Category Archives: restaurants

Christmas trip – Cortina d’Ampezzo and Innsbruck

Another trip report so you can skip if you aren’t interested.
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December 20
We drove from Umbertide to Florence with Susan and Gary with whom we were going to spend the holiday. The plan was to spend the night there and travel to Cortina d’Ampezzo on the 21st. But next was dinner. We had the most fantastic steak prepared in the Florentine style but the meat was from Prussia. Amazing. I also had a lovely starter of potato soup topped with octopus. So warming on a cold night. Whoever made it spent a LOT of time dicing the potatoes into a tiny dice and when it was cooked great care was taken that it not be so cooked they would disintegrate. Very good.

After dinner we went for a walk into the main part of Florence. Wow the lights were breathtaking. We visited the magnificent Duomo with its Christmas tree. And the most magical thing of all…there were almost no people anywhere! We had the streets to ourselves. I love Florence when it’s like this.

December 21
A bit of Sturm und Drang this morning. We had a taxi at 7:45 for an 8:30 train, it it arrived at 7:20. 😳 We were mostly ready so out the door we went. We wove through the Florence morning traffic and people and arrived at 7:55. Suddenly Susan realized she’d forgotten her purse in the rush. The taxi driver went “via!” to Gary who had asked if they could get home and back. It was really dicey if he could make it. But the taxi driver pulled it off and all was well.

We got the train to Mestre, one stop short of Venice. And then we had had hired a driver to take us to Cortina. There is a bus but it was just more comfortable and more convenient to take the car. Besides when the cost was split it wasn’t too bad.

We arrived at about 12:30. It was cold there with just a dusting of snow. Not enough snow for much skiing down low, but up high, yes. We decided we were in the shoulder season. The ski season wouldn’t start until after Christmas. We had lunch and later, when the shops had reopened from pausa we went back out to check out the shops. There is a kind of big cooperative space with a lot of different stores in it, which was fun. Cortina was dressed in its Christmas finery. It was dusk and the lights twinkled everywhere! I took a few pictures. They even projected stars on the church steeple. All the stores and hotels were all sparkly. Very pretty.

Our hotel, La Poste, was hosting a Veuve Clicquot promotion. We sat down and were given the champagne menu. It turned out to be fun with a bunch of small plates of tasty bites from a 2 star Michelin Milanese chef. The bites were good.

We had dinner at Lampone in the Rosapetra Hotel. We had to take a taxi there since it was dark and it would have been hard to walk there. Lovely hotel with spa. The restaurant was very pretty in an upscale alpine way. We had a great meal. I had the Insalata d’Ampezzo. Then we all had a whole sea bass cooked in salt. Very yum. They served bread with the creamiest salted butter. We had the luck(?) to be sitting next to an Italian single man. Giuseppe. He spoke English and owned a home in Miami South Beach. In the best place he assured us. He was from Sicily, a wealthy family, he said. He loves his mamma the best in the world. (Of course! All Italian men love their mommas best) She’s 87. He lives near Bologna today. We now know his whole life story. We suspect he comes from Mafia money and once Mafia, always Mafia. He designs kitchens among other things. His wife, from whom he’s estranged lives in New Zealand. Anyway he insisted on joining us for a bottle of dessert wine from Sicily that he bought. He was so manic by the time we left we all figured he had to be on drugs, maybe cocaine? Or something for sure. The manager of the restaurant apologized to us for the intrusion on our meal. Not much he could have done really, and I think Giuseppe was a regular there.

Dining room. The big white pillar is a ceramic stove, common to the area.

After dinner

December 22
A beautiful day! Bright sunshine and cold. We had a lovely breakfast in La Poste and off we went to get the cable car lift up to the 2,300 meter level. Great ride right up the cliff at the end. I couldn’t figure out how the cables did it. We walked around and took pictures of the skiing. There were several runs. And the surrounding Dolomiti mountains were amazing. It was super clear with not a bit of haze and it was like you could reach out and touch the stupendous rocks thrusting into the sky.

Cable car coming up.

From our ride in the car. Morning sun.

Ski run

View of the Dolomiti

Dolomiti

Dolomiti

Back in the village we walked some more and then returned to get ready for lunch at Ristorante Tivoli. It was definitely unassuming from the outside. Pretty and alpine. Inside it was comfortable and unpretentious. But it was a Michelin one star. The food was top notch. The serving staff were all women which is unusual in these places. I think it made it more intimate and comfortable. I opted for the lobster which was raw in a beautiful bisque reduction with veggies. Really good. And a tagliatelle with rabbit ragu. Very good. I took pictures of several dishs. One of us had the lamb and another the turbo and Luther had the rabbit for mains. We had two beautiful reds and we started out with Francia Corta which is a champagne style bubbly from Italy. Better than Prosecco. They brought a dessert-like palate cleanser in dry ice which smoked fetchingly. It had sorbet and diced fruits in a purée. Then we ordered a strudel to share which was so good, and they brought a whole plateful of free canapés. We also had coffees and digestifs. A marvelous meal. Good find Susan!

Ristorante Tivoli. Cute outside.

Food pictures. Lobster.

Turbot

Rabbit

Tagliatelle with rabbit ragu.

December 23
We again took a cable car up to about 8,000 feet to take in the sights. Beautiful day.

Station at the very top of the mountain was closed.

Cable car

Views

Cortina

Ski runs

We returned for a good pasta lunch and then to meet our driver for the two hour trip to Innsbruck Austria. Once we went through the Brenner pass we hit the forecasted rain.

We checked into Adler Hotel, a modern high rise near the train station. We decided to venture out even though it was pouring rain. The altstadt was crowded despite the rain. We found a store where we bought umbrellas. The town was pretty with lights, a big Christmas tree, stands selling goods and foods. One street had huge chandeliers hanging above. We managed to find a place for beers and then went to find dinner. It was a bit early and we got a table in a hotel dining room. The aim was for people to get their Wiener Schnitzels. It was a nice dining room and we did indeed get our schnitzels. I opted for the Forelle – trout. It was all good.

Innsbruck

December 24
I watched the mall across the railroad tracks from our 9th floor perch. Lots of folks streamed in for last minute shopping. It was still steadily raining. We had a good breakfast and went to visit the Volksmuseum. A wonderful collection of artifacts showing the life in the 1500s and on. The daily tasks must have been overwhelming. Everything from making your own cloth, your shoes, carding wool, spinning, weaving, carving utensils, on and on! And the church terrified everyone with fear of death and purgatory or worse, hell. Life was fraught with danger. Young girls betrothed could only think of the very real danger of childbirth. A killer of women.

Afterwards we walked into the old town and the sun paid a welcome appearance! The town looked so different in the sunshine. We had a light lunch and went over to the Inn river and then through the, sadly, now closed Christmas market.

Later, we had planned to go to a Christmas Eve dinner in the hotel. The 12th floor is a restaurant where they have breakfast and a bar and meals. This one was a set menu. Considering the large number of people being fed they did well. We started with an amuse bouche of mozzarella which was garlicky and whipped with roasted cherry tomatoes. Next we had a salmon dish with smoked salmon and also marinated raw salmon and cucumbers. Then we had a winter squash soup with duck confit. Very good. And for a main we had crown roast of pork. Dessert was white chocolate and dark chocolate with pistachios. We tried two local Austrian red wines both of which were quite good. During all this there was a young lady who played an electric violin. She was quite good and we enjoyed trying to figure out what songs she played. All in all a lovely meal and company.

December 25
Christmas day dawned bright-ish. We had breakfast and went for a walk. We had to bundle up as it was cold. We walked to the train station and then towards the river and the Zentrum. We then walked along the river and back and through the old town.

Along the waterfront of the river Inn

Pretty sign, Moonshine

After a brief rest we taxied to Nattererboden up in the nearby mountains for our Christmas Day Mittsgessen. It was more remote than I had expected but only about 15 minutes away. A very traditional place and menu. Fun for us to relive our old German times. I had goose. It came with a big dumpling which was very heavy but the red cabbage was good.

