Posted by: kimberlysullivan | November 17, 2017

600 posts!

600In case you are wondering, this is not my age.

Can you tell I have snippy teenagers/pre-teens at home?

But I’m a big fan of marking milestones, so why the heck not? 600 posts up on my blog deserves at least a pat on the back.

I began my blog back in 2012 to post about my passions for writing, reading, travel and everything Italian, and I’m proud that I’ve kept it going all these years and posts later.

It’s been a lot of fun, and a great way to meet like-minded writers and – something that seems lost too often these days – those who are not like-minded but are still fabulous writers and teach me so much about the world through their eyes.

The first 600 posts have been fun – hope I’ll be able to mark the next 600 (blogs, not birthdays…)

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Posted by: kimberlysullivan | November 14, 2017

Crunching through the leaves on my mountain bike in Abruzzo

Mountain biking, AbruzzoI’ve written about it before, but it’s always a pleasure for me when I can make a weekend escape out to the mountains in Abruzzo.

With my busy work schedule and my kids’ insane sports programs, this luxury is becoming rarer and rarer.

With my older son off at a tennis tournament in Germany, my husband tied up with work and my younger son – miraculously – free from running commitments, my little sprinter and I headed up for our first weekend in the mountains since the summer.

I’m wise enough to know that 50% of the family is as good as it gets these days …

Mountain biking, AbruzzoMy agenda was to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage. My son’s was to strengthen his quadriceps before a series of cross-country races.

We both got our wishes when we spent most of our weekend out on our mountain bikes, with plenty of trails to call our own. We met a few hikers and plenty of cows on our rides, but otherwise it was pretty quiet and the woods felt as if they were there all for us.

That solitude may have been a tougher thing when we miscalculated new sunset times and had to race back before we couldn’t see a thing.

Mountain biking, AbruzzoIn exchange, we did get to enjoy the sky painted spectacular pinks, purples and blues, before the almost full moon came out. Luckily, the wolves in the area stayed in their cozy dens. : )

What can I say? Life looks pretty good on a crisp, mountain weekend perched atop a mountain bike.

Since I no longer live in that type of climate, every time fall rolls around, I feel I miss the crispness of the air, the sound of the leaves the bike makes as you crunch through them, the glorious colors of autumn foliage. Weekend escapes allow me to get my fix.

Truly an idyllic weekend for Rome dwellers like my son and me. Happy fall weekends to all – wherever you are.

Mountain biking, Abruzzo

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | November 10, 2017

Wishing luck to all you NaNoers!

NaNoWriMoOnce again we’ve reached November, the month where crazy writers around the world embark in Marathon writing sessions under the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge.

The goal? To write 50,000 words of a novel during the month, and to do so by shutting down your internal editor and allowing yourself to be overtaken by your creative muse.

I never participate in this (worthy) challenge. Nevertheless, each year I am on the sidelines cheering my fellow writers on during this writing marathon. And it’s no different this year after a  little over a week of this November writing challenge.

Wishing my fellow writers much success as they do battle with word counts. Here’s to dedication, unbridled creativity, the spirit of competition,  and a passion for writing. Best of luck to all you NaNoers!

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | November 7, 2017

Turin’s salon: Piazza San Carlo

Piazza San Carlo, Turin, ItalyPiazza San Carlo is the iconic square in Turin’s historical center. Its nickname to locals is the ‘salotto di Torino’ – Turin’s ‘salon’ or ‘living room’: the natural gathering place for locals and visitors alike.

On a recent Saturday in Turin, it was here I had an appointment to meet with a friend of mine in town.

Iconically, we met under the horse statue, which depicts the Savoy King Emanuele Filiberto.

Piazza San Carlo was laid out in the 16th and 17th century. Before this, the area had been exterior to the city walls, but in the 16th century and urban renewal project expanded the city, which grew to the south.

In 1617 the architect Carlo di Castellamonte was charged with creating Via Nuova, which would later become today’s Via Roma, and this square which would bear his name.

Piazza San Carlo, Turin, ItalyToday, it’s the central heart of the city. The weekend I was there it held an international music festival, with a  large stage set up on one end of the square.

Warm days (not always a given in Turn) see the cafes and restaurants spilling over into outdoor seating on the square.

If you’re in Turin, chances are your path will lead you several times across the city’s ‘living room’ – Piazza San Carlo. Enjoy mixing with the tourists and locals on this picturesque square.

To see more Turin tips, see my earlier post on the not-to-be-missed Egyptian Museum.

Piazza San Carlo, Turin, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | November 3, 2017

Alice Munro on small town stories

“The writers of the American South were the first writers who really moved me because they showed me that you could write about small towns, rural people, and that kind of life I knew very well.”

Alice Munro

I like this quote from short story writer Alice Munro. And if anyone knows how to tell great small town stories, it is this talented Canadian writer.

That’s why I enjoyed learning that she herself was influenced by the stories of writers from the American south. It is true that these are most commonly big stories set in small towns, but filled with powerful emotions and beautiful insights into life – just like what I feel when I read Munro’s take on small town Canadian life. Obviously, minus the mint juleps, sultry summers, and Spanish moss …

What do you think, readers? What are your favorite small town stories/authors? And do you have a regional bias in your favorites?

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 31, 2017

Hiking in Provence’s Oppedette Gorge, France

Oppedette Gorge, Provence, FranceThis past summer, we spent a few days in Provence’s beautiful Luberon Valley, following a longer holiday in the Pays basque.

We had already been to this gorgeous corner of southeast France, but we were eager to return and find new areas to explore.

On our last visit to the region we had been to the beautiful Verdon Gorge, and we returned once again to Verdon on this visit.

Oppedette Gorge, Provence, FranceBut we were staying close to a smaller and far less frequented gorge – the Gorges d’Oppedette, so we decided to go explore for ourselves.

This was a great place to go hiking, with dramatic views and thin crowds.

All trailheads start close to a small parking lot at the gorge, and they are well-marked. The trails are relatively easy. We had stopped at a tourism office and the very helpful guide gave great advice, but perhaps exaggerated the difficulty of the trails. Yes, if one suffers from vertigo or is traveling with very young children, there are some steep drop-offs to consider before you go, but generally they are modest hikes and easy to do as a family.

Oppedette Gorge, Provece, France

Stretching my legs and admiring the wonder of nature – something I miss desperately now that I’m back in the city and the office

Our family had a good time on this easy hike, and enjoyed the views and stretching our legs before lots of driving and exploring little hill towns in the region.

There were plenty of hawks and birds of prey the kids enjoyed watching as they soared over the canyon.

Afterwards, we stopped by the little town of the same name – Oppedette, an adorable village with striking views over the canyon.

It felt a little like a ghost town, however, with beautiful holiday homes, seemingly with no one in them. Since this was the height of summer – and tourist season – it begs the question about what it looks like during the rest of the year. If anyone is looking for a retreat from the world, this may just be it!

Enjoy your hiking in the Oppedette Gorge!

Oppedette, Provence, France

Oppedette, Provence, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 27, 2017

I love Provence’s Le Bleuet bookstore

Le Bleuet, Banon, Provence, FranceWow – I’ve found my my new favorite bookstore in France!

We were on holiday in the Luberon valley of France this summer when we were told we had to stop off at the Bleuet bookstore in the charming little town of Banon.

We were visiting towns around the region, and so when we stopped in Banon, we toured around the beautiful town and then spent about an hour at the wonderful Bleuet before stuffing our already packed car with our purchases.

Billing itself as the seventh largest independent bookstore in France, le Bleuet was founded in 1990 and is housed in a series of buildings that have been joined together.

Le Bleuet, Banon, Provence, FranceThe bookstore is spread out over four levels, and contains a whopping 110,000 books – with an additional 190,000 in the warehouse.

I am embarrassed that, living abroad, I have to depend on Amazon as much as I do. It makes me want to cry when I click into their site for books and they want to sell me toasters, socks and baby clothes that I maneuver through to find the books. That’s why I love walking into independent book sellers like Bleuet, people who really care about books and reading. Le Bleuet also offers an interesting calendar of author readings at their store.

As a reader and writer, my conscience is much more at ease supporting independent bookstores like le Bleuet … and I wish they were closer by where I live!

I’ll be back when I’m next in this corner of Provence – and hope all you readers and book lovers will visit le Bleuet next time you are in Provence, too.

Le Bleuet, Banon, Provence, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 24, 2017

Colorful Basque homes & sweet chili peppers in Espelette, France

Espelette, Pays basque, FranceThis adorable Pays basque town not far from the coastline of Biarritz, is beautiful for its typical Basque homes. These etxe homes are white with colored half-timbering. The most common colrors for the half-timbering appear to be red and green, and the  town of Espelette is filled with fine examples.

This picturesque town is best known for its sweet chili peppers – introduced to the region from Mexico in 1650. The piment d’ Espelette has a place of honor in many local dishes. They are used fresh, dried, pounded into a fine powder. There are also chocolates on sale with this sweet chili pepper flavoring them.

Espelette, Pays basque, FranceThe chili peppers are grown in Espelette and in the neighboring towns surrounding it. They are harvested in summer and hung (picturesquely, to be sure) on long strings outside the pretty houses of Espelette – drying in the sun to the delight of the many tourists (myself included) snapping their photos.

Apparently, the official celebration for these local chili peppers is held at the end of October.

Espelette was also the hometown of Father Armand David (1826 – 1900) who was the first westerner to discover China’s panda bear.

Espelette, Pays basque, FranceLike many towns of the Pays basque interior, Espelette is surrounded by beautiful, rolling green hills. We had a great time straying from the rugged coastline where we were based and exploring this lush interior.

We had a very good lunch in a restaurant in town – complete, of course, with the local chili peppers. And we came home, as one is wont to do in this region, with a gateau basque, filled with sweet cherry filling.

A lovely, sunny day in the pretty Basque countryside. Be sure to stop by the postcard-perfect Espelette when you’re in this neck of the woods.

For some of my earlier tips on what to see in the Pays basque, see my posts on seaside  Guéthary, hiking the sentier littoral from France to Spain, Basque gravestones, and an overview of holidays in the Pays basque and beyond.

Espelette, Pays basque, France

 

Espelette, Pays basque, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 20, 2017

(Feels like) Summer reading: Americanah

AmericanahOkay, this weekend I had to take my son to the beach for a fun track and field workout session for him, but it also turned out to be a wonderful, relive-the-summer day for me.

At Ostia, the beach nearest Rome, the massive summer crowds were gone, but the weather was almost as gorgeous as those crowded summer days, and I sat through the hours-long workout, happy a clam, digging into Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.

This is one of those I’ve-been-meaning-to-read-for-so-long novels, so part of the bliss I felt last Sunday was that ‘Ah-finally!’ sense of relief, part due to that sparkling sun and bright blue sea that is just too perfect for an October day (How I love Rome!), and the rest is due to Adichie’s spectacular writing that had me lazily seated on my beach towel racing through the first 100 pages as my son and his track teammates raced endlessly (and exhaustingly) across the sand.

Can’t wait to read the rest, but I’m thrilled by reading such an enjoyable novel in such a perfect setting.

If only providing weekend taxi service to my kids were always this good!

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 17, 2017

Jogging in St Julian’s, Malta

St Julian's, MaltaFor those who read my blog occasionally, you may know I often pack along jogging sneakers when I travel – and particularly when I travel for work.

My work days can be quite long, and there’s nothing like starting out early (after I silently curse the dreaded ring of the alarm clock) and heading out for a jog to clear my brain and prepare mentally for the day ahead, while simultaneously getting a brief chance to “play tourist” as I cruise by the monuments. During a long and exhausting work day, I often think back fondly to those lovely jogs.

St Julian's, MaltaWhen I was recently in Malta for work, my sneakers accompanied me once again, but I was particularly proud of this morning jog.

That’s because I suffered a pretty bad ankle sprain this summer and I’ve been out of action on the jogging front for the past three months. My jog in St Julian’s was the first time I’ve been back – and it was glorious to – proverbially speaking – get back in the saddle again.

St Julian's, MaltaFrankly, I was surprised I could do it since it’s taken me a while to bounce back from this one. But my jog from St George’s Bay into St Julian’s and to the edge of Sliema gave me the confidence that I can get out there again on this old ankle.

I enjoyed my jog along the coastline, keeping an eye out for the traditional, colorful Maltese boats.

An enjoyable jog made better by a real sense of accomplishment – I’m finally back, and looking forward to more jogs in beautiful places I’m visiting (and my own ‘hometown’ of Rome). Here’s to healed ankles and bouncing back from injury!

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