Weekend Dog Watching in Italy

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After a pretty long hiatus from blog posts, I’m back! When I first started this blog I posted every day, then gradually started tapering off. I was busy launching Pantofola, my brand of dog accessories that are made in Italy, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking that I really need to resume my blog posts. There were some blogs I followed and when those posts started dwindling I always felt sad, and wondered what happened?! So if anyone has wondered that about me and/or felt sad, I promise to get back to some regular posting.

A few weeks ago I spent a week in Italy meeting with my factory for some new items and collections, and also to attend the semi-annual mega leather fair in Milan. I always try and attend the fair because it’s easier than traveling all over to visit tanneries and other suppliers. Anyway, the first part of my trip was getting over jet lag and becoming reacquainted with life in Italy. It seems I’ve made the city of Varese my home away from home, and since I prefer smaller cities it’s become quite comfy. My first post about Varese can be found here.

One of my favorite things to do is stroll around the center of the city and since I was there over a weekend I was able to do a lot of people watching, and dog watching of course. It seemed as though everyone was out, meeting and greeting. This sweet Golden Retriever was more than happy to get neck and belly rubs from passersby…

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And these two guys were happy to check each other out, although one seems not quite as thrilled as the other…

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Of course there was no shortage of kids, and kids and dogs just seem to go together…

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This one I especially liked because he looked a lot like my dog Chappie, who I was missing already…

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Big ones, small ones, no one can escape the crazy American dog lady with her iPhone camera in hand…

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Of course there were other things going on during the weekend. There were markets both days, with everything to eat that you could possibly imagine. From the point of view of the dogs that were strolling around, I suppose this seller would have been a popular hangout…

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…and wouldn’t it be so easy just to quickly help yourself to some wild boar sausage or a slice of prosciutto on a Saturday afternoon? Why not? It’s la dolce vita after all.

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For me, I prefer something more along the lines of this seller…

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Actually, the best thing of all was already on my radar: the famous gelato chain Grom has opened a Varese location which was very close by. So, like a moth to a flame I went…

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That was Salted Caramel and Coffee together. It was so tasty, the next day I went back for a cup of Salted Caramel and Nougat because, when in Rome…or Varese…

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Not a bad way to spend the first few days in Italy, enjoying a weekend in a lovely city and strolling along with the locals. I’m sure that I blended right in, apart from that pesky iPhone camera.

Erica Preo is CEO & Creative Director of Pantofola, pure luxury Italian goods for dogs.

A Beautiful Sunday : Varazze & Genoa

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One Sunday in Italy a few weeks ago, a local friend offered to give me a quick tour of Varazze and Genoa. The weather for some of my trip had been drizzly, cloudy and very much like you’d expect to find in the north of Italy in October, but somehow over the weekend the temperatures warmed up to about 85 degrees and that was perfect for visiting two Mediterranean spots. I peeled off my sweater! I took off my socks! It was a wonderful break.

First we went to Varazze, a small city along the coast west of Genoa. People were on the beach in their swimsuits, kids playing, people strolling. There were kids doing their sailing classes, proud parents waiting on the pier. It felt like summer! Eventually I had to stop for the obligatory gelato. A very nice town.

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And of course there were dogs, lots of them out and about enjoying the gorgeous weather. Luckily my friend was (sort of) okay with me snapping away with my camera, taking pictures of his countrymen’s dogs. Actually, after noticing more dogs than he normally would, he’s beginning to consider getting himself a dog. :-)

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This gorgeous full-of-life boy is Athos, and I just love his stride. You can see that he enjoys cruising along like he owns the harbor (maybe he does?) and occasionally stirring things up with the other dogs he meets.

