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White Roads…and wine!

We are just back from a fun quick trip to Montalcino in Toscana. This town/area is famous for the Brunello di Montalcino, a wine from just this small area of the world. And, of course, very famous and it draws many visitors. That said, the town of Montalcino was a nice hill-town. It had its share of tourists (mostly American) but seemed to have it’s own life and locals living their lives within the walls. I read a book called “Vanilla Beans and Brodo” about life in this town. Pretty good for Italy fans.

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We visited two wineries on the way. Little did we know almost all the wineries in this area are on White Roads. These are gravel roads that are not meant for a car like ours. We also should have called for appointments. The first one, Innocenti the person was not there until afternoon. But along this White Road I snapped some spectacular pictures. The day was just perfect. Look at that sky!
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We visited Sasso di Sole winery on the way back down the white road. Their wine was pretty good. We bought some. The nice woman there recommended a restaurant down the road a bit. It was in a spa, or hot spring town called Bagno Vingnoni. It was lovely. The main part of the little town surrounds the walled in spring which is where the main, hot spring surges up from underground. You can see the bubbles roiling the water. Surrounding this area are restaurants and spa buildings. We visited Il Loggiato and had a very tasty hamburger of Chianina beef, the famous white cattle of Tuscany. Perfect lunch outside under blue skies. Nice. I would never have known to go here! Very below the radar.

This is the penned up spring.
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Water really bubbles up from below.dsc06452

My burger. Unconventional bun with olive oil, But why not!?  dsc06454
After the spring bubbles up it flows underground and out into spillways where people sun bathe and soak for free.  dsc06459

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Finally flows into this river.
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Water running down the wall for probably centuries has built up quite a mineral deposit.
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We returned to Innocenti and this time we got to try their wines. Nice man. I was amused by the fact that he asked us after the wine tasting if we wanted to taste the olive oil. I said I preferred Umbrian oil so no thank you. Well after we had purchased some wine he brought out a bottle of the oil and gave it to me as a “gift”. Ha. I guess he was miffed at my comment and was going to try to get me to change my mind about my preference. Sweet.

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We arrived in Montalcino in late afternoon. We stayed in a hotel on the edge of town which advertised “free parking”. We drove the Porsche and when the proprietor saw it he said maybe we shouldn’t try to drive to his parking. Turns out the road had been badly washed out and a car like ours had a VERY hard time getting down it. We did but it was not pretty. We did drag the undercarriage a few times. The hotel was quite nice called Vecchia Oliviera. The proprietor was nice. Rooms very spacious with really pretty views. Not many people were staying there. We could easily walk to everything in town.

Misty morning view from our room.
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That evening we walked up into town to a restaurant called Drogheria Franci where we had a good meal which was not traditional Tuscan. A little more innovative than one would expect. The town of Montalcino is not very big but on a hill. At the top was the Fortress. We were near this.

Next day we were off on quests for more wine. We were off on yet another White Road! After 3 or 4 kilometers we finally got there. This one was called Fattoi. A nice young girl gave us a tasting (it was 10 am!). We bought some wine and headed out to find more. The countryside in this part of Tuscany is extremely diverse. It ranges from verdant wine areas to barren wasteland. I do not know why this is.

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We were unsuccessful in finding our next winery. It seemed to be on a White Road that was impassable without a 4 wheel drive. Resigned, we returned to Montalcino. We visited an enoteca which was also a restaurant. It filled up quickly and I only heard American voices. The lunch was quite good and the views were killer across the valley. Back to our room for a nap.

Lunch.
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That evening we had reservations at Osteria di Porta al Cassero. It was up near the Fortress. Food more traditional Tuscan. Very nice place.

All in all a nice getaway. I am a little tired of traveling and am looking forward to staying home for a couple of weeks.

My sisters visit and a trip report

I was so happy Cindy, my sister, and her husband Bill could come to visit for almost 2 weeks! We picked them up in Rome at the airport and they came back with us to Umbria for a few days. The weather was quite nice. Not too hot and sunny all the time.

The first day we visited Spoleto. Cindy and Bill had never been there. It is a lovely old place and is known for it’s jazz festival in the summer. It was nice that the city has a system of escalators that take you to different levels in the city to include the top where the fortress is. We visited the fortress and the aqueduct. Here are a couple of pictures.

The aqueduct. Due to the recent earthquake here in Umbria you couldn’t walk acrosss it anymore. They will assess it to decide if it is safe.
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Inside and outside of the fortress
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The second day we visited Todi. It is a beautiful hill town south of us. Very picturesque. This was good because my sis had gotten a new gigantic camera and lenses. She did a LOT of picture taking. We had a really nice lunch at Ristoranti Umbria, a very traditional Umbrian place. We have been there several times ourselves but not with Cindy and Bill. They have a beautiful outside terrace with major views.

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Just one of the dishes we had.
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Street scenes.
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We spent Wednesday enjoying the market and shopping. We had lunch with friends up in Montone.

The next day was a travel day for us all. We took the train from Foligno to Rome Termini and from there took the FrecciaRossa, the fast luxury train to Naples. Here was where it got interesting. We rented a car (!) and drove out of the city. I have to hand it to Luther, he was masterful. You have to be both careful and aggressive. There are no real traffic signals or signs anywhere. It is every man for himself. We exited the garage and immediately entered an enormous stream of cars probably 5 lanes across…not that there are actual lanes mind you. We had to get from the right side to the left across this mess. There were cars, vespas and buses. We clipped a bus with our mirror as it tried to cut us off. Luther swerved and jumped in front. Bravo! Cindy said she totally “got” why we didn’t want to drive our car down there. It took over an hour to get out of town! We finally managed it and headed for Positano, stopping on the way for supplies. Then for the second part of the driving adventure(?) – the Amalfi coastal drive. Downright terrifying. We managed to get to Positano and find the parking lot and meet up with the nice lady letting us in, and showing us around our rented apartment. It was up about 95 steps of varying heights and depths. All carrying our luggage and our groceries. Whew!

Well it was nice to get there and kick back for a bit. We were situated very high up and were across from another hillside. Positano is a town built up the three hills with ravines in between them. We also had a sea view if not as expansive as we had hoped. Here are a couple of pics from the terrace.
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dsc06212Sea view.

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Pretty magical at night.
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See that little restaurant right at the bottom? Every night they played jazz or schlocky Italian music. It wafted up to us. In fact the whole street scene on the other side was like being in Rear Windows. It was cool.
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The bad thing was that we took our landlady’s advice to walk to the restaurant on the beach. Since we had just gotten there we had no idea how far down it was. Well let me tell you, it was VERY FAR down!! And once there, neither the food, nor the service was good. One thing I’ll mention here. Every so often we run into a restaurant, mostly in a tourist area, that will tell us the service is not included. Of course they always know we are American so are scamming us since we are used to tipping. That said, the service charge is ALWAYS included. And the wait staff do not work for tips. They are paid a decent wage, unlike servers in the US. So DO NOT fall for this scam. If you really like the service then leave a small tip or round up the check. This restaurant told us this when we were seated. It always leaves a bad taste in my mouth…but the food wasn’t so good either! TripAdvisor heard from me on this one. The next bad thing is we had to get BACK to our apartment. We decided to count the steps. We stopped every 100 steps to catch our breaths. It was 522 steps(!) a LOT of steps. After this miss-adventure we always walked down the road. MUCH easier!

The first day there we went to Pompeii. We drove and it was OK. It was a zoo. So many people and tours. The tour guides talked over each other and you couldn’t hear. It was hot. Last time I was there 20 years ago it was totally empty. We practically had it to ourselves. What a difference. I am finding this to be the case at all tourist places here. It was not the best experience but Cindy an Bill got to see it. Just a couple of pictures of the many I took.

