Sunday, October 9, 2016


So, Pompeii.  We stopped by Pompeii for only a few hours on our way from the Amalfi coast to Rome (to Lake Como) so my memory of it will be colored by the very, very long hours of driving that sandwiched it  - in addition to my own near-certainty that we would be robbed of our passports and valuables based on my experience replacing stolen passports for a living.

Happily, we spent 3 hours at Pompeii and never got pickpocted at all! And we saw lots and lots ... and lots of ruins.  The town itself is so much bigger than people expect. I had been warned to take it easy, so we didn't have any expectation that we'd see it all, but we hit some highlights and had a good time regardless.

First off - get a map at the entrance. You'll need it.  Then go ahead and ask where the body casts are - you know that's what you came for, don't try to pretend like you're there for the frescos and the ancient plumbing systems.  There are a number right outside the Porta Anfiteatro entrance.

Once you've finished with the macabre stuff, put on your sunscreen and the widest brimmed hat you've got and fill up your water bottle before you hit the town.  It's notoriously hot and sunny.  To make things more manageable don't try to see it all.  Instead pick a few interesting sounding houses - ideally the better preserved ones - and spend a little longer in each one - reading up on the history of the specific building.  There are tons of guides available and that might be a good option if you're into guided tours.

It really is amazing how well-preserved some of the mosaics and frescos are and many of the buildings are in such good shape that you can walk all the way through.  As with all ancient Roman sites I really wish they'd just completely restore one or two buildings to aid the imagination a bit, but either way - a very cool site and worth a visit. If you plan to go I'd recommend a half-day and make sure you've got parking and eating sorted out ahead of time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Amalfi coast

First stop my recent tour-de-Italy was the amazing Amalfi coast.  I can tell you some stories about driving there (DON'T DO IT!) but it was so worth the visit. 

The views were incredible.  We only really saw Amalfi and the city above it - Ravello. Someday I'll have to make it back to see Capri and Positano - and to rent a little Vespa. With the lack of parking options in town that seems like the best way to go.

Below: random pictures of our weekend in Amalfi. Enjoy!
The Cala di Furore - a 5 minute walk from our AirBnB

Don't be fooled. There were very few sidewalks on the coast.

The lovely, lovely garden at the Villa Rufolo - a beautifully preserved estate in the town of Ravello.

Dawn from our AirBnB - can you believe we had this view (and a two-bedroom, two bathroom apartment with private swimming balcony right on the coast) for the same price as a dismal hotel room? May not be going back to real hotels again.

More view.

Our place is down there somewhere. I loved swimming of this coast. If I went back I would rent snorkeling gear to practice my super awesome snorkel skills in this crystal clear water.

The classic view of the Amalfi coast - taken from Villa Rufolo.

The Duomo in Amalfi. Amalfi was completely flooded with tourists which made it a bit unpleasant but the town itself was of course, stunning.

See? Stunning.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

I voted (absentee)

...and if you're a U.S. citizen so can you! 


While this is certainly the most civically-important thing I've done lately there's been a ton going on in my life in the past month. So much so that I'm still trying to rediscover my old routine (the one where I stay at home all the time and actually have to schedule things to fill up my weekends).

First off, I've had guests, lots of guests!

I had guests from Mexico, both my parents, my aunt and a family friend, and a family I knew from Lagos.  It's been great having so many familiar faces around and have someone to explore with.  It's been especially nice to have my family come.  I haven't seen my dad in person since last August and my mom since November and we did a ton of catching up while we roadtripped Italy.  And now that I've been here a full year I'm happy to be able to show off my favorite sights and restaurants and vast knowledge of the Roman bus system. September was a great month to be here too, great weather and (slightly) smaller crowds.

With all of these visitors in town I've been traveling a lot. Down to Amalfi and Pompeii, up to Lake Como and all the way to Venice.  I promise to post some pictures of those travels separately, you know, in all my copious spare time.

Then there's the work stuff - lots and lots of outreach events. Seriously, lots.   And a little thing called 'bidding' where we all have to try to get ourselves jobs for the next 2-3 years.  I don't know where to start with this so I'll just say it's a nervewracking and somewhat opaque process.  In addition to the challenge of trying to decide what city and job from the available list meets all of your job and personal goals - everything from schools, spousal employment and pet importation rules to language training, pay and danger/hardship  you also have to weigh how realistic these bids are - actually go out and actively convince the decision makers to pick you.  With consular of course it's a bit simpler than in other job cones - I work directly with the Bureau of Consular Affairs for all the jobs on my list, rather than lobbying individual posts directly. But whatever the process, it's difficult to predict how the timing, job needs and personal preferences are all going to balance out.  I hesitate to make any predictions at this point, particularly as I'm still adjusting my bids.  Handshakes (i.e. job offers) go out at the end of the month though. Til then wish me luck! When I know more, you'll know more!

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Italian region number #13 - check!

This past weekend I tacked on a day trip to some work that was happening in Cagliari (southern Sardinia) and had a truly amazing time. 

