Weekend in Lombardia

Traveling to Italy often, I am well acquainted with certain of its 21 regions including Toscana with its rolling hills and capital city Firenze, Trentino and Alto Adige with the majestic Dolomites, and Liguria, my second home in Cinque Terre. On this trip, I discovered another region that quickly became a favorite, Lombardia.

The journey began in the town of Varese, just 55 kilometers north of Milan. I soon realized that this was the perfect spot from which to tour the region. The first stop to discover the magic of Lombardia was the Sanctuary of the Sacro Monte of Varese, 883 meters high, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the top of the hill stood the Pogliaghi House with its enchanting garden, a museum open to all. An eccentric lover of art, Ludovico Pogliaghi began building his house in 1885 and in the years that followed he collected over 1,500 artworks. An artist himself,  the door of Milan’s Duomo was his most famous commission, with the original plaster door sitting just above his grand piano, which I attempted to play.

With church bells ringing in the distance, I walked along this 2 kilometer long “Holy Way” of Sacro Monte, encountering 14 chapels dedicated to the Mysteries of the Rosary. This sacred cobbled path dates back to 1604 when Capuchin friar Giovanni Battista Aguggiari set upon creating it.

Each of the 14 chapels are unique in design and feature statues and frescoes created by major Lombard artists of the seventeenth century. With every encounter I felt the mysterious air of a spiritual past.

The following day another grand villa awaited in nearby Gazzada Schianno. Nineteenth century Villa Cagnola was a sight to behold overlooking French and English gardens and views of the countryside. Most impressive were the treasures hidden on the inside. In addition to a large private collection of Italian paintings from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, the collection of ceramics, both European and Oriental porcelain is awe-inspiring! Certainly worth a visit and an overnight stay.

From here I walked the historic route Via Francisca del Lucomagno to Castiglione Olona, surrounded by fields of blossoming flowers and the splendor of nature.

The fifth century town of Castiglione Olona charmed even from afar. I couldn’t wait to enter its walls.

A lunch stop at Osteria degli Artisti for a plate of strawberry asparagus risotto? There’s a first for everything!

A site worth visiting is La Collegiata, built where once stood the ancient castle. The Collegiate church along with the Baptistry, makes up the Collegiate Museum. Both were decorated by Masolino da Panicale, one of Florence’s most recognized painters.

From here the afternoon continued to Torba Abbey, a former benedictine convent. The annual flower market was taking place and the entire monastery was in bloom!

The next morning it was time to discover Lake Maggiore, Italy’s second largest lake after Lake Garda. How best to tour this majestic lake than by sailboat. This may in fact be my preferred mode of transport.

The views were stunning, as the wind sent us sailing along the coast of Lombardia. Complete serenity as we reached a breathtaking monastery built within a cliff.

Santa Caterina del Sasso is one of the most ethereal sights I’ve ever seen.  Legend has it that after surviving a storm, wealthy local merchant Alberto Besozzi dedicated his life to Saint Catherine and had part of this Hermitage built in her honor. The rest as they say, is history.

My days and nights discovering Lombardia were filled with so many moments of awe and inspiration, both natural and spiritual. Enough to last until the next time. Meanwhile, here’s a video for more bella vistas.

 

Sicilian Adventures : PART II

Our first stop upon leaving Trapani was at a thermal spa, basically a pond in the middle of nature. I was a little skeptical, but when I felt how warm the water was (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), I sank right in to the sulfur bath. Heaven in the middle of winter!

After a quick lunch (and cannoli) stop in the small seaside village of Trabia, we arrived to the scenic city of Cefalù. With the sun ready to set as we walked along the beach, greeted by a glowing row of homes, it was hard not to become enchanted with our new destination. We soon located our B&B within the narrow streets and began to explore.

The following morning we set our sights on the ancient village set high up above the city with views looking down on the Duomo, a majestic two-towered Norman cathedral.

After hundreds of steps, guided by sunshine peeking through a cloudy sky, we made it to the top. What a view!

We could have stayed longer, as there is always more to discover, but it was time to head south to Ragusa, with a stop for Roman history along the way. The Villa Romana del Casale, a vast villa built in the first quarter of the 4th century, contains the largest and most impressive collection of Roman mosaics in the world.

As we walked through the many rooms, learning about the symbolism of each mosaic, I couldn’t believe how intricate and detailed these scenes were, and how well preserved! We even caught sight of what could very well be considered the first bikinis.

A few hours later we arrived in Ragusa Ibla, the old part of Ragusa destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and rebuilt in Baroque style. We soon settled into our home for the night, a charming centuries old B&B. The following day we had a date with one of Italy’s top chefs, 2 Michelin starred Ciccio Sultano, at his famed Restaurant Duomo. This was one meal we couldn’t be late for, even on Italian time.

After a meal to remember, we continued to explore this elegant city. I couldn’t get over how picture perfect the views were, both from high above Duomo San Giorgio, and down below. It was a short but sweet encounter.

Upon our exit, we were graced with the most stunning vista of Ragusa Ibla, certain that we’d return again, even if only to dine with Ciccio. Our next stop was where we’d settle in for New Year’s Eve, and a place we knew from our last trip to Sicily, Siracusa.

There was something about the island of Ortigia that left an impression on us. Perhaps it was the food, or the warmth of the people, or in my case the cassata… Whatever it was, we were happy to be back, and to begin a new year in this, one of our favorite Sicilian settings. This time we discovered impressive new wine and food bar Cortile Verga set in a gorgeous courtyard, and SunSet cafe, for exactly that.

Following a night of great feasting and mild revelry, we got in the car for a final drive to Punta Secca, home of Montalbano. It was here that my Italian began the year with a swim in the sea following an incredible meal of freshly caught fish and homemade pasta. After one last sunset we were ready to return to Paris.

Sicilian Adventures : PART I

This year we headed south for the holidays, destination Sicily. I fell in love with this vibrant island on our first jaunt two years ago, and decided where better to spend a few days over Christmas with the Italian family, and ring in the new year. For part one of the trip, we made our home the city of Trapani at Sicily’s western tip. It wasn’t the old city’s charm that enticed us (I’ve seen better), but its proximity to so many sights and ancient ruins, not to mention the Egadi Islands. What we quickly discovered is that Trapani is a food haven, with Trapanese specialities including Fish Couscous, influenced by neighboring Tunisia, and Pesto alla Trapanese made with tomatoes and almonds. The many fresh fish dishes were exceptional and every day became a dining adventure, with local wines of course (my favorite being a red blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola grapes). Here’s a list of our top restaurants, all in the old town.

Antichi Sapori for the best traditional dishes (the seafood antipasti alone is worth the visit)

Serisso 47 for fine dining in an elegant setting (rumor has it the chef might be awarded a Michelin star soon)

Sood for live music and small plates of Sicilian specialties with a bio twist (great local vibe)

After settling into our apartments and enjoying the rooftop views, we took to the road. Our first stop was Scopello, a tiny village near Castellammare del Golfo, and what was once a tuna fishing port. The coastline was breathtaking! We also discovered that this is where scenes from our favorite Sicilian detective series Inspector Montalbano were filmed.

From here we drove to Segesta, one of the most notable Siceliot (Sicilian-Greek) ancient cities. We walked the path leading up to the Greek temple, a sight to behold, lit by the late afternoon sun.

Continuing up to the hilltop site where the ancient city was inhabited into the Middle Ages, we discovered the remains of a Norman castle, a small church and a mosque, and a classical amphitheater with admirable views.

The next day we decided to explore another highly esteemed archaeological site, Selinunte. Walking through this abandoned town founded by Greeks in the  7th Century BC, with its main street, homes and temples,  you can imagine the life that once took place here.

The day after Christmas we headed for the largest of the Egadi Islands, Favignana, less than an hour by boat. It being winter and the holidays, the island was quiet and most of the restaurants and shops were closed. We did however find a bakery with some of the most delicious cassata and cannoli to date. (Read more about Sicily’s sweets here.) The most stunning landscape on the island was the little gulf called Cala Rossa.

My Italian and I climbed down the rocks to the turquoise water, completely in awe of this cliffside paradise.

On the last day before the two of us continued our adventures solo, we drove up to the medieval hilltop town of Erice. It was the people of this town that also built the town and  temple of Segesta. I first noticed the Venus Castle, and soon learned that the temple of Venus outlasted the many civilizations who took residence in Erice.

The town itself is eerily charming with its tones of grays and cobbled paths leading to restaurants, artisanal shops and pasticcerias offering sweets made of almond paste. Here too we found a sweet gem!

Our final stop before saying farewell to Trapani was a Marsala cellar tour and wine tasting at the famous Cantine Florio. The perfect ending to part one of our adventures in Sicily. Next stop, Cefalù…

Rome in Paris

Last December we spent a few days in Rome. The result? Long walks amidst ancient history… and a new Kasia Dietz handbag collection. As you know, my bags are often inspired by my travels. More reason to travel? And as always they are made in Paris, limited edition and reversible. Finally I’m sharing the Roma Collection with you, photographed by the talented Catherine O’Hara and named for some of Rome’s most famous streets. Beginning with the beautiful cobbled Via Giulia. Now you can take the streets of Rome with you wherever you go…

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Onto the busy and fashionable Via Condotti…

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I had to include the main street in Rome’s historical center, Via del Corso.

