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Photo Gallery: Treviso Italy

23 May

Here are some photos of my recent trip to Treviso, Italy, in the Veneto region, just north of Venice.

 

 

 

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Quality, Bargain Travel within Europe

8 May

Water Wheel: Treviso

While I loved my new life as an ex-pat in the lovely Mediterranean village of Altea, Spain, I relish the opportunity to affordably travel to other destinations. For my most recent trip, I went to Venice, Paris, then back to where I live, with all three flights costing only 150 Euros.

 

There are many low-cost options available for transportation and accommodations. My original plan was to go to central Spain to the historic, beautiful and interesting cities of Salamanca (with arguably the most beautiful plaza in Spain), Segovia (with its intact Roman Aqueduct), and Avila (with its intact medieval city wall), all UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Spain has the second most UNESCO World Heritage Sites, after China.

 

Piazza San Marco

However, getting to those locations from where I live is not easy to do in a timely manner via train or flight. I did not want to rent a car or take ride-sharing Bla Bla Car. As I did not want to spend many hours to get to my destinations, I looked at the direct (non-stop) flights that departed and arrived from the two airports closest to me, Valencia and Alicante. Originally I found direct flights from my preferred airport of Alicante to many destinations, and I decided to go to Venice, then Paris, then home to Alicante airport. I also checked for airlines and hotels that accepted dogs, as I initially planned to take my small dog, Pepper. I subsequently decided not to take him because it would preclude us from going to events like the ballet in Paris, or restaurants which have only indoor seating.

 

Often flight, bus and other transportation schedules within Spain and Europe are not published until a few months before departure. Whereas my initial search found direct flights from Alicante to Venice, when I went to book it, there were no scheduled flights for March, none until July. Being flexible and willing to search for other options can yield reasonable alternatives. I was going to meet my son in Venice on a Sunday in March, and all the flights with more than one leg took a ridiculous length of time. I then found a flight the prior day, a Saturday, to Treviso, which is only a mere 30 minutes train ride to the Venice train terminal for only 3,40 Euros. I decided to get a hotel in Treviso, “The City of Art and Water,” that Saturday and explore the town, which has interesting history and culture. The next day, I strolled around town before heading to Venice. Of course, I had researched, and where necessary, scheduled all the connecting ground transportation for the whole trip. That was not necessary for the train from Treviso to Venice. In Italy, (and some other European countries), after you purchase your ticket, you must validate it in one of the machines on the wall or you risk getting a large fine when they train staff check your ticket.

 

As private water taxis are very expensive in Venice, as are taxies in Paris, I scheduled them on Alilaguna, a group water taxi for about 14 Euros one way and 25 Euros roundtrip, and Blacklane for a roundtrip private transfer from Paris Orly airport to our hotel in the Plaza Vendôme area for about 50 Euros each way.

 

One unexpected issue we had on the flight from Venice to Paris on Transavia was just as we got to the staff to present our boarding passes we were told we could only have one carry-on, and that we would have to put any other items including my purse in my carry-on suitcase, which was already stuffed full. I had to throw out a few items in order for my purse to fit. All three flights were about two hours. It was the first time I had taken low cost airlines, and found them organized, and comfortable enough.

 

We enjoyed stops in historic churches, art museums, live music venues, and public gardens. Included in this article are some of the interesting sites we saw on this trip.

 

For me, one of the many considerations, albeit not the most major, in making a decision to move to Spain was the ease and cost of travelling to relatively nearby European and African countries.

 

 

 

Terrorism and Travel

22 Mar

Gothic Sainte-Chapelle stained glass

A shooting involving a terrorist at Paris’ Orly Airport, while I was going through the security check there, was an anticlimactic end to my 60th birthday celebration in Venice and Paris with my middle son, Michael. Orly is France’s second largest airport. Just before I was scheduled to board my flight home to Alicante, Spain, I noticed the departure gate had changed to the downstairs departure area. As I tried to go to the new departure gate, the airport security officers told me there would be no more flights that day from Orly. Without explanation, they corralled us into the far half of the boarding area, not allowing anyone to leave. The televisions were switched off, and the departure screens frozen, which continued for several hours. We never received any notification from airport staff as to what was occurring, but I googled “Orly news” where I learned that a terrorist had tried to wrestle a gun from an airport police officer, and that he was shot. I did not learn the details until after returning home. Even though I had been told around 845 a.m. that there would be no further flights from Orly that day, around mid-day, without any speaker announcement, the boarding boards were turned back on, although without accurate, updated information on departure times. We finally boarded and departed around 330 p.m. As I write this on March 22, 2017, there has been a terrorist attack in London near the Parliament, and possibly inside.

