Category Archives: everyday life in Umbria

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.

 

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!

Only Wine Festival

Saturday we visited the Only Wine Fest in Citta di Castello. It was a nice day and we got there at 2pm when they opened to beat the crowds. I took a seat and watched the comings and goings focusing on fashion rather than wine.

Tickets sold here. 15 Euro for 5 tastes and a glass. I was kind of amazed that they laid white carpeting on the old stone streets. I wonder what it looked like Sunday after the event.

The fest focus’ on wine produced by young unknown winemakers under 40 years old. This is one of them. I liked his unstudied look.

Lots of Italian guys wear their hair in pony tails.

I liked his stripes!

This young lady obviously knew she has what it takes to catch attention.

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Calagrana welcomes Spring! The Patio is OPEN!

I had the duck. It was delicious.

The duck came with little dumplings and some cool condiments.

A great day to welcome spring. Thanks Ely and Albi!

Around Umbertide

Spring is fully in progress. Today is April 25, Liberation day for Italy and the end of WWII so a national holiday. In Umbertide it is a more somber day. On this day in 1944 the allies bombed the town killing 78 people and destroying about a quarter of the Centro Storico of the town. They were trying to hit the bridge over the Tiber and the railroad to block the retreat of the Germans. They had to try four times before they hit the bridge, meanwhile doing a lot of damage. The sad part is that Perugia knew they were coming an didn’t warn the citizens, who were mostly still asleep in their homes. Had they been warned they may have evacuated. A sad tale. Anyway, they have a Catholic ceremony in Piazza 25 Aprile and the band plays and everyone comes out early in the morning to remember when it happened.

As I was watching from my window the Carabiniere showed up in their shiny black and red car. They are the State Military police whose spiffy uniforms were originally designed by Armani. Anyway, they climbed out of the car and started toward Bar Mary for a caffe but as they walked a woman called out to them and one broke off and went over to her, giving her the double kiss of greeting. I couldn’t help comparing them to our police in the US. Hmmm.
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Yesterday my friend Jen and I went for a little drive around the neighborhood. I took her to one of my favorite places nearby, the Abbey of San Salvatore in Montecorona. The Romanesque church was built with three naves and an octagonal bell tower and was consecrated in 1105. My favorite part of the church is the crypt. It feels very ancient and special. The crypt has five-naves and three apses dominated by roman and old medieval columns, each one different from the other. Check out my pictures.

Row of columns. Note the differences.

I loved this face. Is it a beast? A bull?

In the very front are a row of frescoes. The rest of the crypt is just stone.

The Octagonal tower.

Montecorona is also known for its famous peaches. These trees are just down the road from the church. The church is situated at the foot of Montecorona, a small mountain. On its top is part of the abbey associated with the church. The road itself is the old Roman road that followed the Tiber river valley south. It is very narrow. Barely room for two cars to pass in places.

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On Saturday Luther and I made a nice excursion to Deruta, the famous ceramics town. I have slowly been gathering a six place setting of ceramics. I ordered another set and some salt and pepper shakers. And I bought this pretty little serving plate. It is the pattern that I chose but each place setting is a different color. This time it’s teal. Last time it was navy, and the time before it was a wine red color. See the detail on the serving plate I bought. Every intricate pattern and dot is hand painted. Hence the cost!


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And a mundane issue. My Lavatrice — washer — died last week. So we walked over to our local Formica store. Formica means ant in Italian. No idea why a chain of stores would be called that! Anyway, they had a good selection and we chose a new washer and drier which were delivered and installed the next day. We went back and paid for them after I tried them out. They are so much better than the old ones!

5th Permessi di Soggiorno

Spring at last!
Finally the weather has turned. Temperatures in the low seventies. Still pretty wet with rain often but I can deal with that. More people are out of hibernation. Umbertide is perking up! We even had our inaugural aperol spritz’ last week! Let the season begin!

