My shopping routine

Let’s talk about my normal shopping routines. One of the reasons we chose to live in a town was so we could walk to do our everyday errands. If you live in Umbertide Centro, like we do, you can easily walk to 2 bakeries, 4 butchers, and two supermarkets. (Plus 3 gelato shops 😋) Also our doctors and dentists, a hospital, banks, the post office, etc

Saturday market and my haul from last week.

Normally I shop the weekly markets that come to town on Wednesday and Saturday for all of my produce. I buy most of my meat at one of the four butchers. Bread comes from the nearby bakery. And other things, like cleaning products, flour, sugar, milk etc I get from our close local market, the Conad. It is small but has most things. Then there is Angelo’s Alementari. It is in our building and very convenient for many things. Pasta, prosciutto, cheeses, and most staples are in his store – plus he is a great guy.

There are also a number of chain supermarkets in our town. The Coop shopping chain has good prices and sales, it is a cooperative which you can join for savings, and the quality can’t be beat. We have one in Umbertide, the biggest store here. The Conad is comparable – there are 2 in town, one (smaller) in walking distance. The A&O is in walking distance and has good produce and prices. The EuroSpin is the least expensive with real deals but quirky. Farther afield is the IperCoop. It is huge, much like a Walmart with clothes and most things you’d need. I can find things like tortillas, Helmans mayo, French mustards, black beans, Asian ingredients etc there. We go about once a month. All the chain supermarkets offer good sales monthly.

Little supermarket near us. Conad.

Love our butcher. I’ve never met an Italian who didn’t like his picture taken! He quick grabbed that cleaver and posed for me 🙂

But sometimes we want to do special shopping trips. We go to Abruzzo where there is an Essalunga, a huge American style store with just about everything. It won third place for worldwide supermarkets after Wegmans and Whole Foods. We go maybe 2-3 times a year. It is about 45 minutes away.

We buy wine from the local wineries and also online. Italians have not embraced online shopping much yet but we get a lot of things that way. Amazon Prime Italy is a lot cheaper too. I love it that the trucks will deliver our stuff to Bar Mary if we aren’t home. 🙂

So that’s about it. My normal shopping routines!

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Also this week…Market find! I used to get Heirloom tomatoes from a man who came on Saturdays to Umbertide. But he has not been here for 3 years and I’ve missed his tomatoes terribly. By luck a friend posted pictures of a bunch of tomatoes on his FaceBook page and they were heirlooms!!! I found out he goes to the Citta di Castello local market on Tuesday so I made a bee line up there and sure enough, it was the same man! I bought 2 Kilos of tomatoes of all colors and sizes. And they cost only 3 Euro.

I also bought those local eggs while up there. They are covered in chicken poop and even have a feather stuck to one. It is how you know they are fresh. Eggs are not refrigerated here since they are not washed like in the US. So they keep their protective film which keeps the bacteria from getting in.

Odds and Ends

***IMPORTANT NOTICE***
I have noticed I have a number of email subscribers that are Bots, i.e., not really people. I have no idea why anyone would target my blog as it is non-commercial etc. but for whatever reason, they do. SO I am going to go through my list of subscribers and purge the addresses that look suspicious to me. I’m telling you this so you will know that there is an off chance I will delete a REAL person by mistake! So if you notice you are not getting posts in your email from me in the future you may want to check the page and if there are posts you missed, re-subscribe. Sorry for any inconvenience!
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Greetings from Umbertide!

So August is upon us. The time of year when one cannot accomplish anything because everyone is on vacation. So we have enforced down-time which I guess isn’t so bad. It has been, still is, and will be for the foreseeable future very HOT. Staying inside with all the shutters closed. Drinking cool drinks…speaking of that! August 1 is the day everyone has to have a glass of white wine to keep the snakes away…unless the person who told me that was just pulling my leg! I’ll have a glass of wine anyway!

So I’m just catching up on things now that I’m home and idle. A couple of weeks ago we had a magnificent display of flag throwing. The flag throwers were from a small town called San Gemini in southern Umbria. I took a ton of pictures. Here is one.

And about a month ago we had the opportunity to go on a tour of Civitella Ranieri. This is the castle, built in the 1400s, which is on a hill above our town. It is leased by a foundation based in NYC named the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. It is an artist residency program that hosts Fellows and Director’s Guests at our castle. But on this occasion they were opening the castle to guided tours. It is a magnificent building. Here are a few photos.

Entrance.

Ranieri family tree. The family still owns the castle!

Can you see what this sculpture is. Answer at the bottom…***

Fireplace

Grounds

Lady thought her Chihuahua would enjoy the tour. I’m thinking Not so much.

House for sale
And finally, our friends Joseph and Paul, who live just across the Piazza from us have decided to put their wonderful apartment on the market. It is definitely a one of a kind property in the heart of Umbertide. Totally renovated and beautiful from stem to stern. But I will let the websites which show this apartment speak for themselves. By the way, some of you may remember this one from the House Hunters International a few years ago.

CLOCKTOWER PENTHOUSE

And another…
https://www.greatestate.it/en/luxury-apartment-for-sale-in-umbria-perugia-umbertide-4223.html

I know many of my loyal followers are interested in someday coming to live here in Italy. And they also may have friends they can pass this along to. So I am showing these listings from my friends as a favor to them. And BONUS! they are offering $1,000 to anyone who finds a buyer that closes.
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***a mama bunny and her babies!

