Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 2, 2017

Beautiful sunsets in Ariccia, Italy

Ariccia, Lazio, ItalyI was out in the Castelli Romani region, the hillside towns located to the south of Rome, on a  recent Sunday.

My younger son was – once again – out there for a track and field meet in the town of Velletri on a  beautiful spring day. On the drive back to Rome, both my son and I were struck by the dramatic sunset, with the sky painted brilliant pinks, oranges and purples as the sun slipped behind the sea in the distance.

Ariccia, Lazio, ItalyWe decided to park the car and take a little walk around the hilltown of Ariccia to see the sunset from the vantage point of that perched town.

This town was important for Rome, dating back to the times of Ancient Rome, when it was closely associated with Diana, the goddess of the hunt. Today Ariccia is far less hunting grounds and more suburban bedroom community, but it’s still a charming town to explore with a rich architectural past.

Ariccia, Lazio, ItalyThe powerful Chigi family ruled over the town in the 17th century and added many of the town’s architectural gems, including the Palazzo Savelli Chigi off the main town square.

The Chigi Pope, Alexander VII dwelled for periods in town, and it is thanks to him that the architect/sculptor GianLorenzo Bernini constructed the church of Santa Maria Assunta – also on the main square.

The monumental bridge we walked across to get to the town was first constructed in the 19th century, and greatly facilitated the town’s access to Rome along the Appia antica.

Ariccia, Lazio, ItalyAnd, of course, while there we stocked up on Genzano bread (see my earlier post on neighboring Genzano), Ariccia porchetta (pork slowly roasted with wild fennel and herbs) and the local Castelli wines.

One of the pluses of these races is that I get to spend a great day out with my son, explore pretty towns and enjoy beautiful sunsets, and buy my ready-made dinner to deposit directly on our dining room table when we get home. No cooking required!

When in the area, take time to enjoy the gorgeous sunset in picturesque Ariccia.

Ariccia, Lazio, ItalyAriccia, Lazio, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | April 28, 2017

Book review: Flawed

Flawed cover, AhernI picked up this novel, by Irish author Cecilia Ahern, by chance.

I liked the premise, and I was struggling through a novel that infuriated me more than it interested me, so I decided to take a break from it with another, much different novel.

It’s good I didn’t notice that the novel was the author’s young adult debut, since I never would have picked it up. Unless forced to read something by one of my sons who want to discuss something they read, I tend not to favor the young adult genre.

If I were a little more on the ball, I should have probably realized it from the cover. : )

Nevertheless, I didn’t, and it turned out to be a good thing because I really enjoyed this book.

Celestine North lives in a  country that is perfect. After politicians and leaders failed the nation in the past, new laws are passed to single out those who are flawed, thereby ensuring political instability can never occur again. Those determine to be offenders are branded with an ‘F’ and live alongside, but at the same time, separate from society.

Celestine believe in this system. She is content with her perfect life, her perfect family, perfect boyfriend and her ability to blend in with the rest of society until the day, inexplicably, that she risks everything and becomes Flawed.

Celestine grows as a character as she goes through the system of the Flawed, learning about her strength, maturing and developing as a character. For the first time, she questions the system she has always accepted at face value. In doing so, she also causes her family to look more critically at the system they have tacitly supported. It works as a young adult coming-of-age story, but one that can maintain enough interest for (ahem …) older readers. I read this quickly and have also recommended it to my teenage son. I enjoyed Ahern’s first foray into young adult novels.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | April 25, 2017

The Polish Cemetery at Montecassino

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyToday is a holiday in Italy – Liberation Day.

It seems fitting to remember today all those who sacrificed their lives during fierce fighting on the Italian peninsula during World War II.

I recently posted about my visit to the 6th century abbey at Montecassino that was destroyed during the war and rebuilt from the rubble.

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyOn that visit, I also stopped off to see the Polish cemetery, containing the graves of over 1000 Polish soldiers – and two hundred Bielorussians – who died storming the bombed out abbey during the Battle of Montecassino in May 1944.

The Polish Cemetery occupies a beautiful hillside position, with stunning views over the abbey that must have been so menacing at the time, but which is now so peaceful.

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyIt takes a lot of imagination to understand how the bombings and gunfire must have sounded like, when today all you hear is the sound of the breeze rustling the trees and the birds chirping on their branches.