Last Sunday we met up with some new American friends who live in Passignano over on Lago Trasimeno. Beautiful day. Lots of people out doing activities along the lake front. Sorry I did not bring my camera!
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Permessi…again!
Last week we went to Città di Castello to visit our good friends at the Questura 😉. Actually, now that we are applying for PdS number 5 we do feel like we know the officers there…and they us. They know our names and are very friendly. I know we are lucky here to be dealing with this office in a small town rather than a big city like Florence. There they deal with so many immigrants that they are said to be thoroughly unpleasant and the waits can be horribly long.
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Drivers Licenses
Well, the saga continues. We got a phone call, after all this time, from the nice lady (Sandra) we’ve been dealing with to get our German licenses converted to Italian. Seems our German licenses are so old they are not in the German computer system for them to be converted to Italian. Sandra said they have written and asked that they be entered but nothing ever happens. Sigh. So this coming week we have to visit Sandra to find out what address they used etc. I think it’s worth a try for us to request this ourselves in our most formal, ingratiating German. Nothing ventured, nothing gained I say. Both of our stateside licenses expire this year so we will be unable to rent a car without a valid license. Luther is fine with taking the Italian test. I’m sure he will pass. But I will not have a license once mine is expired which would bother me. I’m hoping we can get a response out of the Deutchers.

Trying to move onward with the knee

One of my posts prompted a comment about recuperation in the US vs Italy. I opined that in the US everything is go, go, go and get well, and back to work. Here it is piano, piano, take it slow, heal, you’ll be fine in good time. So which is better? Hard to say. I’m following instructions and trying not to feel competitive with those who are moving faster than me…after all, whats my hurry? 🙂 piano, piano.

That said I am not really happy with my walking ability. The knee is quite weak with it buckling unexpectedly when I take steps. This makes me less confident in my ability to walk. Other things are going well. The knee bending is very well. Sleeping is easier but I wake a lot when shifting positions and going from bent to straight leg. Next week I plan to go to the local pool with my friend Joanne who will show me the ropes there. Then I can do aqua exercises. I’m told this is an excellent way to work the knee.
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Other than the knee last week I had a unique experience. I had received a letter in the mail with an appointment for my annual mammogram. So we headed to Città di Castello to the hospital. I’d been once before so felt fairly confident going again. I sat at the desk where the woman, in pretty violet scrubs, looked up my records online and nodded to a man, wearing brilliant red scrubs, who came and took me to the scanning room. I had a bad feeling about this. His hame was Marco. He asked a couple of questions and indicated I should take my shirt etc off. Well. I had never had a male mammogram techician before but one has to go with the flow as it were so I did. It wasn’t so bad. I just have to wonder why a man would choose this profession. Yes he gets to see and touch lots of breasts but it is hardly titillating.
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Afterwards we visited one of our butchers. We needed provisions. Then, while Luther parked the car I made a loop through our Kilo zero market. The veggie people have just what is growing nearby. Cabbages…many sorts. Kale. Chard. Spinach. A few root veggies. This is the time of the year when the farmers who lived off of their crops are ready for some spring growth. They have been eating the available greens growing now, supplemented by the preserved bounty from last summer. Nearly gone. The good news is that spring has started to put in a pretty steady appearance. I am starting to look forward to the spring early veggies.
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I’ve also started to clean up our terrace. I bought a nice wood rack for the wood we didn’t use.

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And I’ve been scrubbing the grout and tiles. My pots are being slowly dug up and the old plants relegated to the trash. I will be ready in May when we start to plant again. I am thinking about what to try this year. Always fun to plan! I have lots of pots now since my failed corn adventure last year.

Pasqua Pranzo…Easter Lunch

As anyone knows Easter or Pasqua is a very important day in Italy. And it seems, more for the big lunch that everyone goes out to enjoy together. We had reservations with two other couples at our favorite place, Calagrana. We started our short 15 minute drive and ran into a traffic jam. OK Easter Sunday, 12:45 yes it can be rush hour in Italy…Rushing to lunch that is! And it seemed everyone was headed to a restaurant or someones home.

It was a pretty day in Umbria. Sunny, a little chilly but at least it was not raining. Our lunch was excellent as usual. A real feast. And here is photographic proof!

Table greeted us with a sure sign of spring.
daff

Ravioli with foie gras. Came close to missing this picture!
ravioli

One of the entrees. Lamb porchetta with Yorkshire pudding
lamb

Salmon
salmon

I did NOT like it…. Hah! SO good.
all_gone

Dessert
dessert1

Eggs for on the way home.
eggs

To prove it was a pretty day, here is La Rocca in Umbertide when we returned.
laRocca

Buona Pasqua a Tutti!!

