A Dalmatian Guest Post — and the World’s Most Interesting Man

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 | Category: GUEST POSTS, Travel Stories


Ed. note: I’ve known Diane for almost 20 years. When she and her husband, Kevin, announced they were going to Croatia for their summer vacation (with the kid) this year, they got a lot of baffled looks…


“Why did you pick Croatia?” some people asked.

“What’s so special about Croatia?” others wanted to know.

Before I go any further, a little back story is in order. My husband is British. I’m American. We met in 1986 in Canterbury, England, where I spent my junior year abroad. Travel is something we’re passionate about, and we share that passion with our 13-year-old son (or “the kid”, as he’s more commonly known in my frequent Facebook posts about him).

So…why Croatia?

Since two of our English friends and their children would be vacationing with us, our destination had to be close enough to London for them to get in and out for one week (Kevin, the kid, and I were going to stay for two weeks). We wanted to go somewhere that the four well-traveled adults had never visited. Oh, and wherever we chose had to be kid-friendly.

The waterfront in the sleepy town of Stari Grad on Hvar island

The waterfront in the sleepy town of Stari Grad on Hvar island

Croatia fit the bill perfectly. None of us had been there; heck, your average American has never even heard of it, let alone being able to find it on a map. The flight was less than two hours from London. And since Croatia is on the Adriatic coast, there would be plenty of beaches for the kid. Kevin and I planned an itinerary that included Trogir, Split, the Makarska Riviera, Dubrovnik and its surrounding countryside, plus stays on the islands of Hvar and Brac.

The second question – What’s so special about Croatia? – is a lot harder to answer. That’s because pretty much EVERYTHING about Croatia is special.

First, there are the people. Croats are unbelievably hospitable. During our stay, we were warmly welcomed everywhere, even in tourist-dominated Dubrovnik. Although English is widely spoken, we scored huge points with the locals by learning some kindergartner-level Croatian. Armed with about two dozen words and phrases, we got cheers of “bravo!”, high-fives, and even an invitation to knock back some homemade walnut grappa with the owner of a restaurant on the island of Brac because we said hvala (thank you), molim (please), and izvrsno (delicious).

While driving from Trogir to Dubrovnik, we stopped at a roadside farmstand near the Croatia-

Bosnia border to buy some fruit. It turned into an impromptu language lesson; I asked the

The rooftops of old Dubrovnik as seen from the 2-kilometer-long walkway atop its ancient walls. The island of Lokrum is in the background.

The rooftops of old Dubrovnik as seen from the 2-kilometer-long walkway atop its ancient walls. The island of Lokrum is in the background.

farmer to teach me the Croatian word for “apple”, and we were off and running. The kid even joined in the fun and announced that he wanted us to buy some shliva (plums).

Or how about this: one night in Brac, we enjoyed a gourmet dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. When the waiter appeared with the bill, we pulled out our credit card and were informed that they accepted cash only (we later learned this is quite a common policy at many smaller restaurants and hotels). Horrified, we realized we had only a few kuna (the local currency) in our pockets. To our amazement, the waiter laughed and said, “Just come back tomorrow and pay.” He didn’t even ask where we were staying or what our names were. As we ran to the nearest ATM, we half-joked that an American restaurant would’ve made the kid wash dishes in the kitchen while Kevin and I went to get the cash.

Diane, Kevin, and the Kid with the world's most interesting man

Diane, Kevin, and the Kid with the world’s most interesting man

And then there was Branko, the man who owned the villa we rented for a week outside Dubrovnik. He was hilarious, spoke six languages fluently, and had a life story that would make a blockbuster movie. You know the dude in the Dos Equis television ads who, according to the announcer, is “…the world’s most interesting man”? Well, he’s got nothing on Branko, who has been an underwater demolition expert, a hotel owner in Cambodia, a nightclub bouncer in Sweden (where he supervised a then-unknown Dolph Lundgren), an artist, and an antiques collector. The guy also happens to be a close friend of his fellow Croat Goran Visnjic, the actor who played hunky Doctor Kovac on the TV series ER. As far as the kid (and the rest of us) was concerned, Branko was a rock star.

When I mentioned that Kevin wanted to do some scuba diving, Branko arranged for a private diving trip with a boat-captain friend of his in the tiny seaside village of Molunat. When we asked Branko to recommend a good fish market, he turned up at the front door the next day with two kilos of fresh-off-the-boat fish. We looked forward to Branko’s visits and stories almost as much as we looked forward to our sightseeing excursions. We even invited him to have a barbecue dinner with us at the villa; it was one of the highlights of our vacation. When our week at the villa was over, saying goodbye to Branko was like saying goodbye to an old friend. You don’t get that kind of experience at a mega-hotel.

