Yes, I’ve been up to something.


I have been neglectful of this blog lately – even more neglectful than normal, which is saying something. There’s a reason for it, though.

I’ve been pouring any spare time I have into Italy Explained, which I launched officially last year and am trying to build into the robust travel planning resource I know it can be. And more recently, I’ve been spending more time than I care to admit fiddling with the coding in the Kindle publishing system, getting my first ebook ready for primetime.

Which is now.

Italy Explained: Italian Trains

Italy Explained: Italian Trains” hit Amazon’s virtual shelves this week – FINALLY – and I couldn’t be happier.

The bad news is that I looked at the vast expanse of white space on my new Amazon author page and thought, “Oh, crap. Now I have to write more books.”

Jessica Spiegel Amazon author page

So if you don’t see me here, you’re likely to find me over at Italy Explained, or hunched over my laptop yelling at the Kindle Previewer when it hasn’t picked up the text-indent HTML I added mere seconds ago.


At any rate, I hope you’ll pass the book and Italy Explained site on to anyone you know who’s planning an Italy trip!

The book cover photo is a creative commons image by John Picken Photography.

Work of One’s Own

creative commons photo by blumpy

creative commons photo by blumpy

In the year-plus since I lost my job working on the Italy site (and was unsuccessful in buying the site), I’ve moved on to freelancing – something I never thought I’d tolerate very well, but that has turned out to be interesting and often fun. I’ve had Italy projects in the back of my mind throughout the past year, knowing I didn’t really have the ideal outlet for them any longer, and almost always defaulting to client work instead of rolling up my sleeves and digging into creating something of my own. It’s easier to spend hours on work, I reasoned, when you can bill someone else for that time.

Last month, however, I was reminded on two separate occasions that my Italy know-how is still valuable. At TBEX in Dublin, I was told by an experienced traveler that whenever he looks up information about Italy he still sees my old site first – and the information he finds there is still the best. And then out of the blue I received a message from a complete stranger via Facebook:

Hi Jessica,

While we don’t know each other, we have many Italy expat friends in common and I always enjoyed listening to your views via the Eye on Italy podcast. I have lived in Italy since 1996.

I miss your presence on the web, if that makes sense because we don’t even know each other! But you used to give great information and I liked your spot-on articles, which I often linked for friends. I am pretty sure that you no longer work for [that site].

I currently have friends in town from California and we were talking the other day. As they are expecting guests later this week who will be arriving via cruise ship, she was asking me some questions. Then she tells me that she found the best site, the best information…and it was yours!

So I just wanted to say hello and let you know that I hope things are going well for you in your life. I do follow you here on facebook and check your blog, but I have sensed your absence in the online world in recent months.

Warm regards,

I was so touched by Jill’s message, knowing that not only has she missed seeing my Italy articles but that her friend also mentioned my work. That message, combined with the comment from my fellow travel blogger at TBEX, have me thinking again about working on something that’s entirely my own. It’s a scary proposition, and I don’t really know where the time necessary is going to come from, but perhaps by saying it out loud here I’ll be more inclined to hold myself to it.

If you have suggestions on how to force yourself to carve out time to work on your own projects, I’d love to hear them.

Also, you may recall that I got a message from a reader not long after I lost my job last year. I just re-read it, and am now thinking about pasting both Cindy’s and Jill’s messages to my office wall as reminders to get to work.

Dental Work

antique dental tools - 1868 illustration

antique dental tools – 1868 illustration

I have had a rocky relationship with dentists my entire life. I remember one appointment when I was a kid – I couldn’t have been more than five or six – when the number of tiny cavities found during one visit numbered in the teens. My teeth have extremely soft enamel, which has led to many fillings over the years, and some of the dentists I’ve seen have seemed more like sadists than doctors. So there were several years in my twenties when I just didn’t bother going to the dentist at all.

These days, although I have a great dentist and what I’m fairly certain is the world’s gentlest dental hygienist, and reminders about upcoming dental appointments no longer fill me with fear, those check-ups have come to symbolize something more melancholy.

In 2012, when I went in for my appointment it was after a three-year hiatus. The break hadn’t been intentional. I remember the conversation I had had during my visit in 2009, when setting a date on the calendar for a year out seemed ludicrous. It seemed then like just one more thing I’d have to cancel or reschedule, so I decided that not making the appointment was the smarter option.

See, by 2010, I reasoned, I would no longer be living in Oregon. I would be living in Italy.

Of course, by 2010 I was not living in Italy. Nor had I moved by 2011, or 2012. And not only did making that appointment last year come with a heavy sigh of recognition that I was not where I wanted to be, setting another for a year later sent me down a spiral I still remember a year later.

