via REMEMBERING SURIN, 1949 – 2017



A month and 4 days have passed, and I am finally here to eulogise the death of one of my hero’s. I wanted to do this just hours of hearing of his passing away on the 30th of November 2017, relayed via Whatsapp by one of my close friends in Bangkok, but I couldn’t get myself to sit down in front of my computer without the tears blurring my eyes and flooding the keyboard. His untimely death made me dig up old photos of his first and apparently last visit to Amsterdam in 2005 when he and his wife led a Thai delegation from the Thai Dairy Industry to  The Netherlands and visit some of the country’s dairy farms. I reminisced the time I asked my old Bangkok friend, Bill, who  lives in Amsterdam to be the day’s tour guide, and we spent a good deal of time with them in one of their free afternoons. That was the first time we were all looking relaxed and casual. 

Dr. Surin, Alisa Pitsuwan and me
Bill and Dr. Surin


Surin 2
The cookbook they brought for me in case I needed to shine in the kitchen 🙂 
Postcards from everywhere

Christmas is over and with some joyous celebrations shared with friends and family, I feel some strength to write and savour the good moments I have experienced being around Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, and the friendship I have fostered with him through the years- the man with a beautiful smile and a breath of fresh air and the only politician who sent me postcards from his travels. He is sorely missed! 

Surin was the former Thai Foreign Minister from 1997-2001 who then went on to become  the 12th Secretary-General of the Association of South East Asian Nations (2008 – 2012), having been ignored by the Thai government under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to be the possible successor of Kofi Annan as UN Secretary-General. Thaksin’s government snubbed him for being in the opposing party as the Prime Minister and picked one of their men as candidate but Ban-Ki Moon of South Korea took the position instead. Surin would have been the much better choice having proven with his intervention in keeping peace in East Timor alongside  the United Nations.

Everyone knows too well of  Surin’s calibre as a Statesman and negotiator of peace promoting human rights. Chulalongkorn University’s Associate professor, Thitinan Pongsudirak mentioned in his commentary in the Bangkok Post in 15 December 2017, “No secretary-general of Asean is likely to come anywhere near the level of his eloquence, charm and charisma, the presence and confidence that his tall frame and good looks yielded. But Asean was second best for Surin.”   That was my first lamentation of Surin. No backing from his own government for that UN position and they failed him. My second lamentation came upon his untimely death suffering from heart attack, preparing to speak to the Thailand Halal Assembly 2017. He collapsed. He was 68 years old. There were unfinished things that needed to be done and he’s gone and I will never, ever read the book he has started to write about his life because it was never finished.

In 2013, I came face-to-face with Thaksin Shinawatra in Harrods Department StoreKnightsbridge .    Instead of slamming him for what he did to Surin, my soft spot took over me because here is a man without a country living in exile in Dubai and hated by many of his country men. He no longer have an entourage of body guards protecting him and like most shoppers, we are at par. Ordinary citizens. I then preferred to take a photo with him and managed a smile. 

  Just months after Surin left his ministerial position, I was asked by a friend if I have the time to interview him for Thailand Tatler (Thailand’s English-language luxury lifestyle  magazine). Why, of course! I have admired him speak in so many occasions, I can’t wait to have him all to myself with a personal interview. I got into contacting him through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I emailed him and when I mentioned I was interviewing him for a high society magazine, he laughed. He said he’s probably not their type.

Tatler had him on their front cover and designated just 2 pages for my interview but Bangkok Post, Bangkok’s leading English language newspaper  picked it up and published it unabridged for their  December 23 Holiday Time issue.  Here is that write-up:

Surin 1

SURIN THE COMMUNICATOR- From South to Seven Seas

With a toothpaste smile and alluring personality, Surin Pitsuwan is your man for all seasons for so many reasons.

Regarded as one of the most articulate and charismatic Thai speakers in the history of Thai politics, Surin Pitsuwan stands out in any crowd, be it in the international arena of politicians, businessmen and clergy and down to the ordinary citizens of the world, and amusingly, to the many women who adore his good looks and stature.            

When Surin speaks, everybody listens including those who do not agree with him. The reason is that Surin has the ability to deliver his thoughts in a passionate, emotional and moving experience that you cannot simply deny and ignore.