I think most Americans haven't even heard of Sardinia, or if they have they probably think of it as a big, empty desert of an island.  But since moving here I've been waiting to see it. Sardinia is known to Italians for it's beaches and for good reason - the island is ringed by some of the most crystal clear, secluded beaches in Italy. I only got a taste this time but what I saw, I loved!

There are palm trees and sail boats, what more do you need in life!

Obviously, the ocean is the biggest draw. I scheduled a sailing trip which was very unprofessionally cancelled by the tour company when a bigger, more lucrative group came along (a big anti-shout out to for not honoring that reservation) but I was fortunate to find a second tour provider at the very last second. 

Still bummed out that I wasn't on a sailboat, a group of dolphins came along to make me feel better.  They swam in the boat's wake for 10 minutes easily, jumping and just generally enjoying the waves. 
Major happy. :)
Then we stopped at tiny cove where I had my first (successful) scuba experience.  It took awhile to overcome my initial complete inability to breathe through a snorkel. That and I'm really, really bad with flippers. After several minutes of panic and sea-water consumption I finally found my sea-legs (and sea-lungs?) and started stalking some sea creatures.  My wonderful guide even brought this little guy onboard for me to watch for a few minutes.  Did you know they move?!

We also spent plenty of time laying around in the sun, soaking up some much needed vitamin D. The ride back even included a mini storm and some subsequently beautiful views. ...sigh...

Of course, Cagliari is also a beautiful town and I enjoyed the architecture, narrow streets, and a tiny sampling of seriously tasty restaurants. 

  Once was great, but I'll definitely be back!

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Welcome to Ischia!

If you're thinking of a trip to Italy and want Capri without the crowds this is probably as close as you can get.  It's actually been awhile since I visited but just remember to post about it now.  I'd highly recommend a long weekend there. I'd also recommend that you rent a bright red Vespa while you're there. And wear a fancy 1950's sun dress and big glasses. And carry a great big purse with an adorable lap dog in it.  (This is that kind of place.)

So, what to do in Ischia:
  • Visit the above castle (during the day of course, though it was beautiful to see at night).
  • Shop! There are a ton of shopping possibilities on the main drag.
  • Sit on the beach!
  • Visit one of the thermal baths. We tried Negombo (bonus points for the very Sri Lankan name!) and it was fantastic.  It's not a 'bath' in the ancient Roman sense, but more of a low-impact water park.  I highly recommend it but naturally took no photos.
  • Explore the charming interior of the island by (small) car or motorino.
  • Do some boating. You know, if you brought your boat...
Ok, that's it for my recommendation. I'll let the photos speak for themselves!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Galleria Doria Pamphilj

I've been on the lookout for attractions in Rome that offer a break from the crowds and thought I'd share with you this recent discovery - the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. It's right on the Via del Corso, just a block or so from the Vittorio Emanuele Monument and the Forum.  It's unairconditioned, but otherwise very pleasant. I love how peaceful and off the beaten path it felt - despite the fact that it has it's fair share of world class art just kind of hanging around. If you're headed to Rome and don't have the stamina for a big museum I highly recommend this little gem.

The inner courtyard is particulrly lovely.

Upstairs the walls are just about overflowing with artwork.

It's difficult to imagine a family living here...

One of the more famous pieces, a Caravaggio. There are also others by Caravaggio, a few busts by Bernini and works by Raphael.

Monday, August 15, 2016

What a difference a year makes!

One of my favorite blogs recently posted a series of 'room evolution' photos to document their getting settled process in a new home. Since they're professionals the end result (and even quite a few of the interim results) are pretty awesome. If you like that one check out another room evolution they did here.  

I thought it would be fun to do a version of my own - and what with the mobility of this lifestyle it seems like a blog idea that will just keep on giving, right? :)  And if this inspires anyone else to chime in and (please, please, please!) tell me how to decorate my house so much the better.

So, the evolution of a foreign service apartment (part 1 of ?):

Below is my living room as of August 2017.


Not wanting to spend a mint on furniture for the one unfurnished apartment I'm likely to occupy in my career - especially while saving up to build on and furnish the sand pile - I've been trying to work with the Ikea stuff I had from grad school.  Granted, the home design experts with the blog I mention above advise that you play around and try new things but it's a little harder to do that with a budget target of $0.

So how'd I do?

Well, 0 dollars was a little ambitious, but I haven't spent much in this room.  Once my stuff arrived I rearranged the furniture - for free! - hung some artwork I already had, and unpacked my big Ikea coffee table.  To get to this point: 

It still felt pretty empty though so in the end I did buy a few pieces including the clock/wall art behind the TV - $20, the TV itself $100, some dirt cheap Ikea lamps (only one is visible here) - $16 and the rug - $70.  Total $206.  This room still needs plenty of TLC but I'm happy with the progress so far given my budget and total lack of decorating intuition.

In the dining area I haven't spent a cent. I moved in my keyboard - now that it's in the living room it gets more use than in Lagos - my big brown chair and my own Ikea table - ironically to replace the Ikea table GSO provided.

Eventually I added some curtains, hung some artwork, and swapped out the brown chair for this white one.

And just to round things out, a view in the other direction.