Annual Reading Meme 2011

I’ve never been much for memes. While I enjoy reading them, and have even taken my turn at writing one, I’ve never felt like the questions related to my life in a way that made me want to return year after year. For the past few years, however, I’ve been keeping a reading journal where I note down the books I’ve read and try as often as I can to write my thoughts during and after reading. I don’t always succeed, but it’s a habit I enjoy improving.

Recently, the idea of a Reading Meme popped into my head. (Read: this morning.) After a few basic searches didn’t turn up a series of questions that seemed quite right, I sat down and wrote my own. So in the span of a very short time, I’ve gone from a meme skeptic to a meme writer. Well, there you go! Here’s my first Annual Reading Meme for 2011. I invite anyone interested in reading to share their own reading memes as a fun way to swap recommendations for great reads and new authors!

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What books did you read in 2011?

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious—and Perplexing—City by David Lebovitz

Markets of Paris by Dixon and Ruthanne Long

Paris Art Nouveau by Janine Casevecchie

What Matters Most by Luanne Rice

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The French Gardener by Santa Montefiore

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Sea of Lost Love by Santa Montefiore

Echoes by Maeve Binchy

Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore

The Italian Matchmaker by Santa Montefiore

La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language by Dianne Hales

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore by Chantal Kelly

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

Secrets of Paris by Luanne Rice

The French Gardener by Santa Montefiore

Favorite book of 2011

Favorite book of the year?

This is a tough one given that I read books by some of my favorite authors in 2011. Top of my list for last year would be a tough call between several books by Santa Montefiore. If I had to choose just one, it would be The French Gardener. I’ve loved all Montefiore’s books that I’ve read so far, but this one has a spot in my heart as the first book by her that I read. I’m thrilled to look over at the stack of Montefiore’s books I have still to read on my desk waiting for me in 2012. Even better, Montefiore’s hard at work writing more, with a new book, The Legacy of Fairfield Park, scheduled for a July UK release and a book set in Ireland in the works. Such a relief that I won’t soon run out of books to read by my favorite author!

The book that surprised you the most?

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. I was taken by the beauty and intensity of this mother and daughter co-authored book. After reading Traveling with Pomegranates, I’m eager to sample Sue Monk Kidd’s fiction writing style in The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair. Both are on the bookshelf waiting to be read in 2012!

The book that inspired you the most?

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. This one tops my list as most inspiring read of 2011 due of its impact on my personal life, as well as my work and writing. I picked it up in the Omaha airport last March to read during the flight home, and was most of the way through by the time I arrived back on the Amalfi Coast. It’s a book I returned to again and again over the year, and I continue to enjoy Rubin’s daily Moment of Happiness Daily Quotation emails and insights. Looking forward to her next book, Happier at Home, due out this coming August.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Most inspiring read of 2011

How many fiction and how many non-fiction?

Fiction: 12, Nonfiction: 9. This number surprised me since I was left with the impression that I read only fiction last year.

Are there any books on the list that you’re embarrassed to see there? Why?

I’m embarrassed to see Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf on my reading list for 2011. Certainly not because of the author, but because I had to admit to myself last year that I was 31 and hadn’t yet read anything by Virginia Woolf. Phew, glad I took care of that one!

Favorite new author of 2011?

This is an easy one to answer for 2011. Without a moment’s hesitation – Santa Montefiore. (Have you picked up on a theme for 2011 yet?) Her writing style, intriguing plots with twists and turns that often keep me guessing, and lovely characters I don’t want to leave behind at the end of each book has made her not only my favorite new author of 2011, but my favorite author period. Santa’s enthusiasm and generosity are gifts I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore

Currently rereading from 2011

Is there a book on the list you know you’ll read again?

There are two that I can guarantee I’ll read again, because I’m currently rereading Last Voyage of the Valentina by Montefiore. I rarely reread books (with the exception of Pride and Prejudice, which I read about every other year), but some books are just too good to read only once! I was enchanted by this book—and its sequel The Italian Matchmaker—set on the Amalfi Coast. Stayed tuned … soon I’ll be sharing reviews of both of them on Ciao Amalfi!

