Italy


We flew Qantas Premium Economy over to Johannesburg (from Sydney). I’ve been avoiding Qantas these last few years, favouring Emirates instead. This was mainly due to what I considered pretty poor service the last few times I flew with the flying kangaroo. But they had a good deal for Premium Economy to J’Burg and so we thought why not. Glad we did. The service going over was great and not that different to Business Class. Coming back, it wasn’t as great but I’ll save all this for a future post.

On the flight over, I was reading the inflight magazine and there was an article about Testaccio – the very suburb I chose to live in during my two months in Rome last year. In 2011, I lived just across the road from Circus Maximus for the 2.5 months I was working in Rome and I often hotfooted it into Testaccio on Saturday to visit the amazing patisseries and small shops. And, of course, the Testaccio markets.

When I landed another 2 months in Rome during 2012, I was determined to get an apartment in Testaccio. Proved to be far more difficult than I imagined but I ended up with the most perfect (and recently renovated) apartment in this typical Italian suburb.

So it was great to read in the magazine about Testaccio and how the Romans know it has the best food. I can certainly say that Zi Elena had THE best cappuccino and ciambella (basically, a large sugared doughnut) and Gastromomia E. Volpetti was a truly stunning cheese and speciality food vendor. EVERYTHING was in Testaccio and I loved every minute of my time there.

Who knew that I am such a cool person to have chosen such a cool place to live in Rome. 🙂

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I’m sticking pretty well to my New Year’s Resolutions and it’s already February. Woot! I haven’t bought a single piece of makeup or skincare item and I’m still eating a vegetarian regime (and really liking it).

One of my resolutions – apart from buying NZ-made – was to try and buy Greek or Italian-made stuff. Greece and Italy aren’t doing too well economically so why not try to help out. Better than buying Made in China crap if you ask me.

Whilst in Wellington last week, I accidentally sat on my Cancer Council “Kelso” sunglasses. They weren’t anything flash and some of the gold detailing had dropped off, so I was a bit disappointed in them and certainly wouldn’t repurchase. You can see them in this post. RIP sunglasses!

I thought I’d wait until returning to Christchurch to suss out a bargain-buy but whilst cruising the funky shops along Cuba Mall, I found an amazing pair of Italian 1980’s sunglasses. Never worn (so they tell me). I fell in immediate love. Gorgeous tortoise-shell look with dark lenses and a kind of 1950’s style. In fact, there were 1950’s sunglasses in the shop but I can’t carry off the narrow cat eye look. Shame because I really like the 50’s retro style.

I popped on the Italian sunglasses and immediate impression was how sturdy the frame and arms were. I then went outside to check out how they performed in bright sunlight (Wellington was having a burst of hot, sunny weather) and decided they were mine. Unfortunately, no case came with them so I’m now on the hunt for a funky case to keep them in. Until then, they’re being kept in the old Cancer Council pouch.

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On the way to Te Papa Museum and wearing the 80’s sunglasses.

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Loving the colour and tortoise-shell look.

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Very solid frame and arms.

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Wonder if they meant Nouvelle Vogue? Made in Italy.

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Simple but elegant detailing.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a What’s In the Handbag? post. Well, actually I’ve only ever done one and that featured the Bridgette Day bag. Since then, I’ve been to Italy and picked up a few bags at the Testaccio markets whilst working in Rome for two months. And during this time, I spent a weekend in Paris with a UN colleague who’s French.

We had a great girl’s weekend and stayed at her friend’s (very small) apartment somewhere in Paris. No idea where. I had two missions: visit Jim Morrison’s gravesite and get some Jacqueline Singh costume jewellery. I accomplished both.

What I didn’t intend on doing was getting a French handbag. But my colleague told me about this secret squirrel shop where you go upstairs into this cavernous space full of handbags. I was (naturally) intrigued. She wanted to get her mother a Lancel handbag and so off we went late Saturday afternoon. The place was buzzing with people, mostly tourists but also some in-the-know French. I spotted Longchamp bags, Sequoia, Nat Et Ninn and too many other brands for me to recall. I was dazzled.

So I asked my friend what French brand is REALLY good – she didn’t hesitate and told me Texier. Never heard of this brand I’m afraid. Fortunately, a sales woman came over and my friend asked her about Texier handbags. The sales lady (who was in her 60s and exuded that air of French elegance) nodded sagely and told us that she has had a Texier bag for years and the quality of leather is wonderful. This conversation was conducted in rapid French, which I don’t speak, so my friend was busy translating at the same time.

