Monday, January 19, 2015

Inspirational Guardia

I hadn't planned to go back to Guardia until the spring, but I just couldn't resist the inexpensive fare I found at the last minute. I found myself impulsively hitting "buy" on a ticket leaving on the 29th of December and returning on the 11th of January.

While Guardia is beautiful at any time of the year, the weather in Guardia is less than ideal in the winter time.. not terribly cold, but a lack of central heat in my house makes for a chilly stay and I'm not a big fan of cold weather. 

 I had gone to Guardia at this time last year and had decided I wasn't going this year... too cold, too rainy, just not practical!! However,  I found myself longing for that feeling of being inspired and recharged that I felt when I came back from my trip last year. I usually suffer from the post holiday blues.. and I realized I had zipped right past that and started 2014 off with a bang.. and never looked back. 

This trip to Guardia was probably the most chaotic ever.. a freak snow storm had blown through Europe wreaked havoc on all my flight connections.. which led to the now expected lost bags and delayed arrival.
Dallas to Frankfurt

Berlin to Vienna to Rome
I had been awake now for more than 30 hours, but feeling confident again once I reported the lost bags, found my rental car, and plugged in the GPS. I was now leaving the airport at 10pm, without my suitcases, but thinking the worst (and all the snow) was behind me. All I had left was a 2 hour drive to Guardia where visions of a glass of wine at the Tana Dell Orso and my cozy bed were dancing in my head.  
My cozy bed .. calling my name!

I called the Orso's at the Tana to let them know I was running very late, since I knew they would be waiting for me and getting worried. .. 
La Tana Dell Orso

..they answered, happy to hear I had landed safely, but I could hear the concern in their voice.. heavy snow was falling in Guardia!! snow like they have never seen!! I was now about an hour out of Rome, and hadn't seen any snow yet.. I optimistically thought maybe its only snowing in Guardia.. and then it started snowing!! 
My only picture of my 2 hour drive in the blizzard.!!

big, thick heavy flakes, that covered everything quickly.. I knew it was now too late to turn around... and with no options of where to pull over, I could only focus on moving forward.  

I said a few prayers, I also think I cashed in anything I had banked with Karma during this drive!. The Orso family stayed in contact with me .. tracking my progress, giving moral support and offering to come and get me anywhere. I knew I needed to get as close to Guardia as possible and so I drove for what seemed like hours, until the road started to go up the mountain, signaling that I was within 20 minutes of Guardia.. and my little car simply could not go up without sliding backwards.  

As I clenched the steering wheel a little bit tighter, I thought of my good friend Glenn who has been my partner in crime from the very beginning, and along for so many adventures in Guardia. (As my eternal ray of sunshine, a source of countless inspiration.. you were terribly missed on this trip!)  
Please check out Glenn's blog "Dare to Live the Dream" if you haven't already.. He is a wonderful writer and his positive
energy shines through in everything he does! - "life isn't easy.. if it is... your playing the game all wrong" - Glenn T. Martin

The end of the road for my little car on this night!
 I turned around and went back to the last gas station I had passed, and within a few minutes, Pasquale had arrived..I have never in my entire life been so happy to see someone!!! We went back to his house, where is family was waiting for me with a warm meal, and a cozy bed.. and finally some sleep!

2 of the sweetest little Orsos you will ever meet!

The lovely Orso family!

The next day after a great lunch, the snow melted enough that I was able to make it to Guardia. 
View of Guardia up ahead!

Snow covered Guardia was just beautiful!

But the Centro Historico was stilled iced in.. ..and so I spent a 2nd night and a very special New Years Eve as a guest at the Tana Dell Orso.  

Last year's 2013 New Year's Eve party had been a raucous affair with so much food, a band, dancing, karaoke and tons of laughs. 

New Year's 2014
This year, all party plans had been cancelled due to the weather, but we still rang in nothing short of a a magical New Year with Luigi Anna at the Tana and with Carlo and Martha from South Africa. 
Martha and Carlo

Happy Birthday Luigi!!
Anna whipped up and amazing 5 course meal, we drank Luigi's finest and celebrated Luigi's 65th birthday!!

