insights on art, culture, lifestyle, spirituality, travel, music, society and much much more from a jet-setter currently on "furlough"…

Archive for the category “art, culture, lifestyle, spirituality, food, society”

Roma Termini Christmas Tree

Passing through the Roma Termini Train Station during the Christmas season? One cannot simply walk through the station without noticing the huge, 7 meter tall Christmas tree. This Christmas tree stands in the center of the entrance hall and towers over the hustle and bustle of travelers running to catch trains, buses and the metro. Strings of colorful lights and ornaments dawn this tall, pyramid shaped tree and since 2005, have held the secrets, wishes, prayers and desires of many people.

Locals and tourists alike fill the bottom of this tree using scraps of paper, the back of train ticket stubs and other random surfaces. Messages range from letters to Babbo Natale, the Italian version of Santa Claus to proclamations of the real meaning of Christmas and prayers to bring loved ones home for the holidays. Instead of Roma Termini simply a transit site, this tree has become a unique haven for passengers to share. Perhaps PostSecret needs to make another book with notes from this infamous tree?


Umbria Jazz & More Sparkly Lights in Orvieto


If you are in the charming, medieval city of Orvieto, Italy for the holidays, be sure to check out the annual Umbria Jazz Winter festival. The dates of the 2011 festival run from 28 December 2011 to New Years’ Day 1 January 2012. This festival features the best in Italian and international jazz, from a variety of genres/musical traditions. It is a great way to take in a concert inside Orvieto’s spectacular Gothic-Romanesque duomo (cathedral) and spend the last few days of each year in the the green heart of Italy: the region of Umbria. Many of the concerts are free and worth listening to. For those who want to enjoy the town’s vibrant social life and mouth-watering cuisine, feel free to indulge in the many Umbria Jazz sponsored events, such as Jazz lunch and dinner specials in many of the local trattorias, happy hours and the famous Umbria Jazz wine and gourmet sessions.

While you are at it, don’t forget to take some time just to walk around the city and take in the dazzling Christmas lights and many nativity scenes (presepe) that randomly pop up around town during this joyous time of year. Orvieto is certainly the place to be for a more rustic and peaceful Italian holiday celebration.


An Unexpected Holiday Surprise (Orvieto)

The first post in my Natale in Italia 2010 series is dedicated to Suor Giovanna Galli and Staff at Istituto San Lodovico in Orvieto, Italy. Why hasn’t Rick Steves featured this charming Bed & Breakfast in his guidebooks yet?

It was a frigid, cold and cloudy morning in Orvieto, Italy; the temperature barely reaching 40 degrees. It was the 29th of December, 2010, the last day of my Italian holiday. I was happy to be spending my final day in the charming medieval town of Orvieto, where I studied 7 years ago. I arrived the day before, in the afternoon and had to catch the train back to Rome that night so that I could fly home the next day. As I shivered my way down the Corso Cavour, I tried to take in all the sights: strings of holiday lights hung between buildings, the hustle and bustle of locals and tourists alike and of course, the church bells: echoing its majestic presence in the town’s main piazzas. The holiday season has never looked so beautiful.

My destination this morning was my former “stomping grounds” (if you will): the convent of Istituto San Lodovico. Our study abroad program was housed in San Lodovico back in 2004, and many of us students became good friends with the sisters that serve(d) here. There is something about (Italian) nuns that make me smile. Perhaps, it’s because they have broken all the stereotypes we claim to have about people of the cloth. Since 2007, the convent is also a Bed & Breakfast (with rave reviews on TripAdvisor, I might add). I have stayed here every time I came back to Orvieto to visit, except this time. Since it was December, the San Lodovico was fully booked due to the Umbria Jazz Festival and other Christmas-related festivities. I stayed at a nearby hotel instead.

I had a 9:30AM appointment with the La Madre Superiora, also known as Suor Giovanna and wanted to look my best, despite the frigid temperatures outside and a dwindling traveler’s wardrobe. It had been 3 years since I’ve last seen the sisters and in Italy, it’s all about La Bella Figura. I even stopped by a local clothing boutique to purchase a blended light-dark purple scarf, as my other one reeked of cigarette smoke from my previous engagement the night before (I was NOT the one smoking, by the way).

The eggshell yellow walls of the convent’s main entrance (Piazza Ranieri, 5) loomed before me, and before I knew it, I reached up to the keypad to ring the bell. The door was unlocked for me almost immediately and I walked into the courtyard without a problem. Though it was a chilly and somewhat gloomy day, you could still hear the birds chirping, even in the dead of winter! I wanted to pull the Nikon out and take a wide angle shot, but instead reminded myself to stay in the moment and enjoy it for what it’s worth. No running tour of the convent this time, just a quick trip upstairs to see my old bedroom (Camera #8).

At the porteniera, I was greeted by Suor Giovanna and San Lodovico’s administrative assistant, Barbara with huge kisses and hugs. Has it really been three years since we last saw each other? It was Suor Giovanna’s birthday the day before, and she had taken the day before off to take a road trip up north to visit her sister (blood-related). I’m sure she did something Ferrari or soccer related (yes, she is a BIG fan of both). I presented them with gifts of “fancy” Godiva chocolates, peppermint taffy from Trader Joe’s and Old Navy performance fleece scarves, as well as a bottle of Vin Santo (something special for the holidays, made in Orvieto) — all of which were received with immense enthusiasm and gratitude. I knew this was a busy season for San Lodovico, and was grateful for any time I would be able to spend with the Sisters. These women (with their dynamic personalities, and love for God, people and good vino) have made a huge difference in my life. After chatting up a storm (Italians talk a mile a minute, in Italian, nonetheless!), looking through the photo album I brought and asking me a zillion questions about what I’m doing in life, Suor Giovanna decided that I should join her and the staff for lunch. I agreed, and told them that I had to go back to the hotel to check out, and then return to mangiare…


Just like it has always been, lunch (or pranzo) started promptly at 12:30PM. I arrived around 12:10PM to help the Sisters set the table and bring the plates to the table. I reunited with Ivana (the Cook) and Suor Franca (the other sister at San Lodovico), plus got a “Brava!” from Suor Giovanna regarding my setting the table (woohoo! She approves.) On the menu were the following mouth-watering dishes:

  • puff pastries topped with potato salad, peas and shrimp
  • local red wine (a smooth Umbrian merlot)
  • fioretti pasta with a cheese center, tossed with olive oil
  • sauted lamb slices, so juicy and tender
  • parmaggiano-reggiano cheese
  • our favorite, infamous, “convent bread” (rustic white bread, unsalted)
  • dessert: yellow-ish winter melon, tasted sweet and refreshing
  • Espresso caffe’ with WAY too much sugar (zucchero)
Man, they totally spoiled me! This meal was specially prepared by the sisters and the longstanding cook at San Lodovico, Ivana. They don’t eat like this every day, especially since the price of meat has increased in Italy, so this was indeed a very special luncheon for us all.
The conversation during lunch ranged from the latest Orvieto news to the kinds of Christmas presents received, more updates about my life and why it’s better to remain single instead of lovestruck. The door bell and telephone rang numerous times, as the townspeople and friends from afar came bid their holiday greetings to the sisters. At one point, we all had a moment of being “lost in translation” and my then well-spoken Italian went out of the window. Suor Giovanna took that opportunity to joke with me about coming back next summer for an intensive Italian course with her… secretly, I’d love that! And so, I stayed quiet during most of the meal, savoring each bite and giggling to myself about how many things haven’t changed since I was last here. I also put my “Food Stalker” abilities to the test, documenting each dish; preserving the memory of (good food) to last a lifetime. Simply put, it was so amazingly good to be home.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Suor Giovanna offered to drive me to the train station after lunch, but I had to decline, telling her that I had to say goodbye to other friends before heading south to Rome. It was probably for the better, as my stomach was full and  probably could not handle a roller coaster ride in her little Silver Volkswagen sports car, bumping along down the cobblestone slopes of Orvieto. Before leaving, she presented me with a surprise, and undoubtly, the best gift ever: 3 lbs.  of authentic, straight from Parma, parmaggiano-reggiano cheese. I was instructed to eat it with honey, in pasta or simply, on its own.
I. was. estatic. Best. gift. ever. It’s not everyday that the Mother Superior of a famous convent which dates back a few centuries B.C.  presents you with a huge block of parmaggiano-reggiano cheese for you to enjoy back in your deprived home country. Though I lament the fact that there just wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted to do in Orvieto, I am eternally grateful to the Sisters for organizing such a lovely lunch and making me feel so special. I could definitely feel the love that afternoon. And hey, I will be back… maybe for an intensive Italian course alla Suor G! As Suor Giovanna so aptly put it in our quick, yet bittersweet farewell: “Un altro l’anno, allora!”