The Deep Freeze…. brrrr

All of Europe is being affected by a Siberian front bringing frigid air where it has no reason to be! This morning I woke to -9C temperatures.
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The photos on the nightly news and of social media of a snow covered Colosseum in Rome are amazing. Mount Vesuvius is snow covered as is Naples. The Italians do not deal well with snow. They only got 2” but it snarled all the trains up for a day and a half and caused all kinds of traffic backups. Amusing for those of us used to “real” snow.
Here is our piddling little bit of snow we woke up to on Sunday.

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Today is market day and I bet a third of our regulars didn’t show up. It’s so cold the produce is freezing and they have to cover it. They have a fire in a barrel to try to warm themselves. And resourceful folks that they are, they are grilling up sausages on the fire!
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Knee replacement update
It is a month from the day I returned home from the hospital. I feel like I’m doing well with the recovery overall. Still not walking except with crutches. My PT guy is encouraging though. I have an appointment at the hospital for an X-ray and consultation with a doctor in a week and a half. I am looking forward to that.

We also found out from a couple of sources that it is important for us to arrange to get all my records from the hospital now or it would be very difficult to do so later. So this is another thing we have to scope out…who do we see…how do we see them? Always something.

Looking forward to springtime. March is around the corner!

Knee surgery scheduled

About 6 months ago, I told you I needed surgery here in Italy. Non-emergency surgery can sometimes be a long wait, as it was in my case. I got a call last week from the hospital…at long last…to schedule my knee replacement surgery. My first appointment was today, for pre-op tests.

Well, I’m back from my tests. It went well for the most part. Ospidale Silvestrini sits commandingly on top of a hill south of Perugia city. It is the University hospital, so a teaching hospital. The hospital is ENORMOUS. And a VERY busy place. We were to go to the Segretario Ortopedica. Luther looked it up and the instructions said to go to a parking lot called Menghini and find a specific door. The place has multiple buildings connected with enclosed walkways. Our building was A, third floor.

It was 7:50am and our appointment was for eight. We got there and saw a door with the correct sign and walked past a whole room of people waiting and down a hall to the Segretario’s office. Asking permission he invited us in. Suddenly, all the people in the waiting room seemed to swarm the room but he told them to wait. Seems he had no appointment for me. But I was lucky, and he was helpful. Once we told him we had a surgery date and he looked in that book and there I was, he moved to fix it. He called down for my blood work and we went down to building P.

It was a pretty long walk. There, room 17, our destination, had an open door. We asked to come in giving our name and they seemed to be expecting us. Again the waiting room was full. I was feeling we were jumping the line! There was a man and a woman there. He took my blood, she did pulse and BP. They gave me a form to fill out with my history and a number and we returned to the waiting room. I filled out the forms and my turn came and I went in to see a young anesthesiologist. He was nice and even tried a little English. He asked questions and answered mine. A little disturbing is that I may get an epidural only along with mega tranquilizers, so not a general. Man! I hope I don’t wake during the operation!

Next we went to radiology and got a number. Everywhere we went was busy but here was the busiest. They are just next to the Pronto Soccorso or emergency room. When I was called I went down and got a chest X-ray first and my knee second. The chest was because I told them I used to smoke when they asked if I had. And how much. But wow, I quit nearly 40 years ago. But still…X-ray. So all was finito and we headed home. It took about 2.5 hours. All in all, I’d say the hospital was as good as anything in the US. This is reassuring. Everyone was very nice, and patient with my Italian. I’m crossing my fingers the intervento will be as good. I am scheduled to go in two weeks for the intervento, or operation.
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My friend Angela here (I grew my corn at her place last summer) has a friend named Quintino. She calls him Quinto. I knew he brought wood to her house to split. He’d also leave it there. So I asked if he’d need a spot of work to bring me wood. Well he did, back in December and he would not take the money I offered! Un regalo, a gift he said. I said no, no carrying it all up here, and believe me, it’s heavy! So I asked Angela about how to pay him and she said block his way and make him take it. I got some more this week and this time I made him take it. He didn’t want to because I was a friend of Angela’s. Now I have way more wood than I need.🙂 oh well. Rocky has decided he LOVES fires. And Quinto even brought me olive wood. He said it was for carne…meat when I cook.

So last night I tried out the olive wood. Smooth bark and small in size, it pops like firecrackers are going off in the house. So far this has not fazed Rocky. I grilled one of the good steaks we get at Etrusco in Bosco, a town south of us. It turned out very good and I had a nice, warm kitchen.