Monday, July 14, 2014

A NICE surprise!


Haruko and I are planning a trip to the French Riviera in October, going by train from Florence to Nice, and since we're arranging things three months in advance, we were able to get train tickets for less than 30 euros each (one way)! It will take @ six hours and two train changes, but we'll travel along the Italian Riviera for several hours before we get to France, so who cares?

We also found lodging for four nights at a hotel in Vieux Nice, the central part of town, for only $55 apiece per night, which is less than my son has paid for cheap motels in the U.S.

Besides Nice, we plan to visit Grasse, famous for its perfume factories and Eze, along with several other scenic villages in the hills above Nice.  Monaco is also on the list. I'm tickled this came together so easily, and that I'll have someone to share the adventure with. On the way back to Florence, we'll stop in Genova for several hours.

Nice, here we come!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pienza on My Mind

Pienza  (flickr.com/people/sherseydc/)
As I slog through long hours of working on another online project, I'm spurred on by the awareness that the income from my efforts will allow me to spend several months in Italy again this fall. One of the destinations I'm headed to for the first time is Pienza, a small hill town south of Siena. I've made several attempts to get there in the past, but was thwarted by the uncertain transportation involved. It was especially difficult to plan while I was living in Zagarolo, as it required several train and bus changes. And buses don't run on Sunday, so I couldn't plan a weekend trip. But this year I'll be going there from Florence, which requires only two bus changes, and about 3 hours of travel. My friend Haruko will be accompanying me, which will make the excursion even better.

 
Val d'Orcia ( DWELSingapore)
One of the reasons that people flock to Pienza is because of the incredible landscape that surrounds the town, in the region of Val d'Orcia. You may have seen many photographs of the fields and hills of the region that have been captured on calendars boasting the beauty of Tuscany. Both Pienza and Val d'Orcia are World Heritage sites. Pienza was rebuilt as an “ideal town” in the 15th century. According to Wikipedia, "Intended as a retreat from Rome, Pienza represents the first application of humanist urban planning concepts, creating an impetus for planning that was adopted in other Italian towns and cities and eventually spread to other European centers."

As for Val d'Orcia:

"In 2004 the Val d’Orcia was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites under these criteria:
  • Criterion (iv): The Val d’Orcia is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was re-written in Renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing pictures.
  • Criterion (vi): The landscape of the Val d’Orcia was celebrated by painters from the Scuola Senese, which flourished during the Renaissance. Images of the Val d’Orcia, and particularly depictions of landscapes where people are depicted as living in harmony with nature, have come to be seen as icons of the Renaissance and have profoundly influenced the development of landscape thinking."

The countryside near Pienza (amorosa.it)
We've booked a B&B for two nights, planning to spend one day in Pienza and another in Montepulciano, another hill town in the vicinity. Montepulicano is famous for its wine. Montalcino, another hill town popular with wine lovers, is a third destination, if we can fit it in.

Montepulicano (miriadna.com)
Meanwhile, Pienza is just a dream....but the reality of going there is getting closer every day!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bring on the Bees!

Asiatic lilies in bloom
After a long stretch of non-stop work from February through May, I've had a few weeks off before the last big project of the season starts next week. I've been taking advantage of the free time to take long walks, swim and ride my bike, for several hours every day. And then there's the garden...lush from spring rains.

One of my favorite iris: a true beauty.
I had hundreds of iris blooming in May!
Though my son tells me I already do my part to encourage the proliferation of bees, we planted three new trees in the yard: a dogwood, a fig, and a cherry tree.

Brown Turkey Fig in the backyard.
Semi-dwarf cherry in the front yard.
White Dogwood in the side yard.
It's amazing how these small additions change the entire landscape of the yard, and will continue to change it in years to come. The ornamental cherry tree that I planted 10 years ago is now as tall as the house! I'm eager to see what these new trees will look like next spring.

Once July hits, I'll have more free time again to continue my walk/swim/bike regimen, and can start making serious plans for my return to Italy at the end of August. Two months in Florence, coming up! In the meantime, I will enjoy my yard and all the blooming beauty.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fun Resources for Learning Italian!

Winter is a great time for learning, and another activity I've been indulging in is improving my Italian. As time goes on, there are more and more fun ways to learn Italian, regardless of the learning level you desire. And there's no need to be in Italy to learn it!

My all time favorite way to learn Italian is talking with Italian friends on Skype. I've been doing this since 2006 through a language exchange website called My Language Exchange. The site matches you up with native speakers who want to learn your language. I've made many friends this way, and talk with 4-6 of them on Skype every week, for an hour each time. Over the years of our sharing, we've become good friends, and I visit them when I'm in Italy. I have Italian friends in Trento, Padova, Bologna, Modena, Grottammare, Parma, Rome and Salerno that have become like my extended family.

There are so many advantages to having a language exchange, not the least of which is learning the language. My friends teach me about their language, but also share information and news about their culture, politics, food, traditions, history: so much more than I could every learn from a class or a book. And since my Italian friends live in different regions, I get the benefit of hearing different accents and idioms. I've heard of other language exchange websites, but I recommend this one: http://mylanguageexchange.com/

Lately, I've come across several new FREE language learning websites that I've been enjoying, and each has something fun and interesting to offer.

Two that I've become addicted to, with their quizzes and challenges are Memrise and Duolingo:

Memrise - Learning, powered by imagination  (also has an app)
http://www.memrise.com
Memrise is an online learning tool with courses for many languages. Memrise uses flashcards augmented with mnemonics and the spacing effect to boost the speed and ease of learning.  Memrise was founded by Ed Cooke, a Grand Master of Memory, and Greg Detre, a Princeton neuroscientist specializing in the science of memory and forgetting. (from Wikipedia)
  
Duolingo  (also has an app that can check your pronunciation)
https://www.duolingo.com/
Duolingo is a free language-learning and crowdsourced text translation platform. The service is designed so that, as users progress through the lessons, they simultaneously help to translate websites and other documents. (from Wikipedia)

Another GREAT site is LearnItalianPod, which has hundreds of free podcasts by native Italians.  (The podcasts are great, but you have to subscribe to use their scripts and other tools.) http://www.learnitalianpod.com/ 

LingQ, which has conversations and scripts so you can read as well as listen
(Lots of free stuff, but they want you to subscribe to use some of their tools.)
http://www.lingq.com/
LingQ is a Vancouver-based language learning website that focuses on language learning through structured reading, rather than grammar instruction. (from Wikipedia)

Some other resources
Italy Magazine, which has a section of dual language articles, in both English and Italian
http://www.italymagazine.com/dual-language

La Bella Lingua - a website that explains Italian words and phrases in English
http://becomingitalianwordbyword.typepad.com/

And just for fun, my friend Massimo told me about:  
YouTube videos of the David Letterman show, with Italian subtitles:
http://www.youtube.com/user/serpedaus/videos?sort=dd&view=0&shelf_id=2

So, settle in and check some of these sites out. You'll have fun while you're learning!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Big Snow, Big Chill

The big news here in Kansas is that it's a ccccoooooooooooold winter. Earlier this week Winter Storm Nika hurtled through the Midwest, and within 24 hours dropped 14 inches (@36 centimeters) of snow on us. Actually, it was a lovely storm, though it brought with it sub-zero temperatures, which has not been so lovely. Currently it's 6 degrees F (-14 C) and it got down to - 9 F (- 23 C) last night. The city  basically closed down for two days, and schools are still closed today, while city crews are trying to get all the roads cleared.

 
After the storm, the sun shines.
Fortunately for me, I don't have to worry about driving to work in the snow, since I work online in the comfort of my home. And I can walk to the supermarket down the street, if need be. But there's still the need to clear the sidewalks, and since I live on a corner, I have a lot of sidewalk to clear. The city gives us 48 hours after the end of the snowfall to clear a path for pedestrians: after that, property owners are subject to getting a fine if the sidewalks have not been cleared.

One side of the long sidewalk around the house.
Another saving grace: my neighbor has a large snowblower, and he routinely clears my sidewalk after a large snow. He cleared a path after the first eight inches, which saved me a lot of work. My son also helped out that first night. But during the night, another six inches fell, and I've been working on clearing the sidewalks and driveway for the past several days.

Mike with his snowblower. He's a treasure!
For some reason, perhaps due to the roundabout at the end of our block, our street was one of the last to be cleared. We have a good amount of traffic through here, and many cars got stuck trying to maneuver through the piles of snow that had been churned up.

Uncleared streets two days after the storm.

In contrast, my friends in Italy tell me that their winter has been warmer and wetter than usual, and flooding has occurred in many regions. For my part, I prefer the cold and snow. At least the sun shines most days! I have orchids and an aloe blooming in my house, and lots of sunshine. And if I need some exercise, I can always shovel more snow!