My Lens Abroad » Capturing My Expat Adventures With My Lens

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Assisi: Return to St. Francis

I love having visitors and showing them places I have enjoyed.  When my friend Leigh asked if we could include Assisi in our travels, I was more than excited to add that to our list of “to-dos”

There are many diverse regions in Italy, each has its own offering.  There is something about Umbria that always brings me back.  I love the green rolling hills and there is something about each town that is warm and pleasant.  Assisi is, by far, my favorite.  While it is true it has become even more popular since Papa Francesco has taken his seat in the Vatican, you just need to time your visit there correctly.  I was able to book us a room, with an amazing view, at Hotel il Palazzo and we were on our way.

Granted, while Assisi is the town of St. Francis, it is a bit more than that.  It is holds a gorgeous Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, but it also has several other beautiful structures of note.  Assisi was also home to St. Claire who has a beautiful church there in her honor as well.  There is a great hiking trail that leads to the place where St Francis preached and has a wonderful overlook.  In fact, the town od Assisi was a made a UNESCO Site.  While you may look at the city and think it is one of medieval origins, you will find the Romans have left their mark as well.  There is an amphitheater, a former Temple to Minerva which serves as a church today and you can tour the former Roman Forum that was discovered here.

Did I mentioned my other favorite thing in Umbria? I love boar meat.  I never thought I would say that, but I just wrote it.  They also can do something great with Pecorino cheese.  Put meat, cheese and Sangrantino di Montefalco on a plate and we will be friends for life.  We got to do just that at Bibenda Assisi and it was a great time.  We just made this our dinner.  Lastly, Leigh loves some sweets and I had to make my guest happy.  We must have looked like children at a toy shop window as we looked at all the cannolli and other creations.  However, I have learned, the best cannollo is one filled in front of you–fresh.

As the sun set on our evening, we sat in a square with a merry-go-round and overlook, taking in more Umbrian views…















Pantheon: A Rainfall of Roses

Tha Pantheon is one of the oldest and most intact ancient buildings in Rome.  Whenever I walk into the Piazza della Rotondo, it never ceases to amaze me at the sheer thought if its age.  The 2,000 year old building now serves as a church, where mass is celebrated each Sunday and bears the name “Santa Maria ad Martyres” (St. Mary and the Martyrs).  While the interior of the Pantheon is incredible, I find that the oculus to be the most spectacular piece.

But, what I like most about the structure is a beautiful celebration that occurs each year on Pentecost Sunday.  An ancient tradition, said to originate from 609 AD.  After the Sunday mass, beautiful red rose petals descend from the oculus to celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles.  Pentecost Sunday occurs 50 days after Easter Sunday, so check that calendar and you can enjoy the beauty of this event as well!


Lazio: Relaxing Stay in Viterbo

While I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity of living in the Eternal city, it can be tiring.  I tend to turn ankles on cobblestones along with the occasional potholes (missing cobblestones) that my baby’s stroller gets stuck in.  Crossing the street can be a competitive sport.  I do play a good game of chicken with men, because I am determined to be treated like a lady and not like a nuisance.  But that previous statement can be featured as another blog entry.  So, there comes a time when you just want to have a break from honking, cigarette smoking  and experience a more gentle slice of Italy.  Luckily, that opportunity came at a wonderful time.

My friend and her husband restored a lovely house in the countryside, about an hour outside of Rome.  When you drive there you understand why she gives you detailed, and I mean well detailed directions, to this wonderful place.  As you drive up you see the rolling countryside and what the attraction is for sure.  Further, upon opening the house, you see how simply beautiful it is.  In less than an hour, I felt like I entered another dimension.

While a bit too cool, I still loved that there was a pool. We, the adults, lounged, while our older son read and the baby slept.  Later in the day, my husband and older son used the football pitch (soccer field) that was made on the side of the house as I made some dinner.  We dined al fresco enjoying the distant sounds of sheep, their bells around their necks and watched the sun slowly dip, ending the day.  The 7yo was excited to find DVDs of movies to watch that evening.  We all loved the big couch we couch fit on, it reminded us of home.

We made the drive to Orvieto the next day, for a lovely lunch and a walk around the town.  That evening ended in the same relaxing way, however, I was lulled to sleep by my friends, the sheep.  I woke early, refreshed, and enjoyed some reading in the hammock while my husband prepared breakfast.  I knew the weekend away was coming to an end and I did not want to think about it….











Roma: The Foro, Colosseo, Dungeons..oh my!

Living in Rome for three years, you cover the basics early on.  We took our son to the Colosseo within the first weeks we moved here.  He was 4 and he became hooked on learning more about Romans and his new adopted city.  With our own love for history, we were overjoyed that he shared our passion.  We were sure to embrace the city like spoiled children going on every tour possible, as we tried to leave no stone unturned.  It was nice to show these things to our son and to discover things we had not seen on our own travels to Italy.

I will admit that I became more than spoiled.  I took my parents and inlaws on wonderful tours when they visited, showing them great sites.  I loved taking my nephews to see the Pantheon and relished the day sitting out when guests visited the Vatican Museums–it was overwhelming.  Yet, there were pieces of the Colosseo that I had not seen and I wanted to get a glimpse of.

Lucky for me I went with The Roman Guy  on their “Colosseum: Dungeons, Third level and Arena Floor” tour who delivered detailed information on the meeting place.  Even though I lived in Rome, I was very relieved to be able to easily find my group.  After checking in, the guida turistica (tour guide) introduced herself and warmly shook my hand.  Within minutes the tour began, starting along the Via dei Fori Imperiali and with it an amazing mix of information, some of which I know but more of which I had not.  We then made our way to the Forum, looking upon my favorite places and learning more things new to me.  I loved the presentation style of this guide and found her so passionate for her job.  We progressed on to the Palatine Hill and I was shown parts that I had not seen before and given information and I had not heard.  Even better was her usage of a hand-held flip chart showing you what these spaces looked like in times past.  How was she so prepared?  She has a Ph.D. in Archeology.

Lastly, my favorite portion of the tour began.  While I had been to the Colosseo 3 times prior, I had wondered, what do those Dungeons look like?  Further, what are the view like from that upper level?  Our tour group was able to see all those good things.  I am not sure of my favorite piece of the experience, but you can see some of this experience in my images below.






Capturing Unbroken Strength

My heart was very heavy two springs ago.  Losing my grandmother was not easy, but something that was inevitable.  We had a special relationship and I will always value our times at her kitchen table over tea.  She would tell me the most amazing stories about her life.  But, I had a job to do that day and I need to get these feelings out of my head.  I hoped that my emotions would not come through in my work and that I would be able to make a connection with the subject I was about to photograph.  The woman I was about to meet was a friend’s grandmother who was having a big birthday-100.  I just had no idea of what to expect.  After losing my own grandmother, I did not want to fail the work I was to do capturing the grandmother of my friend Mujah.

The light was warm on my face, the flowers were vibrant in color and it began to lift my mood.  A few of her family members were already there and they were welcoming.  This was exactly what I needed.  My nerves started to calm, I just needed to meet the matriarch. Then, there she was, walking softly alongside one of her daughters.  She seemed kind and determined, quite remarkable for a woman of 99.

They placed her next to me in a chair, which I appreciated as I wanted to just talk to her at first.  I am glad I did, as there was something about her.  While I am not sure what it was, but she reminded me of my own grandmother.  There was something in the way that she did not want to get overly doted on, then she murmured one of the funniest sarcastic remarks.  I knew then that I liked this woman–a lot.


Afterwards, I felt quite good about my work.  When I delivered it to Mujah, she felt the same.  As we began to catch up on a few things, she told me about her current project.  I heard something about it at the bar over coffee, that is was a film.  When she shared the content, I was floored.  It was about her grandmother and her experience in Japan.  Only, this experience happened in the 1940s when she and her husband had three very little girls.  Not only were they an Italian family, but a family who were not fascists.  They would not break in their beliefs and, sadly, were placed in a camp.  Yes, Mujah’s grandfather, grandmother and their three little girls were in a concentration camp in Japan during WWII.  They were imprisoned for 2 years.  Not to belittle anyone’s experience, but the gentleman in Angelina Jolie’s movie Unbroken, was in the camp for one year.  I cannot fathom being there for two as a child or as parents caring for your children.  As I sat there wide-eyed I said, “After living through that, of course your grandmother is turning 100, the horrors of war could not even break her.”

This history enthusiast is looking forward to learning more about Mujah’s movie and the pillar of strength and her spirit that is her grandmother, Topazia Alliata.



The Dolomiti: Northern Beauty in Italy

While it is true I have had larger projects as distractions, we’ve wanted to make the most of our time in Italy and explore its many regions.  It can get pretty tricky with a 7yo and baby, needing to take into consideration everyone’s needs.  We had taken a few trips with the baby, where he was an angel.  However, I remember two incidents where we had some difficulty.  One hotel where we were on the third floor, with no elevator and he seemed to not want to sleep.  He also never seemed to be a beach person, I hoped this to be a phase.

This takes us to our August trip and I received some good recommendations.  Why an August trip?  Because all of Rome is deserted for good 2+ weeks for Ferragosto.  To clarify on what Ferragosto is, the holiday is celebrated on the 15th of August, it was created in Ancient Roman times around 18BC by the Emperor Augustus.  It was to celebrate the end of the harvest and for those to take a bit a rest.   A time later, the Catholic Church declared this the feast of the Assumption of Mary.  Needless to say, in August you get out of Rome because it is hotter than Hades.

As I posted previously, we started in Pienza which was a dream.  Oddly, we spent time in the Lake Garda area and it rained, on and off, every day.  When it rained, it was an angry rain, when the clouds parted it showed a beautiful region for 15 minutes.  The weather was effecting our mood and was a miserable leg of the trip.  I silently wished for a fast forward button for the Dolomites segment and where we were staying at a family resort.  I had never been to one, but it just sounded like what we needed.

When we drove north through those gorgeous, jaw dropping mountains and seeing all the vineyards, I knew we arrived somewhere very special.  However, when I got to the front desk at the Garberhof, I did not know just how special the place truly was.  There was something in the air and it was heavenly.  We were shown to our family room, it looked worlds better than anything I was expecting.  The “room” had two floors, with the bedrooms on the top floor and the views were breathtaking.  Each of the boys received a welcome toy and had their own kid sized robes.  They also outfitted the place with every item you would need for an infant.  Everything from a fully set up “pack and play” with bedding, wipes, to a hooded towel, soaps and a diaper genie.  For the 7yo, he discovered “Pinoland” with children his age and some who spoke English.  We were excited to meet up with friends from Rome and their boys as well.  As for the baby, he had a place in Pinoland, more the baby version–he was quite popular.

Each day was a great start for each of us.  We had a nutritious breakfast, made to order.  We then took the boys to their activities, which were different everyday. For children 6-14, they did mini golf, rock climbing and rode the cable cars–just to name a few.  As for the bambino, he was popular with the staff and talking toddlers who were looking for him.  Aside from his popularity, I could see he was in good hands.  He toke the long naps he was craving.  The team seemed to really coddle him and it warmed my heart.  Never was he out of someone’s arms, unless he was sleeping in a special “quiet” room.  He napped better there than he had in two weeks!  As for us, the first morning I woke up from the most restful sleep I had in months.  Clearly they were either pumping something in the vents or put something in my dinner.  I was feeling so, I think the word is relaxed, I never wanted it to end.  I did not feel bad going to a yoga class, going hiking with my husband or to town of Bruneck for the morning.  As for the 7yo, after his day of activities it could be difficult to get him from the Pinoland play area to come to our dinner table.  Our dinner table was assigned at the beginning of the week, so we always knew where to find one another.  When our two families would finish dinner, the boys would go to “disco night”.  To be honest, I was feeling like more and more of an actual adult and loved every second of it.

But, all wonderful trips come to an end.












The Most Wonderful Time

They say it is now the most wonderful of the year and they are exactly right.  We have had the this huge wonderful “thing” or overwhelmingly happy “occurence” happen in our lives.  For over 9 months we were unable to speak about “it” on social media.  Yes, that was an absolute horror for me, with keeping this blog.  It does sounds odd, but we added to our family and there were legal ramifications.  Well, 2 weeks ago, the ban was lifted.  This past February we were given the absolute best post Valentine’s Day Gift of our New little one, Luke Reed O’Mara.

Now, being US residents and adopting from abroad was no easy feat.  But if you truly want something done, you do it.  There were time zones I needed to adjust my day to for phone calls, too many documents to fill out, paperwork to process and all sorts of background checks.  At this point I wonder, with all my fingerprinting and clearances, what security level I could have with the US government.  While time consuming, I wanted the birthmother who chose us to have the ultimate comfort in knowing that she was giving her baby to a safe and loving home.  When we were matched last January, I nearly fell over.  It would be like taking an at home pregnancy test and finding out you were going to have a baby, in a hospital, in another country and it would all occur 6 time zones away.  I could not think — I just snapped myself out of it and waited it out.  You have the fear of the phone ringing and things will not go as planned.  But we flew to Philadelphia, left our then 6yo with my parents and drove 8 hours to Kentucky.  But, Luke was born later than expected.  That worked well for us, we needed to get time adjusted and ourselves sorted.  So sorted that we had to leave Kentucky and return a week later until he was “really” going to be born.  We did spend a good amount of time in Kentucky with him, we even went to the Louisville Slugger Museum!

Getting him to our home in Pennsylvania was one big step, but then the next was getting him to Italy.  My husband and 6yo had left the US, there was work and school for them, it was just Luke and I to figure it all out.  There was more paperwork, more waiting, and waiting in line to find out I needed to come back and wait in line again.  All so I could get a baby, only a few weeks old, a passport.  When I received it from the Agent behind the counter, I wanted to hug her.  However, I did not think that would be appropriate.

I will admit, I was scared half to death to get on a plane with a Newborn, and by the looks on the faces of my fellow passengers, so were they.  This was an over night flight to Rome, Italy, who wants to hear a baby crying?  I mentally crafted a plan to make sure he was drinking during take off and prayed he would just be quiet.  He was so quiet because he fell fast asleep!  I timed his next bottle so he would not wake up crying.  By the time we landed, I looked around to see many smiling faces.  I heard, “Oh my God that baby was so, good”  to an incredulous  “I heard nothing at all from that baby!”  At one point I think a man gave me an apologetic grin as if to say, “sorry I doubted the future sainthood of your boy…”  I just gave him a wry smile back that said, “yes, yes you should be.  He’s perfect.”





Experiencing Pienza

Originally the trip started as my desire to photograph the Val d’Orcia.  The area is beautiful, picturesque with rolling hills and positioned cypress trees that amaze you.  As you look out a window and gaze over the horizon, you want to pinch yourself.  The air seems to be cooler, more fragrant and sunsets seem to embrace you with their golden hues.

Arriving in Pienza was more than I hoped, as we effortlessly found our hotel, the San Gregorio, had parking extremely close by.  Not to mention, they had a beautiful swimming pool and there was a playground nearby.  It was looking great for us, for sure!  After we dropped our bags off, we started a walk into the town.  I smelled something sharp as it penetrated my nostrils.  Then I knew what it was–Pecorino cheese!  This was not an everyday cheese.  This was the cheese my mother used with a nice sharp “kick” or “bite” to it.  I loved it and I had reached Mecca.  So many differing cheese or “cacio”, whose flavor differs based on its aging.  You should see the shop window I photographed, I resisted breaking the glass.  You guessed it, I did finally get some cheese–legally.  The sunsets were amazing and could be seen from the overlooks around the town each evening.

But beyond cheeses, a lovely hotel and idyllic sunsets, there is the town itself.  Welcoming streets, window boxes spilling flowers and wide open piazzas.  Pienza is located in the heart of the Val d’Orcia, a gem that was an ideal Renaissance town in its day/

Upon leaving, I left with more than just photographs.  We walked the town and also learned more about the Val d’Orcia and that is not just strong winds and good soil that give it the gorgeous look of today.  This combination of art and landscape, ecosystem and geography were strategically created into what we see today, which is an absolutely amazing site.  Thankfully this is now a UNESCO site.  Further, we did those drives and visited local wineries.  However, I’ll leave those for another post.










Umbria: A visit to Spoleto

We have been doing our best to make the most of our time in Rome.  However, we love exploring the rich offerings of the differing Italian regions.  While many people speak of the region of Tuscany, you may have little heard mention of Umbria.  This beautiful area was once home to St. Francis in a town called Assisi.  When you begin driving into the region of Umbria, the land is green and lush with beautiful rolling hills.  While we have previously been to Assisi, we decided to check out Spoleto.  We were very glad that we did.

