Monthly Archives: September 2018

Carcassonne France – trip report – with pictures this time!

Sorry about the post of this without the pictures. Operator error!
Another trip report….
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Tuesday, September 18
We traveled from Umbria across Tuscany and up into Liguria today. First big, exciting thing was our stop for lunch at the Autogrill. EXCELLENT lunch. We finished our beer and wine and enjoyed the ambiance. We love the Autogrill. We also passed Carrara which is where most of the Italian marble comes from. The mountain, where they quarry it is snow white. And the quarries are huge! On the way home I’m going to stop there for a photo. Michelangelo went there to get the marble for his sculptures, la Pieta and David.

Since the horrible disaster in Genova with the bridge collapse, traffic is all messed up getting past there. We opted to follow the detour signs and ended up on a 100 kilometer detour! Added at least an hour to our trip. We arrived at our hotel and checked in, happy to be there. Our room is excellent. I got lazy and just looked for Relaise e Chateau properties for our two nights out and two nights back. They are a group and pretty upscale. This one wasn’t too bad. I got 20% off by paying in advance. It made a difference so we got the junior suite with balcony. It’s nice.

First night hotel. Nice room.

Gift upon arrival. A snack.

We had dinner in the restaurant which was pretty pricey. I didn’t have prices in my menu. I really hate that. Food was good but not exceptional. I had gamberi in a beet sauce and tuna chunks with crisp fried eggplant. Wine was Ligurian so interesting. But what they are really proud of is their olive oil. All the hills along the coast are covered with trees. We told the waiter we were from Umbria and loved our oil best. He explained it and Tuscan oil were too strong. I opined that I liked the strong tastes. He brought us each a small dish of their oil. It was very light. You could barely taste the olives. It was delicate and went with milder foods which I can understand. Our oil goes with strong tastes like beef and stews and soups. An interesting tasting lesson.
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Wednesday September 19
Overslept this morning! They closed all the shutters and drapes when they did turn down so we didn’t realize the time! 🙄 we headed out to explore the Italian Riviera. We followed the SS1 which is the Appian Way all the way to Rome. A small two lane along the ocean and through the middle of all the little seaside towns. Once, it was the only way to travel through this area. Now the big autostrada A10 which is comprised of bridges and tunnels mostly, high above the coast and towns takes you quickly through. But we enjoyed the slow pace with the top down.

Our Angelo Giallo

Promenade

Pretty palm trees lined the way

Beach

Bouganville.

Many towns very congested. Lots of beaches. But the towns were different. We finally stopped in Rive Liguria which is a very small, calm seaside town. We had lunch in Ristorante Dalla Padella alla Brace. Out of the frying pan, into the fire! It had a nice seaside undercover area. My food started OK with octopus carpaccio with potatoes and olive paste. Quite good. But my Spaghetti con Vongole was a problem. After eating about 1/3 I felt something abrasive in my throat which I managed to cough out…a wire. Then I found another. It looked like steel wool bits. They said the helper had cleaned the clams with steel wool. I said it was not a good idea 🙄. So my lunch was less then satisfactory.

We returned via the A10 in a trice and headed to the IperCoop for a picnic dinner to be eaten in our room tonight. Now it is time for reading, relaxing, and enjoying our room.

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Thursday, September 20
Up and out the door by 9:30 because it’s about a 6 hour drive. We made the drive uneventfully. We stopped for lunch (Hippo Burgers) at the Hippopotamus in a rest area. Nice restaurant actually.

We arrived in Carcassonne in the afternoon but hadn’t heard from our landlord so things were iffy. We went to the addrsss but it was in a tiny street and we went the wrong way up a one way thanks to our GPS. 😑 finally I called the owner in England and we managed to check in eventually. Then we had a very hard time finding a grocery. But we did finally. There are small ones nearby which we will explore later. After the epic drive, tomorrow is a planned down day.

Moon that evening

Small Plazza with church near us.

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Friday, September 21
This day we decided to do a walking tour of the old city of Carcassonne. There is also a vibrant city just across the river from us, the Bastide. And another surprise, the Canale du Midi goes right through town. Lots of barges and boats parked alongside. There’s a lock that they all have to navigate. It’s a pretty canal.

Our apartment is just beneath the walls and towers of the old city. A long stone staircase goes up just near our apartment. We went up it and at the top we were at the optimal viewing spot for the art installation on the walls. We had seen this from a distance and wondered at it. When you view from this spot you can see the actual design. It is not paint. It is tape.

We continued up into the town. There are tons of shops selling all sorts of souvenirs.

We went to the entrance to the walls, the keep, the ruins of the chapel and the crenellated walls.

