Saturday, January 30, 2010

Guest Blogger: Pauline Kenny

Today we're joined by Pauline Kenny, the queen of slow travel and the brain behind the successful website,  She currently runs two informative travel sites, Slow Europe and Cotswolder.  We have been friends with Pauline and her husband Steve for about a decade now.  She is fun, witty, and *the* authority on vacation rentals.

I Love Vacation Rentals in Italy
Pauline Kenny, January 2010

Maybe it's because I’m a do-it-yourselfer. Or maybe I’m just a nester. Now that I think about it, I am probably a little of both. This is especially true when I’m on vacation for a few weeks. A small hotel is fine if I am spending a few nights in a city or doing a short driving tour of an area, but if I am in the Italian countryside for a week or two I want to be in a vacation rental. I want my own apartment or house with a fully equipped kitchen and room to spread out. I don’t want a concierge to hand me a map with all the “must sees” marked; I want to spread out my maps, consult my guidebooks and figure out exactly where I am going.

A perfect small house in the Val d'Orcia, Tuscany

I love historic Italian houses with their thick stone walls and uneven tile floors, with doorways that I have to duck to go through, with lush gardens where I can find a spot to sit and enjoy the views of the magnificent Italian countryside. I like to learn my way around the kitchen, see where the owner has stored the glasses, figure out how to work the stove. There is a great feeling of accomplishment sitting down to a meal that I made myself with fresh market ingredients in an Italian kitchen.

Living in a vacation rental makes me head out to the local shops for household things and ingredients for our meals. I love wandering around an Italian grocery store (alimentari), seeing the different items they sell. I have purchased way too many “Made in Italy” clothes pegs just because they are different from what I see at home. I love the personal interactions with the shopkeepers. I like to examine each cafe in the village, pick one to be “mine”, then go and introduce myself to the barista (actually my husband Steve, who speaks Italian, is in charge of this). Then we go back once or twice a day and become “regulars”. These types of things make me feel like a local and give me a strong connection to the area.

You are spoiled for choice when looking for a vacation rental in Italy. Do you want to stay on a wine estate in Tuscany? In a medieval village in Umbria? In a place with a view on the Amalfi Coast? Up a narrow lane in the historic center of Rome? They got all that and more.

The terrace of a house in Cetona

Italy has more vacation rentals per square mile than any other country in Europe. The Italian government encourages farms to offer vacation rentals through their agriturismo program, adding to the availability of interesting properties. Northern Europeans have been traveling to Italy for sunshine, great food and wine for decades. In the last couple of decades Americans have fallen in love with Italy and flock to the beautiful countryside.

To help travelers navigate the world of vacation rentals in Italy and the rest of Europe, Valerie and I are writing “profiles” of various vacation rental businesses on my Slow Europe website – highlighting locally-run agencies, agencies based in the US, and owners of farms with vacation rentals. We are trying to put a human face on this sometimes bewildering world of vacation rentals, to make it easier for travelers to make that “leap of faith” booking a place you have never seen, several months before your trip, and sending off that large deposit.

These profiles let you meet the people who run the vacation rental agencies, get to know them and their businesses, find out how they operate and how they got started, and see what kind of insider tips they offer. We are adding new profiles every month. Read our Travel Company Profiles, then check out their websites.

My husband Steve with the owners of a villa near Assisi

If the world of European vacation rentals is new to you, read my Vacation Rentals Guide, which tells you everything you want to know about finding and booking vacation rentals in Europe.

Valerie and Bryan followed their dream of living in Italy for several years. Maybe we can’t manage that, but we can live the dream for a few weeks by staying in a vacation rental. Start by visiting the vacation rental websites, look at places and prices, then find the guidebooks and great Italy Travel blogs (like this one) and read, dream, picture yourself there – then take the leap and book a vacation rental for your next trip. You’ll be glad you did!

“Don't dream it, be it”, Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975.

Pauline Kenny lives in Boulder CO with her husband Steve Cohen and cat Buddy. She runs two travel websites: Slow Europe, guide to finding vacation rentals in Europe and Cotswolder, travel guide for the Cotswolds, England.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy Birthday!

Wow! I can hardly believe it, but 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree turns 5 years old today!  It was in 2005 that I ventured into the uncharted cyber waters of blogdom, dubbed myself a blogette because I thought 'blogger' sounded too amphibious to me, and began writing about bad haircuts, springtime tumbleweed slaughters, and my distaste for garage sales.  I chronicled our near-drowning on the Rio Grande, cursed the obnoxious new neighbors who obliterated our beautiful view, and told about some of the beautiful places and traditions around our beloved New Mexico.

I revealed our dream of moving to Italy, and then detailed the plans and stages of the move.  The name still reflects that New Mexico-Italia duality.  Why 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree?  Many have puzzled over it and quizzed me about it.  I wanted something punchy (because why be boring if you don't have to?)  Baci is our pet name for each other, sort of our equivalent of "sweetie" or "honey." It also happens to be our favorite Italian chocolate indulgence (dark chocolate-hazelnut, nature's perfect match!).  Pinon is the state tree of New Mexico.  It sounded snappy and a little funny.  Besides, back then I didn't think anyone would actually start reading and following my journey!

Along the way I fulfilled my dream of living in Italia, became a freelance writer, and recounted the joys and tears of the past five years.  I've received some nice accolades, helped others in their genealogical searches and Italian moves, and have met some wonderful people...all because I started typing into a keyboard and putting it "out there" for others to read. 

Thanks for coming along on the ride.  Stay the journey continues!

To celebrate the birthday, I'm throwing a party...and to get in on the fun, all you have to do is show up!  Just put your name on the guest list (ie, leave a comment) and you'll be registered to win a fabulous, tasty and cute Perugina Baci trinket - complete with candy, of course - from bella Italia.  Just leave a comment before January 31 and one lucky birthday guest will get the door prize!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Guest Blogger: Giorgio Tomassetti

Many of our Italian friends have said that they enjoy talking to us about Italia, as it allows them a glimpse of their country through the eyes of foreigners.  It gives them a perspective on things they take for granted or just may not think about as being signficant.  Today we're doing that right here, as my friend Giorgio Tomassetti, an Italian college student, tells us what he likes about the U.S. of A.

Top Ten Things I Like About America:

10. The American Dream

The American Dream is what distinguishes America from the rest of the world. It is the reason why so many people moved to America throughout the years. Maybe it’s not as strong as it used to be, but for sure it’s not gone. Obama showed the world that the American Dream is still in place.

9. The ability to empower ideas
Many foreign people, even today, decide to move to the U.S. because they understand that by doing so they will be able to work on their ideas. Many countries have tried to replicate the American venture capital market for example, but no one was able to do it. I believe that it’s not just about money, it’s also about culture.

8. Meritocracy
I think that Americans should be aware of the fact that they live in the most meritocratic country in the world. It is true that not always the best are rewarded, but I’ve seen that there is at least the attempt to be meritocratic most of the times.

7. The cultural diversity
America is the world’s melting pot. This can be an advantage because it forces you to be open-minded and respectful of others. The idea that all men are created equal is the foundation of the American culture.

6. Think big
In America everything is big, or at least that’s what a foreigner perceives. When you see a gallon of milk in the supermarket, you understand that you are in America. Even in businesses the idea of “making things big” works pretty well; just look at how many franchises are out there. That doesn’t always happen in Italy. For example, a small business is most likely to stay small for the rest of its life.

5. Air-Conditioning
Air-Conditioning is not as popular in the rest of the world as it is in the U.S. It’s almost everywhere! Some Italians argue that air-conditioning is bad for your health, and maybe it’s true, but I personally love it because it makes summer more enjoyable.

4. Steakhouses
Before going to America, I didn’t know that eating in a steakhouse could be such an enjoyable experience. I just like the food they make there.

3. Dr. Pepper
I think Dr. Pepper is something you just love or hate. Well, I love it.

2. Free refills
I like the fact that some American restaurants and fast-food joints offer free refills on soft drinks and coffee. It makes the meal more enjoyable. Unfortunately I know that it’s bad for my health to drink too much of them…

1. Houses
Last but not least: the American house. When a foreigner thinks about it, he pictures a nice house, with at least two floors, a garage and a very nice garden outside. But from my experience in the US, I can say that the house is probably the most important thing a person owns in America. It’s just not the building, it’s something more.

Giorgio Tomassetti is a college student Carlo Cattaneo University in Milan, studying Business Administration.  He writes two blogs, Giorgio Tomassetti and Come si fa...  For more interesting insights on life in the US, visit the blog he kept during his year as an exchange student in WV, Un Anno a Stelle e Strisce.

Related Posts:

Giorgio's Previous Guest Post

Running With Bulls and Dancing With The Pope

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Guest Blogger: Jessica Spiegel

While I'm signing paperwork to buy a piccolo appartamento way down in the ankle region of the boot, Jessica Spiegel, of the fabulous site Italy Explained, is joining us here in the Pinon Tree, and doing a fine job convincing me that I need to revisit Venice. 

Venice was the first city I set foot in on my first trip ever to Italy, and it's still one of my favorite cities on earth. I think I'm stealing this line from another Venice fan, my friend Christine Cantera, but I have an enormous crush on Venice.

