This week I am…

Spring hus sprung in our neighborhood!

Spring hus sprung in our neighborhood!

…learning about the new generation of deliberate “spinsters” via this author interview.

…watching this video of the best supermarket movie scenes (and dreaming of Trader Joe’s!)

…adding garlic to everything after reading this article, not that I needed much convincing.

…following these “cool moms” on Instagram (remember this?!)

…disagreeing with my 1982-born husband on who is a “millennial.” This is a fun chart.

…reading about the next generation of foodies–would you buy a food magazine for your kids?

…salivating over the “hottest hotels of 2015” on this slideshow.

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Did you have a nice weekend? We went on a wine tasting hike. #SwissLife

I want to go to there…

Canal. Amsterdam. Netherland…Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Netherlands Amsterdam Reflection of building in canal called Singel

Called the “Venice of the North” this canal-built city has always seemed utterly idyllic to me…

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…maybe it’s all the windmills?

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…or that tulips is one of their main industries? Doesn’t it seem like a fairy land?

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But after reading a bit on The Netherlands, I’ve come to realize that this city’s beauty shines in spite of its tumultuous history.

In the 17th century Amsterdam was considered the wealthiest city in the world thanks to its trading network. (In fact, Amsterdam’s stock exchange is the oldest in the world.) But wars with England and France led to its decline in the late 18th century–at one point Amsterdam was even absorbed by Napoleon’s French Empire. Through the industrial revolution in the late 19th century Amsterdam surfaced again as a formidable power–but World War II was on the horizon.

Woodcut map of Amsterdam from 1544.

Woodcut map of Amsterdam from 1544.

In May 1940, the German air force (Luftwaffe) set out to break the Dutch resistance by bombing the city of Rotterdam, which is located just north of Amsterdam. Worried that the Nazis’ bombing would come at too great a cost, the Dutch sent a message signaling a ceasefire. The message did not arrive in time and the now-infamous Rotterdam Blitz decimated the city. This is why Rotterdam’s architecture is vastly different from Amsterdam’s quaint style.

Rotterdam's famous cube houses, designed by Piet Blom.

Rotterdam’s famous cube houses, designed by Piet Blom.

The Nazis invaded The Netherlands and took over Amsterdam. Meanwhile, Dutch families were hiding hundreds of thousands of Jews in their homes–the most famous probably being Anne Frank. (Like many preteens around the world, I treasured The Diary of Anne Frank). Frank’s family and more than 100,000 other Jews were discovered and deported to Nazi concentration camps.

Although Amsterdam would regain its independence after the war, the city had suffered greatly. The Netherlands had the highest per capita death rate of all Nazi-occupied countries in Western Europe. Its citizens suffered famine and most of the trees in Amsterdam were cut down for fuel.

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Today, much of Amsterdam’s Old Town is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city has reemerged as a global center of culture. Amsterdam is one of the most popular destinations in Europe and receives more than 4.63 million international visitors per year.

I would love to visit the Vincent Van Gogh Museum, the Rembrandt House Museum and rent bicycles to get around. Did you know Amsterdam is the most bike-friendly capital in the world?

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As far as packing, my dream Dutch suitcase would be:

Sweet take on the mirrored trend. http://bit.ly/1E6JtkA

Sweet take on the mirror trend. http://bit.ly/1E6JtkA

Spring stripes. http://piprl.me/1b1oXEI

Spring stripes. http://piprl.me/1b1oXEI

Love the 70's vibe of this dress. http://bit.ly/1aBxEoL

Love the 70’s vibe of this dress. http://bit.ly/1aBxEoL

Clogs are Amsterdam's shoe. http://bit.ly/1HcrMPB

They invented the clog, after all. http://bit.ly/1HcrMPB

Looks painted by the Dutch masters! http://bit.ly/1cA4qIw

Looks painted by Dutch masters! http://bit.ly/1cA4qIw

For now, Tot ziens (“see you later”) and check out these links on Amsterdam:

Why we mourn the deaths of celebrities we never met

I wrote this story for Thrive Wire–check it out here.

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Robin Williams, Princess Diana, Whitney Houston…you likely never met them, but felt pain when you heard about their deaths. Maybe you tweeted about their deaths or joined the “R.I.P…” Facebook group. Maybe you sat with friends and discussed your favorite moment in their lives. Maybe you cried.

Those reactions are natural for fans because the pain felt can be as acute as hearing that an old friend has passed away, according to researchers studying the unique phenomenon.

