Travel Diary: Tips for Your Next Trip

Linda Dini Jenkins from Travel the Write Way

Linda Dini Jenkins from Travel the Write Way

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Tips From Traveling Friends

I have a blogging friend whom I have never met, yet our thinking trains seem to often run along the same rails — and it happened again this week. I had planned to write a post about some items I’m adding to my travel closet stash, and Linda also wrote a post about the things that are on her travel must-have list.

Linda Dini Jenkins is a travel writer who blogs at Travel the Write Way. She offers tips about tourist destinations, and plans tours in Italy for small group travel. Here’s what she says about this week’s post.

“It’s trip planning season again. At least that’s what all my travel blog colleagues are writing about in their columns lately. This is the time of year, they say, when people start to plan for their annual holiday, especially if that holiday involves crossing oceans. To help potential travelers in their search, all kinds of lists are appearing to promote the top 10 beach destinations, the best European bargain spots, “undiscovered” this or that, and what you should or shouldn’t pack on said trip.” Continue reading

The Sunday Review: Palladian Days by Sally Gable

Carl and Sally Gable were looking for a summer home in New Hampshire, but ended up buying a historically-protected villa in a small town outside of Venice — the Villa Cornaro. Built by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio in 1552, the Villa Cornaro is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It is owned by Americans who fell in love with Italy, with Palladian architecture and with the Villa Cornaro. Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House is based on Sally Gable’s diaries about the process of buying a home in Italy.

Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House

I fell in love with the book based on its cover — very Edith Wharton and all that — and found it to be an interesting look into the world of Americans learning to care for an Italian treasure while also learning to live in another culture. Unlike Tim Park’s sardonic view of Italy and Frances Mayes’s romantic love affair with Italy, Sally Gable’s prose is elegant, precise, and matter-of-fact while still offering a passionate vision of the expatriate dream of owning a villa in Italy. It’s just that most of us don’t own and live in an international monument.

As I read this book, I couldn’t help but think money pit, money pit. I’ve renovated a number of homes in my day, and I know that the amount of money the Gables have poured into this property must be astounding. Carl I. Gable is a retired lawyer and businessman, and Sally Gable is a retired church musician, and Mrs. Gable is pretty reticent about talking about money in her stories. Although most of the restoration had already been done by the villa’s former owners, Richard and Julia Rush, I found it unrealistic how she often glossed over what must have been very difficult decisions. The fact that they both sit on some very prestigious boards of directors gives us a glimpse into why they don’t seem to worry very much about what things cost. I don’t know exactly why this bugged me, but it did.

Click into the photo to see the recipe for creamy butternut squash risotto

Click into the photo to see the recipe for creamy butternut squash risotto

Sally Gable also includes recipes and a discussion of risotto that had my tastebuds drooling. I do love a good memoir with talk about food!

Photos of Villa Cornaro, Piombino DeseThis photo of Villa Cornaro is courtesy of TripAdvisor

A visitor to the Villa Cornaro tells Sally that she is lucky that she and her husband share a passion for the same thing — renovating, restoring, and living in an architectural treasure. As she reflects on this comment she says:

How fortuitous, how unlikely, that we both find in our villa, in Venice, in Italy a source of such infinite fascination.

Villa Cornaro has been the cornerstone of it all. Like a great athletic coach, the villa is at once a disciplinarian, a trainer, and a motivator.

You can step into new stages and play new roles, the villa whispers. Find your hidden pools of strength, open yourself to see art with fresh and wider-ranging eyes, examine whole new palettes of color in your everyday life, vault past barriers of language, culture, and habit.

All to better care for me, my villa tells me (247).

Villa Cornaro

Click into the photo for more information about Villa Cornaro.

The Gables open their house to visitors and also host local events in the gardens. If you cannot get to Venice to see Villa Cornaro anytime soon, perhaps you are able to visit a Palladian style architectural treasure in the United States, Drayton Hall near Charleston, South Carolina, that is said to have been based on the Villa Cornaro. Thomas Jefferson admired Andrea Palladio’s work and used another building, Villa La Rotanda, for the design of his home at Monticello.