It takes nothing at all for me to go from marking a date on the calendar 365 in the future to thinking I’ve let yet another year go by when I haven’t gotten back in touch with the nice girl from the relocation office in Milan who helped me with all that confusing paperwork, because I’m embarrassed that I’ve made no progress toward actually moving, and in fact I’ve actually taken more than a few steps backward on that front. I try not to think of the money I spent on her services – money my father left me when he died – because then my stomach turns over a little more and sends a lump into my throat that I have to fight back down.

My life was supposed to be different by then, according to my “no, I don’t think I’ll make my next appointment” self years ago. The me who says yes to making next year’s appointment these days is – what is she, a pessimist or a realist? Beaten down by years of continuing to put off a dream that’s prepetually “five or so” years away, perhaps I’m finally resigned to the fact that I’m not moving to Italy – or maybe I’m just tired of sounding like I was trying to talk myself into it every time I told someone of my goal.

As she was finishing tending to my teeth last year, my hygienist pulled an angled mirror from my mouth and asked, “So, should we just send you a reminder in a year? Or should we not bother?” I wanted to tell her it wasn’t personal. I wasn’t avoiding them. But explaining my reasons for such a long time between visits was too complicated, too painful, and – most important – not her problem.

My 2013 appointment came up on my calendar last week, and with it a fresh round of sadness. Yes, there went another year of no progress toward Italy. And yes, I made an appointment for 2014 before I left the dentist’s office. But the sadness is more complex now, as I’ve rediscovered making music – something that makes me happier than I’ve felt in years, is very much rooted to where I am now, and that I can’t quite fathom giving up. Even for Italy.

Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s just one more piece of the upheaval that seems to be par for the course the last year or so. Maybe I’ve simply changed my mind. I don’t know. At the moment, what I know is that I have a dental appointment in April of next year, and that makes me less unhappy this year than it did last year. And I guess that’s something.

Getting to Know Vatican City & the Pope [INFOGRAPHIC]



One of my regular writing gigs these days is for Viator, where I write the Italy blogs. In the aftermath of the Pope’s resignation, I got asked to compile a crapload* of Vatican factoids for an infographic they wanted to put together. The graphic is now published, & I think it looks pretty cool.

You can click on the graphic to get to the original Viator post, where there’s an even bigger version of it.


(I gave them way more data than they could actually use in one infographic, so we’re already talking about ways to use the excess trivia. I mean, when the rabbit hole that is the internet leads you to the Apostolic Constitution of Pope John Paul II, you kind of can’t let that go to waste.)

* technical term

What would Cindy think?


Email has become one of those things about which I complain, since my inbox is so often flooded with advertising pitches. Every so often, however, I get an email that reminds me it is, after all, just another delivery method for actual heart-felt messages – like the ones we used to scribble onto paper and send in stamped envelopes. I got one of those emails last week, and thankfully the sender has given me permission to share it with you.

Cindy found me on this site, and emailed me with an Italy question after reading my old Italy guide for (she says) “one full week.” Before she got to her question, though, she wrote this paragraph.

So I first have to say how much I LOVE your writing style. I honestly feel like I could go for coffee with you, have a good ol’ laugh, leave, and feel like I made a life-long friend. So kudos on your interesting, informative and engaging material. 2. Thank you for being so passionate and approachable. I have totally been captivated by your enthusiasm for travel and I SO look forward to my first ever trip to Italy. Your tips & suggestions have been ridiculously informative and I feel so prepared. And 3. Thanks for making me laugh. Out loud. By myself. Like a geek. You. are. funny.

I wrote recently about how supported I’ve felt by my travel blogging community. I never thought the same would be true of the people out there who read my words, but there you go – Cindy set me straight in that regard with one simple email.

Cindy, you might have just become the reader I think about when I write. I’ll pause mid-sentence and think, “What would Cindy think?” I hope you don’t mind.

photo by jasminejennyjen

Introducing the Eye On Italy Podcast


I often say that I love talking about Italy when I’m writing on the Italy travel guide – but in reality, I’m writing about Italy there. I do love talking about the country, however, whenever I get a chance to. Which is why I’m so excited about a new project a couple of friends and I started last week – it’s an all-Italy podcast.

Sara Rosso of Ms. Adventures in Italy, Michelle Fabio of Bleeding Espresso, and I recorded our first episode of Eye On Italy last Monday, and although we know we’ve got some room for improvement we’re also pleased with the results of that first effort. At a selfish level, it’s a fun opportunity for the three of us to chat in real-time once a week – but having the podcast will also be a forum for us to discuss all kinds of Italy-related topics.