Italy: Sei Bella

Jennifer Barrington

Jennifer Barrington is a great friend. By birth she is Australian and by marriage she is a Venetian with one amazing accent! Jennifer is a tour guide extraordinaire, a mixture of Australian storyteller (just like the Irish!) and the calmness of a zen buddhist monk who just goes with the flow! She imparts her unique perspective to both young and old.

Culture, art, music and culinary delights are all embedded into Italy’s unique DNA. Jennifer encourages her charges to be open to all that surrounds them. ” With a grateful heart see the magic in each moment.” At the end of their time together, each person shares some of the experiences held most dear…they range from finding the magic in the simple or what some previously would think to be mundane to the striking awe felt when connections to great art and architecture are made. It is Jennifer’s hope to instill in them not only a love for travel but the realization that those magic moments surround us wherever we are if we just open and see with eyes of wonder and gratefulness. (When I am having a bad day, I think of Jennifer!) Here are just some of my “magic moments” from my last trip in a short travel montage. With camera in hand, I went from the gentle rocking of the gondola, to the streets of Florence inviting everyone to dance, eat and celebrate…from Pompeii’s sacred paths to Capri’s giant rock formations amidst brilliant glowing waters of the Blue Grotto. I hope you enjoy it.

Sorrento, Italy …Rain and Shine

We drove into Sorrento in a rainstorm but it did not dampen this small town’s charm. The narrow winding streets create a sense of intimacy and invite one to explore. Not knowing what is around the next corner but being greeted with surprise after surprise.

Rainy Day in Sorrento, Italy

Sorrento, Italy

In Southern Italy, lemon trees abound. It seems that lemons come in two sizes here – large and extra large and limoncello is the drink of choice. In one of the stores, I was kindly invited back to see how it was being made. With a vegetable peeler, long strips are taken from the lemon and put right into vats where they are left to steep in vodka for several days. A sugar syrup is made and mixed with the vodka mixture and then it is strained. Limoncello is both delicious and strong (for my taste!). My advice is to try some AFTER visiting all the other quaint shops. We found everyone so open to us and spent a lot of time “visiting”! Hospitality is a hallmark!

Sorrento lemons

Making Limoncello

Limoncello Bottles for sale

Shop owner, Sorrento, Italy

The town sits on the top of rocky cliffs. The next day, we ventured down by both elevator and stairs in order to catch a boat over to Capri.
We saw ingenuity at work! Since there is little beach, piers were built out over the water. Sitting on top are very small and brightly colored bath houses for people to change in and then lay out on the piers for some sun bathing!

Sorrento, Italy

Sorrento, Italy

Sorrento, Italy

Sorrento, Italy

Sorrento, Italy

Sorrento has both charm and grandeur. Taking in breathtaking sites and wandering through the narrow streets, spending time with the locals is such a captivating experience. This is why I try to return year after year!

Sorrento, Italy

Capri is next!

Wandering Along The Back Streets in Florence

Florence, Italy

Florence, Santa Maria Novella



Florence, Santa Maria Novella


A city bathed in the warm colors of rust and amber, A city where the artists Michelangelo, DaVinci, Donatello, Botticelli and Brunelleschi (just to mention a few) brought forth a collective body of the greatest works of art the world has ever known.  A city where artists attempted to capture the beauty, order and harmony of the human body as a way to glorify God and they excelled at this glorification. Florence is known as the heart of the Renaissance and in many ways the foundation of our modern world lifting us out of the dark ages. It is a city I go back to time and time again as it continually amazes me.

On a recent trip, I walked the far back streets where I had never been before.  There I discovered Farmaceutica Di Santa Maria Novellaone.  The Dominican Friars founded this center in 1221 as a location to make herbal remedies and potions to use in the monastery. “Their reputation became world renowned and the pharmacy, sponsored by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, opened to the public in 1612.”

Many of the Farmaceutica Di Santa Maria Novella’s products have become a part of history: the world famous pot-pourri is still hand crafted in large terra cotta vats using local essences and plants as has been the tradition since the 1200’s. The first “Eau de Cologne” has been attributed to the pharmacy’s creation in the 1500’s of Catherine de Medeci’s “Water of the Queen.” She used the citrus and bergamot scented water and shared it with all her closest friends during her reign as the Queen of France and one can still purchase this fragrance today.  There is  a quiet reverence which envelopes the visitor.  Vaulted ceilings, ornately carved dark wood and low lighting that somehow makes each vintage bottle glow as if holding a rich treasure.  Creams, soaps and perfumes all provide a glimpse into the past practices of the monks who were so attuned to the healing benefits found in nature.  Their original recipe ledgers can still be seen. While knowing that Santa Maria Novella has opened in Chevy Chase, Dallas, Los Angels and New York,  I was very happy to leave this special surprise discovery at Via della Scala, 16, 50123 with a small, beautifully wrapped “Angels of Florence”. Now the scent of white flowers from a far off place lifts my spirits  and I am transported  to a place I love and reminded to wander through the small, back streets.

Villa d’Este, Tivoli, Italy.

One of the many things I have learned from travel is the importance of trying to be in the moment… (Note the key word is “trying” because it is so easy to be distracted by future details or the pull back home). On this day, several of us decided to get a sandwich from a small family run restaurant to the right of the entrance to the gardens before going in. The family could not have been nicer and we were all just enjoying being with each other even though we did not speak the other’s language. Before leaving, they generously gifted each of us with their home made olive oil. It is the best I have ever tasted! If we were rushing to get into the gardens, we would have missed such a moment of warmth, hospitality and welcome.

