Category Archives: 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!

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!!

Another Sunday, another Sagra…

sedano_neroThis past Sunday we decided to visit Trevi, a hill town between Foligno and Spoleto. I had passed this pretty town perched way up on its hill many times but had never stopped. The occasion was their annual Sedano Nero festival. This means black celery. It is grown only between Borgo di Trevi and the Clitunno river on a small strip of land. It is not black but dark green and does not go through any processing, like whitening. It is planted and grown by strict traditions. The seeds are planted during a waning moon on the day before Easter. It has to be carefully supported as it grows. Most of the work is done by hand. It is one of the six Umbrian Slow Food specialties.

Trevi from above.
trevi

Trevi is also known as the Capital of Oil
olives

This is the very beginning of the olive harvest. I bought some of the new olive oil. See how cloudy it is. And incredibly green. It is unfiltered.
oil

The sedano nero was stacked like firewood everywhere!
sedano

It is a beautiful green. They say it is stringless. Not sure I’m buying that. So I bought some to bring home. I am here to say, it does have strings but less that normal celery has.
sedano2

Also on offer were lots of specialties. We tried lots of cured meats. Many specialties were, of course, celery based. For instance, celery jam and celery cream.

This stand had many types of cured meats and sausage.
cured_meats

A discerning nun.
discerning_nun

It was a very warm day so I felt for this man who was cooking up the sausages.
fire_walk_with_me

We decided to have lunch in Taverna del Sette. We sat in a pretty courtyard at the end of the short street. The sky was mesmerizingly blue.
sky

Luther went for the celery soup.
soup

And he tried the stuffed celery. It sure looks good.
stuffed_celery

I tried the cinghale ragu. Wild boar.
cinghale_ragu

After lunch we decided to make a short stop in Bevagna since our friend Jennifer had not ever been there. It was Sunday and there was a small flea market going on. But for me, the best thing was coming upon a group of men just finishing up lunch outside a restaurant. They performed an impromptu a capello melody. It was hauntingly beautiful, the voices blended seamlessly. I wished I had a way to record them.
acapella

Scenes in Bevagna. Such a beautiful town.
bevagna2 bevagna1

The old guys. Every town has its own cadre of old men. They sit together companionably on benches, or they gather to play Briscola, the national Italian card game.
old_men

The Sedano Nero festival was one of the better ones I’ve visited. Not too crowded but plenty lively. And Trevi is a beautiful town that few tourists visit. Too bad, their loss. It was a lovely outing made super by the dazzling day.

Vendemmia 2017 Festa in Montefalco

Sunday was the last day for the Montefalco Wine Harvest festival. It’s a four day event to celebrate the harvest of the famed Sagrantino grapes among others. We had made reservations for lunch in L’Alchemista for lunch and invited new friends to join us. The weather was perfect. Very fall-like, a bit cool at lunch as we were seated next to a downward tiny street up which a strong, cool breeze was blowing. montefalco_street

Lunch at L’Alchemista was good, as always. They were packed so service was a bit slow. As we sat there crowds started gathering in the piazza and announcements were made from an upper balcony on the Comune building. And a group of costumed women sang folk songs. There was to be a parade of floats pulled by tractors. I love stuff like this. No pretensions.montefalco1

Down the main street we found the building where they were holding the wine tastings. This was our main reason for going. You pay 10 Euro per person and you get a glass and a little bag to wear around your neck to hold it. Then you can do unlimited tastings. There were a LOT of tables with a LOT of wine. One of our friends concentrated on the Sagrantino while I tried the Montefalco Rosso as well as the Sagrantino and a white made from Grechetto, Vigonier, and Chardonnay. All were very good. The Sagrantini were very dry to the point you felt all your saliva disappear.

wine1 wine2

Once we’d gotten our fill we headed back up the hill to the piazza where the parade was in full swing. They drive the tractors up another street into the piazza and park them around the edges. The floats, of course are wine oriented and lots of fun to see. Here are some pictures.

I love how this guy had put a yoke and harness on the front of his tractor, like it’s a horse…I guess it is, more or less.
parade1

And these folks are sitting on the float “a tavola” enjoying wine and a repast! parade2

Loved this giatantic wine bottle on one float.
parade3
parade4
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It was one of the best Sagre I’ve ever been too. I’d go back!

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Storms over Umbertide

A couple of pictures of the major storms we woke up to on Saturday morning. The storms here generally come from the west. Our view is West/Northwest. These storms relentlessly moved from left to right and ever so slowly got closer and closer. Finally they got here but we were spared the brunt of the rain. Later in the day I noticed the Tiber river was swollen with rainwater and brown with mud. All came from up-stream where these massive storms must have dumped copious water!

Pigeons fighting the winds.
pigeons
storm_castle
storm

My fourth Otto Cento!

It is September 2nd. What a long HOT summer we have endured. Yesterday we had our first rain since April – over 100 days with nary a drop! It is so dry. Many trees are already dropping their leaves. The Umbrian grape harvest is predicted to be down 40%. But they do say the vintage will be epic quality. When I got up this morning I heard the sound of gunfire from all around. Then I realized the beginning of the hunting season starts in September. Signs of autumn.  It is clear and cool today after our storms.

Thursday marked the begining of our annual Otto Cento festival. It will be our fourth. They moved it up into late August this year. Until now it has been on the third weekend in September. We went out last night for dinner with friends. During the festa all the regular restaurants change over to set menus. Last night we had four courses, water, vino and coffee for 25 Euro a head. There are also around 15 or 20 pop-up restaurants along with numerous stands selling specialty things and drinks. The stilt walkers were back. So ethereal and graceful. There was a puppet show for the kids going on.

After dinner we walked around the town and looked at all the action. There were millions of people out and about. Umbertide has seen a decline in summer activities this year so I think everyone was ready for the party now. Here are some pictures of the festival scenes.

One of the pop up venues. Notice the costumed folks over on the right. There were lots of people in costume this year.
street3

The Rocca – our fortress.larocca2

One of the busy street scenes.street_scene1

Moon over la Rocca. A beautiful evening for the celebration.
laRocca

As we headed back home we decided to pay a call on our Briganti. They are the bad-boys always up to no good but really the most fun place. Here is a group of the Briganti musicians.
briganti_band

He is my favorite Brigand. He has a great smile.
fav_briganti

And of course, the bad boys and girls must have the brothel with the Ladies of the Night.
night_ladies

I will check back on the Briganti during the night Saturday when they take over the town. It is all part of the reenactment of the events in the late 1800s forming the Italian country. Usually the Briganti do something naughty to shock everyone. You can look back at past September posts to see previous years. Hopefully, I can get pictures on Sunday morning of the mayhem wreaked on Saturday night and early Sunday before the authorities remove it.

We stopped by to see my friend Angelo who owns the Alimentari downstairs from us. He was is a great mood. He had transformed his shop for the festival.angelo

And, of course, we paid a brief visit to Bar Mary to find Mary manning the bar. They also serve snacks during the festival.mary

A final observation. I have NEVER met an Italian who did not love to have his or her picture taken. They are cute.