Memories -> My Italian grandparents / trains

Picture courtesy of (jonasreichard).

Recently, I was thinking of Italy, missing Florence, my grandmother… Don’t they say, when we THINK about something the Universe answers?!

Thank you, Blogger Dave, Life In A Word, who wrote Covering My Tracks. In his post, he talked about his childhood train memories. I smiled, each of his memories, made me think of my own train memories.

ITALY: For me, I can still hear the LOUD train going by my Italian grandmother’s house in Florence between 1-4 AM every night. I first visited her when I was a Freshman in High School. This was my first time getting to know her, she did not come to America. I did not speak Italian; she did not speak English. Good thing Italians communicate with their hands while they talk. Otherwise, I might have starved (smiling, that would not have happened with an Italian grandmother!).

She immediately paraded me on the balcony, so the neighbors could see her granddaughter from America was visiting. She was so PROUD. After a long day, we closed the green shutters on the windows and settled in for a “peaceful” night’s sleep, so I thought.

Imagine my fright. I’m in an unfamiliar place, trying to sleep, when suddenly I sense a rumbling feeling and hear a loud horn tooting over and over. The horn is what made me realize a train was going by. THIS WAS LOUD, like it was in the bedroom. How could this be?

I tip toed to the green shutters. The apartment was small, if I tried to open the shutters it would have made a loud sound. I didn’t want to wake my grandparents, but peeking through green shutters was NOT easy, they are heavy and slant downwards.

Confirmed, it was a loud freight train, RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET. I immediately wondered if the train went by every night! At that point, I could not sleep. I sat and watched the train go by. Freight trains have a heavy rhythmic sound. It took forever, as freight trains do. So began my nightly train adventure.

What’s amusing, is that often in childhood what annoyed us, brings us the greatest memories later.

Picture courtesy of (victor893).

MOSQUITOS / ITALY: Another memory came to mind. THAT first night, my Italian grandfather was fiddling with some white netting. Remember, I spoke NO Italian, they spoke NO English. I had an Italian/English dictionary, no iPhone translator.

We were at their tiny kitchen table. It was HOT, middle of summer, no air conditioning. This meant we kept the windows open and had fans. Which meant — MOSQUITOS / FLIES would come in.

My grandfather was a little man with white hair and very intense blue eyes. When I say little, maybe 5′ 2″ tall. I was much taller than him. While he was small in stature, he was a VERY STRONG and CONFIDENT man, not weak at all. He kept working away at his netting and looking at me with a quirky grin. I smiled back, thinking, “WHAT IS HE DOING??” He was acting like a mad scientist.

Soon he was done! He put the netting over his head with a crazy laugh. He had very strong little hands, he grabbed my hand and said, “Stasera, NO ZANZARE! Capisci? NO ZANZARE!”

As he kept stressing ZANZARE, I knew that was an important word. I told him, “Aspetta (wait),” as I looked up Zanzare in the dictionary. THEN I showed him the translation and said, “ZANZARE, CAPISCO.” Basically, I was confirming — Ah, mosquitos, I get it!

I’m still laughing as I write this. My grandfather looked so funny and a bit scary with the netting over his head because he doubled it. I would never have thought about sleeping with mosquito netting on my head. However, mosquitos are awful, when you try to sleep, and you keep getting bitten and hear their buzzing sound. So annoying!

So, Blogger Dave, thanks! Your post, brought back my own memories about trains, grandparents, etc.

I’m sure some of YOU have memories of trains too. SHARE THEM, memories are good!

Memories of my Italian grandmother…

I enjoy knitting. I go through phases though, sometimes no knitting and other times I find knitting therapeutic. Not long ago, I was in a buy yarn, knit scarfs mode. Scarfs are easy. I wanted a pattern where I didn’t have to think about the pattern.

This scarf was easy and I loved the blue color. My Italian grandmother taught me how to knit. It was interesting, because she didn’t speak English, so I had to watch, try and look to her expressions for approval. I either got the “Si, bene (YES, GOOD) or “NO, guarda (NO, LOOK).”

I still have the small mustard colored ball of yarn she taught me with. It’s packed in my treasure chest of memories. Over the years, my treasure chest of memories has gotten smaller and smaller. Old letters thrown out, report cards (do we really need to keep those), old year books, photos (of no real importance)… you get the idea.

So, today, this post is in memory of my Italian grandmother (Nonina). I miss YOU!

In fact, for lunch I will make pastina in brodo. I loved when she made that for me!

MEMORIES — I look forward to traveling to Florence soon.

Italy – The Uffizi Gallery prepares for overtourism in Florence…

Yesterday, I read an article in CNN’s Travel section, Italy has a new way to combat overtourism, by Julia Buckley. My mother was born and raised in Florence, so I immediately stopped what I was doing to read the latest news. This article is specific to Florence and The Uffizi Gallery.

Before COVID, anyone who had traveled to Italy experienced first hand overtourism. In Florence, it was impossible to walk on the streets. So many tourists, we were elbow to elbow with them. It was not an enjoyable, add to that making sure you were not pick pocketed, due to the crowds.

This article talks about a new project, Uffizi Diffusi, which means “scattered Uffizi.” Eike Schmidt, Director of the Uffizi, came up with the idea of multiple (100) exhibition spaces for art from the Uffizi to be displayed all over Tuscany. This does two things, it shares the tourism burden and also allows locals to visit exhibits in their area.

COVID has allowed Florence to take a breath from the fast paced tourism. To think, plan and re-invent tourism for the future. My mother’s relatives are out in the country, it’s nice, no tourists. Selfishly, I hope it stays that way.

If you have been to Florence or have planned to go, you can read the article for more details.

Florence, Italy… Move over Starbucks, introducing “TSH Collab,” and “The Student Hotel”

The Student HotelThis is a brilliant concept. Instead of going to Starbucks to get work done, you can now sign up for a membership with TSH Collab, which gives you access to different co-living, co-working spaces in different European cities (Florence, Amsterdam City, Amsterdam West, Dresden, The Hague, Maastricht, Rotterdam, and Vienna/Bologna (coming soon). Their mission is to give people a place to live, work, dine, workout and they say to swim. Sounds great, yes?

However, I think they missed the boat with name, “The Student Hotel,” because their business model welcomes more than just students. They also include travelers, expats, mobile entrepreneurs, and professionals. Unfortunately, for me, the word “student” is restrictive. Maybe by using the word student, they were referring to a clientele between 18-35 years old — not clear, but their business model is something ALL ages want.

Last year, I was in Florence for a few months, not as a tourist, but visiting relatives. I looked for a cafe where I could sit and get work done. Florence does not have coffee shops like we do in America, where you can just camp out for a few hours. Starbuck’s has not been allowed a location in Florence.

So, when I saw this TSH Collab on LinkedIn, it sparked my interest, especially since they are in Florence, where they will have two locations. They are working on the Belfiore location now.

Charlie MacGregor, is the Founder, his concept is fantastic. The funding is coming from an Amsterdam headquartered developer investor. While he says he includes travelers, expats, etc. he is really catering to a “younger student audience,” but maybe that will change, because Florence is a major tourist destination.

FOR SURE, when I am in Florence or any city where The Student Hotel is located, I want to visit, see what the hotel is about and see how it feels. If you happen to visit before me, let us know what you think.

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!

French artist Clet Abraham gives traffic signs in Florence, Italy a “new look.”


While I was walking in Florence recently, I “did” notice the traffic signs had art on them and thought it was graffiti. Then a friend told me it was actually a French-born artist, Clet Abraham, who had been going around town placing stickers on traffic signs.

Clet has lived in Florence over 20 years now and started this street sign art about five years ago. He has had a little trouble from the police, but it seems that has been sorted out and now he is famous for his art. He created the art as stickers, so they can easily be removed and he has expanded to other cities in Italy. If you are visiting Florence, he has a studio close to Piazza Michelangelo and he sells some of his stickers there. So, you could pay him a visit, see his art and speak to him in person.

You can follow Clet on Facebook. I just visited his site and was amused at other stickers he has come up with. He had visited New York, so he has one of the Statue of Liberty. There was a funny post there where Clet went to buy a pizza and they surprised him with a pizza that had a traffic sign on it. Be warned, if you don’t speak Italian, you will need your Italian dictionary to understand some of the conversations; however, you don’t need to speak Italian to enjoy the pictures he has posted. Good news – some of the discussions are in English.

Enjoy looking at street signs in a whole new way!

An Italian Cemetery in Florence – Love captured…

img_3974I was just in Florence and I went up to The Abbey of San Miniato al Monte, which is above Piazza Michelangelo. My intention was to look at the church and see the breath taking views of Florence. I had arrived at the church early in the afternoon and they were closed for lunch. I had about an hour wait, so I started walking the grounds of the church expecting to see a beautiful garden, but instead they had a very interesting cemetery. I was captivated right away. I find old grave yards / cemeteries full of history.img_3961

A little trivia from my friend. She was told in Ireland that when a burial ground is in conjunction with the church it is a grave yard, when it is a standalone it is a cemetery. I had not thought about that. Good to know.

As I was walking through the grave yard I saw many beautiful mausoleums, sculptures, and tomb stones. Long ago, families really invested money in tomb stones that would convey a message of the love they had for a family member and/or also in honoring a family member’s accomplishments.

I came across a statue of a man and woman (see photo above) having a very romantic moment together. I thought it was beautiful, I had not seen something like this before. Normally, we think of grave yards/cemeteries as being spooky and scary, broken tomb stones, etc. This was different.

img_3977The statue made me smile. Secretly, from a distance, I was sharing in their special moment. I was curious as to “who” had commissioned this statue. The husband/wife before they died or maybe their children, because they knew how much the parents had loved each other. A treasured memory from the past, but also a way to keep their love alive. I felt it and I did think, “Thank you for sharing that moment with us!” It’s so sweet and innocent. A reminder that love does exist.

As I continued on, I saw this beautiful mausoleum and a sculpture of a military man, very handsome with all of his medals. There was more…

By the way, remember the story of “Pinocchio?” Well, the author Carlo Lorenzini (Collodi) is buried in this grave yard. I learned this after my visit. Next time, I will look for him and leave a little Pinocchio by his grave site.

So, it was a good thing that the church was closed for lunch. I experienced Florence and had a feeling of its history in a whole new way!  They say things happen for a reason.


Actor Tom Hanks / Director Ron Howard in Florence, Italy promoting Dan Brown’s “Inferno”

florence-the-duomoHave you heard the news?  Florence, Italy is coming to the big screen this month. Dan Brown’s book, “Inferno has been turned into a movie. My mother was born and raised in Florence, so I was pleasantly surprised when I turned on the Today Show (October 20, 2016) and was just in time to see this clip, “‘Inferno’: Tom Hanks, Ron Howard talk movie, take questions from fans.” It was really wonderful to hear their stories about making the movie AND see the view of Florence behind them. If you love Florence like I do, I am sure you will swell up with pride too.

infernoIf you’d like to learn more about Florence, you can visit The Florentine website, which is an English news magazine with stories about what is going on in Florence. In honor of Florence and wanting to share a little bit of the Inferno movie with visitors, The Florentine magazine created, “Inferno Florence Guide,” which is an app that brings tourists to the specific places Dan Brown used in his book. Clever marketing idea!

If you haven’t read the book, you still have a few days before the movie hits the theaters. There are a few interviews with Dan Brown and in one of them he mentions that he got his interest in religion and codes from his parents. Start reading, and be sure to see “this” movie on the BIG screen, so you can “feel” like you are in Florence and part of the Inferno adventure.

The Bridge of Gold

imageThis week I was talking to a few people about my trip to Italy. They were asking me what I saw and I jokingly said, “Well, I was on the bridge of gold.”  As they have not been to Florence, they did not know about the Ponte Vecchio. This reminded me of my arrival to San Francisco years ago when someone pointed to a reddish/orange bridge and said, “There is the Golden Gate Bridge.”  WHAT?  It’s orange, I thought. I had envisioned something totally different, so it was a bit of a let down for sure.

Luckily, I had a few pictures of gold shops to show them. One was a really good photo of the Rolex store. I had been standing on the Ponte Vecchio watching the tourists go by when I happened to look up and see this little glass window with the Rolex logo. What an elegant and clever marketing idea!

imageRight now, gold is at an all time high at over $1,200 an ounce. It was interesting to compare what they were selling now on the bridge from jewelry styles a few years ago.

I spoke to a German woman who lives in Florence and works at one of the jewelry shops. She said because gold is so expensive right now they have to make what will sell and that means jewelry that is lighter in weight and hollow inside. She had me feel the weight of an older bracelet versus the new styles. There was no comparison. I told her it is the same with clothes and purses. Designers cut corners, so that leather is thinner and clothes have no lining. This is the new way.

Oh, I have to share with you a sculpture of a man riding a turtle. When I walked into the Piazza della Signoria I noticed immediately this gold looking sculpture. It was really beautiful. Sounds like the artist has it on display for a few months. The sculpture is by Jan Fabre, “Searching for Utopia,” silicon bronze, 2003.

I leave you with YOUR thoughts on this sculpture…