Category Archives: shopping

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.

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.

Unmistakably Autumn

Well, it’s official. It is suddenly Fall. Temperatures still rise to low 70s in the afternoon but as soon as the sun sets it is decidedly chilly. This is the time of year I have a hard time deciding what to wear. Inside the house is colder than outside so I tend to overdress. This is not a problem for Italians who dress to the calendar, not the temperature. So already they are wearing puffy winter coats and scarves. And I’m in a T-shirt.

And it is time to wrap up the corn saga. As you may recall, I planted corn in containers on my terrazzo and also in a friends garden. We had the hottest summer on record and consequently only a little of the corn plumped up and was edible. I believe I harvested 11 ears. And they were wonderful. The container corn was not a success at all. It tassled and had small ears that never matured. So here is our final goodbye to the 2017 corn project. Next year!

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And the foods in our markets are changing rapidly. Gone are the tomatoes…sniff. And the melons. But we still have mounds of just ripe peppers to include the picante types. And we still have zucchini. The sweet, tiny ripe grapes from the fields nearby have just come in. And the pumpkins and winter squash have arrived as well.

Recently I did an interview with a writer for International Living. She’s writing an article about retiring and the differences in prices people can expect between Umbria and the US. I was happy to oblige. One misconception is that we have to pay more to eat local and in season here. I remember visiting the farmers markets in Virginia and paying top dollar for the products. Not so here. If you buy seasonally, when the vegetables and fruits are at their peak and bountiful, you pay the least because there IS such bounty. And I am definitely a person who cooks and cares to eat good tasting food which is in season. I spend around 8€ ($9) for a big grocery bag of fresh produce.

Winter squash is so seasonal.
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Almost too pretty to eat. Looks like sculpture!
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The citrus has arrived. It will get better as we go through the winter.
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Last of the Borlotti beans and eggplant. The eggplant is scrawny.
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And the pears are plentiful and luscious.
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The Wednesday market is very different than the Saturday one. The Wednesday market is mostly the big vendors who go from market to market in the different towns each day (for instance Città di Castello is Thursday, Gubbio is Tuesday). Their produce is not necessarily local. I believe they DO buy local when they have the chance but most of the food comes from the south of Italy and Sicily. Still local to this country but… And you can get things from them earlier than when they are coming into season here. You can also get tomatoes all year, from Sicily, but I don’t care for them. There are one or two locals who come to both Wednesday and Saturday markets. Now, the Saturday market is only very local products from nearby farms. Thus you really do eat only what is in in season nearby. Winter can be pretty sparse in this one.

Greens are what is growing around here.
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And cauliflower…
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And Cabbage…
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And I thought I would plant some fall things this year. I got a few lettuce plants and four petunias. I think the petunias may last the winter. And we shall see how the lettuce does.
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petunia

lettuce

Observations

Ciao a tutti! I am passing along some observations I’ve made about products here in Italy. They are just little, everyday type things that I’ve noticed. My point today…everything here is flimsier than the same product I am used to in the US. Here are just a few things that I’ve noticed.

Cardboard boxes of wraps…like Saran Wrap, aluminum foil, etc. are very flimsy. The box itself is made of the thinnest cardboard. This makes it nearly impossible to tear off the wrap. You end up crushing the box in the process. I have an American Glad Wrap box that I just put the Italian product in. It has held up for two years! (I guess it is getting a little worn out, still better than the Italian box)
gladwrap

Then there is the wrap itself. Aluminum foil is the worst. You can’t put it in a pan without poking a hole through it! And don’t ever try to wrap anything in it. This is one of the items I bring from the US when I go back. Good old Reynolds foil.

Note the thinness of the foil and the flimsiness of the box.
aluminumfoil

Plastic water bottles are made of such thin plastic that you can crush them into a ball with no effort. I’ve tried with water bottles in the States and couldn’t do that. In fact all plastic bottles are this way here. My lime juice bottle is permanently crushed from squeezing. My sunflower oil bottle has dimples from just holding it. Maybe this is environmentally friendly because less plastic is used?
water_bottles
lime

You know those little twist ties you close bags with? Well, the ones here have such a small filament of wire in them that they won’t even stay bent. They are useless. I save my old ones and use them over and over. The white one is the Italian one. The black is one I brought along from the US.
twistties

Something else I use over and over. Ziplock bags. I wash them and hang to dry and reuse. This is because we can’t get them here. Also, it is ecologically friendly.

Just little differences I thought would be fun to mention!

Kilometer zero market

Beautiful weather has brought EVERYONE outside for the Kilometer zero market. I’ve mentioned it before but to explain again, it is a market of only local and self producing or growing vendors. Diverse but much smaller than the Wednesday market. I bought a jar of tiny preserved artichokes and the nice lady gave a jar of asparagus paste to put on bread, fish, chicken, just about anything. I also browsed through all the stands, thoroughly enjoying the scene.

