ITALY
QUITO
THAILAND
Author Archive

Our grandparents live in Hawaii so Perrin and I have seen enough volcanoes and dried lava to be skeptical about the appeal of the 2,000 year old ruins of Pompei, a thriving Roman town that was buried under 13-19 feet of pumice and ash when Mt. Vesuvius exploded in 79 A.D.  Since we were living in the Napoli region we decided to embrace history and check it out.

It was well worth a trip and the 11 euro entrance fee.  We were amazed at how preserved the city was and how vividly you could see what life was like for Romans in the 1st century.  You can easily spend a full day crawling through blasted doorways. I recommend the audio tour (6 euro) since there are no signs on any of the sculptures and the guide is a wealth of interesting information, from basic building facts to in-depth chapters on subjects like wool weavers and calendars.  Here are just five reasons to visit Pompei.

1. You can eat lunch in a dining room from 79 A.D.
Ok, so we’re not sure if this was really socially acceptable or not. But to preserve some cash, Perrin and I brought lunch from home. Around noon we found an ancient ruined house with some shade and spread out our Tupperware in what was once the dining room. We were even joined by an adorable dog, who ate the pasta we shared like a true Italian. While we all refueled, about five tourist groups stopped to take our picture and look us up on the map. While they searched for our audioguide number we struck a number of mid-eating poses so we wouldn’t disappoint.

Just trying to blend in.

2. The brothels.
It is surely by some sort of divine intervention that lava filled every inch of the main town brothel but you can somehow still see Karma Sutra images — with creative recommendations for clients — painted perfectly above each room.  A session with a prostitute here was the same price as “a glass of medium quality wine and went straight to the pimp” – according to my audio tour – and graffiti on the wall indicates rampant complaints of venereal disease.  Not ideal conditions.


(more…)

A Southern Italian mom's heaven.

When I said I wanted to gain ten pounds on pasta in Italy, I didn’t actually want the lbs to produce a double chin in my last pictures from the trip (which is inconveniently in the Amalfi Coast, where I only wear bathing suits). But here I am at week six in carb country and I’m 6 pounds heavier than when I left the States. I’m just about pasta-ed out, but before heading out of the country, the Jet Set Italy crew wanted to learn the secret to making chewy spindles of pasta so we can star at future dinner parties. If I’m going to be chubby, I’m bringing you all down with me.
(more…)

In the past four weeks Perrin and I have lived in five cities and visited a new destination every weekend.  When we move so rapidly, it’s surprisingly easy to fail at life sometimes.  To spare future travelers some grief, we decided to share some of our low moments and make a few recommendations.

1. Buy a train ticket

There is an honor system in place and on short, regional train rides and conductors rarely check your ticket.  If you DO get caught without a ticket there is a  50 fine and you can get booted off.

On our trip from Verona to Roccafranca we didn’t buy the 6 Euro ticket.  We hadn’t seen a train conductor in five rides so, being budget travelers, we took our chances.  About four minutes into the trip we spotted the conductor approaching us with his ticket puncher at the ready.  Instead of forking over cash we bolted for the bathroom with urgency I usually reserve for dashing for a last piece of Napoli pizza.  We locked ourselves in the 3ft x 4ft stall for the remaining 35 minutes.  A fellow ticket evader kept pounding on the door pleading to be let in but we selfishly hogged our space and brainstormed excuses for being ticketless.  Needless to say, we splurge on tickets now.

Tucked away in the tiny (and rank) train bathroom, Perrin and I contemplate escape out the window.

(more…)

Bogdan shooting film on the hills with our guidedog "Jo Mama". CLICK FOR SLIDESHOW.

Around 7:30 this morning we heard the clattering of cowbell coming from the mountain behind our house.  We looked up to find a man, around 70-years-old, herding sheep down the cliff in an adept manner that brought to mind Heidi‘s grandfather working the Swiss Alps.

Many times I have compared teaching elementary-aged children to herding sheep so I was eagerly taking notes on his techniques for keeping stray members in line.  Ten minutes after we spotted his hillside descent, the cowbell sounds grew riotous and I realized the sheep were running down the street on our block.  I was immediately intrigued.

Bogdan and I resolved to follow the sheep’s commute and as soon as I got out of camp today we trekked up to the mountain peak.  The route was clearly untrodden and there was no path so we made our way through rocks and thickets of thorn bushes that Big Bog deemed, “The Napoli Slashers”.  Luckily our housedog — who Bogdan nicknamed “Jo Mama” — came along and guided us much of the way.  Our legs were bleeding and our bodies sweating by the time we made it to the top but it was worth all the work.  Seeing the stunning, rare view of Salerno reminded me exactly why I quit my job and chose to live abroad instead of popping through as a tourist.

The Genzano tutors unwind at the lake.

After a day of miming English words to children, ACLE tutors rely on de-stressing in Italy’s natural havens.  Last week Courtney, Lynne and I were together in Genzano — about 40 minutes from Rome — and  the beautiful Lake Nemi was a short walk away from the school.  In our visits after camp our curly grey-haired director Claudia reminded us that you can swim in an bra and underwear at any age while fellow tutor Josh sent us all (except Patrick, who was frantically searching for his lost 57 euro hat) on a rescue hunt after he decided to swim across the 2km lake without mentioning his intention to anyone.  Claudia led the search in her white undergarments until we found the him striding along the road, shirtless and shoeless in true Profit-style.

Turning heads as the only girls jumping off this sea-rock, greasy-haired men in Speedos, men lathering women with baby oil (a trend I swear went out with aluminum tanning in the 50s...), beautiful views and Perrin and Bogdan on the bus (I judge a country by its public transportation and so far Italy's is top-notch).

In lieu of religion, I am devoutly American but was surprisingly OK with missing the barbecues and poolside toasts back home yesterday.  Perrin, Bogdan and I are spending the next week in Southern Italy and we celebrated the holiday on a Salerno beach with beers, greasy-haired men in Speedos, 13 year-old make out fiends and women covered in baby oil for extra sun appeal.  This small city at the start of the Amalfi Coast was packed Rehoboth Beach style, but surrounded by stunningly beautiful steep hills that blow away Deleware’s fold-up Boardwalk fairs.

Five of the six tutors -- Matt, Perrin, Fiona, Melissa and me -- covered in whipped cream goo.

Perrin and I survived our first two weeks of camp and the kids made sure we had a crazed last day. We chased them through a series of “messy games”, such as shaving cream hair style and egg toss competitions.  At the end we  followed camp tradition and let them smother us in whip cream.  We  are sad to leave our fellow tutors and this great camp location but Perrin and I will be reunited with Courtney and Lynn tomorrow in Lanuvio, about 40 minutes away from Rome!

The beautiful Lake Garda.

The largest lake in Italy, Lake Garda is about halfway between Milan and Venice.  Many of the kids in Roccafranca say they have summer homes on the water.  Perrin and I  saw many 20-something jets kiers and casual boaters.  It looked like a perfect summer getaway to us.
(more…)

The first day I arrived in Roccafranca I was informed that my Italian dad’s 29-year-old brother Giovanni was in the market for a wife and I was a suitable match.  Really, I was just the first new girl in town since last summer’s ACLE tutors.  But every time I met a new grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousin or friend of the family they immediately said, “You-Giovanni.  Very good.  Yes.”

Seeing as almost every man under 30 here would be a top contender for The Jersey Shore Season 3, I was not optimistic about this proposed arranged marriage.  But when my “mom” told me Giovanni would like to take me to the scenic Lake Garda with his two friends, I was all over it – as long as my sister could come.  We really hadn’t met anyone our own age and were eager to see where they went out.

So a couple nights ago Perrin and I hopped in a BMW and headed out with the boys.  A couple things stood out:

Me and Giovanni, my 29-year-old Italian “uncle”, in Autocool, a 24-7 convenience store where you can gamble in the slot machines or buy, fresh fruit, DVDs, board games, Gelato and more! Giovanni has a graphic t-shirt, ripped jeans and a man purse. 100% standard look for men here.

Me and Giovanni, my 29-year-old Italian “uncle”, in Autocool, a 24-7 convenience store where you can gamble in the slot machines or buy fresh fruit, DVDs, board games, Gelato and more! Giovanni has a graphic t-shirt, ripped jeans and a man purse. 100% standard look for men here.

1. They drive as if they were in Super Mario Kart.  Mika, our driver, went at least 90mph down a one lane highway the whole trip and zipped around other cars like we had the special star shield around us and could go through anything in our path.  It was mildly terrifying and we won’t be doing it again.  They blasted U2 the whole way though, which was a welcome language barrier buffer.

Perrin dancing to U2's "Elevation" blaring in the background.

(more…)

We can't seem to shed the Big Apple. We're using this as a transitional shirt.

We can't seem to shed the Big Apple. We're using this as a transitional shirt.

The moment Perrin and I stepped out of the Venice train station a perceptive Pakistani vendor informed us we did not love New York anymore.  But was Venice so different?  We were on an island and spotted street meat carts, photo-snapping tourists and inflated prices (€2.90 for a Pistachio cookie??).  Manhattan comparisons were not such a stretch.

To ensure we were still in Italy we stocked up on some gelato and pizza and walked on.  At least for 10 minutes until I spotted a gondola and ushered everybody aboard.  I have no problem playing the corny tourist here.  We rocked the boat, knocked on doorways and requested songs from the unremitting gondolier.  The 25-minute ride was worth every bit of the €15 Euro we each shelled out.

We tipped too hard and actually thought for a moment that we were on our way into the canal.

We tipped too hard and actually thought for a moment that we were on our way into the canal.

(more…)