mercoledì 13 novembre 2013


Local trends in Italy indicate that farming is on the rise, and alternative farming methods are being used more than ever to preserve the environment and guarantee high quality produce. A couple of years ago I jumped aboard the “eco” bandwagon and have been buying and growing organic and biodynamic food ever since. The area around Rome is perfect for agriculture: lots of sun, winter rainfall, moderate climate. That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges, but it does make for an idyllic setting where we can all plant seeds (even the metaphoric kind).

A local bio-dynamic farmer in Labico provides my family with chemical-free vegetables; an organic beekeeper in Palestrina sells various flavors of honey; an organic, free-range chicken farm produces our eggs; an extensive farm in Rome raises 100% organic, grass-fed beef; a local, organic purchasing group provides us with everything else like fruit, yoghurt, bread, pasta, whole grains, flour, sweeteners, cheese. A year ago I took a short class on how to make bread and now I make my bread every week using a home-made starter and organic, stone-ground flour.

And one of the most enjoyable aspects of local life around Rome is the presence of farmer’s markets. At Zagarolo’s Sunday morning market there is a vast array of stalls manned by local producers (many are organic or bio-dynamic) who bring their fresh products to the piazza. The friendly atmosphere and low prices are reason enough to come and meet the people who toil to make sure we all have the ingredients for Sunday lunch. There are hand-picked herbs, meats, milk products, flowers, freshly baked bread, eggs, fruit and vegetables, hand-made baskets, home-made soaps and cosmetics, organic honey, mushrooms, and much more. I love to stroll through this open-air market and taste the local products. My favorite stand is one where sheep farmers sell their organic cheese. Pecorino, anyone?

giovedì 5 settembre 2013

Useful apps for traveling in Italy (or anywhere)

I just returned from a long journey through Georgia and Armenia and wish I had downloaded these apps before I left. My husband and I did the classic, foldable, bulky paper map and carried around the Lonely Planet guide book for a month. It has it’s charm up to a certain point. According to “Wired”, here is a good selection of useful apps for travel savvy world voyagers:

TRIPIT-- (for android, apple, blackberry and windows phone)
It works like a personal secretary, so this is good for long trips, because it helps keep everything in order from flights/trains, hotel bookings, events, pre-purchased tickets, maps. The price ranges from free to 89 euro cents.

mTRIP-- (for android and apple)
This is what I could have used as an alternative to the paper guide book which I constantly held for a month. It’s cooler to use your phone and even cooler not to pay large roaming fees. Using the mTRIP travel guides gives you the chance to download maps and guides before you leave, so you already have everything on your phone when you go abroad. The application will suggest itineraries depending on the length of your stay in each place. It gives additional info on your surroundings and you can also write reviews of each place. Price varies from € 3.99 to €4.49.

CITY MAPS 2 GO-- (for android and apple) 
Choose from over 7000 maps which you download before leaving and can consult for free once you’re abroad. The maps also indicate restaurants, shops and businesses, places of interest, banks. It’s also connected to Wikipedia which gives additional info on 500,000 attractions and places throughout the world. From free to 89 cents.

BAN.JO-- (for android and apple)
This app uses social networks to find out about interesting happenings: events, concerts, shows, exhibits, photos and more. It’s free.

FIELD TRIP--(for android and apple)
The app tracks your location and lets you know about the most interesting places in your vicinity: museums, monuments, bars, coffee shops, restaurants and the like. It’s free.

TRIPOSO--(for android and apple)
Almost every travel guide in the world (with contents in a Wiki style) which you download and then consult while off line. It’s free.

WORLDMATE--(for android and apple)
Everything for the world of work: itineraries, agendas, weather, time change. It’s free.

OsmAnd--(for android and blackberry)
Fantastic navigator gps which uses all open source documents in the world from the OpenStreetMap project; vocal assistance, places of interest, you can modify maps if there are imperfections. No connection needed to consult the maps after downloading. It’s free.

venerdì 31 maggio 2013

Corpus Domini

One of the most beautiful festivals held in Italy takes place each year in June. Corpus Domini is the Catholic celebration of the belief in the body and blood of Christ and his real presence in the Eucharist. What it means for townspeople in Palestrina is a long preparation of picking flower petals in the hills around town, selecting a central theme and choosing designs which are later drawn by hand on the cobblestone streets through the old part of town. The evening before the procession, townspeople gather and dedicate the entire night to making the drawings and filling in the designs with fresh flower petals, seeds, soil, and sometimes colored wood shavings. An intricate floral tapestry is created for the Sunday procession. In Italian, the floral tapestry is called the “Infiorata” and if you’re traveling through Italy in June (this year it’s on Sunday, June 2), make your way to a town where this religious festival is celebrated. Near Rome, the largest floral tapestry is made in Genzano; the tapestries in Palestrina and Genazzano are also worth a look. Pray for good weather!!

Here is the link to the photos:

mercoledì 15 maggio 2013

Ninfa Gardens

Ninfa Botanical Garden
What could be more relaxing than a stroll through the colorful, botanical garden in Ninfa? The gardens were created in 1920 on the ruins of the medieval town of Ninfa, after battles destroyed most of the original structures hundreds of years ago. Today you’ll find that roses and scented climbing flowers have taken over the stone buildings and now gracefully decorate the fallen arches and bridges. It’s a perfume-filled visit with colorful surprises around every corner. Rare plant varieties and scented beauties everywhere. Highly recommended for those who don’t like to rush, for those who love a great photo opportunity and for plant and flower enthusiasts. Definitely an excellent day trip for also viewing the cyclopian masonry of Norma, the town of Sermoneta, the Abbey of Valvisciolo, the Caetani Castle...
There are some great photos accompanied by historical and practical information on the Ninfa garden’s official website:

Here is a video of some of my photos:

martedì 16 aprile 2013

Walking in the woods near Rome

So I've been in Italy for quite a while and I've gone hiking in the woods quite often. But last Sunday my husband and I went on a hike with the cultural association called "A Refera" and had a fantastic time. It might have been the first time we didn't get lost! Or end up fighting about who knew where to go... It was a beautiful, sunny day and we passed numerous refreshing waterfalls and pools as we followed the stream up to the Cannucceta Nature Reserve where there are important Roman aqueducts. Then up we went toward the hill town of Rocca di Cave (where there is an astronomic observatory housed in the town's castle), we passed the road where you can find fossilized sea shells in the rock, and then we went back down to the town of Cave, through scented fields and wooded areas with amazing views.
Here is the calendar of events for future 2013 excursions organized by A Refera's leader Alessandro Sapochetti. Here is his email:, for anyone interested in joined the group for a hike in the woods near Rome!

Excursions in 2013 with "A Refera"

24 March
Cave – Mon. Nat. “La Selva” di Paliano
7 April
Cave – Mon. Nat. “Valle delle Cannucceta” - Rocca di Cave
21 April
Ciciliano - Santuario della Mentorella
5 May
Monteflavio - Monte Pellecchia (M. Lucretili)
19 May
San Vito R. - Monte Calo (Capranica P.)
2 June
Cona Selva Piana (Carpineto R.) - Monte Malaina (M. Lepini)
16 June
Poli - Guadagnolo
30 June
Camerata Nuova - Camposecco (M. Simbruini)
14 July
Valle Caprara (Castel Madama) - Guadagnolo
28 July
Pian della Faggeta - M.Erdigheta - M.Semprevisa (M. Lepini)
25 August
Piani di Pezza - Rif. Sebastiani (Parco Velino-Sirente)
8 September
Parco degli Acquedotti (Gallicano nel Lazio)
22 September
Cave - Rocca di Cave - Fossa Ampilla - Genazzano
6 October
Fiumata - Sorgenti Aniene - Monte Tarino (M. Simbruini)
20 October
Laghetti di Percile (M. Lucretili)

And here is a slide show of my pictures from the day...

giovedì 21 marzo 2013

Palestrina, closer to Rome than you think

Here are some pictures that I've taken in Palestrina where I rent my holiday home "Altavista".
I've been in Italy for 16 years (that means 16 years of marriage to an incredible and extraordinary Italian man). I met Umberto while I was working as a volunteer in Africa, teaching English in the Peace Corps. Meeting him was the strangest thing that ever happened to me. I had obtained my college degree and left a month later for Eritrea where I was teacher trained and language trained and enthusiastically jumped into a new role. One that seemed important because I was helping so many students, yet at the end of the day, I was the one who was taught some of the most important life lessons. And when I met Umberto in Asmara in 1996, I could sense he was someone special. Someone whom I couldn't just let slip through my fingers and hope to see again some day. He brought me to his home-town, Palestrina, where a drafty apartment without furniture in a 500 year-old building became my first Italian home. A lot has changed since those days, including two kids, various travels, a 5-year stint in Florence and...
Have a look at my photographs of Palestrina--its' a beautiful place to visit and closer to Rome than you think!

domenica 10 marzo 2013

Canale Monterano, Lazio

I would highly recommend a day trip to Canale Monterano, located in the province of Rome, near the lake of Bracciano. Enter the Riserva Regionale Naturale di Monterano ( and immerse yourself in a spectacular naturalistic setting. Hike through the woods and follow the flow of a sulphur water spring with its waterfalls and cloudy pools; you’ll come across various Etruscan aqueducts along the way, as well as volcanic rock deposits, sulfur gas spouts in the ground, an abandoned sulfur mine and copious sulfur deposits. A short walk up through the Etruscan staircase carved into the rock wall, and you arrive at the abandoned city of Monterano with it’s enormous aqueducts and the fascinating convent of San Buonaventura. Back down through the forest you’ll pass Etruscan tombs, and up through the countryside for many more Etruscan tombs (many still uncovered, other partially covered or uncovered and used over the centuries as homes and stalls). Beautiful park, especially if you enjoy hiking. We hiked for a full day, however there are various paths of different length to suit anyone. Here are some of my pictures:

lunedì 4 febbraio 2013

All Roads Lead to Rome
From Palestrina we have the Via Prenestina (formerly via Gabina because it passed through Gabii) which leads to Rome and also goes in the opposite direction toward Fiuggi. This ancient road is still uncovered in some places where the original polygonal basalt stone blocks can be seen. The roads were built to last, and 2000 years later you can still see them (where they haven’t been covered or dismantled), at times still smooth and flat, at times uneven from tree roots pushing through, other times with rut marks from the various carriage and cart wheels that passed over engraving their voice in history. For those of us who come from far away lands and find our way to Italy, the site of those Roman roads can be touching: it’s the combination of perfect workmanship, practical construction, and the beauty of smooth basalt. The age-old question comes to mind: why don’t they still make things the way they used to?