You can also visit The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. which tells “the stories of architecture, engineering, and design.”

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)

The Sunday Review: Italian Ways by Tim Parks

I’m an Anglophile recently masquerading as a Francophile. I have not been to Italy yet, but books about Italian culture are certainly on my radar, as we are planning a trip to Italy in the spring with travel writer Linda Dini Jenkins. When my husband bought me a book for my birthday by Tim Parks about rail travel in Italy, I was pretty happy.

europe, italy, tuscany, crete senesi, asciano area, nature train, historical diesel locomotive

Although I’ve never been to Italy, I’ve been a Frances Mayes stalker follower for many years. Her blog is a delight and most of my mind-photos of Italy come from her Bramasole books. I’ve previously talked about Frances here and I’ve referred to her many times over my years of blogging. I’ve also had guest bloggers share their wonderful experiences in Italy, including friends Debbie and Kathy. I’ve been putting together trips to Rome for relatives this week and I’ve been drinking a lot of Italian koolaid. I was ready for Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo.

Click into the photo to read another point of view from an expatriate reviewer.

Click into the photo to read another point of view from an expatriate reviewer.

Although Mayes gave us some idea of the Italian sense of time and place,  Tim Parks’s almost sardonic take on Italy and its social structures came as kind of a culture shock to me. I should have know better; many of my blogging friends refer to issues with Italian trains, including Marisol at Traveling Solemates. We have our own issues here in Chicago with trains as well. I don’t know why I was surprised. Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo is exactly what the reviewers say it is — a revealing look at the dynamic between tradition and innovation in modern Italy. Another reviewer describes Italian Ways in this way.

“For every moment that Italy annoys Tim Parks, there are two in which it delights him.”

That’s pretty much the premise of Italian Ways. Parks tells the stories of his train travel in Italy through vignettes of the rail system and of the people he meets along the way — and it’s funny and poignant.

In reading the Christian Science Monitor’s review of this book, I also clicked into their list of top ten travel books to read before you go to Italy. My goodness, I had forgotten about A Room with a View and Daisy Miller. Those are going to definitely be on my reading  list for this year, along with a few more visits with Woody Allen in To Rome With Love.

So — should you read Italian Ways? Yes, but be aware that as Andrew Martin of The Observer says, this is a “warts-and-all” look at Italy’s trains and culture. It’s not a love story to Italy like Frances Mayes has penned in Under the Tuscan Sun and its sequels. As a traveler, I want to know about the warts I might encounter while traveling, so for me, it was a great book! Thanks, Music Man, for an excellent birthday present.

 

A Visit to the Romance Hotel Rome

I am honored today to welcome a new guest blogger to the Got My Reservations family — my friend Debbie. Debbie and her husband are avid and intrepid travelers and have lots to share about the places they’ve seen. In this post, she introduces us to a small boutique hotel in Rome that you may want to put on your Rome Pinterest board, as I did.

We were in the mood for visiting Italy.  The excuse we used was our niece was studying in Rome. However, do you really need an “excuse” to visit Italy?  We don’t think so.

So, since the niece was in Rome, we had to spend some major time there.  We (there were 4 of us – myself, husband, brother and Mom), decided a week in Rome would be nice.  Then, take the train to Florence for 5 days.  Now, when to go and where to stay?

We went to Italy in November, after high season, when rates are lower and tourists are fewer.  In addition, we were able to schedule the trip so we left on a Wednesday afternoon arriving in Rome on Thursday morning, obtaining cheaper airfare and skipping a night in the hotel.  We returned from Florence 12 days later, on a Monday.  We were in Italy over the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday,  meaning we only had to use 6 days of vacation time, always a consideration.

