Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Pandemic Era

When this global pandemic is finally over, the repercussions will be felt for a very long time


My father was born in 1917 and was drafted into WWII in his mid-twenties. He fought in North Africa, Italy, and Sicily.

My dad (left) and his best friend, Chick, at Santa Cruz boardwalk

I saw my dad as someone who played his cards close to the chest. He built his world around his family and friends, and if you were lucky to be part of his inner circle, he had your back. He never talked about the war, but you could tell he was the kind of guy you wanted with you in the trenches—on the shores of Anzio or when you fell and scraped your knee.

My mom came into the world in October of 1929: two weeks before the stock market crashed on “Black Thursday”. Her childhood spanned the depression years and she was on the cusp of adolescence when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

RN Nancy

She was a registered nurse until her third child was born. I don’t think she owned a credit card until I was in middle school, and even then she paid the balance each month. She believed if you couldn’t afford something, you shouldn’t buy it. Mom taught herself how to sew so that she could make my school clothes. Every week we had a left-over night and camping trips were our family’s vacations.

As a survivor of this difficult period in history, how do you think today’s pandemic era will change you?


Read Full Post »


It’s day 14 of Italy’s nationwide Coronavirus lockdown and things are looking pretty grim. As we struggle to digest the barrage of statistical grafts with redlines climbing upward and social media posts spreading false information faster than the virus itself, it’s important to acknowledge some of the positive by-products of living through a global pandemic.

In the last two weeks, I’ve heard from former neighbors, old school chums, and complete strangers. I’ve chatted on the phone. I’ve had my first “virtual” aperitivo with friends on Zoom. It helps to know you’re not alone.

As work evaporates, we need to replace that time with productive activities. I found a DIY video for making surgical masks at home. I don’t have a sewing machine, but I was able to MacGyver the operation using new tea towels, iron-on fusing, embroidery thread, and shoelaces. They aren’t medical-grade, but I’ve gifted them to friends to limit the number of death stares they get at the grocery store and pharmacy.

I’m becoming a better cook and I can now make a decent cup of coffee.

Silver linings.

Read Full Post »


the day before

In the days leading up to Italy’s Coronavirus outbreak, I took a rather Pollyannaish stance on the impending health crisis. I preferred to look on the bright side, figuring the panic and hand-wringing was all for naught. I was wrong. Our entire country is now on lockdown—a measure aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 and thereby limiting its reach to the most vulnerable among us.

It’s not the virus I want to address here today, but rather Italy’s spectacular response to it.

When Prime Minister Conte announced on Monday night that the whole of Italy would become a zona protetta (protected zone), I was partly shocked and partly relieved. The government was taking drastic measures to protect the welfare of its citizens and at that moment I felt a deep sense of pride for my adopted country and its inhabitants.

After the decree was handed down, there appeared a rash of international headlines posing the question, “Would Italians be able to follow the rules?” Well, the answer, at least in my little town in Umbria, is a resounding yes!

Early Tuesday morning as I was getting ready for my day, I could hear the sound of ladies pulling carts down my alleyway, scooters were humming, and voices were speaking in optimistic tones. Around the corner at my neighborhood bar, coffee cups clanged as folks discussed the Coronavirus guidelines while keeping a safe, one-meter distance for each other. The scene at the supermarket was much the same. Patrons weaved in and out to avoid contact, yet people appeared relaxed and upbeat. Clustering is bad. Walking in the sunshine is good. We stay at home as much as possible. Hashtag #IoRestoACasa (I stay at home) is trending on Twitter.  


11 March 2020

I don’t know why Italians have sprung into action so magnificently. Perhaps it’s the culture’s reverence for its elderly and infirmed. Maybe, as my friend suggests, they are inspired by the notion of solidarity against a common enemy.

Italians endured the black plague, defeated fascism, and survived Berlusconi.

They got this.


How to socialize in the time of Coronavirus


Read Full Post »


Photo by Toni DeBella

It’s hardly a secret that the Netherlands is home to the most bicycles per capita than anywhere else in the world. Statistics reveal that 17 million Dutch people own 22.5 million bicycles (1.3 bikes per resident) and there are upwards of 55,000 kilometres of bike lanes stretching from north to south and east to west.

Perhaps nowhere except Copenhagen is a city quite as bike-friendly as Holland’s capital of Amsterdam. From cradle to grave, citizens can be seen straight-backed and confident as they pedal around their unique city, come rain or come shine. Come hell or high water.

Before taking to these canal-lined streets on two wheels, here are some things you ought to know about biking in Amsterdam:

1 There’s a lane for that

Brick-hued, one- and two-way bike paths snake through charming neighbourhoods and grey pavement is marked with pedestrian symbols (specifying footpaths) or bike symbols (indicating cycle and scooter lanes.)

2 There’s a traffic sign for that

Along with traffic lights for motor vehicles, there are also designated signals for pedestrians and bicycles. Don’t forget to look both ways before crossing the street!

3 Road rules made simple


Photo by Eliad Yaholom

Follow road signs, stay to the right, give the right-of-way to pedestrians at zebra crossings, comply with caution signals, and keep pace with the flow of bike traffic.

4 They paved paradise and put up a parking lot


Photo by Toni DeBella


Parking guidelines require that you place your bike in an allocated parking spot (on a rack or at an indoor parking facility). Bikes illegally parked will be confiscated and stored in the city’s Bicycle Depot. To avoid theft, always lock your bike to something secure and immovable.

5 He who hesitates is lost


Photo by Becky Day beckyday

If you’re a novice cyclist or you haven’t been on a bike for a time we suggest joining a guided bike tour or explore the city on foot. Amsterdam on a bike is not for the faint of heart (see number “6” below).

6 The most dangerous thing in Amsterdam is…


Photo by Slaunger

…a tourist on a bicycle. To enjoy Amsterdam safely you should be well versed in the rules of the road and follow them to the letter. Read about cycling safety here.

7 The second most dangerous thing in Amsterdam is…


Photo by Steven

…a tourist NOT on a bike looking at a map. Pay attention to where you’re going or suffer the unpleasant consequences.

8 Fun fact

am barge 2

Did you know that there is a crack team of city workers charged with cleaning up Amsterdam’s numerous waterways? Incredibly, they pluck more than 15,000 bikes annually from their aqueous graves.

Bonus: insider tips

Here are some dos and don’ts to make riding a bike in Amsterdam more enjoyable and safer:

  • DON’T stop abruptly in a bike lane. DO pull over.

  • DON’T use a cell phone or read a map while moving.

  • DO keep a safe distance between you and the bike in front of you.

  • DO put out your arm and point in the direction you’re intending to go.

  • DO use a light at night.

  • DO use your bell to alert someone that you want to pass.

  • DON’T bike more than two across.

  • DO or DON’T wear a bike helmet (they’re not required by law).

  • DO avoid rush hour when cycling can be the most harrowing and chaotic.

  • DO cross tram rails at an angle to avoid tires getting stuck in the groove.

  • DON’T cycle when drunk or under the influence.

For more information on booking guided bike tours in Holland, France, and Italy contact Amsterdam-based YuBike. You can also find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Read Full Post »

Sometimes a plan just comes together. Last October a wonderful group of artists of all levels and from all corners of the world gathered to paint and sketch our little hill town. They took the city by storm!


Sketch tour at Comune.

And their work was simply wonderful…

Margaret Wheaton, Florida, U.S.A.

MWheaton Orvieto

“Lovely bells ringing, but then the rain returned!”

Yvonne Fay, Manchester, UK


Alistair Duffield, Singapore


“I had a great time in Orvieto. It is a wonderful, friendly Italian hilltop town and the week is not only about sketching and painting, but the town, its people, great restaurants and food. Well organised by Toni and on top of that sketching/painting every day was a joy – guided by Kelly. “


Erin Lee Gafill & Tom Birmingham, Big Sur, U.S.A.


“Kelly is a simply great teacher and Orvieto is the ideal place to learn. I absolutely loved the experience and can’t wait to come back and do it again! Kelly’s lessons are invaluable and serve me well every day in my own painting practice.”


Valéria Salgueiro, Brazil

V. Salgerio

“The whole week period, from Monday to Sunday, was very well organized in every respect – accommodation, special activities with local people and, obviously, the thematic painting workshops. In a word or two, everything run as planned and informed to all participants, and the results were well above our expectations. Kelly is an excellent artist and a lovely person, and each day she explored different aspects involved in painting such as composition, sense of space, light and shadow, color, texture asw. All this occurred in a very friendly and respectful climate, so that I left Orvieto with that great feeling I did the right choice. I would not hesitate to strongly recommend Kelly Medford’s workshop to whoever wishes to put together a traveling, painting and making friends experience in unforgettable Orvieto.”


Jane Stephenson Bumar, Florida, U.S.A

JBumar 2

“Every day was beautifully structured to present completely different experiences and lessons carefully guided by Kelly Medford who is such a genius at working with all levels of artist from beginning to professional. Such an enriching, magical and supportive experience all around.”


Jane Driscoll, South Carolina, U.S.A.


“Sketching Orvieto” with Kelly Medford was a wonderful experience. Everything was perfect – the magical location, local culture, delicious food and, of course, Kelly’s excellent instruction.”


We would love to have you at Kelly’s next Sketching Orvieto Workshop. Find out more below…




Read Full Post »

I’m so thrilled to announce that my good friend, Kelly Medford (of Kelly Medford Art and Sketching Tours Rome) and I are collaborating to bring her famous Watercolor Sketching workshop to Orvieto this October. It’s open to anyone who wants to spend a week painting and experiencing Orvieto, one brush stroke at a time. To register or find out more, go to Kelly’s website, as spaces are limited. Share with anyone who might want to join us. Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions. PAINTING ORVIETO, KELLY STYLE!


kelly paint orvieto


Read Full Post »

It’s a message I’ve been attempting to get across to travellers for years. It’s become my own, personal mantra. I’ve recently made it an Instagram hashtag. I’ll shout it from the rooftops, if I have to…

One day is not enough to fully experience all the wonders that Orvieto has to offer!”

the food.


Pretty cauliflower


umbrichelli tartufo

Umbrichelli al tartufo nero


gelato on the steps of the Duomo di Orvieto

the wine.


Barberani Foresco red


white wines anyone?

febo wine

a little Prosecco to take the edge off

the art and culture.

Luca 2

Luca Signorelli’s Masterpiece



Famous rooster ceramic pitchers


Christmas magic

the lifestyle.



Ahhh, life is good.





and the people.


Cheese, please.


Keeping up with the news.


Friends with boots.

Repeat after me! Orvieto is NOT just a day trip from Rome!

Come. Stay. Enjoy!


Read Full Post »

*** Note: This post has nothing to do with Italy, other than I’m writing it from Orvieto.


My personal list of the eleven things we should stop doing on social media right now:

1.  #instagramming “foot shots” by the pool or at the beach.

Feet are ugly.

2.  Posting photos of your medical procedures.


3.  Sharing bogus news stories and urban myths.

Two words: Snopes.com people.

4.  Arguing with trolls.

You’re feeding the beast.

5.  Food styling your dinner rather than eating it.

Chefs and food writers excepted.

6.  Sending chain letters.

Your friends don’t want them. Trust me.

7.  Giving daily updates of your new love affair.

It’s nice that you’re blissfully happy, but when and if the romance ends your heartbreak will be in Facebook’s memory forever.

8.  Posting seductive selfies.

Smile normally and drop the fish face.

9.  Asking advice about sensitive things on behalf of other people.

“Does anyone know a good gynecologist for my 11-year old daughter? She just got her period.” Um, Noooooooooo!

10.  Using Facebook Live.

Unless you’re the host on of a History or Travel Channel show, don’t narrate yourself doing stuff.  

11.  Writing “what not to do” pieces on your blog.


Read Full Post »

Photograph by Wendy Dreary

I could start a series about the hundreds of things I’ve walked past, wondered about, and then just kept going.

One of those things is the enormous golden statue of Christ perched above Roma Termini. For years I’ve exited the station on the Via Marsala side, looked up in awe at that glistening Jesus in the sky but, I’m sorry to say, never bothered to take a closer look. That is, until today.

The golden boy…

  • The statue is entitled “Christ The Redeemer.”

  • It’s made of gilded bronze and was sculpted in Milan by artist Enrico Canaanite.

  • In 1931, the effigy was transported to Rome where it was added to the Basilica del Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Castro Pretorio’s bell tower.

About the basilica itself…

Basilica del Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Castro Pretorio (considered a minor basilica) is quite modern as Roman churches go. Designed in the neo-Renaissance style, it was conceived at the urging of priest-turned-saint Giovanni Bosco. A rockstar clergy of his time, “Don Bosco” applied a little pressure on his friends at the Vatican and hooked up the architect Conte Francesco Vespignani to oversee the church’s construction. The basilica was finally completed in 1887—a year before Don Bosco’s death. A relic of the popular saint (a cotton swab soaked in the blood) is exhibited in a glass display case inside.

Basilica del Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Castro Pretorio, Via Marsala 42, Rome.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Wendy Dreary and Toni DeBella

Read Full Post »



Photograph by Toni DeBella

One of the advantages of living in Europe is its proximity to exotic places like…Marrakesh, Morocco. Marrakesh is one of the hippest, cultured, atmospheric, friendly, delicious, and surprising places I’ve ever been.


Watercolor by Kelly Medford

In preparation for my first journey to Morocco (and the continent of Africa, for that matter), I made a conscious decision not to “Google” the hell out my upcoming trip, but experience it with fresh, unfiltered eyes. I didn’t have low expectations. I had no expectations. Surprise, Marrakesh!

Astonishing Thing #1: Sparkling Streets


Photograph by Kelly Medford

I had no idea that the city of Marrakesh would be so clean! From the modern and architecturally stunning airport to the palm tree-lined (and pothole-free) roads, to the un-graffitied walls, to the dusty ancient streets of the Medina…all are absolutely pristine.


Photograph by Toni DeBella

 Astonishing Thing #2: It’s Organized


Photograph by Kelly Medford

The people of Marrakesh have rules and they actually follow them (hint, hint Italy)! In the Medina, motorcycles, bikes, and donkey carts travel on the left—pedestrians walk on the right. I didn’t see one collision (or even a close call) while I was visiting. Moroccans do traffic flow really well. I would call it organized chaos.

Astonishing Thing #3: It’s Safe


Photograph by Kelly Medford

You’ve probably heard stories about how unsafe it is to walk around The Medina without a local guide at your side. Bunk. Yes, a lot of people stop to ask if you need help finding something or they may offer to take you to their uncle’s/cousin’s/father’s spice shop; a simple “No Merci” easily discourages them. I walked all over the city unescorted and, truth be told, I worry more about having my pockets picked in Rome.

Astonishing Thing #4: Everything is Negotiable



Photograph by Christine Cantow Smith

It’s not normal for Americans to haggle over every single purchase we make, but in Morocco negotiating price is a huge part of the culture (and one I didn’t particularly enjoy). If you want to buy stuff in the Souks (outdoor markets), you’re going to have to play the game. After my third transaction, I hung up my shopping boots and went for a coffee (which is great, by the way). I just didn’t have any more fight left in me. 


Photograph by Christine Cantow Smith

Astonishing Thing #5: A Built-in Wake Up Call

Five times-a-day mosques deliver “a call to prayer” by loudspeaker; the first goes off at dawn. If you’re an early riser, no need to set your alarm clock. If you’re someone who likes to sleep in, I don’t know what to tell you. Nazir, a communications director for three museums who moonlights at Riad Dombaraka, explains that the call isn’t necessarily an obligation to pray, but rather a reminder for those who want to pray. (Watch the Video above).

Our bellhop

Our bellhop

From the first moment I arrived, I fell in love with Marrakesh and its super-cool vibe. I can’t wait to come back and see what other surprises this wonderful city has in store for me. ‘Arak qariba!

A big shout-out and bigger “shukraan” (thank you in Arabic) to my pal and artist Kelly Medford for inviting me to join her group during her watercolor workshop. For more information about upcoming painting workshops with Kelly click here.



Watercolor by Birgit Dreesen


Watercolor by Lisa Fedich

Watercolor by Lisa Fedich


Joe Painting

Joe Altwer

Photo credits: Toni DeBella, Kelly Medford & Christine Cantow Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: