Category Archives: Umbertide

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!

Faccio la zuppa!!

Ottobre is upon us. Morning fog lies in the valley. Cool nights. Still mostly sunny days.

It is so funny how ready I am to make soups and stews as soon as the weather turns. Today, it being Wednesday, was market day in Umbertide. Many of the fall vegetables are now abundant. I had a left over chicken carcass from last night so decided to make stock. Since I was doing that I decided to get ingredients for soup. Borlotti beans are everywhere. In English they are cranberry beans I think. So pretty. Red and white inside and out. Sadly the cooked beans lose their color. But they taste great. Into the soup pot they will go.

I also wanted to showcase an ingredient unique to Umbria and central Italy. Cicerchie. Prononced Chee-cher-key-ay. They are only available dried and I always keep a stock of them in the pantry.

I thought they would go well with the beans. These legumes must be soaked for 24 hours and the soaking water discarded because it contains a neurotoxin. After soaking most of the toxin is removed, but they are not to be eaten often. Only as a special treat. We just have them occasionally. In the past, when peasants in this area had nothing else to eat they ate these everyday. They will grow anywhere and withstand all manner of weather. So oftentimes it was the only thing thing they had. Because of that people got a condition called Lathyrus.

Soaked on the left, dry on the right.

Once my cicerchie are soaked I will precook for about 30 minutes. Then they will go into the soup with the borlotti beans. First I’ll sauté the soffritto in olive oil. It’s the holy trinity of celery, onion and carrot. It is also called mirepoix in French. I think every country has their version. In the grocery store you can buy containers of these three ingredients in the produce section, all ready for soup, stew or pasta.

Into the pot will go garlic, a can of whole tomatoes chopped, parsley and some sliced cabbage (or any green leafy vegetable). Then the beans, cicerchie and the chicken stock. Cook for 45 minutes or so and then add in a handful of pasta and cook until done. Any shape will do. Salt, pepper, drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese if you want.

Welcome to autumn!

My trip to the Poste Italiane


I’ve begun a walking regime since my knee is still recovering and I figure walking will help both it, and the rest of me! So, sometimes I combine the walk with an errand or two I need to run. Today, I needed to visit the post office. Always a treat 😏. The following is the trip in photos.

Leaving Piazza Mattiotti in front of our house.

Our pretty river walk.

I pass by the main intersection in front of the Collegiata built in the 1400s

Via Garibaldi, one of the main shopping streets.

Train Station. I turn left here.

Viale Unita d’Italia. There is a Moroccan store here where I can find spices and sometimes Cilantro.

Arrived at the Poste Italiane. Ugly building!!

First you pick which thing you want to do and get a number.

Your number and window come up on the board.

020 – that’s me! Finito! Successfully mailed my package.

On towards home. This is Via Carlo Marx. Umbertide was reliably communist until recently.

Pass by the theater. They have English language films on Mondays or Thursdays. Mamma Mia!

Come to the fork between Viale Unita d’Italia and Via Roma. I’m heading down Via Roma on the right to home.

Via Roma.

Back to the Centro Storico!

Umbertide has everything we need. Some of it is not so pretty but it is functional unlike some of those pretty hill towns. They usually are all looks and no substance.

Yellow waves of…

Ah. It’s the season for the Yellow Waves of … Tobacco?! Yes, tobacco.

From about Perugia, northward to the mountains and the source of the Tiber river is fertile ground for tobacco. All along the river plain and up into the valleys to the east and west you will see field after field of tobacco. It is a huge cash crop for the farmers around here.

It is used to make cigarettes and also the Tuscan cigars. Umbria is one of three regions in italy to grow tobacco, the other two are the Veneto and Campagnia.

Farmers practice rotation of their fields. The rotating crops are: sunflowers, corn, winter wheat, tobacco, and one year the field is fallow. Sometimes they plant legumes and plow them under in the fallow year. It enriches the soil.

I figure it’s none of my business who grows what and I don’t mind if they grow tobacco. I won’t be smoking it but many people do. And to tell the truth, it is a beautiful plant. Especially now when it turns from dark, forest green to bright lime, to yellow.