“They’ve been a part of our lives…we feel we know them, and we incorporate them almost as though they’re part of our families, though most of us recognize that they’re not,” says New York psychologist Alan Hilfer. But when grieving a celebrity goes beyond habitual mourning—like an inability to sleep, eat or function normally—there may be an underlying cause. Depression may be to blame. Sometimes a celebrity’s death drags up feelings associated with another death, like that of a family member.

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Flowers for Princess Diana.

“If people have had a family death, they feel a more intense reaction at the death of a celebrity,” Hilfer says. But unlike in the death of a family member, a fan may struggle to find friends who are similarly mourning the celebrity’s death.

“People laugh at you for being emotional about the death of someone you didn’t even know…this reaction doesn’t help you work it through,” says Kansas State psychology professor Richard Harris, who published a study in 2012 on the effect. “Unlike real-life mourning, there is no social support for such grieving,” so fans turn to social media to create mourning communities online, Harris says.

After John Lennon's death.

After John Lennon’s death.

When Michael Jackson’s death was confirmed on June 25, 2009, several websites crashed from user overload. Google’s search engine shut down, perceiving it was under attack as millions of users searched for “Michael Jackson” at once. Twitter crashed as 5,000 tweets per minute mentioning Jackson were posted to the online community.

The lasting implications of celebrity deaths are also often financial ones as fans purchase their products as a means to get closer to them, according to a University of Missouri 2012 study.

The recent debut of deceased actor Paul Walker’s last film “Furious 7” earned $143.6 million in its opening weekend—a new record for films premiering in April. Meanwhile, Elvis Presley continues to earn about $50 million a year and Michael Jackson earns upward of $150 million a year.

Flowers for Amy Winehouse.

Flowers for Amy Winehouse.

Have you mourned the death of a celebrity? I certainly have. Most recently, the death of UNC basketball coach Dean Smith and singer Amy Winehouse. (A film about her life is out soon.)

Do you visit graves of famous people? Audrey Hepburn is buried just down the road from us and I’ve secretly been planning a trip to pay my respects.

Audrey Hepburn's grave.

Audrey Hepburn’s grave.

On my third date with my now-husband we visited the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Rockville, Md. My husband showed up for the date with a bouquet of flowers, but before I got any ideas he quickly said “these aren’t for you, they’re for Fitzgerald.” He’s lucky that I am a big Fitzgerald fan!

A few links:

Florence: Art and Aperitivo

This is a follow-up on yesterday’s post “Three Days in Florence.”

Inside the Uffizi.

Inside the Uffizi.

Having never been to Florence, visiting the Uffizi Gallery was at the top of my list for its amazing art collection. But like everything in Florence, I found much much more. I would have bought  a ticket to walk through the building alone–even without its hundreds of marble statues! Every doorknob and every beam is so intricately crafted; a work of art can be found in each.

The Uffizi Gallery was originally designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1560 for Cosmio I de’Medici–meant to be used for government offices. The word “uffizi” means “offices” in Italian. Construction was completed in 1581, but the building continued to evolve–becoming a warehouse of sorts for artwork the Medici family collected. (I highly recommend you study the Medici family before visiting Florence to better understand their powerful influence over the city.)

A closer look at these ceilings.

A closer look at these ceilings.

Boticelli's "The Birth of Venus."

Boticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”

Boticelli's "Primavera."

Boticelli’s “Primavera.”

Forgive my somewhat shaky hands as I took photos of these masterpieces. While I’ve really honed my art education on the French impressionists and their contemporaries, I was wowed by the Italian collection. These works of art have become so ingrained in our pop culture–especially the Birth of Venus–that I wasn’t prepared for how incredible it would be to see them in person.

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Giovan Batista di Jacopo’s “Musical Angel.”

I wasn’t allowed to take photographs in my favorite part of the Uffizi–a new, interactive piece detailing the night when the gallery was victim to a Mafia hit. In 1993, a car bomb exploded just outside one of the gallery rooms, killing five visitors and destroying three priceless works of art.

The charred remnants of one painting, Gerard van Honhorst’s “Adoration of the Shepherds,” has been repurposed to tell the story of that night in a very chilling, dramatic way. A must-see.

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Boasting the “best views of Florence” we tried the Grand Hotel Cavour’s rooftop for sunset aperitivo–and we were not disappointed. Situated right next to the Duomo, the views from this tiny bar are almost overwhelming. We let the samba music and prosecco wash over us while we wordlessly smiled at each other, giggling over our good fortune.

Hotel Cavour's rooftop.

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Aperitivo and prosecco.

Aperitivo and prosecco.

Aperitivo is a magical pre-dinner hour (hours?) that all of Florence celebrates with cocktails and little nibbles. You will find bars offering “free aperitivo buffets,” but I’d recommend seeking out only the best since it is so ubiquitous throughout the city. This is a great article detailing why aperitivo is part of the Florentine culture and the best spots to celebrate it.

And finally, details on my favorite dinner in Florence–Trattoria Sostanza.

Trattoria Sostanza.

Trattoria Sostanza.

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A few of Sostanza’s favorite customers.

This old school restaurant is for visitors who want to experience classic Florentine cuisine. You won’t find an experimental amuse-bouche or an inventive cocktail list here. You get the feeling that Florentine babies grew up eating like this and that all the recipes were someone’s grandmother’s at some point.

For a Bakersfield girl, it reminded me of my favorite Basque restaurants around my hometown–no-fuss cuisine, sitting elbow-to-elbow with other diners.

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Sostanza’s chefs–who actually loved being photographed!

Although I was tempted to order the classic Florentine bisteca (steak), I’d been told that the pollo al burro (chicken in butter) is out of this world, so I ordered it. And it was. I lapped up every butter-soaked bite. I may never have chicken that good again.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina and pollo al burro.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

For the love of Julia Child, is butter always the secret?

For the love of Julia Child, is butter always the secret?

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My Florence recommendations:

  • Grand Hotel Cavour. Via del Proconsolo, 3, 50122. Running from 4:30pm until 11pm, aperitivo simply doesn’t get better than from this rooftop. A glass of wine or prosecco runs about 10 euros, but it comes with delectable little Italian snacks and a close-up view of the Duomo. I’ve heard reservations are recommended, but we had no trouble.
  • Trattoria Sostanza. Via del Porcellana, 25/R, 50123. This old school Florentine restaurant has a legendary reputation–all word of mouth. You must have a reservation at one of their seatings–7:30pm or 9:45pm–on one of the few evenings they are open.
  • Mercato Centrale. Piazza del Mercato Centrale50123. Consider the first floor a museum of Italian food (you’ll get an education walking around) and the second floor your go-to lunch or dinner spot. After failing to make a dinner reservation while marinating on Hotel Cavour’s roof, we had dinner in the Mercato. Also inside the Mercato: Lorenzo de Medici’s cooking classes.
  • La Divina Enoteca. Panicale 19/r50123. If we had more time in Florence, we would have ventured out to the Tuscan vineyards, but this was a great alternative. Held every evening (but Monday) at 5pm, this 1.5-hour course covers olive oil, one white wine, three red wines, and cheese. Located just outside Mercato Centrale at a shop facing the Market.
  • Uffizi Gallery. Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122. If you are traveling to Florence you likely already have plans to visit, but do not get on the airplane until you have reserved and printed out tickets. Otherwise you may spend half a day in line. Also recommended: a docent-led tour.
  • Piazzale Michelangelo. Across the Arno River and high on a hill sits the Piazzale Michelangelo. It is an easy hike (or maybe I’ve lived in Switzerland too long) with breathtaking views of Florence at the end. Visit the nearby cathedral San Miniato al Monte for Romanesque architecture and intricate mosaics. (Also the location for Hitchcock’s film Obsession.) 
One last aperitivo at Piazza Santa Croce.

One last aperitivo at Piazza Santa Croce.

Three days in Florence

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Florence is a study in both the old and the new.

I believe most travelers make their way to Florence for the old–to walk among the Renaissance era buildings, to view the ancient art, to taste the pasta recipe that has been handed down through generations–but when they arrive, they find the new. Florence is a living, breathing and working city. In walking around and meeting Florentines, it is apparent how much they support emerging artists and embrace the modern in all its forms. Perhaps this attitude is what has led this art-driven, culture-soaked city through centuries. Florentines are proud of what their ancestors have left them and yet, still believe that it is not what their legacy will be.

I found what I was looking for in Florence and so much more.

Wandering the streets.

Wandering the streets.

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We found this underwater-themed street art hidden all over Florence.

We found this underwater-themed street art hidden all over Florence.

It may sound simple, but my latest travel “thing” is to schedule in a few hours of wandering as soon as I arrive. Maybe maps are lost on me, but I need to walk the square mile around where I’m staying to best understand my location.

Florence isn’t so much a maze like Marrakech, but around each cobblestoned corner lies a temptation–a leather boot store or a gelato shop–that easily gets you off course. You become happily lost. And well-fed.

Giving myself an afternoon to wander aimlessly was the perfect way to get to know Firenze. We found the Duomo…

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..and the famed Ponte Vecchio Bridge…

Ponte Vecchio bridge.

Vitamin D, I can't get enough of it!

Soaking up vitamin D on the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

…and the best pistachio gelato I’ve ever had (not pictured, sticky fingers).

We also found the Mercato Centrale, which re-opened exactly one year ago this month. Apparently, this 1874 iron-and-glass building has been largely unused, leaving the charming neighborhood as a sort of wasteland. It was designed by Giovanni Mengoni, the same architect who designed one of the world’s first shopping malls–the ornate Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan.

Mercato Centrale.

Mercato Centrale’s second floor.

Truffles.

Truffles.

Today, the Mercato Centrale is bustling! On the first floor one can shop for local produce, meat, fish and cheese. On the second floor, one can dine in what must be one of the most stylish food courts I’ve ever stepped foot in. This is a great spot for a traveler, because it requires no reservation, dining is affordable, and it is open from 10am until midnight. After a wood-fired, eggplant pizza for lunch we went back the next day for dinner.

My dinner: Roasted octopus over ricotta mashed potatoes.

My dinner: Grilled octopus over ricotta mashed potatoes.

Next to the Mercato Centrale, we joined a wine tasting at La Divina Enoteca–a former fish market.

Before arriving in Florence, I was really trying to find an affordable vineyard trip in the Tuscan countryside…but with just three days to explore Florence we opted for an evening tasting (and saved about $200!). I’d recommend this 1.5-hour course and I’m glad we took it the first evening so we knew a bit more about the wines we would see on menus throughout the weekend.

Chianti, chianti, chianti.

Chianti, chianti, chianti.

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See the marble sinks on the right? Used for selling codfish in decades past.

We tasted Tuscan olive oils, cheeses, salami and wine under proprietor Livio’s guidance. The Chianti Classico came back to haunt me hours later with a piercing headache, but I did find a Tuscan white wine I absolutely loved–Verdicchio. We tried a 2012 vintage that had a complex mineral quality and just a hint of salt. Totally unlike any Californian or French white I’ve tasted.

We also enjoyed getting to meet other travelers in our wine tasting. As lonely expats with a small circle of Swiss acquaintances, we’ve got into the habit of making friends wherever we go. When we used to travel from our home in Washington, D.C. we would keep to ourselves, feeling smug that we had so many friends at home. These days, we make connections wherever we go and embrace friendship wherever it presents itself. It’s a shift in attitude that I’ve come to love.

The view from our rooftop apartment.

The view from our rooftop apartment: Piazza Santa Croce.

Basilica Santa Croce.

Basilica Santa Croce, right in front of our apartment.

I have much more to share about Florence, but I’ll leave you with a few links for now:

This week I am…

Inside the Uffizi Gallery.

Inside the Uffizi Gallery.

…trying these exercise videos after consuming three gelatos over my Florence weekend!

…considering this experiment after experiencing a terrible headache from a Chianti Classico tasting.

(…more on why some of us suffer when we drink red wine.)

…testing my eyesight (20/20?) using this interactive video.

…reading about Beyonces who are not that Beyonce. Do you have a famous name twin?

…copying this sweet Euro fashion since we’re officially enjoying spring weather in Geneva.

…taking notes on the “top 10 holiday destinations for June” (I visited one in March).

More on my Florence trip soon.

More on my Florence trip soon.

I want to go to there…

Cathedral in Florence

…Florence, Italy.

(and I’m flying there right now!)

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History, art, architecture, wine, gelato…what’s not to love? Well, I’m going to investigate.

We’re staying in an apartment (with a rooftop patio!) in the Santa Croce neighborhood, not far from the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge. I watched A Room with a View in preparation, but otherwise I haven’t planned too much. We’re joining a Tuscan wine tasting this evening and visiting the Uffizi Gallery tomorrow, so we can see this gentleman…

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…otherwise, I’m hoping to soak up the sunshine, people watch and pretend I’m Sophia Loren.

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Have you been to Florence? Do you have any recommendations?

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As far as packing, I’m taking advantage of the 70-degree-plus weather and leaving the wool coats at home. White jeans, hallelujah!

Denim jacket. http://bit.ly/1abyPeu.

Denim jacket. http://bit.ly/1abyPeu.

A nod to Italy's flag. http://piprl.me/1Cne3QJ

Nod to Italy’s flag. http://piprl.me/1Cne3QJ

I have an arsenal of H&M white tees. http://bit.ly/1CvdVhs

Inexpensive white tee. http://bit.ly/1CvdVhs

First signs of spring. http://bit.ly/1JtDDbR.

First signs of spring. http://bit.ly/1JtDDbR.

Negroni, here we come. http://bit.ly/1abI8uV

Negroni anyone? http://bit.ly/1abI8uV

Arrivederci for now and a few links about fair Firenze: