Seen in Sicily

The Mafia gets points

for having

the best restaurants.

David Beard


A tour of Sicily for 11 days? I imagined this island to be just a bunch of rocks so I had serious doubts. Sarah Murdoch, the Goddess of Packing Light and honorary Sicilian, won me over with her enthusiasm and passion, swearing 11 days is not enough to see all of Sicily’s best.

Turns out, Sicily has always been the bread basket of Italy and driving through the island revealed a rolling landscape of fertile farms, vineyards, citrus and olive groves. Even if you don’t have 11 days, here are more than 11 things worth seeing and doing:

1. Visit the charming Contessa of the Palazzo Conte Frederico. Her family converted their Palazzo’s stables into Palermo’s most royal B&B.  She will be thrilled to host your private party and her love story with her husband will make you swoon.


2. Take the local pulse at bustling open markets and catch quaint domestic street scenes like this genius manual elevator.


3. The Cathedral of Monreale has 68,000 square feet of mosaics illustrating various passages from the Bible. Each tile measures about the size of the fingernail on your little finger. What’s even more amazing is  that the artisans of this Catholic church were Muslims imported from Constantinople–which explains why the work is similar to the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.


4. The Sicilian Goddess of Pastry, Maria Grammtico, hosts group lunches and pastry baking demonstrations. Signora Maria was orphaned very young and had to work at a convent crushing almonds as a little girl. Her biography Bitter Almonds: Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian Girlhood tells how she turned the difficulties of her childhood into a literally sweet life.


5. If the kids tag along, this family of puppeteers in Ortigia will remind you of the Von Trapp family of the “Sound of Music” with their Italian productions.


Trivia for lovers of antiquity: Where do you find the world’s best preserved Greek ruins? Sicily, of course!  In the very long history of this strategically located island’s revolving door of ruling powers, the Greeks had their turn and a few of Sicily’s hills are littered with their art and architecture.

6. Sing an aria at Segesta’s amphitheater. With its incredible acoustics, you can hear the person on stage whisper even when you’re this far. And do notice the backdrop of mountain, sea and neighboring island off the horizon.


7. On the rolling hills of Agrigento, the Temple of Concordia stands majestic, looking out to the sea. If you’d rather not melt your wings in the heat like this fallen Icarus, visit Sicily off season. At night, this temple and its neighboring ruins are lit for your viewing pleasure as you sip a granita at your hotel terrace.


8. From the Roman chapter of Sicilian history remains the mosaic floors of the Villa Romana Del Casale from 500 BC. Carpet sellers could not possibly have made a penny from this family who had every inch of their 4,000 sq. feet covered with a variety of scenes and patterns. My favorite was the long hallway of now extinct exotic animals captured in Africa for the Roman extravaganzas at the Coliseum. The “Bikini Girls” in the next room are actually  female athletes of their time.


9. “Passeggiata” is for people watching. In the early evening at every town especially on Sundays, locals meander down Main Street to say hello to each other and catch up with daily gossip.  Dress well for La Bella Figura, a good first impression and photo opportunities.


10. Eat well and/or cook better! Learn how to make Arancino rice balls, caponata, fresh gelato, Sicilian pizza,… at the Nosco Culinary School in the hillside town of Ragusa.


11. Can chocolate be made without heat, butter or artificial additives? Solve the mystery while chocolate tasting at Antica Dulceria Bonajuto in the town of Modica. Had to bring home their pistachio chocolate Easter Eggs.


12. Wine tasting does not get more charming than in the company of the handsome father and twin sons who run the Benanti vineyard on the slopes of Mount Etna. I love how the labels of their wine bottles  combine the family patriarch’s love of wine and Renaissance art.


13. In Siracusa, whisper in the Ear of Dionisio or sing your heart out with a grand chorus.


I didn’t even make it to Sicily’s beaches! Taormina is popular with its pebbles and if you prefer sand, head towards the Southern coast facing Africa.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to add your Sicily travel tips.  La Dolce Vita Easter to you!


