Here I go!

I've been told many times over the years that I should write travel guide books, but this is as close as I plan to come to that!

Since getting my first passport at age 43, I have gotten to go places in this world that I never dreamed of seeing, and I'm an inveterate note taker. My travels since 1986 have been as a professional travel agent...which only increased that note taking. I hope to share some of the things I've found interesting for one reason or another -- maybe for cultural or historic reasons, maybe just beautiful, maybe ultra good, maybe just hilarious. And sometimes just because I liked it, related to travel or not.

My speciality in the travel business is Italy, though I handle travel pretty much worldwide..and if I don't keep up with a particular area, one of the great agents in my office does. See for more about the professional side of my life.

Your comments and shared tips are very welcome! I truly believe "we get by with a little help from our friends."

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jewish Quarter in Rome

In both 2007 and 2008, I was lucky enough to have time to spend in the main synagogue and Jewish Museum in Rome.

This is a memorable experience for anyone, regardless of faith.
Rome claims the longest continuous Jewish community in the world (23 centuries), and I recommend the museum and synagogue tour (one cannot visit the synagogue unless on a tour or with an approved guide), along with just walking 'round in the Jewish Quarter. English-language tours of the synagogue are offered several times daily. See .

One of the most moving parts of the synagogue tour for me was to see the plaque on the back side wall honoring Charles Aaron Golub, the first American Jewish soldier to worship in the synagogue on June 4, 1944, once the Allies liberated Rome and opened the desecrated house of worship. The Rome synagogue was the first to be liberated in Europe, and on June 9, 1944, Lt. Morris Kertzer, a rabbi and American Jewish Chaplain from Iowa, led 4000 Roman Jews in a prayer there. Rabbi Kertzer was part of the US Fifth Army that had landed at Anzio.

On April 13, 1986, Pope John Paul II, embracing the world's Jews as ''our elder brothers,'' paid the first recorded papal visit to a synagogue - this one - and condemned persecution and displays of anti-Semitism ''at any time and by anyone.''

There are several fine organizations and guides offering Jewish-oriented walking tours in Rome.

An excellent source for more information regarding Jewish history in Rome is .

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas, Family and Demi Moore!

This will be a different Christmas for me. Until my mother's death this year at age 101, I had always gone to Houston where she lived. My brother and sister-in-law blessedly did the family Christmas for many years, and my son and his family came on alternate years...the other being spent in Connecticut with my daughter-in-law's family.

This year, my brother and sister-in-law will be at their oldest son's house, and I will be hosting Christmas Lunch at my home for my son, daughter-in-law, two grandsons, my former husband and his wife. Christmas Morning I'll be at Tom and Terry's house (the former husband and his wife) to watch the kids open presents there...and Terry will be doing the potato casserole that my sister-in-law always did and my son loves.

I feel very blessed, and know that for varying reasons, Tom, Terry and I each merit a few stars for having made this new version of 'family' work. Two weeks ago, in the Liz Smith column in our local paper, in a quote from Demi Moore, of all people, I found a more clear and concise explanation of my feelings than I could have put together myself. Moore, in talking about she and husband Ashton spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with ex-husband Bruce Willis, his girlfriend and the Moore-Willis children, said: "The key is to remember what you had and what you gained, and not get attached to what you lost."

Lots of wisdom in those few lines. Amen!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Italian Christmas

One of my favorite small wineries to visit and to have lunch in the Chianti area is Casa Emma, . Casa Emma also sends a fine monthly newsletter, and I'm borrowing from the December issue to share with you some information about Christmas in Italy.

<< Although many biblical historians believe that the actually birth of Jesus took place some time in the Spring, early Roman Christian's felt it important to create a feast day that coincided with the many pagan celebrations had always taken place during the winter solstice. The celebration of the birth of the sun soon became the celebration of the birth of the Son.

The nativity scene, a popular symbol of Christmas throughout the world, also has its roots in early Italian history. The first nativity scene, the presepio, was created by artist Giovanni Vellita in the village of Greccio in the year 1224. The piece was created at the request of none other than St. Francis Of Assisi. The presepio quickly became embraced as a holy symbol of Christmas when St. Francis said mass in front of Vellita's creation the first time.

