Scarperia e San Piero, in the Florentine hills

Road trip!

We were feeling like we needed to get away for a bit so decided to go on an overnight trip to a town called Scarperia e San Piero. It is in the foothills of the Apennine mountains, north of Florence. We took the Angelo Giallo and with the top down, set out on back roads. We drove north to Città di Castello and then headed west up into the mountains. The roads were fun. The sun was hot. The stupid GPS sent us down an impossibly small, steep road but we managed to meet only one other car, thankfully! We arrived in the region called Mugello. I had not heard of it. But there are many places still new to me! It is a lovely region with many special things. One is a famous racetrack called the Mugello Circuit. It attracts car and motorcycle aficionados.

I had booked us into a B&B called Villa Manini in Ponzalla. It was an old fashioned place. We were on the top floor, naturally. It had a bedroom and a sitting room and two baths. Several closed doors indicated it could include more bedrooms for a family or group. Our proprietress, Angela, greeted us.

Here is the sitting room.


We had one disappointment. We had wanted to go to Antico Osteria Nandone, just near our hotel, but we had been unable to reach them on the phone for reservations. So we drove there just after lunch time. It was closed up. But there was furniture in the garden and I was sure it was not out of business. We tried again to call that evening with only the answering machine to talk to. So, we gave up on that idea and decided to try Fattoria il Palagio. It turned out to be nice. We were seated in the garden.

The doors are interesting with a little, tiny door in the big doors.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned the way we reserve tables here. Luther’s name is really hard for Italians to pronounce or understand. So, to simplify things we reserve under the name Luigi. Works out just fine and amuses people very much!

We returned to Villa Manini and enjoyed some wine in their pretty outside terazzo. It was fun because a nice thunderstorm was brewing with rumbling thunder and flashes of lightening. It got closer and the wind picked up. Wilder and wilder it got! Finally we retreated inside where our innkeeper had opened all the windows in our apartment and it was lovely and cool and I fell asleep listening to the storm.

The following morning we rose and went for the colazione included with our room. It was a typical Italian breakfast with coffee, juice and an assortment of sugary sweets. Get those kids off to school on a sugar high I always say! I’ve been amazed at how the Italians think a cornetto or a breakfast bar is a healthy way to start their day…and the children too!

We drove the couple of miles to Scarperia which is, and has been, famous for the hand forged knives they have made there for centuries. I had read about them at least a few years ago and saved the information. We’ve always needed steak knives so finally we were going to get some.

Scarperia is a small town of about 4,500 people. It’s flat and has a nice Centro Storico. There are nice little, mostly pedestrian, streets with coffee bars and shops. The people are very friendly and welcoming. Not at all touristy and very comfortable feeling. I could live there. It is also on a good train line with service to Florence and north to Ravenna.

Walking down Via Roma…because ALL roads lead to Rome! Pretty wrought iron piece.

Palazzo dei Vicari. It is a turreted residence built in the 1300s, with the piazza facing the front and the castle behind it. It was restored after a 1929 earthquake, redesigned to look more like Palazzo Vecchio in Florence; it’s actually believed that the two palaces were built by the same architect, Arnolfo di Cambio. The façade is decorated with many coats of arms of former vicegerents, or vicari. It seems they only served a six month term so there were a LOT of them.

From inside the courtyard.


Tributes. These are outside and worn down by weather.

Outside the Palazzo.


So, on to our main errand of the trip. Knives! There were a lot of shops selling their own knives. I had my eye on one named Coltelli dell Artigiano, which we found right on Via Roma.

Display case. The knives are beautiful works of art.


I bought a set of six steak knives with horn handles.

I also had been attracted to their knives which were copies of old knives from particular parts of central Italy. This one is from Perugia. Elegant and simple, it is beautiful. It is a pocket knife so it folds.

Close ups of the blade. Decorative.