I could feel every muscle and every tension in my body just simply melt away within a few minutes of entering the Villa d’Este (also known as the Tivoli Gardens). This truly is a masterpiece of the Italian garden and Renaissance estate. In the 1500’s, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, the son of Lucretia Borgia, came here to recover after a failed bid for the papacy and took on the position of Governor of Tivoli. He commissioned Pirro Ligorio and Alberto Galvani to carry out his magnficient dream for his new home and probably soothe his shattered ego – which is a very good thing for us now!

The garden was featured in the opening of the movie, Three Coins in the Fountain and the palace has beautiful frescoes in the reception rooms with breath taking views. The gardens are composed of approximately 500 fountains from grand scale to simple cascading water into small ponds. According to Italy Heaven, “A number of paths and steps lead down through the formal slopes to panoramas and fountains.” One can simply wander and explore beautiful manicured walkways with views of the Rometta , The Water Organ, The Fountains of Dragons and the Path of One Hundred Fountains…each so unique and each providing such an inviting experience into serenity.

Something tells me Ippolito probably never looked back!

Copyright 2012 Frances Schwabenland. Images may not be copied, printed or otherwise disseminated without express written permission of Frances Schwabenland.

Via dell’Amore

Via dell’Amore, Cinque Terre, Italy from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

Via dell’Amore or the Pathway of Love is located in Cinque Terre, Italy. The beautiful rocky coast and Ligurian homes carved into steep mountians make this a must see for anyone wanting to experience a bit of heaven on earth. The path connects the villages of Riomaggore and Manarola and after World War II became a lovers’ meeting spot. With the movie, Three Meters Above The Sky, it became the craze to declare one’s love on a lock and throw the key into the water, forever uniting the couple. (I am such a sucker for a great love story!)
Along with hundreds of new and rusting locks, declarations of love are written on walls and carved into the plants along the way. I believe firmly that there is an energy of place. Here on this pathway of love, one can’t help but feel the expansiveness and beauty while looking out and at the same time, being caught up in the wonderfully uplifting energy of amorous affections.

Copyright 2012 Frances Schwabenland. Images may not be copied, printed or otherwise disseminated without express written permission of Frances Schwabenland.

Burano, Italy

Burano is a small island located in the Northern Venetian Lagoon. Its fame is steeped in legends which add to the charm of this island. The vibrant colors of the homes are beautifully reflected in the channels. Doorways are covered with equally colorful sheets swaying with the breeze and windowboxes are host to a variety of flowers…quaint, charming and visitors wish they could change their status to resident. It is said that fishermen painted their homes with bright colors so they could easily spot them while out for the daily catch. Square is the typical shape for the homes with two to three floors. It is common for the kitchen, eating area and “water closet” (toilet) to be on the ground floor with the bedrooms on the upper floors.

Burano is also famous for its lace. As the legend goes, A young Venetian seafarer brought his love seaweed from one of his journeys. The woman thought the design to be beautiful and using a needle and thread, worked very hard to preserve the intricate patterns and details. “Punto in aria” is the typical Burano needle lace rather than the bobbin lace of Brugge, Belgium. It dates back to the 14th century. Louis XIV and Catherine de Medici were just two who sought this elaborate lace. Unfortunately today there are very few experts left to carry this on. These remaining gifted women prefer to carry on this tradition from their home, usually sitting outside and socializing with those fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time! The beautiful handcrafted creations can be found in both stores and the Burano Lace Making Museum.

Every trip I have taken to Italy has always included Burano. I am so taken with the colors, food, traditions and hospitality of the people. This is why I travel!

Copyright 2012 Frances Schwabenland. Images may not be copied, printed or otherwise disseminated without express written permission of Frances Schwabenland.

From Cinque Terre to Dosojin: Renewal, Surprise, and Newness

I just returned from a wonderful trip throughout Italy. Spring is definitely the time to go with cool breezes and fewer crowds. Many people were on their way in for Easter services, while I was on my way out with an Easter story, one of life over death. Cinque Terre is an area of 5 beautiful and charming medieval towns. Tourists can walk a 12 mile footpath from town to town and be gifted with breath taking views. Last October though, devastating mud slides hit. Mad Mudslides is just one of the many videos on YouTube showing the degree of destruction. While there, my group was staying at the Cuccaro Club located at the top of the mountain. It was here I heard the story of courage, resilency and community. The hotel was built and run by three generations but the mudslides broke through the generational legacy. It was destroyed. As soon as the rains stopped, the townspeople from all over came to help the family dig out. Little by little, bit by bit, the hotel was restored. The day we arrived, was opening day! There was such a spirit there I cannot even begin to describe it. All the local people who helped dig out now came back to celebrate the reopening. It was an amazing experience to be able to be a part of this grand celebration and Tonya (the daughter) made us feel just like family rather than the total strangers we were. Nature is powerful but the human spirit has a resilency and strength that was able to prevail through it all and we could all party over that!

This trip was the first time I had ever heard of Kinder Eggs. They are popular throughout Europe but definitely banned from the US. Last year, Customs and Border Protection seized over 25,000 of them from people trying to bring them into the country. These are chocolate eggs that contain a toy inside…a puzzle, an airplane, a doll, etc. They can be found all over and are delicious. Many pastry shops had very large, hand decorated eggs in their windows and I was told they all had surprises inside! We just have scratch off lotteries and Cracker Jacks!

Lastly, when I arrived home, I was so happy to receive word that a new multi-faceted travel website, Dosojin, had just been launched. Dosojin refers to Shinto stone markers which are placed along village borders and street corners to protect the travelers from evil influences. This is the vision of four very talented and creative individuals and I feel so very privileged that they decided to feature my work as part of their launch. Stop by and sign up for the app… it will be a much used tool for anyone who travels. Best wishes to
the creators of Dosojin.

Copyright 2012 Frances Schwabenland. Images may not be copied, printed or otherwise disseminated without express written permission of Frances Schwabenland.