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Posts tagged ‘my special places’

Daily Italian Doses | Gradara Medieval Festival

I absolutely love this picture perfect town in Le Marche.  I can only imagine what it would be like to visit during this festival.

The entire town will replicating life in the Middle Ages.  Homes will be furnished, streets will be lined with stalls selling goods and everyone will be in full dress.  Activities are said to include sword forging, chainmail making, cooking meals, mixing dyes or training as castle guards.

When: 19-21 July.

For loads of information click HERE.

Courtesy of La Tavola Marche

Courtesy of La Tavola Marche

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Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Daily Italian Doses | Via dell’Amore Trail

I have had lots of travelers asking if the Via dell’Amore in the Cinque Terre will be open and sadly the answer is no.  I wanted to share with everyone my personal favorite picture from the trail.  It is of my parents (high school sweethearts and happily married 41 years) participating in the romantic tradition where lovers leave a symbolic lock.

For anyone wanting more travel details for the area, follow this link for information at Rebuild Monterosso.

Cinque Terre via dell'amore

Lovers Locks

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Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

The Danger Of All You Can Eat Buffets

Sometimes life requires a time-out.

I have a knack for getting a little ahead of myself.  I can’t seem to help it.  Ideas float in my mind all day, everyday.

Over a month ago I found myself overwhelmed.  My plate was full.  As in heaping full, like a greedy diner at an all you can eat buffet that serves prime rib AND coconut shrimp.  I needed to unload something, but many things in my life can’t be put on hold.

I have three of them.

Ok.  That wasn’t fair, even if she is a Diva.

We also just moved to the most amazing little town this side of heaven.  You may have heard of it.  Bozeman, Montana.

Bozeman Montana

Of course the beauty hasn’t helped us tackle this any faster.

I have learned that despite of all this wonderful chaos, I need to write.  I must write and I must share.  Passion is hard to subdue.

So I’m back in the all you can eat line with my empty plate and my elbows up.

I will never learn.

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

My Special Places in Italy | Angel Tours Rome

While a tour group might not technically be a special place, this is my blog and I will call it so if I want to!

When I first hatched the idea of creating my Italian travel planning business, I met the energetic and charismatic Sean while visiting Rome.  He had recently taken over Angel Tours Rome and with his small army of students completely won me over.  Since that time years ago, he has grown his business and expanded to other cities including Dublin and Florence.

When I first began traveling, I thought naively that I could get what I needed when at the Vatican or the Roman Forum with a simple guidebook.  Once I experienced those sites again through the eyes of Sean’s guides I was amazed at how much more real and alive they became.  It was as if I was seeing them for the first time.  I feel that with every visit.  I have taken the tours several times with my groups and on my personal visits.  Believe it or not, I never tire of them.  Sean finds young people who are so incredibly knowledgeable of history, art and culture you find yourself almost guilty in your ignorance.  But these guides are no snobs.  Every single one injects just the right amount of humor and storytelling.   They are the first to confess to being a bit ‘mad.’

I can’t help but feel a connection to Angel Tours and I am so proud of the growth that has happened since I first stumbled upon them.  For anyone traveling to Italy and planning to stay in Rome, check out Angel Tours Rome and make sure to tell them hello from Andi!!

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Vernazza Video | Six Months After Flooding

Please pass this forward as a reminder that there is still much to do to restore Vernazza.

Looking forward, remembering where we came from.

Click here for link to video

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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

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

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

My Special Places in Italy | Civita di Bagnoregio

View of Civita from across the valley

Regally perched high atop a hill of tufa is the magical but dying town of Civita di Bagnoregio.  This tiny village near Orvieto in Umbria has everything one could hope for when exploring the Italian countryside.  Civita is quaint, so perfect you might wonder if you have stumbled upon a movie set and not a real village.  Civita has views, breath-taking panoramic views from all sides that any photographer would drop dead for.  Civita has history, a story with every step and in every stone.

History is evident in the layers here.  Its origins are Etruscan and date back over 2500 years.  Civita had a prime location because it was situated along a major trade route to Rome and the town remained an important stop even as the Etruscan power gave way to the growing Roman Empire.  The town continued to build upon itself over the centuries.  Many of the existing structures were built during the Renaissance time period upon existing Roman walls whose foundations were Etruscan.  A classic example is the cathedral on the square.  It is located on the site of a Roman temple which was built over the original Etruscan temple.  From pagan to Christian over the course of thousands of years.  Looking at the buildings circling the piazza, you can see where the stones of one age end and another begin.

Civita’s main square

Maria, courtesy of Miriam

Currently there are less than two dozen people living in Civita, none of them original residents of the village.  Little Maria was the last of the living inhabitants that was born and raised within the walls, but she has sadly moved elsewhere because of her ailing health.  Many of you might remember her as the old woman who would wave passersby into her garden for sweeping views of the valley.  Now her gates are locked and her smile just a memory.  But while people and places seem to be in constant flux, Civita itself is timeless.

Climb up the deceiving steep cement bridge put in place after earthquakes and bombings destroyed the natural land connection.  Pass through the impressive stone gate carved by the Etruscans 2500 years ago.  Wander down the main street, ducking in to see the 2000 year old press along with all the little nooks and crannies.  Continue to follow the path as it takes you outside the back of the village and further down to the ancient caves that have been used for everything from storage of food and animals to shelter from the bombings during the war.  Creep up the dirt trail and peer into the dark Chapel of the Incarcerated, thought to originally be an Etruscan tomb turned jail and currently now a chapel.  When you make your way back to the village be sure to step into the cathedral on the main square.  There is a fresco on the left called the Madonna of the Earthquake, named after the shaking that broke loose a layer of white wash that had kept it hidden for years.  There is a wooden crucifix over the altar from the School of Donatello that has been a source of pride for the little community.

Civita is in the details

When visiting tiny Civita, a person could sprint across its entirety without so much as breaking a sweat.  In fact, many do.  Most come during the day spending less than an hour wandering around, missing much of the subtle hidden beauty and altogether ignoring the trail that takes you out the back of the village to the treasures below.  Some tourists do feel the pull of Civita and find themselves lingering over bruschetta or even a meal.  Rarely, a few choose to spend the night.

I was fortunate to be one of those visitors.  There is a stillness that settles over Civita as the evening turns to night.  A quiet calm feeling, like taking off your shoes and digging your toes into the sands of history.  I could imagine what this place must have been like in her peak before earthquakes and time had reduced the population from thousands to a handful.   As the time got late, the tourists disappeared and the few residents slowly left the main square for their own beds.  I had a hard time sleeping that night, the silence roaring in my ears and thoughts of all those here before me dancing in my mind.

Peaking out the window of my room in Civita.

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copyright 2012  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

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

La Bottega dei Vasai

Italian pottery

Kiln inside the bottega

There are moments when traveling that are so rare I hesitate to breathe in too deeply for fear of breaking the spell.  My day with Annamaria in her pottery studio was one of those times.

Located in the small village of Montottone in the lesser known region of Le Marche, La Bottega dei Vasai has been using traditional techniques here since 1851.  By following in the footsteps of her father and the family before him, Annamaria Bozzi became the first female master potter.  She and her brother passionately carry on the age-old traditions giving new life to a trade that was once slowly dying.

italian pottery

Inside the studio

We found the unassuming entrance of bottega just outside the town walls along a narrow road.  Chickens scattered as I stepped out of the car and I hesitated momentarily, not sure I was even in the right spot.  As we entered, Annamaria greeted us warmly and immediately began to show us around.  This was like no other place I had seen before.   The studio was cool from the thick stone walls and it smelled of time.  Vases, bowls and plates were tucked into every corner; wooden steps lead us up and down to each room.  We were able to crawl around the kilns, watch her brother glazing pots and see all the finished works in the modest showroom.

italian pottery

My daughter at the wheel with Annamaria

Then Annamaria lead us up to the corner of the studio where she sat at her pottery wheel and gave us a first hand demonstration.  Watching her so effortlessly create a delicate bowl from a mound of clay was hypnotizing.  Unexpectedly she invited us to try our hand on the wheel.   Unfortunately my efforts were neither effortless nor hypnotizing.  But there was something magical about sitting there, my hands wet with clay, creating at the same seat as Annamaria, her father and his father had done for decades before me.  Patiently she guided each one of us, even teaching my young daughter.

This became more than a pottery studio; this became a tactile look into a way of life that has been virtually unchanged for centuries.  As we left the bottega the experience clung to me, just like the clay that stuck under my fingernails.

italian pottery

Getting started on the wheel with Annamaria’s help

Not as easy as it looks

copyright 2011  Andi Brown  Once in a Lifetime Travel


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