The town of Spoleto was situated on the Via Flaminia, which was a Roman road at the time of the Empire.  Because of its location, Spoleto has a long history of being a strategic key in many wars over the centuries.  There are a variety of interesting sites to behold, the Rocco Albornoziana fortress (built 1359-1370), a Roman Amphitheater and The Duomo of S. Maria Assunta (built 1175-1227).  In the Duomo there are beautiful frescos and a manuscript of St. Francis.  As you turn the corner you are struck by the beauty of the church and the courtyard where it stands.  As I walked through the church, I looked at the flooring and wondered, “who passed over these floors hundreds of years ago?”.  Lastly. we did take in the Amphitheater left by the Romans.  My 7yo had a great time riding his scooter all through the Ancient Roman structure.  He loved the alleys, which echoed with the noise of his scootering and laughter.  Who knew Romans were such incredible acoustical engineers?  I wonder if things we create today will ever be wondered and admired  hundreds of years from now.





Remembering their Roman Holiday….

When Darryl contacted me about scheduling a “photo shoot engagement”, I was REALLY excited.  I had done one before and it was so exciting, I felt like I was getting engaged.  But that is besides the point.  Darryl needed to break it to me gently, I would not be capturing a sweet, tender moment where he would be getting down on one knee.  Instead, he told me that he’d done that already.  After I offered a heartfelt congratulations, he told me that this was a trip to celebrate their upcoming marriage.  With the timing of the Wedding and work needed, and the work required with their actual jobs, this was just the best time of year for them to take the trip.  Honestly, I think this was a smart thing to do.  I remember trying to plan the Wedding and also trying to think about a Honeymoon.  Our heads were spinning about destinations, costs and what we would do.  This couple was pretty smart in my book.

As Darryl and I corresponded, he was open to a variety of suggestions.  I had to think through many things, as there is a multitude of monument refurbishing projects currently on in the city.  Walking around, I want to invest in a hard hat and safety glasses.  As for earplugs, they are always a good investment due to the honking.  The cleansing of the Colosseum is taking a bit of time, forget the Spanish Steps and, my God, do not ask about the Trevi Fountain.  But, and to quote Darryl, I “worked my magic”.  We did some time with the Romans and then ventured into my favorite neighborhood, Monti, for Gelato.  We then bid buonnotte  so they could further fall in love with the Eternal City.  Rome is a place, that after almost three years, I call my home.










Birthdays in Roma for My Little Expat

The sheer mention of birthdays for my son and having it in Rome used to give me utter agita.  I remember his fifth birthday and we were still living in the temporary housing, that we’d had for 6 months, and I felt lost.

At that point he was attending his second school, the first did not work out well for us.  The second school felt like that warm blanket youget under after being out in the frigid cold in a cozy bed and think, “There’s no place like home.”  He was connecting with friends and had a great level of comfort.  But to have a party–maybe not.  He had just started the school less than two months ago and school was ending.  Lucky me, his birthday was the 18th of June and we, like most students, were leaving Rome on or around the 22nd.  I was able to actually do the impossible and find a bake shop, or a pasticceria, to make cupcakes.  You may think this is NO FEAT, but oh, this was an actual magic act.  First, I had no utensils in the temporary apartment to make them.  Can you imagine making those with a hot plate?  But wait, just where would you find a cake mix in Rome?  There is no Target unless you are Michael Phelps and the Atlantic does not look a bit daunting.  But, I managed it a day in advance (not the swim the cupcake order)  and got it to the school.  I was a great American Hero.  We then celebrated the birthday with a party in the Stati Uniti (United States).

But, for Birthdays 6 and 7, things were different.  Our lives were changing a bit.  Visas were solidified and our timing to visit the United States had changed.  Well, many things had changed in those respective 10 and 22 month time frames.  I was able to get to know more parents, taking notes on parties they planned for their children and where.  I was better able to understand the culture in our British International School and a bit of the Italian culture.  With my son’s 6th Birthday I had a great suggestion, a bowling party–it was a hit.  So big, that more kids, in my son’s class, wanted to either go bowling or have this as their party the following year.

However, I found that I may have outdid myself.  Now, there were a few flaws to the party, simply based on timing of the silly rules of the Bowl-a-Roma place.  But, I could not house it at our apartment and I was afraid to do an event that was weather dependent.  Then I felt like I split the atom when  I discovered that another bowling place that had–Miniature Golf!  To clarify, we had not been to a bowling party until Shane’s and now he would have the first Golf themed party.  I have to stress that Golfing is not popular here in Italy, I mean the Italian word is “Golf”.  How Scottish is that?

As the invites went out, I was finding that excitement was in the air.  Then, my son wanted to change it to a Star Wars theme.  As I recounted all the Star Wars films, there was not one that I recalled where Hans Solo, Chewie and Luke were scheduling a tee times.  I racked my brain to recall if possibly Darth hit the back nine with some of his stormtroopers…then it hit and I recalled this video….

But, I was able to get Star Wars into the party, compliments of my talented friend Rocio!  She even surprised me by making a Light Saber and Yoda.  It was unreal.  Another big and wonderful surprise?  The birthday boy hit a hole in one on the most difficult hole of the entire course!  It was the best day ever!  And no, we did not pay extra in the Birthday package for it.







They Say The Differences



You often hear the phrase, “What a difference a year makes…”  But what about two?  In fact, looking back on the last 24 months in Italy, it seems like four years.  The images above were taken during our “decision” visit in the Fall before we left to embark on our time in Rome.  Think of them as our “Should be do it moments” as we gazed out at the Vatican.  We weighed out the pros and cons, it was scary.

Now, I think of the people we were, the three of us, as we landed on Italian soil that cold January morning.  We were completely naive as to what experiences lay ahead of us.  While we did not go into the process blind, nor did I have our expectations set very high, in fact these things saved us.  Who am I kidding?  No preparation “saves” you from a cultural change of moving from the US to Italy.  It is something to be experienced, knowing that no culture is perfect and being aware that you always have something wonderful to learn.  I think a key learning is operating with a sense of flexibility and openness.

During these last two years I’ve learned more about the resilience of myself, built an even stronger bond with my husband and have watched my lovely son grow.  I am so proud of the two of them and of us as a family unit.  Here’s to embarking on that third year in Italia!




Barcelona: Meeting Gaudi at La Pedrera

Okay, I did not actually meet Gaudi, because that is physically impossible.  But, not only was I excited to experience another city in Spain, it was a city I have always wanted to visit.  During my time in college I needed to complete certain credits and took a course titled “Art in Culture”.  When we got on the topic of Modern Art, I wanted to take a pencil and stab my eyes out.  Everyone appreciates different things, there is nothing wrong with Modern art, it just was not what I enjoyed.  My feeling for the subject could have been influenced by the droning voice of my professor, but that is beside the point.  Everything changed when we started the new topic on architecture and the work of Gaudi.  Seeing the images onscreen sparked something inside me.  He was able to fuse architecture, nature and religion into his creations that they were truly useful masterpieces.

There were three spaces that I was eager to see, La Pedrera, Park Guell and Sagrada Familia.  The first did not look like much from the street and was called Casa Mila, initially, but is now La Perdrera.  It was declared a UNESCO site in 2005.  the images from La Pedrera are below.


Below is the courtyard space which allows for each room to have window and sun exposure.  In doing so, this also allows effective heating in the winter.


This was one of my favorite spaces in the roof top.  These are the chimneys that can be found throughout.  All have unique designs and work the ecofriendly designs for the five floor building design.  Many of the objects in the courtyard use recycled objects, such as ceramic and glass.  The exterior also has beautiful ironwork that is amazing.



The above is another item that is found on the rooftop space.  You can see the ceramics and the four armed crosses that Gaudi has used in his other works.  In all, the interior space was a bit congested to photograph with the great number of visitors.  I can’t blame them, as the space is something to behold.



Falling leaves in Rome

Growing up on the East Coast of the United States, Fall is a gorgeous time of year.  My husband and I got were married on a Fall day.  The weather becomes crisp, apple harvest is in full swing and the world turns brilliant shades of gold and bronze from the falling leaves.  It is true that the Fall is quite different here in Italy.  There are no apple harvests and buying a pumpkin for a pie is a big strange.  But if you walk through the Villa Borghese on a clear day, you may get a glimpse of what a Fall day is like for an American Girl like me.  In the image below, taken there, I love the scattered leaves with their variety of colors.  The beauty provides some warmth and comfort, especially knowing that I’ll be home to visit family soon.