Give the women you love the most unique gift

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Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

When In Rome Again

In Italy,

they add work and life

to food and wine.

Robin Leach


Piazza Navona on a rainy day last visit

After last year’s whirlwind mother-daughter holiday (see posts London with teen and Paris Charms with Teen,) the older brothers realized that traveling with mom need not just be an excuse to get their pesky sister out of the house.  This Spring break, Brother #1 has signed up for his turn to go on  a mother-son rendezvous.

Argentina was first choice because he’s interested in tango (and the pretty ladies that go with it,) but that’s too long a schlep from Boston for a week off. He got all excited over Iceland, but I refuse to  be any place colder in March. Where can he hop on an easy flight to get to relatively mild weather, see art, architecture, and engineering marvels everywhere he turns, while avoiding hordes of tourists? Why, Rome in March, of course!

Audio tours

Before you even start packing, let celebrity guide Rick Steves’ audio tours stoke your imagination and enthusiasm.


A few fun things to do in Rome after you’ve covered the basics:

Rent a Ferrari

This IS Italy! Why not?


photo by Conde Nast Traveler

Ostia Antica

Also known as “The better Pompeii,” Ostia Antica is only 30 minutes North of the Colosseum, compared to Pompeii’s 4 hours South. This used to be the bustling commercial port of Rome when the Romans controlled the Mediterranean. Wandering around the ruins today, you’ll see well-preserved remains of ancient brick structures from docks, bakeries, warehouses, apartments, mansions, shopping arcades, baths and sculptures–a peek at Roman lifestyles 2,000 years ago.

And if your travel companions are allergic to museums, a couple of light and lovely options are:

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

This private mansion off the Piazza Venezia on Via del Corso is also a museum open to the public. An easy walk from the Colosseum past the Typewriter building (aka The Wedding Cake or Il Vittoriano Monument.) I love its rich interiors and their mini version of Versailles’ “Hall of Mirrors.” Listen to the audio guide recorded by a family member of the Doria Pamphilj as you walk through the elegant rooms and art filled halls, pay the extra 5 Euros to tour their more private apartments. Caffe Doria breaks the museum standard fare with its delicious and generous portions for lunch and tea/coffee in old world charm.


photo by Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

Galleria Borghese

Hike up to this mansion of Cardinal Borhese that is now a small museum for lovers of classical paintings and sculpture. Make advance tour reservations, leave your handbag home to avoid one more queue to check it, get there early before the crowds, and take your sweet time  with their audio guide that is not shy about describing  the underhanded ways that wealth and treasures get acquired. Afterwards, you can stroll through the gardens or rent a bicycle wagon in the park surrounding the property.


photo from Google Images

The Galleria Borghese is an easy walk down to Piazza del Popolo with its ancient obelisk and open square. Plenty of restaurant choices along the way as you head down Via del Babuino to the Spanish steps.

Galleria del Cembalo

Between the Spanish steps and the Tiber River at a wing of the Palazzo Borghese, fans of photography can admire exhibits in rooms with ornate high ceilings.


Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) for your Rome travel tips.


Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Best of Venice

Venice is like eating

an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.

Truman Capote


As a passionate night owl, I was pleasantly surprised by the pleasures of catching the sun rise over Venice, soft blue making way to gray or sunny skies.

The one thing to know aside from timing your visit with Carnival is that there are no porters nor cars past its train station.   Walking is how everyone stays fit.  As a tourist dragging heavy luggage, your back will thank you if you choose a hotel with direct canal access.   Skip the queue for the bus, the vaporetto and the schlep over a few bridges by hiring a private taxi from the airport (110 Euros or share a ride for 30 Euros per person.)  To buy a private taxi ticket at the Marco Polo airport, keep left when you walk out of baggage claim.  Their booth sits like an island in the middle of the hall.

Money matters:  get the best exchange rates using your ATM or credit card.   If you want to watch your dollars magically halve, cash exchange counters charge about 30 Euros per transaction.   Tipping is generally not expected but with wages that have not caught up with the Lira’s conversion to the Euro, why not?   Service and/or cover charge are automatically added to your bill at restaurants.

