Category Archives: Guests

Fun with friends…old and new

We have had visitors for in the past few weeks and I’ve documented some of our adventures in pictures below.

Our first visitors were new friends. They own a place down in the south of Italy in a small town called Pisticci. They came to Umbertide for a few nights staying in a nearby B&B. We had fun showing them around. Our first lunch at Erba Luna in Montone. We went to Erbe Luna to escape a gaggle of loud Americans. But damned if they didn’t end up with us anyway. Can’t win. But they gave us our most memorable moment when one of them asked if a dish came with a side of spaghetti…must have been Italian Americans…maybe from New Jersey (no offense New Jerseyans). Reminded us of the movie, Big Night.
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Ravioli with tartuffi, truffles…
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Pretty stairs down from the walls above to the outside dining terrace.
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View from Montone toward the Apennines.
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Sunday was a beautiful day to go to Calagrana for Pranzo. Asparagus, poached egg showered with truffles.
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Too pretty to eat Scampi with grilled polenta.
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Such perfect weather. Such a perfect view!
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We went to a couple of wineries for tastings and then to Montefalco to our favorite L’Alchemista. The Giro d’Italia was passing through town that day and they were all decorated in pink flags, bikes, and paraphernalia.

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Ravioli and favas. Spring is the time for fresh favas.
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We had a great time getting to know our new friends and plan to see them again soon.

The next weekend Luther and I decided to go to the Cantine Aperte, or open cellars. Many participating wineries. We chose one in Orvieto. It was a beautiful day but all the places we went to were very crowded.
Our picnic. It was a pretty day.
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Our next guests were very old friends…well not physically old! We’ve known each other since we all lived and worked in Germany 25 years ago.

We visited Montone for lunch and our great Wednesday market. The next day we went to Assisi. Our final day we visited Tabarinni, one of the best wineries in Umbria, lunched in Montefalco and went ceramic shopping in Deruta. Then, on the way to Rome we stopped in Orvieto mainly to see the magnificent Duomo. We had a light lunch of assorted bruschette and meat and cheese plates.

Lunch in Assisi. Another beautiful day.
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The grilled octopus appetizer was amazing.
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As were the pastas.
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We enjoyed our time with our last guests. Talking of old times, eating, drinking and catching up.

The Christmas season

For us it has been a lovely time. We welcomed guests, had a small get together with the guests and friends, a beautiful Open House that we attended, a pizza Christmas Eve with friends, and a lovely Christmas lunch at Joseph and Paul’s house to which we all contributed.

Our friends arrived on December 18. There were three of them, two who live in Doha, Qatar and one in Jersey City, NJ. I know George from when he was a colleague of mine at MITRE Corp in the 1980s. We kept in touch and George and Mary visited us in Germany in the 1990s. Since then we know where each other are but seldom see one another so we were very happy that they got the time to come to Italy for Christmas. I am sure it is very different from Doha!  Warren, their friend from NJ, we had not met but were very happy to make his acquaintance. We only had a short time so we took them to Assisi, which is the top stop in Umbria. It was lovely for Christmas dressed up with many Creche. The Basilica of San Francesco took their breaths away as it always does mine. I was absolutely amazed. When we arrived– We. Were. The. Only. People. In. The. Upper church!! I have been countless times but not in December. Wow. It was a very spiritual experience. We have always jostled with crowds. The vistas from the town, even though the weather was spitting rain, were pretty. We had a special lunch at Piazetta delle Erbe, our favorite restaurant there. It was very good here are a few pictures of the beautifully presented food.

Risotto
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Salmon
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Pork
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The next day we stayed in Umbertide for the morning market. Everyone tried the Porchetta, a local specialty of slow roasted pork with cracklin’. On a roll it makes the perfect breakfast! We perused the produce and checked out the “walmart” come to town with other wares. Afterwards they shopped at Buscatti for Umbrian textiles and the cashmere shop for beautiful fashions from Umbria. I bet many people don’t know Umbria is well known for it’s wonderful cashmere made right here.

