2016 Travel Recap

Honestly, I can’t say I’m sad to see 2016 go. I don’t remember ever hearing so many people talk about how awful an entire year was. For numerous reasons, I think it’s safe to say the world is looking forward to starting anew in 2017.

This year’s travels have been extra special to me. In the spring, I decided to make videos after each trip and take my loves on monthly digital vacations. The response has been overwhelming and as cliche as it sounds, I’m so thankful to be able to share my journeys with them.

Below is a recap of my 2016 weekend getaways. 2017 is already filling up, and I’m ecstatic for all that is to come. ❤

January: Philippines for LIG Marian Rose Mission Trip

February: Weekend in Rome

April: Weekend on Lake Como

June: Weekend in Peru to visit Machu Picchu

July: 24 short hours on the Amalfi Coast

August: Weekend in Norway and VV for my 2 year anniversary

September (trip 1 of 2): Weekend on the island of Ischia

September (trip 2 of 2): Weekend in Portugal

October: Weekend in Rome and Stockholm

November: Weekend in South Africa for a Kruger National Park safari

December: Weekend in Sweden and Poland for Christmas Markets

Favorite Spots in Italy by Season: FALL

It’s no secret that I’m in love with Italy. Come August, I will have visited a total of 21 separate times. Excessive, I know, but one should not deprive themselves of the things they love. 😉 I’m often asked about “the best” place to visit, and my response is always the same: What time of year are you going? Do you like cities or the country? Do you prefer beaches or lakes? Are you a wine connoisseur or more of a foodie? There’s no way I could choose one location to recommend to everyone; Italy is incredibly diverse, and certain spots are best during particular seasons. In my opinion, they are as follows for fall:

Amalfi Coast

The famous Amalfi Coast is, without a doubt, all it’s cracked up to be. However, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone travel there in the summertime. Personally, I’m not a fan of “tourist traps,” and that’s exactly what you’ll find Positano to be from June thru August; it’s insanely expensive, everyone’s speaking English, and food is cooked to foreigners’ tastes (in other words, it stinks). You’re elbow-to-elbow in the streets and traffic is horrific. Full disclosure: I once hit a person on via Cristoforo Colombo with my car. We were crawling and I just bumped him with a side view mirror, but still!

September on the coast is incredible. The weather’s still amazing, prices are more reasonable, and towns are way less crowded. If you’re looking to stay in Positano, Albergo California is hands down the best I’ve come across thus far. Its views and location are unmatched; it’s a short walk down to the beach, shops, and restaurants, with no mountainous hill to scale on your way back up with a belly full of pasta and gelato.

The well-known isle of Capri is a short boat ride away, but I honestly prefer to do something different: right next door in Praiano, you can rent a boat for way cheaper and even be your own captain! As a plus, you’ll spend time on a more secluded beach and jump from tiny cliffs into the Tyhrrenian Sea. Check out La Sabilla for rentals and Il Pirata for the inevitable appetite you’ll build up swimming through grottos.

  • How to arrive: The best way, if you can stomach it, is by car. The airport in Naples (NAP) is super close, and the ride is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. Windy, narrow roads scale the cliffs overlooking the sea and even on the cloudiest day will leave you breathless. There are no quick, convenient public transportation routes for most of the hot-spots, and transit in and around Naples is unfortunately shady anyway. 😦 *I can say that because I’m Napolitana*

Piedmont Region

One of the reasons I love autumn so much is that I’m obsessed with its colors. Two of the best places I’ve been for fall foliage are those I’m writing about here: the vineyards in Piedmont and forests in Veneto. Both regions are breathtaking at any time of year, but September and October are particularly stunning in my opinion. Though Piedmont is much further north than its well-known Tuscan counterpart, it is also known for its wine and vineyards. La Morra is one of my personal favorite towns to day-trip to; not only is it beautiful, it’s a mere 20 minutes from the annual October Truffle Festival in Alba.

Wine and truffles aside, Piedmont is also known for its hot chocolate, though it’s likely not what you’re imagining; it’s basically the exact opposite of our powder/water mix. Think melted, thick, mind-blowing hot fudge. :-O

  • How to arrive: I promise I’m not totally biased, but renting a car is often the way to go. Nothing beats driving through Italy, especially amongst vineyards and tiny villages! You can arrive in Torino (TRN), which is also a great city to explore, or Milan (MXP) if you’re strapped for cash – Torino usually requires layovers and is at least a few hundred dollars more expensive than further-away MXP.