To me, Venice is like the high school bad boy - y'know, the impossibly gorgeous one - who tempts you with promises you know he can't (or won't) keep, who breaks your heart every time he pays attention to another girl, and who you'll still give another chance (and another, and another) even though you know you probably should just walk away and find another boyfriend.


If I'm being perfectly honest, I'd actually prefer to have a huge crush on a different Italian city. When people ask me, "What's your favorite place in Italy?" I'd really rather not sound so cliched when I reply, "Venice," but there it is. Sure, there are lots of places in Italy I love dearly, and several which I think I'd actually live in before I'd take up residence in Venice, but I have yet to visit an Italian city that makes me swoon or forget myself so completely as Venice does.

I've written about Venice often on my website, usually starting from the premise of helping people get past the things about the city that make some travelers return with stories of how much they hated it. For years, I've almost taken it personally whenever someone told me they'd had a bad time in Venice, and I would try to do anything I could to get them to reconsider, try again, change their mind. But I've become a bit less forgiving lately.

In other words, Venice travel advice-seekers, if you're not prepared to put in a little effort, then you might wanna think twice before you ask me for help.

I know what it takes to love Venice, and I also know prefectly well that Venice doesn't always make it easy. Remember that bad boy in high school? He wasn't easy to love, either, but you did it anyway. You made concessions, you overlooked faults, you ignored the warnings from family and friends. Of course, he finally did break your heart one too many times, and you eventually did find another boyfriend - one your mother could love, too - but you'd be lying if you said a piece of your heart didn't still kind of pine for the bad boy.

(Am I revealing too much? What were we talking about? Oh yes. Venice. Ahem.)

Venice takes effort. Venice requires that you look beyond the crowds of people shuffling like so many sheep between the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark's Square (and the cheap, crappy trinkets sold by nearly every shop along that route). Venice demands that you take a back road or two (or twelve) in order to find good food. Venice asks you to part with more of your travel budget than you'd really like to, especially for a city so small.

In a nutshell, Venice is work. But it's worth it.

Will you visit Venice, check it off your list, and then make the decision to turn your back on the bad boy in favor of nicer boyfriends in the future? Maybe. But if you do Venice right the first time, I defy you not to pine for it years later.

And when you find yourself sighing in that way only a beloved ex can make you sigh, come find me. Then we'll talk.

* * * * * * *
You'll find all kinds of helpful travel tips and practical information on Jessica's site, Italy Explained.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Almost There!

I leave tomorrow.  My suitcase is crammed full, my carry-on is ready, and last-minute snags are being ironed out (tocca ferro!) after about twenty international phone calls.  I've been invited to a birthday party the day of my arrival in Rome, and am looking forward to meeting my "brother's" fidanzata (fiance).  I'm running through mental lists hoping that I have everything I need, but at this point if it's not already in my suitcase, ain't no way it's going to fit in there now!

I'll be absent from the blog for about three weeks, but the nest will be anything but lonely.  I have some fantastic guests stopping by and a birthday bash planned, so be sure to come around and check out all the fun!

See you when I get back!

 The view from our apartment!

Friday, January 08, 2010

In The Homestretch

The long wait is about to end. One week from today I will be boarding a plane that will transport me to Italy where I will finally sign the paperwork on the apartment we are buying.

In typical fashion, what seemed to be a routine and easy transaction turned complicated, even beyond the owner's imagination. She had been under the impression that all the necessary title work had previously been filed. It had not. She inherited the apartment, and in order for her to sell it to us, she had to hire someone to trace the documentation and ensure that no potential claims could be made upon it. It required him to research and file official deeds and taxation records - back to her great-grandfather!

Not that we're complaining; we'd rather wait and have a clear and proper title than end up in a heap of trouble with someone trying to claim the property is rightfully theirs somewhere down the line. It's the other dozen or so details of the actual transaction, funds transfers, and appointment scheduling that are taxing my nerves and sending my stomach into a butterfly frenzy.

I've spent the week making a multitude of international phone calls and sending emails into the deep recesses of cyberspace where they disappear, never to be seen again. It will all work out; I'm confident of that. But the process has been made more complicated and nerve-wracking than it needs to be. We're just chalking it up as another form of the "marca da bollo" required to make this dream come true.

In between calls I had persnickety problems from Blogger as I tried to set up guest posts for my absence (sorry about your feed readers during that malfunction!), and have burned the midnight oil to complete a translation project before I go.

My suitcase is out of the closet. My carry-on bag is packed. My ticket and passport are sitting on my desk smiling at me. I'm in the homestretch...or as a friend said, "homestress," which is true, too...and will soon be starting the next part of our dream and adventure. It turns out I chose a very appropriate song as my year's soundtrack. Go With The Flow. A daily reminder right now.