We headed to lunch in Montone. a nearby hilltown, at a place called Tipico. Excellent, locally sourced Umbrian dishes. The day was beautiful. Not at all cold and blue skies. The views from Montone are spectacular.

This evening I had invited most of our American neighbors over to meet our guests and have a little refreshment. It was very much fun, I think, for all. Here is a very bad picture taken with my Ipad. Sorry.
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Alas, all good things must come to an end and we escorted them to the train station and sent them on their way for a few days in Venice. It should be pretty at Christmas. Italian towns go all out with the decorations and Venice, with it’s canals, must be beautiful with the lights.

Now things have settled down for a long winters sleep. We watch the fields that, even now, are awakening with the winter wheat, bright green. January and February are long, dark and cold but we take heart that the days grow longer now and spring comes here in March. A belated Buon Natale and I wish you all a Buon Anno!

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!

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.

Summer’s here!

We have finally gotten to summer after a long, cool, wet spring. Events are planned in the Piazza. The old men play briscola all afternoon at the tables at Bar Mary. Evenings lately are boistrous affairs with the European Soccer championship going on. Lots of cheering from the Piazza as people crowd around the TV provided by Mary and Irene.
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We have recently said goodbye to Luther’s brother Jeff and family who were visiting Italy for the first time and managed to find a few days to visit us here. It was nice to catch up and get to know his children Aaron and Allie. We visited Perugia, had a great dinner in Montone and they all took a cooking class at Agriturismo Calagrana. It was pouring rain that day!

We made a trip to Gubbio where a talented artisan makes beautiful reproductions of Byzantine and Roman friezes etc. I had wanted to buy one for a long time. Here is the one I chose.
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As for bureaucratic things, we applied WAY back in January to renew our Permessi to stay and we finally got our appointment to pick them up in JULY! Of course our old Permessi expired in June making a gap. We visited the Large Lady who handles the health insurance with our receipts and the phone text with the appointment time. She was appalled at how long it had taken. She still couldn’t give us our new cards to last until the end of the year. So she just gave us until July 30. I was concerned that we have it in force for our upcoming trip to Poland.

I have not reported on our efforts to get our Italian driving licenses. Since we have valid German ones we tried to have them transferred to Italian. Anything to avoid having to go to driving school and take the test in Italian! We have not been successful, alas. We were making good progress until the woman noticed that on the German license it gives our place of birth as our STATE and on our Italian documents our CITY where we were born was listed. Oh NO! So we brought our passports and our birth certificates to them which show BOTH city and state of our birth. They refused us. We will have to formulate a Plan B I guess. It is always something.

So in just over a week we are off our our road trip to Poland, making stops in Slovenia, Slovakia, and Austria along the way. I hope it’s not too hot! We have found some Americans who wanted to come to Italy and offered to house/cat sit while we are gone. That is a nice thing for both them, us and the boyz.

All good things must come to an end…

For the last week I have been hosting a group of the BEST EVER women. They are five members of my stateside book group. We have been together for nearly twenty years. And good years they have been. I’ve missed going to the get togethers very much so I was really looking forward to seeing them and showing them around our neck of the woods. The original criteria for joining our group were: being in close proximity to one another, and you must love to cook, eat, drink wine and read. Since we formed we have been through marriages, divorce, the births of four children and retirements. Some of us moved away. One to Los Angeles, one to Naples FL, one to Maryland (so still close-ish) and me to Italy. The five who came are from CA, FL, MD, and two from Virginia. Because we are food and wine oriented my planning included good places to eat, a wine tasting and a cooking class.

We picked them all up at the Rome airport after renting a car big enough for seven. We caravanned to Montepulciano the first day for lunch at La Grotta. It was a good first lunch. Then we drove the two cars to Calagrana where we were staying two nights. Ely was the perfect host for our group for the entire stay there. Luigi, our driver AKA Luther my other half went home to take care of the cats. The group had a light dinner at Calagrana that evening and it was good as ever.

Breakfast at Calagrana – homemade pastries!
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Sunday we drove to Umbertide and picked up Luigi and drove to Perugia to do some touring. We took the MiniMetro up into town. Afterward we drove to Roncolfo to eat at one of our favorite fish places. It was Mothers Day so crowded and slow but we had fun…and four bottles of wine! The food was good. We drove back to Calagrana and had a picnic of prosciutto, cheese and bread. They serve only lunch on Sunday there.

The five in Perugia. Pam is behind Melissa. Sorry Pam!
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Monday I had arranged that we have a cooking class with Alberto, the chef at Calagrana. It started at 10am.

Pam and Mitzi, ready to work.
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Lynn, Ellie and Melissa watch attentively.DSC05537We first prepped the eggplant for the ravioli. We created a dice which was fried and then added a prepared, roasted eggplant into the mix and some Parmesan cheese. It was the essence of eggplant!
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We then took some mashed potatoes which were mixed with flour and tossed it in our hand to make a ball. We then used the side of our hand to make a little knob which made it resemble a pear. To finish the illusion we took a clove to be the end of the pear and a piece of spaghetti to be the stem. This would be deep fried as a side for the chicken.

Ellie finished her “pear”.
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Melissa tries her hand.
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Finished potato “pears”DSC05549

We then prepared a mousse of chicken and truffles to stuff the upcoming chicken leg.
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We started the makings of a warm salad of greens, a lemon and oil dressing, chicken livers and polenta croutons. Chef showed us a bunch of uses for polenta to include polenta lasagna. Good for gluten free folks. For the salad we were going to make polenta croutons (below).

DSC05605We next learned how to debone a chicken leg and stuff it with the mousse. We dipped it into oil and salt and pepper and rolled the finished product in aluminum foil. It was baked for 30 minutes and would hold in the oven for two hours making it a nice dinner party entree.

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Legs rolled in aluminum foil and labeled with our names. We each will eat the one we made.
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Next we made pasta. Alberto does not create a well in flour and incorporate the egg as we previously had learned. He uses a bowl and kneads it into the flour until a dough forms.
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After he runs the dough through the pasta machine at high setting to knead it.
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Cut into rectangles.
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Never leave dough unwrapped or it will dry out. Wrap in plastic wrap.
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We did hands on finishing it up using the manual pasta machine. We learned how to make many shapes and how to freeze them for future meals. Chef Alberto is all about making a large amount if you are going to the trouble, then freezing it. We made eggplant ravioli and Chef flash froze it before cooking. He says all pasta should be frozen and not thawed before cooking. Just toss the frozen stuff into the boiling water and return to a boil and it will be done.

Chef Alberto demonstrates how to roll the pasta on the machine. Do not take the pasta out of the machine as you roll it. If properly floured it will not stick together.
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Ready to make any shape of pasta.
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Many shapes.
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This will be ravioli. Chef wets it with water on one side.
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The eggplant goes about 2 fingers apart. Only make four in a row and then space. Easier to work with.
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Fold the dough across and press lightly. Form into packets.
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Now it’s our turn to try. Ellie manning the pasta machine.
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Melissa gives it a try.
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Mitzi at the machine.
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Lynn with Ely looking on.
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Melissa makes her ravioli packets.
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Pam carefully folds the dough over her eggplant.
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Finally it was time to finish and eat! Alberto sautéed the polenta croutons with pancetta until very brown and crisp. Meanwhile he sautéed the chicken livers. The warm croutons and chicken livers topped the greens tossed in the dressing. So good! Then we created a simple browned butter and thyme sauce for the ravioli. Chef tossed the now-frozen ravioli into boiling water and returned it to a boil. Then he tossed it into the browned butter sauce and tossed until finished. Sublime! Finally the chicken legs which had rested for around two hours were ready and they were sliced through to show the stuffing and were plated with the deep fried “pear” apples. We were stuffed!