So with borrowed clothes, I finally made it to my house the next day as things started to warm up and the ice melted.  I love the feeling of stepping into my little house.. while my feet and hands were cold, my heart is always warmed by the site of it!    

Home sweet home!

The rest of the week was filled with dinners with friends, attending different Natale functions in Guardia and exploring some of the surrounding areas with Guy, my good friend from Louisiana that purchased a house in Guardia last year, and was visiting at the same time. 
Cooking with Anna Orso

A night of Blues at the Castelo in Guardia

Guardia Blues

Looking for the perfect Gumbo ingredients

Evening out in Benevento

Catching up with Thomas and Melanie

Me and Guy in front of Leila's house

Touring Cantina Foschini
Inside the family beautiful Foschino winery.. the building has been incredibly restored and a must see if you go to Guardia!

The Foshino wines.. very very nice!

Hanging at the Tana

Castelo de la Limatola about an 45 minutes away from Guardia.. this castle was stunning! 

Getting a little work done and drinking my coffee in office in Italy

Pasquale Orso my personal superhero and project manager, also had a list of business items that that he recommended I take care of while I was there.  I'm sharing this for those of you that have houses or are thinking of buying a house.. great information to have! 

  • Bank Account - Once you have a house, you can set up a bank account at the Banco di Napoli in Guardia . It costs 4 Euros a month, and comes with 2 debit cards, one to use in Italy and one that works internationally.  This is important because it allows you an easy way to transfer money to Italy and also allows you to set up your utilities to be paid directly from this account.  You can't use an american account to pay your utilities over there. Its located on the south side of Corso Umberto past the Municipio. (Ask for Rita, she speaks english).
  • Insurance - I was able to purchase a standard insurance policy that covers fire, theft, other damages and personal indemnity for 110 Euros annually.  It seems like a very worthwhile cost to protect my investment.  It does not cover earthquake damage.  I bought it at Vittoria Assicurazioni on the north side of Corso Umberto, across the street from the bank. The staff here is very friendly! I would recommend an appointment though, it is a very busy place and the wait can be long.
The wonderful staff at Vittoria
  • Taxes - There are 2 types of taxes that you must pay on your house:
    1. The refuge or trash tax. It will run you around 175 Euros annually.  
    2. This tax is the US equivalent of annual property taxes.  The property tax is based on the size of the house and not the value.  While I was in Guardia, I met with the mayor of Guardia, Floriano Panza and with the City Tax Assessor to discuss options for reducing the taxes in the Centro Historico to stimulate restoration and investment.  They both agreed that it is very important to reduce the taxes in order to keep the momentum going for the recent economic stimulation in the Centro.  Consequently they agreed to reduce this tax by 50% for homes purchased within the Centro Historico of Guardia and to suspend taxes for houses under renovation if the renovations pre approved. For a reference point, for me this means that my annual taxes will be less than 300 euros annually on my house.
  • Best advice is if you've purchased a home, go talk to the Tax Assessor at the Municipio and find out how, where, and how much tax you owe.  The taxes are not high, but the late fees and fines are steep if you miss the payments.

Ok, so enough business!! While necessary, not particularly inspirational!

The thing about inspiration is that it is contagious. When you are around inspired people, you are lifted and energized in amazing ways. For me, the journey to Guardia is punctuated by amazing people and unexpected kindness. Every trip to Guardia has been its' own adventure, with its own series of mountains to climb and hurdles to overcome. I seem to arrive on the other side, slightly disheveled, with a giant smile on my face and a confidence in my heart that comes from conquering something that I wasn't totally sure I could do, but knowing that if for some reason I couldn't make it.. help was on the way.

And so it seems that the sometimes quirky but always kind and gentle Guardia, continues to draw a wonderful magical group of diverse and talented people. It's not a huge wave of people, but what used to be a few drops at a time, is a now steady stream of people feeling drawn to this town and falling in love before they've even been. Guardia Magica is catching!

