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Italy in the News: The Colosseum is falling, saving lives in church, bringing Mona Lisa home and more

Headlines from December 25-31

(ANSA) – Priests at the Pistoia Cathedral in Tuscany may soon be saving more than just souls as the church became the first in Italy outfitted with a heart defibrillator on Thursday….Read More

(ANSA) – Premier Mario Monti said Italy was not following Greece’s economic demise despite its love of the country….Read More

(ANSA) – The Holy Shroud of Turin cannot be a fake according to a new five-year study highlighted by Vatican newspaper l’Osservatore Romano….Read More

(Reuters) – A courtyard column of a Roman house in Pompeii collapsed on Thursday, renewing concerns about the state of the site which was frozen in time when Mount Vesuvius erupted 2,000 years ago, burying inhabitants alive and preserving their homes….Read More

(ABC News) – Florence officials are launching a campaign to bring the “Mona Lisa” back for a visit….Read More

(ANSA) – The Colosseum lost another bit of masonry Tuesday following a fragment of wall that fell off on Christmas Day, fire services said….Read More 

(New York Times) – The traditional inauguration of the Christmas season got underway early this month in Rome, but travelers can visit vestiges of those early celebrations, and still take in a few more ceremonies, after the gifts have been opened….Read More

(ANSA) – Pope Benedict XVi on Wednesday stressed the importance of families praying together….Read More

My ABC’s of Travel

ABCs of Travel

I found this on another blog and thought it would be fun to re-post with my own answers.  Feel free to do the same! Travel Consultant

A: Age you went on your first international trip:

I was 14 and went on a mission with my church youth group to an orphange in Tijuana

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:

That’s not really a fair question at all.  Guinness in Ireland probably tops the list.  MacFarlands in Italy was memorable.

C: Cuisine (favorite):

Italian of course.  Followed closely by Indian and Thai.


D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why:

Italy is my favorite for obvious reasons with Ireland being a close second.

Least favorite was the Bahamas (I know, I can’t believe I’m saying it) but that doesn’t mean I hated it, just not somewhere I want to go back.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:

In 1991 I was 17 miles from the epicenter of a 7.4 earthquake in Costa Rica.  My friends and I spent the next week trying to survive and make our way back to the capital city in time for our flight home.  That of course is a whole other story!

F: Favorite mode of transportation:

Train. Unless I’m in a car on the autostrada.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling:

When I first get off the plane at my destination.  All the hours of planning and the weeks of anticipation that lead up to that moment.

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to:

Madrid during a heat wave in a hostel with no a/c.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where:

Locanda Orseolo in Venice, Vento di Rose in Monterubbiano and this little B&B/restaurant/pub/farm on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland.

J: Journey that took the longest:

My flight to and from Paraguay where I lived for a summer.  Over 24 hours on planes, buses and in the back of a pick-up truck.

K: Keepsake from your travels:

I found a necklace in a second-hand store in Cortona.  It is a simple silver necklace with a green stone and a great story….if only I understood what the woman was telling me.

L: Let-down sight, why and where:

Valencia, Spain.  The beaches were dirty and not at all what we expected.  Probably didn’t help that I had one of my top three worst hang overs on arrival.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:

Easy.  Looking into the eyes of the orphans when I was 14.  Hook.  Line.  Sinker.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:

A castle in Germany on the Rhine river.  We were in the turret and had a 12 course dinner that night.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?:

LOLs.  That’s right.  I stalk little old ladies (and men).  I am also obsessed with taking a picture of the view from the windows of every place I stay.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?

I would have more, but they don’t stamp between countries in Europe anymore.  So countries visited??  17

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:

The baths in Budapest.  I was given a ‘robe’ that either covered the top or the bottom but not both.  I soon realized it didn’t matter anyway.  I was given a massage by a burly woman smoking a cigarette who give my ass a slap when she was done.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience:

A family style dinner anywhere.  I’ve enjoyed the experience in Italy many, many times but have also dined this way in Ireland, Germany and France.  No better way to meet people and experience the real deal.

