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Archive for March, 2012

Living Locally | Try To Blend In

For those of you who missed my previous posts, I am taking some time to explain each of my five steps to more meaningful travel so that you can have more than just a great trip this year.  I call this Living Locally.   The first two steps were about putting yourself in their shoes and making the first attempt at communication.

STEP THREE:  Try to Blend In

Osteria dell'AquachetteWatch the locals and by all means copy them!  See a crowd hanging out somewhere?  Go check it out.  Sometimes I feel like a private investigator as I try to figure out where they hang out, where and what they eat or why they do what they do.  Forget trying to explain “double-tall-non-fat-sugar-free-half-caf-vanilla-latte” and belly up to the bar for whatever they are having.  I learned how to appreciate my caffe by studying those around me.  Never go to a restaurant full of tourists with billboards in English screaming ‘we take credit cards.’  Instead, walk around and explore the narrow streets until you find a place packed with locals.  Handwritten menus tacked to the door are the best but be prepared to pay in cash.  Ask your host or the lady at the market where they ate last NOT where they think you should go.  When all else fails, follow your nose.

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Featured Photo Friday | 21st Century Nuns at the Vatican

Nuns in italy

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Living Locally | Make the first attempt at communication

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to watch other travelers as they interacted with locals and responded to their new environment.  I have witnessed some wonderful encounters but I have also had the unfortunate chance to see some horrific examples of “ugly Americanism.”

For those of you who missed my first post, I am taking some time to explain each of my five steps to more meaning travel so that you can have more than just a great trip this year.  I call this Living Locally.

STEP TWO:  Make the first attempt at communication.

tuscany

No translation needed.

I do not speak any other languages fluently, but I learn to say a few simple and polite phrases in the language of any country I visit.  Always ask the person if they speak English…in their language.  Nothing screams “I don’t care about you” like a tourist rattling on in English on the assumption that the listener understands.  While most foreigners do have at least some understanding of English, everyone appreciates even a simple effort on your part.  You will also find that people are more likely to go out of their way to help if you have tried to communicate on their terms first.  I have witnessed someone pretending they didn’t understand what was being said, only to later speak effortlessly with me.

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Living Locally | Five steps to more meaningful travel

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to watch other travelers as they interacted with locals and responded to their new environment.  I have witnessed some wonderful encounters but I have also had the unfortunate chance to see some horrific examples of “ugly Americanism.”

Travel is a unique experience in that it is a two way street.  The tourist is obviously there to take in and receive all that the foreign land and its people have to offer.  While seeing sites and discovering far away places is exciting, it is only the first part of the journey.  What so many do not understand, and therefore completely miss out on, is the gift of reciprocation.  Most travelers are there to receive, worried mostly about what they are “getting” out of the trip.  I say that true traveling begins when the visitors find themselves concerned about what they have brought into each interaction, when they begin to wonder what else they can give to each situation.  As traveling shifts from a one-way express lane to a two lane gravel road, opportunities begin to appear that would have otherwise been missed in a cloud of self absorption.  The traveler becomes less of a strange and forgettable tourist and more of a temporary part of the community.  I call this Living Locally.

Living Locally is actually quite easy and very addictive, you just have to take a breath and jump in.  Before long you will find yourself shaking your head in dismay at the other tourists, wondering why they have not learned to blend in and become a part of their surroundings like you have.

I will spend the next few days explaining each of my five steps to more meaning travel so that you can have more than just a great trip this year.  You can have a once in a lifetime experience.

STEP ONE:  Put yourself in their shoes.

sant angelo wine barWhen you begin to try and trade places with the locals, you see things in a new light.  Things would be ideal if everywhere you went in Italy, people were pleasant and easy going.  But this is the real world and in that world even the nicest people have a bad day.  I try to look at the big picture, step back and see the world from the other person’s eyes.  Once I do that, a crabby waiter suddenly becomes a harried worker trying to please patrons from around the world.  Patrons who all speak different languages and many of them without any attempt at Italian.  I don’t know about you, but I think I would last about 10 minutes before losing my cool.

