Pack for Italy in a carry-on

I’ve been spending a lot of time researching luggage and efficient packing. Several friends and travel mates who make carry-on travel look easy have inspired me. Bigger bags mean bigger effort.  In Italy, there are cobblestones, stairs and uneven surfaces that are wheel-crushing obstacles for a big suitcase.

Train travel is efficient and fun – especially with a small bag!

On my last train trip from Verona to Munich, when I couldn’t lift my 30-inch, 40-pound bag into the overhead rack, it was the last straw. It was me or my suitcase in my seat, and I didn’t want to stand for four hours.  I have all kinds of reasons to justify packing more, but half of what I pack often isn’t worn. And if I wear something 2-3 times, who will really notice? Or care?

Rick Steves’ travel guests don’t have an option: if you travel with him, it’s carry-on only. It sounds brutal, but it makes travel so much easier when you have a smaller bag. If my husband or hotel staff is helping me with my bag, I don’t notice it as much. But when I have to lift it, climb a flight stairs, jump on a train, unpack-repack – I realize how beneficial it will be to scale down.

I still love my TravelPro suitcases – especially with the spinner wheels. I’m also trying out a new hard-sided Samsonite on my next trip. There are many styles and brands out there to pack smart, travel comfortably and fare una bella figura – look fashionable. I recently came across these below/attached in Travel + Leisure magazine. They’re hundreds to thousands more than my bag, but they are a fun selection.

Say, for example, you had $7,000 burning a hole in your pocket. You could get the extravagant French carry-on suitcase: the Goyard Bourget Trolley for $6,700.  Or, you make it go a little further: get the Away carry-on ($475), take a trip to Italy, and have cash left over for those hand-painted dishes or Murano glass vase!

There are many handy how-to-pack videos on YouTube, and I encourage all you travelers to check out the great ideas and packing tools available now (packing cubes, “capsule” wardrobes, etc.) You will love your travels more when you can get around easily!

Three of the four trips happening yet this year will have stairs (Amalfi Coast), trains (Pompeii, Naples), cobblestones – and maybe even a funicular (Orvieto). Fun adventures and great memories ahead for 40 of you – and I’m happy to “consult” on packing if you have questions on scaling down.

There’s room for four more in October (the sites mentioned above.) Perfect time to practice good packing!

Happy travels,


Villages along the Amalfi Coast are built on a mountain side. You’re either going up or down stairs. With. Your. Suitcase.

Pasta recipe and travel ideas

Jan. 2019 Happy new year to all my family, friends and followers! I hope the new year holds adventure and joy for you.

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I have a recipe to share from the Amalfi Coast. Some of you have traveled there for the exclusive dinner with Gaetano (right) at Tenuta San Francesco. I have a recipe to share for the “broken pasta” dish his wife Eva served us. See below.

And as you plan your 2019 travels, consider joining us for one of these experiences:

  • Siena in the summer. This trip is the crown jewel this year: we’ll see the Palio horse race! Picture yourself on one of the few shaded private balconies watching the parades and pageantry below. And then: a most thrilling horse race! The Kentucky Derby on steroids. No fancy hats required – just a party spirit. Pick a contrada and cheer them on! (This trip is full, but we may repeat in 2020)

At right: The Campo Square, where the race will take place. 11 horses with jockeys, three laps around the square!

  • Amalfi Coast and Umbria wine country in August or October. Three trips remain in 2019 that include land and sea. We’ll stay in the medieval hilltop village of Orvieto north of Rome and in a charming seaside village on the Amalfi Coast. We’ll visit wineries, dine in a cave, spend a day on the sea in our private boat, tour the immense Pompeii ruins and more.
  • The February and May trips to North Italy are full, but we may repeat them in 2020. We’ll travel coast to coast, from Viareggio to Verona and Venice! 

Local recipe: Pasta e Fagioli (or as Gaetano calls it in Napolitano dialect: pasta fasul)


  • 3 15-oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 C extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 thin slices of pancetta (or unsmoked bacon) roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon each: parsley, oregano and rosemary
  • 4 C beef stock
  • 2/3 C diced tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 8 oz dry pasta (mix of broken pieces, shells, elbows, etc.)
  • Fresh thyme

Place two cans of beans in food processor to puree. Transfer to a bowl and mix in remaining can of beans.

In a deep skillet over medium heat, warm 3 T of olive oil. Add the onion and sauté about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, pancetta, parsley, oregano and rosemary, and sauté for another 4 minutes.

Add the remaining 3 T of olive oil, beef stock, tomatoes and the bean mixture and bring to a boil. Add the pasta, red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until pasta is al dente, adding some water if the mixture is too thick.

To serve, ladle the mixture into bowls and drizzle with olive oil and fresh ground pepper; garnish with thyme sprig.

The backstory on “broken pasta”: many years ago when much of Italy was impoverished and they didn’t let anything go to waste (they still don’t), they would make this Pasta and Bean recipe and throw in the last of the pasta bits for added substance. Pieces of shells, elbows, bow-ties, spaghetti. Fast-forward to now, and the traditional dish perseveres: you can buy a mix of broken pasta in the store – or make your own. I made this dish last night, and it tasted just like Eva’s. Success!

The Unicorn contrada, parading through the streets of Siena.
Our private boat, off the island of Capri.

How Far Would You Go?

That is both a literal and figurative question. To what lengths would you go and what distance would you travel to do something you’ve dreamed of?

Max Pezzali!

In April I did one of the most spontaneous, exciting and gratifying things I’ve ever done: I bought a concert ticket to see my favorite Italian singer. In Italy. With two weeks lead time.

Max, Nek and Renga. Singing along in the Verona amphitheater. #pinchme

Call me crazy (pretty sure my husband did), but it was SO MUCH FUN! And really, he was totally supportive and had fun watching me have fun – and I really had the time of my life. Have you ever “gone so far” with spontaneity? I’d love to hear!

It actually came together just like it was meant to be. Concert ticket, airline tickets, appointments with guides and wineries in Verona (I worked a little too) and then meeting my husband in Prague, Czech Republic, where he was for work. It was worthwhile for Cypress Tours and also soul-nourishing as I feed my wanderlust fire.

Valpolicella wine region near Verona

I highly encourage travel and adventure for so many reasons. Personally, I get a thrill that’s hard to beat when experiencing a different place, culture, food, language. Food-travel host Anthony Bourdain earlier this year said on “The idea of staying local—be it in a charming hotel or B&B—can help drive those unexpected moments and then some. I want to find a hotel in a neighborhood that has charm and character—the sort of place where I can walk to a café, sit down, and feel the place. You can’t take it in, driving by stuff. That’s not satisfying,” he says. “Travel moments can be magical.” That’s what I’m after for my guests and me – the life-changing, soul-touching magic of experiential travel.

My new friend Sara. I met her and her husband at dinner. Max fans!

I think that’s one of the things I love about taking groups on these adventures: I see it in your eyes and in your enthusiasm – and I experience it all over again through you. I love to make these turn-key opportunities become your travel-adventure reality.

Speaking of groups and adventures, I’ve taken 30 beautiful souls to Italy this year: Tuscany, Rome and the Amalfi Coast.

Looking ahead at 2019, I have growing lists for more locations in February, May, August, September and October: we’ll be in the north – Tuscany (Viareggio) and the Veneto (Verona, Venice) regions and again south, with stops in Umbria (Orvieto) and Campania regions (Pompeii and Positano.)

Please let me know if you’d like to be added to a list and I will keep you apprised. Everything for 2018 was sold out, but we have time to plan for 2019. Early signers get input on the itineraries!

Here’s to spontaneity, investing in yourself and nourishing your traveler soul!


The Famous Horse Race of Siena

It takes 90 seconds for the horses to run three laps in the Palio horse race in Siena. But it takes weeks of preparation and parties to get there.  “il Palio” is held twice a year: July 2 and August 16; both are celebrations around the Virgin Mary.

Image from above of the race course, crowd and the clam-shell-shaped Campo Square.

Ten horses are drawn by lottery to run for 10 of the 17 neighborhoods, or contrade, in Siena. Truckloads of dirt are placed around the edges of the main town square, il Campo, to create a racetrack. As the race nears, 10 jockeys also are drawn by lottery for the bare-back competition. Practice races are run, parades and pageantry are held, and then things get serious.

Banner for the August Palio in 1750.

Betting, bribing and strategy dominate the days leading up to the important race. The winning jockey could earn a nice wage. The winning horse is revered. In fact, a horse without a jockey can win, which happened recently at the Oct 20 “Extraordinary Palio.” And most important: the winning contrada earns bragging rights. The victorious neighborhood gets to fly their flag throughout their streets – and party like rock stars until the next race is run and a new winner takes over.

Bleachers fill up and crowds of people line the streets. Attendees flock to the center of the Campo Square to be in the middle of the excitement and be ready to celebrate the winner. But once inside, the square is sealed off; they stand, wait, watch, revel – for hours. You don’t eat, drink or have access to facilities.

Inside the normally quiet Campo Square. Great hang-out spot to sit, picnic, catch up with friends.

However; there are more comfortable options available to watch the race, like private balconies – and I’d like to take a small group for this experience. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event!

Through my friend in Siena, I have balcony seats reserved for the August race. We’ll have a buffet, beverages and – most luxurious – a private bathroom.

I am taking reservations now for this trip Aug 11-21, 2019, where we’ll watch the race on Aug. 16. In addition to this memorable and rare spectacle, we’ll also have a full cultural experience: visit Tuscan wineries, enjoy a cooking lesson and traditional meals, take private tours, stay in a countryside villa and more.

There are only 8 spots available (four left as of 11/5/18) for this exclusive tour, so please let me know ASAP if you’d like to join the adventure.

Other trips in 2019 include:

  • May:
  • August:
    • Siena for the horse race! (Aug 11 – 21) 4 spots left
    • Orvieto, Umbria and Positano, Amalfi Coast (Aug 22 – Sept 1)
  • October:

A Quick Look At Andrea Bocelli

I share a birthday with Andrea Bocelli. I’m not sure he knows it, but if I run into him in Tuscany, I’ll spill. On Sept. 22 he turned a young 60. He was born in Lajatico, Tuscany and now lives in Fortei di Marmi – not far from Viareggio, where we’ll be in February and May.

I’ve come across a couple things recently that are share-worthy. Not only is he a super talented tenor, but he’s a very thoughtful and down-to-Earth human being.

Blind since age 12, he thought nothing of windsurfing, skiing and skydiving. He doesn’t look at physical limitations the way you might think. “There is no impossible dream. If you have enough faith, discipline and humility, you can pursue just about any task.”

His 20-year-old son, Matteo, sings with him on his latest album. A friend recently sent a video of their song “Fall On Me”, which is so beautifully done. They sing to and about each other, and it includes old family photos. Very touching!  (Celine Dion has said that “if God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.) He’s extremely proud of his son’s talent, but also says he wants Matteo to chart his own course. “I know how much pressure there is and how many setbacks there can be. You want what’s best for your children, even though they need to find their own way.”

He has sung duets with countless singers from around the world during his nearly 30-year career, including his manager-wife, Veronica. He actually has a law degree from the University of Pisa (’87) and practiced law one year before taking a fork in the road that led to his magnificent singing career.

And in a world that can be so dark and negative, it’s easy to say no – to requests, to concerts, to many things. But yes is so much better, he says. “You say yes when you have your first kiss, when you want to make someone feel good, when you open yourself to new experiences. I always say yes – sì, sì, sì! – and it makes every day better.”  The title of his new album, out this month, is titled Sì.

One last cool fact: In 2006, Bocelli worked with his hometown Lajatico to build an outdoor theatre, the “Teatro del Silenzio.” He serves as its honorary president and performs for one night only, every July; the rest of the year, the theatre remains silent. He invites others to join him each year, like Italian performers Placido Domingo and Laura Pausini and American jazz musicians Chris Botti and Kenny G.

Here’s to music and a beautiful person!

Ciao, ciao,