Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

2 for the Road = 8 Paws in Tuscany! Chapter 2

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Raja and Sherpa were welcome in Tuscany, Italy where the outdoor lifestyle and the sheer simplicity of life’s values made their presence seem pretty normal and appropriate to Italians in this dramatic and glorious countryside. Categorically, we can say, Italians like dogs, usually own dogs and aren’t surprised to see dog tourists.

What is Tuscany exactly? Tuscany is the region north of Rome bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Etruscans dominated until the Romans conquered in 351 BCE. Following the Roman Empire, city states rose, each a scrappy, contentious little citadel on a hill that both created unique, native trade goods and made jealous, little wars on its neighbors. In the 15th century, the Medici Family, rich and political, dominated; their vision and political savvy nurtured Dante, Macchiavelli, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Leonardo and Michelangelo. Tuscany was the epicenter of the Italian Renaissance. In 1871, Tuscany became part of a united Italy, but roughly 75 years later suffered grievously as a major theater of WWII. Its architectural treasures were blown to pieces; its famous art looted, regained, relooted and regained, leaving the area impoverished and disassembled. In the times of local peace, Tuscany has emerged as a gentle region of famous national culture.

Raja and Sherpa, anti-war and apolitical, just want to enjoy each minute of every day and Tuscany offers ample opportunity to fulfill their travel dreams. So, first off, where did they stay and how did they get there?

Windy roads and a cozy blanket for paw traction.

They flew into Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and took a rental car north. Two and a half hours, and they were in Tuscany- where the landscape changed to rolling hills dotted by little round bushes and occasional trees of two sorts, small and lollypop-like or tall and slender. And then they saw the vineyards and ancient olive groves, patched everywhere on the hillsides.

Ancient vines.


Since Tuscany champions its local culture, Raja and Sherpa stayed in a country house, a sprawling farmhouse complex repurposed into a comfortable hotel with rustic apartments, breakfast on the rose terrace, a pool that overlooks a valley that lies beneath a mountain upon which sits a castle and gardens, gardens, gardens tended by a constant gardener. Dogs are welcome everywhere. Raja and Sherpa put their paws in the pool, relaxed in the dining room, lounged under the umbrella at breakfast and rambled through the roughly 100 acres of the estate. The office advised us that the area is fenced, so they didn’t need leashes, and, oh yes, the local wild boar won’t really bother them if they don’t chase her. Hmmm… anyway… We cannot recommend the Casa Cornacchi in the Province of Siena any more highly.

A country house apartment allows for both service and autonomy. Raja and Sherpa were able to have food cooked right in their own stone farm kitchen, bought in cute, private groceries or from the ubiquitous, Coop, the regional supermarket cooperative that champions local products and local manufacturers.

So what did they do, besides stalk boar? Next post we’ll tell you about the best hill towns of Tuscany for our adventuresome duo!

Travel Dogs in Tuscany, Italy! Chapter One!

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Stick close to me in Montalcino, Sherpa and don't worry.

Raja the Travel Professional decided to help Sherpa the Travel Novice put down her paws for her first overseas trip in Italy’s central region, Tuscany- famous for glorious hill towns, painterly landscapes, handcrafts, wine and, especially food! Italy is a good travel spot for adventuresome, hardy American dogs.

Why Italy?

1.Europeans often travel with family dogs in bucolic Tuscany.

2.Most Italians have dogs they are very proud of and many bring their dogs when they go out to dinner. (Yes, at nice places too, but always begging is uncool.) Hotels usually welcome dogs, but you always should ask.

3.Dogs are expected to be trustworthy and socialized in Italy, but Italians enjoy and celebrate the “dogginess” of dogs… the wagging tails, the slurpy tongues, the need to roam, the need to bark and even the assertiveness of dogs.

4.And, as we see in sculpture and painting, dogs have always been a celebrated part of the beauty of Italian life.

A display of marble dog sculptures in the Vatican Museum.


In the next blog series we are going to tell you all our fun adventures and recommended spots, but first we want to bark about a few ground rules for canine travel. Good canine travel looks easy, but the prep is enormous.

Plane Transport: Small dogs under 15 lbs. can travel in cabin on most airlines in most seasons. We don’t know anything about travel in cargo for larger dogs and we feel it’s not fair that airlines relegate large dogs to cargo. We don’t feel confident about cargo and would never have any of our dog friends in cargo. Others may disagree, but the isolation and unaccountability of cargo concerns us too much to advocate cargo transport at this point. (We’ve already written an awful lot about how to choose a travel bag, train for plane travel, buy a dog ticket from the airline and help your dog not have to pee in flight. It’s all in our archives.)

Health: Only robustly healthy dogs should embark on strenuous travel. We are not barking about dogs who have good health, but take some regular medication. We are barking against taking fragile, highly medication-dependent dogs on strenuous trips. Don’t kid yourself. Travel is for the fit and perky. It’s only fair to make sure your dog is travel healthy.

Before leaving, get a health check up from your vet. Carry the inoculation records as well as a signed letterhead letter from your vet that certifies the good health of your dog, in your own language and translated into the country’s language. (Google Translate will help you and your vet to create a pretty good foreign language translation.)

Use online search engines to research local vets in the areas you will visit and keep the list with your documents.

Sherpa loves playing in the countryside.

Bring shampoo and grooming tools and groom your dog daily. Travel creates mats and, as one example, Tuscany’s hillsides are full of burrs and foxtails. Watch out for eyes and ears. Maintain brushing teeth. Wash paws after long, grimy walks. As a style destination of the world, Italy is the place for your dog to look pretty every day.

Food and Supplements: Take all required medication or regular vitamins, treats and food (if your dog eats packaged food.) Raja and Sherpa eat home cooked stews, so they travel with a day’s supply of frozen food and a few jars of baby food to tide them over. (Note, if your dog eats home cooked, you will need accommodations with a kitchen. If your dog is an avid restaurant foodie, as Raja and Sherpa can be, plan not to be shy when asking a restaurant to make your dog some chicken and rice. After all, you’re paying, so don’t act pitiful and unentitled and feel confident requesting no onions and no salt. (Many restaurants will kindly offer you free food composed of the table scraps of other diners. It’s a thoughtful offer, but other people’s scraps are not a trustworthy source of dog food. Refuse politely. Say, “Thanks so much, but his stomach is sensitive.”)

Toys and Beds: One or two favorite toys help pass the time in transit. A favorite blanket makes a dog feel at home and is easy to pack. Raja loves these snuggle beds. They fold flat and delight him when he sees them reshaped in the hotel. Raja and Sherpa got plush boars in Tuscany. All dogs like to bring back a little souvenir.

A memento of my trip!

Water: A hiker’s light-activated water purifier or bottled water is best for traveling dogs. If you are not drinking from the tap, you dog also should not drink tap water.

Clothing and Heat: If it’s cold, your dog could need a coat or a raincoat. If the weather at your destination is hot, your dog could need a tummy shave down. On hot day trips, soaking the paws and tummy in water provides instant relief. Rome and some other Italian cities have frequent water fountains along the streets. While you can’t actually soak your dog in them, nobody would blame you for splashing a hot doggy with water from the aqueducts of the Romans. (Do not plunge your dog into the Trevi Fountain unless it’s a real emergency. That’s kind of not done… unless you really, really must.)

Harnesses and Leads: Yes, bring one and a back up. If you normally use a retractable lead, consider a short nylon lead for travel. It’s lighter and Italy’s crowded streets don’t accommodate a long lead.

We could go on, but Raja says we have found our balance between advising and helicoptering. Next blog, it’s paws on the ground in Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and off by car to the lands of good food and sunshine!

Raja and Dog Jaunt double team for pet travel!

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Many thanks to Dog Jaunt for asking us to guest blog this week. Dog Jaunt is a wonderful resource for people who want to take their small dog along with them, on trips of any length.  Dog Jaunt stars, Chloe, the beautiful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel!  Look for an expert guest blog about the famous street food of Seattle, Washington on our site from Mary-Alice Pomputius of Dog Jaunt in June!

Please check out our article:  And don’t forget to keep www.dogjaunt.com in your sights for small dog travel resources and evals!

Raja visits Tropea, Calabria in Italy’s Deep South

Monday, April 19th, 2010
Walking below the cliff-side own on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Walking below the cliff-side town on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Go to any travel guide of Italy and look up Calabria.  Bet you $100 the book hardly mentions Italy’s southernmost region.  What you will read is that the South is less developed economically and the Mafia got its start in the South.  How dismissive!  Proves that whoever wrote that never, ever went there, right? You gotta go there, like Raja, to see for yourself! 