Drawbridge

We first viewed an excellent movie with a quick history of the city. We wended our way through the walls where there were a number of signs explaining in French and English the history and what we were seeing. The history is long and convoluted. And to confuse things further much of the castle was restored/recreated in the 1800s. The man responsible was as good as it gets and did the best he could given the times. The castle had such a history that he had to chose a point in time to which he restored it.

We went to lunch at a tapas place with wines. It was small and very popular. The morning had been very cool, windy, and gray skies threatened rain. We opted for the inside seat in the window. Good place to watch people. We both had the chorizo in BBQ sauce and I had the patates bravas. Local red wine. And I even broke my rule and had the pain perdu for dessert. We continued our walking tour. We visited the beautiful cathedral. It was so reminiscent of St. Chapelle. Not as many windows but super tall and colorful and a lot of them. Two rose windows. All were created in the 1200s and 1300s.

We also did some souvenir shopping for our friends. A cake of wonderful soap, and two pretty bracelets made of polished stones with silver beads. I also got some wind chimes which I’ve missed since my old ones fell apart many years ago.

Tonight we will picnic in again. French TV is definitely worse than Italian in my opinion. Ugh.
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Saturday, September 22
Gorgeous Saturday morning! Breezy and perfect. We decided to explore the “other” old town of Carcassone. We walked down our street to where the Pont Vieux begins. It’s the old way into town across the Narbonne river. At the other end you pass the old hospital. In the Middle Ages you were checked before you could enter the town for disease. If you were deemed sick you could go in the hospital or leave. It’s a pretty bridge.

Saturday is market day in Carcassonne. We headed into town. What a vibrant place!!

Sidewalks were made of pretty stone.

All garlic, all the time!

Radishes.

Tons of people all about. A lot of locals. But we also heard a lot of Brits. And a couple of Americans. The streets all blocked off except for pedestrians. They have a beautiful street exhibition with hundreds of brightly colored umbrellas suspended over the main streets.

Then we arrived at the market. Wonderful! We compared the differences with the Italian ones. Here there are none of the big veggie stands that go from town to town like in Italy. Here the stands each are focused on a single thing. Like one was all garlic! One was all mushrooms. Some were all vegetables. Some were only eggs. Or cheese. Or bread. It was lovely. I bought a big loaf of bread. We continued down some streets radiating from the main square. We came upon a goat cheese stand. And they sold milk from a tank. You brought your own milk bottles and they filled them for you!

Then we went into a market inside of a huge building. This one was all meats and fish. Stand after stand. All manner of meats. The French do like their offal. The fish looked beautiful and I was drooling with envy over the piles of oysters. Sigh. I do miss oysters.

We also hit a couple of wine stores here and there. We then settled into a table to rest ourselves with a glass of wine and/or beer. And good people watching. It struck noon and we watched the vendors begin to dismantle their stands. We headed off to find lunch but our first choice was fully booked. Sadly as it looked great. We ended up at Freaks. It was pretty good. Unusual. Lots of healthy stuff. I had a cured fish and potato salad thing with lots of sprouts and lettuces. Luther had quinoa and lots of lettuces etc. We had a carafe of the local red wine and coffees. It was a nice and less filling lunch.

We strolled back across the Pont Vieux. I got a good shot of the old city on the hill from there. Then we decided to kick back in our apartment. A lovely day.

This night we decided to have the cassoulet. We bought it in a can. They sell it everywhere in containers. The Langdoc, where we are, is famous for this dish. Also foie gras. Sadly as I do have difficulty with the way this is produced. But it is what it is.

Sunday, September 23
Another beautiful morning. Today we had made reservations for a lunch up in the old fortress town in a Michelin one star restaurant in the nice hotel up there. Beautiful garden. Big trees. Breezy.

On Sunday they have a 3 course prix fix menu. Choice of two starters, two entrees, and two desserts or cheese. Comes with a welcome spritz, two glasses of wine, water and coffee. For €39 a person. For a fancy restaurant that’s not bad. I had a poached fresh egg, with truffles, mushrooms, and more I can’t remember, onglet of beef with Cabernet mayo, itty bitty pickled mushrooms, roasted tomatoes. There was an amuse bouche with three tastes, and good breads. Dessert was pain perdu for me, cheese for luther. Excellent food and full enough not to need a lot of dinner.

Luther is enjoying watching the old Avengers TV shows on French TV every night🙄 In French with French subtitles. We had some cured ham, cheese and olives for dinner.

Monday, September 24
We decided to go for a drive today since we’ve been sticking pretty close to Carcassonne. Chose a 100km driving route toward Narbonne. It was on the Plain of Minervois. It was once a sea but now is called a dried up lake. They grow wine and rice there now. We sort of followed the Canal du Midi. Really pretty and so many boats. You can rent a boat and cruise the canals.

We finished our tour and went looking for lunch. Oddly, the little French towns don’t have much in them. No stores or restaurants. I did see a Post office and of course a school. All the kids were out at recess and spied our car coming. They were so excited! We beeped our horn at them creating pandemonium! Anyway, we headed up towards the low mountains to the north to Minerve. Really cute town built of stone and perched above the gorge cut by the Brian and the Cesse rivers. It has a history. It was an old Cathar bastion that was destroyed by Simon de Montfort in 1210 and the village has a column in memory of a stake at which 140 Cathars were burnt at that time. Minerve is also famous for its wine that has been produced here by local winegrowers for centuries.

We had a lovely lunch at the Les Table des Troubadours. High up above the gorge with nice views. We were on the terrace which is covered with grape vines and umbrellas. It was crowded with mostly bikers. But it didn’t slow things down much. They have a set Menu du Jour and another menu on a chalk board. We chose entrecôte which came with roast potatoes and ratatouille. Perfectly cooked. Also got a small bottle of white wine and a small bottle of red. Both house and both good. It was very windy and grapes kept falling on us as we ate! It was fun.

We headed back to Carcassonne. A really nice day away from the city. Tomorrow we head back to Italy.

Tuesday, September 25
Up and out the door by eight. Pierre was there to take the keys. It was a long day on the road. Stopped for panini just into Italy. Used Google maps on the iPad to navigate through Genova, instead of the 100 kilometer detour our car GPS sent us on when we came last week. We drove right past the bridge that collapsed. Eerie to see the two spans with the big, missing section. Found our hotel Il Bottaccio. It is just next to Carrera where the largest marble mines exist. They’ve been taking marble out of the mountain since Roman times. The mountain is amazing. It is surrounded by smaller forested mountains but the marble mountain has not a trace of soil on it, nor a tree. Just a massive chunk of limestone and marble thrust into the sky thousands of feet. Awesome.

Our hotel is very frufru. Our room is enormous. Twice the size of our living room and dining room. It’s in an old olive mill. I think we are the only guests. It’s owned by an art collector and I think they don’t actually need for it to be profitable.

Our room

Garden

We had dinner in the dining room and it was very good despite all the bad reviews I read. We had an amuse bouche of bisque with truffles and shrimp. Then I had the scallops with Lardo di Colonnata. This town is just next to us. Famous for the marble mines, chestnut trees and pork products. The Lardo is back fat from the pigs which is aged for months in big marble containers along with spices. The dish I had also had truffles and caviar which were unnecessary. Then I had the house made pici which is the traditional Tuscan pasta shaped like fat spaghetti. It came with a fresh very tomatoe-y sauce. Simple but very good. Luther got sausage stuffed pasta and then lamb. He said they were good.

Believe it or not, this is the dining room. As a reviewer said, who would swim in a pool next to the tables with oriental rugs?

We decided to head home today as we are ready. The hotel won’t mind since we paid for the room already. So Home agin, Home agin, jiggety jog! Always good to return home and I’m sure our cats will agree.

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.

Immigrants

I try to keep my blog totally apolitical. That’s not what I’m trying to communicate in this blog. But Italy and the EU has a situation now. And this post may seem a bit political but I hope everyone will read it with compassion. Or don’t read it. That’s fine too.
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As you may know Italy had a significant election this year and a coalition was formed. The main party called the Lega, is right wing, anti-immigrant. Salvini is the person in charge of the ports and he has blocked the incoming droves of immigrants rescued from flimsy rafts in the Mediterranean. He wants the EU to step up and start taking some of them. To do their part.

Photo courtesy of Sky News.

My friend and I met up for coffee last week and we got on the topic of immigration. In the last few years the EU has generally closed its internal borders and any entry points to the African immigrants coming by the boatload to Europe. Largely they land in Italy and Greece, the two closest places. These two countries are the least able, of the EU countries, to help them, and because the borders are closed elsewhere they get bottled up here. I was saying to my friend that I didn’t like the economic immigrants just looking for a better future. That I was OK with the ones, families, women, children, fleeing war. 95% of the people who arrive are young, single men from sub-Saharan Africa with no skills. My friend mentioned that most of the immigrants to the US were economic immigrants, Irish, Italians, etc. And she was right. And these immigrants to the US took advantages of the opportunities offered there and worked hard and made it. The American Dream. But sadly, Italy cannot even offer it’s own children opportunity, let alone 700,000 immigrants with no skills to offer. Italy has no way to help them succeed. I think other countries in the EU do offer more opportunity. Too bad they are unwilling to share it. 😢

I hope the American Dream can live on in our wonderful, strong country. America has benefited, and will benefit so much from the majority of the immigrants. I hope we will continue (or resume) to welcome them and offer them the opportunities, if they work for them, as their predecessors have. Because we CAN do that.

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.