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Lastly, Via Margutta, home to art galleries and trendy restaurants.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts about the new Roma Collection! For the love of Rome and Paris, take 20% off any bags online using code: ROMEINPARIS, until the end of September. And don’t forget to follow along on Instagram! More travels and bags coming up…

Insider’s Guide to Monterosso

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I first encountered Monterosso during my around-the-world journey in October of 2007. On a whim, I took the train from Santa Margherita and immediately became enamored with this soulful village set upon the Mediterranean. I spent five blissful days swimming in the sea; exploring the old town and tasting its culinary specialities; hiking from Riomaggiore to Vernazza, awed by the views. As I wrote in my travel blog, “I had discovered paradise.” As chance would have it, the handsome Italian I serendipitously met on the streets of Soho, NY in 2009, comes from this very land. Monterosso has since become a place I know and love well, through its people, culture and traditions. It was the scene of our wedding in 2011 and every summer we live ‘la dolce vita’. I feel grateful to call this part of the Italian Riviera my home, and to share it with those dear to me. As a Monterosso insider, I’m often asked where to dine, sleep, etc. Hence, I’ve decided to put together this Insider’s Guide to Monterosso.

TRAIN TRAVEL. Arriving to Monterosso al Mare from Pisa or Genoa takes about 1.5 hours via Trenitalia. From Milan allow for 3 hours. I would not recommend driving as aside from taxis and delivery vehicles, the village is car-free, and parking is sparse. Stepping out of the train you are in Fegina, the newer part of the village. Exiting the tunnel on the left will bring you to Monterosso, the old town, and what I consider the most charming.

WHEN TO VISIT. The Cinque Terre is composed of five vibrant villages, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, built upon cliffs and once upon a time accessible only by sea or train. The region didn’t become a major international tourist destination until the 1990’s, thanks in part to Rick Steves who fell in love with the five lands, making his home in Vernazza. Now these villages, some with populations as small as 250, are bustling with tourists during the summer season, mainly due to day tripping visitors and those arriving to La Spezia by cruise ship. My advice is to visit during the quieter yet equally sunny months of April, May, September or October. The season is long and it’s always best to book accommodations in advance, especially for the summer months.

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WHERE TO SLEEP. There are numerous hotels and B&B’s in both Fegina and Monterosso. Here are my recommendations in the old town, all family run and filled with charm, rooms ranging in price from 100€-200€/night.

La Casa di Andrea: Five tastefully decorated double rooms with a garden and views of the village. Well worth the many steps up!

Bellambra: Four comfortable double rooms and one family apartment located in the heart of the old town, overlooking the main street.

Il Timone: Three cozy double rooms classically decorated, with sea views from the breakfast terrace. 100+ steps up from the village.

Il Maestrale: Several double rooms including a superior duplex room, all with views to the street below. Beautifully restored building from the 18th Century.

Hotel La Colonnina: Many double rooms including family rooms, some with terraces and views of the village. (Ask for a renovated room.) Lovely rooftop terrace with sea views.

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WHERE TO DRINK. The aperitivo is an integral part of life in Italy. Just before dinner, it’s a time to meet friends and engage in the life of the village. You’ll always be served a small snack to complement the drink.

Enoteca Eliseo: Follow the classical music to find this upscale wine bar in the heart of the village. With a wide selection of wines to choose from, including a Cinque Terre selection. I suggest the Lemon Spritz, a concoction they created in recent years. (Closed Tuesdays)

Eldorado: Want to mingle with the locals? Head to this pre-dinner or late night hotspot for one of their many cocktails or my latest favorite, the Saint-Germain Spritz.

Bar Alga: Before sunset, make your way to this beachside bar for a fresh Pina Colada served in a pineapple.

La Tortuga: For a seaside aperitivo head to La Tortuga on the cliff between Monterosso and Fegina. Lorenzo will greet you with a smile. Warning: you may cancel your dinner plans.

Bar Eden: Located right on the beach in Fegina, the sea views don’t get much better. If you’re not in the mood for a cocktail, ask for an affogato al caffe, a coffee with ice cream.

Hotel Porto Roca: For the best aperitivo views of Monterosso from above, climb the path leading to Vernazza and you’ll arrive to this 4-star hotel with an outdoor terrace.

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WHERE TO DINE. With so many restaurants serving similar dishes that look equally appetizing, it’s hard to know where to dine. I can’t say that I’ve tried them all, but I do have my favorites that continue to top the list, year after year. During the busy season reservations are a must!

Ristorante Ciak: Opened in 1974, the owner and chef Ciak will usually be found in the open kitchen wearing his signature sailors uniform. Ample space to dine both inside and out. Make sure to try his famous seafood risotto! (Closed Wednesdays +39 018 781 7014)

Il Casello: Situated seaside, this picturesque dining spot for both lunch and dinner serves local specialties including trofie al pesto and fresh anchovies. The owner Bacco will be happy to suggest a dish and might even share the recipe with you. (+39 333 492 7629)

L’Ancora della Tortuga: Located inside a cliff on the path between Monterosso and Fegina, this restaurant is one not to miss. During the summer months you can dine al fresco, away from the crowds of the village. Ask for their divine seafood antipasto misto, you’ll thank me! (Closed Mondays +39 187 800 065)

Ristorante Miky: This elegant family run restaurant opened in 1980, was once a pizzeria, and has since evolved into the destination for ‘haute cuisine’ dining in Fegina. The presentation alone will impress you, not to mention the cooking. I’m a great fan of the constantly changing antipasti and grilled calamari, or try the tuna, or the seafood risotto. Honestly, you can’t go wrong. (+39 0187 817608)

La Cantina di Miky: If you’re looking for something more casual in Fegina, the Miky family more recently opened another restaurant with both seaside seats and a spacious cantina. Their dishes are a creative take on the classics, with a wide selection of local wines to choose from. If you run into the owner’s wife Christine, she’ll be happy to advise you. (+39 018 780 2525)

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LOCAL SPECIALTIES. All twenty regions of Italy boast local products and dishes. Which ones are the Cinque Terre known for? Here are the must try specialties in Monterosso. I tried to keep it short, as you could easily spend all day eating!

Focaccia: The best can be found at Il Massimo de la Focaccia in Fegina.

Anchovies: Fried, stuffed, salted, with lemon, in pasta… try them in all their preparations.

Farinata: Head to Il Frantoio in Monterosso’s old town to try this chick pea delicacy.

Pan Frito con Formaggio: Fried bread with cheese? Yes please! Also found at Il Frantoio.

Pesto: One of Liguria’s  healthiest specialities, a must try is the pasta dish ‘trofie al pesto’.

Rice Cakes: A perfect option for lunch. Go to Midi Bar in Monterosso for a taste.

Sciacchetrà: A delicious local sweet wine. Read all about how it’s made here.

Cannoli: The Northern Italian version of heaven, the best can be found at Pasticceria Laura.

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BEST OF. I couldn’t put together a list of favorites without including my ‘best of’, could I?

Focaccia: Il Massimo de la Focaccia has ‘right out of the oven’ focaccia in many varieties. Perfect for lunch.

Pizza: Il Fornaio is a focacceria in Fegina that recently added pizza to its menu, made with all natural local ingredients.

Gelato: Midi Bar in the old town makes its own artisanal flavors, while Slurp in Fegina will awaken your taste buds with flavors including lemon and fig. Why not have two?

Pastries: Pasticceria Laura is THE spot for anything sweet. Must tries are the aforementioned cannoli and the torta Monterossina. Freshly baked by Laura herself every morning.

Cappuccino: It’s hard to find a bad cappuccino in Italy. Midi Bar and Bar Eden are two of my favorites.

Souvenirs: You can certainly take home jars of pesto and a lemon or two, but what about ceramic anchovies? These and other pottery, all handmade in Monterosso, can be found at Fabric d’Arte‘s two locations in the old town. I already have quite a collection!

Of course you’ll want to explore the rest of Cinque Terre too. You can take a train, boat or hike to the neighboring villages. Definitely worth a visit! If you’re already familiar with the five lands, I suggest a train to the less touristic and charming villages of Camogli or Sestri Levante. By boat you can visit historic Portovenere or Portofino. More information on day trips and hikes can be found here.

In case you need help planning your trip, my friends at Bella Vita Travels will be happy to assist. Buon viaggio and enjoy my home in Italy!

PARIS PICKS : Italian eats part I

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The French love pizza. All Italian food in fact. And you’ll easily find Italian restaurants and pizzerias all over the city. But how good is la pizza in Paris? Depends on if you’ve been to the BEST pizzeria in the city where pizza originated, Naples, Italy. (Luckily I have, twice even. Here’s my guide for those planning a trip.) L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele certainly takes the cake, or should I say pie, when it comes to simple and absolutely delicious pizza. Started in 1870 and passed on through five generations, their secret is “using natural ingredients and an old, traditional, time-tested method of leavening the pizza dough.” In case you can’t make it to Naples, there are a few places I’d recommend that almost make you feel like you’re in Italy. Keep in mind that I’m a tough critic, married to an Italian after all. And since I’m currently in Italy indulging in my share of pizza, where you can follow me on instagram, twitter and snapchat, I thought the timing was fitting. Here they are in no particular order, all scattered around the right bank. Reason enough to venture to my side of Paris.

Recommended by trusted Italians, we quickly grew to love Ciacco, located on a quiet street in the evolving 10th. With simple decor and staff who remember us upon entering, it almost feels like dining with family. Many great traditional pizza options and they also do take away.

Ciacco // 9 rue Rene Boulanger 75010 // Tues-Sat 12-2:30, 7:30-11 // 01 42 06 38 07

With a spacious outdoor terrace and two floors of seating, la Massara is at once inviting and intimate. Run by a friendly Italian staff, you have plenty of pizza options to choose from, some with buffalo mozzarella and an assortment of white pizzas. They also have another location in Nice.

la Massara // 70 rue de Turbigo 75003 // Daily 12-2:30, 7:15-11 // 01 42 74 13 94

For expertly mixed cocktails and hearty pizza in a variety of tastes (including one with lardo, read all about my discovery of this delicacy here) head to Grazie where you’ll be welcomed with a “buona serra.” This trendy spot near the Marais is perfect for a girls (or boys) night, just be sure to reserve and arrive early to claim the coveted window seats.

Grazie // 91 Boulevard Beaumarchais 75003 // Mon-Fri 12:30–2:307:30–11, Sat/Sun 12:30-11:30 // 01 42 78 11 96

One of the latest Italian restaurants to open it’s doors is Ober Mamma. This trendy hotspot serves a traditional Milanese aperitivo with every cocktail order, perfect for the often lengthy wait. They don’t take reservations so be sure to arrive early and enjoy the convivial atmosphere. Rumor has it that one of the pizza makers comes from da Michele.

Ober Mamma // 107 boulevard Richard Lenoir 75011 // Daily 12:15-2:15/3:30, 6/7-1AM // 01 43 41 32 15

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For pizza that doesn’t try to be Italian but is worthy in its own right, head to Pink Flamingo, now with four locations in Paris, in the 3rd, 10th, 12th and 18th. (Also with outposts in Valencia, Spain and Amsterdam.) You’ll find flavors including fig and chevre and a daily pizza du jour. They also do take away and delivery.

I’ll be sure to include any other worthy pizza that I discover during my eating adventures in Paris. And if you have any favorites, please let me know! Coming soon will be favorite Italian restaurants, we still have a few to try… until then buon appetito!

overcoming fear

Fear is defined as “a very unpleasant or disturbing feeling caused by the presence or imminence of danger”. Being a rather courageous girl, there are few things that provoke this feeling. As a child I was fearful of a fast driver, until I became a driver myself and the thrill of speed enticed me. During my around-the-world travels I overcame my fear of water by learning to scuba dive in the temperate waters of Thailand’s Koh Phi Phi. I never feared heights and confirmed this by sky-diving in New Zealand. But skiing? This sport terrified me. It had been three years since our last alpine adventure, and still the fear was intact. And still I was determined to overcome it. With good friends by our side, we headed 2,200 meters up to the Dolomites, the stunning peaks of Madonna di Campiglio to be specific, where I would learn to glide back down… fearlessly.

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Day One. I had to ski down a red piste in order to arrive to the blue pistes. Panic! Somehow I managed to make my way down the mountain, my body recalling what it had learned during my last three attempts at skiing. I fell. I became frustrated. I felt uncomfortable. I got back on my feet. I was ready to call it quits.

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Day Two. My patient teacher met me in the morning and I very clearly expressed my fear, evident in the rigidity of my body. “Breathe” he told me. And so I did. Eagerly awaiting après-ski at the spa.

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Day Three. Another lesson. I almost felt at ease. Could I not stay on the blue pistes forever, please? I tried to meditate high up on the mountain, telling myself that discomfort makes us grow. Doesn’t it? Still not feeling it.

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Day Four. Suddenly my body took control. I could turn. I could begin to ski parallel. I could glide down the mountain, my Italian and our friends’ kids supporting me along the way. I could do it! And I actually loved it.

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Day Five. I felt one with the mountains. Well, not exactly, but I overcame my fear and knew that I was in control. I felt proud and accomplished, having stuck with it, even against my own desire.

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This magical landscape and the company we shared it with, made all the difference. Now back to dry land.

36 Hours in Florence

Last week I had a meeting with bespoke travel company Bella Vita Travels at their home base on the Italian Riviera. Since it fell just before Valentine’s Day, my Italian and I decided to head to Florence for a quick stop. Having recently fallen back in love with Rome after over ten years, it was now Florence’s turn. With only 36 hours to spare, here are the highlights on where to sleep, eat, visit and shop. Feel free to follow in our footsteps!

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SLEEP : Just steps away from the famous Ponte Vecchio, in the very heart of Florence sits Gallery Hotel Art, a modern boutique hotel, part of the four luxurious Lungarno Collection hotels by fashion icon Ferragamo.

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EAT : Italy is all about the food, isn’t it? Recommendations are always welcome as not to get stuck in a tourist trap. Luckily, we met local artist and friend Kevin Berlin, known in Firenze as Giovanni Rossi, who directed us to traditional Florentine spot Osteria del Porcellino. Delicious! A more gastronomic favorite was Il Santo Bevitore, a tip from local expat Georgette, aka Girl in Florence. She also pointed us towards new hotspot Gurdulù where we enjoyed an after dinner drink.

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DRINK : The aperitivo is taken very seriously in Italy, much like the apéritif in France. Thankfully, Giovanni knew just the spot next door to his home in Piazza della Signoria. Rivoire is the oldest bar in Florence, and almost where the negroni originated (that bar unfortunately no longer exists). If barman Luca is there ask him to mix you a Negroni while you peruse the book he wrote on this very cocktail. Incidentally, some of the best chocolate and sweets can also be found here!

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SEE : With little time and much to see, we made a plan. Having already been to the Uffizi years ago, we paid a quick visit to Florence’s Cathedral, also known as the Duomo with it’s majestic dome, and set out to explore the city. We passed by Dante’s home (photo above) and south of the river Arno to the Oltrarno neighborhood. One afternoon was spent at the Basilica di Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world, featuring sixteen chapels. Here is the final resting place of Italian greats including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Gentile and Rossini. The three cloisters too are worth a visit (photo below).

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SHOP : On my last visit to Florence I bought a leather jacket in one of the local leather markets. (I still wear it.) This time, I wasn’t looking for any souvenirs but did stumble upon the most beautiful perfumerie Aqua Flor, with scents unique to their shop. I couldn’t resist!

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After a last negroni we ran to catch our train, enroute to the riviera, while dreaming of the next visit to Florence.

 

Roman Holiday

The last time I was in Rome was the first time I was in Italy, 13 years ago. A good friend and I took a trip to visit this historic land. Little did either of us know that we would both marry Italian men years later. Foreshadowing? I had not been to Rome since, and those who read this blog know I travel to Italy quite often, so my Italian and I decided it was time to return to the roots of Italian history. Our Roman Holiday began in the charming neighborhood of Trastevere, with a view of the Tiber river. With only a few days to explore the city, and endless sights to fall back in love with, we hit the streets, guided by blue skies and our trusted Lonely Planet.

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Just steps away on the other side of the Tiber we found the sunlit and flower-filled Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona, one of the most enchanting of Rome’s many squares. I immediately fell in love with the vibrant colors, illuminated by the sun, a stark contrast to the neutral tones of Paris. Kasia Dietz handbags Rome collection?

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From one majestic fountain to another, we stopped to admire them all. Just don’t drink the water they say…

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The Fountain of the Four Rivers, one of Bernini’s masterpieces, depicts Gods of the four great rivers in the four continents as  were then recognized by the Renaissance geographers, including the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe and the Río de la Plata in America.

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The Pantheon, a Greek adjective meaning “honor all Gods”, built and dedicated between A.D 118 and 125, is one of the most preserved and influential buildings in Rome. Not to mention majestic!

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Newly restored and sparkling, I was tempted to jump into the Trevi Fountain La Dolce Vita style. I resisted.

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On one of our exploratory walks, we climbed to the top of the Altar of the Fatherland, also known as National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II in honor of the first King of a unified Italy.

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The views from the top were impressive, to say the least. Rome glowed in the late afternoon sun. I swooned.

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One day was spent with friends, a Roman power couple you could say. Erica being a travel journalist and Rome expert, and Darius an archaeologist who digs on this very land. Who better to explore the Roman Forum with?

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Once the center of Roman public life, we tried to imagine the events that took place here many centuries ago.

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By chance, we gained access to sights that haven’t been made public yet. For my (and your) eyes only…

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We walked from the Roman Forum up 40 meters to Palatine Hill… Our expert guide Darius Arya leading the way.

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From there we saw the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater ever built. An engineering & architectural marvel.

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I stood for a while admiring the Colosseum before we went inside, in complete awe. To the right of it is the apartment from film La Grande Bellezza, not a bad view…

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Enamored with sculptor Bernini, we spent an afternoon at the Villa Borghese. I’ve learned to always look down.

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Our last stop was at Saint Peter’s Basilica which will leave even an atheist marveling at this Renaissance structure, both inside and out. Already, we couldn’t wait to return. Rome had captured our hearts.

olive harvest

As those of you who follow me on Instagram know, I’ve been in Italy recently, specifically Cinque Terre. A combination of work & family/friends visit, timed around the olive harvest. In past years I’ve eagerly assisted with the grape harvest, going as far as stomping the many buckets of grapes with my bare feet. What fun! But olives? I had never before taken part in the harvest, choosing instead to busy myself with work while my Italian labors in the land. This year however, I decided to find out exactly how this homegrown oil is created. IMG_3248

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life on the sea

Ever since my first visit to what I then called ‘paradise found’ during my year of travels, I fell in love with Monterosso al Mare. Little did I know that I would meet a man from this very land and come to call it my home. Recently we spent nearly two weeks living on the sea. Blissfully. Days began with yoga beneath a kiwi canopy and visits to the bakery for cappuccino and a fresh cannoli, followed by picking capers in the garden, or lemons in the grove (that task was left to my Italian). A family lunch followed a siesta beneath the shade of a beach umbrella. Evenings spent with friends. Every night I fell asleep to the lullaby of the sea, some nights it bellowed to us, other nights it whispered. I rose to the church bells.

IMG_5638IMG_5932IMG_5374IMG_5277 As I wrote five years ago during my third visit, I have come more deeply to cherish this land where nature reigns and life is valued in the most basic and beautiful of ways.

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Until we meet again… and life on the sea continues.

around the world in a day

One week after the opening of the World Expo 2015, Feeding the Planet, we traveled to Milan to see what all the talk was about, the expo being a topic of much controversy.

In brief, Expo Milano 2015 is the Universal Exhibition that Milan, Italy, hosts from May 1 to October 31, 2015. Over this six-month period, Milan becomes a global showcase where more than 140 participating countries show the best of their technology that offers a concrete answer to a vital need: being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium. In addition to the exhibitor nations, the Expo also involves international organizations, and expects to welcome over 20 million visitors to its 1.1 million square meters of exhibition area.

Both my Italian and I were curious to see, learn, and taste, starting with the Sudan pavilion.

IMG_0817IMG_1070I felt at home in Poland, watching a film about my country’s history, and meeting a local.

IMG_0934_2IMG_1065 IMG_1060 IMG_1049One of the most impressive pavilions was Oman, a place I hadn’t experienced, until now.

IMG_1026 IMG_1017 IMG_1016_2Turkmenistan was elaborately designed, as was Turkey, unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit either pavilion. One day was simply not enough to take it all in.

IMG_1008_2IMG_1067_2IMG_1006Loyal to the US & France, we visited both pavilions, the latter filled with wine and cheese.

IMG_0965_2IMG_0883_2We were most impressed with China, where we feasted on peking duck and dumplings.

IMG_0904 IMG_0884 IMG_0871IMG_1108_2In Italy we tasted fine wines and caroused Eataly, exhibiting foods from all twenty regions.

IMG_0849 IMG_1113IMG_1084Our day ended with the Tree of Life, agreeing that the experience was one to remember.

sweets of Sicily

Aside from the rich history and varied architecture, it was Sicily’s sweets that remain most in my memory. Being a sweet tooth, we made it a point to find and taste the best of the region. In Noto, we discovered what’s considered one of the best gelateria’s in Sicily, Caffé Sicilia. Here we stopped for lunch, and decided to make it a sweet one, starting with ice-cream, which was indeed delicious!

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From there we moved on to the second course, and what became my favorite dessert in Sicily, the cassata, a cake covered with almond paste and candied fruit, and filled with ricotta cheese. Incredible! We accompanied this decadent cake with coffee and a glass of almond milk, Sicily being the land of almonds. For the third course (yes, there’s more), we tried the almond granita, an icy concoction of almond milk. WOW!

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After the sugar high faded and we returned to a healthy meal of pasta and fish, we ventured to Modica’s famous confectionery, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the oldest (and considered the best) chocolate factory in Sicily. Their chocolate, a legacy of their Spanish history, contains only cocoa beans and sugar. I tried many of their varied flavors, including the most famous, vanilla and cinnamon. But what really blew us away were the cannoli’s. They filled them on the spot, hazelnut and pistachio, the latter being the best Sicilian cannoli I’ve ever tasted!

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A well-known tradition in Sicily is an almond paste known as pasta reale, made with ground almonds, sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice. These fruit shaped sweets almost look too beautiful to eat. This too is one of my favorite sweets, having grown up eating marzipan.

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Considering how much I love these sweets of Sicily, I can’t wait to return. Until then, detox.

scenes from Sicily

Last weekend my Italian and I ventured to Italy’s most southern region, Sicily. This was my first trip and his second. I had no idea what to expect in this island rich in culture and cuisine. After taking a swim in the still warm waters of the Mediterranean, we headed to our first destination, the island of Ortygia in Syracuse. This charming city reveals baroque facades with Greek,  Roman and Arab influences in it’s centuries old architecture. With Sicilian hospitality, we immediately felt at home.

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One morning we spent at the archeological park where a massive Greek theater from 5th-century BC awaits it’s visitors. During the summer season it’s brought to life with classical concerts.

IMG_9897Being adventure seekers, we decided to drive to Noto. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, it was rebuilt to become the grandest baroque town in Sicily. Noto was recently added to Unesco’s list of world heritage sites, certainly worth a visit! And did I  mention that Noto is known for it’s gelato? More on that later…

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IMG_9790The next stop on our Sicilian adventures was Modica. This multi-layered medieval town is uniquely atmospheric with it’s high and low levels, allowing for an incredible view. Here too, you find the most delicious chocolate and confections. How could I resist?

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Our last stop was Taormina, the chic, sophisticated town that seduced many an artist and writer in it’s day. Here was the capitol of  Byzantine Sicily in the 9th century, and today it remains an international hotspot boasting views of a still active Mount Etna.

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Four days spent beneath the Sicilian sun, learning about ancient history, discovering hidden beaches… dining on fresh pasta, fish and local sweets (the latter of which I’m devoting the next blog post to). A perfect holiday.

lost at sea

For the last 10 days I’ve been hiding out in Cinque Terre with friends and family. Did I realize that when I met my Italian, this enchanting land would become my home? No, but I am lucky that it is. Though I am most familiar with Monterosso, I love to explore the other villages whenever possible. On an overcast day, we decided to venture by train to Vernazza, considered by many the most spectacular. It will soon be 3 years since the flood, and the village looked more colorful than ever.

IMG_4394This time we walked the many steps up to Castello Doria and the views were breathtaking!

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IMG_4312After happily discovering a local shop to sell my bags, and an aperitif with a view at Gianni Franzi’s new terrace, we headed home to Monterosso. For more photos of our days in Italy, click here.

Naples top 5

Everyone loves Italy, the food, the people, the easy going feeling… But when it comes to Naples, what I consider ‘real Italy‘, those who haven’t yet ventured to this city in the south are often fearful of it. It is really so dangerous I wondered? Will I get mugged upon landing and should I even bring a camera? Shortly after moving to Paris my Italian and I took a trip to Naples and Capri, a perfect contrast of dark and light. At once, I became enamored with the chaos and vitality of Naples, or was it the food? My Italian promised that we would return. Finally, almost 4 years later, we did.

IMG_8409This time we were joined by our friends Suzanne and Jeremy, armed with a list of Napolitan specialties both sweet and savory. We headed directly to our hotel in the Spanish Quarter, an area braved by few, hidden within narrow streets. And there began our adventure, and my Naples top 5.

IMG_8741#1: GET LOST. The city is composed of a maze of streets, and getting lost is par for the course.

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#2: WALK TO THE TOP. Along the coast we passed the Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle) and headed up to the Certosa di San Martino (Carthusian Monastery), perched atop the Vomero hill. There we discovered a museum with a vast collection opf Spanish and Bourbon era artifacts, as well as some of the finest Nativity scenes in the world.

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The views from there was breathtaking, highlighted by majestic Mount Vesuvius.

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#3: LEARN HISTORY. On our first trip to Naples we spent an afternoon at Pompeii. On this trip, we decided to explore the lesser known and smaller, but equally important, Ercolano (Herculaneum).

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Part two of our history lesson was spent at the National Archaeological Museum, the most important in all of Italy.

IMG_8699#4: EAT! This perhaps being the most important of the 5, being in the city where pizza originated. And where to find the pizza to top them all? At Da Michele. Trust me.

10003942_10154027585470254_1636954526295859952_nSome of my favorite local spots in the Spanish Quarter being Antica Capri and Hosteria Toledo.

IMG_8417And then there is the coffee and sweets… La Sfogliatella Mary being the best for local specialties.

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#5: SHOP. Naples is famous for it’s tailors, thus making it an ideal shopping destination for the stylish man, more so than for women. My Italian bought a new wardrobe, I bought lingerie.

IMG_8764It was a memorable three days in a city that leaves an impression, and keeps you coming back.

wine country

Having just returned to an empty Paris, I am filled with visions and tastes of Italy. Surprise adventures began as we boarded the plane, enroute to Turin but unaware of the final destination. What was my Italian up to I wondered? With map in hand I tried to search for the secret spot in which we would celebrate. Several hours of suspense along the open road, with nothing but vineyards in sight… And then it dawned on me.

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We were entering the Piedmonte region, land of some of the best wines in Italy.

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Our home was a charming agriturismo near Barbaresco, with views, vines and of course, local wines.

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We explored the region, stopping to admire the views, and taste the local delicacies. Spectacular!

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The following day our adventure began in the village of Grinzane Cavour.

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Shouldn’t everyone spend their birthday at a castle?

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In Barolo, we indulged in a wine tasting and met with one of my oldest friends from the Hamptons. What a perfect setting in which to meet! But it wasn’t until dinner that the real wining began.

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We entered a michelin starred restaurant boasting a breathtaking view, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Was this all an illusion? By far one of the most memorable meals, and days, of my life. From the first glass of prosecco to the trumpet serenade. I will forever look back, and smile.

viva Italia!

Anyone who knows my Italian (or reads this blog) know’s he’s a romantic, and like me, loves to travel. He also loves to plan surprise romantic escapes. Yes, I chose well! For the last few years my birthday was spent in Italy, destination unknown, until we arrived. A few years ago it was a charming agriturismo in Tuscany… and last year hiking in the Dolomites. Both adventures I smile upon. Once again this year, we are enroute to Italy to celebrate. I’ve never before so much looked forward to my birthday! I suspect we are heading south, but haven’t a clue where. Any ideas? Wherever it is, July 29th will certainly be a day to remember!

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After our journey to places yet unknown, we are heading to Monterosso, home on the riviera. You can follow my adventures via instagram and I promise to post photos as soon as I can. Until then, wishing you all a wonderful summer wherever you are in the world!

two years

Today we celebrate our second wedding anniversary. It feels like just yesterday, our wedding on the sea. Yet time and experiences have filled these days with memories. Our life in Paris grows deeper and our bond even stronger. To celebrate, a few memories from then, which we smile upon now.

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And this is only the beginning.

time travel

As many times as I’ve stepped onto an airplane, crossing a continent, it never ceases to amaze me how in mere hours you can be transported through time, or so it feels. Most recently I flew from Pisa, near Monterosso where my Italian and I spent the weekend with his family and friends…

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…to New York City, to visit my family and friends. From what felt like the past, to the future.

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Could there be any two places on the earth more different yet equally loved? Yes, certainly there are. But these are mine. Two very distinct and disparate parts of the world I call home. One for it’s calm and beauty, and one for it’s energy and innovation. And both for their culture. Not to mention all the other parts of the world that became home even for a brief moment. Ah yes, and then there’s Paris…

waiting for the spring…

It’s April in Paris, yet spring still feels far away. It’s been tough to stay motivated during this seemingly never-ending winter (I heard it even snowed in France today!) I’m doing my best to keep busy with designing, and am working on a new summer collection (soon to be revealed…). But until then, I wanted to share my latest video, to creatively demonstrate the versatility of my handbags.

To inspire the coming of spring, I’m offering a special promotion to my lovely (and fashionable) readers. Purchase any bag or purse from the Riviera Collection and receive another of your choice, as a complimentary gift! One for you, and one for a friend. Perfect for your summer travel plans!

Riviera Collection

Wishful thinking that spring (or at least summer) is right around the corner…

 

alpine adventures

Growing up, I used to dance ballet, play tennis, go horseback riding and play the piano, all privileged and pleasurable activities. But never did I learn to ski. My family was not the type to take winter holidays to the mountains, rather we would go to Europe to visit with family in the summer months. I never thought I was missing much until as an adult I began to hear stories about the high of the mountains, feeling the crisp air while admiring the panoramic views. What was this feeling exactly? While still living in NYC I ventured up to Hunter mountain to find out. Though it wasn’t until this past week that I experienced the true bliss that can only be felt soaring down the slopes on a pair of skis, slowly and cautiously in my case. And needless to say, terrified. But determined.

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We arrived to Alpe di Siusi, high up in the Dolomites, on a chilly evening, and woke up to the same view from our hiking adventure in August. Only this time the mountain hues were whites and blues, seeming to change by the hour.

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On overcast afternoons, the snow, mountains and sky would melt together into a blanket of white.

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It was upon these slopes, the less intimidating ones, that I put on my skis, as awkward as it felt, ignored the knots in my stomach, listened attentively to my ski instructor and became a skier.

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The first two days I did my best, counting the hours until it was time for our evening sauna.

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On the third day, having fallen a few times and mastering the smallest slopes, with the support of a friend I made my way down from our hotel at the very top of the hill. I was still in snow plow position but able to turn, rather gracefully I might add. I smiled as my body began to feel in control.

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Finally, I understood. I felt that high that is unique to gliding down a snow covered mountain.

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On our last day the sun shone brightly and it was hard to say goodbye. Until next time…

sweet harvest

This time of year I look forward to the grape harvest in Italy. My first real experience paying homage to the grape was two years ago, and still I drink the wine in memory of those days. This year the harvest was not as plentiful, but my Italian and I set to work and picked every grape we could find.

We decided we would make the local sweet wine, Sciacchetrà, made of select, dried grapes. A real delicacy, and my favorite domestic wine from the Cinque Terre region.

The views alone were reason alone to tangle my way through the vines.

We set the 50 kilos of grapes to dry on a metal net and covered them. In six weeks time the dried grapes would be pressed, natural fermentation would take place, the wine would be filtered, and voilà! Ready to be savoured during the Christmas holidays, to compliment a good dessert.

Cheers to the best Sciacchetrà of Cinque Terre!

mountain escape

This year my Italian planned an unimaginable birthday getaway. Nothing like the surprise trip of two years ago in Tuscany. From Paris we flew to Verona, and drove North, the air more fresh and the scenery more spectacular as the elevation rose. Still, I hadn’t a clue as to our final destination.

The drive was long and winding, until finally the mountains settled upon us.

We drove on until we reached what was to become our home… and our view.

Alpe di Suisi. High up in the Dolomites, elevation of over 2,000 meters. Breathtaking!

Time now to relax and enjoy the views? Not exactly. My Italian had other plans. Ready, set… hike!

And hike we did. My birthday was spent at a height of over 2,500 meters, feeling very accomplished!

The day concluded with a lengthy sauna and gourmet dinner. On all accounts, the perfect birthday.

The next day, feeling rather ambitious, we decided to hike an even greater mountain, Monte Pez.

After nearly 3 hours, we reached Rifugio Bolzano, 2457 meters high, and a well deserved lunch.

I will fondly recall these days spent in the mountains, for many years to come. Forever grateful.

summer celebrations

These days I have much to celebrate. Even simply the path that led me to the city of lights. It’s now nearing 3 years since my move to Paris and the start of my blog, which came to life shortly before that. And inevitably I’m soon to be another year older, on July 29th to be exact. Since Leos love to celebrate, and my Italian knows this well, he has planned a surprise birthday adventure. Four days exploring an unknown landscape. Where, I haven’t a clue, and I am happy not to know. Soon the adventure begins…

For the rest of our time away, I will be sitting beneath the shade of these umbrellas, on the beaches of Monterosso, staring at the sea. Celebrating all that I am grateful for.

lardo di Colonnata

A trip to the marble mountains wouldn’t be complete without a stop to Colonnata, the ancient village which lies in the midst of marble at the feet of the Apuan Alps.

It is not simply this white stone that the village is know for, but another white delicacy called Lardo di Colonnata, pork fat. Having no intention of tasting this particularity, I went in search of gelato.

Needless to say, in this part of Italy, I was limited to savory, not sweet.

As we explored the village beneath the summer sun, we sought shelter at an enoteca. Very innocently the owner asked us if we’d like a little tasting. Of lardo, of course. Well, just once…

Not only was this buttery delicacy mouth-watering, but we were given a lesson in it’s making. Lardo is created by curing strips of fatback with rosemary and other herbs and spices, where it lies beneath marble for many months. Did we order more, with 2 glasses of wine to compliment? But of course!

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this local specialty. Not something to eat often, but if you’re a meat eater, certainly something to try at least once. It’s worth a trip up to the mountains!

marble mountains

Do mountains made of marble really exist? But of course. Naturally, in Italy, where most surreal beauty seems to originate. I have observed these white tipped mountain peaks many a time enroute to Monterosso. But it was just recently that I had a chance to explore them up close. The same marble that so many years earlier Michelangelo hand selected for his sculptures.

It was a spontaneous trip. We drove and drove… into the white of Cararra.

Alone on the road. The majesty of the mountains became ours to savour.

Even a few chipped pieces of marble became ours to save. Next stop, Colonnata….

wearable art

Art and travel. My two great inspirations. And one reason I design, combining these passions into something fashionable and functional. My latest Pop Art collection addresses the more playful side of art and fashion while the Riviera collection transports you to the French and Italian coasts.

The riviera bags speak for themselves, and were shot exactly there, on the Italian Riviera.

To help capture the essence of the pop art bags, I asked none other than art aficionado (and fabulous photographer) Stephanie of La Belle in France. First stop, Palais-Royal! Here are a few favorites from our shoot…

 Untitled. Simply because there are many interpretations.

 City. In the park.

Blue Coils. Very Richard Serra!

Spotlight. Simply because.

To feature these new collections, just in time for spring and summer, I redesigned my website! (Feeling very proud!) This is no easy task, and I would not have been able to do it without the help of my dear designer friend Suzanne, who created her own site, and helped me every step of the way.

To celebrate my relaunch, and to thank you all for your support of my growing business, I’m offering a promotion to my lovely readers and fans. With each purchase of a new Pop Art or Riviera bag receive a complimentary matching purse! (Offer ends June 1st) www.kasiadietz.com

Don’t forget to join us on Facebook and Twitter!

following the sun

Adventures on the Italian Riviera continue. This time upwards. The sun was shining and we decided to follow it, all the way from Monterosso to Levanto, the neighboring village. A two-hour hike high above the calm of the sea and into the wild of the woods. Ready. Set. Go! A long way up…

Finally we arrived to the top. A moment of awe.

A slight detour into the remains of a historic church.

The journey continued into the woods…

Until we reached the other side, met by the setting sun.

Over two hours and many awes later, Levanto at dusk.

Now it was time to follow the moon.

village in color

My last visit to Vernazza was on a hike just a month prior to the flooding. I was afraid of what I would find on my recent return. This village, the favorite of Rick Steves, was devastated, it’s famously picturesque port completely buried. Just recently life has returned to Vernazza, still not nearly back to it’s glory. Much rebuilding remains in the months ahead.

What I was most pleasantly surprised to find were the painted doors. On January 6th, 50 artists were invited to paint one of the many boarded up doors, a mission called “Un Arcobaleno di Solidarietà per Vernazza” — A Rainbow of Solidarity for Vernazza. To bring hope back to this shattered village. In the spirit of community, and art.

A last look from above as the sun set through the clouds, Monterosso far off in the distance. A view that could leave you breathless. And certain that this village will rise again.

For more on aid and progress of Vernazza click here.

village reborn

On October 25th, 2011 Montorosso, one of the most charming and picturesque villages in Italy (yes, I’m slightly biased) experienced devastating flash floods. Over 20 inches of water poured from the sky in a matter of three hours, leaving the ground floor buried beneath mud and debris. Neighboring Vernazza suffered even more severely. The days following would never be forgotten.

My first trip back to Monterosso was during Christmas. My heart sank at the state of this once picture-perfect village. Already the hard work was well under way and sounds of opera filled the air as the local wine bar made a toast to the village. Resilience redefined. I returned again for Easter, my second Pasqua in Italy. What I discovered was a village reborn. Much like I remembered it.

The beach cleaned up, with several remaining boats resting upon it’s shores.

A street once ravished by the flood, bustling back to life.

The much frequented wine bar resting pre-aperitif hour.

A village in bloom, ready for the spring.

The famous pasticerria newly renovated and re-opened.

An acclaimed restaurant, ready again to serve it’s regional specialities. (Mmmm, pesto!)

The main road no longer concrete, but a mix of wooden planks and grates.

There remain parts of the village that have yet to come back to life. In time.

Crossing from the new part called Fegina, into the historic village, it’s difficult to imagine the scenes that took place just months earlier. The waters now calm and clear, the sun smiling down upon the growing numbers of tourists… a village filled with vitality. What the last 6 months have proven is the incredible strength and unity of a village and it’s people. Next stop… Vernazza.

Click here to find out more about Monterosso’s continued progress. Better yet, come to visit!

the heart of a village

view of Monterosso from the sea

Much like with a person, it’s possible to fall in love with a place. I experienced this several times during my journey around the world. But it was Monterosso al Mare, and the breathtaking landscape of Cinque Terre that captured my heart. A serendipitious encounter, or coup de foudre as they say in French, much like the meeting with my Italian. Little did I know this place, that I had promised at least a piece of my heart to, would in time become my home.

Monterosso as the sun sets

This weekend, my Monterosso born Italian and I should be serenely tucked away amidst this dramatic landscape, celebrating his parents’ wedding anniversary upon the same setting where we recently celebrated our own. Instead, the ever unpredicatable mother nature had other plans. As the world is well aware, these 5 towns, particularly Monterosso and Vernazza, have suffered terribly due to intense flash floods.  Global warming being the cause. Several lives lost and many people without homes and businesses, being the result. Within only a few hours, this past Tuesday the region was suddenly hit with 20 inches of rain, causing rivers to overflow and sweep through the villages. Thankfully, my Italian’s family, friends and most villagers are all safe.

enroute to Vernazza by boat

My heart breaks for these people who I have gotten to know through the last few years. Amidst the language and cultural barriers, I have been accepted into this land, not only by my Italian’s family but by the many kind-hearted and hard-working locals. My thoughts and prayers are with all those going though such hardship in Monterosso, Vernazza and neighboring villages.

view of Vernazza

Why I am writing this is not to post photos of the devastation and mourn the loss of a village, quite the contrary. My purpose it to celebrate the strength and resilience of this village and it’s people. Already, only a few days after this natural disaster, so much has been done by the locals and their neighbors, to assist in the clean-up and reconstruction. Even my Italian’s sister has been aiding in cooking for the many left without homes, food, or gas. His aunt, uncle and cousins too. Proof that the heart of a village can overcome even the toughest of obstacles.

a vision of natural beauty

Cinque Terre, and my beloved Monterosso, will remain one of the most beautiful places on earth.

at last

At last, the wedding song. Did we have one? Not officially.

Many months ago when the fairytale began, my Italian and I happened to be in my hometown of Westhampton Beach while the great Etta James was performing. She being one of my all time most loved singers. Me being ecstatic to see her perform live, to say the least. And yes, she sang At Last.

This could very well have been our wedding song, as it is for so many, but instead it remains discreetly in the soundtrack of our love story.

What the wedding singer did perform was a Napolitan classic, requested by my dear friend Maria, a Napolitan girl herself. Not planned yet perfectly timed, Ti voglio bene assai became our song.

Here, where the sea shines
and the wind howls,
on the old terrace beside the gulf of Sorrento,
a man embraces a girl
he wept after,
then clears his throat and continues the song:

I love you very much,
very, very much, you know;
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the veins, you know…

He saw the lights out on the sea,
thought of the nights there in America,
but they were only the fishermen’s lamps
and the white wash astern.
He felt the pain in the music
and stood up from the piano,
but when he saw the moon emerging from a cloud
death also seemed sweeter to him.
He looked the girl in the eyes,
those eyes as green as the sea.
Then suddenly a tear fell
and he believed he was drowning
I love you very much,
very, very much, you know,
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the vein you know…

The power of opera,
where every drama is a hoax;
with a little make-up and with mime
you can become someone else.
But two eyes that look at you,
so close and real,
make you forget the words,
confuse your thoughts,

So everything became small,
also the nights there in America.
You turn and see your life
through the white wash astern.

But, yes, it is life that ends
and he did not think so much about it
on the contrary, he already felt happy
and continued his song:

I love you very much,
very, very much, you know,
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the veins, you know…

I love you very much,
very, very much, you know,
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the veins, you know…

homemade traditions

One of the most memorable chapters of my life took place on a recent sunny day high up on a cliff, overlooking the Mediterranean. Throughout our Greek island-hopping honeymoon (many adventures which I will soon share), thoughts of our wedding left me feeling warm and somehow, complete. All the many months of planning this international affair (with the aid of a certain gracious Italian sister and uncle), were well worth it. (Originally we were tempted to elope!)

As so well articulated in my Italian’s speech, our love story is a cross-cultural one, with roots in the US, France, Poland and of course Italy. This was represented by our mix of friends and family as well as in our celebration.

We enacted the beautiful Italian tradition of the groom greeting the bride at the door of the church and handing her the bouquet. (What a moment!) The church service was a religious tradition which we had both grown up with. No bridesmaids or groomsmen but rather, four witnesses to acknowledge our union.

Being covered with congratulatory cries of “Auguri!” and rose petals was a moment to cherish.

So many other details set the scene, each proving how much love and care was expressed by all.

Compositions of pale blue hydrangeas mixed with white roses and a touch of lily of the valley, representing innocence on the sea (my interpretation), carefully selected by the local florist.

My bouquet of white roses and white ranunculus composed by my mother, flowers being one of her passions. (This designer mom also made my veil!)

Following an apero, a 12-course meal began (Italian style), filled with tastes from the sea. Apparently an Italian wedding is not a good one unless the guests have eaten more than enough.

The meal ended very sweetly, with a local dessert wine, sciacchetra, expertly concocted by my Italian’s father (with our names on the label – surprise!)

The cake was a special (secret) recipe from the local pasticceria, delicious! My Mom lovingly crafted the ceramic couple to top it off. Perfect.

What my Italian and I were happiest with in the end was all the fun that was had. Evident in the singing and even, dancing! Someone once told me Italians don’t dance at weddings. Certainly we challenged this tradition. The revelry began as the sun set beyond the cliffs. And it went on, and on…

Only to arrive home to the final surprise – a bed filled with rice. Another Italian tradition.

queen for a day

On June 11th, I will be a married woman. A madame. For this one day, I will feel like a queen.

What exactly does that mean? I have been thinking a lot about what happens in the process of ‘getting married’, other than a lot of chaos, planning and stress. Followed of course by much celebration and excitement. (Looking forward to that part!) In preparation, if one can actually prepare for this new chapter of life, I have been speaking with the experts. Namely, my married friends. (Wise women!) One of them, Andi Fisher, put me in touch with a real marriage expert, Alisa Bowman. Several months ago she sent me a copy of her book Project: Happily Ever After, and I read it eagerly. She tells the story of ‘saving your marriage when the fairytale falters’. Did I need to read this? No, though I am living what truly feels like a fairytale. But why not live ‘happily ever after’, even before the actual wedding? (I do recommend this book for any married women.)

As I ingest all the advice and prepare for festivities to commence, I also picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s follow up to Eat, Pray, Love, her latest book Committed, all about the history of marriage and her own personal journey. An insightful read which I am indulging in mindfully.

But as I tend to believe, life proves the greatest teacher and I will soon enough discover for myself what it means to be married, and the many feelings that come with my madame status.

