The Dog Days of Summer at Dog Beach in San Vincenzo, Italy

As many of you know, I am a big ‘dog person‘ and my beloved Labrador, Leni, is one of the most spoiled dogs around. He has a passport, has travelled overseas and, quite possibly, has been to more countries than many adults. I am always conscious of choosing a vacation that will meet his needs and not see him left for hours at a time while we head off for fun.  So, with this in mind, imagine my absolute delight when I was organising our first trip to San Vincenzo, Italy and I came across the Dog Beach website. Could it be true? Could we really take our water-loving Lab to the beach with us in Italy? It seemed like a clear win-win for our entire family…and off we went!

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Found it!!

Dog Beach is located on the Mediterranean coastline of the western Tuscan region of Italy. Just south of the major port city of Livorno, Dog Beach lies on the pristine sandy outskirts of the town of San Vincenzo where the summer days are sunny, hot and long! A trip to the beach for you and your furry friend are practically what the doctor would order as a cure.

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Dog days of summer?!

Dog Beach is accessible off the main road, with limited free and abundant paid parking nearby. There is a small entrance fee for your dog, which helps pay for the facilities and a vet available in case of emergency. Dogs run around primarily off the leash but if your Fido isn’t very friendly, you might want to consider keeping him/her on a leash.  Sun beds, chairs and umbrellas are all available for rent.

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As if all of this wasn’t enough, we were delighted when a guy came by on a 4 wheeler selling gelato (ice cream).  It was only once I approached and asked him what flavours he had did he surprise me with “is it for you or for your dog?”  Yes, they sold all the wonderful flavours one would expect from Italian gelato, and similar dog-safe versions. Our dog consumed his pineapple and ginseng one too fast for me to get a decent photo but as you can imagine, he was thrilled.

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Dog-friendly gelato, devoured in about 30 seconds…!

If you find yourself wondering where to go this summer and don’t want to leave your four-legged friend at home, I highly recommend the San Vincenzo region, with daily trips to the Dog Beach.

Good to know:

-Shower/wash stations are available for spraying down your dog at the end of the day. On our last trip, these cost 1€
-A small snack shop is located nearby with sandwiches and cold drinks for sale. Cash only
-there is a dog gift shop where you can buy toys for the beach for your dog, kids and different souvenirs
-if your dog has never been in salt water, watch his/her consumption. It can give some dogs an upset stomach, just be aware
-there is a free fresh water station for filling up your dog’s water bowl
-Bring cash with you as you will need it for everything and hard as I tried, I failed to locate a bank machine/ATM nearby

Most importantly, have fun!! Bring an extra towel or two…!!

 

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Dog Beach San Vincenzo

 

 

 

Dîner en Blanc Paris – 2017

I’m lucky and I know it.

I have to start there because I am fully aware that this particular night, in this particular city, draws a lot of ‘but how did you get invited?’ questions and comments. It seems part and parcel with the whole affair and trust me, I’d LOVE to bring everyone I know with me, but it just doesn’t work like that.

What am I referring to? Dîner en Blanc (White Dinner) in Paris.

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Cheers from Passerelle Debilly. Dîner en Blanc Paris, 2014.

I think it is important to tell my story on how I came to be invited to Dîner en Blanc in the first place.

Back in 2006, when I was still new to life in Paris, my new husband and I were out for an after dinner stroll through the streets of our arrondissement/neighbourhood. It was on this night that we stumbled across a large gathering of people dress immaculately, in all white, dining on prime rib, pastas, beautiful French confections, all the while sipping champagne from china flutes.

“What on earth was that?” I asked of my husband and he replied, “ah, that is the secret pop-up dinner called Dîner en Blanc. You have to be part of the who’s who of Paris to be invited.”

That crushed me. Couldn’t they just TELL I would bring the fun by merely inviting me? I spent the next few years in search of an invite or a connection to someone invited.

No. Such. Luck.

Fast forward to 2011, I had a client who was invited. I was excited for her but she flippantly said to me “I have to do this white thing tonight…how ghastly!” I wanted to scream I WILL GO IN YOUR PLACE but I held my cool. How was it she ended up being invited in her first year living in Paris when I had been trying for YEARS?!

So, I gave up. I really did. It wasn’t going to happen and I was just going to be jealous once a year of everyone having this magical night in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  It hurt to give up but I surrendered to acknowledging I wasn’t one of the ‘who’s who’ of Paris.

Then, almost as soon as I gave up, I received a random email from someone I had worked with as a marathon training coach. We had a long history of random encounters, from running Santa Claus races in costume together to laughing about mutual friends at a pub night for something entirely different, so random was not new to our relationship. He asked me in a very convoluted manner if I was “in or out” for something happening in June 2013.

WHAT?

Yes of course I was in (I always dive head first).

I asked what it was and he laughed, “I will explain later but you are on the list!”

OMG I’m on a LIST! I did not care what list it was, it was all so secretive and exciting! My husband was more practical asking “what if you signed up to run a marathon you don’t know about??” I wouldn’t listen to him (or pretended not to panic would be more accurate).

Then the invite came. We were cordially invited to Dîner en Blanc 2013 – location and time TBA.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Since that fateful email, we have attend 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and now 2017. The evening never disappoints, no matter how much work it is to bring your dinner, table and chairs with you through Paris.

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Place Vendôme, Dîner en Blanc Paris, 2016

I believe part of the magic is still in the details, or lack therefore of. People have all kinds questions about it and I refuse to answer many but I will tell you this:

  1. It is true that the date and location are kept COMPLETELY SECRET to diners. We find out the date a few weeks before and the location only once our designated team leaders have taken us there. We meet first at another location and come together at the last minute to set up, sit down and pop some champagne
  2. In regards to how we coordinate everything if it is all so secretive, we receive a list entailing the exact size and shape of chairs/tables and what is expected of us as diners
  3. We are in charge of our space: that means we must bring our own garbage bags and help clean up after. We leave the location as we found it.
  4. The date changes yearly
  5. The Paris event is ‘almost’ free of charge (change in your wallet could cover your fees) but I have heard that other cities charge quite a hefty fee (could just be rumours…)
  6. It is absolutely as much fun as it looks
  7. We do not automatically receive invite benefits to pass along to other friends, family members, etc (I’m sorry!!!)

So, with that in mind, I leave you with some photos from this year’s event. If you ever find yourself receiving a strange email asking “are you in or out”, I implore you to find your wild side and see what might entail.

For me, this is always a highlight event of the year and I will never take that for granted!

See you in 2018 (date and location to be determined, of course!)

Photo Credit: Jennifer Hart

Running Around…

As many of you know, I am an avid runner. It is what keeps me focused, calm and a source of energy for all the things I continue to put on my plate! I wrote a personal piece for Moon Joggers last year and think it might be fun to share here! Enjoy…and lace up if you feel like it afterwards!

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

 

Meet Millie at the Hilton: Milwaukee’s Concierge with a Bark!

It was almost 11pmCST/6amCET in Wisconsin when I arrived, jet-lagged and slightly worse for wear at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center for the WITS 2017 conference. I checked in, stumbled to my room and collapsed. When I woke up the next morning, I decided to head out for a walk to clear my head. On my way through the lobby I saw a flash of something tan or beige, maybe both, racing around in front of me. What on earth was that, I wondered. Then I saw her: cute, fluffy, energetic and ready for attention, and maybe a photo op or two, was Millie, the 4-legged canine concierge that has become a vital part of the Hilton family.

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Asleep on the job…!

She completely melted my heart as I bent down to give her some cuddles and puppy love. I’ve stayed in hundreds of hotels and not once have I ever come across a Dog Concierge. Millie was a first for me and, I could tell by the expressions on the other hotel guests, she was a first for them, too. People were stopping their normal ‘hurried’ lives to spend a moment with her. They ceased texting and conversations, all in the hopes of spending a moment with her. Alongside her trusty companion and co-worker Rusty (the actual concierge at the Hilton), Millie brought a happy and welcoming spirit to the hotel.

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Millie’s business card!

Of course, a dog concierge made my heart swoon but it also presented with a lot of questions. I was fortunate enough to conduct an interview with her colleague, dad and owner, Rusty. Keep reading to learn all about the happiest, and furriest, concierge in the world! If you find yourself lucky enough to wind up at the Hilton Milwaukee City Centre, be sure to stop by and say a big hello to Millie (and to Rusty, too!!)

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Chilling out at home on a day off!

Meet Millie (and Rusty!)