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Next, we jumped into the car and zipped off to Genoa. I was shocked (okay, horrified) to see a dog riding on the Vespa directly ahead of us. It’s not so much that the dog was on a Vespa (although that’s scary enough) but this dog was not in any type of carrier and was free to move around the rider’s feet! At one point his head was sticking out from the right side, and then he completely turned to poke his head out the left side, which is when I took this photo. Look closely and you can see the pup’s brown and white head. Hmmm :-/

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Genoa was a much larger city than I’d expected. It was also very interesting, with some of the most beautiful buildings and narrow streets I’d ever seen. My tour guide/friend pointed out lots of interesting places and offered some historical background and facts (for example, the streets are narrow to cut down on strong winds). When we arrived, he pointed out one area in particular near the waterfront saying “you probably wouldn’t want to walk around in there alone at night.” Okay. So as the sun began to set, the reason became obvious: the prostitutes started coming out and doing their thing. What’s surprising about that, at least to me, is that it was still relatively early evening, around 6pm. People were still out with their kids! I think even my friend was a little shocked.

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So I have to admit, somewhere along the line (design school? some movie?) I’d heard something less than nice about Genoa. I can’t remember what it was exactly, but I think it was described as nothing more than a grubby port city. I didn’t find that to be the case at all, nothing shabby about Genoa. In fact, the whole seafarer/exploration aspect was evident everywhere and I could feel its adventurous maritime past wafting in the air. After this quick day trip, I’m looking forward to spending more time in Genoa myself, and I’d highly recommend it to you also! And yes, there were lots of dogs (and pesto & focaccia)!

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I Like Varese

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Okay, well I’ve only been here for a few hours, but I think I’ve seen more dogs here than anywhere else in Italy.

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This one was being good hanging outside a cafe, but he really wanted to come inside. It’s difficult for me to capture the scale of this dog, he was enormous. If my dog George who is 92 pounds put on a fat suit, he still wouldn’t be as big.

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Then these two characters seemed like long lost pals. Or siblings?

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Everywhere I looked, there were more.

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For each one I photographed, there were 5 or 6 more that I didn’t. They were inside shops and sharing appetizers in bars. Little ones, big ones, old ones and puppies. So here in Varese, dogs seem to be the thing. I like Varese.

Thanks, I’m Good Now

Loyal dog waiting patiently outside corner shop

Note: I’ve noticed that posts about travel, Italy, and dogs are pretty popular (yay!). Because a lot of my travel is to Italy for the business I’ve started that’s about dogs, I decided to do some posts with adventures as I follow along this entrepreneurial path. You can read a little more about Pantofola on the About page.

Being an entrepreneur is a tricky thing. Trying to do business with Italian manufacturers and suppliers when you’re a small little upstart, that’s a tricky thing, too. Oh, and not being fluent in Italian is also a tricky thing. Okay, so it’s all tricky. And when I say tricky, that’s a nice way of saying tough, but with an added measure of “I can do it!” oomph. So with a healthy dose of “I can do it!” in my back pocket, I keep going. Plus, by choosing Italy for manufacturing I’m hoping that if an emotional outburst should occur down the road, it’s more likely to be accepted by Italians than another not-so-expressive culture.

One evening after a very long day at a leather trade show I came close. I climbed onto a packed bus with all the other exhausted attendees heading back to the city center. I didn’t have a ticket, and the machine onboard wasn’t working so I decided I should do the moral thing and hop off. I know what you’re thinking: that was stupid. And it was, because I ended up in a zone without many pedestrians, traffic, other buses, street lights, and everything was closing for the night. Oh, I should have taken karate. The other problem is that in Italy you can’t just hail a cab. Well, you can try, but they won’t stop and you end up being the crazy lady flapping your arms around like an angry penguin.

Now I’m not saying Bologna is a bad city but bad things happen everywhere, it was dark and my imagination was in overdrive. I walked and walked, trying to figure out what options I had. Why am I here? Eventually I came to a corner store (also closing up for the night) and saw this loyal dog sitting there waiting patiently for someone inside. Immediately I felt relaxed, calmed, comforted, safe. I was good now. Somehow just by seeing this calm dog I was able to take a deep breath and think more clearly. But not only did the sight of this dog put an end to my panic, it also served as a potent reminder for why I started this business in the first place: the human + canine bond. Thankful for the reminder, I kept walking and one street over I found a bus stop with a map and hopped on the next bus.

Waterfront

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There’s nothing like a nice beverage on the waterfront to relax, breathe in the sea air and conjure up those pleasant “life is good” feelings. And I love that people can cruise by on their boats like a parade, or even stop and join the crowd for a while. Why, this guy loves the waterfront so much he created one of those nifty abbreviations and named his vessel after it, WTF, as in WaTerFrontI’m sure that’s it!

So what’s going on here? The labrador retriever is calm and content, as usual. But look at that other guy (a Welsh Terrier?), barking his head off. Does he recognize someone up there? Is he just excited and hoping they’ll stop for a cold one? Maybe he’s saying “Stop playing all that Lynyrd Skynyrd!” Oh no, wait. That was me.

On the Napa River

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Oh Napa Valley, now that you’re all French Laundry‘d and Press‘d up, do you think you can disguise who you really are? I want people to know that all it takes is a leisurely cruise on the Napa River to rediscover you: that long lost place that feels so very far from the speeding BMWs of Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. Because I remember how you used to be, back when Halloween pumpkin carving contests, scarecrows and the fall harvest were the big draws. Now don’t get upset, I know you’ve been all about excellent wine for a long time. It’s just that, well, you’ve become a little too big for your britches, and it’s nice to see your folksy side now and then.

Sights along the Napa River

All kidding aside, the Napa River cruise is a great thing to do if you have time on your next trip to the Napa Valley. Like the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s River Cruise, this little journey allows you to see and learn about things you’d otherwise miss because you’re distracted by stoplights, wine tastings, looking for parking, overwhelmed by organic produce, and so on. For example, it’s not widely known that the tanning process to make Napa leather was invented right there on the banks of the Napa River by a German immigrant named Emmanuel Manasse in 1876. These kinds of facts normally are only revealed to you by a grandparent or someone else of yesteryear (way, way yesteryear). But on this boat, you can bring a bottle of wine and some excellent cheese and float along, taking it all in. If you’d like more information on Napa history and Napa leather, this article will tell you more.

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Of course, I found it appealing that so many dogs were out and about on the Napa River that day, moving fast or moving slow. It seemed like they had the right idea, and maybe prefer old Napa to the new?

Are There Any Good Concert T-Shirts?

Black Keys T-Shirt with bloodhound

I love music, all different kinds. But the truth is, you’re more likely to find me listening to tried-and-true Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong than a flavor of the month band. Don’t get me wrong, I do like contemporary music, but I don’t really seek out the hot and trendy (that’s what nephews are for) and so it usually takes getting my ears boxed for me to take notice. But even if I love it, I will avoid the dreaded concert t-shirt at all costs. I want to like them, I really do. But I just can’t.

My reason is simple and I know what to expect: as a rule, concert t-shirts are not very attractive. Typically ill-fitting (if you’re female) black Beefy-T’s with wall-to-wall garish typography and graphics front and back…It’s Wayne’s World on a hanger. Disclosure: I don’t usually go for any t-shirt with things printed, glued, stapled, sewn, tied or otherwise affixed so I’m predisposed to hating them. But concert t-shirts are just usually so :-/ and it’s easy for me to pass them up. Faded. Black. Cotton. Chills.

But put a cool illustration of a big ol’ dog face on there and, if it’s done well, I’m going to have to check it out. What a sweet droopy bloodhound face and where’s my wallet? A few years ago my husband surprised me with tickets to see Kings of Leon. I had no idea who the opening bands would be that night, but when I passed the t-shirt stand this design immediately caught my eye. The Black Keys? Who’s that? While I’m generally a little behind in the up-and-coming band department, I think maybe a lot of people hadn’t heard of The Black Keys at that point (except my nephew) because this was long before their music featured in 3 out of 5 television ad campaigns. But since they had this big dog face on their t-shirt, I figured they were going to be really good. And of course they were. Now who’s Kings of Leon?

So dogs really do make everything (even concert t-shirts) better.