Warm stove.

They had many animals. Kids would love this place.

Later we had a couple of drinks in the bar and off to bed. Tomorrow we are off by train to home.

December 26
Today is Boxing Day in England and Santo Stefano in Italy. Holidays. We hopped our train from Innsbruck to Bologna. Pretty ride through the mountains and then onto the foggy plain. I’m very surprised that both times through here on this trip the landscape is socked in with fog. I guess it is the norm for winter but another reason not to live in that area, unless you’re into foggy and gray days.

It was a lovely trip with good friends. I was very happy to be home.

L’Immacolata

Today is L’immacolata, a national holiday. The immaculate conception. Not being very sure about this day because I’m not Catholic I looked it up and discovered I was wrong about what it meant. Turns out it is the day that Mary was conceived to her mother. I had thought it was Jesus’ conception but was confused as it is only two weeks before his birthday.

Anyway, it is the day that ALLLL of Italy lights its Christmas trees. And St. Nicholas comes to the Piazza for the little kids. I actually managed to get pictures of the crowds outside before and after the tree was lit. And I heard the countdown and saw the tree lit for the first time. It is not my favorite tree so far, however. But as we all know from Charlie Browns tree that all trees are beautiful in their way.

We also visited Montone for lunch today. Tipico, our chosen restaurant was really crowded. Everyone was out for lunch on the holiday. A few pictures.

View from the walls. A beautiful, clear, and not too cold day.

Montone street dressed for Christmas. They are quite traditional there.

The Christmas tree. The Piazza was bright and the tree was not so the picture isn’t so good.

Tipico showcases two oils. One light and one stronger. The bread is always good there too.

Outside now, as I write this, the children are singing and the band is playing. There are little stands with things to sell. Happy Immaculata!

Great visit with recent guests!

We had been anticipating our upcoming guests, Chuck and Terry. Chuck is Luther’s cousin and Terry is his wife. They live in Knoxville. I had only met Chuck once or twice and very long ago. We had a superb time with them. It is always a pleasure to have guests who so obviously enjoy everything we show them and are always up for anything.

We went to Montone the evening they arrived for a dinner at Antica Osteria. It was good as always. The next day we had planned to go to Assisi which is always the top site to see in Umbria. Terry bought a pretty purse at Michaelangelo Leather shop right in the main piazza. I also was interested to look at the briefcases they had which were quite plentiful. I have a friend coming soon who will be looking for this item.

The day was amazing. The mornings in Umbertide are always very foggy starting in about September. It is like clockwork every year! It burns off in an hour or so. The sky was brilliant blue. Here are some Assisi pictures.

The Rose Window on the Basilica of San Francesco.

The lower church in the Basilica. It is made up of the upper church, built on top of the older, lower church, which is above the crypt where St. Francis’ remains are interred.

Street. I like the blur in the background on this one.

I was captivated by the dog who looked to be chained beside this window on the first floor.

Fortress above Assisi. See that sky!?

In the main Piazza is this fountain. The water droplets were shining in the sun. I had never noticed the top tier on this is a mushroom.

One of my favorite stories is about St. Francis and the Wolf. The legend took place in Gubbio. St. Francis also is known for preaching to the birds. 

After all that sightseeing we took a break for lunch. We ate at Piazetta dell’Erbe as we almost always do. My favorite restaurant there. I had the octopus and the black gnocci with truffles and parmesan cream.

After lunch we visited Deruta where Chuck and Terry bought a beautiful bowl for her table. I hope they got it home safe and sound.

On Wednesday we were expecting the Stufa serviceman so we had to stick close. But then, it is market day with plenty to do right in town. I introduced Chuck and Terry to the Porchetta Panini. Makes a decent breakfast. We wandered the stalls and afterward we went to Patrick’s Enoteca for lunch.

That evening we had my World Famous Bolognese sauce on Strangozzi. 🙂 Everyone seemed to like it.