Salad of warm chicken livers and croutons.
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Ravioli being served.
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Chicken and “pear”, plated and ready to eat.
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We headed down to Umbertide and took everyone to their accommodations. We had the use of a little apartment on the piazza just next to our house. Three of our people stayed there and endured the 68 steps up. The other two came to our house. This evening we began our Aperol spritz tradition. It is a nice cocktail from Prosecco, sparkling water and Aperol. The later has a slightly bitter orange taste. Refreshing and my go-to summer drink. We enjoyed them on the Piazza at Bar Mary. Then we went to our friends house for a light dinner. It was wonderful.

Tuesday we planned a trip to Assisi. We got an early start with breakfast and on the road at 9:30. It was great because we got ahead of the crowds and had the Basilica to ourselves. The weather was really nice. Not too hot or cold.

The lower church sanctuary.
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Goofing around and having an Aperol Spritz in the square in Assisi.
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I had been thwarted yet again by the restaurants weekly closing day so couldn’t go to the place I wanted. We went to a place I hadn’t tried called Osteria da Erminio. It was on a quiet square and we could eat outside. It was nice.

The fortress above Assisi.
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Wednesday was market day and I wanted them to all experience it. So fun. We all enjoyed the local speciality, porchetta. It is slow roasted whole pig sliced with the cracking onto buns. Breakfast of champions! We shopped around and bought some fava beans, new peas and thin asparagus for our pasta that evening. Also fruit for breakfast. We went to lunch in Montone at Erba Luna. It is embedded in the old hill town’s walls with pretty vaulted ceilings. The food is also very nice here. That evening we had Aperols at Bar Mary again 🙂 This night we introduced everyone to our favorite Italian game show…L’Eredita. Quirky and fun and even non-Italian speakers can enjoy it with a little help from Luigi. Dinner was orchietti with the spring veggies. Tasty!

Thursday we had arranged a wine tasting at Tabarrini in the Montefalco wine region. They are nice and have a good tasting with tasty snacks to go with the wines. Luigi bought three six packs of wine.

Outside it was storming across the valley.
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Then we headed to the hill town Montefalco for lunch at L’Alchimista. Excellent place. Too bad it was rainy so we had to eat inside.

Montefalco street.
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My carpaccio.DSC05632

My soup.DSC05633

Then we went to Deruta for ceramics shopping. Most folks bought some. This evening we continued the Aperol cocktail hour at Bar Mary and the L’Eredita game show. We ordered pizza for dinner. At dinner my guests surprised me with the gift of a lovely bowl I had admired in Deruta. So sweet!

Vibrant colors!
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Alas, Friday arrived and we headed back to Roma. We stopped in Orvietto to see the Cathedral. It was a very windy day. We stopped at the Autogrill on the road to Roma for panini. Another Italian experience. We arrived in Fiumicino around three and checked into our hotel. We next fulfilled another necessary thing on the to-do list…gelato! Yum! Later we had our final Aperol at our hotel and watched L’Eredita for a final time and then off to dinner in our hotel one star Michelin restaurant. A very excellent dinner. More pricy than in Umbria but that’s to be expected.

Saturday dawned windy and stormy. Off to the airport with our charges. Such a sad moment as I had had SUCH a great time with my friends. We kissed our farewells until a future meeting. These ladies are such a part of my life. I know they always have my back no matter how far apart we live. I love them. Buon viaggio a tutti!

By the time they read this, they will be home…

 

Rockin’ Umbertide

We saw our most recent guests off yesterday. Ron and Linda live in Florence. We picked them up at the train station. It was a spectacular day. We headed to Castiglione del Lago for lunch at the Monna Lisa restaurant. We sat outside. The food was good and we enjoyed watching the piazza. We headed back to Umbertide over the mountain pass above the lake.
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The next day we went to Gubbio. Again a spectacular day. Ron and Linda travel by trains and busses and Gubbio is darn near impossible to reach that way. Here are a few pictures in Gubbio. It was such a perfect day I snapped quite a few.
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The night before our guests left we were treated to a concert.
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Friday was the beginning of the annual Otto Cento celebration in Umbertide. (last year Otto Cento post) Preparations had begun…
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The town was really rocking last night! Our friend Michelle volunteered to be a “lady of the night” at the Bordello. She was cute in her bustier and flowers at her throat and wrists.
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More to come… Otto Cento is four days long.

Guest-less for now

Our latest guests, Steve and Shiromi have gone on to new adventures in Turkey. We very much enjoyed their stay. After our visit to Gubbio we decided the other big town to see would be Perugia. We did some shopping and explored what is left of the fortress built after the Salt war. It was commissioned by the Pope as a symbol of Papal power and was built in 1540. They rased an entire borgo (over 100 houses plus churches and monasteries) to include the houses of the Baglioni family whom the Pope hated. It is eerie to wander what were the streets of the borgo and see the remains of all the houses, which were built of stone as opposed to the brick of the fortress. Here are some photos. It is hard to show the scale of the place. the ceilings are very tall.

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This is a street sign (!) underground.
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We also visited the enormous Etruscan gate. It was built 2,400 years ago and used no mortar. Impressive.
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When Cesar Augustus conquered the city he carved his name into the gate.
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Relaxing in the main piazza. Note the little buzzer in the center of the table to call for service. I’d never seen this before.
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We had a lovely lunch at Ristorante Antica trattoria san Lorenzo. We had been here before and enjoyed the very innovative cuisine. Steve and Shiromi enjoyed it too. We all had the lunch special. This first picture is the little “gift” from the chef before we got the appetizer.
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This was the rabbit.
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We bid Steve and Shiromi goodbye on Thursday. Since then we have been relaxing a little. Right now Umbertide is having the week-long concert festival called Rassegna Bande Musicali Citta di Umbertide. The concert bands come from towns all around us and are very good, most performing excerpts that are very familiar like the march in Carmen. Sorry for the blur!
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I also learned an interesting factoid. Here in Italy you are buried on a Friday, married on a Saturday, and christened on a Sunday! I enjoy watching the weddings from our window. Yesterday there were two that I noticed. The first had an impressive Lincoln stretch limo. The picture below is of the second wedding. This bride was really rocking it out! They had a very loud sound system set up and a DJ spinning the tunes. And note her red shoes!
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Tomorrow we greet Ron and Linda, Americans who live in Florence. We met them in Virginia before they moved to Italy about 5 years ago. We were at that time just dreaming of moving here so we picked their brains about how they were accomplishing it. They don’t have a car and use the rails to travel. We’ll pick them up at the station and visit some places they can’t reach by train. I am looking forward to seeing them.

St. Francis and the wolf…redux

Last year we had company, Kaye and Jeff who were very interested in the legend of St. Francis and the wolf. See post for the legend. We had tried to visit the church in Gubbio where a wolf skeleton was found buried beneath the floor but it was closed. Kaye was bummed. So yesterday, with friends of Kaye and Jeff named Shiromi and Steve, we tried again to visit the church and it was open!! We descended into the crypt and found the stone that was covering the grave as well as a stone cut of the wolf and St. Francis. It was very cool.

Stone cutting.
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Stone from the grave.
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Upstairs in the same church we found a surprise. First I have to tell you that every May Gubbio has an enormous festival/race. The town is divided into three neighborhoods. They compete to carry something called a Cero or candle up from the bottom of Gubbio, to the top of the mountain. The Ceri each weigh around 700 pounds. In the back of the church we found the stored ceri. They are immense. They attach to a frame and are carried upright. They must be very top heavy. The crowds are frighteningly large. We have not gone as we have been warned. Here are the three ceri (sorry for the blur).
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It was a hot day and we did some good hill climbing.  I also found a ceramic shop I had been looking for. I will return to buy a thing or two there. Here is an old iron ring to which horses were tethered.

