Category Archives: Italian life

Odds and Ends

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Greetings from Umbertide!

So August is upon us. The time of year when one cannot accomplish anything because everyone is on vacation. So we have enforced down-time which I guess isn’t so bad. It has been, still is, and will be for the foreseeable future very HOT. Staying inside with all the shutters closed. Drinking cool drinks…speaking of that! August 1 is the day everyone has to have a glass of white wine to keep the snakes away…unless the person who told me that was just pulling my leg! I’ll have a glass of wine anyway!

So I’m just catching up on things now that I’m home and idle. A couple of weeks ago we had a magnificent display of flag throwing. The flag throwers were from a small town called San Gemini in southern Umbria. I took a ton of pictures. Here is one.

And about a month ago we had the opportunity to go on a tour of Civitella Ranieri. This is the castle, built in the 1400s, which is on a hill above our town. It is leased by a foundation based in NYC named the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. It is an artist residency program that hosts Fellows and Director’s Guests at our castle. But on this occasion they were opening the castle to guided tours. It is a magnificent building. Here are a few photos.

Entrance.

Ranieri family tree. The family still owns the castle!

Can you see what this sculpture is. Answer at the bottom…***

Fireplace

Grounds

Lady thought her Chihuahua would enjoy the tour. I’m thinking Not so much.

House for sale
And finally, our friends Joseph and Paul, who live just across the Piazza from us have decided to put their wonderful apartment on the market. It is definitely a one of a kind property in the heart of Umbertide. Totally renovated and beautiful from stem to stern. But I will let the websites which show this apartment speak for themselves. By the way, some of you may remember this one from the House Hunters International a few years ago.

CLOCKTOWER PENTHOUSE

And another…
https://www.greatestate.it/en/luxury-apartment-for-sale-in-umbria-perugia-umbertide-4223.html

I know many of my loyal followers are interested in someday coming to live here in Italy. And they also may have friends they can pass this along to. So I am showing these listings from my friends as a favor to them. And BONUS! they are offering $1,000 to anyone who finds a buyer that closes.
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***a mama bunny and her babies!

Cost of living here in small town Umbria

One thing I have not addressed in this blog is the cost of living here in Umbria. Recently I read a blog talking about the cost of living in Milan. Admittedly, it is less expensive to live there – it’s rated the most expensive city in Italy, than in most cities in the US, but it is still more expensive that many other areas here in Italy. People who are still working and have no choice but to live in a place like Milan do so, but retirees, like us and many people who move here on an ER Visa from the US, do have a choice.

Generally all the northern parts of Italy are more expensive than the south. And of course Tuscany, which has always been a magnet for expats is quite pricy, especially Florence. But central provinces like Umbria, or Abruzzo, or les Marche are a real bargain. They also see fewer tourists and, therefore are more welcoming, in my experience. Umbria is just next to Tuscany and has many of the attributes that attract people there. It has beautiful hill towns, the food is amazing and it has some of the best wines in Italy. It is also known as the “green heart of Italy” because it is in the center, vaguely heart shaped and, being very agricultural, very green. It is also a very traditional area. A little more tranquil and old fashioned.

People have asked me how much things cost here so I will endeavor to list some things.

Housing.
Buying a house here is not terribly expensive if you don’t want a palazzo or a fattoria in the country with olive groves etc. But I should also say, like anywhere else, there are a wide variety of houses in a large variety of sizes and price ranges. For lower budgets I know of several habitable apartments in our town in the neighborhood of €80-100K. This would be one or two bedrooms and bath(s). A fixer-upper would be much less. Usually houses here are smaller so plan on 800 – 1,100 sq ft for that price. Also a real savings is that you won’t owe any property tax on your prima casa, or main residence. Apartments for rent are very reasonable. An apartment of this size will rent for in the neighborhood of €400-500 a month. Usually it comes furnished. Generally apartments rent with a lease for 4 years with option to extend for 4 years at the same rent. Other option is 3 years with 2 year extension. But you can negotiate. Many times utilities are included in the rent.

Utilities
Speaking of which, utilities can be expensive here. Houses are rated from A-G for energy efficiency, “A” being the best as far as efficiency goes. Old buildings are notoriously bad with no insulation and thick stone walls which conduct the heat/cold. Our building is about 500 years old and of the later sort. In winter our bills were running in the neighborhood of 240€ for two months. But this past winter we got a 400€ bill (2 months). It was very cold.

Two months of gas

Also most people, including us, use a pellet stove (stufa) to warm parts of the house.

Most places do not have air conditioning. We have two electric units. We don’t use them much so our bills are small. Water is a lot less here, around 20€ for 2 months. We pay 75€ for trash removal twice a year.

Coffee/drinks/wine
At my local Bar/Coffee shop an espresso is 1€. A cappuccino is 1.20€. Compare that to Starbucks! And it is way better. A small beer is 2€. An aperol spritz (mixed cocktail) is 4€. Many bars have happy hour with snacks gratis if you buy a drink.