It makes an impression seeing the lines of graves of all those young soldiers so far from their homeland. There was a small but very interesting museum, with explanations in Italian, Polish and English.

Sadly, I got there as it was closing and had to race through much faster than I would have liked. It was interesting to read the accounts of the Allied commanders praising the bravery of the Polish soldiers.

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyAs a history buff, I also liked seeing the old posters and propaganda from the time to see what drove the soldiers to fight so valiantly in this battle. It was interesting to read the speeches from the Generals and to see the posters from the time instructing the soldiers to fight the Germans in Montecassino for what they did to Warsaw and for the years of occupation.

I’ll have to go back to explore the museum more thoroughly – not so close to closing time on my next visit!

There are two poems engraved at the entrance. One is the following:

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyFor our freedom and yours

We soldiers of Poland

Gave Our soul to God

Our life to the soil of Italy

Our hearts to Poland

The other engraved poem is similar to the famous World War I poem about the poppies in Flanders. My son had recently studied the original poem in his history class, so it was interesting for us both to see this Polish World War II version.

If you’re visiting the Montecassino Abbey, don’t miss out on the moving Polish Cemetery. Today it is fitting that we remember those brave soldiers who died during their efforts to break the Gustav Line and end WWII.

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyPolish Cemetery, Cassino, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | April 21, 2017

Beach reading season 2017 officially begins (for me…)

Beach readingIt’s that wonderful ‘event’ that rolls around each year – the official start of beach reading season!

For me, it often happens around the Easter holidays, when the weather in Rome starts turning almost summer-like. I often take my kids to one of our favorite beach spots near Rome – the wonderful town of Sperlonga.

When we were there, it was a gorgeous day, but a little too cold to swim – although there were plenty of northern European tourists doing just that. But it was great for splashing around in the water, games of soccer, and long walks along the beach. My younger son considered it ideal track practice and ran about a half-marathon length of jogs up and down the beach.

I was far lazier – thrilled to plop myself on the golden sand and to crack open the pages of my book, because this means the official start of beach reading season – a little seasonal rite I enjoy each year.

Even if work commitments and children’s sports events mean I don’t get to the beach as often as I’d like, the time I do spend in the spring and summer and even early autumn  is always idyllic. I love to spend an entire, lazy weekend day swimming, listening to the sound of the waves, and reading to my heart’s content.

Anything better than that?

So my little preview of what is to come on my first beach foray of the season was really perfect. Let the 2017 beach reading season officially begin!


Bolzano, ItalyWe were lucky enough to be passing through Bolzano on a Saturday morning – market day – and enjoyed our brief walk around the city in a dazzling (and unusual) sunny February day that felt like May.

For those who don’t know the northern Italian city of Bolzano, it is the regional capital of the Alto-Adige side of Trentino Alto-Adige (Trento is the regional capital of the Trentino side).

Bolzano, ItalyThis is the area of Italy with a large Austrian minority, and it maintains regional autonomy. The city is officially bilingual, and both German and Italian are taught in the schools.

The outdoor market reflects this diversity – with pasta and prosciutto alongside knoedel, wuerstel and pretzels.

It’s definitely worth a wander to enjoy all that’s on offer.

Bolzano, ItalyDuring our short stay, we already had bags filled to overflowing, but who could resist? We returned home to Rome with new shopping bags filled with specialties of Alto-Adige. Keep in mind that shops and stands can often vacuum pack to keep products fresh for your trip back home.

Although our ski holiday was (sadly) over, it somehow softened the blow to return to daily life/chaos in Rome while still dining each evening on the specialties of Alto Adige.

Already looking forward to returning and stocking my shopping bags once more. Enjoy market day in picturesque Bolzano!

Bolzano, ItalyBolzano, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | April 14, 2017

Do you hate when a movie adaptation of a novel changes its setting?

How many times has this happened to you?

You read a book, you enjoy it (or maybe you didn’t even enjoy it so much, but you’re still curious about how it could be adapted to the screen) and then you hear the film is coming out. Great, right? But instead of the x original location of the film, the story is now set – inexplicably –  in y.

I really enjoyed Australian author Liane Moriarity’s novel Big Little Lies (click for my review) that was, not surprisingly, set in a beach community in Australia. I was happy to hear it was being adapted into a movie, but rather surprised that it was relocated from the beaches of Australia to the far less interesting beaches of California.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Girl on The Train, but I did like its London suburb/commuter train to London story, and I would have seen the film despite the ho-hum reviews if the whole thing hadn’t bee transported to New York. Why? Is London too exotic?

The same happened with Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It (click for my review). I liked the London setting, and it was very much a part of the book for me, so I was disappointed to see the whole story got moved (um, yet again…) to Manhattan

Then there are the classics. I loved James Fenimore Cooper’s tale The Last of the Mohicans. I probably loved it even more because we had a lake house on Lake George in the Adirondack mountains – the setting for much of the story. The movie is terrific, too, and I love Daniel Day-Louis in that film. But instead of being filmed in the Adirondacks, it was filmed in North Carolina, and the scenery is all different. True, you wouldn’t know if you didn’t know the region, but I found it a disappointment nonetheless.

What about you, readers and film watchers? Are you disappointed when a film changes location from the novel you read and have in your mind? Conversely, have you ever seen an example of a film where the location switch worked better?

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | April 11, 2017

Rebuilt from the rubble: Italy’s 6th century Montecassino Abbey

Monte Cassino Abbey, ItalyA Sunday morning in February, I found myself in Cassino, a small city south of Rome at the edge of the Lazio region. This outing, like so many others of its kind, was for a running race of my youngest son.

It’s a pretty long trip from Rome to Cassino, but the February day was perfect and sunny, and after the race I was excited to finally have the opportunity to visit Montecassino – an ancient abbey  dating back to the 6th century that I’ve long seen looming high above in the distance when traveling past it on the highway. This has been one of the many places I’ve always ‘meant to visit’.

Monte Cassino Abbey, ItalyIronically, my son’s passion for running does wonders for expanding my cultural horizons … especially since it has us constantly travelling around on weekends. : )

And so, when the race was over, my son and I wound our way up the curving drive to reach the abbey.

Montecassino, ItalyFor World War II history buffs, this will probably be a well-known name for you. Montecassino – unfortunately – was adjacent to the famous Gustav Line of defense. And that twist of fate led to its destruction.

Montecassino Abbey - World War II bombingBoth sides in the fierce fighting – the Germans and Americans – were under strict instructions that  “all possible precautions be taken to avoid bombing the abbey on Monte Cassino due West of Cassino”.

Sadly, as you can see from the accompanying photos, this did not happen.

Montecassino, ItalyThe fierce Allied-Axis fighting was not the first that the abbey, built under Saint Benedict in 529, endured.

The abbey had been sacked by invading forces – both the Lombards in the sixth century and Saracens in the ninth century. It was rebuilt after an earthquake in the fourteenth century and again, following the sack of French troops in 1799.

Montecassino, ItalyBut 1944 seemed to toll the death knell for this spectacular abbey, of inestimable historical and artistic value. 1400 years of learning and instruction and art quickly crumbled under American bombing. Bombing that even the Generals at the time realized was futile and had served no military purpose. The abbey had mistakenly been identified as a command post for the Germans.

Montecassino AbbeyFor those of us who love languages, one historian claims the tragic error was caused by a junior British intelligence officer with less than stellar German language skills. The claim is that the confused the word ‘abbot’ with ‘battalion’, thereby misinterpreting a radio intercept to understand that a German battalion was amongst the monks at the abbey, rather than the more innocuous abbot amongst the monks.

Montecassino Abbey, ItalyLuckily, many of the precious artworks and artifacts had been moved by the German army to the Vatican for safekeeping in the months before the bombing.

What you are visiting today on a visit is the reconstructed abbey. Rebuilding began after the war, carried out between 1950 and 1960 after an international appeal,  and the new abbey was reconsecrated in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.

When you are travelling by Cassino, take time to visit this reconstructed abbey. I’ll return happily next time we have another race in the region.

2017_April_Cassino9Montecassino Abbey, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | April 7, 2017

Writers: Finish your work!

Enjoyed a column in the latest issue of The Writer, in which television screenwriter and playwright Norman Barasch offered authors some valuable advice:

“The most important thing about writing is to make sure – once you’ve started a project – don’t stop in the middle if you can help it. Just get to the end, because until you get to the end of what you’ve written, [you] never see what mistakes you’ve made. Once you get to the end, you realize how you’d like to re-write it.”