Veneto: Dolomites & Lakes

Place #2 I’m most in love with for fall foliage as mentioned above: i Dolomiti. Words cannot express how absolutely breathtaking the Dolomite section of the Alps can be in autumn. The mountains themselves are tinted pink, and the forests and lakes that surround them are spectacular. To get the best views, I recommend either hiking or taking long drives. One of my favorite routes is Passo Giau, which is most easily accessible by, you guessed it, car. Many cyclists often take this route as well, and they’re obviously out of their f;ing minds – it’s insanely steep! :-O There’s a restaurant at the top of the mountain that’s pricey but a nice place to stop. The drive itself is stunning and there are plenty of photo-ops along the way, so take your time if you can.

Of the Venetian lakes, Sorapiss is of the most spectacular: surrounded by now-colorful fall trees, its sky blue tint is striking. The journey there is brutal, though, as discussed in previous posts. The only way to arrive is by trekking and while it’s totally worth it, the experience was so frightening that I would never attempt it again. Sorapiss is not for the faint of heart or out of shape! :-O

Though just outside the Veneto region and into Trentino, Lago di Braies is too incredible to not be included, especially in the fall. This one’s easy and can be reached by car or bus, so it’s safe to leave your trekking stick at home (Grazie a Dio). Unlike sky blue Sorapiss, Braies is the most incredible shade of green. Honestly, it’s indescribable, and the photos don’t even do it justice. It’s an easy walk around the perimeter; I’ve seen plenty of people with dogs and strollers navigate it with no problem. Bring your jacket, though; as this lake is further north and nestled in the mountains, it’s likely much chillier than where you’ve arrived from!

  • How to arrive: As you probably got by now, Milan is the cheapest, most convenient airport to fly into when visiting Northern Italy. Its convenience is due to the fact that there are tons of direct flights, but MXP is not necessarily super close to where you want to end up, especially if traveling to Veneto. Venice (VCE), Treviso (TSF), and Trieste (TRS) are much nearer, but VCE is the only airport with direct flights and all three are consistently way more expensive than Milan. If you’d rather not drive so far from MXP, you can hop on a fast train to Venice and jump in a Fiat500 there. B-)

Where It All Began <3

Since I sent out my infamous “Rome Tips” document for the ~25th time last week, i figured I should post it here so that others can hopefully use it as well. 🙂 Rome is where my love for Italy began. Growing up, I’d drive my parents crazy about going on a trip to Italy. I joke that my ancestors have always pulled me there, and I’m believing more and more that this truly is the case. I took one step off our Alitalia flight in 2003 and was home.

I’ve since been back to Italy a total of 15 times, most of which have included Rome (if even for a day!). Below are some general notes and tips I’ve recorded over the years.

Getting to the City

  • Upon arrival at FCO Airport, follow signs for the Train Station (Stazione, Treno, etc.), and take the train to Roma Termini, the main train station in Rome
    • Should cost ~€14 per person and take about a half hour
    • It’s called the Leonardo Express train and has no other stops, so it’s very easy
    • Purchase your tickets at an electronic ticket booth before boarding the train and be sure to validate them before you hop on (you’ll just insert them into a validating machine that will stamp them)

Top Sights

  • Villa Borghese, the Central Park of Rome
    • VB is beautiful to walk around and inside is a museum, a great zoo, lots of fountains, etc. It’s easy to get lost in, though!
  • You can exit the park at Piazza del Popolo if you’d like, which is a big, beautiful piazza that gives way to three streets that are known as “il Tridente” – Via del Babuino on your left, Via del Corso down the middle, and Via di Ripetta on your right (when the Piazza is behind you and you’re facing the three streets)
    • Il-tridente-di-Piazza-del-Popolo
    • Via del Babuino will take you to Piazza di Spagna, where the Spanish Steps are
    • Via del Corso is excellent for shopping!
      • All the way at the opposite end of Via del Corso is Vittoriano/Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele (aka Wedding Cake Building, one of the most beautiful buildings in Rome IMO!)
      • Italy 107
      • Take the elevator to the top for incredible views of the entire city, especially the nearby ruins and Coliseum (€7 per person, totally worth it!)
      • The Coliseum and ruins/Roman Forum are right behind this building, and the Capitol buildings are also nearby (to the right when you’re looking directly at it)
    • Via di Ripetta will lead you toward the Pantheon, although it’s off on a side street (there will be signs)
      • Breathtaking structure, especially from the outside
    • La Fontana di Trevi (the Trevi Fountain) is between Via del Corso and Via del Babuino on a side street, and there will be signs for that as well
      • The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are most stunning at night, when all lit up and less crowded, so try to also stop by as late as you can (while walking home from dinner, etc.)
      • IMG_6450 IMG_0818
  • The Vatican and its museums are stunning and well worth however long it may take you to get in
    • Best time to arrive is at the end of the afternoon, around 3PM, as it closes at 5:00 and is insanely busy earlier in the day (especially in the morning!)
      • Lines will be much shorter at this time, and you’ll be able to move through quicker
      • Can get there via metro on the red line (the stop is Ottaviano)
      • IMG_0841
    • If possible, visit the Papal Gardens and the Catacombs (underground, older Vatican with the tombs of past popes)
      • Note: if you get claustrophobic, the Catacombs will be difficult to walk through
    • Be sure to rub St. Peter’s foot for good luck!
    • Your knees and shoulders must be covered to enter – no tank tops, short shorts, etc.
    • The Pope hosts a Papal Audience almost every Wednesday. It’s not a full blown mass, but rather a chance to see and pray with Pope Francis
    • The Vatican is across the river, and as you’re walking back towards it you approach the Castel Sant’Angelo (it’s huge! & can’t be missed!)