Like most visits to Guardia, I felt like it went by too quickly. (if the story line transition seems abrubt.. it always feels a bit like that when I leave.. suddenly its time to go.)  I was running late and swung by the Tana for one last goodbye and hugs, where Luigi handed me a panino and what I thought was coke for the road (which turned out to be wine!), and then I was on my way back home..  feeling inspired, energized and comforted, but knowing that I would be back shortly for another tall drink. 

Driving down the road.. eating my panino :)
A la prossima bella Guardia!

I had to add this link to a video and original rendition of an old classic recently created by Jim Perkins that he dedicated to Guardia
.. he's never been to Guardia, but hopes to go soon.. Good luck Jim!

Friday, November 14, 2014

TV interview of our family in Guardia Sanframondi by Media TV - Summer 2013

This was a 30 minute interview for a segment on Media TV
that was done in our house in Guardia .. It shows some beautiful scenery of Guardia, views of our home  and some very candid interviews with the entire family.  We found out the film crew was coming at midnight the night before, as we were coming in from a day in Rome.  I think we look somewhat pulled together .. as pulled together as the Kestler's ever gets!!  Enjoy! (We start about minute 3 and it shows the film crew walking up to the front door of my house)

Great job Frederica Landolfi and crew!!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Unexpected Treasures

People ask me all the time….why Guardia?  What makes this place so special?  

          (Video of the shortcut home in the Centro Historico of Guardia Sanframondi at night, you have to pull in the side mirrors to make this drive!!)

I always believe that everything in life happens for a reason, I also tend to overanalyze (and overcomplicate) trying to make sense of things sometimes. Guardia has become a place where I come to unplug from the daily grind ..find myself, sort things out and forget about all the trivial things, all at the same time. 

On the eve of this particular trip to Guardia, I was feeling a bit lost and nostalgic. Within a three month span, I had waved goodbye to my adventurous oldest daughter who was off to Panama for 2 years to fulfill her lifelong dream of working in the Peace Corp, celebrated my mom’s 80th birthday, and dropped my youngest son off at his first year at college. Time was flying by too quickly! When did my kids grow up? start living their own lives? .. when did my parents become old?.  I knew this would all happen.. but I had definitely not planned on being here all at once!

View of Guardia from Solopaca

I left Texas in the same way I seem to start every single trip.. finishing off a crazy work week, trying to get everything caught up at work and home before I leave, shopping for the trip with any free minutes I have, and frantic packing at midnight the night before. The pace of the last few months had been a nonstop tornado of work and family which had left me emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. Heavy thoughts were stuffed into the recesses of my brain in disorganized piles that I knew at some point needed to be addressed.

The Tana Dell Orso B&B & Cafe

My husband Steve and I arrived in Guardia with the usual jet lag, but full of energy and excitement of being back.  The Tana dell Orso is our first stop every time we go to Guardia, and the Orso family, Anna Luigi and Pasquale, were waiting for us with warm hugs and a wonderful lunch. I still have no way to put into words how much I treasure this family that we met 2 years ago and have become such a big part of our lives.  I think we finished every day in Guardia with at least a quick stop at the Tana .. maybe for a chicken to eat for dinner (their roasted chicken is world famous!) , a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.  Mainly just say hello, and visit with friends.

Luigi's red.. my favorite!

 Other expats that bought houses in Guardia (and now good friends), Glenn & Derrick, had arrived the week earlier.. and just like that, we were off and running on our next vacation in Guardia.

Hello Boys!! 

Getting some much needed rest:

I’d like to make it sound as if every day was an action packed adventure, but a great deal of our vacation was leisurely eating our way through the culinary delights of the area and enjoying the abundant wines of the region. Now that I have my kitchen in place, I enjoyed attempting to cook a few Italian style meals.. and even hosted a Texas style BBQ in my house..

Anna Orso showed my how to cook these with these peppers.. and with a bit of coaching, I think I came close to cooking a proper Italian meal! Bon Apetit!

