American Re-Entry


For those of you who thought that just because we were stateside we'd stop writing, sorry but here I am. Plus, the return home after a long journey is generally a topic that is often overlooked I think - we're mostly focused on the leaving. I also have had several suggestions that I should just keep writing as though I'm traveling, so, who knows, maybe a not-so-distant future in fiction?? In any case, Jon and I are about 2 weeks into our American re-entry, and it's been... a lot of things. Time has passed slowly, and it's hard to believe that 2 weeks ago we were in Istanbul, and a few days before that we were going about our normal day-to-day in Italy. For those of you who might be wondering, are you experiencing culture shock? Yes. Here are some thoughts that run through my head more often than they probably should:

Enormous cappucino!

  • If I ask this person a question will they speak my language? I wonder if they speak French...
  • Wait, what time is it?
  • My coffee is HUGE
  • Everything is HUGE
  • I understand everything
  • How lovely that laundry takes less than 1-2 days, dryers are awesome and everything is soft and fluffy
  • Wow, that plate of food is HUGE
  • What's the exchange rate. Wait....
  • Oh, I can call you on the telephone, and I don't have to search all over for wifi???

It's an interesting thing to consider that I've spent the majority of my life in my home country, and really a small percentage outside of the country, that experiencing culture shock at home would happen, but it does. It's taught me that as people, we have an amazing ability to adapt quickly to new places and ways of living so much so that we have to re-adapt to what we've grown up with. And it's just as much of a challenge as going to a new place.

Luckily for Jon and I, our re-entry was somewhat staged, so getting back into a life in America just seemed like transitioning to a new place, one that we happen to be familiar with (and includes our friends and family). Here's how it happened:

Istanbul - Springfield

Conference on Otto Kerner

There's something about going from the crossroads of Europe and Asia to a center of Americana such as Springfield, Illinois. Not exactly glamorous as one might have it, but extremely interesting, and oh so American. No, we didn't choose Springfield randomly, we came back at this particular time to attend the Abraham Lincoln Library Governor's Conference on Otto Kerner, governor from 1961-1968; who also happens to be my grandfather. I've never really incorporated that bit of family history with how I identify myself in my day-to-day, primarily because I really didn't know much about his career. But I learned some fascinating things about him, including a sampling of his major accomplishments; which include:

  • Restructuring the entire mental health system in Illinois
  • Expanding the higher education system from 6 campuses to 33, effectively creating the nation's first community college system
  • Using political ingenuity to improve racial equality by making Illinois one of the first States to ensure equal housing rights to Black Americans
  • Securing Illinois as the site for the first permanent atomic accelerator lab in the country (Fermilab)
  • Serving as the chair of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (also known as the Kerner Commission); with the basic conclusion that, "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white--separate and unequal."

Hearing from his contemporaries, learning of these accomplishments, visiting Springfield, and even getting a surprise visit of the State Mansion where mom grew up made for a really special weekend. A true cultural learning experience!

We took our day between conferencing and flying to Seattle to walk around Springfield, visit Abraham Lincoln's house, have a mediocre hamburger and enjoy our cozy hotel room. AMERICA!

Springfield - Seattle

Southern Illinois Fields

Apparently, it's cheaper to take a train to St. Louis and then fly to Seattle by way of Chicago, than it is to fly from Springfield to Chicago and then onto Seattle... Huh. Fine for us, we love taking trains, and are used to it! A great way of seeing any country, and America totally applies, is by train, and so the 2 hour ride from Springfield to St. Louis, through nothing but small mid-west towns and cornfields was lovely. Plus, crossing the Mississippi and seeing the Arch was very cool. Again, this felt just like a continuation of our adventure.

We didn't spend any time in St. Louis, but did appreciate that unlike so many American cities, but very common in Europe, the lightrail to the airport was just outside the main train and bus station. Here's to transportation hubs!

No More Airplanes

We arrived in Seattle in time for it to really hit us that we were done with airplanes. In fact, the idea of stopping for a while was becoming an ever present sensation. Yes we'd been in Italy for 2 months, but after awhile you just want a space that's yours. We haven't gotten there yet, but being with family and good friends has made this so much easier.

For our first few days we relaxed in Olympia, with family and are now visiting Portland, Oregon, the place from which we began this journey, and the place to which we will end. We had mixed feelings driving into Portland; thoughts of "is it really over?" and "you missed our exit, our house is that way... oh wait, we don't have a house..." But driving into Portland, where I have lived for 12 years and Jon 11, felt both familiar and new. Comfortable with new curiosity and interest. The city looks a bit brighter and intriguing. I don't know how much it's really changed in 10 months, but enough time passes where there are new restaurants, new people, new things happening. So suddenly your home feels like a whole new landscape to explore. That's nice for us. It really does feel like a kind of continuation - not a stop, or sidestep.

Reattaching Strings

Many people, in fact most people were really surprised when we said we were up and leaving. And most people also expressed that they could never do it. Bull honkey. Anyone can stop the phone service, give up the apartment (yeah this is harder if you own your house), quit the job and go. Of course it's not THAT easy, but it's also not that hard. What IS hard is reconnecting all those cords once you've cut them. It's really hard to rent an apartment without a job! I realize now I've never had to do that. We built in several months of living expenses for this ambiguous time of settling, but still, I definitely did not consider how complicated it is to completely create a new life that is not based in transition. No regrets, just an interesting challenge in this next phase of our life journey...

Reunion in Portland with Friends

So what's next? Jobs, house, friends, family, and all that goes with it. And maybe the occasional blog post and wanderlust. And for the record, it's really really really nice to be near people we care about. Travel is fabulous, but it doesn't replace relationships - ever.

Art Overseas: Part 2


Jon and I are back stateside, but before we completely re-enter the world of whatever is to come, I wanted to follow up on my two-part series about art overseas. I can't pretend that these writings are comprehensive by all means. Books have been written, heck grad programs are built on art and culture in these places. So this is just a brief survey. England & Scotland

2 words: Free Museums. That’s what I took away from our month in the UK (plus a newfound love of creamed tea). Art, history, archeology, music, literature – anything that can go into a museum or collection is free to access thanks to the UK’s support of culture and heritage.  Of course London itself is a whole other beast – being an arts capital in and of itself. Unfortuantely we only spend 6 hours in London…. So I just know about that arts-capital-ness in theory.

National Gallery Edinburgh

National Gallery Edinburgh

In terms of immersion, being in the UK didn’t really feel that different from being in the US. There are summer music festivals everywhere with all kinds of music and events. Art and craft fairs are frequent. Pubs and evening concerts are plentiful – especially in the music city of Newcastle, where we went to 2 music festivals and got to catch a CD release party (the power went out so the party continued on the street – pretty cool). Aside form the fact that eating isn’t so much a pleasurable experience in the UK, getting out and doing something arty is quite easy, fun and always interesting.

The National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, by the way, was one of my favorite visual art experiences. I event went back for a second visit. Incredible paintings, beautiful galleries, and an excellent contemporary art installations made for an extremely pleasant visit.

??? Lillehammer

??? Lillehammer


I am 100% certain that Norway is full of super interesting cultural goings-ons, but the fact that sitting down for a cup of coffee costs around $15 and going into a museum would mean eating hot dogs for a week, we were unable to participate in much. I do know from my own studies that Norway and the Scandinavian countries in general have a rich folk music tradition, which one can easily access on the radio. Metal and other types of hard rock are also extremely popular here. Interestingly one of the most blatant forms of creativity we saw was in home interior design. Apparently because it’s so cold most of the year people are really focused on making their homes very comfortable, inviting and beautiful.


Painting, sculpture, dance, music, old, new – Spain has it all. As Bruges oozed architectural amazement, Spain just oozes expression.  The Spanish people are already social, gregarious and outwardly emotive, and in my experience they put just as much of that gregariousness into their art. It’s everywhere, and I believe the Spanish are proud of their cultural heritage and dedicated towards fostering creativity for the future.

Not only is Spain the home of the greats like Picasso, El Greco, de Goya, Ramon Gaya and so many others; its museums: the Prada, the Reina Sofia, the Picasso in Barcelona, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, are some of the best in the world. All of this doesn’t account for the local arts, which are well taken care of via local town festivals, galleries, concerts and nightly flamenco music in tavernas.

One of our favorite experiences was getting to see a Flamenco Festival in the small mining town of La Union near Cartagena. 5 hours of dance, guitar, singing and instrumentation was incredible.

Spanish culture is delightful as well in that, especially at night, everyone is out and about. People walk around town, 3 year olds with great grandparents until the wee hours of the morning, just chatting, walking, and enjoying the warm air. I loved that scene.


Before you come to Italy in search of art, of any kind, you should ask yourself: How do you feel about the Renaissance? How do you feel about religious art? Because if you don’t care much for either, or its enormous contributions to Western art and culture, nor its implications on political history (as in how much money the church really had), you probably won’t appreciate much of what Italy has to offer.

Now, we spent the majority of our two months only in the Region of Umbria, With about 9-10 days or so combined outside of the region in Rome and Naples. One thing we learned is how unique all of Italy’s regions are, and also how important Umbria was to the Renaissance. No, it’s not Florence, Tuscany or Venice. But Umbria is home to Assisi – a pilgrimage for many Catholics. Perugia has ancient Etruscan history, and the towns surrounding Lake Trasimeno were the scenes of many battles, including the defeat of the Roman army by Hannibal himself. During medieval times the church had the majority of the wealth and, aside from very wealthy landowners was the only purse able to fund art. Umbria also became an area for many artists to study and practice, artists like Raphael himself who studied with Vannucci, or more commonly known as Perugino, in Perugia.

One thing that is so incredible about Italy is also just how much art is intact from the Renaissance era. From the largest most ornate basilicas and cathedrals to the tiny hamlet church that has a priceless 13th century altar piece inside – it’s everywhere. I’ll admit, I got a little jaded on god art, but one still has to appreciate how much there is, and how these artists paved a way for the development of painting and visual art in the Western World.

Although we weren’t there during the season, the importance of Opera should not be understated, and some of the world’s greatest opera houses are in Italy – fitting for the country that produced Verdi and Puccini. We went to the world’s smallest opera house – it was pretty cool!

But truly, so much in Italy is steeped in old tradition including food and wine. We were amazed at the wine festivals (it should also be noted that culturally, Italians seem to love to celebrate!). Not only were the pours generous, but the wines were good and so was the people watching.

European Diversity

I want to make  quick note about European culture in general. And that’s to say that sure there are a few things, mostly politically and economically that can be generalized, but one reason I find Europe so fascinating is just how unique each country and its people are. France is a completely different ballgame than Spain, and Italy couldn’t be more different from either of those two. Having been to Germany on an earlier trip, I can also say how different that country is from the others. This is really incredible to me especially given that Europe is politically unified.

What's been one of the most memorable cultural experiences you've had?

A Layover in Istanbul


When Jon and I made our arrangements to go back to the United States, we had to get ourselves to Springfield, Illinois for a 3 day visit and then on to Seattle where Olympia would be our final destination (until we find a place to live in Portland). In an odd yet perfect ending to this journey, our flight path back included an overnight layover in Istanbul. Knowing that we would be incredibly frustrated by landing in such an exciting place and having to turn around the next day, we were able to add a night to our layover, giving us 2 nights and 2 days in the Queen of Cities. Even though we’re pretty much out of money, we’re kinda tired of packing and unpacking the suitcase, I have no warm clothes for winter, and we got to a point where we’re actually a bit jaded by touristy stuff (“Oh, it’s a 9th century church, meh” or “Roman ruins? Seen ‘em”); we’re a little weirded out by the end of our trip.

This 2 day layover was a great buffer between our life for the last 10 months and our return to whatever life we’ll have in America. Plus, Istanbul is so incredible that it reignited that love of travel just so we know we’ll want to keep doing it. Here’s what we saw.


Ataturk Airport is an easy connection to the city on public transportation, if you have time. We took the M1 to the Tl and got off at Sultanahmet, the very center of historical Istanbul. When you get off the tram and walk about 100 meters, you find yourself right in the middle of the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. It’s breathtaking and overwhelming; humbling and inspiring. You realize quickly where you are – this incredible ancient city with monumental historical importance. The gravity of it all has yet to leave me.  Our hotel was situated in the historical quarter. We knew that with a half day and one full day we’d want to be close to the sights. Hotel Senatus was great by the way – good value and excellent service!

Republic Day

We didn’t mean to, but we ended up arriving in Istanbul on the nation’s version of the 4th of July: Republic Day. After a bit of reading on the great site, Istanbul Eats, we decided that we should head across the water to Taksim Square, see that side of town and search for street food. Being in Istanbul on Republic Day made you feel like there could be no other country in the world with as much pride. Flags flying everywhere, people carrying flags, and the bridge crossing the Bosphorus lit up red. An impressive fireworks show and joyful crowd gave us the impression that this is a very happy and contented country.