San Marco Square

Join the early birds in owning the town before the street lamps go off at 6:30 am. Be the first in line to see the Basilica interiors and climb the second level to better admire the artwork on its golden domes.  But as soon as you notice puddles of water spreading on the pavement, get yourself out of San Marco quickly before the tide floods the square.

Doge’s Palace

A masterpiece of Gothic architecture, the Doge’s Palace (aka Palazzo Ducale in Italian) is a landmark of building elements and ornamentation.  The public entrance is through the Porta del Frumento, under the colonnade of its 14th century waterfront façade.


Cafe Florian

On San Marco square, the place to see and be seen especially during Carnival is Cafe Florian.  The crowd that gathers here adore elegant period costume that transport you back in time amidst authentic 18th century decor.

Terrace with a View

Because I love rich velvet on everything, I had to dine where the seats are upholstered in it!  Hotel Danieli faces the water next to the Doge’s Palace. Service at fancy hotels has its share of critics because of the expectations that are as high as the price they command.  Know that you are coming here for its unrivaled view of the city.   (Photo from


Rialto Bridge

For almost 300 years since it opened in 1591, the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) was the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot between the districts of San Polo and San Marco.   Probably the most visited structure among tourists today, it is best photographed when you’re on the water from a gondola, water taxi or the vaporetto (public water bus.)   Three walkways cross the bridge:  two along the outer balustrades and a wider one in the center with shops on both sides.  (Photo by National Geographic.)

Bridge of Sighs

This bridge behind the Doge’s Palace has a bleak history.  A more romantic version comes from local legend that promises lovers eternal love and bliss if they kiss on a gondola at sunset under the Bridge of Sighs as the bells of St. Mark’s Cathedral toll.  This legend is the plot line of the movie A Little Romance starring Laurence Olivier and Diane Lane.


San Giorgio Island

To get to the island with the brick church steeple that beckons across the water, take the #2 Vaporetto in front of Hotel Danieli.  Twilight is the best time to photograph the city lights and panorama.


Murano and Burano Islands

Murano Island is the home of hand blown glass and the famed Venetian chandeliers.  It is the first stop of the same ferry that takes you to Burano Island known for its lace and colorful house facades.



Even without a charming gondolier, Venice has no better known icon.
Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to add your Venetian favorites.


© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Email me

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

Venice Carnival 2014

What happens in fantasy 

can be more involving than what happens in life–

and thank goodness for that.

Roger Ebert


Among my favorites in posing, Nhaelle de France

If you can visit Venice only once in your entire lifetime, time it for Carnival and bring the kids!  This annual winter festival of masquerade and fantastic costumes can be traced back to the beginning of the 14th Century when months before Lent, everyone in town wore masks to break down social barriers and playfully defy differentiation between nobility and the common people.

Today, an international crowd of 3 million revelers congregate and make time to dress up in their original and fantastic creations or an elegant wardrobe of authentic period pieces.  Those in full regalia are so very kind and accommodating in holding a pose for your camera.  Can you imagine the time and effort each costume takes to create and transport, never mind wearing them all day in heat or cold for the two weeks of the fabulous Venice Carevale.  I’ll let the photographs speak eloquently for themselves.   You bet it wasn’t easy choosing which creations to exclude here.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to share what your fantasy costume might be.


Christine et Eric Plas

followed the yellow brick road from France


Almost a kiss by Pierre and Dominique


If you were wondered “Where’s the party?”


Should we tell?


Anabella from Estonia checks her makeup


I just love how the background complements this ensemble


I’m a night owl who didn’t know

catching the rising sun could be such fun

with Jeanne of France 


A rose and a serenade for mi amore

on Burano Island


Love the shadows matching the pointy hats on

Monika and Peter Gowitzke from Germany


The opulence of this flamingo theme

is one of my Carnival favorites



A most adorable party peeper


© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Email me

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother


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