This is very useful advice for writers. I think we’ve all been guilty of abandoning projects mid-way through.

Perhaps there are valid reasons for walking away from projects that are clearly never going to work. But when a subject does interest you, I agree with Barasch. You yourself often don’t know how the story will unfold on the page, and it is important to allow yourself to reach the end of your tale. Only then can you fairly evaluate it and set to working perfecting it through (often numerous) edits.

You do owe it to yourself. Get it all down, then go back and perfect your work. Happy writing – from beginning to end – to all.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | April 4, 2017

Early morning jogging … in Oslo

Oslo, NorwayI’ve written a few times how much I enjoy jogging mornings when I’m travelling. I’ve already written about early morning  jogging in New York, Durres, Albania, Agadir, Morocco, Vitorchiano, Italy and the Bahamas.

I had the nice chance to enjoy it again on a recent visit – to Oslo, Norway.

Oslo, NorwayI was (extremely) lucky with the weather – frosty, but clear mornings – and this was a great jogging city.

Even if it’s small, Oslo gets pretty busy later mornings, so early mornings were a good time to enjoy the quiet streets of the city, minus the crowds.

I always find jogging a perfect way to get your bearings in a city and to start to feel a bit like a ‘local’. If it’s a work trip, as this was, it’s also a great way to clear one’s head and squeeze in some physical activity into what is bound to be a long and tiring day.

Oslo, NorwayIn Oslo, I was staying centrally, so first I jogged around Karl Johans Gate, Oslo’s main drag. I would pass the National Theatre where Ibsen’s plays were all performed (and where his statue graces the exterior), up to the Royal Palace, which, in wonderful Scandinavian fashion is open to the public to wander its grounds.

Next I would jog past the art deco town hall. I was told by Norwegians that their local nickname for it is the brown cheese that is one of their culinary specialties. This is the site where the annual Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. Then I would pass by the Nobel Prize Museum and head off along the water.

Oslo, NorwayI loved it at that hour, with a light coating of ice and the ships so picturesque in that gentle early morning light. I was in town for the launch of a new marine research vessel – the Nansen – and so it also gave me the chance to jog by and admire it minus the crowds.

I would then jog across the quay, watching the boats coming in and all the activity seaside.

Oslo, Norway

How cool is this? Hill training on the Oslo opera house roof. Leave it to the Norwegians to so ingeniously blend sport and culture. : )

Next came my favorite part of my Norwegian morning jogs, the Oslo opera house. I loved this modern opera house – completed in 2008. On this visit I didn’t have time to attend an opera (sadly, I missed Carmen), but I will most definitely be back to rectify this error.

The opera house is beautiful and the feature I loved most was the ramp/roof that you could run over and enjoy views over the city from up on top.

When I think back on those jogs, that was the part that really started my day off right.

After that, it was off past the main train station and the cathedral and through a strangely quiet Karl Johans Gate (it never replicated that silence during the day or night)  and back to my hotel.

An absolutely wonderful start to my day. Happy jogging in Oslo!

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | March 31, 2017

Discovering Norwegian stories

Norway novelsI love the idea of learning about new authors and new novels while traveling.

On a recent trip to Norway, a visit to a bookshop and a chat with the women working there left me the new owner of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. It’s been years since I’ve read the Norse legends. To be precise, it was a junior high class on Myths, Mysteries and Legends and I loved the tales of hammer wielding Thor and the gods and goddesses of Norse legend. It seems Gaiman was a big fan of those legends as a child, too.

The Norwegian women in the bookshop recommended this recently released novel, and Gaiman has already impressed me with his wide range of stories and his impressive imagination, so I look forward to reading how he’s tackled these ancient Norse myths.

The other novel recommended to me was by Hans Olav Lahlum – The Human Flies – touted as an Agatha Christie-style mystery set in Oslo in 1968. I’d just seen the growing Oslo of today, and I was curious to read story set in the same city in the late 60s.

So I am extremely pleased to have these new ‘Norwegian’  books on my shelves – though sadly, not in Norwegian. As if I needed one, I have yet another good reason to travel! Happy reading and traveling!

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