 

There is no place in the world in which one is free from the possibility to violence, terrorism or even natural

Sacré Couer

disasters. In 1998, not long after the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, my oldest son and I went to Nairobi and then on safari the Tsavo Park area. Of course, at the time, we didn’t know that the attack was part of an organized terrorist organization. Not long after an American Airlines flight crashed in Queens, a borough in New York, in November 2001, only two months after New York’s September 2001 attacks, we flew to Europe. It was initially speculated the crash could have been a terrorist attack, but it was later determined to be caused by human error. During a tour of eight African countries, while in Bamako, Mali, the nation’s capital, we stayed at a hotel, where several years later, in spite of security, Islamist extremists took 170 people hostage, shooting 20.

 

Enjoying live classical and Brazilian music at Venice’s Caffè Florian, reported to be the oldest café in the world, dating back to 1720

That said, as a psychologist, particularly a forensic psychologist where we rely heavily on statistics, I make informed decisions based on statistics rather than irrational fears. By far, I have a significantly greater chance of being killed by violence, particularly in the U.S., or by disease, or accidents. I choose to live my life with joie de vivre, focusing on relationships, food, culture, adventure, and curiosity. And if I should meet my end in a travelling accident, for me, that is far better than being holed up in my home or a bunker, or living my life in fear. To that end, I will be providing future blog posts on my Venice and Paris trip, and am providing a sampling of those photos here.

SERENDIPITY AT SANTA CATERINA HOTEL

25 Feb
Santa Caterina Hotel Lobby

Santa Caterina Hotel Lobby (Courtesy: Hotel Santa Caterina)

Looking at the vista of sparkling blue water against the backdrop of the Amalfi Coast’s rugged terrain from the balcony of the luxurious Santa Caterina Hotel, we languished over the refreshing local limoncello lemon liqueur. One of the hotel staff approached us saying that the son of the owner of the hotel was getting married the next day and would be having their rehearsal dinner reception at the hotel that night and we were invited. The hospitable parents of the groom, Francesco, own two of Amalfi’s best hotels, including the renowned late 19th century liberty style villa, Santa Caterina. All of the wedding guests were staying at the Hotel; we must have serendipitously booked our hotel reservations before the wedding date was set because everyone else seemed to be part of the wedding party or wedding guests.

Having just arrived after spending a few days in gritty, crowded, tasty Naples, we relished the calm serene, comfort, and Italian elegance the Santa Caterina offered. We were excited about the opportunity to have an insider’s experience in an authentic Italian rehearsal dinner reception.

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Bar at Santa Caterina (Courtesy: Hotel Santa Caterina)

As expected, the many small appetizers were creative and sumptuous, some of the best food we have ever had. Drinks were plentiful, served by the friendly, impeccably professional staff. The bride, Sarah, an American, incorporated local lemons and limoncello into the reception décor. Appetizers were served in the lobby which had traditional, colorful Amalfi floor tiles. The buzz of many languages was a result of the multinational guests who hailed from ten countries.

After the formal dinner, and numerous toasts to the bride- and groom-to-be, we danced to a variety of types of live music and chatted with the convivial guests. We retired to our beautiful  room, thankful for being able to experience such a genuine Italian celebration.

Evening View of Santa Caterina Hotel

Evening View of Santa Caterina Hotel (Courtesy: Hotel Santa Caterina)

The next day the couple exchanged vows in the 9th century Roman Catholic Amalfi Cathedral, which of course, we did not attend. Instead we spent a lovely day wandering the ancient streets of Amalfi. While I generally abhor shopping, I was determined to buy some of the decorative, hand-crafted Amalfi ceramic pottery, specifically colorful plates and address tiles. Meanwhile, when the newly married bride and groom exited the church in the town’s main plaza, they were greeted with cheers from townspeople and tourists alike. That night after their wedding reception, we watched their colorful firework spectacle from our room.

