in Rome in 1896 as one of the city’s first female doctors. Perhaps it was her interest in psychiatry that ultimately led to adopting a manner of teaching that spoke to each child’s cognitive abilities and spurred Montessori to travel extensively in support of the Montessori Method, drafting adherents to the cause wherever she went, or perhaps she was just a natural born visionary and teacher.

My own godmother was not only a Montessori teacher, but a pioneer in women-owned businesses. In the late 1970’s she started her own Montessori school and ran it for decades. I remember as a kid being in awe of her multitasking abilities, raising a family of three children with her husband, himself a principal at an elementary school, while simultaneously running a business teaching other people’s children a new way of learning, to my mind the pinnacle of success. As both a career woman and smart momma — e.g., prepping meals on weekends for the week ahead as a time-saving measure — she empowered other women by example and she did it all before it became de rigueur.

At the turn of the 20th century, hotels, brothels, taverns, retail shops, and other service-oriented trades were the mainstay of the women-owned business, but after WWII, women started more diverse businesses, growing the list from about 600,000 in 1945 to over 1 million in 1950. By the 1980’s, women owned 25% of all small businesses.
Today, that number has risen to 40% and climbing which translates to 12.3 million women-owned businesses.

International Women’s Day may have started a century ago, but we still have a big hill to climb. Until women have equal pay, are represented equally in congress, until there are just as many women entering the workforce in STEM careers as there are men, and — this is the kicker — until we no longer need the #MeToo movement to help put an end to sexual discrimination in the workplace, we will remain vigilant and proactive, paying it both back and forward to our mothers and our daughters, and one of these years, we will laugh as the ill-winds pass us by since they will no longer hold sway over us.

Celebrate International Women’s Day by thanking the women you love.

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.

International Women’s Day – A Hidden Treasure of Italy – March 8th

Closeup of ball shaped Mimosa flowers

By: Joanne Natale Spigonardo

If you have ever been to Italy on International Women’s Day, you know that it is an extra special day in many ways.  Most regions celebrate women by honoring them with sweets and mostly with mimosa flowers, which are some of the first to bloom in Italy in the spring.  Landscapes are ablaze with them and create a golden aura on the countryside. Not only are the mimosa flowers beautiful, but they are also generously abundant, fragrant, and are often used to describe the nature of Italian women. Given that the flowers flourish after harsh winters, pandemics, economic issues, and social strife, they also can offer happiness and hope for everyone, just like women.

               The origin of International Women’s Day is in the early 20th century globally when women were fighting for equal rights.  In Italy it became particularly popular in post-World War II, when the country was faced with a break-down of government, poverty, and uncertainty.  Women were at the forefront to fight for fairness to all, then and now.  The strength of women to organize, educate, nurture and to generally get the job done is a credit to the world.  Women are often able to do this without violence or hostility, with a focused leadership quality.

               A special memory that I have of International Women’s day was when I visited Florence on March 8th many years ago.  Even though I had heard of the massive mimosa giving tradition, I was not prepared for what transpired.  Just imagine walking along the beautiful Ponte Vecchio and taking in the early spring sunshine on the flowing Arno and being greeted by mimosa bearing strangers.  These strangers became friends in that moment of giving, it was such a random act of kindness that still brings joy to my heart.  I had an armful of the flowers given to me in minutes, by children, adults, the old and the young.  As I walked, I shared these flowers with those that I met, saying a friendly word.  The act of giving was infectious, on that day we were all on the same path, in the city of the Renaissance, on a day of rebirth and enlightenment. 

               While there is so much that separates us, there is so much more that can unite us. I hope that you can honor women today by sharing something special with others.  If you can find the mimosa flowers that would be the most traditional, but anything will do, the point is that giving of yourself is a liberating and rewarding experience. Others need us and women have so much to give.  Happy International Women’s Day!

About the Author: Joanne Natale Spigonardo

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  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:

Italy, February, Valentine’s Day, and love.

Due to COVID, the opportunity to travel to Italy is limited to many so I sit daydreaming of how fabulous it would be to in Italy during the month of February, celebrating the month of love.

Whether it is a romantic love, family love or love for oneself, or maybe all of them? There are so many ways to fall in love in Italy.

Historically, celebrating St. Valentines started as a festival, it was a time that Italians would spend time outdoors in parks and gardens.   One story of St. Valentine is that he served in the third century Rome and disobeyed the orders of the then Emperor by marrying young lovers in secret.   The Emperor thought that soldiers were best if they were single and banned marriage.  St. Valentine believed in love.

Thinking of parks and gardens brings my memories to the Lugano region, which is actually two countries, as it lies on the southern border of Switzerland and northern border of Italy.  There is a lovely park, Parco Ciano   If you wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day and love, try a day wandering around Parco Ciano.  It sits on Lake Lugano, and the sight of the beauty placed in front of you can make you fall in love with nature. There you can soak in the flowers and trees and views of the mountains.  Maybe you sit a bench for hours talking, or you sit on a blanket reading a book, soaking in the sun.  

Another area to explore the parks would be Park San Mamete, this sits nestled between the lakes and mountains of the Como region of Italy.  Here you have the splendor of the still water,  the mountains whether they are lush or maybe slightly snow covered caps.  No matter what your interest or activity level, there are options for all, young, old, single, or couples.  You can make your own festival rituals.  One never knows, the act of simply being present and soaking the beauty like sponge could stimulate your hypothalamus.  And as the legend says the first person you see on Valentine’s Day is who you will one day marry. 

So why we may not be able to travel to Italy, maybe we can day dream a little and fall in love all over again.   Buon San Valentino, Amore Mio.

Author: Karen Titus. February 3, 2021

For more information about Karen, please visit:

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.

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 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.  [] 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.  []

          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 [] that was once a Jewish Ghetto as well as home to the first Jewish settlers in Europe.  []  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.  []          

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:

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:

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. 


Cinque Terre Train schedules and prices:  or

Green Olive Bread Recipe: