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I Wish I’d Known

Gelato. It’s amazing. I know that for a fact because every time I’ve been in Italy I ate gelato like three times a day. For real. And just so we’re clear – American gelato does not even come close to the real thing.

Gelato may be the Italian word for ice cream, but it is nothing like American ice cream. Gelato has significantly less air in it, as well as significantly more sugar. It is light and creamy and the flavors are to die for (and sometimes really weird).

However, even in Italy there is good gelato and bad gelato. If you want good, authentic gelato make sure you buy from somewhere advertised as “artigianale” and “produzione propria” – this way you now the gelato is made on site in the traditional manner. Avoid any gelato that is an unnatural color – real gelato will never be a shocking orange, pink, or blue. Finally, look for gelato in metal tubs – you will increase the likelihood that you are getting fresh, homemade gelato.

I like my gelato in a cone (un cono) but you can also get it in a cup (una coppa). Most shops will display the size of the cup or cone along with the price (in euros, of course). Make sure you are very clear about how many flavors (gusti) you want – the number of flavors determines the number of scoops. So, to order two scoops in a cone you would ask for “due gusti en un cono.”

The flavors are what really make gelato amazing. You can get almost every fruit flavor, chocolate flavors, cream based flavors, and nut flavors. Some of my favorites include nocciola (hazelnut), albicocca (apricot), and cannella (cinnamon), while my sister always swears by cocco (coconut) and pistacchio (pistachio). In some places you will find really unique flavors like rose, violet, chestnut, and pine nut. Try flavors in different combinations for a real Italian gelato experience.

What’s the most important thing to remember about gelato? To eat it, of course! Preferably, a-lot-o it!

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November 6, 2015 0 comment
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When traveling to another country, there is almost always going to be some type of language barrier. It could be as simple as not knowing the English call the trunk of a car the “boot” or as complex as not being able to read, speak, or understand a single word.

What I’ve learned is that it is important to try to speak at least a few words of the native language. No matter where you go, the locals will usually appreciate the effort.

Take France, for example. The people are stereotyped as being rude and unfriendly to tourists. But I started every conversation with “Bonjour” and tried to use my paltry French and voila! The people were incredibly kind and willing to help.

Always learn a few phrases of the language where you are traveling. Even just hello, goodbye, and thank you will be enough to appease the locals. Make an effort and you could meet dome really wonderful people or learn something new. Remember, you are in their country – trying to speak the language will only ever help, even if the only word you know is “hello.”

October 28, 2015 0 comment
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There was one part of my France trip that I was more excited about than any other – canoeing the Dordogne and visiting the opposing castles. You see, during the 100 Years War, the French and English built castles on opposite shores of the Dordogne River. The castles are usually considered “paired” – one English to one French.

Today, you can visit the castles by land or, more excitingly, by canoe, traveling the Dordogne river. There are many canoe outfitters and tourist companies who will drop you off and pick you up at various stops along the river. You just canoe from one castle to another, hiking up to each one, and paddling on to the next.

I wanted to do this – badly. But remember what I said about all that rain in Spain? Well apparently is had been raining a lot in France too, and the river was far too high and fast to boat. How high, I learned the hard way.

Unable to take the river, I decided to follow my travel guru and personal hero Rick Steves’ advice to walk the river path between Beynac and Castlenaud. The signs submerged in the river should have been a clue. But oh no, I kept going. Water across the path – I took off my shoes and waded it. More water, kept going. Finally I got to a point where a whole field was flooded and the water was moving fast. I waded up to my knees before I realized  – this was not going to work. So I walked across some fields and out to the road and walked to Castlenaud that way. Was I sad about the river – hell, yes. But the way I made the trip makes for a pretty good story and a day I will never forget. Disappointment happens on trips – what matters is your ability to make the most of it.

October 27, 2015 0 comment
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Vatican city is a pretty cool place. The smallest country in the world, with barely 100 acres of land, Vatican City is a must-visit on any trip to Rome.

But, every visitor should know that a trip to the Vatican means a strict set of rules to follow. And I mean strict – Vatican officials take these rules seriously and so should you.

Most importantly, when visiting the Vatican all bare shoulders must be covered up and legs must be clothed to the knee. No shorts. No tank tops. Period. It doesn’t matter if it 50 degrees or 100 – cover up! And this goes for ALL of Vatican City, not just St. Peter’s. As this rule apples (though less strictly) to most religious sites in Rome, a good work around is to carry a scarf or two with you in your bag. You can then just drape it over your shoulder or tie it around your waist to meet the dress code.

The Vatican is a top tourist site, so there will be lines. Long lines. Do everyone a favor and be a gracious visitor. Not cutting, complaining loudly, pushing, shoving…you get the idea.

Another rules that should be obvious, but surprisingly isn’t – don’t touch the items in the museum! I have seen tourists just cavalierly reach out and touch art and sculptures – it’s a museum people, not show and tell. Plus, you don’t want the Swiss Guards on your bad side – trust me!

Finally, be careful to follow rules about photography and videography. For example, you absolutely cannot take photos inside the Sistine Chapel. Just don’t even try it. And if at any time an official says to you “no photo!” just follow their instructions. There’s no need to get thrown out of Vatican City – although I imagine that would be a pretty cool story!

October 26, 2015 1 comment
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You’ve heard the saying – the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. While I can’t speak to that statement, I can speak to my experience, which can only be summed up as – the rain in Spain falls mainly…EVERYWHERE. I mean it. I was in Spain during April and May and it rained for a full 90% of the days I was there. Call it a bad year or maybe I’m the goddess of rain, but the sky opened up pretty much every single day. It even snowed.

Not only was it rainy, it was also unseasonably cold and windy. I had packed for the 80 degree days Spain was seeing prior to my arrival but boy, was I in for a rude awakening. I bought – and the wind promptly destroyed – 3 umbrellas before I just gave up and decided to be wet.

You may wonder where I am going with this. While you could take away from this, “wow, Spain sounds miserable in April and May,” what I am actually trying to say is: expect the unexpected. I hadn’t packed warm clothes or rain gear because I was expecting warmth and sunshine. If you are going on a long trip, plan for all kinds of weather or else you will have to spend your precious travel time either wet, miserable, or buying weather-appropriate clothing.

But most importantly, learn to have a sense of humor. I may be a rain goddess, but I can’t control the weather. And the weather sure tested me, but I WAS IN SPAIN! Who cares if it’s raining, right? Laugh it off and have another sangria. Or 3.

October 18, 2015 0 comment
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