Raja took two trains south from Rome: first to Lamezia and then he changed to a small local rail system to arrive in Tropea, a medieval town on a limestone cliff over the absolutely turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea.  On Italian trains, dogs do not need to be in carriers; Raja had his own seat most of the way and he loved looking out the window at glimpses of the sea through a screen of olive and orange trees. 

The antique town itself is set on a cliff far, far above a deep beach with the quietest waves in the world.   The southern beach is separated from the northern beach and its modern marina by a little warren of grottos under a convent perched on an enormous rock.  What an opportunity for Raja to explore and have some doggy fun, and, as you guessed, nobody minds a dog playing on Italy’s beaches!  Two steep, long stairs in the north and south wind up the cliffs linking to the citadel. 

Tropea would be a great place to film Romeo and Juliet.  Its stony, meandering streets are lined with great houses, now apartments, with magnificent doorways and tile roofs.  Piazzas with fountains create community and residents stroll every evening socializing and flirting.  In the summer season, the town comes to life with swimmers and sunbathers, but Raja visited just at the magical monument before the season began.  What a great moment!  A local festival brought vendors, entertainers and shoppers from all over Italy’s southern towns.  Restaurants that had been closed all winter were just opening and the famous local swordfish was in season. 

Andree and her family at the Al Centro Storico

Andree and her family at the Al Centro Storico

Speaking of restaurants, you just cannot get a bad meal in Calabria, even if you get down on your knees beg for it!  Raja had a favorite restaurant:  Al Centro Storico on Via P. Vianeo.  He loved the service, the hospitality and the wonderful pasta.  The owners have a beautiful baby and two dogs, so they welcomed Raja enthusiastically.  Dogs can sit in any café in Tropea without anybody getting over excited. 

Please go to this link and read the first hotel review to find out more about a very rustic and cozy place to stay in Tropea: The Porta Del Mare

Don’t expect chains, don’t expect fast food, don’t expect machine-made products.  In Tropea, everything is artisenal, local and unselfconsciously good.  You and your dog should go!

Never be Afraid to Ask: Raja Visits the Vatican

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
Raja leaves the Vatican Museum

Raja leaves the Vatican Museum

Raja was just in Rome for a few days and what we wanted to do most was see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museum. Did Raja want to see the Sistine Chapel?  Of course!  He loves art!  

You may be wondering how Raja got in to see the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum.  The answer is simple -  we asked permission. 

Once inside the daunting doorway through the walls of the Holy City, we told the guards that we would love to see Michelangelo’s ceiling, but we have Raja with us.  We told them he is a certified Therapy Dog who can visit nursing homes and hospitals in the US and that he is tame and gentle.  Raja did his part by looking sleepy but therapeutic. 

Can you imagine, the guards initially thought that we wanted to check him in the baggage room?  They said, “Oh no Signore, we cannot be responsible for keeping him with the coats.”  They were relieved when we explained that we didn’t want to check him, but that we wanted to take him in his travel bag.  Then the guards had a mini conference and they decided that he could go too, “Yes, OK, you will be responsible, please go ahead.  Enjoy yourselves.”  

The Vatican Museum consists of magnificent chambers and halls lined with artwork that lead, after an extremely long shuffle, past many mini-shops of licensed Vatican mementos, to the Sistine Chapel.  If you want to see the Sistine Chapel, any good art book will show you the images better than being in the actual room, which is dim and crowed.  You can’t speak and you can’t take photos.  BUT, it was an awesome privilege to be under a work of art painted, however much it has been restored, by the 16th century genius Michelangelo.   

This blog post isn’t really about how to take your dog to see the Sistine Chapel.  Honestly, most dogs would lose patience with the long walk to the final chamber.  Our theme is that you should never subvert yourself by giving up without trying.  Don’t be the one to tell yourself that your dreams are impossible.  Give others the chance to hear you and help you.  Every day I have been thinking of those kind and smart guards who concluded that mild mannered, non dangerous, art loving Raja could go through the Vatican Museum. 

Next blog we’ll tell you about Trastevere, one of Rome’s nicest districts, and begin our tales of Raja’s visit to Calabria in Italy’s agrarian south.