One of the mosaics in a villa.
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The forum.
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The hot baths. This where they heated water and steam was.
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Poignant dog. At Pompeii when they found a hollow area in the solidified dust they pumped in plaster to make casts of the bodies of people who had died and been buried. This was a dog who had been chained up. He died a ghastly death.
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We had a surprisingly good lunch at a Pizza place right outside the ruins. The pizza was from a wood fired oven and we sat in a pleasant outside terrace. The best part was they validated our parking!

The following day we had decided to take the boat to Capri. It was a lovely trip. Took 30 minutes. Pretty coastal views.

Positano cascading down the hill
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Positano
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The cliffs. Click on this picture and look closely…right in the center there is a tour bus parked up on the Amalfi Coast drive. This should give you an idea of the drive and how scary it is…especially when you come face to face with an enormous bus on a curve…yikes!
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Capri was, again, a madhouse. Jammed with day trippers (like us). From where the boats let you off you have a choice of taking the Funicular or a taxi. There was a total mob scene at the Funicular so we grabbed a taxi. TOTALLY worth it. And they are all convertibles! Nice! We wandered the streets, taking pictures, stopped at a cafe in the main square for a drink and people watching, and picked out a restaurant.

When we arrived in the port we were impressed with a five masted ship. One of the WindStar cruise fleet called the WindSurf. Beautiful!
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View of the harbor from Capri Town.
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A couple of the street scenes. Pretty.
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And it would not be complete without a couple of food pictures!
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The next day we decided to treat ourselves with a day spent in our town of Positano. I should mention the weather has been TERRIFIC! We wandered around town. Visited the two art museums. Walked along the beach. Stopped for a drink on the terrace of the Palazzo Murat. I should mention that Luther and I stayed here 20 years ago on our own trip to Positano. It was beautiful with it’s own lemon grove, which is, sadly, gone now. The place is much fancier that when we were here but it is the best location in town!

These next three are of the Palazzo Murat’s terrace.
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When you drink wine they bring a lovely tray of goodies.
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This is the view of the beach from our choice for lunch. It was a very nice place with good food. A bit pricey but it kept the crowds away!
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The food was so good I had to include the picture of my dish. The pasta was very obviously house made and perfectly al dente. The seafood was exquisite. May have been my favorite meal.
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This is the church dome from on the way back to our apartment.
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Next day we were off in the car to Paestum. Only bad thing it was about 2 1/2 hours south and it meant we had to drive the entire Amalfi coast drive. Cindy and Bill got to see it anyway. It was stressful on our driver. Paestum was a Greek settlement from around 600 BC. It is one of the best preserved examples of the temples they built, the town around them, etc.

First is the Temple of Ceres. Originally dedicated to Athena. It was built in the 6th century BC.
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We walked the length of the town and marveled at the road. Reminiscent of the roads in Pompeii.
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Arch into the amphitheater. Again, reminiscent of Pompeii. They built in a honey comb pattern and combined different materials. Here, stone and brick. Amazing after all these years.
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Next is the temple of Neptune dating from 450 BC. I was trying to capture the scale of these columns! They are massive!
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Same temple and the best preserved one with several sets of colonnades. Two would have been inside the temple, the others are the outside ones.
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Finally the Temple to goddess Hera. It is the oldest surviving monument dating from the middle of the 6th century BC. It has 9 columns across and 18 along the sides.
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Cindy wanted a picture of the final of the 95 steps leading up to our apartment. Every one was a different height and width.dsc06408

We left Positano the next day, heading for Rome and the airport. We stopped along the way at Herculaneum or Ercolano. This is another of the four towns destroyed during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. I had always wanted to see it. Happily it was not as crowded as Pompeii. It was destroyed by pyroclastic flows which preserved it perfectly even down to the carbonized wood. It was buried under 20 meters (60 feet) of ash. The pyroclastic surge formed by ash and hot gases and moving at 100 MPH buried the city. In Pompeii heat was the main cause of death. I took a lot of pictures. Here are a few.