Holiday Reflections Commence…

Welcome to the last month of 2011! It’s amazing how much time has passed since my last urge to writeand how much time has passed… period! Now that the holidays are upon us again, I have decided to reflect on the last Christmas break, which I spent in Rome and Orvieto, Italy. I am grateful to have spent that time in Italy last year, and experiencing a whole new way of celebrating the “most wonderful time of the year”. As the year draws to a close, I have decided to slow down and reflect on my time in Italy last year. To be honest, I’ve been running around like a headless chicken, working 2 jobs and getting my photography business well established this year that I’ve barely have time to think. This month, I plan on doing just that. It’s never too late, right?

Certain months of the year that were previously spent in {Italia} always makes me nostalgic for the Motherland, a place that still fuses my passion for life even after 7 years. I can now add December to the list, after spending my first (of many) Christmases in Italia last year. At times, memories come back to me: the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas in the Old World. I spend a lot of time teaching elementary and middle school kids how to write, yet rarely get to do so myself. In addition, I have also never written a series of travel journal entries, let alone shared these preciously guarded thoughts with the world.

In honor of the 12 Days of Christmas, I am giving myself a goal to write (12) Natale in Italia 2010 entries between now and the end of the year. If time wasn’t an issue, I’d blog every day. To keep things to the point, I’ll simply share my favorites.

So… here I go, diving into the unknown, ready to wet my feet and write again. I hope to brush up my rusty writing skills and share some of my favorite memories, stories and lessons of Natale in Italia 2010 with you all. Think of it as a memoir, a guidebook, musings on lessons learned and even a road map for life. I hope you will join me on this holiday adventure and welcome comments and suggestions for this revived blog! Buone Feste!!

Happy Monday List (around the WEB)

To shake things up a bit (and to actually HAVE material to post), I thought I’d try out a Happy Monday List (around the WEB) post. Though today is a holiday and I am not exactly at work, I’m doing it for the sake of doing it. And, you get to peek at what’s been on my mind recently. So, here goes…

[ Random Google-age ]

1.) Programmed to LOVE ❤we were NOT programmed to hate, but to love… God, self and others. It is just so clear. I wish more people would embrace this.

2.) Teacher’s Journal – I should start keeping one! Since I am teaching both Art and ESL this year (and subbing for Spanish occasionally, haha), I thought about keeping a Teacher’s Journal to document everything I am learning both personally and professionally. I just don’t want to do it by hand in addition to my regular journal, so online is the way to go. It’s going to be an intensely interesting school year, and I need TONS of time for reflection.

3.) Kettle Corn from Trader Joe’s it’s a NEED, not a WANT (and is oh so addicting). This is what I feasted on all summer long, in addition to Santa Cruz organic lemonade and also what I fed the kids at the art camp I worked at. The perfect summertime munchie…

4.) Natale in ITALIA – che bellezza e splendore! Is it bad that I’m thinking about winter break already? I really need and travel and get out of the country this year for the holidays. Why not do a pilgrimage back to the Motherland? I’m definitely planning this fantasy trip in my mind, especially after seeing a picture like the one below (of Orvieto, UMBRIA, IT during the holidays). It’s been over 3 years (!) and I miss my friends and host family there. E’ allora, si puo’ fare!

and finally… for a bit of fun accessories

5.) the UK jewellry store Accessorize has opened a couple of shops here in the DC Area – so, I stopped by the other night and picked up a fun pair of earrings. Accessorize reminds me of a much nicer/trendy version of Claire’s and the Icing, which many tweens and teens still frequent on a regular basis. This was a nice surprise, and I’m eager to see how well the store does here in the States. Now, if only they’d open a Promod store as well… I have a totally different attitude when it comes to perusing European fashion forward thinking.

What’s on YOUR Happy Monday list?

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