During this crazy time of Covid, I think we are all feeling lost and at odds over how this all will end. Our lives are on hold, our dreams, our plans. Who can even make plans? We have had to re-imagine our lives, our careers and our world as we know it. What has been your biggest challenge? I’d love to hear how you dealt with it.

As a tourism photographer my greatest joy is to share my travels and experiences with you so this year has been a challenge. I love to show you places you might not have thought to go. Of course, I have been staying close to home here in Connecticut and being very careful. I hope you have been enjoying my re-living past experiences and also sharing autumn here in New England. We’ll all get through this but in the meantime, please wear a mask, wash your hands and social distance. This isn’t rocket science and we can all get back to our lives. It’s so simple!

Fall in Connecticut

On to Italy and my continued obsession! What magic does this enchanted ancient land possess that makes us want to go back again and again? You know it’s not just me that is obsessed!

Florence

For certain it is more than just La Dolce Vita, the Sweet Life. There is an easiness here and an appreciation of the land, life, traditions, love and of course, food that keeps us wanting more.

I must discover its magic as I am now obsessed with the beauty it holds. This intrigues me since I am not Italian at all but I keep going back.  Frankly, I would move there if my children weren’t in the USA. But, hey, maybe after Covid, who knows? I think we all realize how short and precious life is and we must meet it where we are. Don’t waste a precious moment, but be smart and safe.

I am struck by how many people keep putting off their dreams for a tomorrow that may never come. My dear friend’s Mom just passed recently and her daughter couldn’t understand why she never did anything with her money? Don’t keep putting off what you want to do. Do what you can to make it happen.
Our dreams need not be big but we all have dreams we want to fulfill while we are alive. No one wants to look back and have regrets in their last hours. My Mom always wanted to see Alaska but my Dad had back issues. While he was in no way handicapped at all, he whined about going until sadly she died without the experience and till the day he died he regretted not taking her there.

Some dreams are easier to realize than others, of course. If you follow my blogs you’ll remember 2 years ago I took my husband to the Italian Grand Prix for his birthday. One of his bucket list moments! Yes, it took saving and planning but we went. Can’t say I suffered for the next 2 weeks LOL!!!

Italian Grand Prix, Monza, IT

I want to continue to share my experiences with you so maybe you might find it worth a trip and if not just enjoy the adventure and experience through my eyes whether in Italy or another fabulous location.

On another note, I’m an accomplished cook, if I do say so myself, and simple Italian meals are my favorite. There is something so special about sitting around a table with good food, wine and chatting with friends and just sharing in life’s ups and downs. Somehow the sharing makes it all easier to bear and makes the good times even more special, especially now.

I’ve fallen in love with the simple traditions in Italy like standing at the counter for your morning espresso and a cornetti (croissant) or the aperitivo (Aperol Spritz for me) time of day, the evening passeggiata (evening stroll) where the only goal is to walk, enjoy, see and be seen. Whether it’s in Positano, Ravello, Florence, Venice or Lake Como the enjoyment of life while in Italy is never taken for granted. Just getting gelato is special. FYI- my fav is the stracciatella!

Aperitivo time on Capri

You find food and the passion for fresh ingredients the fabric of daily life. Growing your own tomatoes and vegetables or olives to be pressed into olive oil or grapes to make wine there is a simple passion that accompanies it all. Where and why did we lose that here in the US? You shop daily for what is necessary and not home grown.

 

Vegetable gardens at Hotel Villa Maria

 

Ancient Olive trees at Borgo Egnazia

I read in a new book recently a comment that really struck a chord. It said: “A holiday is when your habits are broken, when you do new things every day, try food for the first time. There is no routine, only adventure.” (Mimi Thorisson – OLD World Italian)

I feel Italy is a place where family is so important. Their spirit is infectious! Generations sharing and teaching and being together experiencing all life throws our way. Do I belong here? I may find out one day. Having lost both my parents and a dear uncle my family is everything to me.

Wherever in Italy you travel you’ll find a great variety of food based on the region you’re in. The Amalfi Coast, which I adore, is obviously heavily based on the Mediterranean sea so fish and seafood is outstanding. But, travel north to Florence and the Bistecca Fiorentina, a huge steak is king. Restaurant menus vary based on seasonal ingredients to be sure.