Lake Como

For the last week we’ve had a visit from my cousin, Meg and her husband, Rodney from Virginia. They were finishing up a trip to Switzerland with another couple and ended up in Lugano so we arranged to take the train to Lake Como to meet them. It had been YEARS since I’d been to Como and I was looking forward to it.  We had to take three trains to get there. A local from our station, a Freccarossa (fast) from Florence to Milan, and another local to Como. We arrived about 3PM and Meg and Rodney were already there.

I had made reservations a few months ago at Villa Flori which is between the city of Como and Cernobbio, right on the lake. It was a priority that we be on the lake. The hotel was one of the best we’ve stayed in. Very accommodating and pretty convenient. We could walk to the Cernobbio dock to catch the boats etc.

We had a lovely dinner the first night in the hotel restaurant Raimondi. I could look down from our balcony and see the restaurant tables all set for dinner.

We were accompanied by Pan.

My pasta was perfect and summery.

The following morning, after a sumptuous breakfast we walked to the dock to catch the boat to Bellagio. There are lots of boats and this one was the slow boat which stopped at just about every town along the way. But that was OK since we got to see alot of the scenery. We also enjoyed a spritz. Since we were one of the first to board we got a nice table for 4 at a window. I took a few pictures.

Pretty gazebo

Mountainside flowers and palms 

A friendly seagull.

An amazing palazzo with its gardens

Hotel along the way

Approaching Bellagio. Spectacular mountains

We arrived in Bellagio with the crowds. It was packed with people. Nothing like I remembered from our last trip. We did some shopping and then we found a little place for lunch. It was nice, basic Italian food. Rodney finally got his spaghetti with meat sauce (ragu).

Pretty street. The town is on a steep hill and has the dock area and promenade and then the streets go up steeply to another parallel street above.

We opted to upgrade to the hydrofoil on the way back. It was amazing! the entire boat rises up on legs and flies above the water! We got back in half the time. I borrowed the below photo.

The following day we decided to visit Como after an aborted attempt to visit some gardens. Como was blessedly calm and uncrowded after Bellagio.

This was one of the oldest streets.

The cathedral was beautiful.

We had a nice lunch at a place recommended to Meg. It was great. No menu and the lady just recited the food.

View from our hotel balcony.

The next morning we were off on the trains south to Umbria to complete a nice visit with family. Come back soon Meg and Rodney!

Cost of living here in small town Umbria

One thing I have not addressed in this blog is the cost of living here in Umbria. Recently I read a blog talking about the cost of living in Milan. Admittedly, it is less expensive to live there – it’s rated the most expensive city in Italy, than in most cities in the US, but it is still more expensive that many other areas here in Italy. People who are still working and have no choice but to live in a place like Milan do so, but retirees, like us and many people who move here on an ER Visa from the US, do have a choice.

Generally all the northern parts of Italy are more expensive than the south. And of course Tuscany, which has always been a magnet for expats is quite pricy, especially Florence. But central provinces like Umbria, or Abruzzo, or les Marche are a real bargain. They also see fewer tourists and, therefore are more welcoming, in my experience. Umbria is just next to Tuscany and has many of the attributes that attract people there. It has beautiful hill towns, the food is amazing and it has some of the best wines in Italy. It is also known as the “green heart of Italy” because it is in the center, vaguely heart shaped and, being very agricultural, very green. It is also a very traditional area. A little more tranquil and old fashioned.

People have asked me how much things cost here so I will endeavor to list some things.

Housing.
Buying a house here is not terribly expensive if you don’t want a palazzo or a fattoria in the country with olive groves etc. But I should also say, like anywhere else, there are a wide variety of houses in a large variety of sizes and price ranges. For lower budgets I know of several habitable apartments in our town in the neighborhood of €80-100K. This would be one or two bedrooms and bath(s). A fixer-upper would be much less. Usually houses here are smaller so plan on 800 – 1,100 sq ft for that price. Also a real savings is that you won’t owe any property tax on your prima casa, or main residence. Apartments for rent are very reasonable. An apartment of this size will rent for in the neighborhood of €400-500 a month. Usually it comes furnished. Generally apartments rent with a lease for 4 years with option to extend for 4 years at the same rent. Other option is 3 years with 2 year extension. But you can negotiate. Many times utilities are included in the rent.

Utilities
Speaking of which, utilities can be expensive here. Houses are rated from A-G for energy efficiency, “A” being the best as far as efficiency goes. Old buildings are notoriously bad with no insulation and thick stone walls which conduct the heat/cold. Our building is about 500 years old and of the later sort. In winter our bills were running in the neighborhood of 240€ for two months. But this past winter we got a 400€ bill (2 months). It was very cold.

Two months of gas

Also most people, including us, use a pellet stove (stufa) to warm parts of the house.

Most places do not have air conditioning. We have two electric units. We don’t use them much so our bills are small. Water is a lot less here, around 20€ for 2 months. We pay 75€ for trash removal twice a year.

Coffee/drinks/wine
At my local Bar/Coffee shop an espresso is 1€. A cappuccino is 1.20€. Compare that to Starbucks! And it is way better. A small beer is 2€. An aperol spritz (mixed cocktail) is 4€. Many bars have happy hour with snacks gratis if you buy a drink.

To buy a basic bottle of wine can cost as low as 3€. Here they also have sfuzzi which are like a wine gas stations! Bring your bottles and fill them for between .80 and 1.30€ a liter! Of course high quality, pedigree wine is more. 12€ or more a bottle.