Featured Photo Friday | Olives in Tuscany

tuscany

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Learning When To Run

 **Writer’s Note** 

October of last year, a massive flood and mudslide covered one of my beloved villages in Italy.  Since that time I have been working to help raise awareness and money for the extensive restoration and rebuild.  I am currently writing a book about the village’s history, beauty and the disaster.  I will be donating 100% of the proceeds once published. 

I have been asked why I would spend so much of my time and effort for a place half the world away.

This is my response.

When I was 15 years old a man named Garvin saved my life when he didn’t have to.

I was 4,000 miles away from home and my family when the earthquake hit Costa Rica.  My friends and I stood dumbstruck on that beach trying to comprehend what had just happened.  I can remember grabbing our video camera to film the ocean in its eerie stillness.  I was naive to the pending danger and oblivious of the power that was to follow those quietly receding waters.  From out of the jungle came shouting.

‘Run!  Run girls.  Run!’

A local named Garvin, with his dark bare chest and long dreadlocks haphazardly whipping behind him, was sprinting towards us at full speed.

‘Run NOW!’ he commanded.

My reverie was broken.  The rushing wave of water suddenly in focus.  I did not know the word tsunami at the time, but I certainly understood the fear.  We dropped everything and fled for the safety of the jungle, Garvin pushing us on from behind.  I was first up the steep embankment and several feet into the trees before I dared turn around.  I watched as the water overtook the last of my companions, the wave rising up and over her head.  Garvin reached down and plucked her to safety.  She was shaken and drenched, but she was alive.  We all were.

That afternoon I experienced four new things:  the power of an earthquake measuring 7.4 from which I was less than 10 miles from the epicenter, the unrelenting force of the ocean knocked off balance, the comfort of a pull of whiskey straight from the bottle and the kind selfless bravery of a stranger.  Garvin.  One man who could have looked the other way and sought safety for himself.  Instead, he took a risk to save three others who were nothing more than visitors in his land.

The beach after the earthquake and tsunami.
Courtesy of Steve Casimuro

Over 20 years later on October 25, 2011 I woke to bits and pieces of news about a devastating flood and mudslide to an Italian village that had long ago captured a piece of my heart.  Vernazza.  Just the name rolling off my tongue makes me smile, evoking warm memories of lazy days and deep conversations running well into the night.  The thought of my special place trapped in mud was unbearable.  To make matters worse there was nothing I could do to help from across the ocean.  I wanted to pick up a shovel but instead I settled for this pen.  I began to write.  To write of what was, what is and what could be.  I found I was not alone.  So many others shared my bond and reached out to help.

This became more than a book.  This became my love story to Vernazza.  For the heroes, the brave, the fallen and the stubbornly resilient.  This is about kindness and beauty; this is about past history and new beginnings.  This is also my chance to pay forward for a sacrifice made many years ago on a Costa Rican beach.

My hope is to move you, to inspire you and give you courage.  Courage in your own life to make a difference and to understand that no support is too little nor act too small.  We have all been saved in some way by someone at sometime in our lives.  The time has now come to be the brave, the one to pluck the suffering from the water.

The one to yell ‘RUN!’

Cinque Terre

Beautiful Vernazza before the flood.

Cinque Terre

Water raging through the harbor square.

Joining up again with the fabulous writers at yeah write. Click the button below to read some truly wonderful writers and don’t forget to return on Thursday to vote for your five favorite posts.

Copyright 2012  Andi Brown  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Reasons Traveling with Kids is Cool

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was crazy to take my toddler to Italy by myself I would have never come back.  “You are wasting your money; she will never remember anything.  She will be a mess on that long flight.  How will you pack everything by yourself?  She won’t stand going to museums or sitting through long dinners.”  Jet lag, potty issues, getting sick, being bored.  I heard it all.

But one month after my daughter’s second birthday I defiantly boarded a flight to Rome armed with a backpack of her necessities, one suitcase for both of us, a stroller and Benadryl.  I could see that look in the other passengers’ faces.

You know the one, just before they quickly darted their eyes away hoping to avoid direct contact.

The dread and fear of having to sit next to a kid on a long flight.  Then the absolute elation as we walked by.  I could actually hear the sighs of relief.  I don’t blame them for hoping we were nowhere near their seat; thirteen hours with a small child in an even smaller space could be considered a version of hell on earth.  Yet, she fooled them all.  To the shock and relief of those around me she was an angel on the plane.  After devouring her ‘fancy’ meal, she watched a movie and then proceeded to pass out.  I can’t say the same for many of the other passengers.

Once in Italy, I quickly found out that traveling with my daughter did two things:  opened doors to experiences and got us free stuff.  People who would have done nothing more than complete their transaction with me or more likely not even noticed my presence were suddenly whisking us behind counters and showing us part of the real Italian life I had not seen before.  We met dogs; we met grandkids.  We watered plants and learned to make pizza.  We held rabbits and petted goats.

I haven’t even gotten to the free stuff.

My daughter learned a simple smile meant extra scoops of gelato or little candies in her hand.  I don’t think I went anywhere with her that some old lady wasn’t trying to feed her or put sweets in her pockets.  She was the star at dinner, our waiters taking pride in her appetite.  She had no need for a menu, they would prepare whatever she desired without hesitation.  I was once chided for not ordering her enough food and found extra plates appearing on the table free of charge.  Did I ever pay for dessert?  Maybe my own.

She loved the Roman Forum, although it was the beetles not the ruins that caught her eye.  Every new hill town was exciting; who knew how many kitties would be hiding in the narrow cobblestone streets.  Trains were a marvel.  Maps became new toys.  Piazzas her playgrounds.  My passion for travel deepened with each new discovery she made.

Maybe I was crazy and it is true that she doesn’t remember that trip, but my daughter has no fear of the unknown and loves new experiences.  I have since taken her back to Italy (see the photos below) and she now has her own travel bucket list.  The lesson to be taken here is that having a family does not mean your travel dreams are over.  They are just different.  I may not be able to travel as much as I did before, but I never use children as my excuse to stay home.  Travel is good for them.  They begin to understand the world is a bigger place and differences are to be celebrated.  Travel is good for you.  You will find indescribable joy watching your child experience another culture.

I could list the top reasons why traveling with kids is cool, but I think these pictures do a better job.

Joining up again with the fabulous writers at yeah write. Click the button below to read some truly wonderful writers and don’t forget to return on Thursday to vote for your five favorite posts.

Copyright 2012  Andi Brown  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Vernazza Updates for March | Progress with Flood and Mudslide Clean Up

Courtesy of Save Vernazza.  Please visit their donate site to learn how you can continue to help!

Stepping onto the terrace, I became mesmerized by sights and smells.  After a long, seemingly endless winter, I was once again in Vernazza, an exceptional place where even after the events of last October, much remains the same: the church bells and rhythmic waves; the green of the hillsides; the blue of the water and the pastels of the buildings contrasting and yet complimenting one another.

I came to Vernazza this morning for a public meeting, hosted by Mayor Vincenzo Resasco, detailing Vernazza’s strategic plan for reconstruction, updates on the progress made thus far and how Vernazza is preparing itself for the reopening of its tourist season.

An announcement made at the meeting, and one that Save Vernazza is pleased to have helped facilitate, is that architect and urbanist Richard Rogers will be providing his expertise in the rebuilding of Vernazza by overseeing Vernazza’s “urban regeneration” project.  Lord Rogers is the 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate, recipient of the 1985 RIBA Gold Medal and the 2006 Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement (La Biennale di Venezia).  Over the course of his successful career, Richard Rogers has made a major impact on contemporary architecture, with key projects such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Lloyd’s of London and Terminal 4 in Madrid Barajas Airport.