Born in Nakhon Sri Thammarat in southern Thailand, Surin is the eldest of eleven children from a modest family of educators who ran a Pondok (a traditional Islamic school) which was established by his great grandfather during WWII.

His parents left him in the care of his grandfather when he was just two years old while they went to Mecca to pursue their studies and teaching careers, returning only when he was seventeen. Literally, he grew up at the feet of his very strict and disciplinarian grandfather who implanted in him the true meaning of discipline, dedication and motivation.

Surin says, “all my life has always been a cross-cultural existence. I was born a Muslim and I was sent to a temple school at 6 to learn the Buddhist mantra.” But at the ripe age of 18, Surin left for Rushford, Minnesota as an AFS (American Field Scholar) Fellow, hardly able to speak English. He recounts his experiences away from home saying, “I went to Sunday School in a Lutheran church. I read the Bible and I studied very, very hard learning the language and the culture. I was totally immersed. Before I turned 20, I had three cultures, one faith. Since then, I have been living this cross-cultural existence.” 

From the time Surin received his AFS Fellowship, Surin reaped other laurels for himself. He was a Frank Bell Appleby Fellow for 2 years at Claremont Men’s College in California, graduating cum laude in Political Science in 1972.  Then, he became a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in Harvard for three years. Returning  to Thailand from Harvard to seek a position in the Foreign Ministry, the then permanent Foreign Ministry secretary, Anand Panyarachun dissuaded him. Instead, he introduced Surin to the former ambassador of Egypt who helped him acquire a scholarship from the government of Egypt to study Arabic, medieval philosophies and Islamic jurisprudence at the American University in Cairo. Wanting to further his studies after a year and a half in Cairo, Surin went back to Harvard and earned a PhD in 1982.

Other Fellowships under Surin’s portfolio include the Winston Churchill Foundation, Fulbright Travelling Grant, Friedrich Ebert Foundation and Friedrich Nauman Foundation of Germany, and Asia Foundation.

For a year beginning in 1983, Surin became a Congressional Fellow in Washington’s Capitol Hill working for US politicians. His professional political career kicked off in 1986 when he was elected MP from his native Nakhon Sri Thammarat. That same year, he became the Secretary to the Speaker of the House, Chuan Leekpai  who later on became a two-time Prime Minister. In 1992, he was awarded the post of Deputy Foreign Minister and in 1997, the honour to become the country’s Foreign Minister was bestowed upon him at the return of Democrat Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai.

In the midst of the 2000-2001 economic crisis, Surin brought confidence to foreign investors and tirelessly addressed the issue in his countless extemporaneous and written speeches and addresses on globalisation worldwide. To this day, Surin is still the first Thai Muslim politician with the highest profile internationally.

After leaving his post as Thailand’s Foreign Minister in 14 February 2001, he continued to devote most of his time travelling overseas for conferences on Human Rights and Security.

ROLE MODEL: What impact is Surin creating for the young people of this country? “Role model. I’ve always wanted to be an instrument through which Providence can help others because all my life, I have been helped by others, and I’m not in any position to pay back all the people who helped me because they are all better-off than I am. In their minds, if this boy can share with others what he has earned, learned or accumulated through his experiences, that would be the payback. I’m sure they expect me to be a role model for the younger generation who probably are more humble than I, in my background or equally humble background. I have made it through perseverance, determination and positive attitude.” 

Visionary Surin enjoys talking about the future of an entire generation and he thinks he is in that position to give inspiration to the younger ones. With conviction he says, “I look straight in their eyes and say to them, “I have done it!”

Surin’s exemplary work as a diplomat earned him two Thai Royal Decorations: Knight Grand Cordon Special Class of the Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand, and Knight Grand Cordon Special Class of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant.        In 1999, during the State Visit of the Portuguese President to Thailand, he was given the decoration of Grand Cross of the Order of Infante Dom Henrique for his involvement in the East Timor crisis. His most recent decoration is the Grand Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog by Queen Margaretha II during her Majesty’s State Visit this year.

Surin has cultivated lifetime friendships with international personalities and many even tipped him as the next UN Secretary General, but Surin dismissed such speculation as rumour. Instead, he expressively gives an account of his three years as Foreign Minister saying it has been rewarding and that he has done his best. For now, he is taking things one by one as they come. For him, there are a lot of things in the world worth pursuing.

FAMILY MAN: Surin’s life as a family man with a very busy political career is very, very tough, as he said. He thinks that nobody is satisfied. “The constituents like to see more of you, your boss thinks you are not giving one hundred per cent to your job, your staff say you don’t have enough time to listen to their problems, your mother thinks you are too involved in your work and not interested in the family. In addition, I don’t see my children enough. It’s amazing how one can maintain a family.”

Father of three boys, Surin speaks fondly of his children: Fuadi meaning “my heart” is 16 years old and attends Ruamrudee International School, Hosni meaning “a good person” is 13 and enrolled in Satit Kasetsart. The youngest, Fikri “the thoughtful one” is 11 and attends Dulwich International School in Phuket.

His wife, Alisa, has been the pillar of the family’s togetherness. A businesswoman, she takes the role of both father and mother when Surin is away almost half of the year on political assignments. When Surin is home however, he keeps strict that the quality time he has is reserved for his own family. He also hopes that his children will grow up to be professionals, not necessarily following in his footsteps.  He dreams his children will take up professions in the engineering and medical fields, but again he says that to be able to make choices and options is a luxury. Most of all, he wants to see them live a good life.

PASSION FOR READING: Surin’s lighter side is his passion for reading and would spend his leisure time reaping words of wisdom from great philosophers like Aristotle. He indulges himself reading biographies, history and philosophy. But when he is on a plane, he admits to reading Cosmopolitan. He says it helps him to understand a woman’s psychology.

Once a columnist for local newspapers including the Bangkok Post, Surin is back writing again. He is presently writing a book on his reflections upon his years as Foreign Minister. But with a very busy schedule, he doesn’t really know when he will have the time to pen-down all of his thoughts. Recently, he wrote a five-page foreword on a book, The Boy from Boree Creek, a story about the life of Australian Tim Fischer, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Leader of the National Party, who gave up his political career in favour of spending time with his family. It was authored by Peter Rees.  It won’t be too long until we will be reading Surin’s very own. 

Finally, I asked Surin what message would he leave to our readers and without hesitation, he knew how much he wants to challenge us. When we have so many luxuries and free time in our life, where do our thoughts wander? Can we reflect on the deeper concerns of life, as well as what lies on the surface? Surin, having already learned so many life lessons asks us to do just that. “If reading a life story is interesting (then ask yourself), what change or transformation has taken place in your own understanding of your own society, of the personalities that are on the stage in front of you and then make that extra effort by asking yourself, can I make a change? can I make a contribution, and can I help? There are many more village boys who are still walking to school without shoes, who go to school and come home hungry and go to bed hungry. If you can imagine helping one of them, you have already made a tremendous contribution.”

– END-


5-page Foreword by Surin Pitsuwan, MP, Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Kingdom of Thailand, 12 February, 2001.

Due to copyrights, I cannot print here the excellent words Dr. Surin has written.

“This is a fascinating account of the life and career of a man who, for many, bridges the gap between urban and rural Australia. It is an inside look at Australian politics during a time which saw many difficult issues for rural Australia and the nation as a whole. It is also the very personal story of a man struggling with the conflicting demands of political life and family life, against the background of his elder son’s autism. It is, ultimately, an exploration of just what makes the politician known as ‘two minute Tim’ and ‘the boy from Boree Creek’ tick.”


“Peter Rees was a journalist for more than forty years, working as federal political correspondent for the Melbourne Sun, the West Australian and the Sunday Telegraph. He is the author of The Boy from Boree Creek: The Tim Fischer Story (2001), Tim Fischer’s Outback Heroes (2002), Killing Juanita: a true story of murder and corruption (2004), and The Other Anzacs: The Extraordinary story of our World War I Nurses (2008 and 2009) and Desert Boy: Australians at War from Beersheba to Tobruk to El Alamein (2011 and 2012), Biography of Charles Bean, 2015.” –


The Boy from Boree Creek is available on Amazon:

BillWilliam (Bill) Monsour, An American in Amsterdam. Singer, actor, presenter, Coach/Trainer and program director for Training Arts International. And among other things,  Bill once delivered a singing and dancing telegrams in Hollywood to Diana Ross, Nancy Sinatra, Lucile Ball, George Burns, Elliot Gould, Rudy Vallee and Benji. For more of Bill & Training Arts International, visit his site at:



Other readings:




ICI Paris? Mais bien sûr!

I love grand openings  and re-launching the biggest perfumery in the Benelux region is one of them. Voted for the 14th consecutive time as the Best Perfumery by the public, Ici Paris XL is re-launching their stores, re-inventing their customer approach and re-stocking some of the best products that can only be acquired in their shops. I went to their launch in Delft on a cold Saturday morning and before the doors open at 9:00 a.m., there’s already a thin crowd waiting outside that is fast filling-up the space. Time to celebrate!

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20171111_095111bThe shop in Bastiaansplein is  a delight to walk in.  The counters are gone replaced by open new shelves where one can touch and read product descriptions on packaging and reachable enough without bothering a sales/beauty advisor. The tv screens with beauty commercials playing add liveliness to the atmosphere. 

Shop manager Kalinka de Kievit is  very happy with the shop’s transformation because that means they can now serve customers in their enormous space up-close and personal as compared to standing behind a counter. She told me to come back in a couple of weeks when they have completed their whole set-up with the coming of big brands like Jo Malone, Tom Ford and Bobbi Brown. Yes, I shall be going back. 20171111_085155

*Latest update: I did go back to Ici Paris Bastiaansplein on Saturday, the 16th of December and I was greeted by Lisanne Solange, one of the regular beauty advisors who is ever patient in answering questions and showing me the different displays they have. She introduced me to their new attractions: Tom Ford, the luxury American brand that was launched in 2006 that takes its name from its creator, Thomas Carlyle “Tom” Ford – Film director & producer, scriptwriter and fashion designer and was formerly creative director at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent.

I saw Bobbi Brown with its moderate and natural tones and with its own make-up corner. Bobbi Brown cosmetics is also founded by the same name, Bobbi Brown, an American professional makeup artist and ex-CCO of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics who has written 8 books about make-up and beauty. Both Tom Ford and Bobbi Brown brands are showcasing the best of their product lines. Tom Ford is my favourite with its  selection of beautiful colours of silky smooth lip glosses and lipsticks. Time to change brands!

Tom Bobbi

Tom Ford
Who wouldn’t want these beautiful colours for their lips?







Karin Oudenaarden, assistant shop manager said that it’s necessary to refurbish the shop because buying trends are changing.  Customers want a free-movement to come to the products and re-creating a new place to shop means better customer satisfaction. 



Ici Collage 2


I asked what makes Ici Paris the best perfumery and Martijn de Looze, Manager of Sales & Operations said, “Our beauty advisors are the people that make Ici Paris best. They are well-trained and they take you on a journey in our stores with their knowledge of skin care, fragrance and make-up and of course, we have the best price.”20171111_090946




“It’s not only our beauty advisors that make us best, it’s also the assortment of products that we carry especially our very own brand, BE. We also represent exclusively some excellent brands like Filorga”, Joost van Bergelijk, Director of Marketing & Customer experience, added.








BE creative make-up is the first professional make-up line by Ici Paris that came out into the market about 5 years ago, mentioning that all their products are paraben free and using high-grade ingredients and rich pigments.

Created with advanced formulas to rival existing brands, BE is a display of 27 different products in intense shades for every skin type and colour. It is priced affordably attracting young adults but marketed for everyone who is passionate about make-up. And they say, with BE, “embrace the new, you are wonderfully unique, make trends your own and express yourself with make-up.”




20171111_094202bMartijn and Joost walked me to their BE creative make-up display and Martijn talked about the brand passionately. “BE was created by us and developed with reputable European laboratories with the help of some of our trainers, buyers and even some staff from our stores.”

“BE is currently sold in The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany and we are looking forward to marketing it worldwide” says Joost with pride.




Filorga, the first French Laboratory of aesthetic medicine that began in 1978 stands by its motto, “No Appointment, no surgeon, just Filorga skin care.” And if that’s not enough, they say, “Beauty is an art; we made it a science.”


Filorga scrub & mask


One product I recently tried from Filorga is the Scrub & Mask, garnering the 2017 Prix d’Excellence de la beaute by the international fashion magazine, Marie Claire.


By experience, it is a great product. Once applied on the skin, it turns into a mousse, bubbling on your skin removing dead skin (so they say), then it clears off until you wash your face after the recommended 10 minutes and what you see is a much clearer, cleaner and smoother skin. I highly recommend this product. If you’re not living in the Benelux or Germany region, do check out their website and find out where you can buy it from your area.

