Nine Mouth-Watering Reasons to Visit Italy

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Photo courtesy of Clara Petrucelli.

(Top row, left to right)

Penne Rigate all’Arrabiata – Penne in a spicy tomato sauce with crushed red pepper flakes.

Fettuccini Porcini – Fettuccini with Porcini mushrooms.

Rigatoncini all’Amatriciana – Small rigatoni with sauce made with Guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato. This pasta originates from the town of Amatrice. One of the towns in Italy hit recently by the earthquake.

(Second Row, left to right)

Spaghetti alla Carbonara – One of Rome’s signature dishes made with eggs, cheese (pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta), and black pepper.

Fettuccini al Ragu – Pasta with a meat based sauce.

Pappardelle Cacio e Pepe with goat cheese – Pasta with “cheese and pepper”, Pecorino Romano and black pepper.

(Third Row, left to right)

Gnocchi alla Pomodoro – Small dumplings made with a dough of potato, flour, and egg served in a tomato sauce.

Ravioli Capresi – One of Island of Capri’s signature dishes. Ravioli, filled with caciotta (artisan cheese), Parmesan cheese, and marjoram served in a tomato sauce.

Penne all’Amatriciana – Pasta with sauce made with Guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato.

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Spaghetti alla Nerano

Positano, Italy

Positano, Italy

This summer our family returned to Italy. We ventured to the Amalfi coast and stayed in the beautiful town of Positano. From Positano we took several day trips to the town of Amalfi, Ravello, and to the Island of Capri. It was during our boat trip to Capri that the captain pointed to the beaches of the town of Nerano and said that the famous pasta dish, Spaghetti alla Nerano, originated there. After circling the Island of Capri we were dropped off at the Marina Grande and from there we walked uphill to the city center of Capri. After our exhausting hike we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Al Capri Don Alfonso Café. I had the famous Spaghetti alla Nerano, a spaghetti served with a simple yet delicious zucchini sauce. It was so delicious that we were determined to replicate this dish at home.

View from our restaurant in Capri

View from our restaurant in Capri

Spaghetti alla Nerano – Spaghetti with Zucchini Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove (use 2 cloves if they are small) – minced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 lbs. of zucchini (about 4 – 6 small zucchini)
  • 4 ½ to 6 oz. of Italian Provolone cheese grated. Note: Make sure it is aged hard Italian provolone cheese. Do not use soft deli provolone cheese. If you cannot find Italian Provolone substitute with Italian aged Parmesan.The amount of cheese is up to you. Our family prefers the recipe with the lower amount of cheese.
  •  Italian grated Parmesan cheese for topping.
  • 1 lb. of Spaghetti
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • A handful of fresh Basil julienned
  • Salt and Pepper

Preparation

  1. Thinly slice the zucchini using a mandoline.
  2. Start boiling water for the pasta. Make sure to generously salt the water when it comes to a boil.
  3. Add the olive oil to a separate large pot. Warm the oil and add the garlic. Allow the garlic to release flavors into the oil but do not let the garlic brown. Remove garlic from the oil and set aside.
  4. Add the sliced zucchini to the oil in layers, salting each layer separately. Sauté the zucchini until it cooks down completely._DSC2637_new
  5. Cook the spaghetti for the suggested cooking time. We cook ours 1 minute less than the suggested cooking time because we really enjoy pasta al dente. Remember to save about 2 cups of pasta cooking water that will be used later.
  6. Separate the cooked zucchini into thirds.
    Cooked down zucchini separated into thirds.

    Cooked down zucchini separated into thirds.

    Place 1/3 of the zucchini in a blender and add a ½ cup of pasta cooking water to blend. _DSC2647_new

  7. Combine the blended zucchini with the rest of the zucchini and add the sautéed garlic. _DSC2649_new
  8. When the spaghetti is done cooking remember to save about 2 cups of pasta cooking water before draining the pasta.
  9. Return the spaghetti to the pot with the zucchini mix. _DSC2651_newRemove from heat. Add the cheese and the butter and mix vigorously to create an emulsion. You will want a silky sauce._DSC2660_new If it is too dry then add more pasta water as necessary. Top with fresh basil leaves and serve immediately.

Note: Some recipes do not call for blending the 1/3 of the cooked zucchini. That is entirely up to you. I like the thicker sauce that the blended zucchini makes.

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Buono Appetito!

Series on Multiculturalism, Diversity, and Cross-Cultural Relationships

Part II

The Importance of Exposure to Multiculturalism and Diversity

This is the second of my three-part series on multiculturalism, diversity, and cross-cultural relationships. In my first article: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/series-on-multiculturalism-cross-cultural-relationships-and-diversity/, I shared with my readers how and when I became impassioned with this topic. In this follow-up posting, I elaborate on the importance of exposure to multiculturalism and diversity. My definition of diversity includes people with all types of differences: race, religion, philosophy, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical health, mental health, socioeconomic, intelligence, genetic attributes, etc.

Exposure to multiculturalism and diversity helps us expand our awareness and knowledge. As we build our awareness of other people’s differences we learn to understand them and in turn we develop tolerance, acceptance, trust, and compassion, which can lead to cooperation and collaboration. And how much easier would it be to live on this planet, to work together to solve its problems, if we operated under this premise. But I know this sounds very utopian, and perhaps rather than try to solve the world’s problems, I can focus on my little part of the universe and help influence those around me in a positive way. I behave a certain way, because I know that my children are watching and emulating my every move. I want them to grow up without unfounded prejudices and fears.

Celebrating my birthday in London with wonderful friends from around the world. From left to right: Colombian-American, Mexican, Palestinian, Turkish, Venezuelan, and Canadian.

2012 – Celebrating my birthday in London with wonderful friends from around the world. From left to right: Colombian-American, Mexican, Palestinian, Turkish, Venezuelan, and Canadian.

It is human nature to gravitate to known and comfortable environments. And it is also human nature to be weary of those and of things that are unknown. In the absence of true knowledge we allow fear and ignorance to form our misguided judgments.

I grew up as a Colombian immigrant in Queens, New York in the 60’s. At the time the Latinos in New York City were made up of mostly Dominicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans. Even among the existing Latino groups there was dislike and mistrust. My parents and I moved to an apartment building in Woodside, Queens. We were the only Hispanic family in our building. For several months after we moved in, my parents greeted our next-door neighbors, a white Jewish elderly couple, and for months they ignored my parent’s polite salutations. My parents were patient and knew from prior experience that in time the couple would come around, and they did. Somehow their comfort level grew as they got to know us and they became friendly with us. It makes me happy to think that we helped influence their viewpoint in a positive way. My other memory of a neighbor was of the Marshall family, one of the few African-American families in our building. Mrs. Marshall was working a full-time job, was raising a family, had lost a son in the Vietnam War, and on top of all of that, she was the dedicated Girl Scout leader of my troop. I always admired her commitment to the community and am grateful that she served as a role model to me inspiring me to become a Girl Scout leader to my own daughter.

Marching proudly in the 4th of July parade in Westport, CT with my Girl Scout Troop.

2005 – Marching proudly with my Girl Scout Brownie troop in the 4th of July parade in Westport, CT.

Growing up as a Latina in New York was not a great thing. Not because I was directly mistreated but because there was a prevailing attitude that Hispanics and Hispanic culture was sub par. As a child I looked for ways of blending in and forgetting my ethnicity. I suppose this is what thousands of immigrant children had done before me and continue to do to this day. Immigrant groups that arrived before us staked a claim and defined what they believe is the “right way” of being American, and all of the newly arrived immigrants try desperately to fit in by giving up their uniqueness. It is sadly contradictory that some of the people of this country, a nation founded on freedoms and religious tolerance, punish those for being different. I was incensed recently with the reaction by the general public when Ms. New York, the first Indian-American woman to win the title of Ms. America 2014 received vile feedback in the news and social media. Ugly comments were made accusing her of not being “American” enough, and of not representing “American” values. Wow, that today in 2014 we can still have such biased views and prejudices saddens me.

In 1974, my parents decided to return to Colombia because that was their plan all along. Little did they know that our going back to Colombia would be the greatest gift they would ever give me. I had come to the United States at age two and now at 13 we were returning to my birth country. The USA was my home but I was equally accepting of the idea of moving back to Colombia where I had spent most of my childhood summers. I would become immersed in the culture, learn the history, travel the country, study the language, and develop an appreciation for being Colombian. This experience also heightened my sensitivity to the appreciation of other cultures.

My daughter smiling in the African dress I sewed her for a pre-school international event.

2003 – Westport, CT My daughter smiling in the African dress I sewed her for a pre-school international event. The shoes are Colombian “alpargatas”, a type of espadrille shoe.

As much as we enjoyed living in Colombia I had my sights on going to university in the states and so we returned in 1978. Living in Colombia had raised my self-confidence and solidified my identity. Upon my return to the USA I no longer felt like a minority. That is until my senior year of college when I went from not feeling like a minority to being labeled a “double minority”. That was a huge surprise and I envisioned a giant rubber stamp coming down on my forehead.  I was a soon-to-graduate engineer who was a “woman” and a “Latina”. I became highly coveted by the recruiting companies because I could fill two of their minority recruiting quotas. The reality was that I was back in the United States where labeling seemed and continues to be, unfortunately, a very important part of this culture.

In my first article, I mentioned how I have three distinct roles. I am a Colombian citizen, a Colombian immigrant to the United States, and a US citizen. In the first role, I did not and do not need to prove anything to anyone. However, in my role as a Colombian immigrant and naturalized US citizen I have always felt it necessary to show other Americans a positive image of Colombia and of Latinos, while dispelling some of the misconceptions they have of our ethnic group. I will take this opportunity to say that there is a subset of American society that is open-minded and have an appreciation for diversity. I also have to point out that prejudices can also exist within a minority group.

Celebrating a birthday in Annapolis, MD with two American friends.

2013 – Celebrating another birthday in Annapolis, MD with two wonderful American friends.

My husband, a white American of European decent, and I have raised our children in a multicultural environment. Together we made the decision that I would speak Spanish and he would speak English to the children. As a family we have lived in Belgium, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and England. Every location has offered us varying experiences. Moving has taught us resilience and adaptability. Living abroad has taught us to see things from a different point of view. We have lived in small towns and in big cities. We have lived in very diverse and in very homogenous locations.

2002 - My son on the left in yet another costume I made, representing lightning. He is standing next to his Sikh buddy. His mother would share concerns over whether or not to cut his hair for kindergarten. In Sikhism, Kesh is the practiceof allowing their hair to grow as a  symbol of respect for the perfection of God's creation.

2002 – My son on the left dressed as “lightning”. I certainly kept busy making costumes. He is standing next to his Sikh buddy. His mother would share concerns over whether or not to cut his hair for kindergarten. In Sikhism, Kesh is the practice of allowing their hair to grow as a symbol of respect for the perfection of God’s creation. She was worried about her son being teased as he got older.

I have come to the conclusion that people from very homogenous towns or groups are at risk of becoming insular and close-minded. These folks have had limited exposure to people who are different perhaps by their own choosing or just by chance. When suddenly faced with a person or group who may not conform to their value system, they allow fear and ignorance to form their misguided judgments. Some can exhibit behaviors such as apathy, unfriendliness, anger, discrimination, segregation, bullying, mistreatment, or even violence. These behaviors are then passed on to their children and the negative behaviors and misconceptions are perpetuated. However, not all people from a homogenous group will react negatively. Some will allow themselves the opportunity to get to know the “stranger” much like the elderly couple did towards us, and eventually welcome them into the community. It is nice to know that human decency and goodness can prevail.

In 2011 we had the opportunity to move to London with our teen-aged children. We spent two years living in one of the most diverse cities of the world. I am so grateful that we were able to expose our family to so many ethnic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic groups. When you live among people of different backgrounds or attributes you develop a comfort level with them that allows you to be open-minded. This better prepares you to interact with each other and offers a basis for cooperation and collaboration. It prepares you to live in the global community and to work in a diverse environment. I also feel that living in London gave my children an appreciation for their own multi-cultural background.

2011 - London Exploring our new home.

2011 – London Exploring our new home.

We are now in suburban USA. There is still so much to improve and accomplish in the arena of diversity. In the fall, I was at an orientation at my children’s school and I could not help but notice that there were three distinct groups of people. There was a large group of mostly white families with a smattering of some ethnic families mingling with them, there was a small group of African-American families, and then there were the assorted loners. I wondered to myself why each group was keeping to themselves fully knowing the answer to my own question. Everyone was choosing to stay in his or her own comfort zone. This self-selected segregation bothered me so I chose to walk over to the group of African American parents to introduce myself. Some of you may argue that self-selected segregation is acceptable, but I will counter that with, self-selected segregation is a defense mechanism, that although shields us temporarily, it prevents us from pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone to reach our fullest potential.

The United States is not the only country dealing with diversity issues. The challenges exist worldwide. Italy appointed its first black female cabinet member, Cecile Kyenge in April of this year. What was seen as a positive step in racial integration has publicly highlighted the ugly face of the prejudices that exist in Italy as Mrs. Kyenge endures countless racial abuse. Many other countries have experience similar challenges with assimilation of ethnic groups such as France, Germany, Britain, Sweden, and Finland. Colombia and many other Latin American countries are guilty of marginalizing their own native and black minority groups. Other nations struggle with uniting internal religious and ethnic groups. No location is immune to this problem.

I have been through my own journey. I too am guilty of passing incorrect judgment. I have come to the realization that prejudices come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes can be almost imperceptible. We all have a value system that we learned at home. There are moments in our lives that we come to crossroads where our existing value system is challenged. If we recognize these junctures as learning opportunities then we can begin to make changes that allow us to become better human beings.

In the end, the hallmark of a good relationship is when all parties involved are made to feel good in that relationship. And how do we do this?  By taking the steps necessary to learn about the other person. As we build our awareness of other people’s differences we learn to understand them and in turn we develop tolerance, acceptance, trust, and compassion, which can ultimately lead to cooperation and collaboration.

Slide1I do a reality check and bring myself back to my little corner of the universe, back to my original goal, to behave in a way that teaches my children to be open-minded and not develop unfounded prejudices and fears.

In my last and third article I share my call to action with you, steps you can take to further your exposure to multiculturalism and diversity.

For now I leave you with the following:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

Il Viaggo a Venezia

The Trip to Venice

To say that our family loves Italy is an understatement. Perhaps because we carry the Petrucelli last name there is a special connection with the country. We were fortunate enough to spend our children’s October school break in Venice. I share with you the names of our hotel, restaurants, and activities. As always, a lot of research goes into our restaurant and gelateria choices, because for the Petrucelli Family it’s all about the food.

Benvenuti a Venezia

After arriving at San Marco Polo airport we took a “water taxi” to the center of Venice. We booked it right at the airport and had about a 20-minute wait. Alternatively, you can book online but there were so many companies and not enough reviews to know which company to pick from. The water taxi ride took about 20 minutes. I felt like in a Federico Fellini movie as I enjoyed the wind blowing through my hair.

Enjoying the ride.
“La Dolce Vita”

Suddenly mystical Venice appears before you transporting you back in time. There is an allure and magic to Venice that captures you from the moment you step onto its streets. Our water taxi pulled right in front of our hotel, the Locanda Vivaldi. 

http://locandavivaldi.it/ 

We checked in and were delighted to discover that our room had a terrace overlooking the side canal.

Arriving at our Hotel Locanda Vivaldi off of the Grand Canal
Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

Venice is a city of small islands interconnected by waterways. The islands were originally marshes that were built upon. Thousands of tree trunks were used as pilings to build the base of Venice. Then the stone and brick was placed on top of the wood pilings. Over the years the wood under the water has petrified (become like stone). However, it is believed that Venice is slowly sinking at a rate of 2 inches per century.

We soon left our rooms and started meandering through the streets of Venice, crossing bridges and canals, in search of a late lunch. With 409 bridges connecting the small islands, it reinforced why we had not visited this city when our children were in strollers. We were warmly welcomed in Trattoria alla Rivetta by the friendliest waiter in the world.

Trattoria Alla Rivetta

Venice is known for a lot of seafood so this was a great opportunity for our children to sample some very different dishes like squid ink pasta, calamari, sardine dishes, different local fishes, and a variety of lobster and other seafood pastas. I have to admit that this foodie does not eat seafood but the dishes were tempting enough to allow me to try them and to enjoy them.

The Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge in the Back
Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

After considerable research and discovering that some of our initial choices for dinner were fully booked, we got a table at Hostaria Da Franz. This turned out to be one of those magical Venetian moments. It was fate that brought us to Da Franz.  When we first sat down, we wondered why the waiters were not giving us our menus. They started us with a complementary Prosecco. Then Maurizio, the third generation owner, came over and made us feel like we were his only and most special customers of the night. He described all of the special dishes for that evening and offered brilliant suggestions. I was a bit worried because it was all seafood. I shared with Maurizio my limitations and he said, “Don’t worry signora, our chef can make you anything.” He proceeded to give me delicious suggestions. It turned out to be one or our family’s most memorable dinners of all time, between the food, the service, and Maurizio.

A Quiet Canal in Venice

Mouth Watering Treats in a Pasticceria

We had arranged for a private tour guide ahead of time with Federica Fresch from Walking Tours in Venice http://www.discoveringvenice.com/.  With Federica we did “skip the line” into St. Mark’s Church and into the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale).

Federica Brings History to Life
St. Mark’s Square in the Background

She gave us such amazing detailed historical information that even our teenage children enjoyed the learning experience. Federica’s tour also included an hour boat ride through the canals.  After our morning tour we were ready for lunch. We took Federica’s advice and had a very nice lunch at Aciugheta.

View From the Grand Canal of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and St. Mark’s Square
Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

Venice holds an annual Carnival celebration. One of the main characteristics of the Carnival is for its participants to wear costumes and masks. Masks have become an iconic symbol of Venice. The masks can be made of leather, porcelain, glass, gesso, and gold leaf. Gesso is a combination of animal glue binder with chalk and white pigment.

The Many Faces of Venice

There are dozens of stores selling beautiful hand-made masks through out the city. The masks add a level of mystery to the city.  

Our second dinner expedition took us to Ristorante Fiaschetteria Toscana where we dined al fresco. A trip to Venice would not be complete without a visit to the island of Murano famous for its glass blowing. We really enjoyed seeing the glass master turn a ball of molten glass into beautiful pieces of art.

The Glass Master Molds a Horse out of the Molten Glass

After Murano we took a ferry to the island of Burano. This was an amazingly beautiful village with houses painted of gorgeous bright colors. Owners of houses in Burano must apply to the local government to get approval of the paint colors they select. A delightful lunch was enjoyed at Campiello del Principe.

The Bright Colors of Burano
Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

After Burano we returned to Venice. At the end of the day we took advantage of our day ferry ticket to explore the island of San Giorgio Maggiore directly across from our hotel and the Grand Canal. There we climbed the highest point of Venice, the tower of the church of San Giorgio to enjoy spectacular sunset views of Venice. Our last dinner was the most casual of all but also a great family dining experience at Trattoria da Jonny.

Meandering Through the Streets of Venice
Keeping Up with the Boys

The next and final day we spent visiting the food market and looking to stock up on our supply of truffle products. We culminated our visit with an awesome lunch at Vini Da Pinto.

Checking Out the Menu at Vini Da Pinto.
It’s still morning but we are doing our research for lunch.
Courtesy of Clara Petrucelli

I was not expecting to see so many tourists in the month of October. The side walks were filled with visitors and the canals buzzed with boats and gondolas. Sometimes there was so much water traffic that big jams formed in the canals with seemingly no worries by anyone. I cannot imagine the crowds in the middle of the summer.

Gondoliers Prepare for their Customers

The Bow Iron has a shape that resembles the Doge’s hat (head gear used by the Doge instead of a crown) on top, and the six teeth representing the six districts of Venice.
Courtesy of Clara Petrucelli

We saw beautiful buildings that have been restored to their original splendor contrasted against dilapidated and crooked structures. If you look very closely and deconstruct Venice, you will notice in many places messy clothes lines, cracked and moldy stucco, peeling paint, cracked shutters, and rusty wrought iron. But when you step back and take it all in, the Venetian spirits work their magic on you to alter your perception and suddenly all you see is a charming, romantic, quaint, and beautiful Venezia.

Tramonto Veneziano sul Canal Grande
Venetian Sunset over the Grand Canal

PGR: Petrucelli Gelato Report

A visit to Italy would not be complete without gelato. In order of preference the following were the gelaterias we went to in Venice: Gelateria Stefano, Rosa Salva, Il Doge, and Alaska.

Caffè e Ciocolato e Straciatella e Cioccolato Gelato Combos

Alps, Lakes, Pizza & Pasta

This summer we took a wonderful driving vacation in Switzerland and Italy. I hope this serves as a guide to your trip planning. I have added feedback of places we stayed and ate in.  Generally speaking we always have to reserve two rooms for our family of four in our European travel since so few rooms come with two queen or two double beds. Sometimes the rooms are interconnecting other times they are not. Sometimes family suites are available that can accommodate extra beds or have sofa-beds. We also try to research the restaurants we eat in since we love food so much.

Spaghetti Carbonara

We use sources like Yelp, Tripadvisor, Google restaurant reviews, and hotel recommendations. Word of caution, many restaurants in Italian cities we visited close at 2 pm and reopen for dinner so plan accordingly. We designed our own itinerary. My husband researched what special roads to take such as the Furka and Splugen mountain passes. We did have a travel agent help us narrow down our hotel choices. Right now the Swiss Franc is very strong and that makes everything in Switzerland especially in the large cities very expensive. The scenery of driving through the lush Alps both on the Swiss and Italian side in the summer is absolutely breathtaking. This was also a trip of mountain lakes, Lake Zürich, Lake Lucerne, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Como. And most importantly for our family, this was a trip of eating delicious food!

Our Itinerary:

  • Day1: London Heathrow to Zürich Airport / Zürich Airport to Zürich Center via Swiss Rail
  • Day 2: Zürich
  • Day 3: Zürich to Zürich Airport Car Rentals via Swiss Rail / Drive from Zürich Airport to Lucerne
  • Day 4: Lucerne to Rhône Glacier via the Furka Pass / Rhône Glacier to Stresa, Italy (Lake Maggiore)
  • Day 5: Stresa, Italy (Lake Maggiore)
  • Day 6: Stresa, Italy  to Tremezzo, Italy (Lake Como)
  • Day 7: Tremezzo, Italy / Day trip to Bellagio, Italy
  • Day 8: Tremezzo, Italy to Zizers, Switzerland (near Chur)
  • Day 9: Zizers and Chur
  • Day: 10: Zizers to Zürich Airport  / Return to London, UK

Total driving time: 9.5 hours – Total distance: 730 km or 453 miles

Day 1 – 2

Upon arriving in Zürich we took the Swiss rail from the airport station conveniently located below the airport making it a very easy and inexpensive way to get to downtown Zürich. Our hotel, The Hotel Opera, was conveniently located walking distance from a train stop. The hotel was very beautiful, comfortable, and contemporary in style. We stayed in Zürich for 2 nights.

St. Peterskirche
St. Peter’s Church
Zürich, Switzerland

Zürich, the largest city in Switzerland, is very easy to explore by foot and offers beautiful views of Lake Zürich. We spent time meandering through the Old Town. We tried traditional Swiss fondue at Le Dézaley and rosti, a potato and cheese dish, at the Weisser Wind. We enjoyed a delicious Italian lunch at Tre Cucine.

Day 3

We took the amazingly efficient Swiss rail back to the airport to the Hertz car rental desk. We had reserved a 4 wheel cross over vehicle ahead of time through the US AAA and got an amazing rate compared to what our travel agent was offering. We left the airport and drove to Lucerne. We arrived in Lucerne and checked into our beautiful hotel, The Montana, located in town but perched up on the mountain. The views of Lake Lucerne were spectacular from our rooms.

The View from our Room
Lucerne, Switzerland

The hotel boasted a modern Art Deco style. The Montana had its own funicular to bring its guests down to the lake level. From the lake we were able to reach all the sights by foot. The first order of business was finding lunch. We found a wonderful Italian restaurant name La Fenice.

The Dying Lion
Lucerne, Switzerland

After lunch we went to see the most amazing sculpture I have ever seen in my life, The Dying Lion of Lucerne Monument. The sculpture of a dying lion commemorates the Swiss Guard who was massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when the revolutionaries attacked the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Another major site in Lucerne is the Kapellbrucke or Chapel Bridge. It is a wooden footbridge over the River Reuss built in 1333 to help defend the city. We spent the rest of the day walking through the Old Town. We had a surprisingly delicious Chinese dinner at Li Tai Pe.

By the Chapel Bridge
Lucerne, Switzerland

 Day 4

The next morning after eating delicious pastries from the famous Bachman bakery we left Lucerne and drove south to pick up the Furka Pass road. The Furka Pass is a mountain pass in the Alps that stands at 2429m/7969ft.

Looking Down from Highest Point of Furka Pass
Near Hotel Belvedere

The pass is closed certain times of the year due to bad weather conditions. James Bond drove the Furka Pass in the movie Goldfinger. Driving the Furka Pass is not for the faint of heart, it requires skilled driving and no fear of heights. One of the highlights of driving the Furka Pass is that you visit the Rhône Glacier, the source of the Rhône River. There is a rest stop conveniently located at the Rhône Glacier.

Inside Rhone Glacier
Canton of Valais, Switzerland

We paid an admission fee and were able to hike to the ice cave that was carved inside the glacier. The Rhône Glacier covered most of Switzerland during the last Ice Age (110,000 to 11,000 years ago). Although, the glacier has retreated significantly in the last 150 years due to Global Warming, it is still a very spectacular sight.

After the visiting the Rhône Glacier we continued our drive south southeast to reach the town of Stresa, Italy on Lake Maggiore in the northern region of Piedmont. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees right on the edge of the Lake. The views of Lake Maggiore and of the Borromean Islands on the lake were beautiful.

Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees
Stresa, Italy on Lake Maggiore

The hotel was a rococo extravaganza bordering on museum-like, somewhere where beautiful meets tacky but still pleasing to the soul. We were also very centrally located. The first night we dined at an excellent Italian restaurant, frequented by locals, Ristorante Pizzeria MammaMia.

Spaghetti Vongole

Day 5

We purchased an all day ferry ticket that allowed us to island hop the Borromean Islands located in Lake Maggiore. The islands are: Isola Bella with its grand palace and gardens, Isola Madre with a 20-acre park, and Isola dei Pescatori with its typical fishing village. The day included a good pizza lunch on the mainland in the neighboring village of Baveno at Ristorante La Trappola. Our favorite of the islands was Isola Bella with its amazing palace and gardens. The gardens looked like a wedding cake from the ferryboat.

The Gardens on Isola Bella, one of the islands in Lake Maggiore

After a long day exploring the islands we returned to the hotel swimming pool. A highlight for our children and my husband was diving off of the two diving boards in the separate diving pool. We enjoyed yet another wonderful Italian traditional meal at Taverna del Pappagallo in downtown Stresa.

Pizza with Carpaccio, Parmesan, and Arugula

 Day 6

After breakfast we drove from Lake Maggiore to Lake Como. By lunchtime, we arrived in Tremezzo located on the western shore of Lake Como across from Bellagio. We stayed in the Grand Hotel Tremezzo in a family suite.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Tremezzo, Italy Lake Como

The hotel was absolutely beautiful as were the grounds. The decoration of the hotel was very classical with a playful blend of contemporary.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Whimsical Sitting Rooms

The hotel had 3 swimming pools. Our family’s favorite pool was the floating pool on the lake.

The Grand Hotel Tremezzo Floating Pool

We spent hours jumping into the floating pool and diving into the lake. The first night we had a wonderful dinner at a small family restaurant called Trattoria del Prato.

Diving into Lake Como

Day 7 

After swimming in the morning we took the ferry across the lake to visit Bellagio for lunch. Bellagio is located in the Lombardy region of Italy. We ate an amazing lunch at Bilacus.

Pasta Bolognese

We then explored the town of Bellagio before returning to Tremezzo. We enjoyed our last delicious dinner in Italy at Ristorante Belle Isole.

Cute Yorkies Traveling in Style
Bellagio, Italy

 Day 8

After breakfast we continued north along the western shore of Lake Como and started ascending the mountains on the road SS36 also known as the Splugen pass. We stopped at a roadside restaurant still on the Italian side called Al Santuario for a yummy local lunch, where they spoke no Italian, so my pseudo Italian Spanish came in handy. Then we began the most hair-raising experience of our whole drive, crossing the Splugen pass. The Splugen pass at 2113m/6932ft connects the Lepontine and Rhaetian Alps between Italy and Switzerland.

Part of the Splugen Pass
Somewhere in Switzerland

On the navigation system and on a map all you see is a collection of hairpin turns or switch back roads that look like zig zig scribbles. Let’s just say that my husband was relieved when the Splugen pass ended and we picked up the E43/13 at the bottom of the valley in Splugen, Switzerland. We then took this road all the way past Chur and then on to nearby Zizers, Switzerland. The reason for our special stop in the village of Zizers, is that my husband had an AFS exchange student, Christoph, live with them many years ago. Christoph, now part of our family, is the town doctor in his village of Zizers where he lives with his family.

Day 9

After a week of a historical heat wave in Switzerland and Italy, the weather was now back to the 70’s and overcast. We spent the morning hiking the lush green local mountains. In the afternoon we visited the city of Chur.

Hiking in the Alps with Friends

Day 10

We said our goodbyes to Christoph and his family and once again took the E43/13 that took us straight to Zürich Airport.

Most Memorable Moments:

  • Fondue and Rosti in Zürich
  • The Dying Lion sculpture in Lucerne, Italy
  • Driving the Furka Pass
  • Walking inside the Rhone Glacier
  • Diving off of the diving board in Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees
  • The big Newfoundland dog allowed to eat with its owners inside the Ristorante MammaMia in Stresa.
  • Visiting Isola Bella, the castle and gardens
  • Swimming in the floating pool on Lake Como
  • Diving into Lake Como from the floating pool
  • The special driving club that pulled up with 15 SLS Mercedes-Benz sports cars to our Lake Como hotel.
  • Visiting Bellagio
  • The two Yorkshire terriers traveling in their owner’s special backpack.
  • Driving the Splugen Pass
  • Visiting friends in Zizers and hiking the Swiss mountains with them.
  • Eating delicious food both in Switzerland and Italy
  • And eating delicious Italian food the whole week.  Mamma Mia!

Moving Overseas

Yesterday, I walked my dog Maya in Regent’s park and we ran into a black labrador and its owner. The woman asked me about my dog and I noticed she was an American. Well, that was enough invitation for me to start a conversation. It turned out that she had just moved to London with her family. I was able to share a lot of good tips with her about living in London. We exchanged e:mail addresses and mobile numbers. I always like making new friends but I especially like lending a helping hand to a new expat family.

The experience of living overseas may be one of the most rewarding and yet one of the most challenging experiences you will have in your life. After the initial bewilderment stage comes an opportunity to enjoy and learn. I am writing hoping to reach many of you who just moved to London with your families or even by yourselves. Perhaps you just moved to Brussels, Paris, or Tokyo. Some of my words may apply to you as well. I am here to tell you that it does get easier with each passing day and that before you know it, the strange new land you moved to, becomes your home.

When we were preparing to move to London from the US in 2011 we were very excited about the opportunity. The reason being that we had already been expats in Brussels, Belgium from 1997 – 2001. We were now seasoned expats like so many people you meet. Some families have spent their whole lives moving around the world and can only say positive things about their lifestyle. Our overall experience in Brussels was amazing. We loved it so much that we yearned to someday go abroad again. But I will admit moving to Brussels in July of 1997 was initially a very shocking experience and I can sympathize with some of you who are completely overwhelmed as you read this.

Let me share a story. When we moved to Brussels many life events converged into what seemed like a personal nuclear explosion at the time.  The first one was that I left my career. For someone who had been so career-driven this was a very difficult decision. However, I had been very willing to go on a “sabbatical” because, I was pregnant with our first child and I was presented with the opportunity to travel all over Europe, something I was passionate about.  Had I been in the states I probably would have taken a standard leave of absence and then returned to work. The advent of losing my salary and cutting our income in half was frightening. I also had to redefine who I was as a person since so much of my self-confidence and self-esteem was linked to my profession. But we were open to the life adventure ahead of us. However, during my 17thweek of pregnancy, while the movers were back at the house packing us, our lives were rattled when we received bad news about the pregnancy and baby. News that seemed so insurmountable that I questioned why were we were even moving overseas.  The baby would require surgeries after birth. At the time, I was still narrow-minded in thinking that I would only be able to receive excellent medical care for our baby in the US.  On top of that I was leaving my family and friends at a time when I needed them the most. But there was no turning back with the moving plans. Sometimes destiny does lead you in mysterious ways and Brussels was to be our next destination.

The Early Belgium Years 1998

Our  beautiful son was born on Christmas Eve 1997 in Brussels, Belgium. I would have at my disposal an amazing team of doctors who were so gifted and wonderful that even demigods would not compare. I still believe that it’s as if though we had to move to Brussels to have these incredible doctors take care of our son. What had started out as a tempest, with no calm in sight, had evolved into a clear horizon allowing my husband and I to successfully navigate our new lives in Brussels.

OK, I won’t kid you. Living in a country where they speak foreign languages, in our case French and Flemish, was difficult at times. Many Belgians spoke English which definitely helped but there were times that you had to be creative, like when the phone guy came over and we had to communicate with hand signals. Sometimes I would spend hours reading food labels in the supermarket trying to figure out if I was buying the correct item. A big help for me was joining The American Women’s Club of Brussels. They were an amazing resource of support and friendship. In August of 1999 our beautiful daughter was also born in Brussels. Our son was 19 months at that time. And now with two babies in tow we continued to explore Belgium and Europe. Our children learned to sleep in planes, trains, and automobiles.

By Chenonceaux Castle in the Loire Valley, France
2000

We got lucky because they were good babies/toddlers who allowed us to bring them everywhere, from châteaux in France to Champagne houses, from crystal shops in Prague to Michelin star restaurants.  After an amazing 4 years in Brussels we returned to the US in 2001.

Developing a Discriminating Taste for Champagne in Champagne, France
2001

Fast forward to 2011 as we prepared to return overseas…

We were now moving overseas with 13 and 12-year old children. The key was in selling them on the idea of moving very early on. It’s all in the marketing, isn’t it? What helped was that we had already moved within the US. When we returned from Brussels, we had first lived in Westport, CT for 5 years and then we had moved to West Chester, PA. The children were in 2nd and 3rd grade when we did this move, and yes it had been hard for them to leave friends, but they instantly made new ones. So when we announced we were moving to London they were absolutely fine with the idea. They were excited about living overseas and had the confidence that they would be able to make new friends. Before the move, they would ask us questions like:

“Do they have Wawa’s hoagies in London?” (For those of you not from PA/NJ area, Wawa’s is a Gasoline/Food/Convenience chain that makes delicious hoagies (heros/grinders/sandwiches))

Our answer would be, “No they don’t have Wawa’s hoagies in London but they will have different things that may be better ”.

Sure enough the children discovered that you can get some very amazing baguettes in London and the sandwiches made with these are delicious. We have opened ourselves up to new experiences with the thought that the outcomes will be positive. We keep saying to the children:

 “Things will be different, but different does not mean bad, different may mean better”.

My husband and the children exploring the streets of Bologna, Italy
July 2001

Exploring the streets of Bellagio, Italy
August 2012

I am not here to say that change is completely easy and without challenges. Change can be very difficult at times. It’s how we manage the process of change that allows us to move forward in a productive and healthy fashion. It is important to know how to manage the stresses that get thrown our way. How we behave is also critical. Our children are watching us every step of the way. Children are very intuitive and they can sense your attitudes and feelings immediately.  Sometimes we just have to laugh at ourselves and at the difficult situations. Like the time my friend in Brussels went to put her Thanksgiving turkey in her oven and it did not fit. She had to carve it up and roast it in pieces. Then there’s the time I tried to use my “French” language skills, and asked the waiter for a spoon,“ une cuillère”, and instead they brought out cheese, “le gruyere”.  That’s o.k., I’ll take some of that too. You may have already faced or are in the middle of facing daunting tasks like opening bank accounts, buying cell phones, getting a phone line connected, getting internet and cable, dealing with home repairs, figuring out how to get around, grocery shopping, unpacking, baby sitters, dog sitters, or where to buy something. We waited for 3 weeks for our Sky Internet modem to arrive and we were supposedly one of the lucky ones. Just know that with each passing day it will get easier and you’ll laugh at some of the missteps over a glass of wine or pint of beer.

Walking Over the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland

Know that this overseas experience will profoundly change you and your family members in so many positive ways. How you perceive the world and react to it will be different and better. This experience will test your and your family’s resolve, flexibility, and even relationships. For many it will bring you closer as a family. Open yourselves up to this new adventure with a positive attitude. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to organizations and support groups. Try new foods, make new friends, explore new places and hopefully you’ll look back at the expat years as some of the most amazing years of your life.