I also had the chance to make my own pottery at a studio in Le Marche.  See my article here.

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling:

My Italian leather purse from a little shop in Orvieto.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done:

The classic gondola ride.

U: Unforgettable travel memory:

Spending over a month in Italy traveling with my daughter and meeting my parenting.

V: Visas, how many and for where?


W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?

A glass of Brunello at a little wine shop in Cortona

X: eXcellent view and from where?:

Vernazza in the Cinque Terre.  Read more here about their recovery from the flood and mudslide that buried the town October 25th 2011

Y: Years spent traveling?:

Since I was 14, so 23 and a half.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?:

Soccer, anyway in Europe but I experienced it personally in Italy.

Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Resolutions for 2012

Italian recipeI suppose it’s that time again.  Time to set goals and aspire to make more out of the upcoming year.  Of course I have the usual line up:  eat better, drink more water, get back in shape and be an over-achiever mom.

But where’s the fun in that.

Instead, I’m going for something I know I can’t fail at.  No scales to mock my efforts, no guilt opening my refrigerator door.  I resolve to snub stereo typical resolutions and feed my current obsession.

I resolve to create a new biscotti recipe every week.

That’s right, check back every week for my latest and greatest creations.  52 weeks, 52 different biscotti.  Take that Weight Watchers!

italian recipe

Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

CBS Video | Vernazza Flood Update

Finally!!   Here is the CBS interview in Vernazza!!

Dreaming of Italy Christmas Give-Away WINNERS

Italian Riveria, Vernazza, ItalyThank you to everyone who was a part of the give-away, I had fun reading your dreams!  I decided to make each one of you a winner, so you all will receive $50 off any of my travel planning service with NO expiration date!  More info about my service here.

The following are my randomly chosen winners:

Iris Beard:  Magic Bridge (and 50$ off)

Amy Hill Cooley:  Inn Food cookbook (and 50$ off)

Meg King-Sloan:  Magic Bridge (and 50$ off)

Contact me so that I can find out where to send your prizes!

Dreaming of Italy Christmas Give-Away

That’s right!  If you can dream of Italy then you can be a part of my Italian Christmas Give-away.  Just tell me your Italian dream.  If there was one place in Italy you could go, where would that be and why.

Rules:  Enter your dream destination and why on my Facebook page.  For a second chance to win, follow my blog (sign up on the right hand corner) and comment on this post.

Three lucky and random winners will receive one of the following:

Contest ends at midnight Friday December 23.  Winners announced Christmas Day.  Good luck and start dreaming!

Copyright 2011  Andi Brown  Once in a Lifetime Travel 

Christmas Treats | Chocolate Dipped Butterscotch Biscotti

Chocolate Dipped Butterscotch Biscotti

Italian recipe

It’s down to the wire, only five days until Christmas and I still need to come up with little gifts for the neighbors, the teachers, bus driver, garbage man and anyone who decides to give me something unexpected.

What better to make than these?  They look like I spent all day in the kitchen, and let me tell you they taste fantastic.  So good in fact, I am on my third cup of coffee just so that I can keep dipping.  Which reminds me, anything said on this post was done by a hypercaffienated mom who hasn’t spoken to anyone over the age of 8 in two days.

So here is the recipe, I have made some modifications from a post I found on Savory Simple.