After the fireworks we walked up the hill to Taksim Square. It was a great party atmosphere and we enjoyed our sampling of the famous ‘wet burger’ and a doner kebab (which was yummy). We ended up strolling down the main street of _____ with thousands of other people enjoying the cool night, open shops, hundreds of bars (apparently there are over 1000 bars in this neighborhood!), and the realization of just how hip, young and vibrant this city really is.

Our wanderings took us to have lacmahun (pronounced lakmajoon) a seasoned flatbread that you roll up with lettuce, tomato and lemon. Delicious! We decided that we should also have a solid hooka experience and while we were almost sold on the outdoor touristy looking hooka bar, we opted to continue further down a small alley where we found a funky place serving hooka for half the price. Once upstairs and installed on a comfy sofa we enjoyed our honey flavored hooka with a roudy group of Turks who took the opportunity when the night club music came on to start clapping and dancing.

Sightseeing day – The Blue Mosque

You can’t go to Istanbul and not see the Blue Mosque (ok I realize we went a lot of places and didn’t see really important things, but most of that was a budget issue – the Mosque is free – GO).  Bring a scarf if you’re a lady and be prepared to take off your shoes. It’s as every bit as incredible on the inside as on the outside.

There’s something about Islamic art and architecture that is rich and astounding in such a different way from other religious art. The detail, the symbolism and the color instantly transport you to a holy place. In Islam there is no portrayal of people as it would be seen as idolatry, so you are presented with patters, design and stunning Arabic script. The low-hanging lamps and plush rugs for prayer provide understanding into this beautiful religion. And yes, Islam is a beautiful religion – it just has some really crazy followers.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that cleanliness is a tenant of Islam and the mosque itself and its grounds are impeccably clean, the throngs of tourists with no shoes makes for a pretty stinky visit. Didn’t expect that one!

Basilica Cistern

Because we arrived just before the mosque closed for prayer time, our visit was short. We were going to cross the square and visit the Hagia Sophia, but the lines were stupidly long so we decided to check out the 3rd site we had on our plan: the Basilica Cistern.

Built in 542 AD, the cistern held a large supply of the city’s water. This is no basin of water, it’s an underground palace, with over 350 columns and archways to match. Cool, shallow water still gathers, and koi effortlessly meander in the water. The dim, but striking lighting and quiet Turkish music make this place truly a wonder, and one where I found myself just wanting to sit peacefully, soak up the coolness and history and enjoy the quiet. Definitely worth a visit.

Hagia Sophia

There are some things about the Hagia Sophia that make this site almost too much to believe:

It was originally built in 360 AD. It burned down and was rebuilt twice. The final time, and the main structure that stands today, only took 5 years and 10 months to build and was finished in 537 AD. 10,000 unskilled workers and 1000 craftsman pulled it off. It was a church for 900 years – yes 900 - before Sultan Ahmed II came and conquered the Byzantine capital and transformed it into a mosque in 1453 AD. What’s even more amazing about it (and the Ottoman conquest in general) is that although it was converted to a mosque, it’s Christian origins, artwork and symbols were kept and retained. I have never been in one building where in same view frame of your eyes you can see a Virgin Mary holding Jesus, and the symbol for Allah. Again, the gravity of the place starts to sink in.

The Grand Bazaar

The world's largest indoor market is indeed big and there are lots of ways you could spend money. Given its size, this market actually felt calm, completely organized and plain easy compared to the markets in Marrakech, Senegal and Mali. Turks are also incredibly fair when it comes to a sale, and although bargaining is a must, they're very unlikely to take advantage of you. Makes the whole experience a lot easier.

Seafood on the Bosphorus

We had a chance to meet up with a friend of mine from my study abroad days in Strasbourg. Since Jon and I had no idea what there was to do, we let Bilge be our guide for the evening and were treated to a locals tour of the best Istanbul has to offer (so it seemed). We had fresh Mackerel and a spread of local dishes for dinner. Followed by a visit to the best Baklava shop in Turkey (that’s what she and everyone else says!). This was followed by a walk up the hill back to Taksim where we wandered the back streets only a local would know in order to get a hill top view of the Bosphorus Strait.

It was at this point where I embarrassingly realized that when everyone was talking about the “Asian side” of the Bosphorus, they weren’t talking about a super large Chinatown per say, it’s actually ASIA. Yeah I know, you think that’s silly, but when you’re standing on the actual line between continents and they are only separated by a small body of water but these two continents are still part of the same country, then what would you say?!

Our visit with a local also drove home the juxtaposition between the seemingly calm and peaceful Turkey we had as tourists, and the underlying tension and anger that actually exists among Turkish people. We hadn't really followed the news of the riots earlier this year in Taksim Square, but were fascinated by how different a place can feel than what is really going on.


We had a great, short visit to Istanbul, one that whetted our appetites for travel, even though we're now back in the US and taking one final flight back to the Northwest tomorrow. But homecoming is a different topic!

What's been your favorite layover?

Art Overseas: Part 1


These two posts (this one and the one to follow) are long overdue for me, and as it is, they are completely inadequate as far as even beginning to skim the surface of the depth and breadth of cultural and creative expression we’ve experienced over the last 10 months. But just as at home, there is art overseas, art everywhere, in so many forms. So as a student of music, an arts administrator by profession and lover of all creative things by person, I offer a super truncated survey on the countries and places we’ve been and my (very) brief observations on the art we’ve experienced. We’ve been a lot of places so I’ve divided this into two posts – one for the first ‘leg’ of our trip – Belgium to West Africa and France; and then the second part after we returned from my brother’s wedding in May back to Europe. I love art and creative expression in all its forms (ok most all its forms, I’ll admit uber-modern conceptual dance isn’t really my thing..) and have kept an eye open for glimpses of how cultures in the 9 countries (10 if you include Vatican City! And 11 if you include our upcoming 2 day jaunt to Istanbul) we’ve visited express or the overarching things that struck me. So here we go: a brief review in chronological order of our travels of art overseas.


Hellloooo gorgeous! Not only did we arrive in Bruges as our first stop on our trip – we arrived in one of the most visually stunning places I have ever seen. You may remember us blogging about it, but Belgium has loads of incredible art and expression oozing from all over. I think Belgium gets a bad rap for being boring (I’ve heard it several times), but I had completely the opposite experience.

Contemporary Installation in a Church

Contemporary Installation in a Church

Both Bruges and Ghent amazed me in the contrast of antiquity and modern right next to and on top of each other. In 12th century churches and cathedrals we saw modern photography, painting and even light installations. We saw modern sculpture in little open squares surrounded by gothic architecture. And in Ghent, an art and design student’s dream destination, we meandered down a world-famous street art alley. All this in the dead of winter – I can’t imagine what it’s like during festival season in the summer.

Beer is also something of an art – and if you are a beer lover like Jon and me you know that Belgium produces an unbelievable amount of excellent brews. And… every brewery needs a label so think of all the artists they’re employing on top of the creativity they offer by making fantastic beer!

Oh, and if you're in Brussels, you must go to the Instrument Museum  - the largest collection of unique instruments in the world - it's incredible!

Mali & Senegal

I generally feel wrong about lumping two countries together because the cultures really are different – not to mention that there are multiple ethnic groups in each of these countries - but there are a few similarities I want to point out here about creative expression. These two cultures, in my opinion, are built upon a very foundation of creativity. The line between performer and observer is much more obscure than in the West – and nearly everyone has some kind of craft or has an artisan in their family. Families themselves are artisanal – as in that family are all blacksmiths, and this family are all tailors. The tradition of craft is centuries old, as is storytelling and history told through music by dignified griots. Both Mali and Senegal are recognized internationally for the musical artists they produce, indeed the New York Times has quite the love affair with Senegal and Mali. It’s not only because of their rich traditional music, which is alive, but also because both countries produce incredible hip hop and rap artists that shake the international scene.

wedding celebration in Mali

wedding celebration in Mali

Being in Mali in January was a very interesting and difficult time. We arrived 4 days before fighting broke out between the French and Islamists who were threatening the security of southern Mali. Places like Timbuktu – the famous intellectual outpost and desert-trade crossroads – was under siege and these people who cared nothing for heritage but only for eternal glory (which I suppose is cultural it its own right – but so very horrible in the way it’s played out via religious zealots…. I digress) – burned and destroyed ancient manuscripts and cultural treasures within the libraries. As if this, and the fact that thousands of people became refugees, wasn’t enough, the very heartbeat of Mali’s expressiveness nearly came to a stop.

Public gatherings and celebrations were banned, simply for the fact that you didn’t know anymore who was friend and who was foe. Public gatherings include wedding celebrations, concerts, night clubs. Imagine Bamako in normal times. Sunday afternoon. The city is alive with multiple wedding celebrations, music, drums, dance, laughter make Bamako come alive. Then imagine Bamako with no gatherings. People got married, but musicians didn’t play, people didn’t dance. And in the North, which was completely held hostage under the most extreme view of Islam, some of the countries biggest rising musical stars couldn’t play a tune – for fear of awful retribution. This was a very different Mali. But what I will say is how unbelievably resilient Malians are. I think that if we went back now, Sundays, and every day, would be filled with expression.

In terms of visual art, and aside from sculpture and paintings made for tourists, I was very interested to see unbelievably large public art works in roundabouts on roadways. I didn’t really see any other signs of public art except these large installations. This is curious to me!

Mauritanian Singers

Mauritanian Singers


…has more camels than people. Need I say more about the lack of public art? This would probably be the place to make sandcastles – really big ones – cause… it’s the Sahara. The one look at traditional music was interesting though!


Sweet Morocco. I’m in love with this place. The blending of cultures and traditions is truly amazing. Berber, Arab, Spanish, Ottoman, French – it’s incredible. Outwardly the architecture is pretty uninteresting. But that’s because Moroccans are family-focused and so the tilework, woodwork, painting, filagre and all of the intricacy you think of when you envision Morocco lives inside the home.

Morocco is a place to overload your senses, and in addition to the sights and smells, the people provide such a warm friendly welcome that you can’t help but feel overjoyed to be there.

We took a lot of bus rides in Morocco – it’s the easiest and cheapest way to get around. In addition to the music that was almost always playing for the bus driving (and therefore everyone else), every rest stop in every village as such a sight. Open stalls, butchers with the day’s goats and lamb for sale (yes hanging, for you to purchase), boutiques with tobacco and endless amounts of cookies and tea houses – all with a local radio playing. In the Atlas mountains this was even more interesting for me because all the radio stations were playing local Berber music. Again, the blend of influences of Islamic chant, Eastern rhythms and a special flavor – the native Berber sounds – was simply music to my ears.

I’d go back to Morocco any day – just to be filled with sensory overload. And… to eat amazing food.


Hmm, mon dieu what does one say in a few paragraphs about a country who produced some of the greatest painters, writers, thinkers and sculptures in the Western World (is that too bold?). What to say about the country that welcomed America’s black jazz musicians when we wouldn’t have them; nurtured their art and then let us have them back? The country that gave us French Chanson and Nadia Boulanger and Debussy among so many others. What to say about a country whose language, food, wine and fashion is art? Are you getting the point?

I will say that France, with its plethora of art, has really expensive, and expansive, art museums. It’s very costly to have a holiday in Paris in particular and even with 4 days we didn’t go to Louvre (I know.. I know!!). We did however purchase the Musee d’Orsay/Musee Rodin combo ticket, which was totally worth it, especially if you buy the ticket at the Rodin Museum because there’s never a line. Paris no doubt has some of the world's best art museums, but the gardens, sculptures and simply just the grandeur of the city feels like you're living in a piece of art. The rest of France, with its charming villages, perfectly landscaped countryside and all the wonderful french things that go with it make for a wonderful place to be. Why is it though that American nightclub music is SO popular though??!

To be continued... The UK, Norway, Spain and Italy...

This is Pompeii


So that catastrophic historical event that you learned about in grade school – where a volcano erupted and perfectly preserved an entire city under ash and stone for nearly 2000 years before being discovered? Yeah, it’s every bit as incredible as you might thing it is. This is Pompeii – the city that was buried beneath the destruction of Mount Vesuvius. We went there, and it was astounding. When we arrived in Naples one of the first things we did in the morning was to walk down to the water and view the bay. If you didn’t know the history behind Mount Vesuvius, you’d just be mildly impressed at the large dome-shaped mountain across from the city that clearly is missing a good third of it’s top. But when you know what it caused, standing there and thinking, that is Mount Vesuvius – wow – makes the experience that much more impactful. It also reminds you how long the land has been inhabited; by so many different people; and in so many ways that are important to the Western World.

Pompeii is a short 45-minute train ride on the Circumvesuviano train that leaves from Naples’ central Garibaldi station. The ride isn’t particularly interesting; that is until you round the southern slope of Mount Vesuvius and see just how much of itself it blew into nothing. Like Mt St. Helens, Vesuvius was a significantly higher elevation before its most recent eruption in 79 AD.

There were 2 things that struck me up arrival at the Pompeii Scavi station (which leads directly to the ruins): 1) I had imagined that Pompeii was further up the slope of Mount Vesuvius, but it’s actually quite low in the valley; 2) Pompeii was huge – not just some small town. Pompeii was a thriving city and its completeness in terms of how extensive the ruins are really is mind-boggling.

Somehow Jon and I missed getting a map or any sort of guide to the city. This was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that we had no schedule for our visit – just an open curiosity that led us to many places where there were no tourists whatsoever. It was a curse in that we didn’t know what we were looking at at the time. It’s ok. I bought a book to read up later.

Archeological Finds in Pompeii

When you walk into the main city square and approach the Temple of Jupiter, you have the first real understanding of the grandeur of the city and of its scope. Between Rome, Athens, visiting Greek Islands and many Roman ruins throughout France, Spain, England and Italy there is nothing that compares for me to the scale of Pompeii. It’s not tall and massive like the Colosseum. It’s simply that it’s an entire city, excavated, and completely accessible.  It really hits home what this place is when you come to a large storehouse of excavated pottery, in the midst of which are plaster-casts of the human shelled remains that were found at the site. Crouching, laid out, looking frightened – this is the only museum of sorts (except the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC) where I’ve felt such a human connection to the past.  Even the fact that they are plaster casts (there is one case of actual remains to see, the rest are in the Archeological Museum in Naples), does not distract from understanding that fear and disaster completely transcend time and culture.

Crouching Pompeii Victim


One of the treasures of Pompeii upon its discovery was the mosaic and fresco artwork. Although much of the art has been moved to the Museum in Naples, there are still frescos and mosaics to view at Pompeii. Again, it’s one thing to see a fresco here and there at a ruin; it’s another to see it in the context of the vast city. You begin to understand the scale. I cannot imagine what the sight may have been like to discover homes, temples and taverns complete with furniture, tableware, art, sculpture and yes, the people, upon Pompeii’s discovery. Pompeii is special because you can walk down the original stone streets, see the grooves in the stone from cartwheels and look along the main thoroughfares and archways. Letting your mind fill in the missing columns and rooftops it’s easy to see Pompeii as a busy city center and commercial hub – all buried in one night.

In terms of ‘attractions’ this visit was probably the best 11€ I’ve spent on the trip. We took about 5 hours to walk and explore and missed an entire quadrant of the city.  If you go, bring food and water, and a keen curiosity to explore. This was a special treat for us, and I will always be grateful for seeing what is left of Pompeii.

Ahh…Napoli, i.e. Naples doesn't care what you think!


Naples is not the first place you think of going when you hit Italy, or the second, third, fourth, or maybe even fifth; hell, many people would see all of Northern Italy before hitting Italy’s red-headed step-child of a city (I mean this most affectionately). Well I’m here to tell you that if your 2-3 week trip in Italy does not include Naples, you have planned poorly or simply are not interested in seeing what Italy really has to offer. Napoli Architecture and 'art' - graffitiA complete opposite to the meticulously lined and polished landscape of Tuscany, Naples is in a mountainous, sort of sprawling strip of coastline in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, a couple hours train ride from Rome. Naples is a disappointment to see on the train/bus upon arrival, as the outskirts of the city are mostly factories and ugly high-rise buildings made of concrete.


When we got to Naples, a very nice man explained where we were to catch our bus back to home and was a bit shocked we were from the States, stating: “America! Why are you HERE, mamma mia!?” At this point Jess and I thought we were pretty much going to get mugged any minute and our short walk to the station did not change this perception as it looked a little like a demilitarized zone. We arrived at Garibaldi station and started our way to our hostel/hotel.

As we exited our metro (after getting a little lost due to the rather unintuitive and completely unsigned metro system) we entered Dante plaza, a large open space with a triumphant looking Dante and our first introduction to the old city. We walked down the Via Toledo and were immediately shocked: It was crazy; people everywhere, garbage, graffiti, countless shops, teeming and electric. We made it to our hostel, which like all the buildings was mid-collapse, and settled into out tiny room before embracing the streets. Our first destination: Pizza in the old city, as Naples is the birthplace of the glorious pizza (which by the way was considered filthy and disease causing by the upper crust [pun intended] Italy’s past as it was made in the poorest part of Naples).

Yes Please!We traveled through the old city to our first real pizza experience at Sorbillo, the only pizzeria in the world to have a Michelin star. After the 45 minute wait, a common wait time for tourist and Neapolitans alike, we entered the crowded dinning room and ordered. They have many pizzas, one beer, one or two kinds of wine, and are pretty short on patience. We got the margharita and one with toppings and the result: Better than any pizza you have tried anywhere unless it was at this place; I say this with 100% certainty. The crust was thin and chewy, sauce tangy but not overwhelming, and the mozzarella bufala creamy and delicious. It was one of the best eating experiences we have ever had. We ate at this place again a day later and would have waited as long as it took. Just a little bonus: The pizza was less than 4 Euros!

Food & Shopping

The next day we were on a mission to get Jess a jacket, and shopped our way through the crowded streets. Another thing Naples is known for is clothing; that sought after Italian fashion but 30% cheaper than elsewhere in Italy. Fashion in general in Naples was kinda funny; think Park Avenue meets Jersey Shore. Jess had no luck finding a jacket, but I certainly could have spent some money. Naples is a wonderland of mens fashion. Shop after shop of hand made suits, shirts, stylish pants and cheap jeans awaited any willing buyer. I’m so used to having to look in the tiny men's section of shops dominated by ladies clothing, that this was quite a treat.

That evening we had fried vegetables, another staple of Naples, and engaged in an awesome Naples experience: Public drinking. Every night tons of people gather in a small plaza surrounded by bars, restaurants and take-away shops to drink a cheap beer sitting next to 2600 year old Greek ruins. The plaza is disgusting. There is just no other way to put it. However, as you sit with 20-30-40 somethings drinking a beer in a small cloud of cigarette and marijuana smoke, Italians gesticulating wildly, laughing, and Armani clad socialites rubbing elbows with the cities homeless, you get an awesome view of humanity, and why this city is great.

Street Scene waiting for Pizza


The next day we went to Pompeii. Right off the train you will find one of the largest, most intact historical sites in the modern world. In the shadow of the once great Vesuvius is road after road of homes, shops, temples, and public squares, many of which still have detailed mosaics, intact ovens and tools of the times. Jess and I were there for 4-5 hours and maybe saw half of the site. It is really amazing. We also saw the famous “people” of Pompeii, once living citizens immediately cased in ash and frozen in time. Just the scale of the ruins justifies a trip for every history buff that comes to Italy. Jess is writing a more through piece on Pompeii, so look for that!

Day 2

That afternoon we walked around the old city to see some of the oldest shops and trades. One kind of bizarre trade was the making of very detailed wooden figures for nativity scenes, which is fine until you see a whole street of 40 shops bursting into the street with strange masks, figures, and whole little villages in wood. They were really amazing, but kinda creeped me out. We also explored some of the more questionable parts of town, which would have made for foolish nighttime wandering. Unfortunately, the Neapolitan mafia is still a very real deal here; past certain streets were until recently the scene for gang related shootings, hands-on crime, and forced pay-offs (which are still the case). Indeed upon arrival our hostel owner showed us where not to go on the map, "best not to cross this line at Via Duomo, over there is where a lot of shootings between the families happened a few years back." Wha?!

That evening we had pizza again (shocker…but common, what could we possibly get that’s better for 5$?!) and had another thing Naples knows best, espresso. Café Mexico is regarded by some as the best coffee in the world. It is very simple, strong, and quite worthy of the praise (although “best in the world” is questionable). Due to Italians setting national standards for the price of espresso at about a euro (it was getting too high due to taxation and Italians revolted) it certainly does not break the bank either.

Us in NapoliWe had to leave early the next day but really wanted to stay; Naples gritty charm had worked its magic on us. There is really no way to describe the city that is Naples, but I’ll give it my best: When I think of Naples I liken it to a once exquisite armchair, now torn and soiled through years of heavy use, that you cannot bring yourself to throw out because it is so comfortable. You know that you will not find another chair to replace it, so regardless of how it looks, it will never leave your living room.


Jess's additional thoughts:

I went to Naples to eat, and to eat pizza specifically. I'm happy to report, as Jon has, that we were not disappointed. Pizza plus the unending pastries, sweets, fried deliciousness, coffee and gelato at ever turn is a feast for the senses and stomach. Napoli isn't where you go to start a diet, but one shouldn't care. Eating here, and in all of Italy in fact, is such a pleasurable experience, one that deserves time and focus and I love obliging in every way.

Naples' rough edge but juxtaposing style made me really feel like I was in the old world. At the same time walking around at night, with shops open late and goods pouring out of small storefronts, including kitchy home items, plastic goods, electronics and of course cloths reminded me of similar night time scenes in Dakhla, Morocco and some other small towns. Somewhat old, somewhat second-world, urban but not all the way modern, Naples has a really special vibrancy to it.  Grit, grime and all, it's a place we completely loved.

Closing this Chapter


Well the time has come. We’ve made the decision to come back to the United States at the beginning of November and are closing this chapter for now. Our list of places to visit and experiences we want to have has only grown on this trip, not diminished. In the end, our dwindling funds make those experiences more and more truncated and therefore less what we want them to be. So we’ll spend the next 3 weeks doing as much as we can in Italy, maybe spending a bit more to have richer experiences, rather than trying to see more countries and having a superficial experience. Todi Basilica

Naturally, this is bittersweet for us, and the ending of a very interesting chapter in our lives. We would love to keep traveling (who wouldn’t). But the prospect of finding work is daunting enough, much less during the holiday season.

It's not all sad though. Jon and I are both homebodies in a way, and the 10 months we've been away from our friends and family has been a generous amount of time to explore and learn about the world. My general feeling from the long-term-traveler world is that going for as long as you can is the goal and that going back to the more 'normal' model of an 8-hour work day means you failed at something; like you failed to figure out how to live an alternative lifestyle.

But Jon and I have been and are very deliberate about our choices; and the choice to end this journey is not a matter of failure, it's a matter of knowing when we've hit a sweet spot, that our community of friends will still be there when we return, and that perhaps, just perhaps this isn't the last journey we'll ever take. As I read through our archives of this blog, I'm so proud that we accomplished one of our original goals: to find fulfillment, just to the point of 'enough.'

Umbria light

As I begin to apply for jobs I think about the life I left behind 10 months ago. There was a lot of stress. There was the whole process of being and acting 'professional,' like that was different from who I really was. I think a part of me wanted to prove on this trip that I was separate from that. But as I begin to envision new work opportunities, new colleagues, new ideas and of course, most importantly, being with the friends and people we care about, I realize that I'm not leaving anything behind in ending our travels. We are just beginning a new chapter - a new adventure. Perhaps it's one of a more generic sort, or one that's not always seen as an 'adventure.' But part of my goal will be to continue to 'seek fireflies' in the daily rhythm of work and life. Perhaps in the life I left behind 10 months ago I had just forgotten to look for bits of inspiration and the dolce vita which has been so easily handed to us during our trip (when things weren't really stressful or tiresome in and of themselves) made it seem like we couldn't have that at home. Or maybe I was just too distracted by what seemed important that I felt like I had to completely extricate myself and figure it out. Whatever it was I think it's worked.

About a month ago, and prior, I was terrified of ending this trip. Terrified that if I went home I'd lose a sense of freedom and get locked back into that work-to-live, live-to-work mentality. But now I'm enthusiastic. No it's not always going to be roses and puppies (god I hope not), but I look forward to putting on a little eye make-up, going to coffee meetings and visiting with a friend over cocktails. I have to admit I like that world and it can be just as fun as sharing a cup of sweet mint tea with a friendly Moroccan - it's just that the surprise factor isn't the same.

Anyway, our last remaining 3 weeks won't be without interest. We go to Naples on Wednesday (hellloooo Pompeii!) for three days. We'll visit Florence before we leave. And then, because it's us, we've extended our overnight layover in Istanbul to a two night visit to what should be a fabulous ending adventure. Then off to the bustling metropolis of Springfield, Illinois for a conference on my great grandfather, and then back to Seattle.

Jon's birthday wine and pork tasting!

So over the next couple of weeks (if I get my act together) I look forward to sharing more reflections about the trip, and the wonderful places and people we've met. And I think I'll continue to seek fireflies at home (maybe Jon will too!) since really, looking for things that inspire should never really stop.

By the way, I think it's more than just a coincidence that Italy, our last place to be (besides Istanbul) is the only place we've been that has actual fireflies during the summer. We missed them this year, but knowing they live here makes me really happy.

How do you find inspiration in your daily life?

PS: Happy birthday to my wonderful husband Jon.

People Live Here


It’s no secret that we’ve loved Italy. I’m continually amazed that people live here – in these ancient beautiful villages, with this art, this food. But it’s the people that have made it wonderful and knowing that in and of itself adds to the specialness of this place. Jon talked about this in his last post on Umbria, but I wanted to continue in that same vein a bit. It’s been about 5 weeks since we arrived, and we’ll be here until the end of October. 2 months in this dreamscape. 2 months living a typical Umbrian life, going to work in the morning, eating a hearty home-cooked lunch, enjoying the afternoon and then settling into a lovely meal in the evening. The weather has been incredible, with sun and pool time nearly every day while at the Casale. The days of rain invited impressive thunder and lightening storms, which added to the vibrant green colors in this green heart of Umbria in which we find ourselves.

There’s been a festival in some part of Umbria every day we’ve been here. Whether it’s music, art, wine, food, seasonal products and soon to be chocolate – there’s always something to celebrate it seems. Apparently during the summer it’s even more jovial, as each hamlet and village or collection of ancient homes has its own sagre or weeklong celebration of something central to that village.

All these towns are so charming and beautiful in their own unique way. Sure I guess if you aren’t into medieval architecture, don’t care about Renaissance art or culture, and aren’t into food or wine, Italy probably isn’t going to be interesting. But even that aside, the people have blown us away. They are so friendly. We were joking (perhaps rather insensitively) that Italians are kind and generous like Malians, they just have infrastructure (mostly) and generally a higher stander of living. We are continually amazed by our interactions with Italians. In the grocery stores and markets, or food stands, or at these tasting festivals we’ve been frequenting, there is no sense of impatience or annoyance that we don’t speak the language or don’t know what to ask for. Quite the opposite, there’s a joy and pride in sharing their products, their creations, and always a smile to accompany that sharing.

Take the Corciano Wine Festival (Corciano Castello di Vino) that we visited this weekend? 4€ bought us tastings to 13 wineries set up in the little medieval shop areas through this incredible hill town. Consider that each winery brings 2-5 wines to taste. Italians are so excited to share their wines that the pours aren’t these whimpy little ½ ounce pours you get in the States – we’re talking a ½ glass of wine – per taste. That plus the food stalls – fresh roasted chestnuts, unbelievable pecorino cheese, meats and so on – makes for a happy happy town (and blond American who finds herself there).

Earlier in the day we went to Corciano's neighbor, the town of Deruta, famous for Umbria handmade ceramics. It helps that Claudia (our host) is a ceramicist herself, and we were able to go to her favorite workshop, meet the owner and get an indepth tour of the molding, firing, glazing and painting of these incredible works of art. It didn't matter that no one bought anything (although we might go back for a momento) they were so happy to share their craft. It's something I'll really miss about Italy.

Watching Italians interact, especially around food, is also fun. Aside from the impressive amount of gesticulating, conversations draw on and there’s lots of banter and joking. It helps that the language itself has a beautiful flow to it, which sounds musical when people are going on about nothing in particular.

One of my favorite images was driving by our little local market that is owned by an older couple, and seeing the gentleman tending to his new olive tree. He had a sweet smile on his face. Perfetto.

Italy has so many problems in terms of its government, but the people still manage to create a beautiful life. It's inspiring and I'm so grateful to be here.

By the way, how could I forget! We harvested our hosts grapes last week! It's a small and young field so the yield was low and it took about 4 hours with 5 people. We loaded up the cars and took everything up to the 'cantina' mashed it all up and let the fermentation begin! It was super fun and we were tired by the end of the day. Not because it was particularly hard work, but just because it was so exciting!

Umbria baby!

So it has as usual been quite awhile since I posted…what can I tell you, I’m lazy.

Jess and I have been in Umbria for 3 weeks now and I can tell you, it is pretty cool. For one, it is old; I mean really old. Everything around you has the better part of 3-4 centuries on it and some of the towns are medieval, so they are all walled and narrow allies, tons of personality. The churches here are really amazing and so different from what we have seen elsewhere in Europe. They paint everything…it is crazy. The frescos up for six, seven, eight hundred years are still there! All the painting before the renaissance is all Jesus or Madonna based though, as the church funded all the art.

Costs here are pretty reasonable for a tourist, but maybe a little more expensive than in Spain and even a little more expensive than France at the grocer. Strangely, wine is a lot more expensive than in France or Spain (5 euros buys a decent drinkable bottle; still a hell of a lot cheaper than the US).  Food is about the same price as the US outside of specialties like truffles, parm, salami, etc. which are of course cheaper. Restaurants are about the same price as the US.

Jess and I have had the fortune to discover a new wine…Sagrantino. It is bold, tannic, dark and earthy…everything I love in wine. Even Jess who prefers a pinot loved it. We went to a wine fest in Montefalco and for 7 euros drank our asses off with the best there is! It was epic. This wine sells for 15-20 euros a bottle and is really a competitor for some fine cabs and bordeaux. The wine tasting was long, generous, and deeply satisfying…quite a thing to experience.

We also had a fantastic tasting courteously of our host in Montelpuciano (so you know, there are two: One which is the namesake of the town and is known for rather deep and complex reds, and another de abruzzo which is the more pale and easy-drinking red). Here we had the honor of trying a wine that Italy offers second to none, the Brunello, a blend mostly of sangiovese. This is truly superb; decent mouth feel with deep current and pepper, dry but not too astringent, the finish is clean, subtle, and leaves a lasting taste of Italy.

Some things to try in Umbria (and regionally in Italy) as it is the only place we have really experienced in Italy besides Rome: Truffle honey (wholly shit, it is good), wine (of course), porchetta (whole pig roasted with herbs, some shaved off including the crackling in a sandwich), pasta fresh and secca (dried), mortadella (the original “bologna” made of pork, pork fat and spices), and the list goes on and on. Italy is highly regional, so each area, town, etc is known for a dish, product, or method. It is hard to make bad food here.

Some negatives about Umbria: Italy is a bureaucratic nightmare. Everyone complains about taxes, which are harsh, and how poorly things run. There are a lot of mosquitoes. No joke, as I write this I just killed one on the screen of the computer. Italy is not currently sustainable…they import almost all their power and there is really not a plan for tomorrow. This place is beautiful, but it has its problems.

A few days ago Jess and I went to a food festival in Foligno, the one city we have been to that does not prominently sit on a hill. The fest was fun; it was a huge tent filled with regional goodies like dried sausage, truffle products, sweets, local beer, olives, etc. We got some great sausages that were lovely and full of flavor, tried some amazing parma ham, olives and truffle pastes.

We are waiting to harvest grapes at our hosts place, but the rain has come and we have to wait. This is one of the reasons we have come to Umbria, its accessible wine and culture. Just driving home from the food fest Jess and I stopped by a winery and the owner and his father had us sample from the barrel. Everyone we meet here is so nice and unassuming. We ended up with a nice little Sangiovese for 4 Euro and 5 liters of Umbrian Red for 8 Euros (yes, that’s 1.80 per liter!).

I would suggest anyone who is taking a trip to Italy to spend a few days in Umbria; it is not the well-manicured Tuscany, fancy Milan or reeking of history Rome, but it is beautiful and unassuming.

Our Work Exchange Part 2


We arrived at our HelpX stay almost 1 month ago, and life in Italy has been good. We’re doing a fine job of enjoying the dolce vita (sweet life) in addition to working hard and seeing a lot of what Umbria has to offer. This has been a great work exchange and we’re incredibly grateful for the experience. From Farm to Hotel

As you may recall we began our work exchange at the home farm of our hosts, Ev and Claudia. We tended grapes, did a bunch of gardening and weeding, took care of the chickens, ate a lot of figs and enjoyed the quite life of rural Umbria.

Before we arrived, we knew that there two other volunteers who had made arrangements to be at Ev and Claudia’s during the wine harvest so we had some overlap. And since we wanted to stay longer than these other volunteers they offered to let us stay at Claudia’s bed and breakfast near Perugia, Il Casale della Staffa, in exchange for sanding and re-staining all the windows and me finishing the website. So for the last 2 weeks we’ve been living in one of the apartments at the B&B, working in the morning, sunning by the pool midday and then visiting the beautiful towns and villages of Umbria in the afternoons.

I won’t lie, it’s been pretty great. Being in Italy is like being on a never-ending honeymoon for us. Everything is beautiful, delicious, romantic and even if the work isn’t too exciting, how could one possibly complain when you have this view out your kitchen window???

View from our temporary kitchen

Assisi & Montefalco

It seems that there’s always some kind of festival or event going on here. Maybe that’s because it’s harvest season, but we’ve been really fortunate that there’s a festival going on all the time – I’m serious – music, arts, food, wine and soon to be chocolate. There’s a lot happening in Umbria apparently.

Jon is going to write about the incredible Montefalco Wine Festival that we went to so I won’t steal his thunder there. I will say that Montefalco – also called the banister of Umbria – is a delightful little hill town. If you like wine, this is the place to go in Umbria. It’s known for its Sagrantino, a grape that only grows in this region of the world. That in addition to the other “typical” products of honey, truffles and cured meats makes for Montefalco to be a delicious place to be, both for the eyes and the senses.

We also had the opportunity to visit Assisi – the namesake for Francis d’Assisi or Saint Francis (hello San Francisco). Despite the fact that Saint Francis was practically a hermit and lived in nature, trying to be a very humble figure within the grandure of the Catholic Church, Assisi is an impressive town with an even more impressive Cathedral built in Saint Francis’ name. We saw it first from the road at night, and then up close during a visit with our fellow helpers.

The climb up to the historical center is not only a good workout but also a beautiful introduction to this holy city. Signs of devotion are everywhere. Making one’s way down the main road you pass a Roman temple from the 1st century BC, which became one of Saint Francis’ churches. I loved being able to clear see the Roman qualities to this temple, and then the medieval addition that is the church. It’s such a great example of how these ancient sites have developed over time.

Another thing that caught my eye was the banner hanging from the church depicting a visit by the Pope, Francis, to Assisi on October 4th. Have you ever met a Jew who’s this excited to see the Pope? Probably not – I mean, come on, he’s pretty hip you have to admit.

St. Francis’ cathedral is really stunning, and I love that all the paintings and frescos (by Torriti, Cimabau and Giotto on the upper level and by Lorenzetti, Giotto and Martini in the lower basilica) inside tell the story of his life and deeds –something rare for churches at the time. This is a place of pilgrimage for many Catholics. Despite that, I still didn’t feel pulled in by a spiritual magnet to this place, until we went below to visit St. Francis’ tomb. A quiet, simple, modest room, candlelit, with St Francis resting in the very stone column that runs the entire height of the cathedral – not only is this structurally important – it’s symbolically perfect – he’s holding this place together. I was really moved by that place, in the midst of all the art and magnanimity of the churches and the age and beauty of the towns we’ve seen – the tomb of St Francis is something I will never forget.

I also won’t forget the truffle/lardo/salami sandwhich we got right on the main drag in Assisi – surrounded by touristy places it was a slim chance we’d get good food. But that was a spiritual experience in and of itself.

Harvest Time

This arrangement has clearly been pretty great. It’s allowed us time to intimately get to know the region of Umbria, and our hosts are accomplishing tasks they haven’t been able to.

This week is what we’ve been waiting for: grape harvest. We’ll head over to the house early in the morning on Wednesday and hand-pick the grapes. They’ll be taken up to the ‘cantina’ - not a bar – but the place where the wine is made. The cantina is a small room in a 15th century church by the way that’s up the road from the house. Our first day’s work in Italy involved painting it and cleaning the floor in preparation for wine making. It’ll be wonderful to actually mash the grapes, and see the whole process from start to finish – actually building the cellar, to tending the vines, picking the grapes and making the wine.

Umbria is really beautiful and if you ever get a chance to come here, I can’t recommend it enough. We’ve visiting Corciano, Orvieto, Todi, Betona, Montecastello di Vibio, Castiglione del Lago, Passignano, Marsciano, Foligno, Montefalco, Assisi and driven through countless hamlets and villages which all have their own charm. What’s amazing about these towns is that they all feel different and have their own traditions. They’ve all survived hundreds of years of turmoil and wars being propped up on their hills. Pretty smart if you ask me.

We still have the big Tuscan cities on our list: Siena, Arezzo and of course Florence. I can’t say it enough how grateful I am for this arrangement. A few hours of work a day is a small exchange to live here for 2 months, practically for free.