Category Archives: OFF THE BEATEN PATH



Some of my best travel experiences are unplanned…

I had spent most of the day hiking the fishing villages in Cinque Terre, Italy and my legs begged for an afternoon break. Nessun Dorma, a wine bar perched high on a cliff in Manarola, was the perfect place to recover with the town’s best scenic view as a bonus! 


Their strawberries with sugar and lemon was a refreshing partner to my glass of local wine.

Then the best surprise…I discovered morning pesto classes were available here! Pesto classes in Italy’s most famous pesto region PLUS this view again…I immediately signed up for the next morning’s class.


Class started with each of us picking our own basil leaves from the restaurant’s small private garden. I was off with my small bowl and the instructions to only choose the small top leaves.


The necessary ingredients were ready for us…garlic, sea salt, tender pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese.

Plus extra virgin olive oil will be added as the last step.


Simone, our instructor and owner of Nessun Dorma, gave us his first Secrect to great pesto…he immediately placed ice cubes on top of our freshly picked basil leaves. The ice kept the leaves fresh and retained their beautiful green color for the pesto.


Simone is a perfectionist when it comes to flavor and taught us to cut out the tiny stem that runs through the garlic clove before crushing .


Then the fun began…in our mortars, we mixed sea salt and 1 big garlic clove until a white cream paste.


After removing the ice and drainng any water, we added our basil leaves, a sprinkle of pine nuts, and started more grinding. 



Now time to add  Parmesan cheese.  Simone leaves nothing to chance and insists we use Parmesan cheese that has aged 24 months.


I was excited as we added our last ingredient, extra virgin olive oil.


My most interesting discovery was the flavor difference between pesto made in a “new” marble mortar (on the left ) vs made in a seasoned, marble mortar from 1920s (on the right). 

Simone had told us at the beginning of the class we would experience a flavor difference between the two mortars.

Seeing is believing ! 

The pesto in the older mortar was smoother and sweeter! (I am now searching for an aged mortar to bring home.) 

 Simone’s passion for food and non-stop enthusiasm made his pesto class the highlight of my Cinque Terre trip.

Schoolteacher Walking 500 Miles Solo Along French Pilgrim Trails


Sometimes you meet people in ways you were not expecting…

Thus my story of meeting Amara begins…with wonderful scents from her big pot of homemade vegetable soup in the communal kitchen of Le Village Hostel in Paris. As my nose followed the smells that reminded me of my grandmother’s kitchen, my eyes spot her friendly note inviting all the hostel guests “to share”. 

Food has a way of starting conversation. Soon we were both eating soup and talking about where we had traveled and where we were traveling next.

The “next” for Amara, a 28-year-old, 4th grade schoolteacher in Minnesota, is to walk 500 miles solo along Pilgrimage Trails in southern France to Spain! 


Today starts her adventure with a three hour train trip from Paris to Avallon in southern France…followed by  a 10 mile hike to Vezelay and her first stop…two nights contemplative refuge at the peaceful monastic run Maison Bethanie where “silence is required”.

After Vezelay, her next 490 miles are without reservations. Like the Pilgrims before, she trusts she will find housing along the way, meet other travelers, and soak in the beauty of the route and its architecture. 

In 50 days, she ends her 500 mile walk just before the Spanish border in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

We can follow her adventure as she blogs her walk.

What an inspiration to her 4th grade students.  She has shown them it is possible for anyone to live their dreams! 


In 2013, after a long day in Paris, I was at last ready for dinner. I was in my favorite Montmartre section of Paris and peeking through restaurant windows to discover the right mood among diners to say, “yes, this is the one.” I often select a restaurant or cafe’ more on the ambiance than reading the posted menu. I ask myself, “would I be happy here?”

france april 13 118 I never miss an opportunity to glance into shop windows as I often find my most cherished pieces by accident. My hunger was put on hold when I discovered on rue Audran a small shop window filled with one-of-a-kind cafe’ size cups…each with its unique nose and lips.

The young woman artist and creator, Alice Lothon, was still inside working at her pottery wheel where she creates each piece one at a time. I loved all of her pieces…cafe’ size cups, cafe’ au lait bowls, and even large table-top size pieces. She could see my enthusiasm and between my not-so-good French and her not-so-good English, I learned the story of how she came to create her vision.

The next year, I brought my 12-year-old granddaughter to Paris and took her to Alice’s shop.  Alice remembered me AND my enthusiasm and she treated my granddaughter like family.

What a great surprise, our connection a year earlier led to Alice taking my granddaughter under her wing. Sitting side-by-side around the small pottery wheel, Alice taught her how to make her own unique cafe’ cup. More importantly, Alice showed her the soul of people we meet in travel.

Many people would just pop into Alice’s shop and buy some cups to take home. My granddaughter and I took home life-long memories!