Tobacco facts…
I found out it is in the same family as eggplant, pepper, petunia, potato, and tomato. Tobacco has a small seed, which cannot be sown directly in the field; seedlings are raised in selected and tended seedbeds where protection is given against heavy rain and excess sun; young seedlings are planted out by hand or mechanical transplanter, and spacing between seedlings and rows varies with the kind of tobacco and with the location. Tobacco is picked when leaves are “ripe”. Leaves ripen progressively from the bottom of the plant to the top, so lugs (the bottom leaves) are picked first and tips picked last.

Life cycle in pictures
The plants must be watered throughout the growing season. Most fields are within a short distance of a water source so water can be pumped to irrigate the fields. This field is just beside the Tiber river.

Rich and green before it begins to ripen.

The plants do get flowers and many farmers de-flower them so they don’t go to seed. Some don’t seem to do that. The foreground plants were left to bloom.

The blooms are pretty, ranging from pink to red.

Beginning to ripen. Typically tobacco is picked six times, with three leaves taken per pick and six leaves in the final pick. Gradual picking may continue for 2 months. These have the very bottom picked already.

Half picked

All gone.

There are harvesters that take just the leaves from the bottom off and work their way to the top as they ripen to leave the stalks. The leaves are piled high into green farm wagons pulled by tractors to the ovens found throughout the area. Here is a row of ovens. The tobacco is half dried here and packed and shipped for final processing.

It is a seasonal rite around this area so I look forward to watching. And it is a part of the rhythm of life. The beginning of Autumn.

Ottocento 2018 – final

Saturday is traditionally the big finale of the Ottocento feste. We were meeting friends for dinner and as we walked I took some pictures. This first one is of children rapt watching a performer.

Along the tiny alley down which was our restaurant I took a picture of a milliner and also an example of a kitchen of the time.
Our dinner was at the Osteria Degli Artigiani. It was sponsored by our friend Patrick Piccione and he chose some wonderful wines for us to taste during dinner. The food, not so great. It was fun sitting at a table for eight, us four Americans and four young Italiani. They were nice. While there we had many folks passing by and I snapped some pictures.

These are the Carabinieri. Even then they had spectacular uniforms!

Serenade by a bag piper.

After dinner we wandered around. Here is the most elegant pop up restaurant complete with oriental carpets, velvet chairs and chandeliers.

A marching band…

At 12:15 this is the crowd. Oh, by the way forget what I said about music all being from the 1800s.

I was up trying to catch the Briganti in the act of their mayhem. 3am, the Red Coats we’re guarding the flag. They were Garibaldis army. The Briganti were striding about purposefully. At 4am there was shouting but I think it was drunks. When I got up this morning I was so disappointed. The Briganti had hoisted up their flag but had done NO mischief. I wonder if it’s the new Mayor. Maybe he’s a prude. But if the Briganti are the bad boys why didn’t they do something anyway? I have to say, the Briganti are a bunch of wimps. They pretend to be bad boys but when the chips are down, they cave to propriety. 😑 if they were REAL Briganti they would have done their mischief anyway. Booo.  Sono deluso.😢

Today, outside, There is waltzing. Pretty dresses.

Thus ends Ottocento 2018.

Ottocento 2018 – first day

It is again Umbertides time to shine with the big Ottocento feste. I went out early for a walk and snapped a few photos of the preparations. Every entrance to the Centro Storico, historic center, has red drapery and proclames La Fratta del Ottocento. La Fratta was the old name of Umbertide. And the word Ottocento, literally ‘800’ (shortened from mille ottocento ‘1800’), used with reference to the years 1800–99. The feste celebrates and re-enacts the independence of Italy and the Italian unification into one country. It was facilitated loosely by Giuseppe Garibaldi and over four days the townspeople wear costumes of the late 1800s, serve food of the time, and have entertainment in keeping with that century. Hence no bad rock and roll! This does not mean ear plugs are not welcome at night 🙂 Here are a few entrances.

Here is the hairdresser on our street. I love that the shopkeepers all get into the spirit. This window reflects a hat and hairdo of the time. 

Here is the latest in fashion!

They use cranes to hang the banners and bunting.

I think there are about fifteen pop-up restaurants. Interesting how they can be set up all through town. And behind basement and garage doors are whole kitchens from which they can provision them. You never know they are there until an event. Here are a few of the Osterie and Trattorie. Interestingly I recently read that the original Osteria was a bar where men went to drink. It was only after WWII that they became eateries. We will forgive our feste for this little oversight!

 

I loved this! Old fashioned bloomers hung to dry in one alley.