Back home

Last night there was a gala charity fund raiser in the Piazza. Thunderstorms rolled through about 8PM and I was afraid for them but they covered everything and all was well. They are probably used to that in the summer! It was obviously a black and white as most folks wore only those colors. They had a baby grand and music into the night.

Heat wave

Welcome to summer! We went from cold rain to steaming heat. We are doing our normal “Shutter Management” . We open everything up when the sun sets, and close everything up when the sun rises into the sky. It is still nice and cool at night. Up in more northern Europe, Berlin, Paris etc. the heat was amazing. Records were set. Paris saw 45.7C or around 114F degrees. And remember, people don’t have AC here as a rule. I read an article about all the heating and cooling contractors up there being inundated with requests to install it. And they used to make fun of the Americans for having it. Harumpf. We merely got up to 37C yesterday. Warm but not terrible.

Umbertide is up to it’s old tricks. The Vespa Club hosted Vespa Clubs from ALL over Umbria. I saw shirts from Spoleto, Spello, Todi, Orvieto, Perugia. There were a LOT of vespas!

I went for a walk last week early, before it got very hot. Along the very placid Tivere river.

Along the way.

I had been asking Luther to let me know when the sunflowers were blooming along his running route out in the farm fields. He said today was the day. So I drove out there, after I was released from Vespa madness., to get a few pictures.


And finally a shot of our terrazza with all the pretty blooming flowers. A far cry from the horrible mess we had out here while our last pet sitters were here! The rain really delayed everything but I’m happy to say they have all recovered.

Happy Summer everyone!

It was our….ahem…year anniversary celebration

SO. The summer solstice is the day of Luther and my anniversary. This year was a significant one. I won’t say the number but it has to do with Gold.

We decided to invite most of our new friends here to a lunch at Calagrana. I wanted it to be family style and casual. Comfortable. The weather was hot but we were on the side porch in the shade with the occasional breeze. Here are some pictures.

we decided to ride in our Chariot the Angelo Giallo.

Ely’s signature cocktail complements of the house. Thanks Ely! But, even on this special day, she wouldn’t tell me what was in it!

Table all set and waiting.

Luther looking handsome in is Hawaiian shirt.

Me ready for the fun.

Some of the friends who joined us to celebrate.

A tavola

Paul, Susan, Stuart, Jill.

Vera, Jen, Joanne.

Cuzin’ Tom. My maiden name is Gilmer. Tom’s last name is Gilmore. Both from Scotland originally. We have to be cousins!



Desiree, Vera’s pretty red-head daughter.

All of us!

Chef Albi hard at work at the grill.

And of course I had to have pictures some of the food. I forgot to get it all.

We had a multi-plate antipasti to start. Chicken wings, Charcouterie, quiche…

Torta alla Nonna for dessert. SO good!

I had Ely and Albi special order lobsters for us. And we had beautiful rib eye steaks too.

I think everyone had fun. It only happens once!

Real Estate in Italy

Real estate in Italy is a totally different animal than in the US. Reasons why:

  1. it is not a good investment. You will be very lucky to recoup your money from purchase and any renovations you do.
  2. you cannot be in a hurry to sell. We are told allow average of 3-5 years to sell here.
  3. Italians and Americans have very different ideas about houses/apartments. What should be in it. How much you should pay for what’s in it.
  4. Italians inherit property over centuries. They all have multiple houses. They do not have mortgages. They do not buy houses because they do not need to. They are house rich and cash poor.
  5. The market is stagnant. Or actually declining.

I tell you this because we have listed our house. Not because we aren’t happy here. It is my dream house. It is just the way I want it. But, being realistic, we are aging and a house on the fourth floor (American), third floor (European) is not optimal for aging in place. There is no possibility of an elevator.

Today we had a nice, young Italian couple look at the apartment. Normally we get English and Americans looking. We have listed at two agencies, one British/international, and one Italian. The couple seemed to like it. It is interesting because all the Italians we know say an Italian would never buy this place. One, because it is too expensive. And two, because it is not to their taste.

I beg to differ on both points. First, we paid €20,000 more than we are asking (!) and we put another €65,000 into its renovation. So, perhaps we paid too much. But getting it with all the bells and whistles for only €230,000 is a deal. Second, we renovated and furnished it with all Italian finishes and products. Our kitchen is manufactured by Pedini — a well known Italian kitchen designer. Our furniture is all purchased here. It is Italian in every way. But maybe a bit more sophisticated Italian than many Umbrians are willing to embrace.

This all said, I am in no hurry to sell. I will be very, very sad to move away from here. And I am not sure where we will go. It all depends on what is available elsewhere when we sell. I have many new friends here in Umbria. A nice support system, and I would miss them. I am loathe to leave it. Except…and it’s a big except…Umbria is not what I call Stranieri (foreigner) friendly. We cannot get a Permesso di Soggiorno (Permit to stay) for more than a year, commonly 2 years elsewhere. We are told we cannot apply for the EU Long Term Residence Permit, supposedly available to all foreigners after 5 years of Residency. Why? It is an arbitrary decision by this region. And no recourse that we know of. So, moving from here could facilitate these things for us. A real conundrum.

Of course, I don’t expect to sell anytime soon. So we aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Rest assured, I will continue to write on NancyGoes from whatever location we land in, in Bella Italia. In case you’re interested here is our listing.

Trip report – Back to the USA

Another trip report so you can ignore. I do these for myself and my friends and family.
Ah. Just back from a trip to the US of A. It was a busy one. Impressions on my first day…the first day is always a little surreal. Everything is so big! So fast! So tidy (at least in the ‘burbs). So expensive! So expansive! Tooooo many commercials. Toooo many drug ads.

We had done on-line shopping before going, which I had sent to my sister (thanks Cindy!). She brought all my loot to our meet-up in Annapolis. Chili powder, some clothes, kafir lime leaves, lemongrass paste (Thai food here we come!). Lots more hot sauce 😋. Then we did some shopping at the drug store and grocery. Not much this time. Travel sized items, pens and pencils (cheaper there), deodorant, gorilla super glue, binder clips, scotch tape, Saran Wrap, peanut butter, picnic salt and pepper shakers, cheddar cheese… lots of goodies. But now on to a few trip details.

We took the train to Fiumicino near the Rome airport to Pascucci Porticciolo a small hotel with a Michelin one star restaurant of the same name. It’s always fun to have a night with good food before a trip. The trip was uneventful and we arrived at 1:30PM at Washington Dulles airport. It was hot and we are not used to it what with the very cold spring we’ve had in Umbria.

Our first night in the US was not far from the airport at the Hyatt in Reston VA. It’s an OK hotel. The carpets are well worn and a bit dingy in the hallways. The curtains in our room sorely needed attention or replacing. The systems are all old. Bath is very dated, nicer towels would’ve been good — the room was adequate in space and the beds were comfortable and had nice linen. Price was over $300 for the one night we stayed. I didn’t think the cost to value was close at all. We went to dinner at PassionFish. I remember it from before we left. Decent seafood. I had oysters on the half shell and crabcakes. Unseen in Umbria. Miss those!

Next day we were off to the nuptials of our niece Rachel. They were held in Baltimore, a city near my heart as I went to college there. Rachel had asked us, as the couple she knows who’s been married the longest, to speak during the ceremony. I loved the wedding. Not religious, presided over by Uncle Paul, Alex’s Uncle. Alex is Greek and so there were some Greek traditions incorporated. Sarah, the maid of honor, placed crowns connected by a white ribbon while they did their vows. After the vows, and the kiss, they walked out to the music from the Dating Game. So cute and fun. The reception was nice with an 8 piece band called the Bachelor Boys. Great dance band. During the bands off time they played Greek music on the stereo system and all the attendees learned the Greek dances. Men dancing together, women together. It was fun. Anyway, I’m super happy for Rachel and Alex and I’m sure they will have many years, and many adventures together!

Pictures courtesy of  Rachel’s FaceBook photos. The Happy Couple!

Rachel and Sarah, Her Maid of Honor – Lovely sisters.

After three days of Wedding activities we drove the short drive to Annapolis. On our way out of town we stopped at the address where I had lived during my MICA year. John Street on Bolton Hill. It was still unrenovated after 50 years. A big surprise. It was fun walking the old neighborhood.

My old house.

We had a really nice VRBO house rented just half a block from Main Street Annapolis. My sister and her husband drove the furtherest from Central Virginia to join us for a short trip.

From our front porch. Every passerby chatted with us!

Maryland state capital viewed up a narrow street.

We ate and strolled the town. Shopped and one day we did a voyage aboard a beautiful schooner called Woodwind. 72 feet, five sails. We had pretty good wind and sailed the whole time getting up to about 10 knots.

After that nice visit with my sister and Bill we headed back to northern Virginia where I visited our storage. I wanted Cindy to have a key as she’s going to oversee my cousin coming to take some family antiques. My goal is to slowly empty this space. I will probably ship some things to Italy. But I’m giving away a lot. Some old friends, Carlo and Mary, stopped by to pickup one of the German schranks we brought back from Germany where we all lived for a time. It will have a good home with them. And we had a nice dinner together at Vermillion.

The three days in Alexandria were busy. We stayed in the Kimpton Lorien Hotel and Spa. Of all our hotels, this was the best. They get it all right! We had a lovely dinner with Luther’s brother Mike and and his wife Anne at Magnolia. We so seldom see each other, just the four of us, so it was nice to catch up. I had a lovely evening of cocktails with my “Cook” Book Group of friends. We go back more than 20 years. Such fun to be outside on the beautiful deck and the Aperol Spritzes and conversation flowed. Such intelligent and thoughtful women. I love and miss them.

Photo courtesy of Ellie Thayer. Our group! We missed Lynn, Pam and Christine.

And I had a nice tête-à-tête with another old friend and walking buddy of mine, Rosemarie. So nice to see her. It had been a while!

We left from Dulles non-stop to Rome but were delayed when the airport was closed due to lightening strikes. Returned home to our wonderful house/cat sitters from Toronto. They had a lot of rain, unfortunately, but they made the best of it and the end days were fine. I think they had a good time and best of all, they really loved our boyz Rocky and Simba. Mark and Liz, you are always welcome to come back!

Glad to be home in Italy’s Green Heart!

Anatomy of a market day

I am always fascinated by our weekly market. I like to shop there. I love the slice of life when the people from up in the hills come to shop and socialize. I even like all the Expats who come and fill up Bar Mary, sitting in the sun and having their first drinks. So today I decided to try to take a series of the life of a market set-up. Actually, I’d love to know more about the behind-the-scenes of the markets, but I’ve been unable to do that yet. Once I’m more fluent in Italian I will ask. In the market there are very small individuals who sell one thing. Like the young man in a white van with his Famous onions from Cannara. He does sell dried beans, lentils. Also fresh fava beans in spring and Cranberry beans in summer. There are also four Porchetta trucks selling their famous pork. Everyone has their favorite. There are the very big industrial vendors, and the small ones with their own produce. I have two favorites. One is a local family that I like to support, and across from them a larger, not-quite-industrial one which I go to for their citrus and seasonal things. The Polizia Municipale walk through and check all their permits. There are a few musicians who, when they come liven up the scene. And the inevitable people asking for money from you. So, that description got a little long! I just wanted to try to paint a picture of the scene. And now I will talk about the set up and break down of this market, week in and week out.

I got up at 5AM to take the first picture. The two what I call “industrial” vegetable vendors begin earliest because they have the biggest trucks which need to be unloaded and then get out of the Piazza. The one on the right with four tents is the biggest. But the one over by the building is about the same size. They mostly bring the produce from the south. Sicily, Basilicata, Puglia, Campagna. They are the cheapest stands. AND they yell…at the top of their lungs…to attract customers. Or so I’m told. I also noticed the markets in Sicily operate exactly the same with the same men yelling. So I’d hazard a guess that these big vendors are from there.

