Pasta problems

After two weeks in Italy I have a problem.  A pasta problem to be exact.  I just got used to having pasta every single night.  Amazing pasta.  Oh my goodness, the food in Italy is so good.  It is surprising how many different ways you can have pasta and the skill it takes to cook this simple dish.

In Bellagio on Lake Como we took full advantage and tried it every which way.  One little restaurant on a tiny alley opened promptly every evening at 7 pm to a line up of people waiting to get in to grab one of the few tables in this little gem.  Thoughtfully the owners had a box full of cushions outside and people would grab a cushion and sit on the steps while they waited for their table.

bellagio trat

Even more thoughtfully the owners opened up a wine bar just across the steps (cannot call it a street) where you could sample some of the best Italian wines and when your table became available the cook would stroll across and summon you to your table.  Bliss.  How many ways can I eat pasta and drink Prosecco?

Aperitivo Bellagio

Now you might think that eating pasta every night (as well as drinking prosecco) might add to your waistline.  And you might be right.  YIKES.  However if you choose to stay in Bellagio you won’t want for exercise.  I am sure every hotel in this little town that may have an exercise room will find their treadmills and stairmaster machines unused.  Just getting around the town is a workout.  My hotel kept sending me warning emails that I would be required to walk up 38 stairs to gain access to the front door – and carry my own bag.  Fortunately I was travelling with carry on (I feel quite proud of that).

But here’s something they don’t tell you.  The cobbled stones on the streets of Bellagio are some serious cobblestones.  Boy, you will not need to go for reflexology after walking around the streets for an hour or so.

cobbled stones of bellagio

Strangely enough every restaurant we visited for pasta was excellent – except for one.  That was the one marked No 1 by Tripadvisor.  It didn’t feel like we were in Italy at all.  The manager was suave and smooth and while the food was good I don’t think there was a single local anywhere near the place.

After a week back in Calgary we just had to go out for some pasta – we were suffering withdrawal symptoms.  Well what can I say?


It’s not the same 😦

Are you able for Elba?

Able was I ere I saw Elba.  This is a palindrome – (a what?)

Definition –  a word, phrase, or sequence that reads the same backward as forward, e.g., madam or nurses run.

Ah so now we know …….  and this palindrome is attributed to Napoleon but he probably didn’t actually say it – I found this interesting article by historian Shannon Selin –  Her website

“Although attributed to him, Napoleon Bonaparte did not say, “Able was I ere I saw Elba.” This well-known palindrome – a word or phrase that reads the same backward and forward – first appeared in 1848, 27 years after Napoleon’s death. Someone named “J.T.R.” came up with the Elba line, along with “Snug & raw was I ere I saw war & guns.” (1)”

Napoleon had chosen Elba as his place of exile and in my opinion it was a pretty good choice.  This delightful island is not really on the radar for a lot of us travelling to Europe and the island has strict rules about development which has kept the authentic feel for the area.  It really is beautiful.

Elba-Island I always imagined that a place of exile would be somewhere miserable and hard to escape but it seems that Napoleon had a lucky break here although clearly he was restless to get back to France and back into action.    And he had to have developed a pretty thick skin because he was made fun of in Europe by all and sundry.



Actually his lucky break was not to last as he ended up on St Helena – which is another story.

But back to Elba – this really was a surprise to me – in fact their tourism tag is

Elba – an unexpected paradise.

All true!  Beautiful beaches, great hiking trails and lots of cycling groups.  Even golf!  Wine estates offering tours and tastings and the little fishing village of Porto Azzurro offers lovely harbour-front cafes and restaurants.

Still, Napoleon only stayed 300 days on Elba.  Only … wow – I could totally do 300 days on Elba!


Taking carry-on just got worse

I know – carry on is handy in a way but a big pain in the you-know-where at most times.  You end up hanging around airports with all your luggage and then worry about not getting space in the overhead bin.  Maybe the flight is really full so they offer to check your baggage and then you have to start rooting through your possessions to move stuff out.

Or else maybe your carry-on is a bit on the larger size and some bossy check in agent (sorry guys – I didn’t mean that – it was just for atmosphere) tells you to fit it into this ridiculously small metal frame.  Who invented that?  It doesn’t take into account zippers, luggage straps or labels.  So you squeeze and push and pant – my goodness – it’s like trying to get into a pair of Spanx.  You ladies out there will know what I mean.


Yes – you finally get the damn thing into the frame and get a caustic nod from the gate for you to carry on and board – and then you can’t get the frigging thing out.  Oh my …..

I could write books.

But the best story I read just recently was about a scam that is happening where an organised ring are robbing carry on bags – right in front of the other passengers and crew!

I first saw this in a story just a couple of days ago.  A business class passenger found that someone (also a passenger in business class) had opened up the overhead bin and had taken out his bag and removed some cash and valuables.  Read the full report and watch the video

I was really surprised to read this and then did a bit more googling (what did we do before Mr Google came along?).  It seems that this is a common occurrence and so various airlines and advisory groups recommend keeping an eye on your carry-on and not putting valuables in them.

Maybe this is why the fanny pack has come back into fashion.  (We called it a bum bag – fanny is a rude word in England).  This was a hot item during the 80’s – maybe some of you will remember.  After a podcast by Joe Rogan it suddenly became popular again – and it seems to make sense.  Kinda like a money belt but more. fanny pack

It’s not a new idea though – as per wiki –

“Bags attached to belts have been in use since antiquity in many cultures. One origin was the Native American buffalo pouch which was used instead of sewing pockets into clothing. Buffalo pouches may also be worn on the wrist or carried on the front of the chest via a neck strap or lanyard.  Ötzi had a belt pouch 5000 years ago. The European medieval belt-pouch is another antecedent which was superseded as clothing came to have pockets. The Scottish sporran is a similar belted pouch that survived because of the impracticality of pockets in a kilt.”

So maybe we will be seeing more of these bum bags (I know bum is not a nice word either – neither is fanny – could we call them waist bags?  But that might be confusing!)  Of course with anything coming back into fashion there is always going to be somebody who is going to come up with a twist ….. like this


It’s those shoes

Maybe men don’t have this problem but I am going to bet that a lot of women do.  How to take less shoes with you on holiday because you know they take up the most space in your luggage.  Now in the case of short people like me you just have to take a couple of pairs of heeled shoes – and they take up a fair bit of space.  Then you need walking shoes because you have to have something comfortable for all those steps and cobbled stoned streets.  Add to that the running shoes in case you manage to get in a run on your trip.  You cannot run in Sketchers.  If you are a runner you know what I am talking about.  For the non-runners I won’t bore you with tales of pronating and other running talk.  Suffice it to say that if you are planning to run outside or on the treadmill you definitely need your running shoes.  And if your running shoes look like my running shoes you don’t want to use them as casual shoes because they are ugly.


Honestly – my shoes have holes – really!

Then you need sandals – because it is going to be hot and it would look weird to wear high heels on the beach …. or maybe not


And heaven forbid they don’t match your outfit or colour scheme –
shoes matching

These shoes are starting to make quite the pile.  When I checked on my husband’s shoe plans he nonchalantly shrugged and said – “running shoes and sandals, that’s all”.

I wonder if anyone will ever invent a running shoe with a detachable heel that could transform in seconds into a trendy high heel shoe for evening wear?  Maybe with some crowd funding…. you never know.

Well what do you think … someone else is on it.  Not exactly a running shoe to high heel but pretty amazing really ….

Follow your family line

With the advent of services like Ancestry DNA people are discovering who they really are and where they really come from.  For those who study genealogy this is a huge boost to filling in the gaps of the family tree.  Travel plays a big part in this story and I have lost count of the people we have helped in their journeys overseas to check in on ancestral homes, villages and towns.

It is always interesting because usually the places people want to go to are generally off the tourist radar.  Small villages in Scotland, Ireland, Poland, Ukraine, Germany and the Czech republic are just a few of the places where people go to visit church yards, scan birth, marriage and death records and see if anyone in the village still carries the family name.

St Columbus Church Outer Hebrides (2)

Now this can be tricky.  This is why some people don’t like the idea of DNA at all.  Imagine getting a knock on the front door and a complete stranger is standing there telling you that he or she is your fourth cousin twice removed and they have travelled across the world just to come and visit you.  Mmm.  Might make you think twice?

stranger at the door

The other downside of a genealogy search overseas is that because you are probably wanting to get to very small villages or out of the way places you are probably going to be travelling independently – driving a rental car – staying in very small towns that have never heard of Sheraton Hotels.  The best accommodation might be just the small village inn.   This can sometimes be a challenge for us spoilt North Americans.  Bedrooms in European hotels are smaller and in some of the smaller villages you might even find yourself sharing a bathroom (horror of horrors).

Remember there is a reason for this.  You are not a tourist – you are a sleuth on the trail of your great great great grandfather – who was maybe a shoemaker in the Swiss Alps, or the harbour security man on a small island in the Outer Hebrides.  Enjoy the challenges and enjoy the discoveries along the way.  You might be obliged to eat Haggis in Scotland, Black Pudding in England or Grilled Pig’s ear in Spain.  If that happens follow Anthony Bourdain’s advice – never refuse a dish prepared for you by a local.  And when you are struggling to get that food down – remember – this is your ancestry – so enjoy it!


A room with a view …or not

Where to spend the night on your travels? A hotel, a motel, a bed and breakfast, VRBO, Air BnB …. check out the hotels on Trivago or go with Expedia.  It’s bewildering for sure.

Of course as a travel agency our primary go to would be traditional style hotels through a wholesaler but even our industry wholesalers are becoming more imaginative with the selection by offering apartments and even bed and breakfasts.  All well and good.  You think?  Mmmm – not so much.

But why?

Traditional hotels are still my favourite choice because I usually know what sort of standard to expect.  A stay at a Taj hotel for example – I know it is going to be luxurious and I also know it is going to be expensive but perhaps worth every penny when staying in an unfamiliar and exotic location.  By the same rule of thumb I pretty much know what I am going to get when I stay at a Sheraton or a Holiday Inn Express and for value for money I really think you can’t beat the Novotel chain in Europe.  All known quantities.

It is a bit different with the bed and breakfast market.  We do have programs in the industry offering self drive with overnight stays at bed and breakfasts – mostly in Britain – and these usually work out OK but I have had problems with people arriving late in the day where the B&B owner has rented out the room and has protected that guest at another B&B property further up the road.  A bit annoying for sure but I guess the reasoning is that if they are offering 3 bedrooms and someone wants to rent the whole house then they are going to bump the reservation for just 1 bedroom for that night to one of their B&B colleagues rather than lose that big sale.

Personally I cannot stand a bed and breakfast set up.  I always feels as if I am staying in someone else’s house (which I am I guess) and I don’t like the lack of privacy.  In a larger hotel there is the anonymity that I prefer – but that’s just a personal choice.

Online hotel sites such as expedia, and trivago etc. ….well – where can I start?  First of all these are good reference sites for checking hotels and getting a general feel for price.  If you look at the reviews you find good and bad – as in any review site.  I always try to look at the big picture.

And then there is the new kid on the block – Air BnB.  Well not so new really as it has been around for 9 years.  Clocking in with revenue at 2.6 billion.  Wow – not bad!  This is how they started … (courtesy Wikipedia).

Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia (right)

Shortly after moving to San Francisco in October 2007, he overstayed with a friend for many months before he found an apartment. His roommates and former schoolmates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia could not afford the rent for their loft apartment. Chesky and Gebbia came up with the idea of putting an air mattress in their living room and turning it into a bed and breakfast.[47][48] The goal at first was just “to make a few bucks”

I really can’t see myself going this route although I know my sister has scored some lovely places in Spain and Portugal with Air BnB.  I guess it all comes down to comfort level.  Speaking of which – a close friend recently booked on Air BnB somewhere north of San Fran …. sent me this picture of the house where they had rented a couple of rooms.

Air BnB

On a positive note – the owners were apparently very nice people 🙂  (yep…that helps I guess).  I think there is probably only one thing worse than ending up at an Air BnB like the above and that would be an evening at Fawlty Towers.



Overheard on a flight

Do you ever listen to other people’s conversations on flights?  Well sometimes you can’t really help it.  My experience is that if someone is having a conversation in the seat behind me it almost seems like they are talking right into my ear.  I am not sure if it is the pressurised cabin that creates this but this is maybe the reason so many people use noise cancelling headphones.

So yes – I do listen to other people’s conversations on flights – and I am not the only one it seems.  Lots of situations – some good – some bad – result from this.

Let’s look at a good one –  a young teacher from Chicago was on a flight in the US and started chatting to the next passenger.  She told him she taught at a school in a low income area and how the school community helped the kids by providing free breakfast, lunch and after school programs.  Her conversation was overheard and other passengers were moved to donate money – read the full story here  Read the full story here

That’s nice.  A happy ending.  Here’s a not so happy ending…. Have you ever been on a flight and felt fed up with the service.  Maybe you are delayed – stuck on the tarmac – frustrated.  You lean over and voice your dissatisfaction to your travel partner.  The flight attendant overhears you and you are kicked off the flight.  Sounds incredible?  But it’s true.  That’s exactly what happened to Whitney Miller and her father after hours of delay they were complaining to each other.  What they didn’t know is that the person behind them was a flight attendant with the airline.  She obviously was fed up about this and had them thrown off because she felt they were a “threat”.  Here’s the report AND some video

And what do you think would happen if someone sitting behind you tweeted out all the details of your private conversation to the whole world … well not exactly the whole world but 63.000 followers …Yep.  That is exactly what happened when a young good looking couple sat in front of Rosey Blair on a flight.  Now I have to confess that although Rosey has 63.000 followers I have never heard of her …. however.  I digress.  So the young couple started chatting and exchanging information.  They are both personal trainers and obviously were getting along famously …. too famously in fact because Rosey was tweeting live time about their conversation, how they looked at each other and even the fact that they both went to the washroom at the same time.  Really????  Over 630.000 retweets.  Goodness me.

The poor girl got totally harassed and insulted and had to delete all her social media accounts.

So there you go ladies – next time you get seated next to a handsome hunk on your flight  check who is sitting behind you and if you think they are tweeting about your private conversation maybe you just want to spill your coffee all over their phone!

spilling coffee

Now tweet that!