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And this one I just thought was pretty.

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We had lunch at Ristorante Lupo (Wolf ) at the request of our guests. Here is a picture of Steve’s pretty carpaccio dish. We also got another Buon Ricordo plate while here.

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For our breakfasts with Shiromi and Steve I decided to try a new coffee cake. It has been a hit. It is very moist and keeps well getting better as time passes. Shiromi told me I had to share the recipe so here it is.

Marmalade Cake – 8 to 10 servings
Adapted from the Boonville Hotel

1 small to medium orange
1 lemon
6 ounces raw almonds
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
4 large eggs, ideally at room temperature
½ tsp. table salt
1 ½ cups sugar
2/3 cup olive oil
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving

First, get to work on the citrus. Put the orange and the lemon in a saucepan, and cover with water. (They’ll want to float. Don’t worry about it.) Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, and cool.

Meanwhile, toast the almonds. Preheat the oven to 325°F, and set a rack in the middle position. Put the almonds on an ungreased sheet pan, and bake until they look golden and smell warm and toasty, 10 to 15 minutes. (I tend to get nervous about burning them, and consequently, I always try to pull them out of the oven too soon. Don’t do that. Let them really toast.) Set aside to cool completely. When the almonds are cool, pulse them in a food processor until finely ground, the texture of coarse sand. Set aside.

Set the oven to 350°F, and grease a 9-inch round springform pan.

When the citrus is cool, cut the lemon in half, and scoop out and discard the pulp and seeds. Cut the orange in half, and discard the seeds. Put the lemon rind and orange halves in the food processor – there’s no need to wash it after grinding the almonds – and process to chop finely, almost to a coarse paste.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.

Combine the eggs and salt in a mixing bowl. Beat until foamy. Gradually beat in the sugar. Fold in the flour mixture. Add the citrus, almonds, and olive oil, and beat on low speed to just incorporate. Do not overmix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in its pan on a wire rack. Remove the sides of the pan. Before serving, dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar.

Note: This cake tastes even better on the second – or even third – day, as the flavors meld and mellow. Store it at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.

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Today we took a nice walk, stopped for coffee in the Piazza, and were joined by our friend Michelle. They are also having an antique car show here which we visited as they were setting up. We plan lunch at Calagrana a bit later. It is a pretty day so it will be nice.

American guest

I know I have been quiet but we have had some company. His name is Gene and he stayed for about a week. We went to Assisi, Perugia, wine tasting and Bevagna for lunch and Luther took him by train to (very crowded) Florence. I am glad I opted out of the later! We also took a trip to Isola di Maggiori in Lago Trasemeno. This last was a first for us. We had been meaning to go for some time. It is a nice, down kind of day after a lot of climbing up and down hill-towns. We had lunch at Da Sauro on the porch. The food was not notable. Still a nice day trip

This is a picture of Bevagna. I was liking how blue the sky was and the big white cloud.
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Lunch at Trattoria Oscar. They have a nice terrace. Gene and Luther.
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I couldn’t resist taking a picture of my Gaspacho (italian spelling). It was sooo beautiful and cool.
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Stairway in Bevagna
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Here are a couple of pictures from our excursion to Isola di Maggiori. First a couple of the main (and only) street.
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View of the town from ferry pier. It is a 10 minute ride from Tuoro.
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You can walk a good distance around the island, but not all the way. Here are Gene and Luther during our walk.
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We said Ciao to Gene on Sunday.

Yesterday we visited a winery. The Wine Guy is getting backed up on his posts so be patient. This winery also offered many other products like sausage and prosciutto, and olive oil. I visited the future prosciutti housed nearby.
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Finally two in a series of another sunset. Sometimes they can be pretty spectacular.
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We are getting ready for another set of visitors from Australia so I will be writing about that soon.