Getting Around

  • The metro system is extremely easy to use! There are only two lines, the red A line and the blue B line, but they’re in the process of building a third
  • Almost all stops you’ll need are on the red line, except for the Coliseum which is on the blue line
    • Most stops of your interest are named according to the attraction that’s nearby (ex: Spagna for Piazza di Spagna, Colosseo for the Coliseum)
    • There is also a tram, but it shouldn’t be necessary to use to see anything popular (unless of course you’d just like to try it!)
    • HOWEVER, everything you want to see in Rome is in walking distance! You can literally walk around the entire city to cover everything, and although it wasn’t built in a day, it can be seen on foot in just two! 😉
    • 6a013483a13a94970c014e8a1c86aa970d-500wi
  • The main station, Termini, is where you’ll arrive from the airport. It is probably THE shadiest spot in the city. Be mindful of your belongings and try to avoid staying in a hotel that’s close to the station, as its surroundings are ugly & unsafe as well

Where to Eat & Hang

  • Piazza Navona is a popular tourist spot for restaurants, but it is expensive and not super authentic
    • Beautiful to walk through, though! Definitely check it out
  • Via Veneto is huge for restaurants, but is even worse than Piazza Navona (they will rip you off in a heartbeat and the food isn’t spectacular)
  • Note: remember that there is no tax on food in Rome, nor are you required to tip anywhere in Italy. In fact, you are expected NOT to tip, as it is not customary. If taxes or tips are added to your bill, you can ask that they be removed, as there is no basis for them
  • The less Americans there are around, the better and more authentic the restaurants will be
    • Don’t bother going into a place that has a waiter outside trying to lure you in – tourist trap!
    • I’ve found that there are great authentic restaurants near the river (although not directly ON it, as they can be touristy and expensive as well)
  • Campo dei Fiori is a popular night-time spot, especially for tourists
    • It’s a piazza with tons of bars and people from all over the world
    • Always a lot of fun!
    • Wine Bar Camponeschi is right outside the piazza and is one of my favorite restaurants in Rome
      • I’ve never seen a tourist there, only Romans
      • Their carbonara sauce is the BEST!
      • The address is Piazza Farnese, 50/50a
      • Phone #: +39066874927
    • Casa & Bottega is my favorite lunch spot
      • Right across the river on your way back from the Vatican/Castel Sant’Angelo
      • The address is Via dei Coronari, 183
      • Phone #: +39066864358
  • There’s a pub crawl that leaves from the Spanish Steps every night that I personally think is amazing. It’s cheap (it at least was around €25, not sure if it’s gone up) and includes unlimited PIZZA, shots at the door of every bar, unlimited beer & wine, a T-shirt, & free entry at each stop, including the club at the end. I don’t even drink and I love it. We did this crawl almost every weekend when I studied abroad in Rome!

Side Notes and Tips

  • Italian country code (for telephone calls) is 39, so if you’re calling an Italian number, you’d dial +39 and then the number
    • You can add an international plan to your phone for $30 (Verizon), but it’s limited and automatically charges you if you go over your tiny amount of data
    • It’s cheaper to get a Vodafone SIM card once you arrive and switch your SIM out
      • Usually €30 for the card and your plan, and you’ll be able to make calls, text, & use data, and it should last your whole trip!
      • You’ll have an Italian phone number but all of your stuff will be the same (pictures, contacts, etc.)
      • They sell them at airports and in big train stations
  • US country code is 1, so you’d dial +1 and then the number of anyone you’re calling back home
  • The maps they give out at hotels are cartoon-like with photos of monuments but are very helpful! The city itself can be confusing to navigate around, but everyone speaks English and can help!
  • ATMs are called Bancomats and they are all over the city
    • It is cheaper and easier to take money directly out of your checking account this way, as exchanging cash will cost you more and you don’t want to have much cash on you unless necessary anyway
  • It is not customary to sit down for coffee in Italy
    • Instead, stand at the “bar” and drink it/have a small breakfast like a croissant
    • Bars in Italy refer to coffee shops, although many also serve alcohol as well
    • “Un caffe`” is not a regular American coffee, but rather an espresso
      • “Caffe` Americano” is American coffee (the closest thing to it, at least!)
  • As in any city, always be mindful of your belongings
    • I keep my phone and wallet tucked into my pants and under my shirt to be safe
    • Don’t accept help from anyone who approaches you at the train stations, etc.
    • Rome is not dangerous by any means, but we Americans can be easy targets!! 😉
  • Building #s come after street names in Italian addresses, and street names are found on the sides of buildings as opposed to on actual street signs like here in the US
  • There is no tipping in Italy! Though it feels so uncomfortable for us as Americans, it is NOT customary to leave tips at restaurants, in cabs, etc.
    • If you really enjoyed interacting with your server and found them to have gone above and beyond, you can certainly leave them something, but don’t feel like it has to be 20%! A couple euro coins would be plenty (honestly!)
  • Driving is on the same side of the road as us
    • Most cars are stick-shift, not automatic, so if you’re renting, be sure to specify that you want automatic and not manual!
    • Tolls can be paid in cash or credit card if your rental doesn’t have “Telepass” (their version of our EZ-Pass)
      • In many cases, you’ll pull up to a tollbooth and take a ticket. Before you exit the highway, you’ll go through another toll booth where you’ll insert your ticket and be given the price
      • Though there are illustrations to help, if you’re paying with a credit card look for “CARTE” on the signs up top to know which lane to stay in
    • You won’t see many cops on the road, but the Italians are definitely watching your speed!
      • There are cameras all over, so be sure to stay at a reasonable speed or you’ll come home to a speeding ticket in the mail! I get one every single time I’m there
    • Their signs are different than ours, so it can be confusing to determine what’s a one-way, where you can and cannot park, etc. See my previous post for details
  • You can drink/fill your water bottles from any fountain in Rome. The water is clean and SO GOOD!
  • The fountain at Piazza di Spagna was just restored, and it looks amazing! They’re still working on the actual building at Spagna but it’s worth the trip regardless
  • The Trevi Fountain, unfortunately, is still undergoing restorations 😦

I hope this helps! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out 🙂

To Stay or Not to Stay…

I’m currently in the midst of a too-familiar dilemma. Set to take off for Poland and Germany in 8 hours, I’m feverishly adding up miles and calling airlines to possibly extend my stay in Europe. I’ve been notorious for doing this in the past, but have since stuck with weekend trips to avoid missing work or school (as I’ve written about before, I absolutely hate taking off). However… as it turns out, I’m already off next week. Truthfully, I haven’t worked since the day I left for Vienna.

This last-minute predicament pales in comparison to the one I faced in February. I’ve been meaning to post for days about Austria and my 24 short hours on the ground, but my thoughts have been preoccupied to say the least. After attending a networking event for work, I was approached and recruited by a nearby assisted living facility. Just four miles from my apartment, this new place – I’ll call it il Sogno for now – features an Alzheimer’s unit and offers considerably more patient/family interaction, tremendous room to grow, and a 401k. Davvero?! Are they reaching out to the right person?!!

No brainer, right? I wish.. I wish I hated Senior Helpers even a little bit. I wish my bosses were jerks or the girls I worked with were obnoxious. I wish I’d count down the minutes until Friday and dread waking up on Monday. This, however, was not nearly the case. I loved Senior Helpers. In the two short months I was there, I not only learned a tremendous amount, but also met some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. I was sick over the decision to be made, and even took a week to think about it after receiving my former offer letter (the nerve! I couldn’t help it!!).