Items for sale by the nice Senora
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The local Alpaca farm called Maridana Alpaca brought in their wares. All natural colors of the Alpacas.
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The baker from Citta di Castello is always at this market with pizza bread, focaccia, breads, donuts(!) and sweets.bread

Next weekend is Pasqua which is Easter. Everywhere you go there are small to giant chocolate eggs and specialized cakes and biscotti. This is a cake all wrapped up and ready to go! Today is Palm Sunday and I was treated to a lovely bell serenade from the big bells in the old church on the Piazza. They are wonderful.easter_cake

This is my favorite greens and vegetable man. He also sells herbs and plants for the garden.greens

Local honey and products of the bees.honey

Black kale is what the sign says but I’ve never seen any like this before. I didn’t buy it. I think you’d prepare it like any cavolo nero.
kale

And here is the Slow Food booth. They had all sorts of free food for the taking. I tried that square cake. It was apple and super moist.   slow_food

Anyway, that was my day at the market. And later that afternoon me made the Passagiata (stroll through town) along with a bazillion Italians. Then sat in Bar Mary to have an aperitivo and watch the action. We are happy it’s spring!

Gorgeous Saturday

We are just back from a three night trip to Torino (Turin). I will post about it soon. But today we are just enjoying this beautiful spring weather. Everyone is out and about and Umbertide is coming alive after the long hibernation. I bought some more asparagus today. This time it is wild asparagus that people around here go out in the fields and woods and forage. I am looking forward to trying it tonight.  I am now using my new Canon EOS 100D camera. Takes nice pictures! Click to see larger versions.

asparagus2

I also got a tip from a friend about a butcher I had never tried. I don’t know why I hadn’t as it is very close to us. Perhaps because there is a large butcher just before you get to it that I always went to to buy our meat. This butcher shop is quite small. The selection is different too. They always stock Pork Belly or Pancetta in big slabs. I got to try it recently and it was melt in your mouth good with great cracklin’ skin. They also always have lamb and of course beef and chicken. I decided on a pork leg and first seared in the oven, then slow cooked it. We will eat it tonight.

suino_legpork

This time of year is artichoke season. I do love them. But I don’t buy them like the Italians do! they get dozens at a time! Goodness knows what they do to them. I’d like to know!artichokes

And these are the beautiful “famous onions of Canarra”. They are very sweet. Two people come with their van every week. A very old man and a young man who must be his grandson. They are very nice and I always tell them buongiorno even if I’m not buying that day. The onions are beautifully braided. I buy whole ropes of them. They are perfect on salads and roasted. They also caramelize like a dream.onions

This is the old man. I’m sorry his face is in shadow. It was a very sunny day. His grandson is in the van behind him braiding more onions.

old onion aguy

US wedding, addendum

I forgot a big part of my trip. I forgot to say I got to visit my sister…twice! Once for dinner and the second an overnight and dinner at their house in Wintergreen.

It was a pretty easy and very beautiful drive from Hot Springs to Wintergreen. We went up the Maury River gorge. Gorgeous! But the prettiest part was Route 56 up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. That road has many hickory trees and maples. They were at their peak color and it was breathtaking. Brilliant golds, yellows, and reds. The parkway was pretty too and surprisingly nearly empty on a Sunday.

We had lunch at Devil’s Backbone, a brewery we all like and she made a delicious chili for dinner. When we left the next morning I had packed up the numerous things I had ordered and had sent to her house. Thank you Cindy! We stopped on the way to the airport and bought some hard to impossible to find items from the grocery store…zip-locks and Aluminum foil (natch), cranberries for Thanksgiving, brown sugar, cocoa powder, oh and Grape Nuts (I had been craving them). Our suitcases overflowed.

Ceramic table arrived!

Yesterday was Venerdi Santo or Good Friday. You may remember we purchased a ceramic table top in Deruta, world famous for it’s ceramics. We have been dealing with Ceramiche Artistiche Gialletti Giulio. They are friendly, helpful, and seem to treat us fairly on cost. In February I ordered a 100 cm table top and iron base. They promised to get it to me by the end of March before my sister visits. They got close. April 3 they delivered it. It was only one person, Michele whom we deal with and he asked Luther to help bring it up the stairs. It weighed around 70 Kilos so it was HEAVY. All is well. It looks beautiful on our patio!

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Close up of the artists work.
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Last night was the Good Friday Fish Evening at Calagrana. They had a packed house. I think everyone there was British. That is the one disadvantage of Calagrana. But Ely is British and her husband is Italian. I believe Ely is the one who dreams up the dishes and Alberto makes them. They are a pretty good team.

Here is what we had.
First course was Spicy fish cakes served with garlic dip. Forgot to take a picture. It was fairly spicy and I would have liked more of the garlic dip.

Next was Prawn and aubergine Millefoglie. The eggplant was like potato chips! Really crunchy and the prawns were sweet. My favorite dish of the evening.
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Then we had Creamy risotto Frutti di mare. Perfectly cooked, crunchy arborio rice and mixed seafood to include mussels, shrimp and squid. High on my like list.
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Next was the main or Secundi. This was a Mixed grilled fish. By this time I was pretty full. It was not a really exciting dish either. But the fish was well prepared.
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Finally dessert of Panna cotta of white chocolate and raspberries on a crumble base. Very good even after all that food. A fun evening.
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We got back and the streets were crowded with the faithful who had just finished carrying Christ around town. I went into the church before we left for dinner and saw the “coffin” type wooden box with a glass top inside of which was Jesus. There were poles that stuck out of the ends for carrying. Interesting.

Hot peppers! Found!

After our Italian class on Thursday I talked everyone into going to Arezzo to a food store I had been wanting to visit called Essalunga that I learned about in one of the groups I am member of called Italian Reflections Group. A great group of folks with all kinds of good information for Expats in Italy. Since we were already in Citta di Castello for our class it wasn’t too far away. Off we went. The store is just off the highway that goes past Arezzo and is huge and very modern and new looking with big wide aisles. We had fun looking at all the wares and sure enough they had a lot of things I have not found here like fresh hot peppers. We also found some lovely tuna steaks (ate them last night!), salmon filets and other unusual spices. Here are my peppers! I will freeze them until I need them.

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After our shopping trip it was time for lunch. Arezzo is nice in that it has lots of parking lots one of which Susan and Gary told us about which always has spots and also has escalators up to the town. We had picked a possible restaurant called Ristorante Chiavi d’Oro. Golden keys restaurant. It was on Piazza San Francesco which was a straight walk across the centro. It is a lovely city with lots of shops, art galleries etc. I need to come back for more than lunch someday!

Our lunch was very good. There was a tiny menu with about 6 items in each category, antipasti, primi, secundi. Susan got the most scrumptious flan made of Gorgonzola and so light and airy. I got the salmon tartar. Here are pictures.

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Susan and Gary had pastas and Luther and I got the rabbit. All were good. We agreed we would go back.

Today is a beautiful, very spring-like day. Probably about 60 degrees F. The sky is blue. We decided to go to Marsciano to buy outside chairs. There is a factory outlet for a store called EMU which sells all outside furniture. We bought 4 pretty metal chairs in a orangy-yellow color. I hope they look good with our table when it arrives.

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We bought a nice steak at the store and I will grill it tonight since it is so nice out.

Ciao a tutti!

Sunny market day and…

Today is a sunny, cold Wednesday and the market is in full swing. I can never resist a picture of the brilliantly colorful produce. I plan to try a recipe for cuttlefish tonight so I’ll be visiting the fish people.

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Since my last post I made a BIG list of things we need to get done. Here it is:

  1. Order screens for windows
  2. Go to Tiziano and order guest room furniture
  3. Go to Leroy and Merlin to get things for the guest bath
  4. Call TV guy about missing connections (AGAIN)
  5. Go to Deruta to order an outside table
  6. Pay TV tax
  7. Renew Permesso di Sogorni
  8. Take Permesso receipt to health department
  9. Call for Stranieri class
  10. Go to EMU to order outside chairs
  11. Go to initial doctor appointment
  12. Schedule MRI
  13. Look into fireplace doors
  14. Look into awning for terrace
  15. Buy pots for terrace
  16. Go to Essalunga in Arezzo

So far we’ve worked our way from 1 to 7. But those were pretty significant things.

The window screens needed to be ordered because before we know it, it will be warm and we’ll want to open windows. We don’t want the cats to fall to their deaths so screens are necessary. A window screen is called zanzariera in Italian after the word for mosquito or zanzara. I like that. And I like that the word zanzara kind of sounds like a mosquito does.

Getting ready for our first guests (MY SISTER!) so items 2 and 3 need to be done before April. We ordered a dresser, wardrobe and bedside tables from Signore Tiziano which should be here in a couple of weeks. And we got items for the guest bath.

We went to our favorite ceramic shop in Deruta Ceramiche Artistiche Gialletti Giulio. We ordered a 100cm ceramic table-top and base. They should be ready to be delivered by the end of March.

We did pay our TV tax so we don’t get fined. And we did call the TV guy again. This is because they didn’t have cables to hook the speakers up to the TV when they delivered them way back in December. We’ve been trying ever since to get this finished. Frustrating.

We applied for our renewal for the Permessi. We went for two years this time. We have our appointment for March 3 at the Questura. We’ll see how long it takes this time.

The other items are not quite as pressing. We definately need an appointment to attend the Stranieri class in Perugia. It is a requirement to be able to stay in Italy so important. We need to do it before June. We also have to take the Permessi receipts to the Health dept before June when our insurance runs out. And we’ll need to get outside chairs before April. Doctor stuff can’t be put off for too long. Pots for the terrace need to be done before springtime planting. The fireplace and awning are less time sensitive. Essalunga is the last supermarket that I have on my list to visit to look for exotic things. The nearest one is in Arezzo – about an hour from here.

We also went over to Emanuele’s office and picked up our new carpet for the office. It was not an expensive carpet but it looks nice. Last item we have to buy now is a sofa bed for this room. The only thing is that we have to be SURE that whatever we buy can fit up the stairs into the apartment. Remember the table!!

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