What started out as a few people coming over for dinner turned into a party ..Texas style, Brisket, Potato Salad & Cornbread 

Food is always a such a pleasant surprise in this region of Italy.. always the freshest ingredients, sometimes things I have never tasted, and amazing textures and flavors.

I didn’t have any big plans to do much work in the house while we were there. Since I set Pasquale up as the project manager for the house, the house is ready for me.. clean sheets, towels and basic ingredients in the fridge. I’m not sure how other people manage houses from far away, but I simply could not do this without his help. It is so nice to unlock the front door after a long trip and walk in to our cozy home.    I did have in mind to find a dressing table for my bedroom, and after hunting around several different places, found this treasure at an antique market.. Thank you to my good friend Roberto that talked them down to a great price.. and now I feel like a princess when I get ready for the day..

It needs refinishing, but I still think its beautiful.

.. and then there was there very much needed down time. My very dear friend Glenn brought me a book he had read, that he said he knew that I would love.. It is a book called “Incontinent on the Continent” by Jane Christmas. (I highly recommend it!)  It’s a story of the misadventures of a woman who brings her elderly mother on a month long vacation in Italy in hopes of resolving the struggles that accompany most mother/daughter relationships.  I must clarify that my mother is not incontinent and probably more agile than most 50 year olds.. but as I intermittently read this book in my down time, the book struck a deep chord within me, and I found myself constantly thinking about my daughter and my mother, and our own struggles as three very uniquely individual, hard headed, opinionated women. 

I came home one day to find these lemons waiting for me on my doorstep.. a gift from my friends Glenn & Derrick who picked them from their tree. (picture by Glenn T Martin)

Thank you Glenn... for the book, the lemons, and the beautiful ray of sunshine that you bring to my life!

 It seems that every time we go to Guardia now, there are expats that bought homes vacationing as well as other groups of people in town to find a home for themselves. The friendships that have formed have become a huge part of our lives .. and in Guardia, our time becomes a combination of wonderful dinners, shopping excursions (as we all try to find the items we need for our houses) and so many treasured memories.
One of many dinners at the Meridiana
Vino on the terraza at Mel & Tom's

Dinner in Cusano Mutri with the master of ceremonies 

Nothing is more fun than a day at the beach..

On this trip, the weather was simply perfect, and we made several excursions to the incredible beach destinations just a little over an hour away from Guardia..

I had been dying to see the Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri. A group of us decided to make it a day trip, so we drove to Naples in the morning, and rode the ferry to Capri watching dark clouds forming all around us.  As we arrived in Capri, the clouds parted, and the sun came out for what ended up being one of the most beautiful days I can ever remember!  The view from the top of the funicular is stunning!! ..little shops to explore everywhere, and the bluest blue ocean. We never made it to the Blue Grotto.. but the day was perfect in every way possible… we saw all the other Grotto’s and took a swim in front of i faraglioni.

Arriving at the Ferry in Capri

Riding the funicular to the top of Capri

View at lunch in Capri

Steve & I swimming in Capri - in the background - faraglioni.  

I'm on a boat in Capri! 

Exploring the grottos in Capri

.. and no trip is complete 


without a visit to the Amalfi coast. My favorite way to go is to drive to Salerno, and catch the ferry to Amalfi or Positano.  This is a great relaxing way to see the stunning cliffside of the coast and miss the terrifying drive that is punctuated with very narrow roads, hairpin turns and giant tour buses.  Another group of us decided we would do just that. As we arrived at the ferry boat in Salerno, we sadly watched the ferry pull out of the dock just as we were walking up to buy out tickets. The next ferry would not leave for 3 hours!! We sadly walked back trying to figure out how to salvage the day.. and there in front of us was a private boat rental.. and just like that what would have been a leisurely ferry ride to and from Positano, became a most memorable day on a boat on the Amalfi coast..

Pulled into this little fishing village for an incredible meal!!

Our boat for the day

Stopped in this cave..

..and went swimming in a cave!! .. the water was really that color!