Chocolate Dipped Butterscotch Biscotti

**I have adapted this recipe for my food processor, but it can be just as easily done with a standing mixer**


  • 2 cups flour (may need up to a 1/2 cup more depending on dough consistency)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp of vanilla
  • 1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips for dough;  2 cups for dipping
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips


  1. Mix dry ingredients together in food processor.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla to mixer, while pulsing the machine on and off.
  3. When the dough starts getting crumbly (if it still looks wet add more flour a 1/4 cup at a time), add the chocolate and butterscotch chips.  Continue to pulse until everything is evenly combined.  If your processor starts to grate the chips instead of mix, then remove dough and mix by hand.
  4. Push the dough together in the mixing bowl or on a table until it’s a firm, slightly sticky dough.
  5. Divide the dough into 4 even pieces and roll them into logs.  Set the logs in a sheet tray covered with parchment.  Make sure you leave an even amount of space to prevent logs from sticking together as they cook.  Not a big deal if they do, they just don’t look as pretty.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Tops should be firm, then allow to cool.
  7. Slice on the bias about 1/2 inch each.  Try to cut them all the same size so that they will cook evenly.  Place slices back in the oven at 300 degrees for 5 minutes per side.
  8. Heat remaining chocolate in double boiler.  Dip long flat side of the biscotti into the chocolate and place chocolate side up on a cooling rack to dry.  Store in an air tight container or freeze.
  9. Immediately make a large pot of coffee, dip and enjoy!!

italian recipe

Copyright 2011  Andi Brown  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Vernazza | CBS Special to air today

***CBS to air Vernazza special Thurs Dec.  22***

I will post more when I find out the details!  The link should be up shortly.

It was supposed to have aired in New York this afternoon but has been pushed to the evening slot.  I have DVR set to CBS for the next few days and will post when I see it, times of airing will very from area to area so if anyone sees it please contact me!

Cinque Terre – Keep Vernazza in your Christmas Plans

Christmas for Vernazza

This year the residents of Vernazza will be forced to celebrate their holidays away from their homes and their beloved town.   Vernazza is still under a state of emergency until the hillsides are deemed safe among other tasks.

Many people have already stepped forward to help, but they still need us and what better time to give than right now.  Below are several ways to help bring Vernazza’s people home.

  • Donate directly to Save Vernazza here
  • Buy a copy of Magic Bridge, this book is the complete package….love, travel, death, fear and friendship.  20% goes to Save Vernazza.  I’m reading it now and can’t wait to finish this post so I can go find out how this story ends!
  •  Gregory Berg of Enso Photography: “I’ve started a project to help SV: If you buy a Vernazza print from my online gallery, I’ll donate 100% of the proceeds to Save Vernazza ONLUS.”
  • Andrew Handrick, musician and business owner in Vernazza: “Five Steps Instrumental CD was inspired by my time spent in Vernazza. On the morning of the disaster I was working in La Buatta ceramics shop in Vernazzza and was lucky to get the last train out minutes before the worst happened and as such I have decided to donate 70% of the download sales of the album from this site to the Save Vernazza fund.”
  • Sherrill French of The French Palette: “Very special news today of a project near and dear to my heart! The first painting I ever sold was of Cinque Terre, Italy, a place I had dreamed of visiting. Just last month, I had the chance to spend a day there. As fate would have it, on that day the towns of Vernazza and Monterosso were all but destroyed by 20 inches of rain, mudslides, and unthinkable flooding. We were blessed to evacuate after 36 harrowing hours, but my heart is heavy for the devastation. To help the rebuilding efforts, I am starting a new series of paintings inspired by the beautiful Cinque Terre with ALL proceeds benefitting Save Vernazza! So long as there is work to do, I will continue to paint to help! First paintings coming very soon!”

Cinque Terre – Vernazza Flood Stories

Personal Accounts of the Flooding on October 25, Courtesy of Save Vernazza

Help bring the residents of Vernazza home by donating to Save Vernazza!!

cinque terre

Aerial view of Vernazza after the flooding, Courtesy of Save Vernazza

What will linger forever in my mind is that the only thing more beautiful than Vernazza is the soul of its brave and generous residents.

Our stay in Vernazza began late in the afternoon on Oct. 23rd. It was our first visit to Cinque Terre and like many had gone there on the advice of Rick Steves. My wife and I were celebrating our 30th anniversary with a 2 week trip to Italy. Our highly anticipated 4 day stay in Cinque Terre was to be our “vacation within a vacation”.

During the 24th, we hiked from Vernazza all the way to Riomaggiore, stopping at Corniglia and Manarola along the way. What a spectacularly beautiful area! Around every corner of the trail we were treated to new and enchanting views of the lovely Cinque Terre. The lower trail from Corniglia to Manarola was closed so we took the steep trail up from Corniglia to Volastra and rode the bus downhill to Manarola. At Riomaggiore, we enjoyed the best meal of our 2 week trip through Italy at Ristorante La Lampara. Caught the train back to Vernazza and hung out with the locals for a glass of wine at the Ananasso Bar. We felt so welcome there.

On the 25th we decided to stay put in Vernazza since it was raining so hard and most of the trails were closed. We walked the town in the morning and stopped for a most entertaining coffee and lunch at the Blue Marlin. What fun! (Later on we heard from other travelers that many people were trapped that afternoon in the Blue Marlin by the rising waters. The owners literally broke down a wall in the back to provide a safe escape.) In the afternoon we took refuge in the train station gift shop to wait out the increasingly strong rains. When it became unsafe to stay any longer, we were escorted to safety across the tracks and over a 12 foot wall by the station manager and a local resident. I think these 2 heroes literally saved our lives by providing a safe way to leave the flooding train station. There was no way we could reach the room we had rented in the upper part of town but eventually we were taken in by a kind lady named Margarita and given dry clothes, food and a place to stay. The next day we ventured out to see a devastated town. My god it still takes my breath away and puts a lump in my throat when I bring the images to mind of the damage done. I think it was around noon that we were taken by boat to La Spezia.

Tom and Julie Maple Valley, WA  USA View Tom and Julie’s photo journal: Our Vernazza visit during the floods

We will return to Vernazza again and again. Our hearts are with all the people of Vernazza.

I was in Vernazza October 25 with my husband, brother and sister-in-law. They had never been to Vernazza and I wanted to share with them this beautiful village that I fell in love with 18 years ago and have returned to many times. We were enjoying a wonderful lunch of pesto pasta at Gianni Franzi’s on the harbor when the floods started, and we mistakenly thought the waters would recede so we stayed throughout the afternoon and then got trapped as the new river rushed past the restaurant with tremendous force. As the waters rose we moved from standing on the floor, to perching on the chairs, and then climbed up higher to the tops of the tables to try to get out of the muddy water. My husband and brother pushed with all their might to hold shut the door between the bar and restaurant to keep additional water from rushing into the restaurant. After about two hours, for one very brief moment, the water level decreased allowing the 50-60 restaurant guests and staff to rush out the front door to higher ground and safety. Moments later the river rushed even higher and the rains poured even harder- and we knew we had been extremely fortunate to escape when we did. After standing in the pouring rain for quite some time a kind family at the top of the hill allowed us into their home to escape the rain for about an hour (thank you so much for allowing 6 wet tourists escape the rain!). We were eventually taken to Al Castello restaurant where the kind owner Monica and her family provided us with shelter from the rain, along with about 150 other tourists and townspeople. They very generously prepared food and shared their wine with everyone and at about 10pm Monica connected us with Marisa from Gianni Franzi’s hotel. Marisa donated the Gianni Franzi hotel rooms to 20-30 of us who were cold and soaking wet. We never got a chance to pay Monica or Marisa and we will forever be indebted to them for providing us with shelter that night. I made a  donation today to honor all the people of Vernazza with especially warm and greatful thanks thanks to Monica and Marisa for their kindness that evening. We will never forget it, and we will return to Vernazza again and again. Our hearts are with all the people of Vernazza.

Deanna Seattle, WA  USA

We left feeling deep respect for the people of Vernazza. We wish them Godspeed in their recovery. They radiate God’s grace already.

The rain grew heavier as we nibbled cheese to the sounds of Puccini arias and the ducks quacking in the stream below our ground floor apartment windows. We were relaxed; reading passages from The Elegance of the Hedgehog and fiddling with a miniature travel puzzle. The apartment was only three years old with walls of ancient rock framed with perfectly run white plaster; a cantilevered bathroom vanity surrounded with opaque glass; hardwood and marble flooring below the translucent glass tiles of the countertop backsplash in the up-to-date kitchen. We crossed a footbridge each time we left “our home” at the bottom of the four story building to get to the street running down through the village into the harbor. We were scheduled to leave in several days, after a languid sunny month in Vernazza, one of the five Cinque Terre villages on Italy’s Ligurian coast.

About an hour after we noticed rain accumulating outside our entryway, our host knocked on the door, asking us to quickly pack a small bag and move to a room on the floor above. From our heightened vantage point we watched as the babbling brook became a raging river, first filled with rocks and mud, then with cars, vans and buses from the parking lot farther up the road. The village’s ruptured five hundred gallon propane tank was swept into the harbor after covering the lower village with a yellow haze. By nightfall the footbridge had been destroyed by vehicles and rocks washing over and beneath it, and the building’s entrance porch with the only exit door from the four sleeping rooms on the floor we now occupied was sheared away, leaving us stranded unless we leaped into the maelstrom to be swept toward the sea.

The entire roadway became the river. We were in typhoon-like weather. Landslides from the mountains surrounding the tiny valley filled the original river bed and earthen dams seemed to burst periodically as pressure mounted, sending down mud, rocks and water at speeds too fast to estimate, with noise too terrifying to forget. The cannonade of rocks bombarding the building’s foundation and lower floors shattered our nerves. Waves of mud and water crested as much as a foot above our second story room’s window sill. Water inside our room kept rising. Read more

Earlier we had barricaded the main hall entrance into the second floor with a chest. Now we tipped the sleeping room’s particle board wardrobe onto its side atop the bed, added a few pillows and blankets to sit on, barricaded the door to the room and waited. We watched the brown water cover then float the bed. As the wardrobe’s joinery came apart we placed all the flat panels and the broken doors we could find on top of the floating bed, but the platform was uneven, and our weight pushed the bed down to the floor, leaving us waist-deep in cold muddy water. By then the exterior hallway door had given way; the windows in the room beside us had broken open; we expected our room’s water level would soon be level with the screaming torrent outside. Several times the water receded, two or three feet, only to rush in again with increased force. We prayed together, talked about what our lives together had meant, and sent signals with our LED flashlight. It was pitch black, except for an ever-so-important floodlight, still shining intermittently from a building across the road.

About midnight men wearing orange wetsuits with aqua tanks, along with local men in orange rain gear knocked on the window to our room. The window had held. Water in the room had remained lower than the water in the hall. Outside, the bottom of the riverbed was now level with the second story window sill. Although it was still raining, the storm seemed to have ended as quickly as it had begun. We were led to a church uphill and my wife was carried over the rocks because she had no shoes.  We were given hot tea, dry clothes, and we tried to get some sleep.

With daylight more orange men arrived on helicopter ropes. And that afternoon remaining tourists were evacuated south to La Spezia, helped across the broken harbor to the heavily loaded boat by local men having lost everything. Neither roads nor trains were functioning. There was no electricity. There was no potable water. But people have lived in the Cinque Terre for well over 1000 years. Their family and community roots go deep into the rocky soil. Three days after the tragedy Italian TV showed footage of heavy equipment helping men with mattocks and shovels beginning the long process of recovery.

There is no way my wife and I can adequately express our gratitude to the people of Vernazza, and especially to our hosts, Annamaria and Moggie Meregoni, who cared for us even as their lives and livelihoods were falling apart, with their families and friends in such terrifying peril. My wife and I left Vernazza in borrowed clothes and with little luggage, merely two of the 2.3 million people visiting these five tiny villages each year. We left feeling deep respect for the people of Vernazza. We wish them Godspeed in their recovery. They radiate God’s grace already.

Don & Phyllis Spokane, WA  USA



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