Eating out
We have several types of restaurants. At a trattoria, which has great local food, you can get 3 courses for around 15€. A fancier Ristorante you will pay more, 8-10€ for an appetizer. 17€ for a steak. Pizza at a pizzeria is around 5-8€ a pie which is more than enough for a person. Contrary to common thought, most places are fine if you ask for a box to take left overs home. You can get just a slice for 1.20€. No tipping here. Round up if you want.

Supermarkets and food shopping.
This is a comprehensive subject and maybe should be a separate post. Groceries are less expensive on the whole. Many larger towns have weekly markets (mercato). The produce is good, fresh and affordable. For around 10€ I can get a big shopping bag of gorgeous produce to last a week. The markets also sell pecorino cheese of all sorts and ages and prosciutto and cured sausages and salami for which Umbria is known. Also a fresh mozzarella man, and my fish lady in her truck. My normal shopping habits are, I shop the two weekly markets, Wednesday and Saturday, for produce, cheese, specialty meats, fish. I shop the butchers, bakers, etc for fresh meats and bread. I only go to the supermarkets for staples like sugar, cleaning products, etc.

Approximate prices at a supermarket: you can get a whole chicken for 3€. Hamburger patties for 1.50€ each. Pork chops for 3€ lb. Steaks for $6 lb.
For fancier things you’d pay.
Veal steaks $8 lb
Beef filet steaks $12 lb
Salmon steaks $8 lb
Ground beef $4 lb
Lamb for grilling $3 lb.

Cars
Autos cost about the same here as the US but you must be a resident to buy one. There is an annual car tax as well. Of course I think everyone knows gas and diesel is a LOT more expensive here. Probably 4-5 times the cost in the US.

Internet/satellite TV
Our Skye satellite TV costs 30€ a month. Phones you can top up as you use the service. It is a lot less expensive than in the US. There is a TV tax to pay for public Italian RAI TV rolled into your electric bill. Internet can be rolled into a package with your phone and is not expensive. But it’s not very fast here.

Other travel
Train travel is reasonable. One way to Florence from here is 12€. We take the Freccebianca from Folognio to Rome fairly often. It’s reasonable (from 16.90€ on the fast Frecce train) and we are in Rome in an hour and 15. Have lunch, shop, come home before dinner. The fast trains (frecce) that run between bigger cities are more expensive and have several classes of seating.

Air travel can be very cheap here. There are a number of discount carriers like Ryanair, Easyjet and Wiz air. Umbria has a small airport but it is limited. We love it because it is so small and easy to use, parking is plentiful and cheap. We use Ryanair out of Perugia for our annual trip to the UK. There are several flights a week. We also flew to Bucharest Romania on Wizair once, just because we could! And there are a couple of weekly flights to Sicily. In summer they add more. Frankfurt, Brussels, Sardinia, Bari. If you shop around and are flexible you can fly for as little as 19€ round trip to Catania or Bari. Our friends go just because it is so cheap. But for destinations farther afield we go to Rome, Florence or Bologna.

Abruzzo – Trip report

Another short trip report. Birthday celebrations.
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A three night road trip down the Adriatic coast and then across the Gran Sasso d’Italia mountains of Abruzzo. Abruzzo is one of those provinces that doesn’t get enough good press. But it is increasingly on the radar for tourists and for people looking to move to Italy. Abruzzo is known as “the greenest region in Europe” as almost half of its territory, the largest in Europe, is set aside as national parks and protected nature reserves: there are three national parks, one regional park, and 38 protected nature reserves. And it has a coastal area to the east with beaches on the Adriatic sea. When one travels the coast one will notice the lack of very old buildings. WWII took a heavy toll with many cities along the coast reduced to rubble. Towns were rebuilt in haste and thus have less appeal than, say, the towns on the west coast.

Anyway, our trip was more culinary than anything else…which I’m sure is no surprise to any of my blog readers. Our first stop was in a town called Guardiagrele. To a restaurant called Villa Maiella, named after the large mountain behind the town. We had reserved for lunch but need not have as we were the only people there. We opted for the Menu of the Abbruzzo territory. It was very, very good.

A benvenuto from the chef.

Medley of pork from the famous black pigs of Abruzzo.

Soup. Farro with truffles.

Pallotta cac’e ove. Has cheese and eggs inside. Wonderful rich tomato reduction.

Chittara, a type of pasta that means guitar with ragu.

Main course of pork. Very tender.

First dessert. Peach ice cream with chocolate morsels.

Dessert. Semifreddo.

After that wonderful lunch we waddled to our hotel which was not far away. It was Castello di Semivicoli in Casacanditella. Beautiful old palace. Rooms all different. Ours was enormous. They have no restaurant but we were not hungry anyway and had some wine from their vineyard before turning in.

The next morning we headed to the coast, about 45 minutes away to visit Ortona. A medium sized city which was on a bluff above the ocean. We visited the fortress and walked it’s streets.



The Canadians fought in Ortona in WWII finally seizing the city in December 1943. There is a Canadian war cemetery there. This statue of a solder with his fallen comrade was poignant.

Next we drove down the coast. Just south of Ortona begins what is called the Costa Dei Trabocchi. A trabocco is a massive construction built from wood, which consists of a platform anchored to the rock by large logs of pine, jutting out into the sea, from where two (or more) long arms called antennae stretch out suspended some feet above the water and supporting a huge, narrow-meshed, net (called trabocchetto). Eventually their usefulness waned as more modern methods were adopted. These platforms were all but abandoned until the Slow Food movement encouraged owners to transform them into restaurants.

We chose Pesce Palombo as our Trabocco for lunch. It was an experience. First big issue was finding the place. Nearly impossible. But we did and walked across the narrow bridge to the platform. We were fed til we popped. Of course it was all seafood and super fresh. We saw fishermen traversing the bridge with buckets. I am guessing they bring their catch for the Trabocco owners to buy. The below are just a couple of pictures of the place, menu and  food.





The next morning we rose and got on the road to our next destination. Reale and Casadonna in a town called Castel di Sangro. One of nine Michelin 3 star restaurants in Italy. It is very remote but beautiful. Decorated in wood, steel and cement. Austere. White. And the dinner was…how to describe it? The dishes are simple but at the same time they are celebrations of taste. The dishes often were multiple dishes of food or multiple foods on one plate and you are instructed on what order to eat them or whether they should be eaten together. Obviously the chef spends much time experimenting and cares how his creations are eaten. I can’t really describe the experience. We had the small menu and were glad we did as it was quite a lot. I don’t know if I’d go back but it was worth it for once. (I took no pictures…)

We headed back to Umbertide the next morning after an amazing breakfast.

View from our room.

The bar, breakfast area and salon.

Breakfast brioche.

Mega chicken and a full moon…

I asked Luther to go to the butcher and get some things that appealed to him. He came back with a package of the biggest chicken breasts I’ve ever seen! I had to check to be sure they weren’t turkey. But they weren’t. There were eight pairs! So I guess I’ve got to get out my recipes to see how to use them!

One night I woke and looked out to see a beautiful full moon a’rising over Umbertide. So I snapped a picture.

Trip Report – Scotland

Another Trip Report – long with lots of pictures – so skip if you are not interested!
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Four people. Me, Luther, my sister Cindy and her husband Bill met in the middle. C&B flew from Virginia to Edinburgh and we from Bologna for a rousing road trip around Scotland and it’s isles.

We arrived in Edinburgh airport at 12:15 and met up with C&B with no problem. We headed out to rent our car and off we went to the north, crossing the Firth of Forth. Great suspension bridge. We got off the highway in Dunfermline just because it was near and on the way. We were famished. We had a nice lunch in the guildhall and linen exchange. A historic hotel with a restaurant.

We headed north and arrived in Carrbridge which is in Speyside with no events. We passed some beautiful scenery along the way. Very stark.

We checked into our rooms in the Dalrachney Lodge. Nice little place with a gentle speaking innkeeper. Our rooms were nice with plenty of room and ours had an amazing bathtub with shower stall. Reminded me of a Victorian torture device!

We had reserved for dinner so we met up for wine in the parlor and to choose our food. The food was ok. Not great but passable.

Saturday June 16
Still gray out the next morning but we took a picture of the stone bridge for which Carrbridge is named.

Then we headed north and to do a scotch tasting at Benromach Distillery. Along the way we drove through vast moors, barren and wild.


They were funny asking who the driver was and we had to limit our tasting somewhat. Legal limit is .03. We also bought a drivers pack which allowed you to save what you couldn’t or shouldn’t drink. Handy! The scenery on the way was stunning. We went to Aviemore and had lunch at the Bridge Inn. On the Spey river. It was great with excellent pub food. A gastro pub.

The bridge the pub is named for.

After lunch we went to another distillery, Tomatin and tasted more scotch.

We again ate in the hotel. Luther was able to smoke a cigar outside and we finished all the bits of scotch from the tastings.

Sunday June 17
We decided to go to the coast this day and on the way visit a distillery. We went to Dufftown and on to Glenlivet Distillery. Good tasting. Bought some to bring home. And for Vera.

Glenlivit

Afterwards we headed to a coastal road which went through some beautiful scenery. The towns were full of pretty, what looked like, holiday homes. No tacky shops. In fact no shops at all! We stopped in a town called Findochty. We walked into the harbor and by chance found the only place at all doing any sort of business, the Admiral Inn. We decided to try it for lunch. It was goodish. We had Ale, or beer and some tried the neeps and we had chicken with hagis which we liked, surprisingly.

Laundry day – taking advantage of a seldom seen dry and sunny day!

Hagis.


We headed back looking for another distillery and finally stopped at Glen Grant. It was weird. They would only serve you whisky as part of an activity. You could take the tour of the distillery or tour the gardens. We opted for the gardens. The day was quite nice and the gardens were pretty.

We were mildly disappointed that we got a blend that was of indeterminate age but probably only 5 years and the other was 10 years. They were pretty good even that young. We headed home and had a picnic in our room for dinner and sat outside. It had been a nice visit in Speyside Scotland.

Monday June 18
We woke and had an 8 am breakfast. We said goodbye to our innkeeper, his wife and Archibald the spaniel. We all loved Archie. And he loved us. He stationed himself at the bottom of the steps for a tummy rub from anyone descending.

We drove north through Inverness and on up beside the North Sea.

We arrived in Thurso and did a little shopping for lunch on the ferry. We loaded our car on the ship and had our picnic sans vino as alcohol was prohibited.

We headed for Westrow Lodge after we debarked. It is a modern house with stunning views of the sea. And a wicked wind had come up gusting to over 50 mph. The house has just the two rooms upstairs and is a B&B. Our innkeeper is Kathy from Michigan(!). She’s lived there 25 years.