Until then, I plan to cherish every moment along the way. With friends from as far away as Seoul, Dubai, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, New York and New Jersey… Paris, London, Florence… The world (my world) is meeting in Monterosso, Italy to celebrate life and love. This is the meaning of it all.

confetti confessions

Planning a wedding in Italy I have been learning many of the traditions. Aside from the fact that you don’t dance at Italian weddings (a tradition I plan on breaking), I am looking forward to our ‘traditional’ Italian wedding and all the customs that come with it, with a few nuances of our own.

One particular tradition I am very fond of is Confetti. (Not at all the paper confetti we are accustomed to in the US.) Italian wedding confetti are white candied almonds bundled into personalized little sachets of five almonds, representing the qualities that must always be part of the new couples life: Health, Fertility, Longevity, Happiness and Wealth.

I had the sweet privilege of tasting the many flavours of these candied almonds. A few of my favorites included white chocolate, toasted hazelnut & pistachio. Is it possible to overdose on these sweet treats? Yes! In the end we opted for the traditional almonds.

Each of these little bags are then distributed to anyone that the family, in this case the groom, has known throughout their life. And in a small village like Monterosso, that means nearly everyone! In turn, those people (roughly 300) often give a small gift or gather at the church to admire the bride and groom. I too gave a few away to those I knew would appreciate this custom.

Confetti is also distributed at other momentous occasions, varying in color depending on the celebration. White for the Wedding, the First Holy Communion and Confirmation, pink or blue for Baptism, green for Engagement, red for Graduation, silver for 25th wedding anniversaries and gold for 50th year of marriage. (Many more almonds to be tasted and shared in the years ahead…)

Where did the Confetti tradition originate? We can thank the  Ancient Romans.

 

best in show

On a recent trip to Genoa, I was lucky enough to attend the Euroflora which takes place once every four years. Considering I am currently on the quest for wedding flowers, it was perfect timing! My Italian too was excited to indulge in this international flower festival, even more so when he saw my face light up at the sight of so many flowers, beginning with exotic orchids in every color imaginable.

My all time favorite, the classic white rose.

The delicate beauty of anemones.

My new love, the ranunculus. Elegant & simply gorgeous!

Yes, flowers do make a woman happy. Now… how to choose?

journey complete

When I first discovered Cinque Terre in 2007, after several days spent in Monterosso under the Mediterranean sun, I was ready for a hike, 12 kilometers to be exact. I took the train to Riomagiorre at the opposite end and my journey began.

I fell in love with Manarola, set so enchantingly upon the sea. (How could you not?)

I became taken with each village and it’s views. Within the Cinque Terre a new world unfolded and I found myself thinking about the lives of these people so isolated from the rest of the world. How inhaling the sky and the sea was part of their daily ritual. I continued on my path, climbing up the steep steps and down again. Corniglia soon became my vista.

When I reached Vernazza I was not only physically spent from the hours of hiking but was in need of a little time to reflect. And a glass of local wine. The sun was setting, and I joined the many stray cats lounging on the rocks for the most spectacular natural light show. (Incidentally, I had heard that the hike back to Monterosso was the toughest part of the trail.)

I was not meant to finish that hike. It wasn’t the right time. (And I’m a firm believer in timing.)

Until now. My Italian and I ventured via train to Vernazza, beneath a temperamental sky, to brave the trail I had left untraveled. The views were even more breath-taking than I had remembered.

Between intermittent rays of sun and rain with barely a soul in sight, we followed the steep 3.5 kilometer path, laughing, singing (not a talent I possess) and a little story-telling. We slowly made our way to what I consider the most beautiful panorama of all.

Home. Journey complete.

Pasquetta

One of my favorite holidays growing up was Easter. Not simply for the American tradition of the ‘Easter Bunny’ and a basket filled with chocolates and jelly beans. (My mother being Polish I rarely received these goodies and took to making my own candy-filled basket.) In addition to blessing a basket filled with eggs, sausage and a lamb made of butter, my Easter celebration consisted of sitting around a table with elderly Polish ladies, taking mental notes on their life stories, and painting eggs, called pisanki. My mom’s always being the most beautiful and elaborate. These eggs, symbolizing the revival of nature,  were meant to be proudly displayed in your basket and shared with friends and family. (In our case, we used them to raise money for the Polish school which I attended.) I grew to love this tradition.

Since my life is now heavily influenced by Italian customs, my Easter celebrations have become even more tasty and varied. Last year we celebrated with my family in the US, along with a blessed basket of Polish delicacies, and a dove-shaped Colomba from Italy, a sweet bread that you can spend all day nibbling on. This year we spent Pasqua with the Italians, in Monterosso. I was lucky enough to share in the chocolate egg tradition, a huge festively wrapped dark chocolate egg revealing a surprise.

Being both a fan of chocolate and surprises I unwrapped the egg with the anticipation of a child. Following tradition, I ‘cracked’ open the egg, found my hand-painted trinket inside, and the chocolate feast began! (And could very well continue for many days…)

The Monday following Pasqua is called Pasquetta, “Little Easter”. A day in which people venture out, plan picnics, visit friends… and of course, eat! I tend to believe this day is reserved for finishing the chocolate egg…

all aboard

What I love about traveling is not merely arriving to the destination but the actual movement from one place to another. The travel. While on the road for 13 months I embraced this ‘time inbetween‘, as it allowed me to reflect on the places seen and to anticipate those waiting to be discovered. Many 12 hour plane rides gave me plenty of time to muse, but it is via train, traveling over land (and perhaps under sea), that I always feel most connected to the journey. Put me on a train, and I am happy. (Even simply the Long Island Rail Road or these days, the Trenitalia.)

My most memorable train ride to date was 48 hours enroute from Lhasa, Tibet to Beijing. I could have easily flown and spent more time exploring China’s capital, but I chose the option of adventure.

With only my thoughts to accompany me, I observing as the worlds of Tibet and China converged in my midst. I was one of a handful of Westerners and shared my sleeping cabin with 2 Chinese men, a Tibetan, and a few good books. My conversations were limited to very basic English as I taught the Tibetan man to play backgammon and in turn he taught me a Tibetan game.

I became a voyeur. Much of my time was spent observing life on the train.

The dining cabin became my ‘room with a view’. The landscape my vista.

The sun rose and night fell. And again. I could have easily spent another 2 days enroute.

One day I hope to board the Orient Express to destinations unknown… But these days I will happily settle for the night train from Paris to Venice.

fruitful days

I am beginning to know the seasons according to the fruits they bear. For the past two years I have looked forward to the Fall for the grape harvest, one which I whole-heartedly participate in, picking, stomping and eventually, drinking the wine. Now, as Winter has turned to Spring, the last of the oranges and many a lemon fill the landscape, ripe for the picking, and tasting. The olive trees patiently await their turn, as do the grape vines, barren of any signs of life.

As I busy myself picking the most succulent of fruit, careful not to step on a strawberry patch as I admire the view of the sea, my Italian’s father carefully grafts the grape vines, anticipating the upcoming harvest. He returns daily to the land, to nurture seeds he has planted, or to plant new ones. I am fascinated by the evolution taking place before my eyes, and understand well what drives the soul to the seed. Very simply, it’s the satisfaction of assisting in the miracle of creation. And certainly, enjoying the fruits of your labor.

In the coming months the yellows and oranges will be replaced by the reds of strawberries and cherries. These blossoms will have metamorphosed into peaches. And I will be there to pick them.

scenes of a village

I first discovered Monterosso during my trip around the world over 3 years ago. It was a seredipitous encounter, completely unplanned. I fell in love immediately. It’s hard not to, being surrounded by so much natural beauty. Little did I know, it was a place I would come to call home.

These days, my Italian and I are settling into life in a village. Home on the Mediterranean. Spending time with family, making wedding arrangements and taking time to taste the oranges hanging in the trees and listen to the sounds of the church bells. It is these scenes that currently compose my life.

Paris feels very far away.

homage to the grape

This past week I learned how to harvest wine grapes. In Monterosso. With my Italian and his father, who has been harvesting for decades. Last year, I merely assisted in stomping the grapes, surely as much fun as it sounds (and largely a tourist attraction I might add). This year, I became a true laborer of the land. Little did I know the travail of such sweet work. And the fulfillment that follows.

Harvesting began at 8am. The view itself was worth the early rise. Acres of stepped land, locally referred to as poggi, covered by vines and olive trees. I was wide awake, as were all other forms of wildlife, namely flies resembling wild mosquitos and sneaky little salamanders. No fear. I took to the task at hand and in meditative rhythm the grape cutting began. With intermittent tasting, to ensure quality of course.

The picking continued for three hours, filling over 12 huge crates. We had finished one piece of land but two more remained. It appeared this harvest was much larger than the last, though the grapes were not as high a quality. Thus sciacchetra (my favorite local dessert wine of Cinque Terre) could not be produced. But white wine would flow!

After a well earned home-cooked meal of pasta and fish followed by a nap on the beach (harvesting is exhausting!) it was time to press the grapes. This part I love. I feel fortunate that my Italian’s father has not modernized the technique. It’s still a very hands on, or in this case, ‘feet on’ experience. 

With great care we crushed the grapes as my Italian’s father collected the juice to add to the 300 liter boiler. Almost as quickly as we finished our grape dance the container was filled. Soon the boiling would begin.