Thankfully, despite the horrifying scenarios I had imagined I’d face, my decision was met with support and understanding. Il Sogno is not a competitor but rather a potential referral source, and I was adamant about SH being their primary referral. Not because I feel guilty, but because I truly believe they’re the best of the best. I’m beyond grateful for the knowledge, insight, and experience my bosses and colleagues were able to provide me with in such a short amount of time. You truly can’t predict the paths your journey will present to you, but you do decide which ones to take. I hope this weekend’s leads to Italy

VV, I’ll Miss You Forever </3

As my precious time in Italy has ended, I wanted to compile a list of what I will and won’t miss about living in the most incredible country in the world…

What I’ll Miss:

  • SECURITY: I have not sensed one ounce of insecurity on anyone; men cross their legs and hug each other, women dress stylishly yet comfortably, and everyone seems to eat and drink what they want (though in much smaller portions!).
  • SELF-EXPRESSION: Similarly, Italians are edgy! They’re not afraid to express themselves and don’t seem to worry about being judged. They rock crazy hairstyles, outfits, etc. – I give them a lot of credit!
  • PERSONAL SPACE: There is no such thing as personal space in Italy. Not only do people stand extremely close to each other, but it is also socially acceptable to stare. If someone looks at you too long in the US, it’s seen as confrontational (or, at minimum, creepy). I don’t get “skeeved” easily and I’m a fan of strong eye contact, so I’ll honestly miss these!
  • CLASS: Italians and Europeans in general are open, yet classy. Neither sex nor nudity is shameful, and they’re typically presented very tastefully. Exception: male speedos on the beach.. nothing tasteful about them. 😐
  • AFFECTION: Whether you’re an acquaintance, close friend, family member, or lover, you will be greeted with affection in Italy. Even men are affectionate with each other!
  • RELAXING: Italians relax. All stores close for a few hours in the afternoon, as workers are entitled to a real I can’t tell you how many times I walked a mile to the grocery store just to find it closed! That aside, Italians get way more vacation time a year than we do. Actually, European law mandates that every country offer at least four weeks of paid vacation. Italians work hard, but they take time to rest, reflect, and regroup, as well.. usually in the most incredible spots.
    • Note: they even take a break at the movies. IMG_5980
  • PASSION: Italians are passionate in everything the do – in how they talk, how they love, how they fight, and how the feel in general. It’s so inspiring.
  • DRIVING: As I’ve written about before, Italians are psychotic on the road. I love it because I’m crazy, too (sorry Dad!), but most of my friends who visited hated it! They drive fast, tailgate hard, never use blinkers, and will pass you in risky situations – like, while scaling a mountain on the Amalfi coast with oncoming traffic quickly approaching risky. It’s absolutely thrilling B-)
  • CARE: Italians truly take care of each other: the sick, the elderly, the disabled.. and they respect each other. As far as I’ve seen, there’s no stigma on mental health in Italy like there is in the US – not even close!
  • SOCIALIZATION: Italians socialize and enjoy each other’s company, face-to-face and leisurely. They don’t take their coffee to go – they drink it at the bar. They seldom rush – even the trains take their time! They know there is more to life than working and running. The only time I’ve felt a sense of urgency in Italy was in the left lane on A13.
  • MARKETS: Italians shop at markets where you can find nearly anything you need. At least in the north, each town has its own market usually one morning per week. VV’s is on Monday and spans over several blocks, featuring clothes, food, accessories, décor, household appliances, and even smaller furniture.. and it’s all cheap! I will miss those markets like crazy.
    • IMG_7714
  • RECYCLING: It seems as though recycling is HUGE in most of Italy, or at least up north. There are separate bins for paper, plastic, glass, regular garbage, etc. EVERYWHERE. They are hardcore recyclers!
  • POSING: Has anyone ever noticed that Italians don’t smile in pictures? At least not with their teeth. After some inquiring, I learned the consensus is that people look like bunnies when they smile with their teeth. I’ve yet to master the Italian photo pose, but practicing it continues to crack me up.
  • FOOD: I think it goes without saying that I’ll miss the food in Italy, but not only because of how delicious it is. I’ve eaten more here than I ever have at home, but my body is probably in the best shape it’s ever been (even better than when I was in my prime at a youthful 19). All 20 regions of Italy are against the cultivation of GMOs; the country is fiercely concerned with the quality of its products, and it shows. I’m eating a ton, but eating well and healthy. It also helps that Italians walk/cycle everywhere, and elevators are few and far between. Endless stairs, my butt thanks you. :-*

What I Won’t Miss:

  • LAUNDRY: I will not miss doing laundry in Italy even a little bit. Washing machines have literally 30 different settings on average, and dryers don’t exist. My balcony is covered and gets a limited amount of sun exposure, plus I live in a valley between the Dolomites so there’s always rain and humidity. My clothes, therefore, take days to dry; once the ~3 hour wash cycle is complete, I hang them outside and pray for good weather.
    • IMG_1131
    • IMG_1129
  • BUGS: Italians don’t put screens on their windows, so there are no bug barriers. This country is a jungle. When I first moved into my apartment, there were flies and spiders everywhere and I even had a lizard roommate. I put so much pesticide in this studio that I should be dead. However, I do admire how carefree Italians are when it comes to bugs; everyone just coexists.. I’ll be having a conversation with my landlord on our balcony and be cringing as gnats are swarming and she won’t even flinch. What are we so worried about, anyway?! (JK bugs, I’m still scared so please don’t follow me home)
    • Roomie: IMG_8419
  • POST OFFICE: I’ve read horror stories about the Italian postal system, and they’re all f’ing true. First of all, as much as I’ve praised the Italians for not rushing, I’m all about tracking my packages online and impatiently awaiting their arrival. Tracking is unreliable and packages are not delivered if you aren’t home when carriers arrive. To pick them up, you have to go to the post office, pick a number (like when you’re at a deli), and wait to be called. Italians apparently take off work when they need to go to the post office because that’s how long the process takes. My first experience ended in being told I had to return the next day after waiting nearly two hours because my package was “special.” It was a book. 😐

In Love and War

As two weeks of playing tour guide to friends winds down, I finally have some time to sit and reflect on what’s gone on lately. It was brought to my attention that an American movie was filmed in my tiny town of Vittorio Veneto in the 1990s, so I of course had to immediately rent it on iTunes. In Love and War takes place during the First World War and documents Ernest Hemingway’s experiences as a Red Cross volunteer. Apparently, he was injured and fell in love with one of his nurses during recovery. Their relationship unfortunately did not work out ( why couldn’t the movie just pretend?! 😦 ), and it is said that Hemingway remained forever heartbroken over his first love, Agnes von Kurowsky.

The film is so incredibly cool to watch because I live in the heart of its setting and it hasn’t changed a bit. Being a historic town, VV looks as though it did during both World Wars (or at least extremely close to it). After playing In Love and War on repeat and sulking about the breakup, I began researching “Ernie” and pulling together some of my favorite quotes of his.

“There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get, you will have a good life. A good life is not measured by any biblical span.” – found in For Whom the Bell Tolls

“Try to learn to breathe deeply, to really taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, to really sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good & angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

“Out of all the things you could not have, there were some things that you could have.. & one of those was to know when you were happy, and to enjoy all of it while it was there and it was good.”

“Life is unpredictable; it changes with the seasons. Even your coldest winter happens for the best of reasons. And though it feels eternal, like all you’ll ever do is freeze, I promise spring is coming, and with it brand new leaves.”

“You talk like a timetable. Did you have any beautiful adventures?” – found in A Farewell to Arms

“Worry a little bit every day and in a lifetime you will lose a couple of years. If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry. Worry never fixes anything.”

“I can’t stand to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.” – found in The Sun Also Rises

“Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the romance of the unusual.”

As I’m sure is apparent, the excerpts I’ve shared are all related in that they have to do with living and appreciating life. Hemingway, though perhaps broken and in pain (he married four times and eventually took his own life), certainly offered great advice about living. In the scheme of things, our time on Earth is so excruciatingly short.. to worry serves no purpose, to wait is ludicrous, and to simply exist is one of the saddest ways to spend your days.

Conversational in Italian, Fluent in Pavarotti

     Since I recently left the kennel ( </3 ), I’ve decided to update my resume to be sure it’s reflective of where I’m at now. I have a “Skills” section at the bottom where I mention that I’m “Conversational in Italian,” and I’m impatiently waiting for the day that I can confidently change it to “Fluent.” I probably have a solid 10 years before I’m close, so Conversational is staying for now. I am, however, tempted to include “Fluent in Pavarotti” below my subpar Italian skills, and I have my loves and this trip to thank for that.

     According to Paula Spencer Scott:

“The arts have an amazing power to reach people with dementia. When rational language begins to erode, symbolic emotional communication remains. That is what art is, symbolic emotional communication – sharing a vision of the world through gestures, words, sounds, images. Shared communication of any kind can bring people suffering from loneliness and isolation into community.”

     She goes on to specify that “lyrics can stay in the brain even after language skills are lost; music can be a real source of joy.” How nuts, right?! We’ve all of course experienced this to some degree – an old favorite pops up on shuffle and we’re able to excitedly recite every word. Songs often evoke memories, too. I always make playlists for my trips so that when I’m home, I can be reminded of that vacation and how it made me feel.

If it hasn’t been apparent already, I truly value and appreciate what Dr. Taylor writes in his essays (being that he is battling Alzheimer’s himself):

“Singing something, anything, from children’s songs to hymns, from the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah (I can still recall the first note for tenors) to any and all Beatles songs, helps me feel that I am feeling okay and, in fact, good.”

     It’s no secret that music is an incredible therapeutic tool. My only dilemma initially was that I am not, in fact, a ninety-something year old nonna; I didn’t grow up here, I understand next to nothing when I hear different dialects, and the closest thing I’m familiar with to an old Italian song is “Dominick the Donkey.” While my site doesn’t offer formal music therapy, a few patients are avid (and loud) singers. I began to decipher as much of what they were belting out as I could, then searched Google for the rest of the lyrics and to find the title. The clouds parted and God presented Luciano Pavarotti, one of the most successful operatic tenors of all time. Thankfully for me, he’s covered almost every top hit amongst my audience.

Our day to day has changed. While not a music therapist, I am a self-proclaimed Pavarotti cover artist and enthusiast. My laptop speakers blare songs with all their might, and   w e   g o   n u t s; we f’ing scream those lyrics, thanks in part to the advice of Dr. Taylor:

It is best to sing out loud and loudly. Thinking about singing is like thinking about sex. It is much, much more satisfying if done with all of your body instead of just between your ears. It is much, much more satisfying if others can and do join in.”

     What has this incorporation of music done besides wake our neighbors? It’s allowed us to let loose, have fun, and simply enjoy each other. A loud singer is a lot less aggravating to others if they themselves have joined in too. It has also, and most importantly, facilitated communication and elevated mood. There are nonnas who I actually believed to be unable to speak that have since blossomed into some of the most caring, outgoing, and affectionate patients that I have the pleasure of loving every day. One in particular hadn’t smiled or spoken once in the weeks that I’d known her; I had ignorantly assumed her to be either shy or too far cognitively impaired to converse. She is one of my most passionate (and vocal!) back-up singers today, and she does not stop hugging, kissing, or smiling.

I cannot forget my nonnos, some of whom can often be particularly cranky (am I the only person who adores cranky old men?!). One of my favorites enjoys sharing stories about his hometown (my Roma ❤ ) but becomes more forgetful and likely disinterested when in an unfavorable mood. Though not a singer himself, after our concerts he is without fail more cheerful and able to recall that which he had difficulty remembering only hours before. It is truly remarkable what music can do. Grazie Pavarotti ❤

*note: our fav https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNmT7UswM7E

Driving in Italy

Though I’m a CartaFreccia member and swear by TrenItalia, I must admit that I’m partial to having a car in Italy. If not staying in or exploring a city, I love having the freedom to pull over wherever and take in the incredible sights seen right from the Autostrade. My friend Natalie and I are notorious for waking up in the morning, looking at our iPhone maps, and choosing a place that sounds cool to visit that day! It’s actually how we discovered Portofino, one of our favorite spots on the Italian Riviera.

Driving in Italy, however, is of course different from driving at home in the US; it’s more fun 😉


  • Luckily, one thing that remains the same is the side of the road Italians drive on
    • No need to make adjustments there! They’re on the right side, like us
  • The majority of cars (probably like 95%, with the remaining 5% reserved for tourists) are stick-shift, not automatic (o Dio)
    • If you’re renting, be sure to specify that you need automatic and not manual!
  • They’re also much tinier than our cars, and at least attempt to be more fuel efficient
    • You may notice that your car turns off when you come to a full stop at a red light or to pay a toll. This happens automatically to preserve gas, and it’ll turn back on once you let your foot off the brake
  • Speaking of tolls, they can be paid in one of three ways: Telepass (their version of our EZ-Pass), in cash, or with credit/debit cards
    • In many cases, you’ll pull up to a tollbooth and take a ticket
      • Before you exit the highway, you’ll go through another tollbooth where you’ll insert your ticket and be given the price you’re required to pay
      • Though there are illustrations to help, if you’re paying with a credit card look for “CARTE” on the signs up top to know which lane to stay in
    • You won’t see many cops on the road, but Italians are definitely [sneakily] watching your speed!
      • There are cameras all over, so be sure to stay at a reasonable speed or you’ll come home to a speeding ticket in the mail! I get one every single time I’m here… you’d think I’d have learned by now (sorry Dad!!)!
    • Their road signs are different than ours, so it can be confusing to decipher what’s a one-way, where you can and cannot park, etc. Some of the more important ones include:
      • Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.35.49 AM and Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.35.58 AM may look like “Do Not Enter,” but they actually signify “No Parking” and “No Stopping,” respectively
      • Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.37.30 AM means “Do Not Enter,” whereas Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.38.23 AM denotes “Restricted Access”
        • Natalie and I have also gotten tickets in the mail months later for driving in restricted areas in Rome, so this would have been helpful to know!
      • Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.40.07 AM is “One-Way Traffic”
      • When headed into town/a city, you’ll see signs like these Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.43.08 AM to indicate where the center (“Centro”) is (probably where you’re looking to go!) as well as the main train station (Stazione)
      • Luckily, their stop signs are the same as ours
    • As with everywhere else on Earth aside from the United States, Italy uses the metric system
      • Distances are given in meters/kilometers, as is speed/speed-limit signs (km/hr)
        • 1km/hr is a little more than half a mile per hour, so if you’re driving 100km/hr you’re going about 62miles/hr
      • Just as Jersey loves jughandles, Italians are all about traffic circles
        • They’re everywhere!
      • They also love driving fast in the left lane
        • I have a heavy foot and love being number one on the road (especially on the Parkway), but Italians take it to an entirely different level
        • If you’re driving in the left lane and are not going well above the speed limit, they will tailgate and flash you with zero hesitation
          • It is considered extremely rude and unnecessary to stay in the left if you aren’t going very fast, so your safest bet is to stay out of that lane
          • Don’t expect dirty looks or middle fingers as they pass, though – this is simply common practice and etiquette on Italian roadways (so don’t take it personally) 🙂
        • Passing is common even in residential areas and on smaller roads
          • It is acceptable to move into the lane for oncoming traffic (if all clear, of course) to pass the person in front of you if you’re traveling faster than them
          • Italians have no fear! I’ve seen this done on windy, narrow, cliff-scaling roads along the Amalfi Coast as if it was nothing
        • AutoGrills can be found all over when driving on the highway/Autostrade
          • They’re awesome rest stops that are similar to our 7-11s but better
          • If you’re hungry or need coffee, they have tons of amazing snacks in addition to a “bar” with coffee, drinks, sandwiches, etc.


Good luck, have fun, and be careful!

Learning the Language(s)

As I’m taking notes from work today, I can’t help but sneak a picture of where I’m writing:


I am so in love with this town (& with Italy in general)! Though I studied abroad in Rome and have been back since, I still find myself struggling with the language; when you don’t use it for a while, you definitely start to forget! Thank God for iPhone apps and Google translate :-O

Working with my loves, I’m realizing, requires me to learn and practice two languages: that of Northern Italy and of Alzheimer’s disease. The latter is more complex and multifaceted than even the most ridiculous Italian verb conjugations.

In one of many insightful essays, Dr. Taylor writes:

“If I call you “Mom” or “Dad,” I am probably not confusing you with my mom or dad; I know they are dead. I may be thinking about the feelings and behaviors I associate with mom and dad. I miss those feelings; I need them. It’s just that I so closely associate those feelings with my mom and dad that the words I use become interchangeable when I talk about them. I don’t take the time or I can’t or won’t make the distinction between the people and the feelings.”

Similarly, Dr. Robbins goes on to stress that:

“Almost always, though, what’s said in the moment does NOT reflect how the person with dementia has always thought.”

Not only are we listening to (and, in my case, translating) what’s being said, we must also attempt to decipher its true meaning. Much like learning Italian, this requires patience and practice coupled with both empathy and understanding.

My phone can help me hold a conversation, but not to interpret unspoken messages. Aside from the always-entertaining hand gestures, most of what I’ve had to learn in Italian is verbal/written. The language of Alzheimer’s, however, is often primarily unspoken.

According to Bob DeMarco, when spending time with his mom it’s important for him to “speak the local language.”

“Eventually I realized I was drowning my mother with too many words. Sometimes, all I needed to do was smile. Or put my arm around her shoulder and my head on her head. Instead of a long explanation about what we were going to do (like go to the bathroom before lunch), I’d stick out my hand and say, ‘Let’s go.’ And she’d come along willingly, even before asking, ‘Where are we going?’ To which I’d just smile and say, ‘To have fun.’”

In my experience, it’s the nonverbal that has been most powerful. It’s the smiling, hugging, kissing (often on the mouth 😐 why do Italian nonnas and nonnos LOVE to kiss on the mouth?!?!), and just being together that have sparked incredible responses and opened seemingly glued-shut doors. It’s the respect, patience, and empathy.. the looking up instead of talking down.. the face-to-face instead of over-the-shoulder.. these are what I’ve seen to brighten days and open flood gates.

il primo


Ciao! My name is Christina and I’m 26 years old. Though born and raised in Jersey, I’m currently living and volunteering in Northern Italy. I graduated with my Master’s in May, quit my job in July, and moved here to learn, help, love, and, of course, attempt to fill the bottomless pit that is my sense of wanderlust. My ultimate dream is to work in geriatrics – I am applying to doctoral programs and would love to eventually help individuals with neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. This blog is meant to organize my experiences and research, and to share what I’m learning in relation to caregiving, neurology, and travel. 🙂