Sights along the Amalfi Coast

 We were also excited we finally made it to the great beaches on the Adriatic side.  We drove to the quaint town of Termoli, which has a Centro Historico right by the beach. The beaches are beautiful white sandy beaches (great for swimming)  .. and at this time of year are virtually deserted as the Italian’s who frequent these beaches have finished their summer holidays and are back to work.  What a great relaxing day! 

Beaches at Termoli

Exploring the Centro Historico in Termoli

Feeling like a princess in Caserta:

My husband Steve and I spent a magical day exploring the Royal Palace in Caserta.  The palace is the largest palace erected in Europe during the 18th century, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is spectacular!! and the gardens and fountain on a horse drawn carriage.. sigh 

Exploring the neighboring towns:

One day, we just set out on a drive to Lago Matese that was supposed to be not that far away. Confident with GPS in hand, we ended up lost in the mountains near Cusano Mutri.. we had the most incredible afternoon, bumping along on some roads that I’m pretty sure are not real roads, and found some incredible sights!

Some times your lost, you go around a turn .. and then this appears!!

And some other things we found while we were lost..
                                                    (A bell choir of goats !!)

Lago Matese

I just had to put this in here.. this is actually one of a few crazy roads the GPS took us on!

Just a few miles down the road from Guardia, is the town of Cerreto Sannita, a town known for its beautiful ceramics, and with its own unique personality and fun to explore..


The ceramic museum in Cerreto

My neighbor Gigia giving us a tour of the museum


I’ve been to Guardia now in spring, summer, fall and winter.. and I have to say that I think that September is my favorite time of year to go.  The weather is perfect with warm sunny days that require a sweater at night.  The grape harvest (Vendemia) is in full swing.. which means the hills surrounding Guardia are heaving with grapes as far as the eye can see.  The roads are full of small trucks transporting their grapes to market.. and there is a feeling of optimism and rebirth in the air as everywhere people discuss excitedly the possibilities of what this year’s crop will bring.  Most people in town participate in the harvest and make their own wines.. we were so lucky to be invited by our neighbors Gigia and Francesco, to join their family for a day of grape picking . I’ve been told my hard work will be repaid with wine that will be ready next year..I can hardly wait!

Festival of San Antonio - First the procession, then the fireworks. San Antonio provides the blessing for the wine harvest.

Picking grapes.. it was a lot messier than I thought! glad this was the before pic!

Our neighbor Francesco explaining us about the different varieties of grapes

Wine festival in Solopaca - wine tastings, food & music

And just like that .. and way to soon, it was time to say goodbye and until the next time.  We said our farewell to everyone with one last dinner, and the next morning we drove to Rome for our return flight home. 

On the long flight home I started thinking about how to best answer a question I received from one of the many emails I needed to respond to from someone that was interested in coming to Guardia, but not completely convinced it was all real. So why Guardia?  

My prepared response is:  the perfect location (close to 2 major airports) and incredible destinations just a few hours away, the ideal Mediterranean climate, the most wonderful people, the beautiful Centro Historico, the simplicity of life, the fresh unprocessed bounty of food and wines of the region. I could go on and on.. and those of you that have followed by blog probably think I already have!!   I think I should start asking “Why not Guardia?”
But my real answer is I just can’t imagine being anywhere else. Every time I’m here I discover new and unexpected treasures just around the corner, and new things about myself.  I know the road I’m on right now may feel a bit bumpy and I may feel a little lost at times, but one thing Guardia has taught me, is that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. 
So, for all of you out there, enjoy the ride and keep an open mind because if not, you might miss the unexpected treasures waiting just down the road. Take a chance on Guardia, it might just find your treasure here as well…if not here, maybe around the next corner.  You’ll never know until you actually get going.

Mom zip-lining in Costa Rica.. at age 79

To Chelsea and Mom,(the 2 greatest women I know).. maybe we aren’t as different from each other as we imagine ourselves to be.
Chelsea hiking in Havasupai Falls Arizona