Travelling Solo as a Female

24 May
altea

Altea, Spain

Travelling alone as a woman is something I take for granted. And moving solo from the Central Coast of California to the small Mediterranean town of Altea Spain was not something I considered that challenging, other than the practical logistics. Therefore, I have been surprised when I have received many comments telling me how “brave” I am.

Adventurous with wanderlust, yes, but brave?

 

I have travelled to almost 40 countries worldwide, many times solo and also with my three sons while they were children. When reflecting on those travels, I tell myself I must have been crazy to take one or all three young boys by myself to places such as Kenya, Australia, Italy, France,Turkey, Belize, Jamaica, Mexico, etc.

 

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Family swimming at Palapa Bar, Ambergris Caye, Belize

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Palapa Bar: Ambergris Caye, Belize

As I prepared to move to Spain, I chose to sell my large home, luxury car, and virtually everything I own, except a few kitchen items, but most importantly, family photos and videos. I was overwhelmed with the many photos and videos, which were too numerous to transport. I decided to have them scanned but because there were so many I had to choose which ones to take. I experienced unexpected happiness while reviewing our family travels. Travelling with children can obviously distract one from paying attention to environmental cues, but I guess I was lucky.

 

As a retired forensic psychologist who evaluated and testified on violent and sexual offenders, I am by no means cavalier when it comes to personal safety, particularly as a single woman. Here in Altea, I am often out late at night, as are many other females. Whether female or male, it is important to first know the safety of the area where you are. Certain cities are well-known for pick pockets, assaults, etc., and certainly researching the crime and safety of your destination should be an important part of travel planning. And go with your gut. If you suddenly feel an uneasy or fearful feeling, react accordingly. Do whatever will restore your sense of being safe by doing such things as getting to a safe public place, or hailing a cab rather than walking.

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Palais Garnier: Paris Opera House

 

Some advocate finding a travel partner if one is a female travelling solo, but I would rather travel alone than risk having a toxic travel partner. That is exactly what happened to me when I took a rare cruise which started in Rome and then went to the Aeolian Islands. LuLu, who I had met on a Greek Islands cruise, was interested in going on the Italian cruise. The tour started in Rome. During a private tour (her demand) of the Coliseum, she repeatedly interrupted the tour guide, telling her to move on. Both the tour guide and I were shocked at her rude behavior. The tour guide said she had never seen anyone that rude. Not one for conflict, I disengaged myself from LuLu as much as possible the rest of the trip, which was difficult as she was my roommate.

 

Travelling alone enables me to more easily meet people, something I increasingly relish. Coming full circle, today I am waiting for the arrival of my 20 year-old son to my home in Spain. He will spend the summer with me. I hope we can travel to some of Spain’s many historic and beautiful sites, that is, if I can pull him away from the young ladies.

 

 

THE KINDNESS OF SICILIAN STRANGERS

13 Oct
Map of Grotte

Map of Grotte

After travelling over 6000 miles to Grotte, Sicily to find my fiancé’s paternal homeland, we eagerly approached the Zaffuto tractor and farm supply store in hopes of finding relatives who shared the same last name. However, we didn’t anticipate that the store would be closed for the daily afternoon “riposo,” the Italian equivalent of siesta which occurs from noon to three.

En route to the tractor store, we drove through the small town of Grotte, (near the Agrigento Greek Temples in southern Sicily,) where we noticed that almost all of the shops were closed. So it should have been no surprise that the tractor store located on the outskirts of town was also closed.

Zaffuto tractor and farm supply store

Zaffuto tractor and farm supply store

A middle-aged woman emerged from the house next door saying something in Italian that we couldn’t understand. With our hands we managed to signal we were looking for the owners, who shared my finacé’s last name of Zaffuto. The woman raised three fingers signifying the time when the store would re-open, and then generously invited us into her home, which was on the second floor above the home’s garage.

