The Hanging Dead of Palermo’s Catacombs

Let’s talk about dead people. Not all dead people, though — just the ones hanging on the walls of the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily (in Italy). They are seriously among the most interesting “still around” dead folk on this planet, and you should go see them, too.

But first — let’s talk about them.

The Capuchin Catacombs got their start in 1599, when the (above-ground) Capuchin Monastery’s cemetery was outgrown.  (more…)

VB Award Logo overlay on a rural outdoor scene of green mountains and meadow flowers

Versatile Blogger Award for Horse On The Menu

It’s a real honor to have received the Versatile Blogger Award by Lynne Nieman over at Wander Your Way. This peer nomination community is such a brilliant idea, a way for us bloggers to encourage each other and spread the word about other great work. What is blogging, after all, without each other to bounce ideas off of and learn from?

In fact, if you haven’t already, you should definitely check out Lynne’s fantastic website and blog related to all things independent travel. She even does consulting for your next travel adventure, planning all the little details you couldn’t possibly have thought of to take the stress out of your trip. (more…)

A statue in The City of Como (Lake Como, Lombardy, Italy)

The Notorious Italian “Furbizia”

Since living in Italy, it’s become abundantly clear that there’s a cultural concept Jason and I are (and have been) entirely unaware of. It’s something Italian’s know well and are always on the lookout for, but we have been blind to.

It’s called: furbizia.

The word furbo often means “clever” — but also “sly”, “sharp”, “crafty”, and so on. It’s more sinister meaning is what typically prevails: clever in the sense of “taking advantage” for one’s own personal gain.

Which is a virtue in this country? I’m not sure.

Wooden, hand-painted sign of "Rooms For Rent" hanging from a red post

The 6 Lessons Of Italian Apartment Disasters

No matter whether you’re buying or renting, finding a place to live in a new city or town can be daunting.

You finally find the right place, but it’s out of your price range. You find the right price range, but you’d rather live in a cardboard box than in that neighborhood. Or on that street. Or with those people nearby. You’re always two hours too late to beating the person who “just signed the lease,” or two months too early to the current tenants vacating.

In a foreign country, however, home hunting can be epic. The contractual rules, the currency, even the living standards are different, and then to negotiate all those things through the veil of another language…? Well. You might as well have landed on the moon. (more…)

Entrance to Nazi labor camp, 'Struthof' (Alsace, France)

A Nazi Labor Camp With A German (And His German GPS)

What do you get when you mix a weekend in France with two unwitting Americans, a Nazi Labor Camp, and a German friend with a very German GPS? You get a perfectly awkward—if not memorable—encounter that I could not have scripted better myself.

It’s actually a true story…beginning with Jason’s German friend, Volker Haas (first name pronounced like a mix of ‘Valka’ and ‘Falka’). Back in the 90s, Volker had been an exchange student at the University of Washington (Seattle) where, for a year, he and Jason were roommates in the same house.

Fast forward to September of 2012, with me in Strasbourg, France, obtaining my ESOL Teaching Certificate (CELTA) (right before Jason and I moved to Italy), and…wait for it…THIS is where the Nazi labor camp comes in. Oooh, la la…il y en a plus! (there’s more)

Coffee and cream at a bar in Perugia, Italy.

10 Rules Of The Italian “Bar”

In Italy, you can get your upper and your sedative in the same place. Morning, noon, and night. Want to make that a macchiato? How about a shot of brandy in it? And a pastry…with a glass of prosecco? And then another coffee in the afternoon to ward off the 3pm dull, before aperitivo rolls in around 5:00?

You only need to go to one place: a bar.

How the word bar worked its way into Italian language is a mystery to me (I imagine the French/anglicized term café is not used because it’s too close to the Italian word for coffee = caffé). But I do know that the culture, rules, and rituals of “bar” hopping differ greatly from what we anglophones are used to. So to help orient you for your next Italian travel, here are nine rules to help you navigate Italy’s infamous bar: (more…)

Running the race with Fernando's wife (Val di Non, Italy)

A Snowless Snowshoe Race: Val di Non’s “Ciaspolada”

The gun sounded and they were off. Their pronged snowshoes digging into the trail, sending snow spray in a zealous arc behind them. These were the die hard competitors, leaving the rest of us in the proverbial “dust” at Val di Non’s Ciaspolada snowshoe race that day.

I tried to take it all in — the news helicopters circling overhead, the building-sized sponsor banners, the fanfare and commotion of so many people at one winter sports event. And as I looked out at the land beyond the snowy trail, trying to gauge the distance to the finish line, all I could see was green.

That’s right: green (or greenish-brown, really). (more…)

View of Naples from above the Spanish Quarter (Italy)

The Beautiful Anarchy of Naples, Italy

Naples, Italy, is a kind of old world stage: another time, another country. Another place.

Jason and I took the train into the city from a nearby town, Aversa, where we were staying with friends. We roamed Naples on foot for two whole days, and left feeling like we could have spent two entire weeks. It wasn’t nearly enough time, but it was grand.


Panorama of Panicale (Umbria, Italy)

10 Things To Love About Italy

Madness and mayhem aside, there are a ton of things to love about Italy. I could make countless lists. Lists of favorite foods, most memorable hilltop towns, top stunning views. Cultural quirks. Regional accents.

It goes on…

Instead, I’ll start with just one list: ten of the more memorable things Italy has to offer. Who knows…maybe this is just one of many lists to come. (more…)

Parked scooter in Naples (Italy)

Accidental Scooter Ride In Naples

Some friends of friends from Seattle welcomed us to their home in Naples, “We’ll order pizza!” they said. “We’ll invite all our friends! Come, come….” And so, thrilled to hang out with some genuine napoletani, Jason and I took the metro to their neighborhood.

And we waited for their call.

When Umberto showed up on a scooter, we hadn’t been prepared to hop on back, one-at-a-time, and weave through the streets and the traffic to get to their apartment. It may be the stuff people dream about when they dream of Italy…’Roman Holiday’ meets the millennium.

But I was palpably terrified. (more…)

Val di Non mountain view, from Fondo (Trentino)

Seattle To Italy In One Not-So-Fell Swoop (Part 3)

This is the final post in the series, Seattle To Italy In One Not-So-Fell Swoop, including:
Part 1 and Part 2.

Today, most of Jason’s remaining Italian family live up north, far from Puglia’s pane e pomodoro. Relatives on his mother’s side reside mostly in Milan, while his father’s relatives are clustered in a valley far off in the northern Alps. A valley called: Val di Non.

To get started on our own immigration process, we knew we would need the help of family, and since Milan was not a place either of us wanted to live, it was: “Apple valley, here we come!” (more…)

French Baguette

Seattle To Italy In One Not-So-Fell Swoop (Part 2)

This is the second post in the series, Seattle To Italy In One Not-So-Fell Swoop, including:
Part 1 and Part 3.

Our original plan had been to settle in France — not Italy.

I found an Intensive ESL Teaching Certificate Program in Strasbourg (yes, it’s France), and while I studied how to be a better English teacher, Jason flew to Italy to urge along his family’s application for citizenship.

For our first month in Europe we were living apart, like this. On either side of the Alps. And it seemed like we might be able to make this work: me working in France, Jason eventually coming north once he wrapped up his citizenship paperwork in Italia.

But plans are meant to be altered. (more…)