Finding My Words

Wednesday, December 28, 2016 | Category: Reflections, Travel Stories, Travel Writing


Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all. — Charles Bukowski


It might seem strange to say that I have writer’s block when, for the first time in my life, I am in the middle of two manuscripts. One is a collection of poetry from my travels around Southern Italy; the other is a memoir about my life-long journey/struggle to finally be “out” as an Italian-American (no, I wasn’t always an Italian).

In recent weeks, I have had a hard time focusing on these projects, what with all the nonsense of our election, of Brexit, of LePen, of Renzi’s gamble, of looming global isolationism . . . and of  the terrible and terrifying news all over the world.

And the losses. Oh, the losses! While we might not have personally known Prince, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Carrie Fischer, George Michael or any of the other talented folks who left us this year, they put a stamp on our hearts and will be forever missed. As so many people expressed on Facebook over the last 12 months: WTF 2016?!?!?

Finally, we have been traveling a lot — three trips in six weeks — and while they were all for brilliant causes,  this is not a good time of year to be so uprooted, given all the usual seasonal madness that must be attended to.

Cooking class at Hotel Ovidio, Sulmona

In any case, I have stopped and started, stopped and started, stopped and started and finally decided to just admit it. But when words won’t come, sometimes pictures and memories can be good inspiration.

Tim and I were incredibly lucky this year: we got to resettle his mother close to us, and that seems to be working out very well for all of us. We made two trips to Italy — two tours, and then time on our own after each — which went swimmingly. We were thrilled to introduce a few of our good friends to the pleasures of Abruzzo as a whole, and to Sulmona specifically. Over the five years that we have been traveling to this region, we have made many strong friendships and leaving there is always an emotional parting.

Our little Maxine

On the flip side, Tim and I were incredibly unlucky this year: in February, just two days before Tim’s birthday, we had to say goodbye to the love of our lives, our little Maxine. She was 15 years old and not a day has gone by since that we don’t think of her. The tears still come, but I think we are both getting ready to look for another little doggie. Watch this space for the happy announcement.

So what will 2017 bring us? I hope it brings me my words again. I hope we can complete the two tours we have planned for you — one to Southern Italy (Sulmona, the Adriatic Coast and Matera) and the other to Northern Italy (Vicenza and Venice). And I hope the global situation won’t be as dire as it looks at the moment.


I pray that cooler heads will prevail, that we will all find the better angels of our nature, that compromise and cooperation will make a comeback and that we can learn to be good to one another, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

With Eleanora Baldwin in Rome’s Jewish Quarter

Rodolfo and his arrosticini at Mucciante

Wine tasting a la Welcome to Sulmona


In this final week of 2016, truly an annus horibilis in so many ways, I wish you a joyous and peaceful New Year filled with friendship, love, good food and great travels.


Buon capodanno!

Buon viaggio!

Southern Italy? Try our “Taste of the Mezzogiorno” tour

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 | Category: Travel Tips


May 2 – 11, 2017

A fantastic 8-day journey to three select

Southern Italian cities


We’ll spend three nights in Sulmona for a true taste of Cucina Abruzzese, while we eat and drink from the local bounty, explore medieval hill towns and cook arrosticini on the plain in the shadow of the Gran Sasso.


Then we’ll drive down the Adriatic coast for a two-img_4658night visit to Trani, the beautiful and historic fishing port that’s often called the “Pearl of Puglia.”


Finally, we’ll venture inland to the incredible “cave” city of Matera and spend three luxurious nights in this unique troglodyte city and see first-hand how artists and entrepreneurs are IMG_4830transforming this UNESCO World Heritage Site.


All breakfasts, guided tours, ground transportation and most meals included for $2750. Airfare extra.


Here’s just a taste of the itinerary . . .

In Abruzzo:

  • Wine tasting at Abruzzo’s oldest winery
  • Tour of the Medici city of Santo Stefano
  • Easy hike to Roccacalascio, the ancient ruined castle providing a breathtaking view of the Apennines
  • BBQ lunch on Italy’s “Little Tibet”
  • Visit to Pelino Confetti Museum & store
  • Optional hike to Eremo di San’Onofrio

In Puglia:

  • Visit to waterfront: cathedrals, villa communale
  • Tour of local winery
  • Visit to see the unique trulli structures

In Basilicata:

  • Private day-long tour of Matera, the 8,000-year-old sassi city
  • Visit to Matera’s incredible sculpture garden
  • Visit to some of Matera’s artisan-entrepreneurs

Includes fine hotels, aperitivi experiences, all breakfasts, five lunches and four dinners.

This trip is limited to 6 travelers, so please send a $500 non-refundable deposit by January 1, 2017 to reserve. Contact me at for details.


Buon viaggio!


Traveling the Write Way, Part II

Thursday, October 20, 2016 | Category: On Writing, Travel Tips, Travel Writing


The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note — Edward Lear

s0475195_sc7A word about journaling in poetry

With the 2007 publication of the anthology Deep Travel: Contemporary American Poets Abroad, interest in travel poetry has increased in writing circles. But travel poetry has, of course, been around for thousands of years. The Odyssey, Canterbury Tales and Divine Comedy can all be considered travel poetry. And sometimes your recollections and observations just naturally seem to fall more easily into a poetic form than into prose.

Here’s an example from my very first Italian villa rental experience. I could have just jotted down, “The group had breakfast in the kitchen. The sun was shining. We decided not to go anywhere today and I did the laundry.” Instead, this is what evolved from my notes:



We sit at the kitchen table in the morning

Drinking the juice of mangoes and blood oranges

Eating creamy yogurt out of chipped white porcelain cups

Planning our day, as if we needed anything more than this

The early sun and strong black coffee are enough

The easy laughter and deep breathing are enough

Flowering magnolias and the scent of wild jasmine are enough

Anticipation and memory are enough

Today, we agree, we will go nowhere

Because for now, everything we need is right here

In the warm June breezes of plenty

Laundry dancing in the yard


These 12 lines have incorporated myriad details, some action and lots of emotion into a story about deciding not to do anything that day. And it gives the reader (and the writer) a valuable memory of the experience. I highly recommend that you try this at least once, even if you think you’re not a poet or think you don’t even like poetry very much. It’s a useful form, especially as an extension of the journaling process.


s0247859_sc7What’s next?

Place is a powerful force, and we’re all drawn to different kinds of places for different reasons. At the same time, travel is such a rich experience that, whether we go across town or across an ocean, we are always the better for it. We always learn something and we can make new discoveries and even new friends along the way. So write about your travel experiences. Use your journal to capture who you are in the moment. Use your words and drawings and photos to bridge back to the emotions you experience along the way. Share them if you want to.

Start by getting a blank book that sings to you. If you’d like to do some more reading before getting started, here are a few suggestions:

  • Writing Away: a creative guide to awakening the journal-writing traveler by Lavinia Spalding
  • The Mindful Traveler: A Guide to Journaling and Transformative Travel by Jim Currie
  • Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip) by Dave Fox

Whether you share your journal with others or keep it strictly for yourself, I guarantee that this will be a worthwhile endeavor. You’ll be able to not only answer the question, “How was your trip?” but you’ll be able to answer the bigger question, “Who are you?”

Here’s a 10-minute writing exercise to get you started…

Think about a trip you have taken or a place (not home) that you’ve recently spent time in. Then do at least one of these:

  • Write about a room that you stayed in
  • Write about what it’s like for you not to be home
  • When you’re on the road, when do you feel most yourself? Write about that.
  • Write five words, phrases, sentences that might lead to a travel poem. Try to write that.


Buon viaggio!

[1] © 2009 Linda Dini Jenkins, Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband












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Traveling the Write Way, Part I

Thursday, October 13, 2016 | Category: On Writing, Travel Tips, Travel Writing


I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train. — Oscar Wilde


Where do you go? Are you drawn to big cities, wildly rural areas or something in between? Is it the hustle of a busy metropolis or a calmer, slower pace that calls to you? And (if you have any these days) what do you like to do in your spare time? Are you a museum crawler, a foodie or is it nature that brings out the best in you? And then there’s my favorite question: domestic travel or Italy?

All these choices say something about who you are. Chances are, you’re not even fully aware of why you make these life-affirming decisions; they’re just second nature to you. But if you’re curious to better understand the places where you find yourself — and your reactions to them —consider keeping a travel journal.

To encourage that, all my travelers on Travel the Write Way tours receive a journal in img_0999advance, just to encourage this kind of behavior.

The first question I often get is, “Why? Who is a journal for?” Well, mostly it’s for you. It’s a way to capture the experiences that you have of a particular place. And not just the “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” kind of experiences. Journaling done right can be the best traveling companion you have, even if you’re just traveling to the next county. But let’s be clear: a good journal is not just a collection of “where” and “what.” A good journal also explores the “how” and the “why” and the “who.”

On the other hand, a journal is also a record that you can either share with friends and family or which (like it or not) might be read by friends and family members long after you’re gone. So why not make it the best, most meaningful, most enjoyable document you can?

What will I write about?

cupa_and_mokasYou’re on vacation: you come from somewhere, so how does where you are now differ from home? The difference could be in the language, holidays, shopping habits, meal times, color protocol, currency, ways of showing respect and so much more.

The key thing is to be a keen observer of everything and to use all five senses — sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing — as you go through your day in this new place that is not home. Be a detective of the local culture. Take notes on:

  • Why you chose this particular place
  • Local transportation: how to get around, what the challenges/opportunities are
  • The history of the place
  • The architectural style(s)
  • Food, especially what’s locally grown and what best represents the region
  • The “can’t-miss” events, attractions, restaurants
  • A specific adventure
  • A specific mishap or embarrassing moment
  • People you’ve met
  • People you wanted to meet
  • Local politics/issues — what are people debating right now?
  • Your emotional reactions to the place
  • What makes this place different?
  • How do you feel here?
  • What are you afraid of here?
  • What makes you want to stay here?
  • What makes you want to leave?


7  Secrets of an Avid Travel Journaler

  1. Use a spiral-bound notebook. These can cost anywhere from $1.00 to $25.00+, depending on your taste and budget. Spiral-bound books are easier to manage, fold over, write on, etc. And those school notebooks with pockets are great. You’ll see why later. Just don’t make it too big or heavy or you’ll get discouraged.
  2. Write only on the right-hand page. Wasteful? Maybe. But it’s a real boon when you want to go back and add something you forgot or want to elaborate on something you’ve already written – you do that on the left-hand side of the page.
  3. What to put in those pockets? Everything! Save receipts, cards from restaurants, ticket stubs, brochures, leaves and flowers, menus, unspent money (if you’re traveling outside the US) — it’s all part of the experience of travel and will help concretize your memories when you go back to flesh out your stories.
  4. Be sure to have a few pens and as well as a pencil with an eraser with you at all times — you never know when you’ll want to break out into a drawing. And try not to write with the pencil: that internal editor of yours will probably go to town, and that’s not the point of a journal.
  5. Remember to leave room for your photographs. If photography isn’t your thing, buy postcards and include those in your journal. I love to go to local antique shops and look through the old postcard boxes — you’re sure to find a few that resonate with you. And the historical ones make unique additions to your journal!
  6. Bring paper clips and a few small plastic sandwich bags with you to better collect and manage your “physical” memories. Nobody needs sand or bugs in their suitcase.
  7. Don’t try to get it all down while it’s happening! You don’t want to miss the experience because you’re busy scribbling something down. Take a few notes – key words, location, sensations, etc. and then go back to it later that day or the next. With a few good prompts, you won’t lose anything important.


What should it look like?rocky_neck_wreck

That’s entirely up to you. Do you want to sketch on your pages to support your written observations? Great! Do you want to add photography and memorabilia right among the pages? Go for it. Do you want to write in bullet point format or in straight paragraphs or in poetic forms? It’s for you — do what you want. Travel writer Dave Fox says it best: Write like nobody’s looking.

And remember that most travel journals are drafts. They’re not supposed to be perfect. There will be rambling ideas, misspellings, ungrammatical sentences — that’s okay. Travel journals provide a way to capture the ideas, impressions, events, experiences, emotions and information that will trigger your memory so you can go back at a later time and tell the whole story. Don’t spend so much time writing “in the moment” that you miss the moment.

Make your journal yours. So if you want to spend a week writing about and photographing all the funny and ridiculous signage you see, be my guest. (One of my favorite signs in Vermont told me to “BEGIN NO PARKING.” I drove right on, obviously honoring the intent of the sign.) And don’t forget how easy it is now to record snippets of video and audio — those are great ways to capture scenes and sounds that you can go back and write about later or share in an e-mail or online version of your journal.


Next week: Part II — journaling in poetic form and more…

Buon viaggio — and don’t forget to write!





















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A Taste of the Mezzogiorno — May 2-11, 2017

Monday, September 12, 2016 | Category: Travel Tips


If you’ve got a plot the size of a car or a tiny yard in Italy, you’re going to be growing tomatoes and basil and celery and carrots, and everybody is still connected to the land — Frances Mayes

May 2 – May 11, 2017

I am so pleased to announce the dates for a fantastic 8-day excursion to three select cities of the mezzogiorno:

  • In Abruzzo: Sulmona
  • In Puglia: Trani
  • In Basilicata: Matera

See the mezzogiorno (southern Italy) in all its glory . . .

We’ll spend three nights in Sulmona for a true taste of Cucina Abruzzese, while we eat and drink from the local bounty, explore medieval hill towns and climb up to the highest point in the Apennine.

Then we’ll drive down the Adriatic coast for a two-img_4658night visit to Trani, the beautiful and historic fishing port that’s often called the “Pearl of Puglia.”

IMG_4830Finally, we’ll venture inland to the incredible “cave” city of Matera and spend three nights in this unique troglodyte city and see first-hand how artists and entrepreneurs are transforming it.

All breakfasts, guided tours, ground transportation and most meals included for $2750. Airfare extra.

This trip has limited space, so please send a $500 non-refundable deposit by January 1, 2017 to reserve. Contact me at for details.

Watch as the itinerary comes together.