Saturday 29 October 2011

My First Christmas in Rome

Imagine my surprise when I finally received a letter last week from the Vatican with my ticket to attend Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome with the Pope.  Of course, this may actually mean spending Christmas Eve with the masses in St. Peter's Square.

You see, I had written to the Vatican last summer on a whim, requesting a ticket to attend Christmas Eve Mass -- apparently, they're quite the hot ticket to nab. The response (which only took 3 months) gave me instructions on how to pick up my tickets from the Vatican offices on Dec. 24, but also warned that seating inside the basilica is somewhat limited so there's no guarantee I'll actually get inside.

Am I being a cranky Catholic? Do I really want to spend several hours standing around the very beautiful, but likely very chilly square? 

I wonder what the odds are that I could actually get inside? Will I have to queue up at 4 p.m. for 10 p.m. Mass? That could be a loooong evening. 

On the other hand, I have no other plans for Christmas.  Except lounging around my apartment eating cheese and drinking prosecco.  

That sounds positively unCanadian, doesn't it? Fretting about weather that will be hovering around zero!! Perhaps I should show my colours -- arrive wearing a beaver-skin hat, waving the Canadian flag, and drinking rye from a flask. Well, perhaps prosecco. 

Saturday 22 October 2011

What do I need for my move to Italy?

A week from now, the movers come to empty out my apartment here in Ottawa. I really love this apartment, so I'm feeling wistful.

I'm also feeling rather stressed: I need to decide what shall I keep with me to take to Italy, and what shall I leave for movers to pack into storage?

Lists. I do know I need lots of lists.

I know that I'll definitely need:

1. European passport? Check!
2. Lots of money? Not possible, so check that right off.
3. Sense of humour? Check!
4. Good Italian language skills? Well, I'm working on it....
5. Thick skin since I'm sure to be mocked for weak Italian language skills? Check!
6. A job. I'm working on that and have some Check!

Since economics and Air Canada dictate I can only take two suitcases, I've got to narrowly define the essentials and jam 'em in.

So what is really essential?

1.   Shoes (Italian shops don't carry large enough sizes for my long, elegant feet.)
1a. Dress shoes for work, when I find it.
1b. Casual shoes (but not too casual)
1c. One pair of running shoes for serious walks/gym
1d. One pair of boots (water and snow proof, not terribly fashionable.)

Yikes! That's one suitcase filled right there! I think I'm in trouble.

2.  Some work clothes i.e. decent skirts, blazers, a few sweaters, dress pants.
3.  More casual clothes for all the time I'm not working. Well, that will mostly be the work      clothes again. I'm in Europe; you just don't wear casual clothes on city streets!
4.  Really casual clothes, such as a couple pair of yoga pants and T-shirts that will never leave the apartment!
5.  A pair of jammies, sox, etc.

Yeesh. This is getting ugly. I've mentally filled two suitcases already! And that doesn't include:

6.   Personal papers, banking records, receipts. I'll be doing all my banking via Internet, which is really helpful. But I'll have to file my Canadian income taxes early next year. This is REALLY important because I'm expecting a refund. Whew!
7.   A few favourite books. I know; I can buy books in Rome. But everyone has a few favourites that they like to re-read.
8.   My favourite mug, a few small family photos and of course Teddy. After all, I'm not going to prison for heaven's sake. I'm allowed to have a few treasures.
9.   A lot of electronics.

What have I forgotten?

(BTW, photos from the blog: Fashiontweed)

Sunday 16 October 2011

I'm not the only person who over-packs!

My friend Leslie just pointed out this Vanity Fair magazine article, and I found it so delightful, I had to post it here. Happy reading!

Where I Go: Helena Bonham Carter

Now on the verge of receiving BAFTA’s Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year, Helena Bonham Carter first made Florentine getaways fashionable as a girl of 18, when she starred in the Oscar-winning A Room with a View—all about the life-changing potential of a Tuscan adventure. She never could quit those trips—herewith, her favorite foods, shops, and pastimes in beloved Firenze.

To get away from it all, I go to … Florence, Italy.
My favorite way to travel there is … Car, plane, car. Not long, and always worth it.
My favorite place to stay is … In a house my great-grandmother bought just after the Second World War, that she left for all her descendants to enjoy. I go because it’s a pocket of paradise, and it’s a place in the world that unfailingly fills one with bliss.
My ideal travel companions are … My children, who love eating the tomatoes out of the earth, and my boyfriend, [Tim Burton,] who loves painting on Uncle Frank’s balcony. My mother, who loves reading in the cool of the bedrooms, and my brothers and their families, who all love the pasta.

When I’m in the mood for room service, my favorite order is … The homemade gnocchi verdi are legendary.
My favorite place to go to indulge in a delicious Florentine meal is … There is a deli in the [San Lorenzo] Mercato Centrale called Perini that makes a sin-filled, truffle-flavored cream cheese. The onion one is good, too. The family that runs it practically force-feeds you with gargantuan taster portions of prosciutto or fennel salami or cheese with quince jam, all piled onto pane arabe. Mum and me tend to go there before contemplating anything else.
To stay in shape, my on-the-go fitness regimen is …There is no regimen that lasts longer than a day. Does swimming count? Or justifying a gelato by walking into Florence, which is a 35-minute amble all the way downhill? The most painless exercise ever.
My suitcase must absolutely contain … I never travel without a hot-water bottle, whatever the temperature. It’s my sleeping pill (I don’t swallow it: I rest it on my tummy, and it pretty much unfailingly sends me off to the unconscious).

When it comes to luggage, I am a … Ridiculous overpacker, and I’m proud of it. I always get tremendously excited before a holiday, and I now recognize one of my main pleasures is the run-up—specifically the sorting of my wardrobe. I rummage, explore, find old friends, try new outfits, and invent a new personality that will change her clothing 12 times a day (where as normally I spend my life wearing same thing day in and out). It’s like I become a hyperactive, three-dimensional paper doll.
When I’m in the mood for some retail therapy, the shops I must visit are … There is a brilliant boutique called Guya, just behind the Piazza della Signoria, that sells my favorite designers: High, [Marithé et François] Girbaud, and [Vivienne] Westwood. They know me well. I have spent large fortunes there. I can practically hear a chorus of “Hallelujah” as they see me.

My favorite travel pastimes are … Reading, crafting, sleeping …
Upon arrival, I most look forward to … A ton of books, novels, and all of the culture that I never get to while on the hamster-wheel sprint of daily life. I take a suitcase (part of overpacking), and read a small percentage.
Upon departing, I am most happy to leave behind … [My] to-do list and the plurality of phones, doorbells, e-mails, texts, and bombardment of demands from many that is really the privilege of every working and nonworking mother—or person—that lives in this world where we are permanently available to everyone.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Ah, the bidet...

It will be nice to have a bidet again.

As I prepare for my move to Rome, I've been reading my friend Jane's blog about preparations her family made four years ago when they moved to Italy for a year.

I had a good laugh over a post she wrote, upon returning to California, about things that she missed from Italy -- including having a bidet in the bathroom!

For many North Americans, the bidet is a kind of mysterious bathroom fixture. Yet, it's so very common in European hotels and rental apartments that it's impossible to ignore.

Over on Slow Travel, there was even an extraordinarily long thread about the many uses for the bidet. Apart, that is, from its original function: cleaning one's undercarriage. Other uses included: chilling a bottle of wine brought back to the hotel room; soaking laundry mid-trip; keeping cut flowers wet until a vase could be found; and extra storage space for bathroom stuff (assuming the bidet is clean and dry.)

Jane wrote of how she missed using the bidet to shave her legs, soak clothes for a few hours (rather than tie up the sink) and for watering plants.

My favourite use is for soaking tired feet, when there is no bathtub available, after a long, hot day of walking. There are, of course, risks associated with this. Once in Spoleto, I was soaking my feet in the bidet while sitting on the lid of the toilet, when the lid cracked right under me, dumping me into the toilet!! I no longer sit as easily on the toilet lid as I once did -- scarred, I suppose, by that dunking.

Anyway, my apartment in Rome is tiny -- certainly, no bathtub (although I will have a washing machine which is very handy even if a cycle is 2-hours.) But it has a bidet so I can soak my feet. Yay!

The above photo, from Doru on Slow Trav, is of the foldaway toilet and bidet in a room at the Hotel Casci in Florence. I've had this same room and was NOT impressed with the fold-up facilities!blog

Saturday 1 October 2011

Moving to Rome: What am I going to eat?

Actually, the better question might be: how am I going to select what to eat? There is such a remarkable abundance of fantastic, fresh, simple food to be found in Italy. that I'll certainly be overwhelmed by choices.

And I'm not even a foodie! But thanks to my dear friend Letizia, I have learned how to choose excellent ingredients: good balsamico, excellent olive oil, the best pastas.

There are also many wonderful markets in Rome with a wealth of fresh, seasonal vegetables so that I can have a healthy diet and not feel too guilty about the occasional gelato.

Imagine: choosing great vegetables that haven't seen more of the world than I have! No more picking over apples from New Zealand, carrots from California, tomatoes and sweet peppers from Chile. Seriously: the produce in Ottawa supermarkets has collected more frequent flier points than I could ever hope for.

Here's an interesting market that is only a 15-minute walk, or one subway stop, from my new apartment in Rome: Mercato di Piazza Vittorio

Apparently, this was once among the most lively and popular markets with people in Rome. The many stalls offer a large variety of fruit and vegetables as well as other types of food, including specialties from all over the world.According to the blog, Spotted by Locals:  “...You should visit the Esquilino market (better known as the Piazza Vittorio market) not only for its cheap groceries, but also to witness Rome’s slow progression into a multicultural city, catering to the diverse needs of immigrants."

Sounds interesting!

The market, which was once located on the Piazza Vittorio, is now found inside the former Centrale del Latte (a dairy) nearby in Via Principe Amedeo.

Saltimbocca and fresh green beans prepared at Letizia's in June! Yum!