Your Bags Were Snatched in Rome? Don’t Panic! Do This!

Super Comfy Police Chairs
Super Comfy Police Chairs

While traveling, it is amazing how often you learn something by making a mistake. One minute of error can cost you. But that is no reason to worry.

In travel, as in all of life, there are losses that will occur and they go with the territory. The key is to understand how they occur so you can minimize them and then to know what to do when they inevitably do occur.

And bag snatching is one of the main concerns of tourists to any big city.

My husband and I have firsthand knowledge of this because when we first arrived in Rome recently, we decided to save a few bucks and take the train to the hotel.  Having taken a night flight (not recommended unless you can sleep on a plane) we had been up all day and all night.  Add to that the sudden transition from English into Italian and train schedules that are printed so tiny that you can barely see them, we became confused.

Knowing as we do that there are “pickpockets” in Rome and many other big European cities (“pickpockets” is a misnomer as they do not limit themselves to the contents of your pockets.) we are normally pretty careful. In this instance, we were targeted.

The scam goes like this. A man comes up to you and sprays something on you then points out that you have shit on you. “Sheet! Sheet!” He yells while pointing. (It wasn’t shit but some substance) then he generously gives you a tissues to wipe it off. While you do so, another person steals your bags.

In this case, we never set our bags down at that point but they apparently followed us and when my husband put down his bags to put on his glasses to read the insanely small print on the train schedule, the thieves made off with his camera equipment and back pack containing his computer and his passport.

View from train
View from Train (Karen Murphy)

It was so fast that we hardly realized what had happened. These thieves obviously drill this and work in teams. They are pretty slick even though they are giant assholes.

In any case the question became, “What do I do when my passport gets lost or stolen in Rome?”

The answer is pretty simple. You have to go to the American Consulate if you are American. The consulate is on the Via Veneto in Rome and right next door to the embassy.

This is accessible on the metro if you take the red line and get off at the Piazza Barberini.  From there head uphill on the Via Veneto and you will see the embassy first and the consulate right next to it. If you are a citizen of another country, you have to go either to your embassy or your consulate. Normally your hotel can give you good advice on this because losing your passport is a surprisingly common occurrence in Rome.

Our consulate was extremely quick about getting my husband’s passport replaced. We were there probably an hour total. According to the folks there, people come in every day having lost their passports. Bring some coins and money because it cost 5 Euros to use the coin operated photo machine and I think it cost about 120 Euros to replace the passport.

My advice is this, when travelling, if you need a copy of your passport to prove that you are American in order to take advantage of discounts which occasionally occur, targeting certain groups of tourists, make several copies of each passport, and keep your passport either in a locked suitcase in your room or in the hotel safe. Take the copies with you out and about and if you lose them, no bigs.

Now, if you have had your bags taken, you probably need a police report for insurance purposes. There is no other reason really to go to the police about a bag theft because you really don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting your stuff back unless the thieves suddenly find Jesus and turn themselves in. I am still waiting for news that this has ever occurred. ( i.e. never gonna happen.)

The police station is very close to the consulate. You can ask the consulate folks where the nearest one is and they will point the way. We found the station and headed upstairs.

Roman Police Station
Roman Police Station

the police station we went to did not look like any of our police stations in the US. There were no cells, only about three guys making conversation in the office and helping people make out reports.  Well, one was helping people with reports, the other two were more or less there for moral support I guess.

There were two people ahead of us so I took the opportunity to catch a few Z’s with my mouth hanging open in the super comfy police chairs. The police office was in an old building. The windows were open catching the breeze. I could hear the sing song conversation of the person ahead of us explaining and acting out in detail exactly what occurred, accompanied by the shaking head and the tsk, tsk, tsk of the sympathetic officer.

When you combine that with jet lag, it lulls you into a soothing slumber where images of Italian trains and flight schedules run through your dreams accompanied by the smell of cafe and black tobacco.

When our turn arrived, I unfolded myself from the comfy police chair and went in. The officer loudly finished his conversation with his cohort about family matters that were on his mind and then turned his attention to us.

We related our unfortunate experience to him while he wagged his head from side to side expressing deepest disappointment in his fellow countrymen.

View from train
Bella Roma! (Karen Murphy)

This was followed by an educational rundown of all possible ways a thief can distract your attention and slip away with your bags while you are in the Eternal City.

“One could be having coffee” he says, while sipping an imaginary cafe and expressing surprise and disgust when an imaginary thief makes off with his imaginary briefcase.  “Or perhaps seeing a monument…” He opens his eyes in wide eyed amazement and sets down his imaginary bag to take a photo with his ghostly camera while the same phantom thief steals up and grabs it.

Once he completed our criminology course for the morning, he settled down to assist us in filling out the police report and allowed us to take photos of it to email to our insurance carrier.  He then shook our hands wishing us a nice stay while extracting promises from us that we will be more careful next time.

Our job complete, we made our way out to the Via Veneto and a sidewalk cafe where we split a magnificent plate of pasta and a giant gelato sundae while watching the impeccably dressed Italian business men and women hurry by.

Gelato sundae
Gratuitous photo of ridiculously delicious gelato sundae

By mid afternoon, our chores were complete, Police report filed, my husband had new passport in hand and I had tons of information for a new blog post of what to do when this happens to you.

My take away on this is threefold:

1) When you arrive from a long trip and you know you are tired, take a taxi to the hotel.

Yes, they can be a bit pricey but when you look at the fact that we lost about $1,500 worth of camera gear, computers and other important items (no cash, thankfully) $60, is very cheap insurance.

2) When you are in a big European city, if anyone tries to distract you for any reason, be suspicious, especially if they are adamantly trying to get your attention.

There are all manner of scams out there. Most of them involve distracting you.

In my experience, Italians normally won’t care if you have shit on you, or your fly is open or you have toilet paper on your shoe. If they do, they are too polite to mention it.

3) Carry your belongings for the day in a small cross the body handbag.

Take only what you need and use a small handbag with a long strap that you can put across your body. This makes it a lot harder to steal.

Also BTW, if you are at a train station and a man in a blue shirt comes up and guides you to your cabin and then tries to carry your bags, be aware, these people do not work for the station, They are scammers who then advise you that you owe them 25 Euros for carrying your bags.

There are as many scams as there are thieves. Don’t be intimidated if someone does something for you without asking you, then demands money. You do not have to pay them.

The same goes for the gladiators you see at the Coliseum or in the piazzas. They are not sanctioned guides and they charge you money to take their photo. I have heard of people being threatened or having their cameras forcibly taken by these guys because they have taken a photo with one of them in it. My advice? Stay away from them.

The tour guides in Rome who work for the tour companies, have to have a degree in Art History and must be licensed. They are well regulated to ensure that you have a great experience and get correct information.

If you are looking for a great tour guide in Rome, I recommend Through Eternity Tours. Their guides are wonderful and you get correct information about the wonders that you are seeing.

All in all Rome is a wonderful city, in fact it is one of my favorite cities on planet earth. Everywhere you look, there are treasures put there for your wonder and enjoyment.

Unfortunately, anything that draws people and attention also draws the underbelly of the population looking to rip off and make a quick buck. Be aware, take precautions and if something happens, don’t panic! There is a work around for everything.

(Photo credits Pete Sobolev and Karen Murphy)

 

Praia A Mare: The Gulf of Policastro’s Most Charming Seaside Town

Gulf of Policastro
Mediterranean Near Praia A Mare
Mediterranean Near Praia a Mare

Ciao Belli!

Last Winter my husband and I were lucky enough to run across the pond and spend a couple of weeks in our village, Santa Domenica Talao in Calabria.

It was a bit chilly and downright cold at night but we did have some glorious days of almost warm and sharp, bright sunshine to explore the towns and villages near us.

On a previous property scouting trip with a friend who was looking for a house, I had had an opportunity to explore Praia a Mare a little bit and discovered just how beautiful it was.

Cotoletta
Cotoletta

So one bright morning I dragged my husband out for lunch and a stroll through the town.

Lunch!
Lunch!

Praia a Mare is located on the southern end of the Gulf of Policastro which is one of the most stunning sweeps of Mediterranean coastline in the world.

Gulf of Policastro
Gulf of Policastro

The Gulf runs its fingers through three regions of Italy, Basilicata, Campagnia and Calabria.

The main downtown street in Praia a Mare features a beautiful tree lined promenade which runs the length of downtown. Both sides of the street are lined with shops and apartment buildings decorated with beautiful wrought iron railings.

Winter in Praia a Mare
Winter in Praia a Mare

Behind the town the Pollino Mountains jut up wildly creating a magnificent backdrop to the charming downtown area.

A couple of blocks from downtown lies the crystal blue Mediterranean, her beaches lined with row after row of brightly colored umbrellas and lidos featuring some pretty spectacular restaurants.

All across Southern Italy one stumbles across grottos or sacred caves. Praia a Mare boasts of their own. Il Santuario Santa Maria Della Grotta is featured in the photo below. One has to peek between the buildings to see it as you perform your giro (tour) of the town.

Madonna Della Grotta
Madonna Della Grotta

In addition to the sacred grotto, Praia also has the Grotta Azurra or the Blue Grotto much like the one in Capri on the Amalfi Coast. The Blue Grotto is on the side of Praia A Mare’s spectacular little island, the Isola di Dino facing out to sea. You can hire one of the local boats to take you out or you can rent a peddle boat and peddle there yourself.

You can visit both caves and swim in the bright blue water surrounded by fish.

After your boat tour you will be hungry. In Italy the restaurants don’t open until about 7:00 at night and even if you go then you will be the first ones there.

So in the meantime, stop and have a gelato at one of the shops that line the main drag in Praia.

Gelateria in Praia a Mare
Gelateria in Praia a Mare
Rinaldi
Ristorante Rinaldi Da Vittorio

The you are ready for dinner, stop for a fabulous pizza, or delicious pasta or seafood at Ristorante Pizzeria Rinaldi da Vittorio.

Happily Ristorante Rinaldi Da Vittorio offers gluten free options including some fo the best gluten free pizza I have ever had. In a side by side taste test, my husband could barely tell the difference.

To see Praia a Mare at her best, go in Spring or in Fall. The weather is gorgeous, the trees are filled with shady leaves and the people are all out and about. Shops spill their wares out into the street adding more color and fun and there is a happy buzz of activity going on until late at night.

Apt Praia
Apartment in Praia A Mare

Pete and I are managing an apartment just up the hill from the down town area in Praia a Mare. It is far enough away from the beaches so that you will not be kept awake by the late night beach partiers but close enough to get there in a short 5 minute ride.

The apartment has sweeping views of the Mediterranean from the wrap around balcony/terrace and a large private patio just below.

Stay tuned as we are still finalizing the purchase but we will be renting it out for the Summer and Fall months when Praia is at her prettiest.

 

Scalea, Italy; Europe’s Secret Paradise

Scalea at Sunset
Torre Talao, Scalea, Calabria. This tower was built in the 16th century as part of a system of 337 coastal towers constructed for deterring pirate attacks.

Scalea, Italy; Europe’s Secret Paradise

Big Italian cities in Summer are lovely however if you go in August, you will notice that things are a little different. Shops are shuttered, restaurants would be empty if not for the tourists and the traffic dies down to a dull roar leaving you wondering where the heck is everyone?

Most Europeans have all of August off. As soon as vacay time rolls around, they are off and heading to some of the most beautiful places in the world. 

Umbrellas on the beach in Scalea
Colorful umbrellas on the beach in Scalea

Where do Europeans go on Vacation? 

Since August is pretty warm most everywhere in Europe, they naturally head to the beaches and the best beaches are along the Calabrian coast in Italy. 

As you take the train south from Naples, you wind down along the shore past Salerno, through the Gulf of Policastro and if you are a European tourist, you very likely end up in Scalea. 

Scalea lies about halfway between Napoli to the North and Reggio Calabria to the South. As you drive or taxi from the train station to your destination, you look up and see the picturesque Centro Storico (Historic Center) with its tiny houses clustered together on the hilltop like shy children, rising above while the more modern area pedonale (pedestrian area) with its shops and cafes, stretches out before it like Mama’s apron.

The large street, the Corso Mediterraneo winds up and down the coast to neighboring resort towns with hotels lining the shore and shops and apartments rising up on both sides. Beyond the Corso Mediterraneo lies the crystal blue Mediterranean reaching open armed out to embrace the horizon.

Here and there rocky outcroppings drop into water so clear and blue that swimmers look like they are flying and boats appear suspended in midair over the sea floor. 

And those are only a few of the myriad of reasons Scalea is Europe’s favorite holiday spot. 

Calabria is the epitome of Southern Italian culture and charm but it was not always a well known tourist destination. In fact much of Calabria was very poor until recently. 

If you chat awhile with the elderly people in the hill towns, you will still hear stories about days of hunger when the harvests were scarce or the hunting was unsuccessful.

Those days have happily passed and Calabria is starting to boom as a tourist destination not only for Europeans but also Americans as we discover the unspoiled beauty of the region, the unrivaled Calabrian cuisine and the warmth of the people. 

Old Town Scalea
Old Town Scalea

The Old Town

Back in 2010, my husband and I decided to go to Calabria and look for a house. We wanted to retire in a little house overlooking the Mediterranean where we could immerse ourselves into a village and become a part of it. 

We contacted a real estate agent who recommended that we stay at Casa Cielo BnB. I remember his words clearly “Clive is a great cook”, and that sealed the deal.

Casa Cielo is not currently taking new clients as Clive and his wife Kathryn have retired and are traveling and blogging. However our agent was absolutely correct, Clive is a great cook.

Casa Cielo is situated right in the middle of the Centro Storico Scalea just off the famous main stair case that everyone photographs when they go. 

Scalea stair case
Scalea, Staircase

The little medieval houses huddle together and spill down the hill to the sea creating a gorgeous village filled with vias and alleyways that duck under houses and turn off into tiny stairs that wind through dark tunnels only to end with a splash of sunlight in a completely different part of the village. 

Walking down any staircase leads to the foot of the village and, across the Corso Medterraneo, the beautiful deep blue sea. 

Restaurants and shops peek out from corners in the Centro Storico inviting you in. 

And when you get to the beach, the lidos lined up dotting the beach with different colored umbrellas, beckon you to grab a resting place and perhaps bob in the sea for awhile.

 

Scalea's Monday Market
Scalea’s Monday Market

The Monday Market

One of my favorite things to do in Scalea is to go to the Monday Market. Scalea generally has a fruit and vegetable market daily and there are any number of produce trucks lining the streets at any given time selling fresh produce. From Tropea onions, potatoes to fruits and chili peppers, all the produce is freshly picked and brightly colored. 

These you can purchase for pennies and create a magnificent dish with just a few of these fresh ingredients. 

However the Monday Market is something else. It takes up a couple of blocks and is stall after stall featuring everything you would ever need for life in Calabria. 

I love the One Euro tables where you can find great T shirts and even dresses for almost nothing. The jewelry stands are likewise filled with treasures that you can purchase for a few cents.

Monday Market Bargains
Monday Market Bargains

Bright shawls from Africa billow in the breeze and bathing suit and underwear stalls are set up next to hunting goods. It is a free for all and way too much fun. 

Every time I go to the Monday market, I meet several of my friends there. We stop and catch up promising to meet for coffee or lunch soon. 

Orso Marso
Chris at the top of the hill Orso Marso

The Surrounding Towns and Villages

Scalea is a large resort town but some of its charm is the proximity to other hill and resort towns. Seemingly every mountain top in the area is crested with a little hill town. Each one has its own character and charm. 

Maiera is quiet and reverent. Grisolia is bubbly and welcoming. Diamante is well named as it is truly a diamond set next to the sea. Its beautiful promenade is home to fun shops and gelaterias. Its old town hides beautiful murals and mosaics. 

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

And of course one cannot discuss surrounding hill towns without bringing up my favorite hill town, Santa Domenica Talao. 

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

Set on a hilltop overlooking the Sweeping green of the Lao plain and the Mediterranean beyond that, Santa Domenica Talao is an artist’s Mecca where seemingly every villager is a master of some form of art. 

Our architect, Antonello Lucchesi recently unveiled his spectacular terrace just off the piazza with an unobstructed view of the sea and mountains beyond. 

Under the terrace is a stunningly beautiful loggia with different levels and perfect stairs that open up the lower village and make it accessible as the stairs prior to this were pretty brutal to navigate. 

Our neighbor Rosaria is a master chef and we have been beyond lucky to have been invited several times to one of her spectacular lunches. 

Several villagers knit or crochet. After lunch one day Rosaria brought out her tiny crocheted teacups that were so small and delicate that I was afraid to pick them up. 

I could go on and on bragging about the amazing people in Santa Domenica but I digress.

When you come to Scalea, give yourself time to explore the surrounding towns and villages. Each is a jewel in a perfect Mediterranean setting. 

Calabrian Cuisine
Calabrian Cuisine

Calabrian Cuisine

Calabrian cuisine is just now being discovered by the foodies of the world. America has known Calabrian cuisine of a sort since the late 1800’s when the Italian diaspora brought an influx of Italian immigrants to the US mostly from Calabria. 

Once they arrived, pizzas pastas, breads and other Italian staples appeared on American tables but they were adapted to America palates. 

YUM!
YUM!

The cuisine in Calabria is unique. At lunch recently Rosaria told me that some of the dishes she was creating (I should say “crafting” because that is what she was doing) were specific to Santa Domenica Talao and that each individual hill town had its own recipes.

This is a treasure trove of magnificent new food treats for us to explore and enjoy. 

From the Arancini (little rice balls, filled, rolled in bread crumbs and fried)  to the ragu to the bacalao (salt cod rehydrated and cooked to perfection) Calabria has something new for every day of the year and I have not even touched on the desserts. 

Calabria also has many immigrants from Sicily who have brought their amazing cuisine and especially fabulous desserts. Our favorite restaurant in Scalea is Vulare Sicillienne where we find pistachio encrusted sword fish, beautiful seafood pastas and the world’s most perfect cannoli. 

Calabrian Atmosphere
Calabrian Atmosphere

The Atmosphere

The first time I arrived in Calabria our plane slanted in over the Mediterranean and I saw the stretch of magnificent coastline. I suddenly felt like I was home. 

I felt like I had been on a long muliti life time journey looking for who knows what and that I had finally found it. 

Then when I came to Scalea and finally to Santa Domenica Talao, I knew that I was where I belonged. 

In our city of San Jose, California, there is a spiritual hecticness, an anxiety that I can feel in the air. Wherever I go in San Jose, it is there.

When I reached Calabria, it disappeared. And truthfully, until I visited Calabria, I did not know that it even existed and that I had grown so accustomed to it. 

It was like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders and I was there in the moment to enjoy all the gifts that Calabria was giving me. 

I cannot describe it other than to tell you to come and experience it for yourself. 

Lunch with Rosaria

CAKE!
Fusilli
Rosaria’s home made fusilli

I am the luckiest person alive, I mean along with my husband, our friends Bonnie and Carolyn, and Father Ernesto.

Why you ask? Well, not to brag but I had been invited to the lunch table of one of the master chefs of Calabria and right now I can barely put my arms around  my massive belly to type this to you and that, my friends, is lucky.

No, this master chef doesn’t have a syndicated TV show, nor does she even own a restaurant. She has a beautiful kitchen lovingly crafted by her adoring husband Peppino and a kitchen garden where they grow everything from tomatoes to mushrooms, to herbs and a gaggle of happy chickens.

And happily she and Peppino have chosen us as friends.

A few days ago was Valentine’s Day so my husband invited our friends to dine at the Bella Vista here in Santa Domenica Talao to celebrate. That was a fabulous meal as Michelle of Bella Vista fame is another mistress of the kitchen and her pizzas and pastas are top notch.

Valentine Cake
Valentine Cake

As we ate and the wine flowed, Peppino leaned in and told me that this Sunday, we were all having lunch at his house.

I didn’t stand up and clap my hands although I wanted to, but even though I was mid a perfect pizza, I started thinking about what magic Rosaria might have up her sleeve this time.

The last time we visited was Summer and we were invited for lunch. Rosaria allowed Pete to take video of her making tagliatelle.

And I do not exaggerate when I say, this was one of the very best meals I have ever had and I have had some epic ones.

As she cooks so also does Rosaria instruct. “These are the dishes not only of Calabria but specific to this village, Santa Domenica Talao.”

And as she moves gracefully from the stove to the cutting board to the sink, some of the most amazing smells start to emerge. Her braided Calabrian loaves of the softest white bread filled with cheese and salami are almost perfectly browned in her counter top oven and they fill the house with a yeasty goodness.

A pan lid on the stove slides to the side revealing potatoes perfectly browned, frying in a deep pan, crackling and sizzling as Rosaria turns them over and over.

Another pan lid allows one to peek inside and see wild boar cooked with peppers in an impossibly delicious sauce.

And on the bureau in the dining room lie perfect fusilli, hand made that morning and resting before their hot bath and dressing with Rosaria’s famous sugu.

We breathe in filling our noses with the hope that the smell will make us less hungry because one cannot be exposed to this kitchen without becoming ravenous.

We sit at the already set dining table catching up on the latest news from the village. Peppino tells us that the village is a grand family and the joys and losses of everyone in the village are shared. He lists some of the events and we laugh and cheer at the successes and shake our heads in sorrow at the losses.

We chat while listening for the doorbell because lunch cannot start without Father Ernesto who has raced over after saying mass in Santa Maria Del Cedro to join us.

Finally the doorbell rings and Father Ernesto appears talking in rapid Italian and filling the room with his laughter and benevolence.

Bonnie and Carolyn tell him how much the villagers miss him. He was transferred to a nearby village for some reason and it has left a giant hole in the church and in the hearts of the villagers.

But finally we are all together again and Rosaria is at her finest,

Despite wild pleas for “piccolo, piccolo!” (only a small helping please) big bowls of home made fusilli pasta appear topped with sugu (sauce) made from tomatoes and an unfortunate, though tasty wild boar  who was shot by Peppino’s friend and sold off in bits to whoever is lucky enough to hear about it.

Fusilli
Fussili

“This boar is a young one” Peppino tells us as we savor the fusilli and slurp up the sugo.

Home made fusilli is the perfect pasta. It has a hole in the middle made by rolling it over a thin piece of metal such as an umbrella spine and stretching it out sideways until it forms a hollow tube.

Rosaria cooks hers perfectly al dente creating a delightful mouth feel in addition to the super fresh flavors.

Father Ernesto says grace and with a flourish and a giant Buon Apetito! he finishes and we dive in.

The table falls uncharacteristically silent as we focus full attention on the fusilli.

From nowhere bowls of bread appear just in time to sop up the sauce and clean our plates for the next course.

With the first dish handled, we sit back and in our chairs.  Our stomachs that have been torturing us all morning are happy but we still feel the tug of hunger as we know round two is on its way.

Cinghiale
Cinghiale

Rosaria appears again with two dishes of wild boar. The first is a stew of tomatoes and cinghiale (wild boar) and the second, cinghiale roasted with peppers.

Cinghiale with peppers
Cinghiale with peppers

Again silence falls with only the sounds of happy sighs and wine glasses being refilled breaking the hushed reverence.

We are full and somewhat worried because we hear a clattering of dishes in the  kitchen that portends another course. We think we cannot eat another bite until Rosaria appears again, this time with plates filled with fried potatoes, thinly sliced pork sautéed in white wine and a hint of lemon, vegetable frittata and sweet chili peppers fried up to a crisp like potato chips.

Lunch!
Lunch!

I pick up a chili to try it and it crumbles in my mouth filling my tongue with sweet peppery deliciousness and a perfect blend of salt and olive oil.

Suddenly despite the first two courses I am hungry again.

And again silence falls.

CAKE!
CAKE!

Rosaria disappears once again and emerges with a platter filled with individual rectangles of orange sponge cake filled with orange pastry cream and dusted with powdered sugar. it is impossibly light and so freshly orangy that I have to help myself to a big slice instead of “being good” and sticking to a small one.

Finally Rosaria emerges once again this time with tiny coffee cups and thick, powerful coffee perfectly sweetened to end the meal.

In case you have not divined this yet, lunch with Rosaria is a work of loving art unequalled by anything anywhere.

And the company is also unequalled.

Friends
Friends

Although we live far away and are gone for months at a time and although Father Ernesto is now watching over a new flock in another village, it is as though we were never apart. The Winter sun shines in Rosaria’s dining room and we are all together loving each other and enjoying Rosaria’s works of culinary art. It is a moment that seems like it will last forever.

And I think to myself “How did I ever get this lucky?”

And no matter what happens in the future and where I might find myself, I will hold this feeling close to me and never lose it.

Tomorrow I will go to the flower shop in the piazza, I will climb the steps filled with flower pots and plants next to the little fountain the runs all year round, and I will chose something very special for Rosaria.

To repay love with love.

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

As you may know from reading previous posts, Pete and I are opening a BNB here in Santa Domenica Talao. I have asked Rosaria if she would be willing to teach our clients how to cook her amazing Calabrian dishes and she is ready to roll. If you are interested in joining us in a Calabrian culinary experience, please write to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Travel Will Save the World

Pieta
Pieta
Pieta

The news today is off the charts. Man’s inhumanity to man is blasted from the front pages and TV headlines.

Every day we hear about things happening “over there” that are so atrocious, we can’t even believe someone would actually do them to another living being and yet, they seem to happen more and more.

And the same newspapers and tv anchors are desperately trying to make  us believe that this is all the “new normal”, that it is somehow understandable that someone kidnaps another living being and uses them for sex slavery or beheads them in front of their family or sends bombers to their villages to bomb them into eternity.

Pizzo
Aragonese castle in Pizzo

Looking at all this, one could easily start to think that there is no hope for mankind and that it is only a matter of time until we all end up like characters in a Greek tragedy, just one big, red lump on the stage when the curtain comes down.

If you believe the news, this is where we are headed and there is nothing you or anyone can do about it.

However for every problem, no matter how thorny, there is at least one solution.

And when the problem comes down to international relations, the only thing that resolves anything is communication.

Morocco
Morocco

Why travel will save the world

Before my husband and I bought our place in Southern Italy, I had no idea who the people were who populated those regions.

I never noticed their disasters, their troubles, their upsets as I had no idea who they were.

But now I have been there many times and have grown to know and love my Italian neighbors.

Santa Domenica Talao City Wall
Santa Domenica Talao City Wall

Their loves are my loves.
Their losses are my losses.
And their hopes and dreams for a great life are mine as well.

I feel this way about all of the places in the world I have visited. One cannot go to a place and submerge into the beauty of its culture without falling in love with the people who have created it.

And this is why travel will save us.

Santa Domenica Talao Kitties 2
Resident of Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria.

Suddenly we are not ok with some politician dropping bombs on our friends. When someone threatens them, we cannot turn our backs.

And the more places we visit, the more we must be involved in the care and handling of these places by our governments.

We the people of our countries have all the power. Our politicians only have what we give them.

Ostia Antica, Roma

When enough people befriend each other from other countries and cultures, our politicians and the bad news, lapdog media will be brought to heel and atrocities will end.

So if I have not yet convinced you that it is your duty as a citizen of our planet to go out and visit all the other citizens of our planet, let this article gently guilt you into planning a trip.

If you don’t know where to start contact me. We can plan your dream trip.

Sending Love From California to Calabria

Santa Domenica Talao in Springtime
Chris in Santa Domenica Talao
Chris in Santa Domenica Talao

I have written much about our magical village of Santa Domenica Talao and its warm and loving people. When we arrived there we suddenly became a part of something much bigger than ourselves and our world expanded greatly.

We were now a part of this beautiful place and part of the lives of our neighbors. We love them and we feel loved very much in return.

And this creates a bit of a double edged sword personally speaking, especially when we are so far away for so much of the time.

My Beautiful Friends Nunzia
My Beautiful Friend Nunzia

When you love someone, you feel their joys, their wonders, their loves and their losses. You feel their pain every bit as intensely as if it were your own.

I have noticed this as I have gotten closer to our neighbors in Santa Domenica Talao. This has been a very tough year for some of our closest friends.

Santa Domenica Talao in Springtime
Santa Domenica Talao in Springtime

And it takes a bit to understand all that that entails.  We now have a sense of responsibility for each one of them and for their happiness and protection. We have a responsibility to promote our beautiful village and its people. We have a responsibility to stand up for it when someone might say something mean against it. It is a part of us and we are a part of it now and forever.

Santa Domenica Talao

And with that knowledge is the certainty that when we lose someone, we will feel it keenly and we will grieve with the families and the loved ones left behind.

That said, we want to send our special love and care to our friends in Santa Domenica who have suffered recent losses.

Our Beautiful Church
Our Beautiful Church

Even when we are in California we think of you often and always wish we could be with you, especially in the rough times.

We will be back among you soon.

XO Chris

Time to Make YOUR House Hunters International Dream Come True

Staircase in Santa Domenica Talao

 

Staircase in Santa Domenica Talao
Our Piazza in Santa Domenica Talao Photo by Karen Murphy

Happy New Year Bellisimi!

It is New Year’s eve and it is cold outside. The wind bit through my coat today making me long for warm Summer days and the sound of church bells in Santa Domenica Talao, Italy.

Pete and I have been wheeling and dealing lately and long story short, we are almost complete with our transaction of our future BNB just off the piazza.

Excitement is running so high. Our beloved mayor has been working feverishly on projects designed to make the village better and better and to attract tourists.

There is news of another very exciting project occurring there but I am sworn to secrecy otherwise I would blab it all over the internet.

Here is a hint: YOU WILL LOVE IT!

Gorgeous Building in Santa Domenica Talao
Gorgeous Building in the Back of the Village

All in all our beloved little village is growing and flourishing.

Hopefully by now you will have read my article “How to Buy a Property in Italy without Falling Into a Money Pit”

So! If you have a thought about purchasing property in Italy, how about our little village?

On my last visit, our village architect, Antonello gave me a gorgeous tour of several properties because my friend was looking to buy there.  And honestly there is so much available.

If you have ever thought of moving to Italy but wondered how to do it, go see my interview with Bonnie Gale Oliver, an expat in our village.

At the top of the village is a gorgeous two bedroom apartment that has recently been fully restored. Everything has been removed and replaced down to the windows. It features a cute little terrace where you can have coffee or hang your clothes.

It also has large windows that open to sweeping views of the Mediterranean from the lounge area and the bedroom. The asking prices was $80,000

Another apartment featured a one bedroom, one bath apartment above and another bed and small bath below. This was listed at $55,000

And yet another was a cute one bed one bath with views of the sea for $40,000.

In addition to these finished apartments, there is a seemingly endless supply of ruins that could be renovated to your specifications. Some are pretty crumbly but others only need finishes to be beautiful and very comfortable once again.

Italian Architecture
Italian Architecture

Pete and I have gotten to know the village architect very well and he loves designing spaces in keeping with the Italian flair and making them stunningly pretty.

If you are interested in our little corner of paradise, please let me know. I can line up a trip for you and assist in the translation and introductions.

Lining up your future home and dreaming about your own personal House Hunters International success is something to think about on these long, cold evenings while we wait for the sun.

So what do you think? Maybe this will change your mind:

Cafe
Cafe

Or how about this?:

Antipasti at the Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao
Antipasti at the Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao

And if that doesn’t take you over the top. I know the best bakery in all of Calabria and will clue you in.

Mull it over then give me a shout.

You can reach me at [email protected] com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruin Flippers! How Our House Hunters International Dream is Coming True AGAIN!

The ruin from the side

 

 

If you are like me, you are hooked on House Hunters International. I watch every episode on Europe and I love trying to figure out which house the buyers  will get and what kind of life they will create there. The episodes on Italy are always my favorite.

Back in 2011, my husband Pete and I made our House Hunters International dream come true by purchasing a medieval house on the top of a 300 year old building in an ancient hill town in Calabria, Southern Italy.

Back then not many people had heard of Calabria. Guidebooks ignored it despite the fact that Calabria boasts of some of the most dramatic landscapes and some of the most stunning beaches on the planet.

So we had very little competition buying our house with its sparking white tile and sweeping view of the sea.

Neighbors chatting in Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria. #santadomenicatalao #calabria #southernitaly #chasinglabellavitanow

And we have been visiting there as much as we possibly can since we bought it. We love it there and miss it sorely when we are away..

Last Summer I was there with a friend who was looking at purchasing a property there. As we wandered though the piazza toward the back of the village, my eyes fell on a ruin that Pete and I had fallen in love with when we were looking for our house.  It had been on the market then but was too expensive and needed extensive renovations.

The Pink House
The Pink House

This ruin, I had heard, had been purchased and yet here it was, still sitting in a state of partial renovation as it had for the last seven years.

So I asked my friend Antonello (Who you remember from my previous post about the ruined palace in the back of the village) about it.

Antonello told me that a lady had purchased the building with the intention of renovating it but that she had found another house and had moved in. He stated that the lady wanted to sell it and I asked him to find out how much.

In 2011 when we were initially looking to purchase, the property market was strong. People from America and various parts of the UK had come over and purchased holiday homes. Since then the market and gone pretty soft so the price was right and we are now in the process of purchasing the “Pink House” steps away from the piazza.

The Piazza
The Piazza

The house itself looks like a two story house from the front however it is built on a hill and all together it is four stories.

We have figured that if we are judicious with the space, we can create five studio apartments, a communal kitchen, communal laundry facilities and a huge roof terrace with sweeping views of the Pollino mountains and the Mediterranean.

A few months ago we agreed on the price and now we are waiting for the contracts to be translated and the date set with the notaio who will meet with us and go over the contract, line by line to ensure that all T’s are dotted and eyes crossed.

Then it will be ours.

Right now it is looking like early February 2019 and then the renovations can start.

The ruin from the side
The ruin from the side

This is going to be a magnificent project. the architect has an amazing sense of aesthetics and loves to make things beautiful.

From the back
From the back

 

We are so excited. The village has been changing and gearing up for tourism. The village leaders seem to want this beautiful place to be a destination for tourists rather than a place you stumble upon  if you are lucky.

And Pete and I have a purpose to introduce this amazing place to the people we come into contact with.

The grand opening for the BNB is tentatively set for May 2020. Please stay tuned here for updates, photos and announcements.

I will write more and post more photos when we visit in February.

San Giuseppe and Dog the Blasphemer

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domanica Talao, Calabria, Italy

 It is with light hearted and educated finger that I take to my keyboard today to tell you I have been taking a class on essay writing through The Great Courses.

I love these courses and I can study everything from mental math (Still haven’t cracked the cellophane on that one) to Latin 101 (Its coming along but I have a ways to go) and Renaissance Italy which I lap up like a St. Bernard with a bowl of ice cream.

Our first assignment is to write about a place we know intimately.

Of course our village, Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria comes instantly to mind.

Our village, perched on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean has been, until recently, somewhat sequestered.

Piazza Santa Domenica talco
The Piazza, Santa Domenica Talao

Back in the day when it was not as easy to get around, most everyone stuck around the villages and unique personalities and cultures emerged in the minds and lives of the people.

When you go to Southern Italy and visit the hill towns, you will be struck by the fact that each one has its own unique character.

Maiera, which is close by, clinging to the hilltop like mushrooms on a tree trunk, is humble and reverent.

Grisolia, high above the clouds overlooking the shimmering Mediterranean is warm and friendly.

The beach resort of Scalea is untamed and a mix of cultures and colors, and our village is aesthetically beautiful, loving and playful.

One thing however, that is taken seriously by all of these different villages, is faith.

As any Italophile can tell you, the predominant religion in Italy is Catholicism. And although it is one religion, it has many expressions and runs deep in the culture of the tiny towns and villages all over Italy.

Our village piazza is dominated by a thirteenth century stone church that rises up in the middle of the village and, like a pin, holds the village together.

Babies are blessed there, young couples are married there and when someone’s journey ends for whatever reason, they are given over to God there in a solemn ceremony and then a sad procession up the steep road to the cemetery that overlooks the village on the hill just above it.

A villager has perished and the village is sadly diminished by one.

In the church, from a special niche, the patron saint of the village, San Giuseppe, watches over his flock.

Every year, in celebration of his day, the statue of San Giuseppe is taken from the church and in a loving procession is carried through the tiny vias and alleyways of the village.

The villagers hang their best linens out the window as he passes and the medieval windows are dressed up in their finest clothes for a celebration.

The statue of San Giuseppe is quite heavy and although he is carried by several strong men and jostled about as they make their way up and down stairs and steep alleys, winding through the village, he remains calm and unmolested.

He seems grateful that they are willing to take him out on a tour so he can see what has elapsed since his last sojourn, and happy despite the villagers thwarted best efforts to carry him gracefully.

When I arrived to Santa Domenica this trip, I had no idea it was patron saint day.

Nonetheless, my beautiful house looked pretty neglected when I first walked up after a year of being gone. So I got out a broom and a trash bag and started cleaning her up.

After much sweeping and digging the weeds out of the cracks in the stairs, I had her looking pretty spiffy. She looked like someone cared about her again and we were both happy.

My neighbor, a sweet lady, paid me a compliment about what a nice job I had done on the walkway, porch and stairs.

I accepted it and apparently had unthinkingly ingratiated myself to her as she thought I was doing it for San Giuseppe.

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

Later that day I was on my balcony breathing in the crystal blue Mediterranean when I heard someone yelling.

This person was obviously outraged and I wondered what could make any of our peaceful, loving neighbors so angry.

I came out on the porch and looked. The medieval houses across the via from me rose up to the sky.

The windows thrust open and heads thrust themselves out like a giant advent calendar.

I looked at the stair leading to my house and there, perched on the top one was a perfectly shaped dog turd.

Not just any dog turd this, but obviously one that this particular dog had put some thought into.

Not a dog to just crank out something and call it art, he went the extra mile.

It looked more like a perfect chocolate custard than a real turd but its placement gave away its true identity.

Yep, It was a turd, still wet and stinky in its freshness and it had been just recently been deposited

My neighbor was livid and I secretly felt that she was vindicating me. How dare this dog defile my perfectly manicured steps! How dare he thumb his nose at my back breaking labor!

Although, I thought, she is being a little excessive. I mean, I could just get a dustpan and handle it right there.

Every head that was thrust out of a window had something vital to add to the conversation.

My tiny neighbor stood yelling in outraged Italian, her shawl shaking in indignation and the Greek chorus of disembodied heads from the advent calendar were all singing in unison that yes, indeed it was a disgrace! Yes, an outrage even and how could anyone, even a dog (vile beast that this one obviously was) be so disrespectful?

The cacophony went on for quite a while and finally died down. The advent calendar lost interest and one by one the windows closed against the heat of the Calabrian sun.

My neighbor, still muttering went inside to nurse her grievance.

I snuck out and retrieved the turd and relegated it to the trash.

As I was idly chatting with Nunzia who holds court from her little market in the piazza, I learned that today was San Giuseppe’s day.

A tiny lady in the doorway took my hand in both of hers and talked excitedly about the procession, the music and the lights. Her eyes lit up like a child’s talking about an upcoming birthday party.

I had seen the procession of the Madonna Festival in Scalea just the week before and I learned that it was out of respect that you hung your prettiest linens out of the window as she passed, in her honor.

Later in the day I went onto the trunk of linens that had come with the house. The lady who sold it to us had left us all the bedding and linens when we bought the place.

I found a pretty bedspread and hung it from my kitchen window which could be seen by the villagers and San Giuseppe as they walked by.

Piazza Santa Domenica Talao
Piazza Santa Domenica Talao

As the procession began my husband and I went up to the church to watch the faithful spill out. The villagers had spent hours making special baskets with flowers and ribbons that they carried on their heads in front of San Giuseppe as he made his way through the village.

Then we raced  back to our house and met our neighbors who were sitting on their porch watching the parade as it looped and wound its way through every tiny or forgotten via in Santa Domenica.

The women were crying with love and gratitude. It was quite moving.

And then I understood why my neighbor was so upset.

This was her saint, the one who watched over the village and whom every villager loved with all their hearts. This calm and beautiful wooden statue was a symbol of perfect love, peace and harmony. And they adored him.

Later there was music. Men, women and children were dancing the Tarantella in the piazza, the giant flowered tiles under their feet acting as their dance floor.

The steps of the church became seating for those watching the spectacle and the giant bell tower that wakes me every morning to the heavenly sounds of church bells watched over the village while San Giuseppe watched over the church once again from his perch.

I am sure he was smiling calmly as he always does.

Our village at night
Our village at night

Where to Buy the BEST Italian Leather Handbags in Florence, Italy

Stunning craftsmenship

Pelletteria Moretti
Pelletteria Moretti

Hey everyone!

Wow! My friend Trish and I just came home from a whirlwind tour of several cities in Italy. Each one has its particular charm but Florence leaves me breathless every time.

Anyone who has been to Florence or who has an obsession for quality purses and handbags knows that Florentine leather products are world renown for their quality and  craftsmanship.

The reason for this is that the craftsmen who create these dreamy products have all been well trained and apprenticed and, many times, has family who have done this type of work for a long time.

Walter Moretti at Pelletteria Moretti in Florence is no exception.

Handbag Heaven
Handbag Heaven

When I first launched my website, Chasing La Bella Vita, I wanted to sell quality leather handbags online. I had come over to Florence to scout out a supplier so that I could get super high quality products for a good price.

Pelletteria Moretti
Pelletteria Moretti

I had been all over Florence on a bike and had talked to many people in the various shops. None of them were at all interested.

All colors
All colors

I was about to give up when I happened to ride by Signore Moretti’s shop just as he was going outside to get some air. He was wearing a leather apron which halted me in my tracks. It was a good sign.

All styles
All styles

I went in and and started looking around. The first thing I noticed was that the designs in this shop were different than the cookie cutter cutout designs I had seen in all the other shops. It was like they had all stuck to the same design for years. In fact, when I go back to Florence and see the stalls on the street or the shops near the monuments, I see the same designs I saw when I first visited Florence many years ago.

Bow bag
Bow Bag. I love it!

The second thing I noticed was the palpable quality of the leather that Signore Moretti uses. You could tell just by touching it that Signore Moretti used super high quality leather for his designs.

Classic shoulder bag
Classic shoulder bag

After having looked and liking what I saw, I asked Signore Moretti about selling his bags online. At that point he sat me down and gave me a whole lesson on how to find great quality in handbags.

He went over each handbag point by point and explained the work and the attention to detail that went into crafting such a beautiful work of art.

Top shelf
Top shelf

He then would not sell me any handbags until I promised to go out and about and really look at the handbags I found in the other shops and the stalls.

After my primer on handbags, I did not even have to look closely to see the obvious differences in quality.

Triangle shoulder bags
Triangle shoulder bags

Signore Moretti advised me that many of the products you find on the street in Florence are mass produced and the quality can be very poor. I observed this for myself by looking them over and finding blemishes and cuts in the leather that would never be found in a Moretti bag.

I came back to his shop and purchase a bunch of handbags to take home and sell.

In the end, I decided against selling the handbags on Chasing La Bella Vita and many of them became gifts for people in my life. Everyone I have ever given one of these bags to has been overjoyed to get it and have ended up loving it for years.

And of course, I kept a lot of them. I mean how can you give the best ones away?

I have one of his adorable little round bags with a bow on it in gray. It goes beautifully with a black dress and breaks up the too much blackness problem with a slight change in color. Very classy!

Jewel box bags
Jewel box bags

I also have one of his little jewel box bags with the toggle on the front. Mine is in red and black and is perfect for evenings out. Again, it pairs beautifully with black dresses of which I own many.

This time, I did buy gifts for friends and family members. And of course I bought gifts for myself because why would I not?

Fine quality
Fine quality

I got a beautiful perfectly crafted square bag in bright orange and a gorgeous purse in teal with stunning details.

I just can’t help myself! I love his bags so much that I am like a kid in a candy store.  Even with my giant suitcase full, I was thinking about the little bright green bag with the bow on it and trying to figure out how I could squeeze another trip to Moretti’s before my train left. Obsessive? absolutely!

Stunning craftsmenship
Stunning craftsmanship

Confession time! My friend and I had to purchase a huge wheelie suitcase we named Big Red just for all the gifts to ourselves and others we brought home. Happily she was booked into first class and was able to check Big Red for free. Big Red is now available for future trips to Florence and this is a good thing.

Gorgeous
Gorgeous

When you go to Florence, do yourself a favor and go see Walter Moretti and his wonderful family. They are lovely people and you will be dazzled by his works of art. And his prices are really super reasonable considering the passion, attention to detail and quality that goes into every handbag.

Oh and buy yourself a Big Red, you are going to need it.

Happy shopping!