To buy a basic bottle of wine can cost as low as 3€. Here they also have sfuzzi which are like a wine gas stations! Bring your bottles and fill them for between .80 and 1.30€ a liter! Of course high quality, pedigree wine is more. 12€ or more a bottle.

Eating out
We have several types of restaurants. At a trattoria, which has great local food, you can get 3 courses for around 15€. A fancier Ristorante you will pay more, 8-10€ for an appetizer. 17€ for a steak. Pizza at a pizzeria is around 5-8€ a pie which is more than enough for a person. Contrary to common thought, most places are fine if you ask for a box to take left overs home. You can get just a slice for 1.20€. No tipping here. Round up if you want.

Supermarkets and food shopping.
This is a comprehensive subject and maybe should be a separate post. Groceries are less expensive on the whole. Many larger towns have weekly markets (mercato). The produce is good, fresh and affordable. For around 10€ I can get a big shopping bag of gorgeous produce to last a week. The markets also sell pecorino cheese of all sorts and ages and prosciutto and cured sausages and salami for which Umbria is known. Also a fresh mozzarella man, and my fish lady in her truck. My normal shopping habits are, I shop the two weekly markets, Wednesday and Saturday, for produce, cheese, specialty meats, fish. I shop the butchers, bakers, etc for fresh meats and bread. I only go to the supermarkets for staples like sugar, cleaning products, etc.

Approximate prices at a supermarket: you can get a whole chicken for 3€. Hamburger patties for 1.50€ each. Pork chops for 3€ lb. Steaks for $6 lb.
For fancier things you’d pay.
Veal steaks $8 lb
Beef filet steaks $12 lb
Salmon steaks $8 lb
Ground beef $4 lb
Lamb for grilling $3 lb.

Cars
Autos cost about the same here as the US but you must be a resident to buy one. There is an annual car tax as well. Of course I think everyone knows gas and diesel is a LOT more expensive here. Probably 4-5 times the cost in the US.

Internet/satellite TV
Our Skye satellite TV costs 30€ a month. Phones you can top up as you use the service. It is a lot less expensive than in the US. There is a TV tax to pay for public Italian RAI TV rolled into your electric bill. Internet can be rolled into a package with your phone and is not expensive. But it’s not very fast here.

Other travel
Train travel is reasonable. One way to Florence from here is 12€. We take the Freccebianca from Folognio to Rome fairly often. It’s reasonable (from 16.90€ on the fast Frecce train) and we are in Rome in an hour and 15. Have lunch, shop, come home before dinner. The fast trains (frecce) that run between bigger cities are more expensive and have several classes of seating.

Air travel can be very cheap here. There are a number of discount carriers like Ryanair, Easyjet and Wiz air. Umbria has a small airport but it is limited. We love it because it is so small and easy to use, parking is plentiful and cheap. We use Ryanair out of Perugia for our annual trip to the UK. There are several flights a week. We also flew to Bucharest Romania on Wizair once, just because we could! And there are a couple of weekly flights to Sicily. In summer they add more. Frankfurt, Brussels, Sardinia, Bari. If you shop around and are flexible you can fly for as little as 19€ round trip to Catania or Bari. Our friends go just because it is so cheap. But for destinations farther afield we go to Rome, Florence or Bologna.

Only Wine Festival

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

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

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

Lots of Italian guys wear their hair in pony tails.

I liked his stripes!

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

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Calagrana welcomes Spring! The Patio is OPEN!

I had the duck. It was delicious.

The duck came with little dumplings and some cool condiments.

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

Around Umbertide

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

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

Row of columns. Note the differences.

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

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

The Octagonal tower.

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

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


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

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

Unmistakably Autumn

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

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

corn

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

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

Winter squash is so seasonal.
winter_squash1

Almost too pretty to eat. Looks like sculpture!
winter_squash

The citrus has arrived. It will get better as we go through the winter.
citrus2

citrus1

Last of the Borlotti beans and eggplant. The eggplant is scrawny.
fall_veg

And the pears are plentiful and luscious.
pears

The Wednesday market is very different than the Saturday one. The Wednesday market is mostly the big vendors who go from market to market in the different towns each day (for instance Città di Castello is Thursday, Gubbio is Tuesday). Their produce is not necessarily local. I believe they DO buy local when they have the chance but most of the food comes from the south of Italy and Sicily. Still local to this country but… And you can get things from them earlier than when they are coming into season here. You can also get tomatoes all year, from Sicily, but I don’t care for them. There are one or two locals who come to both Wednesday and Saturday markets. Now, the Saturday market is only very local products from nearby farms. Thus you really do eat only what is in in season nearby. Winter can be pretty sparse in this one.

Greens are what is growing around here.
rapette

And cauliflower…
cauliflower

And Cabbage…
cabbage

And I thought I would plant some fall things this year. I got a few lettuce plants and four petunias. I think the petunias may last the winter. And we shall see how the lettuce does.
flowers_lettuce

petunia

lettuce

Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just little differences I thought would be fun to mention!