Thursday we thought we’d go wine tasting. It was overcast and showered on and off but not too bad. First we visited DeFilippo Winery. They are Bio-dynamic and use natural pest control…geese! and horses to plow.

We had time for one more winery and ended up at Pardi in Montefalco. This winery, where we’ve been once before, is owned by a pair of brothers. They are trying interesting things with wine.

Next was…what else? Lunch! We had a reservation at L’Alchimista in Montefalco. We did sit outside despite the sprinkles which we had to shift a couple of times to avoid under the Umbrella.

The visit passed too fast but we did get in three full days with them and we hope they come back to visit us soon. They are always welcome.

While they were packing up to go I was making a gazpacho with a bunch of itty bitty vegetables that my friend Angela had given me. All kinds of things and only a little of each so I though they would work well for a Gazpacho. It did smell wonderful while cooking and nearly got Chuck and Terry to stay a while longer…

Raw ingredients…

Finished product!

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, 5-8€ for an appetizer. 12€ 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 Frecciabianca from Folognio to Rome fairly often. It’s reasonable (from 16.90€ on the fast Freccia 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.

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.

 

Here and there…

The last week we have gotten out and about enjoying the beauty that is Umbria. And the bountiful restaurants. Poppies are blooming everywhere. Here was a whole field of them near the Tuscan border.

We went back with some friends to one our favorite places near Magione, a town close to Lago Trasimeno. The restaurant is Umbricello del Coccio. They have a really pretty herb garden next to the terrace with a cute priest presiding. This is on a pilgrim route so there is a church next door – Santuario della Madonna di Lourdes. Inside there is an identical cave, or grotto, to the one in France.

Brilliant sunshine splashed across the church.

Lunch was Umbricelli caccio e pepe.

An assortment of legumes for which Umbria and Toscana are famous.

Cinghiale (wild boar) stew with black truffles.

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Yesterday we were off on an excursion to a winery. Sometimes these places are hard to find. And they are EVEN harder when your husband gives you the wrong name!! We visited Tenimenti d’Alessandro. Luther had made an appointment for a tasting. it was a large estate with vacation apartments, facilities for conferences, a restaurant, olive groves and vineyards. This vintner was bucking tradition and had planted Syrah and Vigionier. Normal Tuscan grapes are San Giovese and Vermentino.

We met up with Laura who was a nice young woman who had recently moved from Rome to be with her fiance. He is the chef at the restaurant on the estate. She took us on a tour of the facilities. Pretty normal except for a couple of “experimental” containers for some of their wines. They were unique to us.

This one is terra cotta.

And this one was ceramic.

We settled in for our tasting. We could each pick four. We chose a white, rose, and two reds. Maybe the Wine Guy will do a column?

Rose is called Red Pepper!

The property was on volcanic soil and they had used the lava in interesting ways. One was as a kind of rock garden along the walkway. This one was in the building housing the restaurant.

Restaurant is called Creta.

It was comfortable, attractive and unpretentious.

Olive oil dish.

Ricotta salad with cabbage. It was yummy. 

I had risotto with carpaccio

Luther had beef with cabbage.

I loved this old farmhouse sink . Wish I could have one!

It was a fine outing in Tuscany and the weather is now ab-sol-utely perfetto!!!

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!

Buon Natale a tutti!

I have been a very bad blogger! A quick catchup!

Way back in November we were invited to another Thanksgiving extravaganza hosted by our good friends Susan and Gary at Calagrana. Ely outdid herself preparing a 15 kilo turkey, or about 35 lbs. Twas excellent.
monster_turkey
We all brought side dishes and got totally stuffed. There were 14 of us.
thanksgiving1

We have a new American in town named Jennifer. She is here without a car which is challenging given our lack of convenient public transport. We decided to a girls day out with three of us taking a bus to Città di Castello. It was quite quick and comfortable and we learned something useful. We also visited an art museum while there and had lunch.

This is a winged pupi.
winged_puppi

One of the towers in Città di Castello.
towerCdC

But there is good news about the train that used to connect Perugia, Umbertide, Città di Castello and Sansepolcro. This train stopped running about two years ago because of track issues and lack of funding to fix them. A bus nominally is filling in. Well, UmbriaMobilità has gone belly up and the rail system was taken over by TrenItalia. This is good news. And sure enough crews are hard at work pulling up the old tracks, grading beds, laying new track and the concrete ties. Right now they are going north from Umbertide. In the past Umbertide was on a main line from Perugia to Arezzo. And now it looks as though we will be again!

Locomotive with flatcars full of new ties. Photo courtesy of Tom Gilmore.
train

Still working on our Permessi. Lots of new monkey wrenches in the works this year.

Last weekend I also made a US style turkey dinner with all the trimmings for our friend Vera and her family. The little girls were agog at an entire turkey cooked and on the table. This is not done in Italia. Turkey parts, yes, but entire birds, no. And this morning Luther took the carcass outside to the feral cats in the woods behind us and we watched from our apartment as the feast ensued.

More big news came out over the weekend. There seems to have been a coup and the entire town council resigned and the mayor quit. So we are leaderless until the spring when special elections will take place. Unfortunately we have heard this will impact public works projects and we are crossing our fingers they will finish the outside work on the Comune. The men are still working so that’s a good sign.

Umbertide has its share of people who have physical and mental disabilities. They are accepted as part of our town life and people watch out for them. One that we see often stops by the bakery every morning and they give him a roll. He happily munches on it as he walks back to the Piazza or Bar Mary. This morning Luther was returning from his jog and this fellow flagged him down as someone he recognized and reached in his pocket and pulled out a watch. Luther thought he was going to try to sell it to him but he motioned that he only wanted Luther to put it on his wrist for him. Luther came back and told me about it and said it just a funny thing that happens in small towns. He said, “no one ever asked me to put his watch on for him before”.

Batch of chocolate chip cookies as a gift for Irene at Bar Mary and Angelo at the Alementari. Two sweet people who work hard for a living and would do anything to help a person.
cookies

And finally, our Christmas cakes, or Panettone. We always disliked them in the US but these are worlds apart! Trust me. Buon Natale a tutti!
panetonne

Maremma – Wine journey

We went for a quick two day getaway to the Maremma which lies on the southwest Mediterranean coastal region of Tuscany. It is a beautiful area. Our agriturismo (Tenuta del Fontino) where we stayed, was made up of thousands of acres. Horses, an entire lake and a person could jog and never leave the property. The house is the main manor and they refurbished an old barn into rooms where our room was situated.

Enormous rosemary bushes!
rosemary

Pretty grounds of the hotel.
hotel

That’s the normal part. Now for the weird part. We went to dinner the first night at 7:30 in the hotel dining room. It was on the upper floor of the manor. When we were seated they ask me “Was möchten sie zu trinken?” Huh? Was I transported to die Heimat? Deutschland? Germany? Turns out this hotel caters to, and is full of Germans. We had noticed everything was in Italian and German but it hadn’t occurred to us this could be the reason. The whole room was full of Germans! And German was the default language.

So, we settled in at a table set for three which they said was ours. After we were there a bit a single woman came in – and she was Italian – who joined us. We proceeded with the five course meal. Now I should say, when I read TripAdvisor the people raved about the food. One of the reasons I went here. So, first we saw the hoards of Germans falling on the salad bar…What? salad bar? Where am I? We’ve lived in Germany and I saw it was a typical German style salad except for the cannelloni beans. These would figure often into the rest of the meal. Tuscans are known as “the bean eaters”. Next course was a large piece of toasted bread with cannelloni beans. They had a bit of rosemary in them but overall a very bland dish. Next we had a pasta which was shaped like very short macaroni. Served in a broth that I swear was cannelloni purée with….potatoes!!! Ugh. Again, super bland. Finally we got a very thin slice of roast beef in a bit of gravy. It was obviously a cut meant for long roasting and it had been. It was tender to the point of falling apart. Five boiled potatoes (more potatoes!) accompanied it. The roast was strongly reminiscent of Sauerbraten, a German dish. We opted out of the chocolate mousse, also typically German. It was maybe the worst meal I’ve ever had in Tuscany, which is known for good food.