Our neighbors the cattle…

Cindy scaring away our neighbors…

We went to find a beer, badly wanted, in Stromness. We found the Ferry Inn just across from the ferry pier. Afterward we went to the small supermarket Coop. We bought ham, smoked salmon, roast sliced chicken breast, Camembert cheese wine and bread for our dinner tomorrow. Then we headed back for showers. Dinner that night was a place I’d found on the web called Foveran Restaurant with Rooms. Excellent place! Very pretty with walls painted shades of ivory and ecru. Minimally decorated letting the stunning views of the Scapa Flow outside the windows be the artwork. View 9:30PM from window.

We are just two days from the Solstice, the longest day of the year. And, since we are so far north the sun sets at about 11:30pm and rises at 3am. Between it is not really dark, more like dusk.

Tuesday June 19.
The winds roared all night, shaking the house. We arose and had breakfast, included in the rate, of your choice of bacon, egg, sausage tomato and mushrooms. Good enough. Then we were off to Scapa Brae, a prehistoric village that had been buried in the sand for thousands of years and was washed free in 1850. It dates to 4,500 years ago. The village was all made of stone with grass covered roofs. The inside of each house had a square hearth in a square depression bordered by flat, straight, thin stones. On the sides of the room were beds constructed much the same way which would have been filled with straw and animal furs. They even had a “dresser” on which to display their treasures proudly. And nooks for clothing and storage. The village was inhabited for 600 years and abandoned – reason unknown. But this is situated in a pristine location on a turquoise bay. The strong winds we endured whipped up amazing white plumes of surf.

Hearth is the square in the foreground.

Next we went to Stromness, the second largest town. It is a fishing town and ferries come in and out regularly. They have one shopping street which we explored. I bought some yarn from the famous Ronaldsay sheep of Orkney. I chose natural colors, undyed. We went back to the Ferry Inn. Nice lunch. I chose the lobster salad, consisting of half a lobster, served cold, nice composed salad and new potatoes. Perfect.

Next we went to the Ring of Brodgar. Standing stones. It’s age is uncertain but probably dates from 4,500 years ago. Older than Stonehenge! 35 of the original 60 stones are still there. We couldn’t walk among them like we had done on our last visit. They do have free guided tours where you can go inside. It is hard to convey the scale in photos.

We drove a short way down the road to the Stones of Stenness. We were pleased to see we could walk amongst them. They are awesome in their size. The Stones of Stenness today consist of four upright stones up to 6m in height in a circle that originally held 12 stones. The focus of the interior was a large hearth. The stones were encircled by a large ditch and bank, no longer there. The stone circle may be the oldest in Britain dating to over 5,000 years ago. They are thought to have been a major center or worship. There are also six burial mounds in the vicinity and the two rings (Brodgar and Stenness) are thought to have been once connected.

I left that one person below in this one so you can see the scale of these stones.

Me buffeted by the winds.

All of these places we visited are on vast plains or seashore so there is nothing to break the wind. The gusts made it hard to walk or even stand still to take pictures.

That evening we had a picnic in our room. Which was fun.

Wednesday June 20
We woke to sun, clouds, less wind and patchy rain. After another breakfast we headed toward Kirkwall, the largest town. But we saved it for later and passed through on the way to the Italian Chapel. This Chapel was built by Italian POWs during WWII. 200 were based at Camp 60 on Lamb Holm, brought to build the Churchill barriers between the islands. In 1943 Camp 60’s new commandant, and Father Gioacchino Giacobazzi, the camp’s Catholic priest, agreed that a place of worship was required.

The chapel was constructed from limited materials by the prisoners. Two Quonset huts were joined end-to-end. The corrugated interior was then covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rail were constructed from left over concrete . Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, a prisoner from Moena. He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners decorated the entire interior. They created a facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look like a church. The light holders were made out of corned beef tins. The baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust covered in a layer of concrete.

These next two look like stone but are just painted to look like 3-D carved stone.

Many prisoners had special skills, like iron working.

When his fellow prisoners were released shortly before the end of the war, Chiocchetti remained on the island to finish decorating the newly consecrated chapel.

It is a touching memento from a difficult era.

We returned to visit the famous Highland Park Distillery. Famous the world over. They only let you taste if you tour but the next one was over an hour later. The nice guy let us taste a wee bit of the two we were interested in. Luther bought a bottle.

In Scotland almost all the distilleries are built with these distinctive copper chimneys.. They use a stylized version on the signs of the Whisky trail.

Next we headed to Kirkwall, biggest town on the Orkneys. We walked it’s streets and did some shopping.

St Magnus Cathedral is it’s big sight but it was closed for a funeral. So we missed seeing it.

I was taken with the frieze

We found a nice pub with a friendly bartender where we had lunch.

My favorite beer.

My first fish and chips of the trip.

Next we headed to Scapa Distillery. We decided to take the tour which was quite good. At the end we tasted some of the Cask whisky straight from the barrel which was surprisingly smooth. And we headed back to the main building for three more tastes. The first was really just alcohol…what we’d call white lightening. Ugh. Next we tried one that was smooth and not made with peat. The last had been aged in barrels that had previously been used for whisky made with peat so it had a residual smokey taste.

Luther on the beach at Scappa.

A fun day. Headed to the B&B to rest and shower. Later we dined again at the Foveran restaurant. It is a very good place.