The sales lady took us over to a smaller section of the store where only three or four shelves were lined with Texier handbags. I immediately spotted THE most gorgeous bag I’ve seen in a long time. It reminded me of a saddle with its dark caramel pecan colouring and quality leather. I initially thought of getting a Longchamp, with cute horse motif, from the Le Pliage range. My friend asked about this but the sales woman adopted an air of haughtiness, declaring that everyone has one of these bags. Okay.

I checked out all the Texier bags on display and chose two. I wasn’t sure if bargaining was acceptable here, especially with this oh-so-French older lady. I have no idea if the bag I ended up buying has a name. All I can tell you is that it’s gorgeous leather and beautifully detailed. Inside the bag, the craftsmanship is evident with sturdy lining and handy pockets. The bag cost Euro 308.50 and I paid for it in Australian dollars (stronger than the NZ currency). So it cost me around AU$395.00, which is a whole lot less than some of the Oroton bags I saw in Sydney earlier this year (and now made in China I believe). The Texier range is designed and made in France and was started in 1951 by Louis Texier. His sons, Marcel and Jean-Luc, now manage the brand.

So what’s in the French handbag? Well, first of all I swapped wallets a couple of months ago. My fav wallet is my lilac Mandarina Duck that you can see in a previous post. I bought this in Rome in 2011 at a 50% off sale and it cost NZ $36.00. Bargain. But I’m now using a very colourful leather wallet I bought in Rome this year. Can’t recall what shop I bought it at but I was on my way to the Pantheon. It was a small boutique and the wallet reminded me of the luggage travellers used to have embellished with labels from the hotels they’d stayed in around the world. I love the purples, blues and pinks. It’s made in Italy and has ample pockets for cards, cash, photos and all the other stuff we tend to cart around.

And here’s what else is in the handbag:

  • You can tell it’s hayfever season in NZ due to all the hayfever medication I’m carrying around. Never had hayfever in Oz but the trees and pollen are totally different here, so I get an allergic reaction. They say that each year gets better and, this year, it hasn’t been so bad due to the cocktail of herbal remedies I’m taking.
  • I carry Weleda Gencydo Hayfever Nasal Spray. This has been a saviour if you ask me. It has organic lemon and quince extracts and unblocks any stuffy nose; New Era Combination H Tissue Salts; Vicks inhaler.
  • Evolu Botanical Facial Toner – Rebalancing Mist with Aloe Vera and Rosa Gallica. Evolu is a New Zealand skincare brand and I carry around the travel-sized 50ml bottle since I can take this on a flight. It’s a great hydrating mist that I use after cleansing and also to set my makeup.
  • Melaleuca Melagel Topical Gel – for any minor cuts or skin irritations. Consists of Melaleuca Oil, which is basically tea tree oil.
  • Dettol hand sanitizer for those moments when you’re out and about and want to eat but realise your hands are grubby.
  • Clinique Super Balm lip treatment. I feel like I’ve had this little tube for years. Of course, I haven’t but it just lasts and lasts. I particularly like it for the Winter months when lips can get cracked. It’s a super shiny balm.
  • Key ring with red leather heart – bought in some design shop in Rome.
  • Rimmel Stay Matte Dual Action Concealer in Ivory (or maybe it’s Light, the writing has long since worn off). I’ve used a Rimmel concealer since I was a teenager – shows you how long the company has been around! I always used Hide the Blemish Cover Stick in Ivory but I really like the Stay Matte concealer, which is in a very handy tube.
  • Maybelline Dream Matte pressed powder in Light. HG powder for me. One is always in the handbag.
  • Bare Escentuals Bare Minerals powder brush. This was with one of the starter kits I bought years ago and I use it to fluff on some Maybelline powder during the day.
  • Maybelline ColorSensational Lipcolor #205 Nearly There. This is my HG nude lip colour. I’m SO praying it doesn’t get discontinued because it’s a gorgeous everyday, slightly frosted pink taupe shade. It’s a dupe for MAC’s Viva Glam V.
  • The Body Shop Colorglide Shine lip colour in #13 Rose Quartz. This is part of their Winter Trend/Christmas Collection 2012 and is limited edition. It imparts a beautiful glaze of rose shine with golden shimmer. Staying power is very good and I’m really loving Body Shop stuff right now.
  • Superheadz Pink Dress Wide Angled Lens camera. I always have a camera in my bag including my iPhone. The Pink Dress is a remake of the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim camera. It’s the easiest film camera to use and I’ve just finished the film that’s loaded in it. You can see an example of the type of photo the Pink Dress can take on my photoblog. I keep it in a cute little pouch I picked up in a design store in Hong Kong.
  • Sunglasses are The Cancer Council “Kelso” sunglasses with polarised lenses. I’m a little disappointed in them because the gold detailing is a bit flimsy and fell off within a few months. Time for a new pair of sunglasses me thinks!
  • FAO Land & Water pen. I opened the Land and Water Days conference for the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in Rome this year. The pen is a souvenir.
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GAW-JUS Texier handbag.

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The front of the bag has a handy pouch for keeping keys or lipsticks.

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The back of the handbag has a great zippered compartment. I used it to hold my boarding pass on the way back from Rome.

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Lots of room inside.

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Italian leather wallet.

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I keep the receipt in the handbag to remind me of my Parisian weekend.

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Texier started in 1951.

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Love the simplicity of this bag.

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The bag has pull strings.

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The wallet is a gorgeous purple colour.

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I’m carrying a lot of hayfever medicine at the moment.

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Any trip or time spent in Italy is not complete without buying an Italian leather handbag or two (or three). Dedicated readers will know I have a thing for handbags. I have always blamed my mother and grandmother for this. They both loved good quality handbags.

My mother used to buy me Oroton handbags when I was a teenager.This was when their bags were made in Australia. I still have a black leather one that carries the label Made In Australia. Must dig that out to show you. And I have my mother’s silver mesh Oroton coin purse from the 1970s. These days, Oroton bags are largely made in China along with other countries (i.e. not Australia).

I should show you my (small) collection of 1940s and 1950s handbags. LOVE vintage bags. Every Christmas or birthday, my grandmother would give me a wallet or handbag. So it’s totally their fault you see.

I was living in Testaccio during my recent two months in Rome. Within striking distance of the fabulous Testaccio markets. One stall owner there had great Italian leather handbags. I did try to avoid him. Sort of. But the day I flew out of Rome (June 30), I saw some fabulous bags and pounced. I mean they are a fraction of the price you’d pay for an Italian leather handbag here in New Zealand.

Before moving to New Zealand, I sold quite a few of my handbags so my collection isn’t as vast as you might think. I do have two prized Mandarina Duck bags (one was given to me by my great Aussie mate – she bought it in Rome) and a Louis Vuitton that is well over 10 years old. Oh and The Ferragamo. But I try to avoid buying The Brands these days.

I fell in love with three handbags. Yep, three. How to decide between them? A gorgeous soft black leather bag that would be perfect for Winter in NZ and a blue bag that would look great with my new Italian turquoise sandals (also bought at Testaccio markets). And then there was a white handbag. Normally, I wouldn’t do white. Too old lady. But I loved the design and the leather was soooooooo soft.

So there was no option – try to look disinterested and bargain as hard as I could. The stall owner started off by saying the black leather bag was €50.00; the blue was the same; and the white one was €60.00. Quick mental addition told me the three would set me back €160.00 or around NZ$243.00. Honestly, I don’t know why I was thinking of bargaining because ONE Italian leather handbag in Australia or NZ would probably cost more than the three combined.

I carried on about the colours. I actually don’t really like blue. Was there a red version? And the white one, soooooooooo last year. And then the trump card – the markets were moving to a new location. June 30 was to be the last time the Testaccio markets were held in a rather sad, old run-down building. I hoped he’d want to shift his stock to make room for new collections.

I did get him down to €135.00 (around NZ$204.00) for the three bags. The dude told me his bags are from Florence. Who knows if this is the truth but I coughed up the Euro and then wondered how on earth to fit them into my red Roncato suitcase I bought in Italy last year. Solution – buy a second Roncato suitcase. El Hubs wanted one, so I bought a green one for his birthday present. Then packed everything and flew out of Rome at 11.00pm. Phew.

So three gorgeous Italian leather handbags came home with me. The black one I use constantly. It’s super soft and a great design with side zippers. The leather is just getting softer and softer. The only thing I don’t like is that the interior has black lining. Makes it hard to find things and I would have preferred some funky coloured or patterned inner lining. The blue bag will be great for Summer and has gorgeous gold detailing. The white one is a fab design but I’m considering dying it. I’m just not into white handbags but there wasn’t another colour choice available. Or maybe I’ll just wear it during Summer and get over the white colour business.

Such a soft Italian leather handbag!

Genuine leather and Made in Italy.

This bag is actually blue – looks more green in this photo. Lovely gold detailing.

Too old lady?

Very soft and Made in Italy.

I realise I have been tardy. I haven’t shown you my Italian apartment. I spent two months in this apartment in Testaccio, which is a former working class suburb of Rome. I really wanted to be located in Testaccio. I’d identified this area last year when living in Rome. Testaccio is vibrant, colourful and full of energy.

It’s about a 15 minute brisk walk to the Colosseum; 10 minutes to Circus Maximus; 7 minutes to Piramide metro station; about 5 minutes to Campo Cestio; 3 minutes to Testaccio markets (a must for anyone visiting or living in Rome); and about 3 minutes to Gastromomia E. Volpetti (a truly stunning cheese and speciality food vendor). So it was ideally located and is a typical Italian area with plenty of individual shops.

Not many people in Testaccio spoke English or at least I didn’t encounter those who could. The hairdresser I found did, sort of. And a chap at my favourite cafe, Zi Elena, did. But other than this, nah. The concierge lady for the apartment building spoke not one word of English and it was hilarious (in hindsight) trying to wrestle out of her the spare key.

The apartment was nowhere near as small as some I’d viewed. I basically viewed a lot of cat boxes and dog kennels. Not sure how the Italians can live in such small spaces. It had also been recently renovated and had a bright and breezy feel to it. The apartment was on the third floor and opposite the piazza. Being opposite the piazza – which is basically the centre of social life in Italian towns – was a slight downside because people would be yapping away loudly until after midnight or there was loud music being played.

Other than this, the apartment was perfect. I think I was the only foreigner in the building. The front door though was an issue, just like the front door in my former Italian apartment. This time though it had to do with the key not turning easily as you opened the door. I sometimes wondered if I was going to ever get in that door. What is with Italian apartments and doors?

Once inside the apartment though it was very comfortable and inviting. Although as June progressed, it was getting pretty hot and there was no airconditioning (other than opening the windows).

So for today’s post, here is the Italian apartment.

Nice comfy Queen size bed.

Entrance way and small table and chairs for breakfast/dinner.

Bathroom – quite spacious and recently renovated.

Living room. I did most of my blog posts sitting on that couch whilst in Italy.

Cute little seating area just as you enter the apartment.

Breakfast nook area.

Tiny but perfectly adequate kitchen – recently renovated.

Inside of the building. My apartment door faced towards the internal courtyard.

Coming along the corridor to my apartment, which is the door on the right. Opposite was a lovely old Italian lady who knew the former owner. She kept speaking to me in Italian and smiling away.

The lift/elevator is immediately to the left. Or you could walk along this corridor, about half way down, and take the stairs.

Going out the front door of the apartment towards the lift/elevator.

Looking down on the internal courtyard.

What does the design on this dress remind you of? Is it Pucci, Gucci, Versace or just plain old No Brand? No idea but it reminds me of some Italian scarves I’ve seen over the years.

I bought this dress at Testaccio markets the morning of my last day in fabulous Rome. I’d had my eye on it for a couple of weeks during my reconnaissance missions through the markets. I paid € 13.00 for it (after some haggling on my part) or around NZ $20.00. Bargain. Made in Italy too.

The question is: when will I have an opportunity to wear it on the farm? But who knows…..I might end up in Rome again. After all, I never thought I’d end up working in Rome so why not believe I’ll go back?! And if I do, I’ll need a fabulous pair of heels to wear with this dress.

By the time you read this post, I’ll be half-way home to New Zealand. Maybe more than half-way. Yes, dear reader, my time in Rome is up. I’m kinda sad about that but also feel it’s time to go home. I’ve loved every minute of being in this wonderful city, despite all The Dramas. But I have to say it’s heating up here and I much prefer colder weather.

Funny thing is: my great Aussie mate is also in the skies at the same time – winging her way to NYC and Canada. Fritz is looking after my god-niece, Emily.

My ankle is now fully healed; well the hideous peeling skin is at least. The ligaments in the ankle itself are another matter. At the end of each day, especially if I’ve been walking a lot, my ankle is a little swollen. And if I accidentally twist it to the right, ouch. I plan to rest the whole of my first week back in New Zealand. I’ll see how it is after that and maybe get it looked at if it’s not a lot better.

Anyway. I did much better this year than last year in terms of spending. Frankly, I was too busy working and so it wasn’t until about two weeks ago that I started to buy a few things. In Paris, I did go a bit wild. I bought the Jacqueline Singh stuff I told you about yesterday and also a gorgeous pink raincoat from French brand, Etam. This was a bargain at 50% off and came to €34.95 or around NZ$55.00. It will be super-handy back in wintery NZ. I took a photo to show you but it’s crap and the coat is now packed. So I’ll show you in a future post.

I know you can’t wait until I’m back in NZ to hear all the news about Zeph, Zsa Zsa, the horses, El Hubs and my step-son, who is visiting us from France and staying until mid-July. So stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I leave you with a photo of one of the last gelatos I had in Rome – at Giolitti near the Pantheon. Yummo!

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