On a personal note, Richard has a great affection for Vernazza and has been a frequent visitor for years.  He believes that the reconstruction should be elegant in its simplicity in order to preserve Vernazza’s unique character as an authentic small town for both inhabitants as well as tourists.  We are honored and excited to have the guidance of such a well known and respected professional and Vernazza will most certainly benefit from Mr. Rogers’ involvement.

Other topics of discussion at the meeting included the status of emergency projects currently underway:

  • Sewage: completed
  • Canal: includes roadwork as well as enlargement of the canal itself.  This enlargement is necessary for what has been referred to as “200 year security” (enabling the canal to withstand future storms such as that of October 25, estimated to occur once every 200 years)
  • Landslides: project focuses on securing the slides that directly impact the canal and reconstruction of the canal banks and bed in such a way as to decrease the velocity of the water.
  • Water: continuing on schedule, approximately 90% of all homes with running water
  • Aqueduct: continuing on schedule
  • Electricity: continuing on schedule
  • Via Roma: This week, temporary asphalting of Vernazza’s main street Via Roma will be underway.  Next winter the road will be dug up once again and all of Vernazza’s electrical, telephone, TV, etc. cables will be run underground.  Final work along Via Roma is expected to be completed in early 2013.
  • Gas:  By the end of June 2012, a temporary methane gas containment system will be in place to provide methane gas to Vernazza.  Over the next 2 years, permanent pipeline will be laid to transport methane gas to Vernazza from the village of Volastra, a project costing approximately 2.2 million Euro and funded by the Protezione Civile.

For up to date images of the reconstruction effort visit our Travel Advisor Photos & Videos page.  And, for information on the status of commercial activities, please visit Travel Advisor Home Page.

Additionally, the town is organizing for the beach & harbor clean-up effort in which a group of volunteer scuba divers will assist and dredging of the sea bottom will be necessary.  The estimated cost for this effort is 700,000 – 800,000 Euro, approximately 150,000 Euro already pledged by STL (Sistema Turistico Locale) of Liguria.

Also included in Vernazza’s strategic plan was a focus on sustainable environmental and social/economic development, specifically with regards to renewable energy, garbage & recycling, sewage, sustainable tourism and education & promotion of Vernazza’s territory.

The importance of safeguarding Vernazza’s territory was discussed at length and recognized as the key to sustainability for Vernazza, both environmentally as well as economically.   Going forward it will be of great importance to Vernazza to attract the kind of travelers who create a relationship with the town, make a connection with the place, its people and its territory, thus understanding and respecting its culture, environment and heritage.

In keeping with this discussion and in alignment with our projects, Save Vernazza will be meeting next week with Vernazza’s key technical advisers to map out the best way to collaborate on and move forward with projects that educate through programs and volunteer efforts, assist in the rebuild of trails and focus on the reconstruction of the “muretti a secco”, the dry stone walls that integral to the terracing of Vernazza’s hillsides.  Details of and updates on Save Vernazza’s projects can be found at our Rebuild, Restore, Preserve Vernazza page.

At the end of the meeting, I was asked to speak to the audience of residents about Save Vernazza.  But in addition to speaking about the details of our projects, I felt the desire to also express my deep appreciation of and respect for Vernazza, its people and territory.  This brought about within me an overwhelming mix of emotions by thinking of the October tragedy and the town’s courageous work to rebuild.  I knew I had to do my best to keep from becoming emotional, so I focused on the faces in front of me.  The faces that for the last 4 months have been dirtied with mud, stained with tears, and lined with smiles and laughter.  The faces now giving me the strength to keep it together.  The faces forever filled with determination and hope.

The weather is warming and the coming of spring gives way to a new hope.  Less than 5 months ago the unimaginable happened, and no one at that time would have predicted all that has been accomplished in the time that has passed since.  And yet, even after the unimaginable, much remains the same.  The waves, the bells, the blues, the greens…the constants that made Vernazza recognizable even when she wasn’t.. Now as we slowly return to normal, the “newness” of Vernazza brought about by that tragic day is impossible to overlook.  It is a blinding reminder that change is vital to Vernazza’s future.