Each region is passionate about their food traditions and known for something but this is only a glimpse at the cuisine of that region. There is so much more to Naples than just pizza although its the best in the world!! Of course, we’ve all had Bolognese, Spaghetti alla Vongole, Risotto alla Milanese or Cacio e Pepe (in Rome-OMG!) These just scratch the surface of possibilities waiting to be discovered. The tradition of making fresh pasta etc.

My lunch almost daily in Italy. Yum, I love it!

Of course, it is not my goal here to write a cookbook although I have many favorites but to share my experiences of exploring and experiencing Italy.  Town after town, wandering around finding hidden little trattorias with insanely amazing food that only the locals know about. It’s so fun to explore and find these hidden gems. You cannot do this if you approach any trip, whether to Italy or elsewhere with a list of places to just check off to say: Yeah I went there! What is the point? You want to understand what makes that place special and you cannot find it in a few hours. Most towns have a local tourism office and maps are widely available to help you discover new things. Did you know Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country?

Definitely have a car if you are visiting Tuscany or northern Italy. Driving through Tuscany past sunflowers and vineyards and cypress trees is just breathtaking. Stopping in hilltop towns where life and time slow down. Tuscany’s incredible countryside from San Gimignano, to Siena, to Montalcino to Pienza or to Florence with its amazing cathedral or down to ancient, historic Rome. History is everywhere. I still marvel as I walk through some of these towns at what came before us in these ancient cities. Oh and make sure to try the Brunello in Montalcino. My absolute FAVORITE!!

Siena

Okay and don’t even get me started on pastry!! I am so not a desert person so if you know me you can’t understand my obsession with Sfogliatella!! This ricotta cream filled pastry sometimes called a lobster tail is to die for! I don’t care what it’s called, I love this shell shaped Italian pastry. I have it when I’m in Positano!! Divine!! The thin stacked layers are irresistible.

Sorry if I seem to be rambling but there is so much I still want to share with you. One day we headed out to find a spot I saw on Trip Advisor for lunch in Chianti not far from our home base at Villa Bordoni in Greve in Chianti. When we finally found this non-remarkable location we didn’t think it looked like much and boy were we surprised. We said, “we heard you have great pizza”. The owner laughed and said PLEASE write a note on Trip Advisor and say “we don’t do pizza”- so I did. We were treated to one of the best meals we ever had!!! Hands down!! Not only did we have a great lunch, the owner was a delight! He proceeded to give us a map and mark it up where to go and what to see and all these years later I still have it! I find the people I meet in Italy are so warm, welcoming and generous and so eager to share their knowledge and their country.

Villa Bordoni

My point —- don’t be in a hurry to run from place to place just to say you’ve been there. If you don’t take the time to stop and explore and really see you’ll never experience what you came to find. Don’t go with the intention to check off locations in case you never get back. Look at each day as a special adventure! Enough of my preaching!! Sorry!

The Campania region of Italy is probably my favorite and it has its own special allure. Each region of Italy has its unique characteristics whether landscape, food or customs. Of course, each region is passionate about maintaining those traditions and passing them on to the next generation.

There are so many more places I have yet to explore in every region. Every time I come back, I say ” I wish I had….” However no regrets ever!! Each trip has special memories, whether discovering new foods, new stories or new history.

Wine tasting and lunch at Villa Vignamaggio

Depending on what time of year you decide to travel your experiences will vary. This goes for any trip of course. When I went to New Zealand last year it was just the beginning of spring but it was not warm so be prepared with layers no matter where you travel and expect to be flexible based. on the weather. I have been to Venice and Verona in January and the weather was actually really nice thankfully. I’ve been in September/October  and it’s been sweltering but the city always welcomes you but in very different ways.

I often go to Italy in the fall, but even then the tourism has increased greatly, and the weather can vary but typically it is still beautiful but things start closing down in early October depending where you go. I’ve stayed in some lovely hotels, but by far I am now spoiled after renting an apartment in the Oltrarno area of Florence. I love feeling like I belong, it’s my neighborhood, if even for a week or two.

Ponte Santa Trinita on the Arno River

The country has such diversity whether exploring vineyards, sailing around Capri, hiking in the mountains (Path of the Gods), the mighty Dolomites or on the Cinque Terre.  Maybe you want a cooking class or you want to climb to the top of the Duomo in Florence or the top of the Tower in Pisa.

Hiking on the Cinque Terre

Vernazza

Path of the Gods

I’m in love with Italian food and during this pandemic I have scoured cookbooks for new recipe inspirations. Each region has it’s specialty like Prosciutto, Parmesan or Balsamic Vinegar. I have been to the Amalfi Coast three times and must go back! I must say I prefer to stay somewhere on the coast itself between Positano and Vietri sul Mare. I stayed on the Naples side of Sorrento once and the constant driving was killer! Parking is a nightmare but I loved Sorrento so do spend some time there to be sure!

Sorrento

Buses are a very easy way to navigate the coast. Sit on the ocean side and hold your breath!! However, when I was in Tuscany we rented a car as it is not convenient to get from place to place and we did not have a lot of trouble parking.

Pienza

We’ve travelled many times also by train and it is super convenient and economical. We’ve gone from Milan to Como, Milan to Bologna, Milan to Florence; Florence to Pisa, Florence to the Cinque Terre, Venice to Florence. Pack light is my best advice!!! The train station platforms are spread out and often involve going up and down stairs. By car, we have driven all throughout Tuscany as well as from Vicenza to Asiago to Milan; Naples to Positano; Naples to Ravello; Positano to Pompeii to Matera to Puglia. A car is helpful in the Puglia area also.

Snow covered mountains around Asiago, Italy

In Florence, I love going to the market, seeing what’s fresh and then creating the meal from there. Sitting on the balcony overlooking the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio. It doesn’t get any better than that!!

Mercato Centrale Florence

I was thoroughly captivated by Puglia. Have you been? Seeing how olive oil is made, tasting the difference at Masseria Maccarone was a revelation. I had never been but seeing the ancient olive trees, the famous Trulli of Alberobello and the ancient cities of Matera and Lecce was fascinating and there is much more I want to explore there. Heading to the beach is a welcome distraction from all that walking.

Alberobello

Matera

I’ve travelled north to Milan and Como and north of Venice to Asiago, and yes, I bought cheese to send home. This northern area is greatly influenced by Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia and the architecture and food eflects that. I’ve travelled south as far as Capri, east to Arezzo and west to Portofino. There are so many regions I’ve yet to explore like Umbria, Piedmont, Calabria, and Sicily to name just a few. What’s your favorite so I can add a new spot to my “bucket list”? Tell me what you love about it.

Capri – Faraglioni Rocks from Monte Solaro

I hope you can one day experience this lovely country, feel the history, and how time almost stands still here. Where have you travelled where you felt that somehow you belonged there? What kept pulling you back because it is not just being on vacation. I look forward to sharing more with you. But, enough for now! Follow my blog and check out the blogs on many of these towns for very specific information I have shared in the past. This blog is best viewed on a computer or ipad.

Some of my favorite restaurant spots: (These are only my opinion and I am not being compensated in any way.)
Ravello: Cumpa Cosimo and La Vecchia Cantina Ristorante
Positano: Chez Black, Tre Sorelle, La Cambusa
Como: Ristorante La Colombetta
Bellagio: Hotel Belvedere (lunch)
Florence: The Fishing Lab; Cafe Rivoire
Fiesole: Hotel Belmond San Michele (lunch)
Montefioralle: Ristorante La Castellana
Anacapri: La Zagara
Bologna: Cesari
Vineyard: Vignamaggio wine tasting and lunch
Vineyard: Osterio di Passignano/Antinori – wine tasting, tour and lunch
Gelato and Chocolate:  Venchi

Some favorite cookbooks:
Any cookbook or recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
Mimi Thorisson – Old World Italian
Elizabeth Minchilli – Eating My Way Through Italy
Katie Parla and Kristina Gill – Tasting Rome
Amanda Tabberer – Amalfi Coast Recipes

YouTube: Nicky Positano – Positano Diaries ( love her vlogs about her life on the Amalfi Coast)
Book: Always Italy by Frances Mayes

Links to some blogs of mine to get you started in case you’re new to my page or missed a link above. Most blogs link to other blogs or you can search my website for the area you are interested in. I  have attempted to link the areas I discussed in this story within the story so go back and hit the links after you’ve finished reading. I hope you enjoy.  Please follow and feel free to share.  All of my photos are available for purchase. Please email me for specific requests. robin@lensidesigns.com

The Amalfi Coast

Florence

Milan