Sunshine & Snow in Amalfi

Amalfi Coast Italy Harbor

Sunshine in Amalfi with snow high in the mountains above

The colors of February on the Amalfi Coast are some of the most vivid and striking of the entire year. The sea in Amalfi turns a particular shade of intense blue that I’ve only noticed this time of year. It reminds me of the first time I visited Amalfi and stood marveling at that shade of blue back in February 2007. Today the sun was out and a cold wind had cleared away the rain and humidity of the past days. The little bit of white snow on the peaks of the mountains glimmered in the sunshine.

Amalfi Coast Fishing Boats

Can you spot the snow across the Bay of Salerno?

The sea was a bit choppy looking across the Bay of Salerno toward the Cilento coastline. The peaks of the mountains there are covered with snow as well after the recent winter storms. Walking toward the Hotel Luna watchtower in Amalfi, I noticed how the waves crashing against the rocks mimicked the white tops of the mountains far away. What a pretty sight to see sunshine and snow together on the Amalfi Coast!

Winter Hotel Luna Amalfi

Winter sea by the Hotel Luna in Amalfi

Where to Propose on the Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast Destination Wedding Ravello

Spotting a destination wedding in Ravello's piazza

With San Valentino just around the corner, romance is definitely in the air. The Amalfi Coast is one of the top travel destinations for romance in Italy – popular for engagements, destination weddings, honeymoons and special anniversary celebrations. As a romantic at heart, I would love to share some of the places on the Amalfi Coast that would make a magical backdrop for a wedding proposal. Valentine’s Day is the perfect time for some romantic travel inspiration, so here are some of my favorite romantic spots on the Amalfi Coast.

Terrace of Infinity at the Villa Cimbrone – Ravello

Amalfi Coast Romance in Ravello

Ravello's romantic Terrace of Infinity

Along with Amalfi and Positano, the mountain top town of Ravello is one of the most popular choices for weddings, honeymoons and romantic trips on the Amalfi Coast. All I have to say is, “Why not?” It’s a pretty town free from traffic in the historic center with lovely gardens to explore and gorgeous views of the coastline and Bay of Salerno from high above. Ravello’s Palazzo Sasso made was ranked number 2 on Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List 2011 for in the best hotels in Italy. And you know that’s some stiff competition! It’s just one of the many romantic spots to stay in Ravello.

Even if you don’t stay in Ravello, the town has many perfect spots for a proposal. The Villa Rufolo right off the town’s main piazza is a beautiful historic villa with a gorgeous cloister (for architecture lovers) and pretty gardens. My favorite romantic spot in Ravello, however, is the Terrace of Infinity in the Villa Cimbrone. Lined with marble busts, this terrace has views overlooking the bay, where the sky and the sea seem to blend together stretching out to infinity in shades of blue.

Sunset on the beach – Positano

Romantic Amalfi Coast sunset in Positano

Sunset and romance on the beach in Positano

Let me begin by saying that just about any spot in Positano has a romantic allure. Walking along the tiny streets, under the wisteria in the springtime, overlooking the cascade of colors from high above, sitting under the beach umbrellas on the quieter Fornillo beach, or at one of many restaurants near the beach. For me, the sweetest moment is sitting on the beach and watching the sun set over the Li Galli islands in the distant. Pure romance!

Climbing the steps of the Duomo – Amalfi

Propose on the steps of the Cathedral of Amalfi

Make a grand gesture in a grand setting - on the Duomo of Amalf!

Some many say it’s too cliché or expected, but I’d have to put the steps of the Duomo of Amalfi as one of the most romantic spots on the Amalfi Coast. Maybe it’s just that I’m an architecture nut. (Make that a romantic architecture nut, just to be clear.) Climb halfway up the steps, and instead of posing for a photo surprise your partner by popping the question. If the piazza and steps are crowded, I bet you’ll get an applause if the answer is yes!

Santa Croce Beach – Amalfi

If you’re the quieter type, then I have just the place for you. Take the boat from Amalfi to a little beach called Santa Croce just west of town. It’s secluded, romantic and one of the most beautiful spots for a swim on the Amalfi Coast. Look, even the rocks are all about love!

Romantic beaches on the Amalfi Coast

How's that for a romantic sign?