Vernazza’s “New Beach”

In order to sustain the uniqueness and beauty that is Vernazza, tourism and territory must go hand in hand, for there is no future for one without the other.  Vernazza now stands at a crossroads and years from now we hope to look back and take pride in the example she has set for the rest of the world, one of harmony and balance created by the coming together of the two in such a way one cannot imagine it ever being otherwise. Ruth Manfredi, Save Vernazza

Triple Ginger Biscotti Recipe

Triple Ginger Biscotti

This recipe may change your life.  The flavor is unique and is not for everyone, but if you love ginger this is fantastic.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 almonds
  • 1/2 cup  butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 ¼-2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 Tb molasses
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped crystalized ginger (see recipe below)

Directions:

1. Heat the oven to 325°. Toast almonds on tray until golden, about 8 minutes.  Cool, then chop into halves.

2. Cream butter and sugar well.  Then beat in the eggs and molasses until lightened, about two minutes.

3. In a separate bowl mix in the flour, powdered ginger, baking powder, and salt just until combined.

4.  Add dry mixture to wet mixture until blended well.  If the dough is very sticky add the extra 1/4 cup of flour if dough.  I usually have to add more.  Add fresh and crystalized ginger.  Fold in almonds.

5. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, form each half into a log that is 3½ inches by 9 inches. Place the logs on a heavy-duty baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 25 minutes or until the tops are set.

6.  Let the logs cool, then slice into 1/2-inch thick slices.  With this recipe it is very important to let them cool otherwise it will crumble when cutting.  Arrange the slices on baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully turn the slices over, and bake for another 7 minutes.

7. Cool on a wire rack.  Store in an airtight container or freeze.

Crystalized Ginger

I went to the store to buy crystalized (or candied) ginger and about fell over when I saw the price.  Luckily it is very east and inexpensive to make at home.  You don’t need a candy thermometer to make this. Simply keep an eye on the pot and when the liquid is the consistency of honey, it’s done and ready to go.

  • 1 pound fresh ginger, peeled
  • 4 cups sugar, plus additional sugar for coating the ginger slices
  • 4 cups water
  • pinch of salt

1. Slice the ginger as thinly as possible. It can’t be too thin.

2. Put the ginger slices in a pot, add enough water to cover the ginger and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let ginger simmer for ten minutes. Drain, and repeat, simmering the ginger slices one more time.

3. Mix the sugar and 4 cups water in the pot, along with a pinch of salt and the ginger slices, and cook until the temperature reaches 225F (if you have a candy thermometer)

4. Remove from heat and drain very well while the ginger is hot, so the syrup will drain away better.  Toss the drained slices in granulated sugar. Shake off excess sugar, and spread the ginger slices on a cooling rack overnight, until they’re somewhat dry.

Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

My Special Places in Italy | Civita B&B

Following my article about the magical hill town of Civita di Bagnoregio, I had requests for more information about the B&B I stayed the night in.

My room in Civita.

I would like to introduce Civita B&B, run by the talented Franco.

Trattoria Antico Forno

Trattoria Antico FornoThis amazing little place is has three rooms on the top floor of a building overlooking the main piazza.  Franco runs this B&B as well as the restaurant Trattoria Antico Forno.  We had the pleasure of dining with him each night and enjoying his simple yet delicious traditional meals.  I say dined with him because he spent as much time sitting at our table entertaining us with stories as he did preparing our meal.  Not many chefs are able or willing to do that!

To contact Franco about availabilities, following the link here.

If you plan on arriving in Civita on a Sunday, be aware that the tractor he usually uses to haul luggage up the hill is not allowed.  I suggest taking your necessities and valuables in a day pack instead of dragging all of your things up the steep  bridge.

And, yes, I learned this the hard way!

antico forno civita B&B

I’m obsessed with feedback, let me know what you think.

Love it??  Pass it on!

Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

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