Category Archives: Current Events

Don’t Pass Up this Great Offer from Starwood (SPG)

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I know that I have mentioned in the past how happy I am with the American Express SPG card, where you can earn points that you can exchange for some incredible hotel stays all over the world.  For a limited time, they are offering a generous sign up offer of 30,000 SPG points when you spend $3000 in the first 3 months!  That’s equivalent to about $800 worth of hotel rooms!  If that’s not reason enough to sign up, here are some pics that I took on our stays in these wonderful hotels!  If you decide you want to apply for the card, send me your email and I can have them send you a private invitation!

Here are some of the great rooms we’ve had in Italy!

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The Westin Palace, Milan

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Westin Excelsior, Rome

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Hotel Danieli, Venice

Not only have we stayed in these great Italian hotels, but other hotels in lots of other places in Europe and North America!  All of them have been spectacular, and best of all, they know how to treat their loyal customers!

Italian Fascination with USA’s National Parks

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IMG_3813Every time I hear of young Italians coming to visit the USA, they all want to make trips to see our National Parks.  I know that our country has some magnificent sights and these are truly gorgeous places to visit, but I’m still a bit confused why they are on everyone’s to-see list.  Come to think of it, it’s not just Italians, but Europeans in general.  I remember taking a trip to the National Parks in the Southwest a few years ago, and everywhere we went, we heard either French, German, or Italian being spoken.

Perhaps someone can clue me in why they have become so popular!  And it seems to me, that this has been a recent phenomena (perhaps within the last 5 years or so).

The Artisan’s Star – A Book Review

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I just finished reading The Artisan’s Star by Gabriella Contestabile for Italy Book Tours.  In my opinion, if I had to use one word to sum up this book, it would be “passion.”  Everything that happens in the story involves some form of it – from the passionate love between a man and a woman, to the passion an artist has for his craft.  The story revolves around Elio at it’s center, and how he became passionate about perfume making.  We learn about the loves of his life: his beautiful Greek mother who taught him about scents, the two older women with whom he learned the passion of love, his wife who shares his life, and his little “stellina” (his daughter!) who is the star of his life. The story takes place mostly in Florence where the author goes into great detail to make you feel like you are walking with the characters through the streets of this ancient city.  We are introduced to other artisans who are passionate about their crafts and learn how, even in these modern times, they create their beautiful crafts like they were created hundreds of years ago.  We are also transported to Grasse, the perfume capital of France, where we learn a lot about the art of perfumery.  I have to say that this was all new to me and I never realized all the hard work and study that goes into making a perfume.

Ms. Contestabile’s book was very detailed and very descriptive, but at times, almost too much.  I found my interest waning at times and I had to force myself to continue reading.  She switched back and forth in the timeline, too, which was a bit distracting.  The basic premise of the book was good, with the central theme of passion for one’s craft, excellent.  She was successful in relaying that passion as it was evident in Elio’s and the other character’s lives.

Meet the Author:

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Gabriella Contestabile is an author, educator, and owner of SU MISURA JOURNEYS, a boutique travel company connecting people to the artisans of Florence. She emigrated, with her parents, from Italy to New York City in 1959. In her pre-writer life, she worked as a foreign language teacher, management development specialist, and fragrance/cosmetics executive. Gabriella is a strong advocate of the arts, of multiculturalism, and of social justice—a passion inspired by reading Dickens and Dante at a very young age. She has been an active volunteer with Dress for Success for over eight years and is a member of the Slow Food NYC Food and Farm Policy Task Force. She lives on the Upper West Side with her husband, her daughter, her mom, and a furry Shih–Tzu named Oreo. ‘ The Artisan’s Star’ is her first novel. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, also set in Italy, and a screenplay.

The Other Woman….

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Recently, I’ve been listening to some old music by the Italian group, Pooh!

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This group has been around since the mid 1960’s, and their songs always seem to tell a story.  I know that lots of people listen to music for the pure joy of the melody, while others listen carefully to the words.  I am one who always listens to the lyrics, and many times I try to figure out what the song is trying to say!  Most of the times, I can figure out the hidden meaning, if there is one, but other times, my imagination probably gets the best of me!  One of their songs that always makes me wonder is L’Altra Donna (The Other Woman).  When I listen to the lyrics, I’m touched in conflicting ways.  The song is a type of beautiful love letter to someone they can’t have, but also to someone that they don’t want to have. The singer is obviously married but is singing the song to his mistress.  I can’t help but get angry at the singer – he seems to want his cake and eat it, too.  He is getting all the benefits of having a wife and a mistress, but yet is being unfair to both of them.  I know that infidelity is rampant everywhere, but it seems to me that this song rationalizes its merits because the man is singing about love for his mistress (which proves he’s not a total cad) but yet, he won’t leave his wife for her.  In Italy, and not just in Italy but lots of other places too, I feel that the institution of marriage is sacred, but the vow of infidelity is often times ignored.  Therefore, men and women have lovers but yet, they will not leave their families for that lover.  That’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but I often wonder where that leaves the lover, especially if they don’t have a spouse.  And it seems to me that the only one who wins, is the one who is doing the cheating!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the song – what do you think they’re trying to say and how does it make you feel?

L’Altra Donna

È ancora tutto all’aria da ieri sera,
è più comodo in albergo,
paghi il conto e te ne vai;
ma in certe cose tu ci credi ancora,
far l’amore nel tuo letto,
prepararmi il tuo caffè;
è poi mi lasci andare via, quando è ora,
perché ognuno ha la sua vita,
e la mia non è con te.
Sei l’altra donna,
la libertà,
quella che sa e non può dir niente,
quella che all’alba rimane sola,
e che non può mai lasciare impronte,
con me non puoi cercare casa,
o uscire insieme a far la spesa,
sei l’altra donna,
quella importante,
quella che ha tutto e non ha niente, di me.
Mio figlio è un’altra storia, un altro amore,
tu non puoi partecipare, Dio lo sa se io vorrei.
Tu in macchina con me non puoi fumare,
mozziconi col rossetto. parlerebbero di te;
ma in fondo tu che colpa hai del mio cuore,
delle ore che mi manchi, dei problemi che mi dai.
Sei l’altra donna,
la libertà,
quella che sa perché ritorno,
e quanta pace tu mi sai dare,
io dirò tutto a lei un giorno,
faremo insieme un’altra casa,
io e te che siamo un’altra cosa.
Io e te che siamo la stessa cosa,
faremo insieme la nostra casa;
prima dell’alba c’è ancora un’ora,
stringimi forte e sogna ancora,
di noi.

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The Other Woman

Everything’s still in the air from last night,

it’s more comfortable in the hotel,

you pay the bill and then you leave;

but you still believe in certain things,

making love in your bed,

preparing me your coffee;

and then you let me leave, when it’s time,

because we each have our own lives,

and mine is not with you.

You are the other woman,

my liberty,

the one who knows and can’t say anything,

the one who remains alone at sunrise,

and who can never leave traces,

you can’t look for a home with me

or go out together to go shopping,

you’re the other woman,

the important one,

the one who has everything and who has nothing of me.

My son is a different story, another love,

you cannot participate, God knows if I would want it.

In the car, you cannot smoke

leave lipstick marks, they’d speak of you;

but in the end you are not to blame for my heart

or the hours when I miss you, all the problems that you give me.

You’re the other woman,

my liberty,

the one who knows why I return,

and how much peace you know how to give me,

I’ll tell her everything one day,

and we’ll build another home together,

You and I are another thing.

You and I are the same thing,

we’ll build our own home together,

before sunrise there’s another hour,

hold me tight and dream again

of us.

Venice’s Fabulous Hotel Danieli and my SPG Experience

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I know I’ve already written a little about the extraordinary Hotel Danieli from our first visit there in 2004 (click here if you want to read it), but I thought I’d do an update from our recent visit during Carnevale 2015!  It’s nice to know that things have not changed at this hotel – they are still as wonderful as they were 10 years ago!  The only thing that I noticed changed is that they have gone to an electronic key system. Funny enough, though, is that they have kept the old fashioned tassle on the key!  You still turn in your key with the concierge when you leave (unless you don’t mind carrying around a huge bulky tassled key with you!) and they put it on the little peg board they have behind the desk!  It’s still so old fashioned that way!  And after 5 days of staying with them, I didn’t have to tell them my room number anymore when we came back into the hotel after our walks about town – they knew it!

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It’s great customer service when you feel like a hotel really pays attention to their guests and makes them feel so much at home!

Upon check-in, we found a bottle of prosecco in our room – a wonderful treat to make us feel so welcome!

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And then on my birthday, which I celebrated while in Venice, they sent me a beautiful chocolate cake!

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At first, I thought someone from my family may have ordered it delivered, but when I couldn’t find a card with it, I went and asked the concierge.  When I told him it was my birthday, he came out from behind the desk and gave me a big hug and kiss!  And then he happily told me that the hotel had sent it!  What a nice surprise!

We spent a lot more time using the facilities at the hotel on this visit – so much more than we did back in 2004!  Probably because we weren’t travelling with young kids 🙂  At every single moment, the service was exceptional.  We ended up having Aperol spritz’ in the lobby every afternoon and breakfast in the beautiful terrace restaurant every morning!  The views from the terrace are absolutely stunning!

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Too bad it was February, otherwise we would have definitely sat outside every morning and every night taking it all in.  Despite that, we were still able to go out to enjoy the terrace’s views – they are gorgeous and so magical!  It’s as if you are looking at Venice from a bird’s eye view!

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The hotel was beautifully decorated for Carnevale with fresh flowers and masks everywhere!

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And so many people were milling around in costumes – it’s as if they had stepped out of a history book!

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Amidst the antique and elegant surroundings, it felt as if we had walked back into 15th century Venice.  Wearing the attire helped 🙂

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The Hotel Danieli is definitely a very unique and stately hotel.  It is one of Venice’s finest, and because of that, it is quite pricey if you have to pay for a room.  But luckily, we paid absolutely nothing for our 5 night stay there!  You’re probably wondering how we did that!  I am going to let you in on the absolute BEST credit card loyalty program I have ever been a part of!  No, I don’t work for this program – I am only a BIG fan!  They really know how to treat those that are loyal to them with exceptional perks at their hotels!  I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and this program definitely deserves my praises.  They go above and beyond in customer service!  Sadly, we experience so little of that these days that when one finds someone that is running their business as it should be, it needs to be complimented and promoted!  The program is called SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) and it is affiliated with American Express.

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You get points by charging things on your AMEX card, and then you trade those points in for nights at Starwood Hotels (you can trade them in for other things, like flights, but I find that the hotel points are the best value).  The Starwood umbrella includes many brands:  Westin, St. Regis, Sheraton, W and Luxury (and many subsets of these!).  The hotels are found all over the world, and I have to say that we have expanded our travels so much more after becoming members back in 2003.  We have stayed at places (like the Hotel Danieli) that we probably would never have experienced if not members of this program.  It has also made our lives more spontaneous – we live fairly close to San Francisco and have, on more than one occasion, decided to stay overnight in SF on a whim (sometimes without even packing overnight bags and toothbrushes!).  I know that we would never have done this if we didn’t have the points to stay in a great hotel!  Not only can you experience staying in these beautiful hotels for free as soon as you have enough points for an eligible night, but you are handsomely rewarded for being loyal customers!  We have been members for quite a while, and because we use their hotels quite a bit, we have been promoted to Platinum status and have become eligible for suite upgrades.  At this level, even more benefits open up.  For instance, we get free internet and free breakfast every day of our stay.

During this particular stay at the Hotel Danieli, our breakfast, in the beautiful terrace restaurant, would have cost us 50 Euros per person per day. Instead, we got it complimentary!  And, as an added bonus, we were upgraded to a suite for our entire 5 night stay.

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We had a living room, which was decorated with fresh flowers every day, a lovely bedroom, a foyer with a vanity table, and a gorgeous marble bathroom!

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But the best part of our suite was the spectacular view of Venice’s main canal!  Every morning, when we opened the shutters, we were greeted by the sight of gondolas and an unobstructed view of San Giorgio Maggiore…it was just like living a dream.

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If you are interested in exploring this SPG card and all its benefits, here is the link!  If you do sign up, let them know that Barbara Rindge sent you (yes, I’ll get some points for the referral and I’ll greatly thank you!).  But really, I’m not doing it for the points – I truly believe they are a great loyalty program!

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Enjoying our daily Aperol Spritz!

Carnevale di Venezia 2015 – Checking One More Off the Bucket List

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Yes, we finally made it!  We’ve been wanting to go to the Carnevale di Venezia for a few years now, but something always got in the way.  This year, though, we DID IT!  And it was everything, plus so much more than we thought it would be!  I can only say that if you get the opportunity to visit Venice during this very special time, you have to do it.  You will not be disappointed!

This year’s Carnevale season began on Jan. 31st and ended on “martedi grasso”, or Fat Tuesday, on Feb. 17th.  We arrived in Venice on Feb. 13th, stayed until Feb. 18th, and were able to experience the last, and most eventful, weekend of the Carnevale season.  Venice was very crowded during the day, with lots of people gawking at the sights and at the “professional” carnival costume wearers!

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I call them “professional” because I think they must be actors or models – whenever you ask them to take a picture, they strike a beautiful pose!  Some are even escorted by photographers!

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The costumes were sensational, with my favorites being the ones whose faces were covered entirely by the masks.

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To my surprise, though, the nights were fairly empty.  This made for an other-worldly feeling.  I felt like I was walking back into time experiencing Venice just like it was hundreds of years ago!

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Venice takes on a completely different atmosphere at night, when it’s quiet.  The lighting of the piazzzas and churches is magical and very romantic, and walking the streets of the original city that has so many reproductions (like the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas) is truly an amazing feeling!

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While there, we decided to take in a masquerade ball!  Yes, everything about this event was expensive – from the rental of the costumes (which you must have if you attend a ball) to the actual cost of the ball, but it was definitely worth it.  As my husband pointed out, we’ll probably never go to another one of these again, so we should experience it to the fullest!  The best part of the masquerade ball was being able to go inside one of the private palazzos of Venice to see it’s splendor.  The ball we attended was the Mascheranda Ball and it was held in the Palazzo Pisani Moretta.

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This palace was originally built in the 15th century, renovated during the 18th century, and decorated by famed Venetian artists such as Tiepolo, Guarana, Diziani and Angeli.   We arrived by water taxi and were greeted by some elegant majordomos before being escorted into the lower level of the palazzo for drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and some entertainment by acrobats and dancers.

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Dinner was served on the second level in two beautifully decorated salons with paintings and frescoes on the ceilings and on the walls.

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Dancing came at the end with classical dancing in the dining salons and a “disco” on the lower level.  Seeing all of us dancing to modern music all dressed up in our Renaissance garb was quite a site to see!

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The event was well worth the money, only that the food was mediocre at best.  Too bad, but I guess that was a small price to pay for the experience!  After the ball, we decided to walk back to our hotel near the Piazza San Marco (about a half hour walk).  We were the only people walking around the small alley ways (or calles) of Venice and we were dressed up in our antique outfits – we felt like we had walked right out of a picture from Renaissance Venice!  So surreal!

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Beautiful Love Song by Eros Ramazzotti and Il Volo

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Another romantic love song by the great Eros Ramazzotti, this time with the help of Il Volo!  Beautiful as always….

Cosí

 

Cosí cosí
L’amore a volte ci dimentica
Ci lascia solo un pugno di ricordi
Come farfalle libere

Cosí cosí
L’amore píano se ne va cosí
In cerca di nuovi sorrisi altrove
Nei cuori di questa cittá

Aíutami a capire cosa sento
Ora nel mio petto c’é un rimpianto
Cosí grande
cosí grande

Il cuore é come un mare senza vento
Muore sulle labbra quell’istante
Che era grande
Cosí grande

Cosí cosí
L’amore piano ci dimentica
Lo fa cosí in modo naturale
Come é arrivato se ne va da me.

Autami a capíre cosa sento
Ora nel mio petto c’e’ un tramonto
Cosí grande
cosí grande

E non so piu’ che cosa sento dentro
Il cuore ha le rughe di un deserto
Che e’ troppo grande
Così grande

Per noi
Che non vogliamo ancora smettere
L’amore e’ un bimbo da rincorrere
Ma come l’alba tornera’

Da noi
L’amore e’ come un uragano
Ma se lo guardi da lontano
Lo vedi anche da qui che e’ grande
Cosí grande
Autami a capire cosa sento
Ti accorgi di un rumore se si e’spento
Quanto e’grande
Cosí grande

Ascolta la tua mano sul mio petto
Quanto fa paura un cielo aperto

Cosí grande
Cosí grande
Cosí grande

Cosí cosi
L’amore adesso ti ha lasciato qui

Ma senti l’aria arriva un temporale
Chi l’avrebbe detto mai

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So

So, so
love sometimes forgets about us
it leaves us a handful of memories
like butterflies liberated

So, so
love quietly goes away
to search for new smiles elsewhere
in the hearts of this city

Help me understand what I´m feeling
now in my chest there is a yearning
so big
so big

The heart is like a sea without the wind
it dies on the lips of that moment
it was big
so big

So, so
love silently forgets about us
it does it like this so naturally
like it came it goes away from me

Help me understand what I´m feeling
now in my chest there is a sunset
so big
so big

I don´t know anymore what I feel inside
my heart is dry like a desert
which is too big
so big

For us
who don´t want to stop yet
love is like a child to chase after
but like the dawn it will return

To us

Love is like a hurricane
but if you look at it from afar
you will see also from here, that it is big
so big

Help me understand what I´m feeling
you realize a noise if it is silent
It’s so big
so big

Listen to your hand on my chest
How much fright is an open sky
so big
so big

So big

So, so
love has left you here

But you can feel in the air a storm arriving
who could ever have imagined

Nonna Always Knows Best

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Do you ever wonder why Italian women are usually always thin?  Is it because they starve themselves (kind of an impossible feat when everything is so good in Italy)?  The answer may lie in those recommendations handed down from generation to generation – recommendations that make so much sense because deep down we already know them.  Occasionally, though, we just need a little nudge to remember these basic rules for maintaining a healthy lifestyle!  So here we go:

Nonna’s recommendations for staying slim!

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1.  Enjoy your food:  This means eating slowly and savoring every bite.  If we take the time to really taste our food, we will eat slower and ultimately, eat less.  We should learn to eat calmly, rather than gobbling down our food as quickly as we can.

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2.  Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables:  In order to really get the most of this most important food group, buy a little at a time, making sure that it is fresh and in season.  When you want to have a snack, eat a piece of fruit, maybe accompanied by a yogurt.

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3.  Turn off the TV:  Do not eat dinner in front of the TV.  When we are immersed in a TV show or watching a movie, we become absorbed in the show and forget that we are also eating – making it easier to overeat.  Eating should be shared with others where we can talk and share of ourselves.  If we are alone, turn on some classical music instead – this will help us be calm and have the knowledge of what we are eating.

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4.  Eat food that is genuine!  Let go of all those processed foods, even though they seem to be easier to prepare but, which, in reality, don’t save us all that much time!  A healthy meal can be created from REAL ingredients in a jiffy – Italian food, is by nature, usually very simple and only requires a few ingredients – just make sure that they are fresh and of high quality!

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5. MOVE!  This is the key, I think, to everything.  Italians do a lot of walking and they also do a lot of cleaning!  Give exercise a purpose –  walk to do the grocery shopping, ride your bike to the farmer’s market, sweep and mop the floor…the key is to keep moving.

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Our Nonna’s lives weren’t easy and they didn’t drive everywhere – they walked, in rain or shine (or snow) to get the fresh ingredients to prepare the delicious family meals.  They washed their clothes by hand and hung them out to dry.  They scrubbed their marble floors until they shined, and not only the floors of their homes, but those thousands of marble stairs leading up to their 3rd floor apartments.   We may have more modern conveniences to make our lives easier, but it’s important to remember that the old fashioned ways sometimes really are the best if we want to live a healthy life!  If we listen to our Nonnas and incorporate these basic rules, hopefully we’ll avoid packing on the pounds…and if you’ve lost your way (like I have, sadly), we’ll hear that little voice gently nudging us to get back to the basics of a healthy lifestyle!

So please excuse me as I get off my duff – I have a date with my kitchen floor and the mop!

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Secrets of the Eternal City Unveiled…hopefully!

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ancient_rome[1]There are some huge projects underway in Rome to unveil ancient sites never before seen and which have been recently discovered.   The thought of seeing these never before seen treasures (except when they existed in their heyday) is SO exciting!  Can you imagine seeing frescoes and mosaics dating back thousands of years?  According to Rome’s mayor, Ignazio Marino, there are over 100,000 archaeological treasures in “storage” and hundreds of sites yet to be excavated!

Mayor Marino visited the Italian Consulate in San Francisco recently and showed the audience present several until-now unseen ancient Roman archaeological treasures.  One of these hidden wonders was the Cryptoporticus beneath Trajan’s Baths.  This buried gallery, which predates the baths, is covered in frescoes that depict a walled port city of the ancient world.  Whether the city is real or just a project design, is up for discussion and being studied, I’m sure!   Definitely an archaeologist’s dream!

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Another hidden gem are the gladiator barracks next to the Colosseum where modern day visitors can walk the same steps taken by those brave men so long ago.  The mayor has already done much in Rome to bring back the layout of Ancient Rome (like banning car traffic from the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum),  but he wants to do more to return the archaeological fabric to the Eternal City.  Among these are to remodel the Via dei Fori Imperiali (constructed by Mussolini in the 1930″s and which divides the Roman Forum from the Forum of Augustus) and the ancient Via Alessandrina.  These two renovations would help to make the area around the Forum the largest archaeological park in the world!

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Lastly presented, but definitely not the last of the excavations, is the retrofitting of the largest round tomb in the world – the Mausoleum of Augustus.  The vision would be to allow visitors to be able to walk into this giant structure to view it’s massive construction and marbled beauty.

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“We must not only work so next generations can see what we see today, but also so they can see what we cannot see today.” 

Help Me Get to Italy Quicker!!

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I was so excited to see this petition floating around the internet to bring back the direct flight from San Francisco to Italy!

Petition for SFO – Italy Non-Stop Flights (click to sign)

It used to be so convenient, but after the disaster called 9/11, this flight was discontinued. I’m not really sure why this tragedy affected this particular flight, but, sadly, it did and we, in Northern California, now have to make pit stops along the way to get to Italy. This results in us arriving tired and cranky in Il Bel Paese!
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Now, no one really wants to see that, right? So help me, and all the rest of us Northern California weary travelers, get to Italy fresh and ready to go! FYI – this also goes for those Italians traveling to see us here in San Francisco! Our beautiful City by the Bay is waiting for you!

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