How did Millie come to be the dog concierge at the Hilton? Last fall the idea for a “hotel dog” began to circulate. When I became aware of it I was eager to become a part of the discussion. I’ve shared with others since that a great idea never happens easily. It takes a lot of determination and hard work. Although my manager was supportive there were others who were not so sure. I went forward with Millie “under the radar.” Many questions needed to be addressed including what type of dog, adult or puppy, rescue or breeder and who would take responsibility for training and general care. After much reading and speaking with breeders, I decided on a smaller breed (some are afraid of larger dogs), a dog that doesn’t shed (much better for a hotel environment) and one that would not be a challenge to those guests with particular allergies. The temperament was crucial so I spent time talking to breeders who could assist in finding a dog that would be a daily friend to our rather large, 729 room hotel. Millie was born on September 13, 2016 and we picked her up on November 12, 2016 at eight weeks of age. She began coming to the hotel at ten weeks for a few hours at a time and now spends 40 hours a week in our lobby and hotel.

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Millie and Rusty

How old is Millie?
Millie is presently 8 months old.

What breed is Millie?
Millie is a mini-golden doodle. Her mom was an AKC Golden Retriever and her dad an AKC Toy Poodle.

What has the general reaction been from hotel guests?
Millie has changed the environment in our lobby 100%. When people come to check-in to the hotel, the first thing they ask is that a real dog and then immediately head to the concierge desk to get their daily Millie fix. When she’s not here at the hotel, the bellman tire of the questions in regards to her whereabouts. Millie regularly receives emails and comments via our hotel website, great Trip Advisor reviews, as well as dog treats, sweaters, and toys from our guests. If you walk through the hotel, you’ll often have people ask, “Where’s Millie?” Our hotel operator mentioned that once a guest called to make a reservation and wasn’t sure if this was the correct Hilton property. “Is this the one with the dog?” she asked and with that knowledge booked her room immediately. She has brought smiles, laughter, and even tears to many within her short time here and we can’t wait for more of this to come as she grows older with the Hilton Milwaukee.

How has Millie changed the moral of the hotel?
I knew Millie would have an impact on the guests but I never guessed the impact she would have on the employees. As people leave and exit the building they now stop by the desk on the way to their jobs and pet and play with her and many have said it’s the best part of their day. Millie has more aunts, moms, grandmas, and uncles…but only one dad…me! When I come to work no one asks how I am anymore…it’s always “Where’s Millie?” Fellow employees that I rarely spoke with before now stop by and share phone pics of their dogs and love on Millie as if she were their own. Auntie Dawn regularly buys Millie sweaters and treats “and I wasn’t really a dog person…until Millie.”

Do you agree that Millie makes the Hilton feel like a “home away from home.”
Millie has been a learn by doing kind-of-thing. The ways in which she makes the hotel feel like home to our guests is a wonderful result of bringing her here. I’m sure that idea was a part of the plan but I was not prepared for just how well she would do her job. It’s not uncommon now to hear people step off the elevator or arriving through the parking garage hallway to hear them asking, “Where’s Millie,” even before they reach the front desk.

What is Millie’s role at the hotel?
It keeps growing as we grow along with her…of course she greets and plays with guests in our lobby, takes deliveries to the rooms, and attends group meetings that request her. I am in the process of training her to lead people to the restroom and elevators. It’s rather endless when one considers what Millie could be doing…and not to overwhelm her with too many things to do.

Have you experienced any unhappy or nervous guests?
On a few occasions we’ve been told that a guest is fearful of dogs but no one has contacted us directly. If they are we have a crate behind the desk where Millie can go for the time being. Overall the comments have been overwhelmingly positive.

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Are guests allowed to walk or give treats or toys?
Many come down offering to take Millie up to their rooms for a snuggle or for a walk around the block. As I get to know more people on a regular basis it may become an option. She is still only 8-months old so still learning how to walk of a leash…but in time I’m sure it will happen. At the moment it just a little bit weird giving your dog to someone who I’m not familiar with but as regular guests return I’m confident it will get easier!

What does Millie do when she’s not working?
I felt it important from the beginning that the dog we selected must have a home outside the hotel. Having raised Golden Retrievers all my life and having lost my last one (Abby) about 5 years ago, I eagerly accepted the job. Millie works 5 days a week and all the other time she spends with me, two-roommates, and two cats. She gets along with all of them very well as well as all the other dogs in the neighborhood dog park. Millie rides the bus to work each day, jumps on the couch with Oliver and Rose (the cats) and goes on long walks, and dog school and sleeps in my bed (with the cats) just like so many other loved and cared for canines.

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Late for work…!

Is there anything important you think guests should know about Millie/her role?
Two things come to mind…

Often I hear from guests and employees that Millie is the most spoiled dog ever because of all the attention she receives of which is very true. On the other hand she is petted hundreds of times a day, often awaken from a nap because an eager guest really wanted to see her. After a day in the hotel she unwinds for a few minutes but within the hour she is out for the rest of the night. She gives a lot to her work…and sometimes I think others fail to see that.