As men heading female-dominated consumers,  I asked Martijn & Joost their thoughts about women and make-up. 

“Personally, make-up is a personal statement for a woman to emphasise the aspects about what she likes most about herself and I think that she should not wear make-up to be beautiful because with all honesty, she is already beautiful from within.” For some, make-up is a way to boost their self-esteem but that’s different for every woman of course. And If it’s not too much, then I really like make-up”, says Martijn. 

As for Joost, he is more resigned saying,  “ If women want to look natural, that’s more than okay and if they choose to look more extravagant, it’s also good. It’s one’s choice how they would like to be.”


Be Creative

With a few more days to go, Ici Paris XL in Wagenstraat in The Hague is next to re-open with another grand opening on November 18. My only regret is not taking one single photo of Martijn and Joost!

All hands on deck the day before  Ici Paris XL Wagenstraat in The Hague opens! 

*Quick facts: Ici Paris XL first opened  in 1968 as an ordinary perfumery by a couple known as Mr. & Mrs. Brenig who brought products from Paris to their area called, Elsene (pronounced,  Ixelles in French, shortened to XL where the name came from).

Ici Paris XL  presently operates 240 shops. 126 in The Netherlands, 110 in Belgium and 4 in Luxembourg. It is owned by A.S. Watson Group which is the largest  health & beauty retail group in Asia and Europe with over 13,700 stores in 24 markets.  It started in Hong Kong in 1841. It carries 13 retail brands in stores and online. The company is majority owned by multinational conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings Limited, with just over 75 percent, after the remaining stake was sold to Singapore-government-owned Temasek Holdings, in March 2014.[1]



The Lemongrass Boys and their sweet stuff. Lick’em cold or drink them hot!

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We meet Sam again for the second time after 2 years. He still looks the same, smiles big the same and enjoys us the same! :-D.  We’re back to Lemongrass to relish their artisan gelato, and it’s a bit nostalgic. Cono? Coppa ? Yes, please!  


Lemongrass is just next-door to our rented apartment in Via Ottaviano near the Vatican so it’s easy to go back again and again and sit there as long as we want.  To this day, I never asked why they called themselves such. But I was told there are three owners which is symbolised by the three ice cream cones printed on the paper napkins.


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We would come here late at night, an hour before closing time when there aren’t too many people dropping by. That gives us the opportunity to chat with the boys and exchange about the day’s happenings. Plus, their wi-fi is faster than what we have in the apartment.





Lemongrass gelato (they say gelati is plural) are made smooth & full of flavour, you can taste the natural goodness. They don’t have ice crystals that feel rough sitting on the tongue.  There are other gelateria’s nearby but according to my taste buds, Lemongrass is perfect!  It has a 4.6 rating out of 5 in customer’s satisfaction from Google and it gets top marks in TripAdvisor reviews. That’s how Sam remembers me when I reviewed the shop 2 years ago. They serve artisan ice cream made with organic ingredients. They say their ice creams  are lactose-free, egg- free, gluten-free and without dried fruits. De-li-zio-so!


I’m losing my glamour. Eat me up!

This time, we met Mario who joined Sam in the late afternoon shift till closing time. Scooping gelato for 8 hours must be exhausting and that’s not the only thing they do. They also serve tea and hot chocolate and they brew coffee from espresso to cappuccino, latte macchiato caffelatte and more. At the end of the day, a good conversation I reckon is what they need to end the night. Tired or not, they are still all smiles!

Sam and Mario  are like Duo Penotti- that chocolate hazelnut spread with two stripy colours of milky white and caramel brown. They work in harmony almost tirelessly. When Sam is making coffee, Mario is in the front serving customers and vice versa.

20170816_222436 (1)-Recovered


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One night, I asked Sam to make me a latte macchiato cafelatte (that’s a whole lot of words to say) but I wanted it a bit cold and sweet so he came up with the idea of adding coffee gelato in it, and dusted the drink with chocolate powder.  That’s an excellent service! I don’t drink coffee but this concoction made me, and I went back for that macchiato with coffee gelato almost every night.



delicious pastries and biscotti to go with your hot drinks: No regrets!


There are people you meet in life and you wish they will always be there when you go back to the same place. I know Sam plans to go to Florida in the US after his engineering studies and then hopes to be the first franchisee of Lemongrass, the gelato he loves and passionately serves  to thousands of people who come to Rome and leave again. As for Mario, I never asked where he will be the next time we are back but I know for sure, I will be seeing him in Instagram and Facebook. Sam is neither in any of those social media’s. I guess I will just have to ask around where the first Lemongrass franchise is located.


Lemongrass Gelato: Via Ottaviano 29, 00192 Rome, Italy ‘ Tel. +39 06 39723524     










Till the sun sets: Grottaferrata & Frascati

Summer afternoons in Italy extend to long daylight and it doesn’t get dark until about 10 at night.

From Castel Gandolfo, there was enough time to visit two more adjoining towns in the Castelli Romani (Roman Castles) area. Castelli Romani is a collection of  wine-producing hill-towns to the south east of Rome.

On our way to Grottaferrata, we passed some vineyards along Marino, another small town along the Alban hills, famous for its white wine and its grape festival that is held every 1st Sunday of October. For one hour during this day, fountains will not flow with water but instead, wine for free!

Grottaferrata, we have arrived! First, another cup of espresso to boost the energy and beside the coffee shop, I spotted something that amused my eyes. A  Fiat 500L I’d be happy to test drive. I love classic cars and till now, I regret not buying the MG MGB car I once found in a Bangkok car garage because friends told me the maintenance was too high so I settled for a brand new Toyota Starlet instead.  Well, it wasn’t a head-turner.

We walked up to the town’s main sight, the peaceful  abbey Monastero Esarchico di Santa Maria di Grottaferrata. I am so glad that in Italy, I can go inside a church without paying an entrance fee. Say my prayers and admire the beautiful frescoes created by great masters.

Pretty little thing. Fiat 500L


Grottaferrata Monastery 2
Entrance and side wall of the Abbey of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata
GrottaFerrata Monastery
Exterior of the church that was completed in 1024
IMG-20170826-WA0006 Grottaferrata
The “wishing” fountain




A good spot to make a wish with new friends
Statue of St. Nilus the Younger (San Nilo di Rossano), Patron saint of the Abbey

As the sun begins to drop, so is the heat and many elderly people settled on benches under huge trees licking on ice creams and enjoying a relaxing time. We made our way to our final destination, Frascatti, an attractive historic hill town and also known for its white wine. It is the most-visited of the Castelli Romani because of its many inexpensive restaurants serving local specialities. It is definitely more crowded than Grottaferrata with the number of cars parked on all sides of the streets.

The most imposing building in Frascatti is the grand Villa Aldobrandini, with gardens that are open to the public. The palace dominates the town taking centre-stage above the central piazza in faded splendour. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful subject to photograph.

Villa Aldobrandini at sunset

Villa Aldobrandini Frascati1pic




Piazza g. Marconi Frascati 1
Fountain on the main square, Piazza Guglielmo Marconi

Cathedral of San Pietro Apostolo 1 Frascati

Façade of Cathedral San Pietro Apostolo on Piazza San Pietro. A good place to watch the day go by when the sun goes down.


We saw the long shopping street with many stalls selling all sorts of fun things from toys to food and even vacuum cleaners. You can’t miss the gelaterias that are so inviting.

Before taking our journey back to Rome, we stopped by Eden Pasticceria beside the cathedral for cold drinks and a little buffet. It was a short time to sit down with Walter and Lina, Andrea’s parents who have been very good hosts to us during this day (read my earlier blog on Castel Gandolfo), and let the children be by themselves at the steps of the cathedral.

We may not be able to speak each other’s languages but Google translator made it  possible for us to understand one another. It was a fun day of accomplishment!

Eden Pasticceria
Eden Pasticceria outdoor Bar        Photo: Francesco Posati

The night was getting dark and we started walking back  to the car, passing many of the townsfolk and local visitors who are out to enjoy the milder temperature of the evening and to enjoy themselves with some street music & entertainment & street dining. We said goodbye to Lina, Rebecca and Arianna as they drove back home, while Walter and Andrea took us back to Rome.  That feeling of exhilaration wells out inside me. We met new friends who made us feel relaxed and treated us with generosity of their time.  This has been one memorable day worth remembering. An Italian experience away from the usual (crowded) tourist destinations.