Our single woman table mate told us she was on a two day getaway from her husband and family and their business. They own a restaurant and hotel in the Livorno area. I thought that was cute. She was very out front that she needed some ME time. So, seeing as she was a cook we asked her about the food and she assured us it was an authentic Tuscan meal. I am still in a state of shock. As an addendum, after we got home I described the dinner to my Italian teacher and she, too, said it was pretty typical Tuscan food. Funny, I’ve been there a lot of times but never disliked the food before. Maybe, since I’ve always eaten in decent restaurants I would not get typical food Tuscans eat at home which was probably what the set, five course meal was more like.

So the objective to our trip was to visit some wineries and purchase some wine. The Wine Guy is in his element doing this. There are five main wine regions in the Maremma and we visited our first one on the way to our hotel. I won’t go into describing our winery visits because I know you will read about it in an upcoming blog.

Wine tasting.
wine_tasting

Beautiful vineyards.
beautiful_vineyards

We found our lunch which was quite good. Ristorante Rintocco. They brought out two beautiful fish to show us and a big plate of porcini mushrooms, which are in season now. We split an antipasto which consisted of a bowl of Tuscan soup, a plate of marinated zucchini and a bruschetta with fresh tomato. I had the home made tagliatelle with the porcini.

ristorante_rintocco

Porcini, (means little pigs in Italian) are the same mushroom called cèpe (in French), and in Germany, Steinpilz (the “stone mushroom”). They are gathered wild in the woods and people make some extra money selling them to vendors and restaurants.porcini

House made pasta with porcini mushrooms
firstlunch2

Luther’s fish. We were near the coast so there was a lot of seafood and very fresh.
firstlunch

The one whole day there we went south of Grosetto, the capital of the area. We visited a small winery with a very nice guy letting us taste all his wines. The business was the father, mother and this son. Fun visit.

Off in search of lunch in a small town. Beautiful vista!countryside

Town where the restaurant was…alas, it was closed.
small_town

So we drove to the next town called Scansano which was way up on top of a mountain and fairly big. We drove through and found a parking lot and started walking up the hill. We happened upon this restaurant which turned out to be a lucky choice – Osteria Fiaschetteria Rurale.  It was a real dump as Luther said. But the couple running it seemed to care about the food and its presentation. For instance, we had an excellent cheese plate with five or six types of goat and sheep. One goat was super strong and I loved it. We each had pici pasta which is a traditionally Tuscan shape like thick spaghetti. Nice and dense and chewy.

fiaschetteria

My Pici cacio e pepe…yum!
second_lunch

Luther’s pici in cinghale ragu.
cinghale_ragu

Afterward, we decided to purchase another cheese plate to take with us for our evening picnic. It worked out well. We had bought some wine which we enjoyed with the small plate which was of mostly meat. I think the lady misunderstood what we wanted. I thought we’d get another cheese plate but turned out to be meats. Many very fatty. Luther liked them so I didn’t eat much. It was a nice light meal with not too much wine.

The next morning we headed home. We stopped in one more winery which didn’t let us taste but Luther bought six bottles. He was lamenting the fact that there was still space in the car for more!

The weather was beautiful. We put the top down and drove through the Tuscan mountainous center. We passed near San Gimignano. When 1 o’clock came around we began looking for a place for lunch. And we found a cute little place called Ristorante Tre Archi.

3rdlunch

First the proprietor brought a little cart with six olive oils to try with the bread. Yum!
tuscan_oils

Then I had Tuscan onion and potato soup. Toasted bread to put in it. Very like French onion. And tagliatelle house made, with fungi porcini again. Since these big mushrooms are very much in season I took advantage. Luther had Ribolitta, or Tuscan bread soup, and lamb chops. Over cooked. The man, I assume the owner there, was super nice.
3rdlunch_pasta

We arrived home about five pm. A productive and fun trip.