Upstairs the home was decorated with traditional Italian furniture and antiques. She pointed to the chairs around the dining room table for us to be seated.  She served us beverages and a light snack while we continued to try to communicate with each other. Eventually, below we saw the men returning from their riposo, re-opening the store.

We said “grazie mille” and “ciao” to our hospitable hostess and proceeded to the store. With their chiseled good looks, well-coiffed black hair, designer sunglasses, and stylish clothes, the men looked like Italian models rather than workers in a tractor and farm supply store. None of the Zaffuto men spoke English, something not uncommon in small towns in Italy. Fortunately there was one man there who spoke some English because he had previously lived in Canada. As we attempted to exchange family histories, the men prepared and served us expertly-prepared espresso coffee from their commercial-sized machine.

Zaffuto men: Store owners on left and right

Zaffuto men: Store owners on left and right

As customers entered the store and needed assistance, we decided it was time to leave. We exchanged “il balecetto,” a kiss on each cheek, and bid our handsome hosts, “Arriverderci.”

Quest for Culatello

9 Oct
Culatelli di Zibello Source: Wikipedia Commons

Culatelli di Zibello
Source: Wikipedia Commons

I felt like a criminal when I smuggled the non-permitted item onto my flight from Bologna to Paris, and the next day from Paris back to Los Angeles. But I didn’t travel that far to be stripped of my prized Culatello di Zibello, considered by many salumi lovers to be the King of charcuterie. Better than its cousin prosciutto, culatello has an intense, complex salty, sweet and musty flavor with a supple texture.

Culatello, which literally means “little ass” is made from a single muscle from the hind leg of a pork. After the muscle is trimmed and the bone and skin are removed, it is massaged and salted. It is then encased in a cleaned pig bladder, and then typically hung from the ceiling of a 500 year old musty cave. This aging process can be from 16 to 18 months, or even as much of 30 months.

Culatello di Zibello is made in the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy near the foggy Po River area. The Emilia-Romagna area is best known for its prosciutto, Modena balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, and the birthplace of tortellini (one legend is that they were inspired by Venus’ navel.) After a food- and music-centric week in Venice, I took the train to the Bologna region in search of food nirvana.

My first night in Bologna I dined at the historical Papagallo, of course ordering tortellini, as I always try to order the most “typical” food of the region I am visiting. Bologna is a vibrant, bustling college town, great for wandering under the porticos, and exploring the many historical and artistic sites. But my real quest was to try as much of the local fare that is thought to be amongst the best in Italy.

To that end, after a few days exploring Bologna, I decided to take the train to the nearby towns of Modena and Parma. (If taking the train from Bologna, make sure to be on the right platform.) The handsome ticket seller at the train station flirtatiously questioned my intention of seeing both towns in one day, but as it was my final full day in the area, I was determined to sample both. I typically just wander the streets and see what eateries invite me to dine, whether inexpensive local spots or upscale. In Modena, for lunch I found Hosteria Vecchia, which featured the typical cuisine of Modena. The restaurant was bustling with local businessmen, blue collar workers, and couples, all enjoying the fantastic fare.

Salumeria Garibaldi Source: Flickr

Salumeria Garibaldi
Source: Flickr

After buying my aceto balsamico tradizionale (Modena balsamic vinegar aged at least 12 years), I continued on my food quest to Parma, now in pursuit of culatello. Again, preferring to let serendipity take its course, I wandered around Parma’s old town centre. I found cafes, and shops but not any salumeria. Dissappointed, I headed back to the train at dusk when I saw the illuminated Salumeria Garibaldi welcoming me. I managed to put in my order just before they closed. I chose three types of salumi including the culatello.

Back at my room in the elegant Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni, I ordered some aged Parmesan, a dry Lambrusco wine and proceeded to savor my culinary finds. I couldn’t eat all of the culatello, but there was no way I was going to throw it away.  I decided to take it with me, so my son, who was meeting back up with me in Paris, could try it with me. To that end, I wrapped the pungent culatello in multiple layers of plastic so hopefully it would not be detected before boarding the plane in Bologna and again in Paris. Once safely en route from Paris to Los Angeles, we devoured the sublime culatello, apparently without detection.