Sentieri degli Dei – Positano

Hiking on the Amalfi Coast

View of the Amalfi Coast from near Agerola

If you love being outdoors and hiking, the Amalfi Coast offers some irresistibly romantic views when you climb high up in the mountains. This is great choice if your partner loves a secluded spot and nature. One of the most breathtaking hikes is along the Sentieri degli Dei (Pathway of the Gods) high above Positano. Just be prepared for a lot of steps!

Rent a boat for the day – Amalfi Coast

Romantic boat trip on the Amalfi Coast

Beautiful views along the Amalfi Coast

Seeing the Amalfi Coast from the sea is a beautiful experience, and best enjoyed from a small boat. Spend a leisurely day exploring the rugged coastline and stopping for swims in small coves where the blue of the water pulls you in. Daily boat rentals are available in Amalfi, Positano and other towns along the Amalfi Coast.

Torre dello Ziro – Scala

Medieval watchtower Amalfi Coast

Hike to the Torre dello Ziro above Amalfi

For beautiful views of Amalfi and the coastline at an easier pace, hike up to the 15th-century watchtower Torre dello Ziro high above Amalfi. The walk begins in Pontone, a hamlet of the quiet mountain town of Scala, and leads up to the tower where you’ll enjoy views across the valley to Ravello and down to Atrani and Amalfi on the sea below.

Romantic night lights on the beach – Atrani

Amalfi Coast Romantic Night Spot

Atrani is charming at night

The little village of Atrani just a short walk east of Amalfi is one of my favorite spots for a romantic summer evening on the Amalfi Coast. Enjoy the lights of the town reflecting across the water while dining outdoors at the Ristorante Le Arcate. The town’s central piazza is a pretty spot for enjoying a drink before or after dinner, and the black sand beach is lovely and often less crowded than Amalfi in the summer.

Out to the lighthouse – Amalfi

Romantic spots in Amalfi

Walk out to the lighthouse for a panoramic view of Amalfi's harbor

One of the most relaxing ways to spend an evening is enjoying the traditional passeggiata in Amalfi along the harbor to the end of the port. All the way out at the end of the pier you’ll find a panoramic view looking across the harbor to Amalfi. The view is wonderfully romantic at night, and I’ve always thought it would make a lovely spot to propose. I bet the lighthouse has seen many in its day!

An enchanted bay – Nerano

Marina del Cantone Romantic Beach Amalfi Coast Nerano

Relax on Nerano's Marina del Cantone beach

Looking for a secluded spot away from some of the summer crowds in Positano? The little town of Nerano is the last one before the tip of the Sorrento Peninsula, and its seaside hamlet Marina del Cantone is a pretty spot for a romantic getaway overlooking a gorgeous bay. Excellent restaurants, beautiful hikes and a long beach make this a great location if you’re looking for an enchanting setting to propose on the Amalfi Coast.

Romance with the Sunset – Praiano

Amalfi Coast Romantic sunset view Praiano

Romance with the setting sun in Praiano on the Amalfi Coast

The colors of sunset stretching across the sea as the sun drops behind the dark outline of the Lattari Mountains on the Sorrento Peninsula. How’s that for romance? One of the best spots to enjoy sunsets along the Amalfi Coast is from the town of Praiano just east of Positano. In the distance you’ll even spot the island of Capri with its distinctive Faraglioni rocks. Now you know where to find the views … you bring the romance!

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Romance exists, of course, wherever you take it. Wishing you a romantic trip to Italy’s Amalfi Coast!

Birdwatching in Amalfi

When it’s almost lunch time in Amalfi in the winter, the streets go quiet as the locals start to climb the steps that will take them back home. There aren’t many tourists around this time of year to keep the pizzerias and quick food spots busy during lunch. Yet, there’s always something to watch in Amalfi.

Bird Watching on the Amalfi Coast

Today I spotted two cormorants who had just taken a dip in the chilly water. They were preening and shaking the dampness off their feathers, likely wishing the sun would come out to warm them up just a bit.

Cormorants in Amalfi

I’ve only seen cormorants (cormorano in Italian) in Amalfi a few times before, and I’ve never been able to get a photo of them. The way they dive under the water to hunt is fascinating, and I used to love watching them fish on the Mississippi River and when I was young in Florida.

Seagulls in Amalfi

The seagulls also seemed satiated, and were lining up for an afternoon nap. I didn’t have time to do more birdwatching, because it was time for me to head home and make lunch, too!