Rocio Sosa Ortigoza - Oh, Heather, the picture is sooooooo beautiful!!! I want to go to Villa Borguese after looking at your pic.

Leigh Magee Hannan - Gorgeous!

Heather O'Mara - Grazie Mille!

It’s 9am let’s go to the Bar…

This is a common phrase heard in Italy.  Yes, these people are addicted, but not to alcohol.  Seriously, you think that bars are only places for drunken debauchery?  In this boot shaped country, “going to the Bar” has quite a different meaning.  It is where one goes to take a coffee.  Yes, American friends “take”.  Now on the bar scene, things can be a bit complicated.  When we first moved here, coming up on two years ago, I was practically laughed out of one for being a stupido.  Well, just because I did not know how to order and my accent was probably terrible. Simply stated, you approach the cassa first and pay for your drink.  Then take your ticket to the barista.  The barista could have directed me the cassa, but I digress.

Ok, it sounds like Starbucks–but this is not!  There is no Venti, skinny vanilla lattes triple whips or Pumpkin macchiato Grandi with 3 Splendas.  Rather, coffee drinking is a simplistic and wonderful ritual.  There are not takeaway cups or drive-thrus.  You can make it quick at the counter or lengthen it out with a friend (Amico/Amica) at a tavolo (table).  And the variety of coffees is abundant.

Caffè – In Italy the word “caffè’” naturally implies an espresso. There is no need to specify “espresso” when ordering. It become my crack and I have one in the morning before I leave the house and a few throughout the day.  I never understood why I was so exhausted when I visited the US, as I was drinking the Starbucks.  The reason, my need for the caffeine exceeded what Starbucks was dealing.  I have since tried to downgrade my espresso consumption, but my God, it is so good. At the bar, it is served in a porcelain demitasse cup “tazzina” with its own saucer and little stirring spoon. There is no option of “take away”.  Pronunciation tip: Cahf-FEH’

Caffè Hag is a decaffeinated version. You can order a “decafinato” as well; Hag is the name of the largest producer of Italian decaf coffee and that’s the way you’ll see it on many bar menu boards.

Caffè Macchiato –  Basically an espresso with a drop of milk.

Cappuccino – Probably the most well-known and loved coffee drink. Espresso and steamed, frothy milk added so that there is a clean layer of milk foam in a larger cup, a tazza.  I just stir it and never add sweetener.  You can order it scremato for the skim milk version.

Marocchino – In some areas of Italy, also called an Espressino or Mocacchino. It is a shot of espresso served in a glass demitasse (for aesthetic reasons), with a sprinkling of cacao (added either before or after the milk, sometimes both!) and milk foam spooned on top.

Caffè freddo (kah-FE FRAYD-o) – Iced, or at least cold, coffee.  Italians are not really fans of ice, fans or air conditioning, but that is another topic.

Caffè Shakerato (kah-FE shake-er-Ah-to ) – in its most simple form, a caffè shakerato is made by combining freshly made espresso, a bit of sugar, and lots of ice, shaking the whole deal vigorously until a froth forms when poured. Can have some chocolate syrup added.  My friend Gaetane tried this over the summer, not a fan.

Caffè Corretto – An espresso with a drop of liquor.  Not really an am drink, something one has in the evening.  My husband had this one night when we stopped at a bar after dinner.

So, come take a coffee with me?

Until next time, Ciao!UnBar-1

The Pantheon can change perspective

Living in a city for almost 2 years, there would come a time when you know it too well.  Like a song you have heard too often or a subject matter that has been discussed too much.  Before moving to Rome I was excited about the adventure, I have gotten to see and learn so many wonderful things.  The greatest of all these things is capturing these with my lens.  You can walk a step where there is not something amazing to see or look at.  However, then you are here for a while and begin to get a bit spoiled.  Rather, I was getting spoiled with my surroundings.  There are times when I just crave to shoot something new, different and exciting.  How many times can I eye up St. Peter’s, Piazza del Popolo or the Villa Borghese?  You can only marvel at the Colosseum so many times and at this point, while going to check out Renaissance work in churches, my husband has dubbed me “The Church Lady”.

Yesterday the three of us, my husband, son and I, went on a walk through the Eternal City.  We were approaching things in a different way, trying to do a better job of NOT doing the same things over and over again.  We tried to get lost a bit, take a differing winding street than we had before.

We walked, as son continued on his scooter in front of us.  The sun was setting, slowly and the city was heading into Civil Twilight.  We made a turn and decided to make our way to the Pantheon, as we could not remember the last time we had seen it at night.  I do love this shift in the day,  just when the sun dips below the horizon and your see beautiful colors in the distance.  What you also see is how things change.  When we originally entered the Pantheon area the sun was beginning this phase.  Light began to slowly be turned on at the exterior of buildings, specifically the lights placed on the Pantheon.  I had wondered to myself if people’s behavior changed as well.

I decided to use this as a point of observation, using the light and the Piazza.


There was a musician playing, just to the side of the Pantheon and people seemed to welcome the evening.  All were seeming to accept that daylight was gone and a new phase had begun.


I thought the couple by the fountain looked sweet as they gazed in the water, at the Pantheon and then into one another’s eyes.  It was as if they were the only two people in the world.  I loved how I could use the light reflecting up a bit in the water while everything else seemed much darker.


I walked to the other side of the fountain, and left my reverie, I then saw this Roma Capital Policeman getting harassed.  He  probably wish he was the only person in the world there instead of getting harassed by Romans.  I realized she was complaining about something on the other side of the fountain.  Probably me mysteriously photographing people, that nosy Italian.


Lastly, I saw these two.  Of all the things these two could be looking at, they were looking at a screen.  I could have been in priogione (prison), but as long as the are effectively managing their Fantasy Football Team, who am I to judge?  Then again, I just hope they accept my call from the Roma Capitale Police.  You know that day will come.



Visting the Civita di Bagnoregio

It is easy to get into a spoiled slump in Rome, there are so many things around us that we begin to take it for granted.  Pathetic, I know.  So with my son misbehaving and losing his ability to go to a birthday party, we cashed in on going on an adult chosen adventure (no guarantee of any child fun).  We got in the car and headed to what could be classified as a modern-day Ghost town.  What has a rough population of 15 people in the winter and 100 in the summer, due to tourists, is Civita di Bagnoregio.  It was founded over 2500 years ago by the Etruscans and was the birthplace St. Bonaventure.  The town still has the look and feel of the Middle Ages, as you can see where support walls were constructed to hold up crumbling structures. The city rises above a large looking mountain and is a carless town.  You can only travel there by foot using a long, long solid bridge.  The view around the city is amazing.  As you see the “city” you can observe the cliffs and can only imagine the dangers of the earthquakes it suffered from, with the last straw being in the 1700s.  It was at this time that the Bishop and government packed up and moved to neighboring Bagnoregio.  When you are in one of the largest squares you can see the papal symbol noting that this was a Papal state at one time.




When we walked the streets our son was tired from the long uphill journey to get to the town.  Those little legs can only climb so much.  However, he met some really nice boys that were eager to play Calcio (soccer) with him in the main square.  While my son understood every Italian word they spoke, he acted oddly timid, which is not at all in line with his personality


 We did walk on for a bit and came across a historic home.  I really wanted to see life in Bagnoregio in the Middle Ages, I am a dork.  Oddly, my son wanted to come with me too.  He was so excited when we were looking around at how they made and stored Olive Oil, where they slept and were they stored wine.  He actually turned to me and said, “Wow mom, that was the best part of the trip!”  Could it be possible that I have a curious history nerd on my hands?  Surely, all that time in London museums were not a dream!



Better yet, I think the little man recommends checking Civita do Bagnoregio out.  I do too!  But wait, wasn’t he supposed to be in trouble and mourning his loss of NOT attending a birthday party?  I think this may have been a parental fail…



Violinists, Calcio and Bowling for Euros

As I have mentioned before, Rome is a city to observe.  Yes, it is a place that is unique.  Where many live in their own existence.  With Rome driving, everyone is going somewhere and they will plow you down, using their horns to let you know.  Honestly, it makes me laugh.  Crossing the street can prove to be a bit of a hazard.  When crossing, walk quickly as you keep your eye on the little green man at the light and run when he is yellow.  We will call the undertaker when he is red, because you will never make it.  So I think I have painted the picture that Rome is about survival.  Someone else may be trying to survive until their next espresso or cigarette as their getting serious shakes or maybe their struggle to survive is something different.