Of course Ottocento would not be Ottocento without our Briganti. These are the brigands who get up to mischief and mayhem and take the town on Saturday night. Here is their arrival on the first day. You can’t miss them because there is constant rifle fire to announce them!  Note the ladies of the night among them. How could they not be?!

The Briganti go back into their lair where you can dine in thier Taverna if you like. They keep a low profile until Saturday night but they still sing, dance and play music as well as drink and carouse.

The bordello.

And later last night our first entertainment. Belly dancers!

Stay tuned for more action…

My shopping routine

Let’s talk about my normal shopping routines. One of the reasons we chose to live in a town was so we could walk to do our everyday errands. If you live in Umbertide Centro, like we do, you can easily walk to 2 bakeries, 4 butchers, and two supermarkets. (Plus 3 gelato shops 😋) Also our doctors and dentists, a hospital, banks, the post office, etc

Saturday market and my haul from last week.

Normally I shop the weekly markets that come to town on Wednesday and Saturday for all of my produce. I buy most of my meat at one of the four butchers. Bread comes from the nearby bakery. And other things, like cleaning products, flour, sugar, milk etc I get from our close local market, the Conad. It is small but has most things. Then there is Angelo’s Alementari. It is in our building and very convenient for many things. Pasta, prosciutto, cheeses, and most staples are in his store – plus he is a great guy.

There are also a number of chain supermarkets in our town. The Coop shopping chain has good prices and sales, it is a cooperative which you can join for savings, and the quality can’t be beat. We have one in Umbertide, the biggest store here. The Conad is comparable – there are 2 in town, one (smaller) in walking distance. The A&O is in walking distance and has good produce and prices. The EuroSpin is the least expensive with real deals but quirky. Farther afield is the IperCoop. It is huge, much like a Walmart with clothes and most things you’d need. I can find things like tortillas, Helmans mayo, French mustards, black beans, Asian ingredients etc there. We go about once a month. All the chain supermarkets offer good sales monthly.

Little supermarket near us. Conad.

Love our butcher. I’ve never met an Italian who didn’t like his picture taken! He quick grabbed that cleaver and posed for me 🙂

But sometimes we want to do special shopping trips. We go to Abruzzo where there is an Essalunga, a huge American style store with just about everything. It won third place for worldwide supermarkets after Wegmans and Whole Foods. We go maybe 2-3 times a year. It is about 45 minutes away.

We buy wine from the local wineries and also online. Italians have not embraced online shopping much yet but we get a lot of things that way. Amazon Prime Italy is a lot cheaper too. I love it that the trucks will deliver our stuff to Bar Mary if we aren’t home. 🙂

So that’s about it. My normal shopping routines!

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Also this week…Market find! I used to get Heirloom tomatoes from a man who came on Saturdays to Umbertide. But he has not been here for 3 years and I’ve missed his tomatoes terribly. By luck a friend posted pictures of a bunch of tomatoes on his FaceBook page and they were heirlooms!!! I found out he goes to the Citta di Castello local market on Tuesday so I made a bee line up there and sure enough, it was the same man! I bought 2 Kilos of tomatoes of all colors and sizes. And they cost only 3 Euro.

I also bought those local eggs while up there. They are covered in chicken poop and even have a feather stuck to one. It is how you know they are fresh. Eggs are not refrigerated here since they are not washed like in the US. So they keep their protective film which keeps the bacteria from getting in.

Odds and Ends

***IMPORTANT NOTICE***
I have noticed I have a number of email subscribers that are Bots, i.e., not really people. I have no idea why anyone would target my blog as it is non-commercial etc. but for whatever reason, they do. SO I am going to go through my list of subscribers and purge the addresses that look suspicious to me. I’m telling you this so you will know that there is an off chance I will delete a REAL person by mistake! So if you notice you are not getting posts in your email from me in the future you may want to check the page and if there are posts you missed, re-subscribe. Sorry for any inconvenience!
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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, 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.

Mega chicken and a full moon…

I asked Luther to go to the butcher and get some things that appealed to him. He came back with a package of the biggest chicken breasts I’ve ever seen! I had to check to be sure they weren’t turkey. But they weren’t. There were eight pairs! So I guess I’ve got to get out my recipes to see how to use them!

One night I woke and looked out to see a beautiful full moon a’rising over Umbertide. So I snapped a picture.