One of our main criteria in travel lodging is location. We want to be able to walk as much as possible to see the sights or be able to take public transportation.  We are fine with a 3 star hotel – you will receive a clean, serviceable room with in-room bathroom, good location and service, and a decent breakfast for a reasonable price.

The hotel we found and enjoyed in Rome was the Romance Hotel Rome, located about 4 blocks from the Colosseum in a quiet, safe neighborhood with good restaurants and cafes.  Breakfast was included, along with free Wi-Fi.  The photos on their website looked good and it was “quaint”.  The hotel has only 13 rooms. It was also close to a taxi stop, bus stop and the metro stop is by the Colosseum, so it “ticked all the boxes” we require.

The four of us arrived at the hotel at approximately 10AM.  This was after driving around the hotel twice, as none of us saw the hotel entrance.  The entrance is located at street level with minimal signage.

You enter through the gates and go directly downstairs to the reception area.   The reception area is directly ahead and there is a sitting area off to the side which has a pc available to all guests.

The desk clerk was very kind and helped us to check in and stored our luggage, as the rooms were not ready.  As we were waiting, they offered us drinks, so of course we had to have our first cappuccinos.

We are very “loose” travelers.  We have a list of places we want to see, but no timing in particular (other than making sure we know which museums are closed on which days).  After obtaining a local map from the clerk and talking with him, we decided on a walking tour of the neighborhood.  We did our tour, had lunch and came back to check into the hotel around 4pm.

We went up to our rooms.  This hotel is so small  you must take the elevator if your room is not on the main floor.  Don’t worry; there are stairs in case of an emergency, but they are not easy to access.  The elevator is typical Italian – a cozy squeeze for the 4 of us.  Good thing we are family!

The rooms are small, but then again, you are in the middle of Rome.  We did upgrade our rooms, so we were on the back side of the hotel, rather than street side.  This was a good idea, as it was warm and we had our windows open (there is no air conditioning after the end of October).  The lighting was “OK’, but not great.  It was rather typical for a hotel.  The room had a sitting area and a bed area, each with a window.  The rooms were pretty quiet, but you are in the middle of the city, which means the garbage trucks work during the night 😉

Breakfast was a selection of fresh fruit, pastries, cold cereals, cheeses and meats.  And, of course, the wonderful selection of coffee drinks, made to order by the nice hostess who ran the breakfast room.  The breakfast room is very tiny – in fact, some people took their breakfast and ate it in the sitting area near the reception area, in order to have a bit more room.

We liked the hotel and the staff was extremely knowledgeable and friendly, willing to help in any way.  We would stay here again and recommend this hotel to anyone contemplating staying in Rome.

When not traveling, Debbie works as a glass artist in the Chicagoland northwest suburbs. You can see her beautiful work on her web site, Debbie Watson Glass.

 

Tablescape Thursday: A Nice Italian Red

The phrase “setting the table” has different meanings for different people.

When my kids were little, it was their job to set the table. Needless to say, it wasn’t this formal for everyday. It still isn’t in our house for our empty nest meals.

For me, setting the table means to create a tablescape with my collection of tableware.

I love having my table set with a pretty seasonal display, so that if I have unexpected visitors, the dining room always looks nice. I also enjoy setting a pretty table when we have dinner guests. I’ve always told my friends that setting my table is a pleasurable hobby for me, and I’m just as comfortable in their houses with paper plates. No pressure, folks.

Setting a pretty table is just part of me, and I’m not ashamed of my little secret.

Especially now that I know there’s a whole subculture of people who like to set their tables for fun and then put the photos on their blogs. I’m linking up with Susan at Between Naps on the Porch for Tablescape Thursday; please be sure to click in and enjoy all the beautiful inspiration to be found among the bloggers’ links! I’ve spent way too much happy time looking at tablescapes from bloggers’ archives, especially the amazingly talented Alycia Nichols (this one is going to make Music Man VERY nervous).

This tablescape started with this Pinterest photo from 2011.

Image via Pinterest; original source unknown

Once I figured out where to find fake lemons and limes (the dollar store), I couldn’t resist making the display, even though it was after Christmas. Next time I’ll try layering the pieces, but this worked (except for the red glitter all over the kitchen).

What’s not to like?

So, today’s my inaugural entry into the tablescape world. I wasn’t quite ready to give up the last of my Christmas decorations, and I’m showing my last hurrah before I bow to the Christmas decoration police. And since I see Italy in my table setting, my linens, and my colors, this tablescape had to have an Italian theme.

We probably all could do with a nice Italian red in our lives.

 Buon Viaggio!

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Terrible Ideas

If you’ve known me for any length of time, either personally or social-networkily, you probably also know that I’m a Frances Mayes stalker. Trust me, if I ever get to Tuscany, the first place I’m going is Cortona and you’ll see my photo standing in front of Bramasole all over Facebook and my blog.  I know she doesn’t live there anymore, but maybe she’ll come back to check on it and come out to say hello to me. One can only hope.

Image via tuscantreasures.net

Katherine: It’s a nice little villa. Rather run down, but redeemable… Are you going to buy it?
Frances: The way my life is currently going, that would be a terrible idea.
Katherine: Mm, terrible idea… Don’t you just love those?

There are many memorable quotes from my all-time favorite movie, Under the Tuscan Sun (see my review here), but this one is probably my favorite, because my life is full of terrible ideas. And I love them — most of the time.

So how does this relate to my blog? If you were sitting here in my office with me, I’d invite you to check out my Drafts folder in WordPress. Over the last 2 1/2 years, I’ve published 219 posts — averaging about twice a week. That’s not so bad, considering I have a full-time teaching job. But wait. I also have 77 unpublished drafts in there. That’s an average of 2.56 per month that I DIDN”T publish. Why not? Were my ideas so terrible that they weren’t worth the light of day?

The oldest draft is from October, 2010, and the title speaks for itself. “Things I Love: Free Time” — there’s nothing written in that draft beyond a cute topic sentence. I wish I had made time to write that one; it would be interesting to read what I was worried about at that point in my life. I’m still looking for free time.

Recently I started going through old recipes boxes that we got from my husband’s aunt. She’s almost 103 years old, and I was going to do a recipe series where I cooked her “receipts.” I actually made Golden Shrimp Casserole and photographed the process. I never published that draft because the casserole was TERRIBLE. I think we finally threw out the last of it after we tried to cover it up with cheese to make it palatable. So much for “Aunt Rachel’s Recipes” from January 8, 2012. Trust me, I’ll never publish that one.

Then there was last week’s unpublishable rant about something at school. Let’s just say I thought better about publishing it — maybe I’ll put it in my book about 100 Things I Never Want to Do Again when I retire. It was definitely a terrible idea to publish it, but at least I got it off my chest and it’s safe in my computer. Or is it…?

The good news, for those of you that enjoy my book reviews, is that there are four GOOD ideas waiting to be finished up and published. I think you will love reading about The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted — a very good book. Interestingly, the premise of that book is a terrible idea that turns into love and happiness for the characters. 🙂

Image via fashionfashion.org

P.S. I’m pretty sure I AM going to publish my rant about who put Adele in this ugly dress when her amazing talent deserves a truly amazing dress. Did they think we couldn’t see the grandma underslip she was wearing, apparently so she could wear the support bra she definitely needs? I mean, really. More on little black dresses that WORK on another day.

P.P.S. Thanks for staying with me. I made a goal to try to keep my posts under 500 words, but this one slipped over the edge. I hope it was worth your time.

31 Days in Europe: Bella Abruzzo!

Have you ever had one of those weeks in which you think that you might not be able to hold it together? I think we all have them. Those are the weeks when we need our go-to friends. One of my best friends now lives in another state and really, I miss her pretty much every day. It was great to see her last week, but it took me over an hour in traffic to get into the city after work. That’s how much I love her. And I love her even more for writing a guest post for me this week. Enjoy another visit to Italy!

Italy had not been on my A-list of European countries to visit.  I am a rabid Anglophile, and also took five years of French in school, so both of those countries are higher on my list of vacation destinations.  I have been to England three times, but never to France.

Then our friends Linda and Tim, who travel to Italy every year, proposed a group trip to a part of Italy that they had heard about but never visited.  The chance to travel with them and several other friends, was too good to pass up, so May saw twelve of us flying to Rome, crowding into three cars, and driving about two hours west to the region of Abruzzo.

Image via villacasale.net

Abruzzo is not on the radar for most Americans.  In a way this is a shame, since it is a beautiful but somewhat impoverished area, which could use the tourist dollars.  On the other hand, it is refreshingly unspoiled and free from the usual tourist crowds.

We spent four days in Sulmona, a town of about 25,000 people. This town, by the way, was the filming location of a recent George Cluny movie, The American.

Image via gditaly.com

After Sulmona we traveled north to the tiny town of Civitella del Tronto.  This is located between the Grand Sasso mountain range and the Adriatic Sea.

Image credit: KSF

As we approached you could see the town perched precariously on the side of a hill, under the looming walls of a huge ruined fort.

Image credit: KSF

Following the road through the medieval gate into the town, we arrived at the Hotel Zunica 1880, our base for the next three days.  The Hotel was wonderful.  It offered gourmet food, cooking classes, and tours of nearby vineyards and olive groves, as well as views of the Adriatic from our room, but the high point of the visit, to me, was the town itself.

Image credit: KSF

Image credit: KSF

All the buildings were made of old, old stone that looked piled together in no particular order.  Streets were narrow, with stairs that went up, and ramps that went down, and nooks and crannies everywhere.  Ruins were next door to rehabs, and they all had breathtaking views of the valley below.

Image credit: KSF

Image credit: KSF

Image credit: KSF

The town was a fairy tale place, and I fell in love.

Image credit KSF

31 Days in Europe: Tuscany Revisited

It’s Friday, Friday, and I can hear Rebecca Black’s stupid song in my head. I’ve had to erase recordings off of my DVR because I haven’t had time to watch the old stuff and the new stuff — Project Runway and Dancing With the Stars and The Sing Off and House — is much more important to me right now. Go Yellow Jackets!

So, tonight I’m taking the easy way out. Click here to read my second most popular post of all time and the one that continues to get more hits than any other. Since we have been in the Italy mode most of this week, let’s revisit Tuscany and one of my favorite authors, Frances Mayes.

Image via overstock.com

This post  linked up with hundreds of other 31 Day-ers. Join the fun and visit other bloggers as they share a piece of themselves. I’m still number 568, by the way.

P.S. If you’re reading, please “like” me on Facebook. I’m trying to migrate over to a professional page rather than my personal page and my daughter and her friends are getting lonely…

31 Days In Europe: A Revisit to an Italian Oldie but Goodie

Tuesdays are particularly bad for me in keeping up with blogging in general, and the pace of this 31 Day stuff is really putting the screws on me. Yet, I persevere because I love it!

Image via physictourism.com

Today I’m linking up a previous post about traveling in Italy. Sadly, I have not yet been there but am waiting patiently until my school schedule (or lack thereof) allows me to go to Italy in the spring. Until then, I have to enjoy other people’s travels vicariously, including another pair of our traveling friends who are leaving for Tuscany on Friday. Yes, I’m envious.

Enjoy your day and come back tomorrow for some more photos — I’m not sure where we are headed. Any requests? I could really use some comment love today.

This post  linked up with hundreds of other 31 Day-ersJoin the fun and visit other bloggers as they share a piece of themselves. I’m still number 568, by the way.

Under the Tuscan Sun Search Love

I’m getting all of this traffic from my review of Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun. Could that be from the group going to Italy with Linda Dini Jenkins? I wish I knew.

Image via lifescapes-luccag.blogspot.com

I also wish I were going.

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