Also on more than one occasion guests mention how great it would be to bring your dog to work each day. Before this I would have said the same and often wished to find a job where I could work with dogs regularly and now I find myself in a position that permits me to do just that. But there are days when I realize just how much work it is to ‘hotel train’ a puppy in such a large hotel or to teach her to not jump or bite or to come when she’s called. It’s been so rewarding to see her progress and for guests to mention how well behaved she is for just eight months. Some have even thought her to be a service dog…which in the grand scheme of things is my goal.

 

To follow more adventures of Millie and Rusty, be sure to check out their Instagram page here
Photo credit: Rusty Dahler

Friday Featurette: Discovering Beauty While Discovering the World

A couple Fridays a month I will be featuring another blogger, photographer or up-and-coming writer on my site. Stories range from expat life to travel/adventure. If you are interested in possibly being featured, please read the info here and get in touch!  You may notice differences in terminology, vocabulary and spellings here but I think keeping it authentic to the author’s voice and background makes for a richer reading. If you are a visual artist, text isn’t always as important so still feel free to pitch an idea to me!

Discovering Beauty While Discovering the World
By: Larissa Rolley
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Traveling allows us to see beauty often overlooked in our everyday lives.  As we perceive the world around us with fresh eyes, we are able to reveal to others the beauty that was hidden in plain sight all the time.  Take for example, the hibiscus flower in the image – ubiquitous in many tropical climes, and more specifically in Tahiti where it is known as the ‘purau’ flower.  As a visitor to the South Pacific island, the first thing I noticed at sunset on the water of the lagoon were these marvellous flowers floating along. The purau flower, it turns out, is unique among the hibiscus in its ephemeral nature, as it only lasts one day, changing color several times and finally falls from its tree.
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To me, its short-lived life is really a heart-throb of beauty with the sun in the language of color and light. A soft hue of pale yellow emerges while still connected to its tree to welcome the pale early morning colors at dawn. As the day begins to break, the purau boasts a bright yellow to greet the rising sun.  As the sun rises, the flowers open and spread their petals to fully partake in the day. With the afternoon, the flowers become salmon-colored. When the sun begins to descent in the sky,  the sun-kissed breeze carries the flowers to the ground, to the black sand, to the lagoon. Some flowers float along like butterflies on the water – floating poems.  The light from the setting sun glows through the translucent petals. As the sky flames orange and red, the flowers turn deep crimson in response.
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My heart captures these moments with my camera to share with you, fellow beauty-lovers, the color, magic, and light.  It is my hope that you are inspired by these flowers, to see beauty around you and in your travels and this informs your creative pursuits, your art, your writing, your music, your life.  Maybe you will be inspired to visit Tahiti.
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Larissa Rolley inspires people to their wanderlust through her own travels, through photography and connecting cultures.  She believes in the transformational power of travel and wants to encourage people to get out and live their adventures.  If you aren’t traveling, travel more, if you are traveling, travel deeper. You can get monthly downloads of the 2017 hibiscus calendar which includes some of the images shown here, and her travel planner wheel on her website: www.LarissaRolley.com . She would love to hear about your travels! 
Follow her inspiration online:  
Instagram www.instagram.com/LarissaRolley
Twitter www.twitter.com/LarissaRolley

Photo credit: Larissa Rolley

Moving to Switzerland? Enjoy These Insider Tips

A while ago* I asked if local internationals/expats in Switzerland would be keen to answer a few questions on life in Confoederatio Helvetica (aka Switzerland).  Switzerland is an impressively quiet country that people often wish to visit/relocate to but it find it difficult to obtain information on. Thus, I present to you, Q&A with people already living in Switzerland. I tried not to edit the responses so some answers may be formatted or phrased differently than others but this is an honest glimpse inside the lives of those that have already made the jump to Switzerland.

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Amazing Lucerne/Luzern by photographer Dominik Gehl

Where are/were you located in Switzerland and, if you wish to share, for how long:
Morges(VD) – 3.5 years
Basel (BS)
Lausanne (VD) – 2 years
Zurich (ZH) – 9 months
Lausanne (VD) – 4 years
Morges(VD) – 2 years
Geneva (GE)

Where are you from originally:
Germany
England
France
Scotland
Canada
USA
Chile

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View of Lac Léman/Lake Geneva from Morges by Jennifer Hart

Have you lived in other foreign countries before moving to Switzerland:
Yes – 5 votes
No – 2 vote

 

What Swiss languages do you use for daily life:
Swiss German
French
Mix of French and Swiss German
Sometimes Italian when I travel to Lugano for work
English tends to be a working language most places, as well

 

What is your native language:
English – 4 votes
French – 2 vote
German – 1 vote
I’m bilingual
Spanish -1 vote
Italian – 1 vote

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Zermatt by photographer Dominik Gehl

Important things (s) people should know when they relocate to Switzerland:
-Cost of living is very high
Shops are closed on Sundays and there are a lot of laws surrounding quiet hours (e.g. no placing glass in recycling bins at noon, no mowing the lawn on a Sunday). Life will be much easier if you try to follow the rules and embrace whatever comes your way without comparing it (unfavourably) to back home.
-Cost. Switzerland is very expensive. Housing, insurances and and food will consume the majority of your budget
-Salaries are higher here than elsewhere in Europe
-Weekends in Switzerland are for enjoyment, not work. There are rules around what you can/can’t do on a Sunday
-It is just as beautiful as you imagine
-Language, cost of living, culture regarding respect towards others, commercial business hours, necessary documentation, legal requirements e.g. driving, permits, communal living regulations
-Public schools are excellent

Favourite place in Switzerland:
-Have not been here long enough to see everything but for now I’ll say Lucerne/Luzern area
-Anywhere along Lake Geneva/Lac Léman
-Gruyères
-Montreux
-Lausanne (awesome restaurants)
-THE ALPS
-Ticino/Lake Lugano Italian area
-Zermatt
-Morges
Lausanne for the street food festival 

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Tulip at the Morges Tulip Festival by an anonymous friend 🙂

Favourite Swiss food:
Raclette (5 votes)
Fondue (4 votes)
Rösti (2 votes)
Gruyères meringues with local cream (Swiss dairy in general)

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Crans-Montana, Swiss Alps photograph by Jennifer Hart

Are/were you happy in Switzerland (these are direct copy and paste answers – extra exclamation points and all):
Absolutely
Very
YES!!
Yes!
Oh yes!! Even with the cost and rules. Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!
Yes. I am homesick for English food sometimes but otherwise, Switzerland is now home.
YES. Geneva is a bit boring but the rest of Switzerland makes up for it.

Yes or No-you have gone to a Swiss mountain and sang The Hills Are Alive:
LOL not yet
Actually, yes I have. Even took a video
Not an Austrian nun so, no, I haven’t
Ummmm not yet but I kind of want to now
HAHA how’d you know?
No
Hadn’t occurred to me, but I now want to buy an edelweiss shirt and learn how to blow a swiss horn, while riding a cow…
Maybe…

Profession:
Software engineer
CMO
Translator
Writer
Software developer
Mom
Stay at home pet wrangler, occasional mother, professional eye roller and eccentric socially awkward recluse
Nanny
Thank you to all of my contributors. If you’d like to see more photography from Dominik Gehl, check out his Instagram account here You won’t be disappointed!!!

*This, and many other writing projects, were sidelined due to my computer crash swiftly followed by a fairly intense recovery from a brain trauma but here I am, back on track and ready to read, research and write!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Dominik Gehl, anonymous (with permission) and banner image from Fotolia

Photo Journal: Lake Como, Italy

My family and I are bona fide Italiophiles. We love anything and everything to do with visiting Italy, as readers of this blog may have already learned once or twice before! Once we cross the Italian border, we feel relaxed and happy. This may very well be built up in our heads, but even if that is true, is it really so bad?? Italy represents a slowing down of life for us. Taking some speed off of the pace of things and allowing ourselves to enjoy leisurely days and delicious food.

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Wine, sun, mountains and Lago di Como – when life is perfect

We recently booked a last minute long-weekend trip to Lake Como (Lago di Como) and spent 5 marvellous days soaking in the sun, the culture, the wine and the gelato! Lake Como, often known for its most famous resident, George Clooney, is breath-taking any time of year. The weather starts to heat up in April and really pumps up its volume in June, July, August and September. Outside of these months you can expect cooler weather and perhaps some rain but I promise, even then, Como will not disappoint.

Alas, we did not find George on our trip (to be honest, we didn’t look that hard) but we did find our own little paradise along the lake. We may not be in the same tax bracket as Mr. Clooney, but we were able to borrow his lifestyle for a few days. Thank you, Como. We’ll be back!

Enjoy the photos!

Photo Credit: Jennifer Hart