The season of Christmas begins 8 days before Christmas on December 17th and lasts until the Epiphany (also known as "Little Christmas") on January 6th. The eight days before Christmas are known as the Novena and are often marked by children going door to door singing and giving recitations. Unlike the posadas common in Latin American cultures that symbolize the journey of Mary and Joseph in search of shelter, the Italian pastorals honor the journey of the shepherds to the manger.

Although dietary restrictions no longer play a central role in Catholic faith, many Italians still observe a strict fast from sundown on December 23rd to sundown on December 24th,. During the twilight hours of December 24th, candles or the traditional Yule log (which must burn through New Year's day), are lit and prayers are said around the family manger scene (the presepio) and a delicious feast is enjoyed before midnight mass.Because the regions of Italy are so diverse, it is difficult to identify one traditional Italian Christmas feast, but certain foods remain common. Fish remains a common ingredient, as older church doctrine limited the eating of meat on certain holy days. Most Christmas sweets contain nuts and honey, said to honor the fertility of the earth and make for a sweet new year. Panettone is a sponge cake studded with candied fruit - much lighter than the dense fruitcake concoctions that common in other countries! Nougat candies (torrone) and a rich gingerbread (panforte) are also very popular.

La Befana is Italy's answer to Santa Claus, although she arrives on the eve of the Epiphany instead of Christmas Eve. Legend has it that the Three Wise Men had stopped at La Befana's home asking for directions to the manger where the Christ child had been born. La Befana had no idea who they were in search of, and suspiciously declined to accompany them when the offered to let her join them. Rethinking their offer after they left, she decided to join them but became lost. She stopped every child who crossed her path and gave them treats in the possibility that one of them was the baby Jesus the three strangers had spoke of. And every year she continues her search for the Christ child she missed seeing, and she continues to leave treats for good children along the way!>>>

For photos of some amazing presepi, see

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Herculaneum Exhibit in Naples

I have many clients who have enjoyed a visit to Herculaneum even more than to Pompeii. And just as many of the wonderful original pieces from Pompeii are in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, there are now more things from Herculaneum there. A guide friend who is very familar with Naples says the exhibit is spectacular.

Here's the info from USA Today in a new report:

"Herculaneum, ignored by many a Pompeii-bound tourist as that other city the volcano Vesuvius "froze" in ancient time, is showing off its glories, including some never before seen by the public.

While visitors pour into the sprawling ruins of ancient Pompeii — 2.5 million came last year — archaeologists over the years have been quietly extracting remnants of the much-less visited Herculaneum, and what marvelous remnants they have plucked from that town where affluent ancient Romans savored sea views from well-appointed villas."

The exhibit Herculaneum, three centuries of discoveries brings together for the first time most of all the important statuary dug out of the bowels of the town, from the first underground exploratory tunnels during Bourbon King Charles' reign in the early 18th century, to the more scientific digs of the last couple of decades.

Running through April 13 at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, the show's delights range from exquisite tiny bronzes to colossal marble statues. Many pieces are from the aristocratic Villa of the Papyri, which takes its name from the library of papyrus scrolls found in the partially excavated residence. Among the show's stars are a pair of bronze athletes from the villa. The athletes are poised to sprint in an eternal wait for the starting signal."

Museum website is

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Books for being in Rome with kids

If you have plans to be in Rome with kids, you might like to acquire "Around Rome with Kids: 68 Great Things to Do Together, "written by Dana Prescott and published by Fodor in 2002.

Or, "Rome with Kids: An Insider's Guide," by J.M. Pasquei.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Far Away Friends

At this season, my thoughts turn to distant friends who I won't get to see or share a cup of something with over the holidays. Some in the USA, some abroad, some especially in Italy. For those in know who you are: people with whom business first brought us in touch but with whom friendship grew to keep us more closely in touch. You have blessed and enriched my life!

So lift a glass or cup, accept a virtual hug and know that I wish we could spend some time together over the holidays.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

English language bookstore and paperback exchange in Florence

Ever been in Florence and run out of 'trip books' to read? Or on a rainy day just want the warmth of a that has books in English? Or have paperbacks that you want to sell back rather than carry further in your luggage? This is the place. PAPERBACK EXCHANGE has been around for almost 30 years, has stock ranging from used books to new best sellers, and hosts readings by authors and other community events. It's located in the Centro Storico a stone's throw from the Duomo, and is open daily except Sunday at Via dell Ochre 4R. See

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ordering books from Amazon International

A few years ago I became aware that Amazon Books in other countries often had an even better selection of books and maps for that country than Amazon in the US does. For example, has a far more extensive inventory of books for the UK, and also for many countries in Europe. And then there's Amazon Germany, Amazon Spain, etc. Yep, many of the books are in the language of the foreign country, but not all. And yep, you have to pay internatinal postage. But at times when I have been desperate for a certain book or map, the Amazon international sites have saved me.

I've also used several times to send gifts to people living in Europe, which has worked out much better than sending it from the USA.

See for a list of Amazon Books international sites so far.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cozy 'bar' in Florence

In Florence, head your tired feet to the lovely small bar at Hotel Helvetia & Bristol, which is right in the heart of everything. Quiet, serene, friendly service, good snacks, good bar menu for light meals. In the home page photo at, the room in the background is the bar. Via dei Pescioni 2, 50123 Florence, ItalyTel: +39 055 26651

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Wisdom from an unexpected source

Though my former husband and I have been divorced for 27 years and he has been remarried for some of them, all three of us go as grandparents to our son's house in DC at Easter and often do things together when the kids are visiting in Austin. Last year Thanksgiving Dinner was for all of us at my house...and Christmas Dinner will be that way this year. We are indeed 'family.'

But I never expected Demi Moore - or the Liz Smith "Personalities" column - to be the source that expressed my feelings about that much better than I have ever managed to.

The blurb was talking about the fact that Moore and her (younger) husband, and Bruce Willis and his (younger) girlfriend, and the three Moore-Willis daughters had Thanksgiving together and will be together at Christmas. Moore's quoted comment was: "I think the key to any past is that you recognize and hold on to what you loved and what you gained, and you don't attach yourself to what you've lost."

Amen! Life is so much more pleasant this way.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Very Best Coffee!

I became a coffee nut a couple of years ago, but only last month did I come across what I think is "The Best Coffee I've Ever Had." My friend Nan McElroy in Venice sent me some of her favorite, the Galapagos variety from Caffe del Doge in Venice. WOW! I ordered for myself, several blends, and agree with Nan that the Galapagos is best suited to my taste. 'Course the shipping cost more than the coffee itself, but I will absolutely be ordering again. Shipment came within a week's time. See and be happy! This stuff is fabulous.

And to meet Nan and learn about the superb "Instructructions for Use" books that she has written for travelers to Italy and France, see These are available from

Bologna local dining tip

While in Italy last November, I met up with a friend who I had not seen in literally 50 years...since we graduated from high school. She has lived in Bologna since 1965 and is a professor at University of Bologna. She, her son and his fiancee took us to dinner at their favorite local place: Ristorante Petroniano Club, Via dell'Orso 9, closed Sundays. The owner, Modesto Casolari, an elegant older gentleman, is ultra-present and overseeing everything. We had speck with pineapple and banana, which may sound odd but was terrific! Then a plate with three pastas...tagliatelli with ragu, spinach tortoloni stuffed with cheese, and a spicy fusilli. And, liking three things on a plate...we had a dolce plate with Tiramisu, Zuppa Englese and Semifreddo with fruit sauce. The restaurant is in the heart of Bologna. See and (click to see menu)

Picasso restaurant at Bellagio, Las Vegas

I had the good fortune to be invited to a birthday dinner at Picasso restaurant in the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas. What a treat! Picasso is an AAA Five Diamond restaurant, and has been for seven years.The ambiance is lovely, with the renowned Bellagio fountains doing their thing just outside the enormous windows. The service was impeccable, the food beautiful and delicious. There was a three-course prix-fixe menu with set items at $ 125 per person, and another three-course prix-fixe menu with selections in each category for about $ 10 less per person. We were able to mix and match between the two menus. Each course was beautifully presented, needless to say. There is also seating on a small terrace right in front of the fountains, and there are heaters for when it's chilly. For me, though,the music was too loud there when the fountains were'd pretty much have to stop talking for those minutes.

Our head waiter was Ron, and the Maitre'D' is Ryland Worrell. For a special occasion, I can highly recommend Picasso. See