Where Sundays are Still Sundays

Dinner DisastersAhh, Sunday.

A day of rest. A day of relaxation.

The day of the traditional pranzo della domenica (Sunday lunch) in Italy.

It used to be that I dreaded Sundays in Italy. Nothing is open, beaches are crowded, church bells over-exercise their right to chime and you can feel the marked change of pace in a place, especially smaller cities and towns. The whole country downshifts into a lower gear for a day, and it was an odd feeling for me, coming from a city in Canada where Sundays feel the same as pretty much every other day of the week. I’d find myself at loose ends, an outsider watching families gather in the piazza and pranzare (have lunch) together. I didn’t have family in Siena, and because many things are closed on Sundays, I didn’t have a lot to do.


When I started working, I drew the lucky straw that had me in the office, without fail, every Sunday morning at 8am. Sunday being Sunday and Italy being Italy, public transportation didn’t run out to the little hamlet where my office was situated, so I’d have to rely on the kindness of my coworkers to get me to work. Bleary-eyed, I’d be up walking through the streets to meet my ride before the rest of the town had begun to stir, getting a glimpse of Siena behind-the-scenes. Slowly, I started to appreciate that little window of time.

Then we’d be in the office, cursing the fact that we had to be there but happy to be getting one of our weekly shifts done on a day less hectic than the other six. Our boss wouldn’t come in until later or not at all, and by the time 2:30 rolled around and it was time to leave, the trains had started running and I could get back home on my own.

As I started making more friends, Sundays weren’t so bad. In fact, some of my happiest, most peaceful memories of Italy are of Sunday lunches that went on for hours, a little table spread out in the piazza, the calcio (soccer) being broadcast on the radio in the background, and friends gathered together enjoying one another’s company. Even this year, on a quick visit to Siena, I had the pleasure of indulging in a beautiful Sunday lunch with a new friend out in the Chianti countryside. If you had seen me then,  eating from a tagliere di salumi (sliced cured meats), enjoying some insalata di farro (spelt salad), and washing it all down with sips of smooth Chianti,  you would have found me the perfect picture of contentment.

I don’t know what it is about Sunday lunch as opposed to Sunday dinner, but somehow, I like it better. Maybe it’s because Sunday lunch affords you more time; If you start at 2pm, you can sit at the table for 3 hours without worrying about anything. If you sit down at 6pm though, by the time 9 rolls around you’re worried about the things you have to prepare for Monday, thinking about how much sleep you’ll get before the alarm goes off and all the dirty dishes that are separating you from your bed.

Call me sentimental, (or maybe I’m just getting old) but I’ve come to love, look forward to, and even crave the feeling of slow Italian Sundays. My experiences in Italy (and recently, in France) have reminded me of what Sundays should feel like: calm, a day of rest, of reconnection with family and friends topped off with some good food for good measure.


It warms my heart to know that there are still places in the Western world that cling to the idea that Sundays are and should be different from the other days of the week. I experience an often-missed feeling of contentment when I’m in a place where Sundays are still Sundays.

Buona domenica & happy Sunday!


Surviving Paris: A Trip Into The Gutter

Welcome back for the 3rd installment of the “Surviving Paris” saga. If my disasterous adventures in Paris are new to you, click here for part 1 and here for part 2 to read how I narrowly escaped death twice in the City of Light. This time, even my Mom couldn’t save me from the perils of Paris.

We’d had a great time exploring, wandering and eating our way through France’s capital city and, after a big day, decided to hit up the Hard Rock Cafe on Boulevard Montmartre for some diner. Two luscious salads (a break from the baguettes we’d been scarfing) and a couple of Cokes later (a rest from all the wine we’d been consuming), Mom and I were out on the Boulevard trying to figure out a way back to our hotel.

After a couple minutes of deliberation, we decided that a taxi, after our long day of using the heel-toe express, was our best option. Alors, back into the Hard Rock and towards the hostesss I went to ask about calling a cab.

“There is a taxi stand right across the road, madame. That is the best way to get a taxi around here.”

“Excellent. Merci!” Mom and I steered ourselves in the direction the girl pointed and were happy to find that there was indeed a taxi stand just down the road from the restaurant.

Malheureusement, there was nary a taxi to be seen.

We waited. Cars zoomed past.

And waited. Horns honked. Not at us, unfortunately.

And we waited some more. Parisians raised their eyebrows as they passed us on the sidewalk.

In most cities, you wouldn’t think that hailing a cab on a Wednesday evening in October would be very difficult. It wasn’t raining, and  it wasn’t terribly cold (yet), but not one taxi pulled into the stand.

Now, any one who knows me knows that I’m a take-charge kind of girl. And I’m terribly, painfully, frustratingly impatient. At this point, Paris had exhausted my patience, and I decided to take matters into my own hands.

“Mom, I will hail us a cab,” I declared, distancing myself from the stand. “Don’t you worry!” Like I’m some sort of cab-hailing superhero, right?

So I set off down the road to what I had decided would be a more advantageous spot from which to snag a cab. It’s not that there weren’t any cabs on the street. Au contraire! There were a ton of cabs, but they were all filled with people whose cab catching skills were obviously superior to my own.

I raised my arm and waved. I motioned for cabs to come my way. I tried to make eye contact with passing cabbies. I promenaded slowly up and down the sidewalk, each passing cab representing a dashed hope in my now chilly and very frustrated little traveller’s heart. As my frustration mounted, so did Mom’s amusement with the whole situation. From her post at the taxi stand, she watched me walk back and forth, forwards and backwards along the edge of the sidewalk for probably 15 minutes before catastrophe struck.

Finally, a vacant taxi turned the corner onto the Boulevard and started to drive slowly in our direction. Naturally, I started to wave and walk backwards towards my Mom, never taking my eyes off of the long-awaited cab.

The cabbie looks up and sees me. My heart flutters. Finalement!

I launch into one final flurry of exaggerated waving. Mom applauds my success. The cab drives towards us.

I continue to walk backwards (not a good idea) towards Mom, the whole upper half of me positively shaking with the force of my—Oof!!!

And there I am, mesdames and messieurs, yours truly,  sprawled on my back in a Parisian gutter after having lost my balance and fallen un-elegantly and very ungracefully off the curb. It was the flurry of exaggerated waving that propelled me over the edge, I’ll bet.


“Unh…” I lay in the gutter, thinking about how ridiculous I must look with my arms and legs and hair all akimbo, my scarf covering half my face. I send up a silent grievance to the Travel Gods.

Why me? Why this? Always me! Always something!

“What are you doing down there!? How did you do that!?” I can hear the laughter threatening to break through her voice at any moment.

I shrug, as nonchalantly as I can manage. Then I start laughing too.

Just before I make a move to get up, (still laughing, by the way) a little old man on a bicycle pedals towards the edge the sidewalk and peers over onto the road, curious to see what Mom’s looking at. When he sees me, his caterpillar-like eyebrows shoot up so fast I fear they might lift right off of his wrinkly little forehead. He shakes his head at the ridiculous scene and pedals on.

Paris 3. Sarah 0. 

Surviving Paris: The Arc de Triomphe

Warning: Paris is a city that undoes me like no other. Terrible things happen (or almost happen) to me in Paris. Paris turns my slightly disasterous self into a very disasterous self. Read on and you’ll know what I’m talking about…

Before embarking on my study abroad trip to France, I had to endure the “use good judgment while you’re in a foreign country” lecture from my folks. I felt I didn’t really need to hear it, especially in the check-in line at the airport.

“Mom. Dad. Seriously. For 20 years I’ve made good decisions. What makes you think I’m going to start making bad ones now? Just because I’ll be in another country? Please!” I rolled my eyes and hoped the subject would be closed.

After a couple more parental reminders and some very tight hugs, I was checking my bags and on my way to France for five weeks of living la belle vie! I mean… studying French.

Fast-forward three weeks. Delighted to have a long weekend to spend in Paris, my friend and I were intent on cramming as many experiences as we could into our 72-hour sojourn. Climbing the Arc de Triomphe was one of them. So there we were, strolling happily along the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc, dressed in our spiffiest French duds, wearing our spiffiest French heels. Normally I would not totter around a foreign city in heels, but looking the part was essential to fully experiencing the French lifestyle. Obviously.

As we approached Place de l’Étoile, I could see why the square that housed the Arc was referred to as the “Square of the Star”. 12 lanes of frenetic traffic swirled around the Arc which stood like an island in the middle of a very fast-moving stream. The sun was beginning to set, and we were hurrying in order to get a twilight glimpse of Paris from above.

“So, do you see a crosswalk anywhere?” I asked my friend as we approached the Place.

Non!” She replied in her most zealous French accent. “I don’t see a crosswalk or a stoplight or anything. Rien!”

“Hmm.” That was just a little concerning. I surveyed the Place and indeed did not see any indication as to how we should cross to the Arc. No signage, no little French man waving his arms, nothing.  “Do we just…cross? Wait for traffic to slow then make a break for it?”

“I guess.” She replied hesitantly. “It just doesn’t seem very safe, you know? I mean in Canada they’d probably have an official, well-marked way to cross. Safety first!”

“You’re right.  But, this is France, ma cherie! They do things differently here. Maybe traffic dodging is a skill they’d like everyone to have.” That was a decent rationalization, right? The French did do things differently. And, when in France…

Time was ticking and daylight was fading. With a mutual shrug, we toed up to the curb and waited for the flow of traffic to lessen.

“Ok. One, two, three…Allez!” And we were off, clip clopping across the massive expanse of road as fast as our heels would allow. About halfway across, a look to our left told us that we had not crossed in time, and that cars were turning into the Place and proceeding in our direction.

Naturally, we started to scream.

Just then, we heard the not-so-distant wail of sirens as a police car careened towards us and skidded to a halt in the middle of the road. We stopped, traffic honking and speeding all around us and braced ourselves for the fine or the arrest that was sure to come.

Mesdames! What are you doing? You could be killed! Turn around maintenant and use the underpass to the Arc. It is located over there!” cried the exasperated gendarme.  He pointed to the half-hidden entrance to the underpass, muttered something about touristes and promptly sped back into the fray.

Chastened and feeling foolish, we waited for traffic to lighten up as we made a run for the very welcoming, traffic-free sidewalk. We managed to make it up the Arc without further incident.

Looking down on the Place from above, we surveyed the very large amount of road we had tried to run across, took stock of the very high volume of cars that flooded onto the road each second, and realized that we could have very easily been mowed down by a speeding French driver…

Place de l’Etoile – As seen from the Arc de Triomphe

I guess I could have used that “good judgement” talk after all, but I prefer to blame Paris. Why? Because the city has it out for me! Literally. Just wait until I post about the time I was nearly dismemembered by a Parisian metro (subway) or the time I nearly died hailing un taxi…