Thursday, June 21
Arose and breakfasted with Kathy, our innkeeper. Then we packed and got on the road to catch the 11am ferry. This was the hitch in a day of long driving. If we hadn’t had to catch a ferry we could have gotten an earlier start. As it was, we didn’t get on the road until one. The ferry trip was rough as the winds had, again, picked up.

We drove south the way we had come. We stopped at the Bay Owl Inn for lunch. Didn’t look like much from outside but it had gorgeous views from inside of the sea and a small bay. Lunch was good and we got going again.

The scenery was gorgeous the whole way. Scotland is beautiful. Indulge me here. I simply could not chose from these!

Look at this amazingly dramatic and stark scene!

Hiking path across the wetland

The GPS sent us down a road that turned into one lane with passing places. Lots of potholes. We finally arrived at the Edinbane Inn, a lively pub with rooms at about the worst possible time for them 7:15pm, slammed at the dinner hour. We finally got to our nice, but VERY small room, and then headed down to dine. It was starting to slow a little by then. The food was quite good. I was not very hungry. We retired to the outside picnic tables to finish our drinks and Luther to smoke his cigar. We were inundated with the notorious Scottish midges, or wee bastards as the Scots call them. Then to bed.

Friday June 22
Today we explored the north part of the island. But first we had an excellent breakfast at our Inn/pub. Scrambled eggs over toast topped with smoked salmon. Very yum. We headed out and up the west coast. The road was one-lane-with-passing-places and many, many very large and deep potholes. Also sheep. In the road.

We stopped frequently for pictures. We wished over and over for the sun to break through. But no go. We paid a visit to Kilt rock with its waterfall and farther along mount Skorr an ancient volcano which has eroded into interesting formations. Cindy, Bill and Luther hiked up toward the famous rock formations while I remained in the car.

Ever-present sheep.

Vista with wild flowers.

Home sweet home…to someone.

Nesting bird.

Kilt rock and falls

Old Man of Skorr

Foxglove.

The road came around to the east and down the other side ending at Portree, the largest city on the island. It was pretty mobbed with people. We found a very subpar place for lunch and headed back to our pub.

After a nap and a shower we went to the Ullinish country lodge or dinner. Got great write ups but I have to say it was not worth it. We had a hard time finding it as it was way down a long one-lane-with-passing-places road. The scenery was stunning. The place was quite formal and pretentious. It was a price fixed 4 course meal with only two choices of appetizer, two entree, cheese, and two desserts. We got French wines which were good. Too expensive and not my style anymore.

We returned to our Inn and enjoyed the wonderful Scottish music that was on this night. All local people who just show up to play together. The musicians were seated around a table and rotated in and out. Fiddle, bagpipes, guitar, mandolin, bass, several voices. Really quite wonderful.

Saturday June 23
Another gray day. After breakfast we headed out to visit the Talisker Distillery. It’s been around a long time and is way down a narrow, one-lane-with-passing-places road. It was mobbed. We found you’d again need to take a tour and then you could taste one whisky. Not worth it. We bought a small bottle. Cindy and Bill bought 3 miniatures.

Misty boats in the harbor

Back on the road in search of Scotland’s oldest Inn, the Stein Inn in the little town of Waternish. It was a perfect pub! Low ceilings and stone walls. Fireplace and pretty bar. We got our beers and decided on lunch. Mine turned out to be sub par. It was pretty basic. But we had fun.

We next went to Dunvegan to see Dunvegan Castle. Ancestral home of the McLeods. The oldest part was the castle keep built in 1320. Then thee or four other parts were added, including the Fairy Tower, which I loved. We toured the gardens which were large and diverse but we were attacked by the wee bastards! Horrible things. Got lots of pictures though.

Then back to Edinbane Inn for our afternoon pint and then for a nap.

We had dinner in the pub that night. The food was pretty good, not great.

Sunday June 24
We had breakfast and checked out of the inn. We had all come to like it, even if the rooms were very tiny. We had a long drive ahead of us to Edinburgh. As we left Skye the clouds cleared and we stopped a few times for photo ops. We had been sad to have no sun to get good pictures the whole time on Skye.

Our Pub

On the way off of Skye – finally sun!

These next ones are of the Five Sisters. Five peaks over 3,500 feet high just off of Skye on the way to the Ft. Williams area.

We stopped for lunch in Pitlochry, a bustling little town. Lots of tourists. We ate at the Old Smiddy Pub. We had a decent lunch and headed out again. We found our hotel, the Norton Country Lodge, with no problem and checked in. Nice place. Big comfortable room. Very close to the airport but quite bucolic all the same. We had decided to get a picnic for dinner that evening. We went out to shop and get gas.

After freshening up and napping we all got together for our last super. It had been a great trip overall. I think everyone had fun.

Monday June 25
Up at the crack of screech as my old friend used to stay for our 6:50am flight. By 5:15 we had checked out. Cindy and Bill slumbered on as they had a flight at a decent time. Things went downhill from there. The rental drop place had no drop box. Luther decided to wait the 10 minutes until they opened. I went ahead to check in. I went to the baggage tag place and our boarding passes would not scan. I had to go to the end of the terminal to get new boarding passes and a Visa check. Then back to the luggage place. Thank god Luther found me on my way back. We jumped the line as instructed. And then went to security. By now it was only 20 to departure and our plane had been boarding. Even the family line, which we used because I had my crutch, was packed. It took a while to get through. I sent Luther on ahead to tell them I was coming. I walked as fast as I could and got there where Luther had persuaded them to wait for me. The gate was closed and we were last to board! Just too much strurm and drang for me.

Let’s see, best and worst…
Best breakfast, Edinbain Inn scrambled eggs with salmon.
Best lunch, Aviemore in the Bridge Inn
Worst lunch food (for me) Stein Inn.
Best dinner, Foveran restaurant Skye
Worst dinner Ullinish country lodge. Too pretentious. Too pricy.
Best place to stay, we liked them all for different reasons. The most comfy was Dalrachney Hall. Westrow Lodge in Orkneys was comfortable if you don’t mind being in earshot of the owner and family. Edinbane Inn was one of a kind. How many times can you sleep in a pub? The last nights hotel was lovely but we had such little time there.
Best sights, the Orkney Islands.
Best scenery, the islands of Orkney and Skye
Best whisky tasting Benromach Distillery

Visit with friends

We have had an eventful week with friends Carlo, Mary and Mary’s niece Emily. Since they were 3 they rented an apartment in Montone (FaceBook page The Apartments Montone) owned by very good friends of ours should you be interested to visit an amazingly pretty Umbrian hill town near Umbertide.

We had one or two mishaps, which I can now laugh about. We had all planned to go to the Infiorate in Spello on Sunday, Corpus Domini. I had never been to this festival and it is wildly popular. Advice is to go early so we all were to meet at 6AM for a 6:45AM arrival. Well, the mishap was our inability to meet up and ride together. The good news was they went on their own and really enjoyed a one-of-a-kind experience. The bad was we didn’t but that’s not so bad since we can always go next year!

We also planned another first for us. We booked a tour of the Perugina chocolate factory in Perugia. First we had a lovely lunch in beautiful lakeside town, Passignano sul Lago. We strolled the lakefront promenade, enjoyed a refreshment and headed for lunch. Being a Monday many restaurants had a rest day so were closed. We just went in a lakefront place that was open called Ristorante da Lucciano di Caciatori. Turns out it was an excellent choice and we all enjoyed our lunch.

My panzanella salad was cool and refreshing. It is one of the signature Tuscan/Umbrian antipasti. In the past the people were terribly poor and by necessity, frugal. So as not to waste stale bread they added cubes of it to a salad with a vinaigrette dressing so it became quite damp, along with chopped crisp celery, cucumber, tomato, onions. It is today, a specialty of the area. Adding the shrimp was a nice touch but not usual.

We all had the Orate which is sea bream. it was grilled whole, filleted and they put crispy potatoes on top. Yummy.

Next was the chocolate tour. Perugina was started back in 1907. But later Luisa Spagnoli founded the Chocolate factory which was one of the most important factories in Perugia. During the first world war she had to take over the factory management as well as having to look after her own three children and home. She was very forward looking, so she opened a nursery in the factory so her female employees could continue to work. They brought their babies to work while the men were away at war. The nursery exists in the present factory. In 1922 Luisa, wanting to use up extra hazelnuts created one of the most iconic of Italian chocolates, Baci – the Italian name for kisses. Nearly 100 years later the recipe remains unchanged. Nestle bought Perugina in 1988 but made few changes, happily.

Emily in front of the worlds largest Baco. This one is fake but Perugina did make one in 2003 and it has the Guinness World record. It was 2.15 meters (~6.5 feet) tall, 7.26 meters (~15 feet) wide and contained 5980 kg (14,000 lbs) of chocolate. They broke it up and it took 4 hours for the crowd at the annual Chocolate fest to eat it!

Our English tour
Baci Baci everywhere!

The factory was not running on our day there except for a very small section but it was fun to watch all the chocolate bars flying down the belts and the machines wrapping, picking them up by threes and filling boxes. We also got a chocolate tasting at the end with all of the types. There are about 7 or 8 from super dark to milk to white. Yum. Our tour guide, Laura, quickly whisked the chocolate out of reach after a few minutes as some of the Australians on the tour were filling their purses and bags! It was a fun tour.

Wednesday our friends stayed in Umbertide since it was our big market. They shopped for clothes and trinkets while I shopped for lunch ingredients! I made an Antipasti plate with melone and prosciutto and then fried squash blossoms, hot from the oil. Afterwards we had a Strangozzi with fava beans, fresh peas and asparagus. Very primavera. We had a nice afternoon on the terrace.

One day they went to Assisi. I opted out mainly to rest my knee. On Thursday we headed out to Gubbio. It is such a pretty place and we walked up through the streets to the Funivia. It is yet another unique experience. I had heard it is very scary and I don’t like heights. Everyone, except Luther wanted to go. So off we went. In the end all but Carlo wimped out! hah! It looks much like a bird cage that you stand in. It can hold one person or two thin people. It goes up to the monastery with amazing views. At least, that’s what Carlo said. I grabbed a picture from the net since I didn’t think to take one.

We all met up after for a nice lunch at Locanda del Cantiniere. We had wanted to try this place for a long time. It was quite nice but they were between menus. I’ll go back.

My starter.

The pasta was rich with nuts. A pesto.

All their bread was house made. The dark one was chocolate!

After lunch we walked on up through town to the main square. I think this is the perfect ride in a town like Gubbio. Loved the basket.

View from the main square.

A couple of gents who added a bit of local color !

We bid farewell to our friends. They promised to come back….Maybe even buy a place here!!!

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During the week the weather was sunny and alternately we had huge storms. I met up with my friend Crickie who is always wiggling with delight to meet any person!

 

This is the season when the house martins, thousands of them, nest in the eaves all over Italy. I eagerly await their return. They are a bit messy but eat billions of insects. How can that be bad? They like to nest in condos, i.e., all together. Since our comune was renovated many of their old nests were destroyed so they are finding new places. One right above our office window! Sweet.

 

Here and there…

The last week we have gotten out and about enjoying the beauty that is Umbria. And the bountiful restaurants. Poppies are blooming everywhere. Here was a whole field of them near the Tuscan border.

We went back with some friends to one our favorite places near Magione, a town close to Lago Trasimeno. The restaurant is Umbricello del Coccio. They have a really pretty herb garden next to the terrace with a cute priest presiding. This is on a pilgrim route so there is a church next door – Santuario della Madonna di Lourdes. Inside there is an identical cave, or grotto, to the one in France.

Brilliant sunshine splashed across the church.

Lunch was Umbricelli caccio e pepe.

An assortment of legumes for which Umbria and Toscana are famous.

Cinghiale (wild boar) stew with black truffles.

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Yesterday we were off on an excursion to a winery. Sometimes these places are hard to find. And they are EVEN harder when your husband gives you the wrong name!! We visited Tenimenti d’Alessandro. Luther had made an appointment for a tasting. it was a large estate with vacation apartments, facilities for conferences, a restaurant, olive groves and vineyards. This vintner was bucking tradition and had planted Syrah and Vigionier. Normal Tuscan grapes are San Giovese and Vermentino.

We met up with Laura who was a nice young woman who had recently moved from Rome to be with her fiance. He is the chef at the restaurant on the estate. She took us on a tour of the facilities. Pretty normal except for a couple of “experimental” containers for some of their wines. They were unique to us.

This one is terra cotta.

And this one was ceramic.

We settled in for our tasting. We could each pick four. We chose a white, rose, and two reds. Maybe the Wine Guy will do a column?

Rose is called Red Pepper!

The property was on volcanic soil and they had used the lava in interesting ways. One was as a kind of rock garden along the walkway. This one was in the building housing the restaurant.

Restaurant is called Creta.

It was comfortable, attractive and unpretentious.

Olive oil dish.

Ricotta salad with cabbage. It was yummy. 

I had risotto with carpaccio

Luther had beef with cabbage.

I loved this old farmhouse sink . Wish I could have one!

It was a fine outing in Tuscany and the weather is now ab-sol-utely perfetto!!!

Norcia and Piano Grande

This week we decided to go with friends on a long drive to south eastern Umbria to a place I’ve wanted to visit since we’ve been here, Piano Grande (big plain) and Castelluccio, the small town on the high plain. This is a unique landscape. The plain is at an altitude of 4,000 feet and is surrounded by the higher Sibilline mountains which rise to 8,000 feet creating a bowl. The plain is a karstic basin which is made up of porous limestone which holds underground reserves of water. It is crisscrossed by “ditches” which drain the rain water into holes in the limestone. In summer it is carpeted with purple, red and yellow flowers. The regions famous lentils are grown here. Castelluccio is the only town up in these mountains and sits on a hilltop overlooking the plain. Unfortunately the town was 60% destroyed by the 2016 earthquakes and has been abandoned. The sweet thing is that all the farmers from down below drive their tractors up in the spring and they help all the villagers plant the lentils each year. It is the lentils that bloom purple.

We drove up a winding mountain road that was being repaired. It had been closed for 8 months after the quake but it is far from finished at this time. Along the way we passed destroyed buildings. As we rose higher we entered the low clouds and it began to rain. Due to the rain we couldn’t see the plain well so my pictures are very misty. I will go back during June or July when the flowers are blooming and it’s sunny. Somehow this somber, misty landscape evokes sadness in keeping with the destruction you see everywhere.

The hotel that collapsed.

Piano Grande in the mist

Castelluccio

We headed back down the same road. The road used to go through but it is closed at this time. We were going to visit Norcia for lunch. Luther and I had not been in a few years. It had been a vibrant little city famous for its cured proscuitti and sausages. But, being only 6 kilometers from the epicenter of the last quake (6.6) it is in very bad shape now, with most of the businesses being relocated outside of town. I was so sad to see the beautiful buildings covered with elaborate scaffolding awaiting repair. The saddest, to me, is the monastery. The front facade is all that is standing and that is being held up with the structures built around it.

This picture was taken in 2014 on our first trip to Norcia. This is the front and side of the building with the old tower to the right..

This is the same piazza. You can see the old tower has collapsed, as has the entire back of the church.

Facade facing out with supports.

This the front facade from the back. This side would have been inside the church and this rose window would have faced out. Nothing left.

This is the bell tower that stands to the left of the facade in the top picture. If  you look closely you can see the entire top portion has been knocked askew and it is held together with bands of cabling.

Wanting to support the town we ate at a restaurant near the Teatro. It was a fine lunch.

The antipasto plate which we all shared.

My Strengozzi with vedure di montagne.

Jens risotto looked AWESOME!

We shared our ham and sausage with this little, skinny stray. Another table was doing the same. I don’t know how she held it all down. I can imagine she’s never been this satiated in her life!

A couple comfortably enjoying a caffe on a bench in the piazza

Bye, bye Norcia. We will be rooting for you!