Like any major city, people are trying to get by.  The country of Italy is suffering a “crisi” or Financial Crisis.  The unemployment statistics are abysmal, especially for their youth.  So quite often you see many people finding creative ways to make a Euro.  You have what I call the lame unimaginative types, the pure “handouts” or “acts”.  There is a young man who begs at the traffic light near my son’s school who, while on his “beg”, utilizes a cane and adopts a desperate palsy.  When he is off his “shift” I have seen him, without his cane and on his merry way.  Then there is the “talented”.  Granted, these people are not going to be on X-Factor, but, they DO something for their Euro.  These individuals may play a violin, clarinet, trumpet or an accordion.  Those people have me searching for my change.  There are also the “overdone” dress ups.  These are the ones dressed as the Statue of Liberty, Cleopatra or The Balancing act.  The Balancing Act is a guy sitting on a hidden chair and a man below holding it, which is supposed to look like a Buddhist deep meditation.  But the really inventive are the truly “great ones”.  There are a handful of people around Rome that, during red lights, will come out in the road and juggle bowling pins.  That is talent, worth a good Euro.  Then, the best, is an old man who bounces a soccer ball on his head.  Bravo, Bravo!  Why do I like it?  Because this is Italy and he is the real deal.

While on another of my “walkabouts”, I came across a burattinaio (puppeteer).  She was drawing some interest and her little guy on strings.  Everyone has something to offer for a Euro….




Sights and Sounds in the Piazza della Rotonda


Rome is the Eternal City, on that never really changes, over the course of centuries.  I love walking the streets in the historical center, passing the water fountains, the coffee bars and just taking in the people watching.  Piazzas are wonderful places to do just this as these are meeting points that have been here for centuries.

On a recent walk the street emptied into Piazza della Rotonda.  Before it did so, I could slowly see an important and famous silhouette forming in the distance.  The large shape was a building that is pretty famous and called the Pantheon.  Its age is unknown, but we can at least start with 2K years.  It amazes me to see the tourists stare in wonder, understandably so, while Romans just walk by as it is an everyday occurrence.  Next, you have an Egyptian Obelisk that is placed on top of a fountain.  Yes, this Obelisk traveled all the way from Egypt, because as the saying goes “to the victor goes the spoils”.  And this piece belonged to the ancient King Ramses II, so that is not exactly brand new either.  However that obelisk was just placed on the fountain in 1711, a fountain that was built and completed in the square in 1575.  In this square is a collection of open air cafes and restaurants, but you are definitely paying for the view.

With all that history and all the beauty it is no wonder that people enjoy a leisurely stroll, a meal or sitting by the fountain just to hear the water rush from the aqueducts.  I was observing the three couples by the fountain, all at differing stages in their lives.  I wondered what they had done today to enjoy Rome.  However, in the photo above, do you think those pictured are really aware of what is really around them?  But, my favorite is the guitarist.  His wonderful music filled the space and he had a growing crowd, which was forming behind me.  He was no dope, knew what potential was around him and was out to fill that open guitar case with Euros…. In this time of the Italian Crisi, well done!

Beautiful Surprise Engagement in Rome

When Sam contacted me about proposing to Nicole, I was so excited.  He wanted to do it in the Villa Borghese, a gorgeous park in Rome, and it would be lovely.  The icing on the cake was him wanting me to be that photographer to capture it.  I was very honored to be part of the day.  However, a week prior, I went running through the Villa Borghese to find out that they were doing construction on the small lago (lake).  It was drained and there was large fencing all around it.  I contacted Sam immediately and asked him what he needed me to research.  He was planning this all from the United States, in my hometown of Philadelphia, and I wanted to make sure I helped him out as much as possible.

I learned that Sam is a resourceful, creative guy and developed a new detailed plan.  I loved it.  There was a descriptive time line, a place where I was to begin following them, areas where they may be stopping for photos and eventually the big question.  I felt like I should be in black and wearing a wire.  I was sweating thinking that Nicole knew I was following them up via Condotti, stopping at the very crowded Bernini fountain and winding our way up the Spanish Steps.  I dropped back a few times, as not to “give myself away” with my long lens that resembles a scope.  I could see that Sam thought I lost them, so we kept in touch via text.  We finally made it to the small overlook, it looked absolutely beautiful.  This guy was awesome!

We met up later for some additional photos.  It’s not everyday you get engaged.  They were a great couple, excited for their trip in Rome, for their Wedding and to start their new life–together!





Munich: Oktoberfest 2013

As an American we hear the term “Oktoberfest” and think of a gigantic beer fest, complete with sloppy wet floors and more than tipsy attendees.  Now, I am sure that at certain times of the Fest, the city of Munich will see just these types of visitors at an event that is free of charge.  However, the true Oktoberfest means so much more.  From what I saw it was a way for Germans of Bavaria to celebrate the pride in who they are.  Better yet, I saw many people who were not German, from around the world wearing Lederhosen and Dirndls.  I wish I could have captured more photos of this as it was a demonstration of how global the festival is.

The origin of the festival is simple, it was a celebration of the marriage of King Ludwig to Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in October of 1810.  Lucky for Therese the grounds have been named in honor of her, Theresieweise.  The grounds are amazingly large and the festival is constructed there each year.  The Original Oktoberfest had horseracing and even featured freak shows.  Now these are not present, just as wonderful and no freaks, I think.



Only six breweries are allowed to participate in Oktoberfest and the beer must be brewed within Munich city limits.  Each brewery has a tent where they serve only their beer.  Also, the brewing process for this beer has begun in March.  It is the traditional process and is called Marzienbier and has a higher level of alcohol.  Now, the reason for that high level of alcohol is not for the sheer celebration, but for good reason.  It is need to defend against bacteria and so that it can last all summer before the fest.


Many things cross one’s mind when hearing the word
tent.  These tents are gigantic and larger than I ever imagined.  Some of them hold up to 7,500 people.  Further, all beer is served in steins.  The original, traditional steins were made of stone.  It was not until 1892 that glass was introduced.  Oh, and don’t think that the Germans have not caught on to those of you that enjoy a quick five-finger discount on a commemorative mug.  They charge a “deposit”, that you get a plastic return chip to receive your Euros back.  Believe me, three Euros is incentive.




While the thought of taking a child to a beer festival may be strange, there were many families there.  This whole festival is not just about clinking mugs and shouting “Prost”.  They use the amazing grounds for wonderful entertainment, like games, food and rides.


The rides are great fun day or night!


They even had a section for smaller children.  The below image makes me laugh, seeing that most people in these bumper cars are adults in the children’s section.



Below are the cookies that can be seen all over.


Lastly, a fun way to end our day!



 Auf Wiedersehen!



Why Rome? Why Not…

I love the light this time of you, it is so warm and golden.  So of course I was excited when Andrea of Why Rome asked me to take some headshots of her for her business.  Since she specializes to aiding visitors with travel plans, such as tours, lodging, airport transfers, what better place to do this shoot than in front of the Colloseum?  Well, I think some renovations, with the likes of scaffolding, had other plans.  After 2K years they decide to do repairs on the place?  You know the crazy Calabrese in me was shaking my fist.  But I digress, I find joy in challenges…I think.

However, I was able to find bits of the Colloseum to work with me as I managed the light at that time of day.  What’s more is managing my equipment and valuables from getting stolen.  I seriously amaze myself at the way I can scout out thieves these days or perhaps it does not take that much to be smarter than a jet lagged tourist in awe of the work of the Romans.  So take note to be aware, just like you would in any mjor city.  Who am I kidding?  I grew up in Philadelphia and lived in Chicago for a bit, so bring it sticky fingers.

I had a great time with Andrea.  She is from the United States and has lived in Rome for 3 years.  We talked about our adventures here, learning the language and immersing ourselves in the culture.  We both agreed that the fruits and vegetables we get here are like no other, that we need to go off the beaten path for great food and that patience is a necessity.

After the shoot we went for coffee in Monti in a beautiful piazza that I love.  I really enjoyed getting to know Andrea, I think you would too.








Italian Puppy Love

Recently, I was asked to do a shoot for a friend and her family.  Of those family members, I fell in love with the smallest member, Angelina.  She was petite and had beautiful brown eyes.  She carried her self confidently, as if five times her size.  She knew she had everyone entranced and eating out to of the palm of her paw.  I mean, why not, she’s Angelina.


Florence: A Night Walk

I’ve been to Florence twice before.  First, with my “not so into Art, but I will look at David” husband.  The second time was with my husband, 5yo son and parents.  To my pleasant surprise, my mother was very curious into viewing many of the beautiful art pieces in the Uffizi Gallery and going on a guided tour of the Accademia.  On that tour was my husband, dad and son.  My son loves a good tour and it lasted 2.5 hours.  I have to give him a round of applause for how he hung on every word and loved learning about my favorite artist Michelangelo.

But, moving on, I was excited when my friend Christi was going to visit with her daughter Ashley.  My husband wanted our son to stay home with him, and I had not experienced a weekend away with friends, like this, since before moving to Rome.  We could have been staying in a back alley in Naples, my bags would be packed…I think.  Well, that was not the destination at had, Florence was, and Christi made all the arrangements for lodging.  I did not know how curious she would be to go to museums, but I would love to take a deeper dive into Uffizi.  As luck would have it, she scheduled a tour of Uffizi and a night-time walk of Florence.  Both of which, I was extremely excited to see.

The Uffizi did not disappoint.  I had received confirmation on artwork that I loved and more information than I had known.  Also, the tour only spent time in my favorite parts of the museum, which was a complete score for me.  I like art, specifically Renaissance.  But can only look at it no longer that 2 hours, because my eyes will glaze over.  The tour was perfectly timed and filled with great information on all the Botticelli’s.  The best part, Christi and Ashley had the same curiosity that I did and were satisfied with the art as soon as I was.  I felt as if I hit the artistic jackpot.  If I were with my husband we he would have gotten itchy long ago.

Next we had a break, before moving on to the night-time walk of Florence from Dark Rome.  The three of us were excited for this as well.  Although, Ashley was wary of the whole line in the description paragraph for the tour about “ghosts”.  Our tour guide, Elisabetta, was excellent both is her descriptions and storytelling of the medieval  times and the Medici family.  But the stories did not end with just the most famous family of that era, but many Florentine families who made the city what it is.  My favorite being a Sienese man who came to marry a Florentine woman–scandalous–but went to build quite a rich little empire for himself.  How did he do this?  When he and his fellow colleagues would travel to Venice to place bids on the goods in the boats at the Venice docks, they would go to dinner the evening before.  He invited the all to dinner, to which he treated everyone to a celebratory feast.  When it came time foe the wine, he slipped them all some Opiates.  Needless to say, everyone slept in late.  Our Sienese man was able to get his goods at a very low rate, thus quickly building his fortune.  The Opiates are taken from the Poppy flower.  On his palazzo he has stone poppy flowers on the walls, also an inscription that reads “For he who does not sleep”.  That guy was hilarious.

There were many more stories were learned during the tour that were memorable, but the previously mentioned stands out.  At the end of the two-hour walk we went to a Gelateria for, you guessed it, some nice Gelato.  Ashley was becoming a connoisseur and glad we did not see any ghouls or specters from times long ago.




Positano: Loving the Life at Da Adolfo

I did write a bit about our vacation in Positano, I focused on our boat trip up and down the Amalfi coast and my fixation I developed on Lemons.  However, the trip was so special that I wanted to share another special day that we had.  Positano has a variety of beaches to offer.  In fact, you can learn about many of what Amalfi has to offer here with an App and posts from Gillian McGuire.  Gillian gave us the idea of going to Adolfo, and Elizabeth Minchilli as well.  To read Elizabeth’s experience, I wanted to get in the boat NOW.  But, I was reading it at 9pm, so that was out of the question.

What is this great recommendation?  We went to Da Adolfo which offers a relaxed beach and restaurant.  After our am capuccino, I called in the morning at 9am on the dot, reserving our chairs (lettini) and making lunch reservations.  I pushed us all out the door and headed for the dock to get the first Da Adolfo boat out.  I made sure we got on the correct one, the boat with the red fish.  Ironically, we were the first people at the boat, so I know we would get good lettini.  When we arrived at the beach, it was small and secluded.  We only needed to pay for the lounge chairs, which was minimal compared to other beaches.  What we liked most? It was a simple place, not fancy and just what we wanted to do.  Gillian calls it her hippy beach.  We lounged, read, swam and then we ate.  I mean we ate the best meal–ever!

We stayed the entire day until the beach was practically empty, loving every single minute of it.

If you are ever in Positano Da Adolfo is a must.  A quick note on my images below?  I cheated on Nikon.  Because of the salt water, boat ride and time on the beach, I opted for the iPhone.  I feel terrible, but my camera bodies and lenses needed to be safe at home.




Gillian Longworth Mcguire - I am now craving a plate of Zuppe di Cozze!

Nancy J O'Mara - Photos are great…..IPhone or Nikon! Do you have to go down, then up, all those stairs? If so, I guess I’ll have to enjoy it through your eyes!

Heather O'Mara - I know AND some time on lettini!

Heather O'Mara - They are all iPhone except for the first one. I did not want to damage my equipment. Yep, we had to go up and down stairs all week like that throughout Positano.

Engred Kulland Chai - So glad I found you through Gillian’s blog! Such great shots. I have the exact same picture of the staircase, except with my friend at the bottom – such a great way to work off all the wine we drank while staring out at the sea and the boats below!

The Amalfi Coast: In Vacanza

It is hard to believe that this is our second summer in Italy.  However, we had not been truly down to Amalfi.  While we had traveled to Sorrento, we had only grazed the tip.  Many people have told me how beautiful the Amalfi Coast is, how lovely I would find Positano and a visit to Capri is a must.  Not that I did not believe them, I just believe words cannot describe the beauty of this place.

We made Positano our home base.  I am quite lucky to have a friend with a home there that we were able to use, with a breath-taking view.  Everywhere you looked seemed to be postcard perfect.  From the beautiful Bougainville, crystal blue water of the sea and the largest lemons I have ever seen.  We made the most of every day there and used our time to explore in fun ways.  One of the most enjoyable things we did was go on a small boat cruise up and down the coast, just us and another family.  The captain was great pointing out many things.  I was even able to practice my Italian with him.

We did a stop in the Town of Amalfi, had lunch, walked around and took in the sites.  Again, lemons abounded and I found that I was craving them all week!

Heather O'Mara - Thanks, we had a really good time there!

An Expat July 4th


As a country of 313 Million people, living in 50 states and having the freedom of speech and religion, we are a diverse nation.  Yet all Americans can celebrate the country’s birth of Independence each year on the 4th of July.  This holiday brings memories to mind for many.  They recount favorite places where they celebrated each year, parades, barbeques and where they saw the fireworks.  This year we were able to watch Fireworks from our terrace coming from the US Consulate, which is how I took the image above.

The Fourth of July is not just fireworks and grilling on the barbeques.  It has quite a different meaning for me.  On July 4, 2007, two weeks after the birth of my son, I had a stroke.  Something that I made a remarkable recovery from.  On each July 4th, with each sound or burst of a firecracker, my heart swells with the promise and hope for the coming year.  It reminds me of all the wonderful people and things I have been blessed with.  I am forever grateful for the US Medicine that has taken care of my son and I when we needed it the most.  In fact, I can say that I am glad I had that stroke happen to me.  I have a more positive outlook because of it.  You realize what your true needs are, mine are  little.  I have my Life, Liberty, but I don’t need to pursue Happiness, I already have it.


Buon Compleanno Stati Uniti!

Happy Birthday America!

Heather O'Mara - Thanks!

Sorrento: Friends, Sunsets, just Gorgeous


I get tired, like anyone.  Sadly, the thought of packing a bag and getting in the car, to sit for three hours, exhausted me.  However my husband pushed us forward, as our friends from the US were in Sorrento and we were excited to see them.  I am so glad that we did.  It was a wonderful taste of home.  Seeing them is always as if no time has passed.  You forget there are things that you have not updated them on.  I was glad to see their families as well.  The view from the Villa they rented was spectacular and something that we enjoyed each evening.  What’s more…getting the group photo pf these characters as definitely interesting for sure.








End of Year


Perhaps I have started to speak like a Brit, but that is what they call the end of the School Year at my son’s school, “End of Year”.  There seems to be many British-ism we have picked up along the way.

But this post is not about my son or his school.  This post is about how blessed I was this year through my son’s school.  Moving to a new country and feeling light years away from any sense of normalcy is daunting.  I’m loud, I have a strange accent and I have an extremely poor grasp on the language.  Each day was filled with overwhelming tasks, that in the United States could have been completed in minutes.  I often questioned how I could survive.  But that brings me to today, so I guess I did.  However, as I have stated before, sometimes survival in Rome takes a village.

One of the biggest things I missed from  home was my gym at Club La Maison.  It was minutes from home and I would go there after I dropped my son off at school.  I knew everyone there and it was a place to exercise and socialize.  Leaving there left a big hole in my heart.  Not just for my favorite treadmills or classes, but the people as well.  I did look for Gyms in Rome, but here is the thing, they all speak Italian there.  I felt so weird and out-of-place.  My greatest fear was violating some social norm or someone immediately knowing I was the “American Idiot”.

But, I digress onto a better chapter.  There was the “Exercise Lady” at school and several other women would go to the park and attend her classes.  In retrospect, I would like to apologize to Ioana for calling her that because it sounds like she should be wearing pink tights, a blue onesie and a terry cloth sweatband around her head.  Oh, and did I mention “Exercise Lady” also sounds like she has wild curly, mousey blonde hair and bad makeup?  Oh, where was I?  Yes, so I was able to get a lead on what these classes were as I needed to get myself in a shape.  The months we spent trying to get our visa and moving from country to country, hotel to hotel took a toll on me.  I got the details and my new morning schedule began.

I was just going to take High Intensity interval Training (HIIT) on Mondays and Fridays, when it was offered.  I thought it was great as I would be home after 10!  But then there was the invite for coffee, then she added Wednesdays and then a strange thing happened.  Have I mentioned that I am not great at making new friends?  No, I swear I am not.  Well, that is sort of what started to happen.  I even started to do Yoga!  That was offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Now, I am not perfect, so do not think every week I made all five classes.  In fact, I could be seen in the crowd going to coffee right after dropping off the children on days when my body ached or my Italian classes were scheduled earlier, etc .  Above all, I loved my new mornings.  I felt so blessed to have found a way to exercise in English and to have made a network of friends.  My mother had noticed a different tone to my voice and that I seemed much happier and settled in Rome.  It was true.

When dealing with Expats, there are Visa issues and work issues.  All of these things are beyond our control.  As a group, over coffee we would discuss various things and the possibilities of a husband’s job change, etc.  We would be happy, when news would come that someone would be staying on.  But, waiting to hear what decisions were going to be made for another was not pleasant.  I was so sad when our friend from Holland, with three blonde children and they all ride bikes to school, was leaving.  I loved hearing her Amsterdam stories and listening to her point of view.  I would not be alone if I said I wanted to have a serious “sit down” with her husband on the “pros and cons” of taking her and the children away from us and our children.  Let’s be honest, while not safer, Rome has much better bike riding weather than any where in Holland!  But, alas, my son will get over his disappointment.

After the previous blow, another one happened and really shook my happy world up.  Yeah, I guess my little Normal Rockwell fantasy snow globe could not last forever.  After 12 years “Exercise Lady”, okay Ioana at this point, had news for us.  After telling us in March that she and her Movie producing husband would remain in Rome, they were packing up their family and heading to California, Santa Monica to be exact.  I never hated the Golden State more at that moment.  Granted, I was happy for her and her family, but I never said I was unselfish.  We all were sad as we realized what a great group and community Ioana had built through her classes.

So, with a heavy heart, Holland and California–you win…





The Spring Weather in Italy…

The weather in Italy this Spring has been very unreliable.  Needing a coat in late May and into June is completely odd.  We went from warmer weather, which I began to pack away warm clothes, only to go back to needing them.  Not to mention the rain–and lots of it.  Londoners felt right at home and they were not liking that.  Why?  Because, while crossing the street is an art in Rome and most shops are closed from 1-3pm, but on the positive side you have the warm sun on your face.  But I digress.

While walking through St. Mark’s Square I saw a Rose Salesmen give a little give one from his bunch.  She was so sweet and warm in this unseasonably cool weather.  It made me shake my negative thoughts right away…



Ericha - Aww how cute!! I love that you described crossing the street in Rome an “art form.” So true!

Heather O'Mara - I know, right! Craziness here, just craziness.

Bracciano: A Lake and Castello

Just a quick side trip is all we needed.  Something to explore outside of Rome, but not overnight.  We were starting to feel like we were not doing different things or seeing different places.  While doing some research I found our next destination, Lake Bracciano!  How did I decide this?  Because it had the Castello where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes got married of course.

Driving into the town of Bracciano was lovely and quit easy to navigate.  We were able to find the Castello and purchase tickets for the last tour of the day.  We then decided to have lunch in a square, which was relaxing and the food was quite good.  The sun felt warm on my face and that the woman working there brought markers out for my son to color with.  Going down to the Lake was nice and relaxing.  You could rent boats and there were restaurants down there as well.  It seemed to be such a nice peaceful place and a great way to spend an afternoon.

When we returned to the castello, there was a slight rub–the tour was in Italian.  For me it was not that much of an issue and good for my studying.  However, this was not the case for my husband and son who spoke even less than I did.  But we went on the tour and saw room after room.  Honestly, it seemed to be excessive and I could not imagine having any event there.  Then again, for Tom Cruise there were probably Wedding Planners and Stagers, hired staff for the hired staff for the entire thing to transform the place.  In the end, what we saw, sadly, was where 2 movie stars had a lavish Wedding and now have finalized their divorce.



Assisi: Visiting St. Francis

We had wanted to visit Assisi for quite some time.  A year ago,  an Italian colleague of Mike’s advised him on how beautiful it was and having traveled there with her family.  Recently my friend Gillian went and had a wonderful time, returning with a long list of recommendations.  That sealed it for us, we needed to visit the home of St. Francis.  However, I was a bit concerned given the new Pope.  Why?  I was worried that everyone else would want to check out the place of the Saint that inspired the current Pope.  Honestly, I am not a fan of crowds.

However, we found Assisi to be beyond words.  There was something so warm and inviting about it.  The Umbrian countryside was beautiful and the architecture of Assisi was lovely.  We wandered city streets, visiting the sites.  There seemed to be so many things to find.

While walking, we happened upon a May Day parade.  It was a yearly festival with representatives for each area of Assisi.  It was part of a three-day event, this being one of the last pieces.  It made us fall deeper in love with Assisi.  We also discovered that Assisi, was much older than we thought, originating in 1,000 BC.  Assisi has Roman walls, an amphitheatre, a Roman Temple to Minerva that was transformed into a church.  Also, there was a Roman Villa uncovered there in 1997.  With a history dork like me, we will definitely visit again.




ericha - I love these!! What a beautiful city!

Heather O'Mara - Thank you! We really did like it a lot.

Krista - Lovely photos! I actually haven’t been to Assisi yet, but now I want to check it out..

Heather O'Mara - Thanks! Definitely check it out. It is so beautiful.

Managing a Large Family Visit

I’ll admit it, I was really excited to have visitors come to Rome and visit.  Mostly, I was really happy to see my nephews.  I was glad that my sister-in-law was dragging my brother-in-law away from his computer.  Also, my in-laws were coming.  If you are starting to do the math you will soon realize that I had quite a number of guests coming and needed to start my planning as soon as possible.



My in-laws were simple, they would stay with us.  However, our 3 bedroom apartment, complete with the water that can only be used from one tap at a time, could not shower all those bodies.  When you run the sink in the kitchen someone is bound to get scalded in the shower.  We were fortunate that my husband had Hilton Miles and we could accommodate them down the street at the Hilton Garden Inn.  The Boys loved it!  A challenge can be trying to get lodging for greater than 3 people in certain areas.  Yes there are quadruple rooms available, but be aware that rooms in Europe are smaller.  I really had some issues getting a hotel to accommodate 9 people.  I thought my eyes were going to fall out starting at websites doing research, but I was so happy with my end result.


Because I wanted this to be a worthwhile trip, I made sure we had a checklist of tours for them.  Basically I asked what their “wish list” was.  My SIL is very easy-going, but when she said she just wanted to ride scooters in Rome I knew I needed to just take charge completely.  I had no desire to scrape her remnants off the Piazza Venezia or even the main street in front of our Apartment.  Like a lunatic, I got into planning mode and scheduled tours for my in-laws at the Vatican the day after they landed.  After the rest of the family landed and had a good day’s rest, we went on a tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Forum.  Both tours were scheduled with Walks of Italy, who did an outstanding job as the limit of 12 people, this was great for our party of 9!


We tried to keep it simple, by take them to places off the beaten path.  It can be difficult with a large party with diverse ages and tastes.  What’s more, is restaurants open after 8pm, which is after my son’s bed time and I believe my nephews would have fainted from starvation by then.  Lucky for us we have a restaurant nearby that is actually open ALL DAY, a rarity.  I believe they have set this policy because of the local Embassies.  It worked out great for us and introduced my nephew to his new favorite Roman dish.  We love Taverna Rossini and are so thankful for it.

What was next?  After doing some of the main Roman sites we hopped the Train and headed off.


When it comes to travel I highly recommend taking the train.  I know my husband prefers to drive, but taking a train is so much easier.  Also many towns have ZTL laws.  What is that basically Zone limits where you can get ticketed for driving and parking in that town.  You many not even know that you received a ticket, it can be mailed to you from the Rental Car agency.  Also, parking is awful to find in towns like Florence, Siena and non-existent in Venice.  So I booked tickets for the nine of us from Rome to Venice, then Venice to Siena and, finally Siena to Rome.  What could be a bit frustrating was the limit of tickets you can purchase at one time, oh, and that my internet connection kept crashing.  But–yay–I did it!  We did all those legs of train travel without any issues.  I highly recommend it.

And below?  Check out family times in Venice…


Below are the boys showing off bad habits.  One chews his sleeve, another sucks his thumb and we have a nail biter.


Here Uncle Doug puts Shane on his “elbows”.  We thought it was too cute for a while to correct the little man.  Venice has lots of walking, with all sorts of bridges.  I wanted to get on Doug’s elbow’s at some point…

Here is my older nephew, trying to charm his mommy.  I honestly think he’s been making those puppy eyes since he was a baby.  Always cute…

Nancy O'Mara - Great commentary on our trip, Heather, and what a fine job you did organizing all of us!! The photos are wonderful, also. The Walks of Italy tours are exceptional, as you predicted them to be!! Thanks again for the organizing and translating….how goes the Italian lessons?

Heather O'Mara - Grazie! Still taking the Italian two hours a day, two times a week….

Shooting Images in Italy


I have not blogged anything in quite some time.  Yep,I have a queue of images and postings waiting to make an appearance.  I do get caught up in the stories I like to tell.  The detail in the things I see is perhaps and why I want to share the image, why it was striking to me,etc.

 Which brings up another topic of HOW I capture the photos.  We can start this simply by what drives my inspiration.


Light, beautiful light and how I love it.  Yes, it seems that is something that Italy does not lack this time of year.  It seems to be much warm and more inviting as the days grow longer before we enter into the inferno of mid summer.  But, as we move into Spring, the colors seem richer, warmer and have the ability to add greater detail to all subjects.  It seems to burst through the trees, warm your face and soul. In this respect, I have to think…do I have enough light or will my lens be fast enough to capture this?  You can play with light, as it changes throughout the day.  The way it curves through a columns and ruins, early in the morning or late day.  Also, don’t think you need flash wherever you go, think of it as an old wives’ tale.  That is why I carry two-three lens with me at all times.  All sorts of differing eyes to see the world and add perspective to my images.  What I have found to be the best for some of my landscape detail and style?  My wonderful Nikkor 14-24mm 2.8, it is just fast enough in low lighting and wide.  I also bring my 85m 1.4 and 24-70mm 2.8, But find that my 14-24 has become my workhorse lens.  When the majority of my work was Weddings, my workhorse lens was my 24-70mm.  I feel bad for her, she may feel neglected now we were tight.  However, the 14-24mm got mediocre play, but now has a starring role.  I laugh now as I was very close to selling it two years ago when I was back in the United States.

Find the Image

While there is no lack of beauty or photographic opportunity in Italy, I do like to capture it from my own perspective.  When I see a setting I like, I ask myself, “how can I take this and make it my own?  How am I seeing it?”  Sure, I can take it straight on, but, that’s boring.  What if I dropped lower?  Stepped a few paces to the left?  Where is the light and how does it change as I move my stance?  As I look I make sure my frame is exactly the way I want it.  What is it I am seeing in the setting, are there wires to the left, someone’s laundry hanging?  I don’t believe in cropping or post process editing.  Sadly, you always see immediately the random stranger that walks into the photo at that last second.  It happens, but that is why patience is truly a virtue.  But after I have done these things, I am not ready to click the shutter.  I do believe in several shots, maybe a pace to the left, right, crouch lower.  You know, like a crazy person.

Pet Peeves

I have quite a list of “pet peeves” in all of this is time, so I probably should just stick to photography.  They are pretty simple, I see something and I know it is not the right time of day to shoot it.  I may look down at my camera body and realize that I am either out of battery power without a backup.  Another, I quickly pass something at  night from a tram window, want to capture it, then finally walk by with my camera–in the middle of the day.  The opposite can also be true.  I can drive my son to school then see warm light of  the morning, warm sun bursting through the trees as a new day begins and I realize how gorgeous everything is.  I may notice bits of glowing mosaics or Italians waiting for trams as the sun is behind them with a rim light so special caressing their angry, smoking faces and I think this is Rome and wonder if they know it or see it from their cloud of smoke.  Lastly is when I find myself shooting too often with my iPhone because I do not have my camera with me.

One Piece of Advice

Taking great images is not really that hard.  It takes time, practice and patience.  You need to know your gear and how it works.  I completely understand the “big heavy book thing” that came with the camera may still be sitting on your desk, but you need to open it.  It is overwhelming, but you need to understand how it can really help you.  One piece of advice is to read a few pages, even one a day.  Maybe experiment with what you learned.  You’ll improve, you’ll feel accomplished and you’ll soon be able to take that camera anywhere and achieve what you want.  And maybe, you’ll experience the victory of capturing the images and the agony of losing your lens caps…




Finding an Elephant in Rome…

I like to find the different things in the Eternal City, those that are off the beaten path.  I had read about the Elefantino and could not find it for the life of me.  I knew it was right near the Pantheon, but could not locate it, it was maddening.  One night I was walking to meet my husband, there he was in all his glory.  The Elefantino carrying an Obelisk on his back.  This Obelisk is one of the many Egyptian Obelisks you will see in Rome.  The Obelisks were built between 589-570 BC and brought to Rome by Emperor Diocletian during his reign 284-305.  The small Obelisk was one that Pope Alexander VII wanted placed upon an animal and commissioned Bernini with the design.  The Pope wanted Bernini to use the inspiration based in an inscription on the Obelisk, which read “….a strong mind is needed to support a solid knowledge”.  Thus Bernini selected an Elephant for his task.

What I find rather funny about the Obelisks in Rome are what has been placed upon what would be considered a Pagan symbol.  You will notice a cross above each.  I guess in some sort of effort to convert the Egyptians should they come to claim their ancestors work?

Further, after checking out the mighty Elephant, I decided to walk inside the church.  From the exterior, it seemed quite plain.  It was built in the 13th century, so I did not know what to expect.  With a quick look inside, I was amazed by its beauty and color.  I found a sculpture of Jesus that was very exquisite.  I only had time for a brief visit and took a quick shot.  On the way out I discovered why I was so taken by the statue, it was the work of my favorite artist–Michelangelo.



Nathalie (@spacedlaw) - This Christ used to be naked but apparently was found scandalous (one could speculate on which grounds but I do not want my mind to go there, quite). So the body was given metal knickers.
Shame that.

Rome’s Simplicity in Trastevere

Rome is a rich and beautiful city, with many interesting layers.  Within the year, in which we have lived here, I feel that I have only scratched the surface.  My son and I have enjoyed a book, for children, entitled “This is Rome”.  I do try to check off a list I have made of the things it has described to see in Rome.  It unveils a beautiful story of Rome’s origins and brings it to life, up to the present day.  My son loves me to read it.  It has increased his curiosity in the place in which he lives.

We have been many places in the city and have watched “Roman Holiday” many times, another favorite of my son.  But seeing monuments are just a small slice.  There was one site that is something that is by chance.  In the area of Trastevere, it is quoted in the book, is “where the real Romans live”.  In fact, when they place a blue bow on the door “when a new little Roman is born”.  I was never sure if either one was true.  Finally, finally I had the opportunity to see this site of the bow placement!  What’s more?  I was just quoting the book to my visitor, you would have thought I planted it there.




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