Florence, Italy – The Negroni cocktail!

Negroni cocktailI was reading “Girl in Florence,” blog post “A Love Letter to the Negroni Cocktail: Celebrating 100 Years of this Iconic Italian Cocktail,” and I smiled at a few points she made.

First, that this drink might look nice, but it is extremely bitter. It is an acquired taste, like drinking coffee. Second, I found her comment on friends ordering a beer and sipping it like it was a cognac amusing. I fall in that category.

In fact, last year I was visiting Italian relatives outside of Florence. We had a Sunday luncheon with aunts, uncles, cousins and their children, so there were about 20 of us. They had “one” bottle of wine on the table for all of us. I was surprised. In America the wine would be flowing — DRINK, DRINK and drink some more.

In Italy, NO, the objective of a nice dinner was not to get tipsy and drunk, but to have a little wine, while focusing on the food and good family conversation. Some children were given a few drops of wine added to their water glass.

I did not try the Negroni cocktail until a few years ago. When I went to Florence, I always stayed with my grandmother at her house. We did not go out for meals, we ate at home, no cocktails.

However, a few years ago, some American friends came to Florence, so we went out for apertivo. I saw someone having this refreshing reddish/orangey drink, given it was hot weather, I ordered the same. What a mistake! The drink was not refreshing, it was so bitter. It’s an acquired taste, I’ve ordered it over the years ALWAYS hoping for a spritz kind of taste and always disappointed. I KNOW, you’d think I would have learned my lesson, but it is a famous Italian drink; I’m Italian, I must learn to like it, right!

So, as our temperatures soar to 90 degrees today, the negroni post came as a pleasant surprise to my inbox. I am actually longing for the negroni drink a “tiny bit,” because it brings memories of Florence and I am due for a visit soon.

Ah… the Negroni!

I miss you Florence!

Japan: Becoming a Geisha / Maiko for a day!

I was transported back to my childhood days when I read Josy’s post, “Maiko Makeover – Dress up like a Maiko in Kyoto.

As my parents traveled the world when I was child, my mother started bringing me dolls from each country where she traveled. I had two favorites. The first was a Japanese Geisha doll in a beautiful glass container. The second was a pair of dancing dolls from Thailand. While I don’t have the dolls anymore, I was able to find a good representation on http://www.pixabay.com, see photos.

F0A4B597-AC57-48E5-A734-E4C20BB16EA1The geisha doll was absolutely beautiful. As you can see in the photo, the doll’s face was painted white, stunning kimono, the sash at the waste, her white socks with black sandles and incredible hair piece. Oh, and the cute umbrella was fascinating to me. Certainly in Indiana we did not see this type of dress. It was a treasure.

So, when I came across Josy’s post, I smiled and had to look twice at the photos. WAS THAT REALLY JOSY dressed as a geisha? Yes, indeed it was! Josy was in Kyoto, Japan and in her post she explains in detail how she went for a Maiko Makeover. By the way, a maiko is an apprentice to a geisha. Josy takes us step by step through the stages of getting the makeover, which is fascinating. She includes location and price as well… all we need is a plane ticket over to Kyoto!

I learned something new. I didn’t realize that going for a makeover in Japan is a big touristy thing to do. If you are an avid hiker, you’ll enjoy Josy’s Blog, “A Walk And A Lark,” you’ll see spectacular photos from her different hiking adventures.

Thanks, Josy, for bringing back such nice childhood memories for me!

Visit Atlas Obscura -> An adventure guide to hidden wonders in the world.

Travel the worldLast week I was going through my Junk folder on Outlook. As expected most of it was junk; however, I came across an email from, “Atlas Obscura.” Normally, I would not open an unknown email, but the subject header said, “You can spend the night in this formerly abandoned Scottish village.”  This piqued my interest, I want to visit Scotland one day.

Before opening the email, I decided to research “Atlas Obscura.” Turns out it is an online magazine created in 2009 by Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras. They wanted to create an atlas / guidebook for people to learn about and explore obscure places around the world. They certainly have done that.

If you sign up for their weekly newsletter, you’ll be amazed at the different places you can explore. On their website, you can choose a country (Germany, for example) and you’ll be brought to a map of Germany where they have pointers you can click on with stories for that particular area, i.e. the world’s largest cuckoo clock, the oldest Jewish Cemetery in Worms, the “floating railway” to name a few.

On Eventbrite, I noticed they have Atlas Obscura Society Chicago. For the remainder of February and into March, they have some interesting events going on, i.e. learning about volcanoes and the birth of the most precious stones, interactive history of comics, murder mystery soiree, scavenger hunt, roller skating in the movies, immigrant stories and connections. I wrote to one of the field reps to see what the age range was for people attending. Have not heard back yet.

If you enjoy traveling and you’re getting bored with the normal tourist attractions, I highly recommend visiting “Atlas Obscura’s” website. You’ll definitely find obscure things to explore on your next adventure.

German Oktoberfest is here! Time to go to Munich.

Oktober fest collageI almost forgot it was Oktoberfest! I was at Cost Plus / World Market the other day and they had a German section of food for Oktoberfest celebrations. The usual variety of sausages, mustards, beers, spaetzle, pretzels, chocolates and more.

Lederhosen group of men

Have you ever been to Munich for Oktoberfest? It’s really beautiful to see the men in their lederhosen and the women in their dirndles. I think this is the only place in the world where you will see grown men wearing leather shorts with bright colored shirts and as you see in the photo, you have to have the right shoes and socks too!

schnitzel

They really celebrate with fabulous music, singing and good food. Who can resist some schnitzel?! It’s a special tradition they have. My in/laws are German, so we always celebrated with their German friends, it was fun! They would sing all the German songs together, locking arms together swinging back and forth. Singing from their hearts.

My favorite is the Chicken Dance, here is a Youtube video (Wurstfest – How to Chicken Dance) that explains the steps for the chicken dance. In Germany, (EVERYONE) old and young get up to dance this dance. Enjoy this German tradition!

Chicago: Take the Untouchable Tours, learn about Al Capone in the 1920s/30s

Untouchable Tour BusI was on a street corner one night when this “Untouchable Tours” bus went by. I whipped out my camera to get a picture. Clearly this was a gangster tour bus. You can see they have pictures of some of the gangsters in the windows.

Visiting the website, “Gangster Tour,” it sounds like this tour makes learning about Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s (Prohibition Era) entertaining, because the tour guides are actors that dress the part of a gangster. They say this tour has been going on for 30 years, I had no idea. This was not a nice time in Chicago history. It was the Italians in the South (Jonny Torrio/Al Capone) against the Irish in the North (Dion O’Bannion, Hymie Weiess, and Bugs Moran) fighting to control illegal vice in the city.

On their website, you’ll see a great picture of the actors! Their tour sounds like the Irish tours, where the tour guide has you sing a song too. Trip Advisor has excellent reviews on the tour, so I guess I’ll be booking my tour very soon.

Wouldn’t it be amusing if I dress the part?!! That would throw the tour guides off. I might just get a front row seat!

Baci – Want some KISSES anyone?

55DBB27E-DAB9-4901-806A-435CE3CD096AIf you are in Italy and someone asks you if you want a “Baci,” at first you might think they are being fresh! That is until you see they are starting to hand you a chocolate. For those of you who don’t know Italian, the word “baci,” means “kisses.”

If you like chocolate and you like hazelnuts, you’ll fall in love with Baci chocolates. As you see in the photo, each chocolate has a full size hazelnut inside. It’s a treat to eat one, they are delicious. Now, they are a bit expensive, so receiving one as a gift means the person wanted to surprise you with a decadent gift. Oh, and they are similar to fortune cookies, in that they ALWAYS have a love note inside written in four different languages (Italian, English, German, Spanish, French, or Chinese).

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Baci’s are made by Perugina (1907), an Italian chocolate company, located in Umbria, the town of Perugia. Nestlé company purchased Perugina in 1988. This past trip I did not have a chance to visit Perugia, but that is for next time.

On the Perugina website, they offer chocolate cooking classes. The classes are 3-4 hours long, which would allow for site seeing in Perugia. I know, some of you might be thinking… I cannot make it to Italy, how will I ever take their master chocolate class. Well, if you are in or traveling to America, you have the option of going to New York or Chicago for master chocolate classes.

While I am not an expert cook or baker in any way, I do find the idea of being surrounded by Italian chocolate exciting! Something to add to the “Bucket List.”

When I was staying with the relatives in Florence, I gave them Baci’s right after dinner, because I wanted it to be a surprise. It’s amazing how one box of chocolate created such excitement! Baci’s can do that!

Art: Gallery in the Dungeon, visit Cortona, Italy

3E1B71C3-2F09-4709-A95E-4E32D4B1B9F5When you see a sign that says, “Gallery in the Dungeon,” you’ve got to check it out! Going in the doorway was a bit dark, so I admit I was tip toeing in, wondering if this was a good idea, but I kept going.

I found this staircase and started my decent, looking at the artist’s paintings on the way down. The artist, Daniela Piegai, is an Italian woman living in Cortona now.

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She paints in a very interesting 3D type of style. There is movement in her paintings, you can see this in this painting of the buildings as if the wind is swaying the houses. She uses bright bold colors. While her paintings seem childlike, they are interesting even for an adult audience, because they are unique.

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Once you are down in the dungeon, you’ll see a room that looks like THIS photo below with the sofas. If you zoom into the photo, you can see she does some interesting paintings with people, children, cats, funny looking owls, and more.

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I was hoping to meet the artist, while I was there, but she was not in. I would have liked to better understand how she developed her style and painting technique.

So… never pass up a chance to visit a dungeon, never know what you might find!