But the locals aren’t all we loved about Croatia. The scenery is spectacular, and we saw only a small part of it. The Dalmatian coast and its hundreds of islands are ruggedly stunning, with high, sheer, rocky cliffs that plunge into some of the clearest turquoise water I’ve ever seen. The hairpin turns on the roads at the tops of those cliffs reveal one jaw-dropping vista after another. There are countless small coves, beaches, and villages at the bottom of the cliffs. Some, like quiet Dubovica beach, are only accessible via a steep hike down from the highway. Others, like picture-perfect Cavtat with its waterfront restaurants and its harbor full of million-dollar yachts, are worthy of an entire week’s stay. And the panorama of terracotta roof tiles and church bell towers that we got from atop Dubrovnik’s medieval city walls was so beautiful it made me cry.

I once read somewhere that your sense of smell triggers the most powerful memories. If that’s true, then every time I smell oregano from now on, I’ll immediately be transported to the hiking path high up in Kuna Konavoska near the Bosnian border, where I stepped on a clump of wild oregano and asked Kevin and the kid, “Who could be cooking something so delicious in the middle of nowhere?” When I catch the fragrance of lavender, I’ll suddenly be back at the open-air market stalls on Hvar, where old men and women sell sachets, lotions, and oils made from the island’s most famous crop. And I won’t be able to smell a wood-fired barbecue without instantly remembering the Dalmatian coast’s konoba restaurants and the “lamb under the bell” dinner that is the region’s gastronomic celebrity.

Before we left for Croatia, some people asked Kevin and me if taking along a 13-year-old was going to cramp our sightseeing style. In fact, just the opposite happened: we got to see the country from the kid’s perspective and, to use one of his favorite words, that perspective was epic. Without him, how else would we have so quickly learned to say sladoled, the most important Croatian word of all? (It means “ice cream,” in case you’re wondering.) When we were sitting on jam-packed Donja Luka beach in Makarska, it was the kid who announced, “Hey, this is COOL. There are no other Americans here!” (He was right. We realized we were surrounded by Croats, Italians, Bosnians, French, Germans, and Russians.)

The League of Nations pick-up game

The League of Nations pick-up game

And finally, it was the kid who unwittingly created the most special vacation memory of all. We were at the beach in Mlini when he and our British friends’ son started kicking a soccer ball back and forth on a nearby patch of grass. Within minutes a Croat boy had joined them, followed quickly by some Bosnian and Danish boys. Suddenly, we had a League of Nations pickup match. There was no single common language to unite the spectators and players – just a love of soccer. At the end of the match, the boys grinned, shook hands, and gave each other the silent nod of the head that means “good game” in any language. Then everyone went and got sladoled.

When I first shared the soccer-game story on my Facebook wall, a college classmate of mine who is a minister commented, “Our children will lead the way if we let them.” Kevin and I hoped Croatia would be a fun experience for us as a family, of course, but we also hoped it would open the kid’s eyes and help him see that he’s part of a much bigger world. We knew the trip had been a success when he announced, “I love Croatia. It’s awesome – I could live here.” Hard to argue with that.

Sunset in Bol, on the island of Brac

Sunset in Bol, on the island of Brac

So grab your own kid – or your inner kid – and go to Croatia. Go soon. Go experience one of Europe’s truly authentic, friendly, and unspoiled places. Go see for yourself why the Croats love their country so much, and why lots of visitors like me do as well. But most of all, just go.


Diane Giombetti is a freelance business copywriter . She’s working on a book  which chronicles her many adventures during her gap year at Mount Holyoke. Among them? Meeting her husband, Kevin . . . She is also an independent stylist for Stella and Dot and can be reached at www.stelladot.com/dgiombetticlue








Seen in Salem

Monday, October 14, 2013 | Category: Reflections


Which witch shall I be . . .?

Which witch shall I be . . .?



Here we go again . . .!

We’re just getting started!

Last week’s parade kicked off the month-long Haunted Happenings celebration in Salem, MA.

Here are a few shots of the scene on Essex Street on this beautiful Sunday.

Stop by for a spell, if you can . . .

Buon viaggio!

No need to go to Venice for your masks . . .

No need to go to Venice for your masks . . .





Should witches be this happy?!?
Should witches be this happy?!?






A good hat . . . it's not hard to find here in Salem!

A good hat . . . it’s not hard to find here in Salem!

From Sin City, UT to Unspeakable Danger

Thursday, September 26, 2013 | Category: Travel Writing


Beneath Yellowstone Park a monstrous plume of hot rock is causing the earth to heave and tremble. Past volcanoes have erupted with a thousand times the power of Mount St. Helens. The future is anybody’s guess. — When Yellowstone Explodes, National Geographic, August 2009

It’s two days before we leave for an adventure trip to Jackson Hole and then on to Yellowstone. For those of you who don’t know me personally, let me assure you that I am not an adventure traveler. An old boyfriend once said that his idea of camping was a Holiday Inn. For me, it might be a Hyatt. So what do we do on this adventure trip? The very thought has been keeping me up at night.

Tubing? Nope. Horseback riding? Wouldn’t do that to a horse. White water rafting? Not on your life. Climbing? Hah! I saw ads in the mountain country guides for bungee trampolining and tandem paragliding. Won’t be doing either of those. Rope me a ranger tour and I’m yours. I’ll take an easy-to-moderate walking tour that lasts less than two hours — the approximate time it takes before my feet start to fall asleep (the perils of the wide-foot walker). Best of all, put me in a boat on a lake and I’m a happy girl.

I’ve have sought these activities out and hope I can convince my much-higher-risk-than-I husband and sister-in-law that these are the best options. Oh — and I am, under no circumstances, sleeping in a tent, no matter how quaint and authentic the propaganda makes that sound. Bears have claws, people, and bison can charge a tent at 35 m.p.h. and then we are lunch.

It’s paragraphs like this one in the guidebooks that make me want to stay in bed:

Wyoming’s wide open spaces offer limited opportunities to purchase food and fuel. Before starting out, consult a road map to plan your fuel and refreshment stops. Once on the road, fuel stops are often farther apart than travelers might realize. And watch for livestock and wildlife on the highways, particularly at dawn and dusk when many animals are most active.” — National Historic Trails: Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Across Wyoming, NPS 2007

And my favorite, from the same source:

“Cell phone coverage is spotty all across Wyoming. If you choose to drive back roads, do not count on summoning help in case of emergency. Go prepared. Check your tires, carry a spare and a road map, leave pets at home, take food and water, and be ready to hike back to the highway, if necessary.”

Gentle readers, I do not want to have to gnaw off my arm a la James Franco, nor do I want to have a close encounter with a grizzly or a bison. Why the hell did I say yes to this trip? Because it will make for good copy if I survive? I guess. I survived Yosemite last year; maybe luck will be with me again this year. On the other hand, the biggest fear at Yosemite was that a rogue sequoia would fall on me. This time’s a little different, since this is the season when the animals come down from the higher elevations to fatten up for the upcoming winter hibernation. But not on me, I hope.

It’s times like this that I realize just what a city girl I really am. My sister-in-law says we have to go shopping tomorrow for food to keep in a cooler because food and drink opportunities are few and far between on the road, and the ones that do exist charge extortionate prices. Really? And she keeps talking about cute cabins that we can all share, some of which have indoor plumbing (I think she’s kidding about the plumbing). Again — really? Oh, and my ears haven’t stopped popping since Friday night. I’m not good above sea level and drink approximately 3,000 gallons of water a day to stay vertical.

Quaking Aspens outside of Park City (Sin City) Utah

Quaking Aspens outside of Park City (Sin City) Utah (me, too)

Tim and I have spent the past few days exploring the Park City-Salt Lake City area while his sister works. We tracked down the cemetery where their relatives are buried — the ones they didn’t even know they had five years ago — the first Jewish settlers to Utah (that will be a whole other post). And we found the Brooks Arcade, the building his great-great-uncle put up in 1891 in Salt Lake. We went to the Park Silly Market and bought delicious olive oil and salt bread, a red pepper spread and a silver necklace for me. We did some outlet shopping, where Tim got some great shoes. I got a few short-sleeved t-shirts because I seem to have packed for Iceland in February rather than Utah in September. Maybe it’s just unseasonably warm here this year, but I’m very happy with the outcome. It probably won’t hold out in Wyoming, but that will be the least of my worries, right?

I’ll be optimistic and say that I’ll tell you all about it in a few weeks. Keep your fingers crossed . . .

Buon viaggio!

Settlin’ In

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 | Category: Travel Stories


We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. — T. S. Eliot


We’ve been away. But as the mornings are getting chillier and the afternoons shorter, Tim and I are starting to settle in to our new (old) life here in Salem, Massachusetts.

First fire, 9/17/2013

First fire, 9/17/2013

Tim takes the morning shift with the dog. Maxine likes a good long walk  first thing, and Salem provides that opportunity, because Tim generally runs into 5 – 10 people who want to welcome him back and tell him what’s been going on. And if you know Tim, you know he’s a talker, too. I go out around 5:00, or whenever Maxine tells me it’s time, and the same kind of thing happens. We feel part of a community here, and I believe that on some level, that’s what we all long for.

The Halloween vibe is just starting and will be in full swing in about 10 days. Crunchy leaves hit the brick sidewalks and crackle underfoot. Maxine discovers new smells all the time. There’s a steady stream of visitors at the Pickering House and our friends are lining themselves up for fall and winter visits. Life is good.

We left Salem in 2005 to get away from some recent harsh winters that

Maxine & Tim, off on an early morning walk last winter

Maxine & Tim, off on an early morning walk last winter

were doing my arthritis no good. Plus, I am one of a growing percentage of people who had a very bad reaction to a drug I was taking for osteoporosis, the upshot of which is that I could no longer live in our wonderful 1735-era home with its steep stairs and third floor living quarters. Virginia was our rescue — we had family there and our jobs are not geography dependent. We’re not sorry we did it — we made some life-long friends in Richmond — but being away made us appreciate Salem that much more.

We realized that this is home, even though we are both native New Yorkers. This is home, even though we often feel “at home” in other places around the world. And this is home because this is where we put down roots in 1995 which have proven too strong to sever.

The Pickering House (c) mystuart

The Pickering House (c) mystuart

We are very much looking forward to the October madness, an authentic New England Thanksgiving, the lovely Christmas House Tour (which we’ve already been recruited to work on) and even the first snowfall, which we will dutifully record here in the house as they have done for years.

So, yes, to everybody who asks: we are settlin’ in. And now it is time to take our first steps away from all we’ve been doing since early July. We are off to Utah to visit Tim’s sister and perhaps even make a pilgrimage to our first National Park — Yellowstone — if there isn’t too much snow to drive through. We might even steal us a couple of pic-i-nic baskets, Boo-Boo.

Buon viaggio!





Salem for People Who Eat

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips


People who love to eat are always the best people. — Julia Child


SalemFoodToursCardThe City of Salem, Massachusetts has an abundance of treasures: The House of the Seven Gables, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem Athenaeum, Phillips House, Ropes Garden, the Maritime National Historic Site, and (dare I say?) the Pickering House. Well, now you can add to this list: Karen Scalia and her Salem Food Tours.

Tim and I were privileged to go on a tour (and we took my sister-in-law) this past Saturday, and I

Fi, Tim and I are about to start the tour
Fi, Tim and I are about to start the tour

recommend it to everybody who eats. Well, there will be kid-oriented tours eventually, but for now, it’s just for adults. Even if you live in Salem and think you know all there is to know about its food history and current restaurant scene, you need to go. And bring your out-of-town guests, by all means, for “A Taste of History.”

August 24th marked the one-year anniversary for Salem Food Tours and I predict there will be many more anniversaries. Karen is an energetic guide and a creative planner, with a passion for fresh food and partners who are committed to using local ingredients wherever possible. Her enthusiasm for everything that Salem offers, culinary wise, is contagious.

She writes, “Salem continues to grow as a food destination. The restaurants, shops and farmer’s market, and food events make this wonderful historic city that much tastier!”

Tasting at Salem Spice c. Salem Food Tours

Tasting at Salem Spice
c. Salem Food Tours

Karen begins her tours at Salem Spice/The Picklepot on Pickering Wharf, where proprietor David Bowie brings the history and bounty of the spice trade to life. There we tasted all sorts of salts and peppers to learn the distinctions between them and open up our palates. Then we were ready to begin our tour.

The tour takes about three hours ands covers about two miles of walking, with

Not your grandma's pudding: the finale at Scratch Kitchen c. Salem Food tours

Not your grandma’s pudding: the finale at Scratch Kitchen
c. Salem Food tours

plenty of stops. She provides water and suggests comfortable walking shoes, but encourages dressing as casually or as fabulously as you like. A typical tour guarantees at least five stops, consisting of a combination of both restaurants and shops. A visit to Salem Food Tours’ Tour Partners page gives you a hint of where you might go on the tour — the tours vary from week to week and you won’t know where you’re going ‘til you get there. But at each stop, the chefs and shopkeepers prepared a light tasting for us (some very generous) — enough to give you a teasing taste of their offerings so you can plan to return on your own for more.

Why yes, that is fettucini with lobster, wild mushrooms, scallions, basil microgreens and creme fraiche a la Grapevine!. c. Salem Food Tours

Why yes, that is fettucini with lobster, wild mushrooms, scallions, basil microgreens and creme fraiche a la Grapevine!.
c. Salem Food Tours

After Salem Spice, our tour took us to the amazing Scratch Kitchen, where everything, including the ketchup, is made on-site from local ingredients; Turtle Alley, for some homemade chocolate bliss; Flying Saucer Pizza Company, for two very special ‘zas; Milk and Honey, where we were feted with a blue cheese that was to die for, as well as a (wait for it) chocolate goat cheese log that tasted like the best cheesecake you ever had. Then, it was next door to Salem Wine Imports, where we tasted two Chardonnays, one Californian and one French (and where we will return frequently on Tuesday nights @ 6:30 for their free wine tastings). And then it was back across town to the Grapevine, for a mini-dinner (including their exclusive prosecco and pavan aperitif)  that will have me going back, even though I was never particularly a fan of the “old” Grapevine.

A little advice: our tour started at 2:00 and we should not have eaten lunch. But now we know. You’ll need to purchase tickets ahead of time via the website, and Karen’s tour groups consist of only 5 – 12 people, so plan in advance. If you want to try for a last-minute reservation, call her at 978-594-8811 or send her an e-mail at .

This is a brilliant way to experience Salem, a joy for foodies and non-foodies

Having a blast at the Grapevine c. Salem Food Tours

Having a blast at the Grapevine
c. Salem Food Tours

alike, with the added benefit of having authentic ties to our spice trading history. Kudos to Karen for creating yet another great way to make Salem a must-see destination city!

Buon viaggio!








Return of the Jenkii

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 | Category: Travel Stories



Yoda: No more training do you require. Already know you, that which you need.


Tim and Linda: Then we are the Jenkii?


Yoda: No. Not yet. One thing remains. I-95. You must confront I-95. Then, only then, Jenkii will you be. And confront it you will.


We painted in the rain. We mulched in the rain. We removed windows in the rain. We packed in the rain. When the time came to drive up the East Coast to Salem, Massachusetts from Midlothian, Virginia, the rain had stopped. We pulled out of the driveway about 11:00 in the morning, headed for Mystic, Connecticut to spend the night with Tim’s Mom. We’d driven this route up I-95 countless times over the past eight years. What could possibly go wrong?

You know that Klondike commercial? The one that asks, “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?” We kinda felt like that. We were prepared to drive ginormous Penske trucks 600 miles — twice — to get back to Salem, our friends and the amazing community that we had left behind in 2005 for an adventure in Central Virginia.

Close encounters of the Peterbilt kind

Close encounters of the Peterbilt kind

So there we were in the first truck (the next one goes up at the end of June), everything going pretty smoothly (except for the eight miles to a gallon that the 26-foot truck got) until about 9:30 at night. We were just into Connecticut and the road was being paved. Badly, it turns out. With an average five-inch height difference between the lanes, our truck body was swaying a bit too much for comfort. Tim pulled over and checked to see if we had a flat or something. No. So we took off again and it almost seemed worse. Swaying. In the dark. On I-95. Two tired people in the truck cab. Not good.

We called Penske roadside assistance and they said they’d have somebody come out. In less than an hour, a Peterbilt wrecker showed up and had a look around. It was too dark to really ascertain what had gone wrong, but he decided that the truck was undriveable and offered to tow us up to Mystic, where we could spend the night and they’d send somebody out in the morning. Deal. Tim rode in the dangerous truck as it was being towed  and I rode with the driver in the wrecker. The Millenium Falcon has nothing on a Peterbilt, people. We pulled into the Big Y parking lot around 11:30 and disengaged the truck from the wrecker. Tim’s Mom picked us up and we went to her house, leaving most of our earthly possessions behind on the truck. At least (we thought) they didn’t offer to send another truck out to I-95 so that we could repack everything into the new truck!

At 5:30 the next morning, Penske called us to say that another truck and driver were on their way and we

We're here!

We’re here!

should meet them in the parking lot. Tim drove over and, when the driver, James, had a chance to look at the truck in the daylight, he saw that most of the U-bolts holding the cab to the chassis had failed, and the L-bolts weren’t doing so well, either. A very dangerous situation. He did a little fixing and he and Tim drove everything over to Mom’s house for a little repacking. We took off together from there, James following us in the wrecker.

We got out to I-95 and I turned pale. It still didn’t seem right and James must have seen something, too, because suddenly he pulled in front of us and beckoned us to the shoulder. He hitched us up and we were towed all the way from Mystic to Salem – a two-and-a-half-hour drive — with all three of us in the two bucket seats in the huge Peterbilt wrecker. When we got close to the Pickering House, our new digs, Tim asked if the truck had a horn. James said yes and blew it enthusiastically as we turned the corner. It sounded like a ship entering the harbor – what an entrance!

Keyless entry

Keyless entry

So we show up with a huge truck full of stuff and the floors in the house are still wet on the first floor from being redone. Everything was put in the basement and garage, to be unpacked when we get up there at the end of the month. No matter. We made our entrance. The Jenkii are back. Penske was great. We survived I-95. May the Force be with us all!


Buon viaggio!

A “View from the Veneto” Guest Post: The City of Palladio

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 | Category: GUEST POSTS


Every great architect is — necessarily — a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age. — Frank Lloyd Wright

Ed. note:  Vicenza is one of my favorite Italian cities, and Tom Weber knows it inside and out. He’s a triple-threat journalist — broadcast, photo and print — and resides in Vicenza, his adopted hometown, in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. He hosts the eclectic travel/food-and-wine/photography blog The Palladian Traveler.com and is a regular contributor for Los Angeles-based TravelingBoy.com and Rome-based ItalianNotebook.com. Feel free to follow Tom as he “meanders along the cobblestone to somewhere.”


(Statue of Palladio in the Centro Storico – Vicenza, Italy | ©Tom Palladio Images)

Andrea Di Pietro della Gondola.

A nice, simple Italian name from out of the 16th century belonging to a humble stonemason, the son of a hard-working miller. But, when a nome d’arte is finally placed behind Andrea’s full name, he rises like a phoenix, well above the crowd, to an elite level reserved for monarchs, popes and nobility.


Widely considered to be the most influential individual in the history of Western architecture, Palladio created, nurtured and developed an architectural design style and an associated lifestyle known the world over as Palladianism.


(Villa Almerico Capra “La Rotonda” – Vicenza, Italy | ©Tom Palladio Images)

Born in Padova (Padua) and eventually schooled and culturally polished in Vicenza, the “City of Palladio,” this Italian Renaissance master builder provided an architectural crown jewel to the world that continues to inspire even while he sleeps: the Villa Almerico Capra, La Rotonda.

Since its creation, La Rotonda has drawn poets and artists, sovereigns and statesmen, scholars and art historians, and travelers and tourists alike to Vicenza to marvel at Palladio’s harmonious spatial design.

At its apex, the breath of Palladianism extended from Constantinople, to Madrid, to London to a young nation’s capitol across the Atlantic Ocean – Washington, D.C.  La Rotonda, Palladio’s capo lavoro (masterpiece), as well as all of his other works, continues to resonate today, more than 400 years after his death.



(Torre Bissara stands vigil over Piazza dei Signori – Vicenza, Italy | ©Tom Palladio Images)

Without a doubt, the 16th century belonged to Palladio, a man who left behind many outstanding examples of his craft throughout the City of and Province of Vicenza and beyond with his palaces and stately villas. Before Palladio’s passage through Vicenza, it was arguably one of the more downtrodden and esthetically lacking cities around the Veneto region.


(Around the loggia of the Basilica Palladiana – Vicenza, Italy | ©Tom Palladio Images)

It was Palladio who singlehandedly placed Vicenza “on the map,” laying down a solid foundation that has enabled the city to become one of the gems in UNESCO’s World Heritage Site inventory.

He left his mark just about everywhere within the walls of the Centro Storico (Old Town Center) of Vicenza, as 23 individual buildings or sections of buildings are known to have been designed or reconstructed by Palladio or attributed to him. Among these prestigious works are the Loggia ValmaranaPalazzo Porto Breganze, Loggia del CapitaniatoTeatro Olimpicothe world’s first and oldest enclosed theatre and also Palladio’s final design work before his death – Palazzo Chiericati and the just-restored Basilica Palladiana (f.n.a. Palazzo della Ragione).


(©Tom Palladio Images)

In addition to Vicenza proper, the Palladian design style – more importantly, the Palladian lifestyle – is well represented in 24 private villa-estates that dot the landscape all across the Veneto region and are also recognized by UNESCO.


(Original design drawing by A. Palladio – photographic reproduction ©Tom Palladio Images)

Palladio’s imprint on Renaissance architecture was far reaching, and the design and construction guide books that he wrote on the subject – Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (Four Books of Architecture) – became the architectural language spoken around the world, from Europe, to Asia and across North America.

One of America’s “Founding Fathers,” Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and a self-taught architect of note, absorbed Palladio’s theories of harmonious spatial design and claimed Palladio’s collective writings were the bible.


(A U.S. nickel coin | ©Tom Palladio Images)

An ardent disciple of Palladianism, Jefferson adopted the Palladian lifestyle and modeled his Virginia estate, Monticello, after Palladio’s masterpiece La Rotonda. If you don’t believe me, just look at the back of a U.S. nickel (5-cent coin) and you’ll readily see the design similarities between the two villa-estates.


(View down to the Centro Storico – Vicenza, Italy | ©Tom Palladio Images)

Fast-forward to today and one can readily see that Vicenza is a thriving, cosmopolitan city. With a population of approximately 270,000 around the greater metropolitan area, Vicenza – based upon the value of its exports — ranks as the third largest industrial center in Italy. One of the Bel Paese’s wealthiest, Vicenza has come a long, long way since the days when it was looked down upon by its more successful rivals around the Most Serene Republic of Venice.


(Flowers front Ponte San Michele – Vicenza, Italy  ©Tom Palladio Images)

The Vicenza of today counts among its “favorite sons” international fashion brands Bottega Veneta, Diesel, Marlboro Classics, Marzotto and Pal Zileri; bicycle components manufacturer Campagnolo; and, Dainese, the benchmark label of protective wear for motorcycling, snow and extreme sports. Add to that, the city’s stature as the epicenter of the world’s finest goldsmiths and host to the internationally acclaimed VicenzaOro gold exposition three times a year.


(The porticos of the Basilica Palladiana – Vicenza, Italy | ©Tom Palladio Images)

By all accounts, Vicenza’s luck began to change when the young stonemason arrived, rolled up his sleeves and went to work, work that centuries later would award him the keys to the city. His city. The city of Andrea Di Pietro della Gondola – La Città del Palladio.



For complete tourist information, in English, on the City of and Province of Vicenza, the Palladian buildings and villas, hotels, food and wine, and events logon to: http://www.vicenzae.org/index.php?lang=eng

Buon viaggio!


Umbria: Save the Date!!!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 | Category: Travel Tips



Umbria: Food, Wine & Words 

Eat, drink and find your voice in the “green heart of Italy” 

May 30 – June 7, 2014
Your villa for the week

Your villa for the week


Join acclaimed travel writer and blogger Linda Dini Jenkins for a week-long adventure under the glorious skies of one of Italy’s most beautiful regions.

This adventure is limited to eight participants only and includes lodging at the spacious and inviting Villa Fattoria del Gelso in Cannara, in the shadow of historic Assisi.

Linda is the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband — praised as one of the “Ten travel books I’d give my girlfriends” by www.journeywoman.com — and is the creator of the entertaining and informative travel blog, Travel the Write Way (www.travelthewriteway.com). Her writing also appears in Dream of Italy, Richmond Times-Dispatch, HealthCare Traveler and AAA’s Home and Away.

During our week in the sun, Linda will share some of her secrets to effective travel journaling in a series of low-key optional writing workshops, using exercises that are sure to help participants capture their Umbrian experiences to the fullest.

Participants will travel to several of Umbria’s storied hill towns; will eat and drink well; will write sparkling journal entries; will experience L’Infiorata (Umbria’s incredible flower art festival); and will still have plenty of time for exploring and relaxation.

Gelso_TreeThis package includes seven nights in the fully restored 17th century Villa Fattoria Del Gelso, located on a 40-hectare working farm that is literally walking distance from colorful shops and restaurants and centrally located in the village of Cannara. The trip is designed for relaxed learning and sightseeing via foot, bicycle and van. Not every moment has been scheduled — if there are other things that you’d like to do, the possibility exists.

Fee includes villa accommodations, all breakfasts, welcome and farewell dinners, pizza-making party and cooking class on premises, a winery tour with lunch and transportation to Assisi, Spello and Montefalco by private van. Both writers and non-writers are welcome. Bring your swimsuit, camera and journal. Andiamo!

Pricing and itinerary coming soon.

For more information, please contact linda@travelthewriteway.com.




Parla italiano? You already know more than you think!

Thursday, May 30, 2013 | Category: Travel Tips


Twin words are the most valuable and overlooked gift in language acquisition. — Susan Elizabeth Nus


I love the sound of Italian. As I child, I could listen to my father and grandfather talk to each other for hours and never get bored. Sometimes, with the help of hand gestures, arm movements that took in the room, crooked heads and raised eyebrows, I actually knew exactly what they were saying.

In high school, I studied Spanish, because Italian wasn’t an option back then. But there were so many similarities between the two, that at some point I could actually answer my grandfather in Spanish and he knew what I was saying. That was when I learned to love Italian words and language.

As an adult, I’ve wanted to learn Italian very badly. I take beginner classes in advance of my trips to Italy, do very well, and then forget most of it until the next refresher course. I am pretty good in tourist Italian, but everything is in the present tense. It’s frustrating. A friend of mine moved to Belgium years ago and, although she was pretty much fluent in French, still had this complaint: I hate that I’m not funny in French. I know what she means. It’s the difference between being book-smart-adequate and really knowing the language.

"Believe it or not, the inside is even more interesting than the cover."

“Believe it or not, the inside is even more interesting than the cover.”


So when I learned about Italian instructor Susan Elizabeth Nus’ new book, Italian Fluency — reading that it could be my “short cut to Italian fluency” — I was intrigued. Nus takes a radical approach to language learning, focusing on the vast numbers of cognates, or twin words, that exist between the two languages. I knew that some words were similar, of course, but I had no idea of the extent of cognate mania that existed. Now I can see how familiarizing myself with these twin words will take a lot of the stress out of learning vocabulary — and that will free me up to practice the language in a more confident way. They’ll keep me in my language comfort zone, so to speak.



Want examples? Consider these words:

il sentimento                      the sentiment

la differenza                       the difference

la funzione                          the function

flessibile                               flexible

creativo                                  creative

incessante                             incessant

stupido                                   stupid

la farmacia                           the pharmacy

ritornare                                to return

segreto                                    secret


Well, Nus puts forth a whole book of ‘em: noun, adjective,  adverb, and verbal cognates. And then she offers up cognates by category — people, food, health, business, etc. But watch out for the false cognates (so you think morbido is morbid? Think again.) and start right now on the “1,000 essential Italian vocabulary words.” Really. This is a truly fascinating look at what’s similar, rather than different, between the two languages. Read this book, learn some cognates, and I guarantee you won’t feel like such a language idiot!

Susan Elizabeth Nus has a Master’s degree in Italian Literature from Catholic University and a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish Literature from George Washington University. She has taught Romance languages for eight years, and has lived in Spain, Germany and in three different regions of Italy. But I think my favorite thing about her is that she has a fish named Dante.

Speaking Italian in Mantova . . .

Speaking Italian in Mantova . . .

Of course, Nus stresses that cognates are not a magic bullet, just a beginning. We language learners still have to focus on grammar and syntax (and a few well-placed gestures) and find a way to work on pronunciation. If we’re in a class, that’s great. But listening to Italian radio and television stations also helps. And to wrap our heads around current and idiomatic usage? Try to read an Italian newspaper every day — or scan the internet for Italian blogs, YouTube videos, websites and more. Armchair travel to Italy every day and some of the panic will slip away.

As a trained ESL instructor, I’m a big advocate of the using all the Reading/Writing/ Listening/Speaking modalities, and Nus suggests that we do some of each every day to stay in shape. To help, she provides a raft of links and suggestions for how we can do that on a regular basis. If you’ve ever been curious about learning the world’s most beautiful language or, if you’re like me, have been thwarted by lack of time or opportunity, you’ll find this book to be an amazing help as well as a great ego boost.

Allora . . . parliamo italiano con Italian Fluency!


Buon viaggio!



Nomad’s Dream

Thursday, May 23, 2013 | Category: Reflections


“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Jack Kerouac


I went for a pedicure the other day, to lessen the back-breaking monotony of packing. The color I chose was a rather nice frosted pale peach. I didn’t realize that it was called Nomad’s Dream until this morning, when I took it out of my purse. I had had a dream last night that I was going to write something today about being nomads again. Crazy life . . .

The Custom House: Salem, MA

The Custom House: Salem, MA

So why are we packing? Because after eight years in central Virginia (Midlothian, to be exact, just about 15 miles outside of Richmond) Tim and I have decided to move back to our adopted home of Salem, Massachusetts. We couldn’t be happier. Although we could use some Floo Powder and a good spell to simply transport us and our stuff from here to there. Alas, that is not to be so.

According to Wikipedia, a nomad is a member of a community of people who move from one place to another, rather than settling permanently in one location. It says that there are an estimated 30–40 million nomads in the world even today, so I guess we’re in good company.

Tim and I started our lives together after a chance meeting at an event at the New York Hilton Hotel in 1990. Since then, we’ve lived in Burlington, Vermont, moved to Boston’s South End and then on to Cambridgeside, smack in the middle  between Central Square and Harvard Square in Cambridge. Then we moved up to Salem, Mass. where we lived for a record 10+ years. Now we’ve been here in Virginia for nearly eight years, and it’s time to go.

Our Salem journey will take us from the William Pickering House at the corner of Essex Street and

Our old front door

Our old front door

Bott’s Court — where we used to live — to the John Pickering House on Broad Street, just a few blocks away. I’ll continue to write and will also assume the responsibilities of a part-time Executive Director for the Pickering Foundation. Tim will continue his career as an investment advisor and will, from time to time, assume the responsibilities of Dobby, the house elf, paying careful attention to what’s going on inside a house that was built in the mid-17th Century as well as managing the grounds, of which there are about two acres. It’s a whole new adventure for us (except with a built-in community of greatly missed friends and a newly invigorated city center) and we are very much looking forward to it.

That other Salem writer

That other Salem writer

The point about being nomads, I guess, is that we have friends and family who have never been quite sure about all this moving business. When I lived in New York as an adult, for example, I moved five times in 17 years. And now, here I go again. New state, new surroundings, new service providers to seek out, new clients to find . . . when I put it that way, it sounds like a hassle. But I guess it’s what keeps us going. The newness of it all.

I realized one thing over the past year and that is this: no matter how much I dream of Italy (and I do), I also dream of Salem. And that’s something I can do something about right now!

We’ve had a good time here in Virginia, but our suitcases are just a few weeks away from being piled on the sidewalk again. The road is life, and we’re merging onto it once more. See you at the truck stops.


Buon viaggio!