*Meeting the Fanfarillo family came about because of networking. It started with author Margie Miklas who I met through her blogs on Italy, specifically the one about Rome. She met a lady who showed her Rome and I  asked if Daniela Fanfarillo would also be willing to be our guide when we arrive Rome just after the first week of August.  Margie introduced me to Daniela but who was then in New York, and in turn she introduced  us to her teenage nephew Andrea in Rome.  With my teenage daughter not wanting to  do anymore museum visits or do any walking tours,  Andrea has been a great friend to Sam who wanted to do teenage activities and meeting others her age.

Thank you, Margie for connecting me to Daniela. Thank you, Daniela for sharing  Andrea to us. Through him, it allowed Sam to meet  new (Italian) friends ( Bobby & Flavio too) and experienced a different visit to Rome. It also made us meet Andrea’s family we know will be our friends for life.


Margie Miklas, author:

Abbey of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata: Corso del Popolo, 128, 00046 Grottaferrata RM, Italy.

Cathedral San Pietro Apostolo: Piazza S. Pietro, 2, 00044 Frascati RM, Italy

Eden Pasticceria: Via Cesare Battisti 22, 00044 Frascati RM, Italy









Castel Gandolfo: Crackling hot (it’s the porchetta) to your delight! Take 2!

It’s never happened to me before that I have to re-write a blog because it’s no longer there for others to read. Last night, I wrote this piece, published it and went to bed. I woke up in the morning to hear that someone cannot read a text but just a title, and can only see a feature image. It’s gone!  I love what I wrote because it was somehow a piece I wrote about our day with our new Italian friends we met in a special way during our recent trip to Rome. With much perseverance,  joy came in the form of another blogger who lives in Australia and have read my piece earlier and still has the whole article intact in her mobile phone. Lyn Douglas, thank you for your generous time in sending me the screen shots so I can re-write this piece. You are priceless!  🙂 


Visiting Castel Gandolfo was a casual invitation from a young man who  came as a “blessing-in disguise” for my teenage girl who hesitated to come to Rome for the third time. She wants to do teenage stuff, not go on tours  with a tour guide in the summer heat! And no more museums, she said. Despite her whining, we flew to Rome anyway,  and on the 4th day, we went to Castel Gandolfo, and we were in for a very pleasant surprise!

Earlier, we met Andrea for the very first time on our second day in Rome. It is through the introduction of two beautiful people that we came to know him and I will acknowledge these lovely ladies I have never met in person in my next blog.

It is Sunday. It is better sunny than rainy. Andrea came with his dad Walter, and they picked us up from Termini, the main railway station of Rome with 33 platforms and catering to over 150 million passengers each year.

According to Wikipedia, It is the second largest railway station in Europe after Paris Gare du Nord Paris Gare du Nord.

We drove out of the city and along the way, we passed tall, beautiful ornamental pines that dominated the almost arid countryside Landscape (due to lack of rain) outside Rome. But as we came closer to Castel Gandolfo, it became greener revealing picturesque Italian towns we have never seen before.

At the foot of Castel Gandolfo where Walter parked, we climbed the steps and walked up the sampietrini-paved path (cut stones of black basalt) towards the hill. It was a good leg exercise for one who lives in a flatland. I only wish I could climb hills more often in the hope for longer life!

Good walking shoes will take you up there


The archway leading to Castel Gandolfo


In a small cafe in Piazza della Liberta, we met the rest of Andrea’s family for the first time. His lovely mother, Lina, and his two younger sisters, Rebecca and Arianna. Already, dad Walter was ordering freshly brewed espresso to perk up the early afternoon walk, in preparation for a hearty lunch of Porchetta. The introduction was warm and there’s a little bit of excitement as we meet one another face-to-face after almost 2 weeks of communicating in Whatsapp. Sam, my daughter warmed up to the girls and she enjoyed their presence.

Piazza della Liberta and the Papal Palace


Castel Gandolfo is a quiet town 25 kilometers away from Rome, and about 40 minutes drive by car. It sits on top of the picturesque Lake Albano and it is also the summer residence and vacation retreats of Popes for generations when the Vatican acquired the 17th- century Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo from the aristocratic and influential Savelli family who was said that they couldn’t pay a debt to the papacy.  Pope Francis, the present Pope whose cause is to help the poor thought it too luxurious for him to spend even a night here.  In October 2016, The Papal Palace became a museum and visit to its beautifully landscaped gardens is now open to the public.

Next door to the Papal palace is the church of San Tommaso di Villanova, with its gloriously designed golden dome. It was designed by the Baroque artist Bernini, whose works you can see in many parts of Rome.

Golden Dome, Church of San Tommaso di Villanova. Photo: Software engineer Ulrich Mayring

There is not much to do in Castel Gandolfo but it is a beautiful place to savour a few relaxing hours and take panoramic shots of the area.  I really need a wide angle lens and the photos here are the results of a combined Samsung and iPhone mobile phones, and a few from my Olympus XZ-2; except for a photo I borrowed from Daily Mail and one from software developer Ulrich Mayring.

Lake Albano at a glance from above


Charming streets to dine
Beat the heat and dine under an umbrella

Away from the busy touristic sights of Rome and a chance to appreciate an Italian village atmosphere.



For a real taste of Castel Gandolfo, we walked away from the touristic part down to Via Bruno Buozzi to taste the much talked – about Porchetta di Ariccia from Fa. Lu. Cioli, the famous and reputable Italian meat brand that has attracted a huge customer loyalty throughout the century. They are celebrating 100 years in the business, an excellent track record for a family business that has been passed on from one generation to the other. The specialty of the house? Porchetta- their exceptional crispy, golden-brown, savoury, and moist boneless pork roasted in a special oven above 250 degrees heat for 4 hours. The preparation time takes as much as the roasting and all done with precision and years of experience. It starts with the salting of the meat and binding that includes stuffing with garlic, rosemary, fennel and other herbs.

In this small but busy restaurant, you also find jugs of local wines. If they were not too heavy, I would have bought a bottle to bring back home. The freshly delivered porchetta  looked very good, smelled good, and with a beautiful company, lunch is bound to be full-filling. The dining table called for a celebration! The language barrier was never a problem and we all managed to understand one another with the help of Google translator and Andrea. La Vita è bella!


A word of thanks for the many years of support to the family business from Fabio & Luca Cioli


If for any health reasons or otherwise that you cannot have pork, there are other foods to try and the home-made breads are fresh and the different cheeses are very tasty!

20170813_142556 Fa Lu Cioli


20170813_160247The name Cioli has always been renowned for its genuine and excellent quality Porchetta.
The company was founded in 1917 by Ovidio Cioli at the age of 17. He had an amazing intuition: he bought a pig, he deboned it, he seasoned it by using only natural flavours such as salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary. Next he sew the two meat parts shut and put it into the oven at a high temperature. That is how Porchetta was born.
All the techniques regarding the production of this unique culinary product have been kept alive by the Cioli family for one hundred years and for four generations.
Currently the production takes place in our large production plant in Ariccia, Rome as well as in Union, New Jersey which was opened in 2008.
Both companies are run by Fabio and Luca Cioli.
Over the years Porchetta has received several different awards for its quality both on a national level as well as on an international level. –

Porchetta has been selected by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture (Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali)  as a traditional agricultural-alimentary product (prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale), one of a list of traditional Italian foods held to have cultural relevance- Wikipedia.


After lunch, Walter drove us down to the beach area of Lake Albano, a small volcanic crater lake in the Alban Hills, formed by a fusion of two volcanic craters with a depth of 170 meters.  That is very deep! And indeed, it is the deepest lake in the Lazio region.

The beach area was packed with sun-worshippers doing beach volleyball, sun-bathing and under-the-sun activities. I think white people love to alter their skin colour :-).  From down there looking up, it is a beautiful scenery to see the villas and buildings perched on the rocky hillside.

Turquoise waters of lake Albano. A view from the top
Sailing, rowing and other water activities on the water. A view from the beach area
Houses on the rocky hillside. A view from the beach area
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The Papal palace, Church and houses. Photo:

We had a wonderful time in Castel Gandolfo and while there is still enough light to see other things, we drove to neighbouring Grottaferrata and Frascatti. I’ll be writing about the experience in my next blog.


Fa. Lu. Cioli Porchetta: Via Bruno Buozzi, 00040 Castel Gandolfo RM, Italy,                   Tel.  +39 06 936 0030.

For a visit to the Papal Gardens: You can only visit on a guided tour, which must be booked in advance through the Vatican Museums website.