View from ground level. See how deep it was buried? And see what is looming in the background? Yes, Vesuvius.
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Example of a balcony of wood. It is carbonized black but still standing.
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The town streets.
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Interior of the mens bath. This was a shelf where they could put their sandals and tunics before going into the baths.
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Also the baths with mosaic floor.
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This was a very wealthy seacoast town. Much richer than Pompeii. They lived very well. This is an atrium open to the sky with a rain water basin in the center. The mosaics were deformed by the seismic activity before the eruption.
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Throughout the town were fast food stores. The clay basins were kept warm with fires underneath and each had a different dish.
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It was thought until very recently that the town was evacuated because the actual eruption took place the day before and Herculaneum was not destroyed until the massive column of ash collapsed the next day. But now they have found 300 skeletons at what was once the sea shore. They had all fled there only to be buried. I felt a bit voyeuristic taking these photos.
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Sadly Cindy and Bill left the next day after we spent the night in Fiumicino and had a nice seafood dinner. Happy trails!

So, you decided to move to Italy…

I just put up a page, accessible from the top navigation, with a summary of information about moving and living in Italy. It is called “So you’ve decided to move to Italy”. I will constantly update it with things I learn that I think will be useful. Go to the page here.

Our third Otto Cento

It was a success! There were fire eaters, dancers, music, burlesque, beautiful stilt dancers, costumes. We had some friends come and have dinner with us Friday night. We joined in the merriment and were serenaded by the Briganti. Speaking of which, they got up to their usual antics on Saturday when they took over the town. This year they had a “christmas” theme. If you look back over my previous Otto Cento posts you will see they are very naughty boys.

An antique cycle. It was a cycle inside a big wheel with what looked like training wheels.
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The decorated town.
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The “christmas” tree. Look closely.
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Victory flag.
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Umbertide doings…

A couple of things going on here. First is the week-long Pitulum music festival. Everynight we are serinaded by an orchestra or band. All are different. Thursday was the Madonna del Rega holiday, which is an Umbertide holiday. They had a procession through town on Wednesday night and church services on Thursday. On this day, since it is a special Umbertide day, the orchestra is the local Umbertide one. It draws quite a crowd!
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Then, yesterday, I kept hearing applause and went to investigate. Looking out the window I see it is a wedding. But I could not find the bride. Then I realized it was two men. Our first same sex union here in Umbertide! It was just legalized here in Italy a few months ago. Handsome couple. And congratulations to them!
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Starting this coming Thursday is our Otto Cento festival. It will be my third. I will not be here to photograph the antics of the Briganti as I have the last two years. My sister is arriving early Sunday morning and we will pick her and her husband in Rome.

Our company has gone :-(

Well we had a terrific visit with Lenny and Mary. They arrived a bit late for lunch and we had Pasta Amitriciana for dinner. Little did we know then that the small town, Amitrice, where that pasta was invented was to be mostly destroyed by an earthquake just a few days later. We were awakened by our beds shaking in the night.

On Sunday we had been invited to a pre-wedding celebration lunch at Calagrana and we figured Lenny and Mary, being fun-loving folks wouldn’t mind going. The day was beautiful and we drove up to Citta di Castello beforehand for some photos. There must have been 25 people there and Tom and Carol, the honorees, were late. By the time they arrived the Prosecco had been freely flowing and most were buzzed a bit. That was OK, it was a celebration. The food was good and the people nice and there was even dancing.

On Monday we went to Gubbio. It is such a gorgeous medieval city. One of the best in Italy.

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It is difficult to reach by public transportation so not as crowded as most towns around. Lenny snapped away. He is a big photographer. We also both bought lovely Etruscan style pottery. Mary and Lenny got a pitcher with pretty gold etching. Very elegant. I went with more austere – I was drawn to the shape of this one.

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Afterwards we drove to Montone to Erbe Luna for lunch outside. It was very breezy all day and quite pleasant.

Tuesday we drove to Assisi. Of course it was very crowded, being August and such a sacred site. I tried to hurry us along to the Basilica because they now have a metal detector you have to go through. I knew the line could be long. We didn’t get there quite as fast as I tried to but it was only about a 20 minute wait. Next visit, if it’s in the summer, I will insist we walk quickly through town, see the Basilica and then shop and photo to our hearts content afterwards. That said, by the time we left the churches the line was amazing! It was probably at least an hour wait…and in the hot sun too. We had lunch at Piazetta del Erbe. We had been before and very much like it. They didn’t have our reservation for some reason, but were sweet and set up a table in the shade for us. Here is my food, grilled octopus in a lime mayo and seared tuna on a caviar base. The octopus was tender with the tips crunchy from the grill. Yum!

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On Wednesday we visited our market and picked up stuff for dinner. Then headed to Tiberini for a wine tasting. We had to insert ourselves into a group of ten so it wasn’t as nice as usual. Then we headed to Montefalco for lunch at L’Alchemista. Good as always and sat outside in the Piazza. Next up shopping! We went to Deruta where we bought pottery. Here is my new bowl. I love the vibrant colors and the handles!
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Alas, Thursday arrived and we took our guests to the train station to head down to Rome. It had been a fun trip which could have turned out badly as JUST before they came we decided to get the car all cleaned up. Nice of us huh? But it turned into a fateful encounter with the washing machine which pulled the entire nose piece of our car off. One side hung down onto the floor. GEEZ. Well we tied it up with a bit of string and went to our auto-body guy. He proceeded to put in bigger screws and managed to secure it. All you could see were a couple of scratches. We did order a new part but this worked for taking the four of us around. We have no idea what we would have done if not for this quick fix. Thank you Senore Auto Body guy!

On Monday we are off to Portugal – Rome to Lisbon RyanAir – to re-connect with our Australian friends. We will drive to the villa they rented and spend three nights and then drive to Lisbon for three nights. We have never been to Portugal and it’s been on our bucket list for a long time.

Wending our way through August

We are having spectacular weather. Highs in the 80s and cool at night. We have been enjoying it with the occasional Gelato or Aperol Spritz. Last weekend we had the local Vespa club arrive in all their thundering glory.

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We also had a great time creating and attending a BBQ at an Agriturismo of friends, Simone and Simona. They are from Milan and now living rough, off the grid on the old family farm of Simone. It was abandoned for many years and they have spent years working mostly on their own to make it into holiday apartments. They first fixed up the old barn for themselves. And have spent a LOT of time just on the structure of the old buildings. It is in an earthquake zone so there are lots of rules for stabilizing and protecting everything. They are now getting ready to finish the first apartment inside. Here are some pictures.

This is the main building. Underneath are the large, airy barns where the animals used to live.DSC05939

The views are nothing short of spectacular. They are very high on a ridge. The electric grid stops before their property. They use mostly solar and batteries.DSC05945

The picturesque old chimneys. I love these. They are all over our part of Italy.
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The BBQ grill with Fabio and Gary.
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I had initially invited everyone to our house and was going to make the ribs. But Simona wanted us all to come there. So I got up early to prepare the ribs. I wanted it to be all American so I brought spicy guacamole, spicy salsa with the wonderful tomatoes we have now, and my moms potato salad. We found tortilla chips in the store! Everyone was open to the experience and had fun. We also had great, grilled vegetables, and one of their chickens. He was supposed to be grilled but he was deemed too tough so he was stewed. Dessert was a very light cheesecake and cool watermelon. What could be more perfect?

Random scenes. Here is the wind ruffled Tiber one afternoon.
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I found CORN!! it is one of the things I miss most about the US. Summer, sweet corn. Alas, it was not to be. Tough as an old shoe. Horses probably wouldn’t touch it! BUT the good news is that I have started volunteering at the Books for Dogs booth at the market. It is run by mostly British women. They take donated books and DVDs and sell them to support several dog sanctuaries. Anyway, one of the ladies also bought corn. Later I asked her if we could plant a few rows next year in her garden. So MAYBE next year we will be able to taste that sweet summer corn!DSC05935

Impending storm.
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Volunteer sunflower against a blue sky.
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The placid river in morning.
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Here is a spider who has caught a tasty fly on our pepper plants. If you click you can even see the spiders little face. It looks so much like a human face.
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Finally, we are looking forward to welcoming our next guests, Mary and Lenny! Their first trip to Italy and great old friends of ours. They will be with us for five nights and we will do some lunches, markets, wine tastings and sightseeing. Stay tuned…

Fun stuff since we got home!

Last Wednesday we were invited to a dinner at the frontaio or olive mill where our friend Fabio gets his olives pressed. It is owned by Roberto who is a very sociable character with aspirations of having a restaurant in his mill. This turned out to be an eight course death by food extravaganza. I tried to pace myself, I really did! But I just couldn’t make it. I could not eat the last three courses. Everything was good and being in the midst of a bazillion chattering Italians was amusing as usual.

Last Saturday there was a free concert in the Piazza called Mozart on the Piazza. It was a pretty night and we enjoyed the music. They performed Concerto per clarinetto di Mozart. Finally on Sunday we went to Calagrana for their annual barbecue. They get real Maine lobsters and T-bones and grill them outside. There were a ton of people for this crowd-pleaser.

We have just entered augusto. That means everything stops for … Vacation! In Italy even government offices and utility companies close for the month. It is one reason we’ve been rushing to get the chores done this week! The actual holiday is kicked off on August 15 and is called Feragosto. But the whole month is pretty much shot for getting anything done.

Our weather is hot but not oppressive. Good summertime weather. We still do shutter and window management but the nights cool off nicely so good sleeping weather.

Chores since we got home

Since we got home from our excellent adventure to Poland we had a multitude of things to do piled up on our plate. So last week was again spent battling the Italian bureaucracy.

Our new bank account was not linking to our online user name and we had bills due. After visiting the bank several times we finally got that taken care of. It was a multi-step process but we feel good that we are no longer being charged exorbitant fees because we are stranieri. And I paid our overdue bills!

We picked up a package at the post office that was delivered while we were gone. And we mailed a box to the US.

Then we visited the Questura to pick up our third Permissi di Soggiorno. Hard to believe we are in our third year here. Our appointment fell during our trip but that worked out OK as they take walk ins from 12:00 to 1:00. I really like the officer who gives them to us. He is super nice and friendly. I am glad of this as I’ve heard some horror stories from other people especially in the big cities. I guess that’s a perk to living in the boondocks!

We then had to visit the Large Lady at the health department to get our coverage extended now that we have the new Permessi.

On Thursday we visited our accountant here to see about our Italian taxes. This has unexpectedly become very difficult. She obviously is not used to dealing with American taxes. We are working on it.

Enough of the chores! We had a great time on Saturday night a week ago watching Raucous Rossini. They did a cute little opera called Il Signor Bruschino. It was performed in Umbertide’s nice theater. Small but with three stories of box seats plus the orchestra seats. Pretty good for a small town like Umbertide.

Wildlife on the upper Tiber!

Today, walking across the bridge over the Tiber River, we were treated to an unexpected wildlife show. First we saw a water turtle swimming slowly near the bank. We were surprised as we had never before seen a turtle in the Tiber. Next we spotted a snowy white Little Egret and a Gray Heron fishing along the shore. We noticed several cormorants repeatedly diving for their dinner. And, surprise! A kingfisher darted to catch a small fish and landed on the log to eat. Brilliant blue feathers. After that a pretty moorhen with a bright red head patch swam along the edge near the shore. It was a surprising and very welcome display of diversity where I thought there was none.