The following day our ‘homage to the grape’ continued. Picking. Eating. Stomping. In 3 months time we drink! I will forever appreciate a glass of wine. Especially one from the Poggi Harvest of 2010.

sharing the {blog} love

It is almost one year since I began a life of love in Paris, and Love in the City of Lights was born. What a journey it has been! Little did I know what I would learn and who I would encounter along the way, and all the friends I would make in between.

Through the experience of sharing my life with fellow expats and even a few hopeful romantics, I have come to know Paris, its culture and its people more intimately. I still struggle to understand (and accept) the many French cultural nuances, but I feel much more at home and much less an outsider. For these fellow bloggers (and many others not mentioned), and my dear readers, I am very grateful. I share this love with fellow bloggers, francophiles around the world, and Paris expats.

One of my first virtual friendships was with Andi of Misadventures with Andi, who blogs about many of my favorite subjects including travel, culture, love and of course Paris, always keeping the conversation varied and interesting. I hope to meet in person on her next trip to Paris! 

On the topic of life in Paris, so many I love! Beth Arnold I have come to know and admire for her sophisticated and unprecedented Letter From Paris. Lindsey, of Lost in Cheeseland shares many an anecdote on life as an expat, often with humor and always with candor. For the latest in goings on in the City of Lights, Kim inspires with I Heart Paris. Many secrets and cultural happenings are revealed by Heather in Secrets of Paris. The stories and visual poetry by Nichole of little brown pen, living between Paris and NJ, always cause me to feel lucky to live surrounded by so much beauty. Though many don’t realize it until living here, Paris is indeed imperfect and Sion brings this to light in Paris (Im)perfect. Marjorie, who is neither French nor has ever lived in France, writes my inner French girl, describing the French art of living. That undeniable je ne sais quoi that is so inherently French!

Of the mommy club which I am not yet a part, but have several expat friends who are, Barbara writes a very real and witty blog about the experience of living and raising children in a foreign country in International Mama. As a super Mama and freelance writer, she also writes The Expat Freelancer to help expat writers find their voice and use it. Another saavy American mama with many a story to tell to aspiring expat mothers is La Mom.

On the topic of food, everyone knows (or should know) David Lebovitz for his appetizing site about all things food related and author of The Sweet Life. I met David at a sexy book signing and hope to cross paths again over crepes at Breizh Cafe. For those with a sweet tooth, Cat, otherwise known as Little Miss Cupcake, creates the most delectable cupcakes! About where and what to eat (as the amount of dining options can be daunting) a wonderful new site recently launched, aptly titled Paris By Mouth. Food porn anyone? Through a good friend I met Cynthia, a writer and adventurous foodie from LA who writes about exactly that in Adventure Eating. All that eating but where to drink? Forest keeps a detailed account of the tastiest cocktails and happiest happy hours in 52 Martinis

On the topic of travel, one of my favorites, there’s a blog I simply love which bridges the gap between France and Italy, both of which I now consider my homes. Robin, a travel consultant and writer with great travel taste, captures the essence of two of the most beautiful countries in My Melange. I am also a fervent follower of the travels of  Granturismo, Lara and Terence, as they travel for 12 months in 24 destinations. Instant nostalgia for my 2007 travels, 13 months in 32 destinations.

New York City will always remain home to me (considering I now have 3, and counting). To keep myself connected to this dynamic city I begin my mornings with a café creme and a cup of Jo, much loved blog by fashionista and new mommy, Joanna Goddard. There are many more NYC blogs I read, including the inspiring and design saavy my turtleneck by Catherine Mangosing of Brooklyn.

I’m looking forward to discovering many more blogs, meeting many more bloggers and fellow expats, and continued adventures and musings on life and love in Paris in year two!

visions of Tuscany

We made our way from Pisa to Volterra in the late afternoon sun, destination unknown. At least to me. The element of suspense is equally unsettling and thrilling, I focused on the latter. Driving along a tangle of dirt roads we approached a house set upon a landscape of olive trees and rolling hills. Immediately I exclaimed ‘Wow, it’s my dream to stay in a place like this!’ ‘Do you think to be a princess?’, replied my Italian with a smile. (Did I really need to answer that?) It was my birthday after all. Needless to say, this agriturismo Podere San Lorenzo, a vision of Tuscany, became home.

For the next few days I was indeed a princess. Tuscan menus tasting of truffles, trips to nearby San Gimignano, drives in the Chianti region…(Aside from my actual birthday in which the weather gods were seeking vengeance, but let’s focus on the visions contributing to the fairytale.)

As far as birthdays go, this is one I will always cherish. And not simply for the landscapes.

destination unknown

When I first moved to NYC I reveled in the unpredictability of every day. Who I would meet, what I would encounter, what thoughts would fill my eager and curious mind. I was filled with faith in myself and trust in the world. Most of the time. Then again, I was 22 and looked at life as one big adventure. It was all about the journey. I didn’t want to know what would happen. Ever. 

The journey has indeed been an interesting one. Having recently followed my heart from NYC to Paris, my life has proven unpredictable in ways I could not have imagined. (Thankfully I was never one to stick to a predetermined plan but rather let destiny play a role). Now, being older and dare I say wiser than those first formative years in NYC, I continue to remind myself of the beauty in the unknown. And how boring life would be if we knew all the answers.

Tomorrow is my birthday. My Italian has planned a surprise trip to where else but Tuscany, one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Little did I know how royally I would be celebrating this day, or any of the events that led me to this life, for that matter. Where we are going I don’t know. Nor do I want to. Now or ever. I am far too busy enjoying the journey to worry about the destination.

passion for travel

There are certain passions or interests, that bond people. Whether it be friends, companions, or those you choose to share your life with. One such passion (the word ‘interest’ simply does not fit here), is my love for travel.

Some of my dearest friends share this passion, leading us to have collected quite an array of travel stories through the years, which we reminisce and laugh about as often as possible. (Beware those not part of the travel clique!) One such story begins in Amsterdam on the eve of the millenium and ends in a castle in Scotland just last week…

Since my first trip to Poland at the age of 2, before my lips could properly utter sentences in either Polish or English, my eyes became larger and more curious. For this I thank my parents. I became fascinated with foreign tastes and sounds, even those as simple as wild strawberries from my grandmother’s garden, and certain vegetables I still can’t find anywhere else in the world. I began to love the energy of movement, being able to play with time, as you pass from one time zone to another. As a child, and even up until a few years ago, I dared not sleep en route, in order to savour the sacred anticipation prior to arrival or reflection upon departure. Now I am more than happy to sleep and wake up rested. (Older or simply wiser?)

When I first met my Italian, aside from the short and sweet exchange that caused a lengthy conversation to ensue (it wasn’t simply his sexy accent that did the trick), we spoke all about travel. As fate would have it, during my around-the-world trip I had spent a memorable 5 days in the village of his birth, Monterosso, and was very pleased to express my enthusiasm for this ‘paradise found’. This village has since become my second home. It was in fact his sense of adventure, having arrived to NYC for a holiday, that led our paths to cross. It was not yet our time during my stay in Monterosso. Yes, patience is a virtue.

Our most memorable (and first) trip to date was Corsica last June. We explored the southern region of this enchanted island, also known as the Île de Beauté. A perfect mix of natural wilderness in the form of uninhabited beaches and needle-shaped mountains. Most spectacular was Bonifacio with it’s majestic cliffs and old town overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Surely a place in which to lose yourself in a myriad of natural landscapes. The dream of Corsica shall soon continue as we are planning to explore the northern region this summer.

Along with this passion for travel which has surely bonded us, comes our affinity for foreign foods, natural beauty, ancient history (more him) and various forms of art (more me). Am I missing anything?

the life of a village

I recently spent a week in Monterosso, home to my Italian. My first taste of this Ligurian village, hidden on the Mediterranean coast, was during my year of travel. I’m not exactly certain who or what propelled me to visit this cluster of villages, known to much of the world as ‘Cinque Terre’, known to me as paradise. I fell in love immediately, particularly with Monterosso and it’s landscape. It’s difficult not to, as anyone who has been to this part of the world knows well. I remember during those days imagining the life of a local, living in a population of no more than 1,700, recognizing each face that passes by in the streets, the only foreign faces being those of seasonal tourists. How would it feel living so isolated from the world, in constant familiarity, a lack of privacy in social affairs, the life of a village. At once fascinating and impossible to imagine coming from a place like NYC.

During this week spent eating, meeting, and always observing, the village appeared to wake up from its winter slumber. I began to look from the inside rather than as an outsider or tourist. It was my third visit and this one felt much more like being at home. All thanks to my Italian and his family. I began to understand the people and the way of life, to feel the intimacy that they shared, if not understand what they said. Each region of Italy contains its own dialect, and one day when I speak Italian (after mastering French of course) I will still not understand the Ligurian locals. But I will continue to say ‘Ciao’ in passing and smile as though I have lived here all my life.

There is much to explore in this region, a true haven to hikers and nature lovers. As I did during my first visit, but now with much greater an appreciation and insight, we took the local train to Riomaggiore, the eastern most village.

From there we hiked to Manarola, considered the most scenic of the five villages. Breath-taking!

Back ‘home’ to Monterosso, saving Corniglia and Vernazza for a Summer tour via boat. It was time to climb the terraces, known as ‘poggi’ and pick lemons and oranges in the family orchard….

 Do as the locals do. Well, almost.