Early birds start to shop at the, just set up market. This is the market just before it officially opens at eight. There are smaller trucks who come in later than the big guys and set up last. There is a large blue cheese and cured meats vendor and it is a treat to watch that thing fold itself up.

Starting to break it all down. This is about 1PM. The market closes at noon but they will sell you stuff for an hour or more until they have it all packed. As you can see, the little trucks are mostly gone.

Before cleanup. This is one of the two big trucks. The workers have it all on pallets and roll it in.

They leave behind PILES of trash, but they kindly separate it into plastic, biodegradable and wood.

The first town trucks arrive about 1:30PM. These are the Umbertide trucks. They have small trash trucks, each picks up a different trash. After that the town street cleaner truck shows up. You may wonder why the town has to clean up after these people. Well, not just any town can have a market so it is considered an asset and privilege. It brings in business. So the town does its part.

The last “Industrial” vendor waits for his big truck. These guys have it all on the pallets and ready to go. Where is that damn truck? They do have a long day. I assume they must have a warehouse where they load the truck even earlier than the 5AM when they show up here. Then they are still here until 2:30 or so.

And finally – back to normal. Hard to imagine there even WAS a market today. it is amazing to watch.

Spring Trip to Montefalco with Friends – redux

Oh for crying out loud! I pushed Publish by mistake so please look at this one as it will have text in it! Operator error!
We had friends visit and help us out with a cat sit. We took them to a couple of wineries. The countryside in early spring was just incredible.

Early vines.

We visited Montefalco for lunch. Pretty walkways and doors.

Lunch was excellent at L’alchemista.

Sicily for Easter week with friends

Another trip report so skip if you’re not interested.

Palermo April 2019
Off to Palermo with Susan and Gary. Took the early morning flight from Perugia to Catania. Only a bit over an hour flight. Ryan Air was efficient as usual, if not the most comfortable. I had plenty of room in my seat. I had, unfortunately caught a cold which I came down with just the night before we left. Slept little because of the coughing.

We landed at about 11am and took a taxi into Catania. We had until 3:30 to catch our train. Along the way, on the roadsides, were vegetable stands with bright red strawberries among the mix, and every one had a grill, grilling meat. A slice of Catanian life. I had chosen a restaurant using TripAdvisor and we got the taxi to drop us there, even though it was too early to eat. A man was standing in the doorway and we made a reservation for lunch and he kindly kept our suitcases for us.

Catania is exactly what you think of when you think Sicily and teeming cities. Not that it was bad, but it was all, narrow streets with balconies rising 5 stories. Some with laundry, some with large barking dogs. Much ornate iron work and many very run down buildings. Narrow streets full of cars with honking horns. You had to watch your step, not only because of the rough, uneven surfaces but because there are more dogs than I’ve ever seen. You can imagine the mess!

A side street.

The Duomo down at the end.

It was Palm Sunday. Everywhere stands selling woven palm leaves. You are supposed to buy one and keep it in your house for a year for good fortune. We set off on foot and went through a large gate. At the end of the street stood an imposing dome. We decided it was as good a destination as any. Turned out to take us to the main square. Huge Duomo. We went in the church and they were having Mass. We watched a bit and left. Outside, it was noon, and one of the biggest, deepest bells I’ve ever heard began it’s slow tolling. Soon it was joined but many smaller bells. Beautiful. I love bells.

Woven palms. You are supposed to buy them and keep them all year for good fortune.

In the main square. One of the churches.

We wandered the squares around the area with schools, universities, and government buildings. We sat and had a glass of wine where we watched boy scouts and girl scouts try to sell their palms to the Carbinieri with no success.

We walked back to Ai Due Corni. It filled with Catanians having their Palm Sunday lunch. Good we reserved! There was, unfortunately a lot of horse meat there. Even a horse meat butcher just beside it. I don’t eat one of my favorite animals. But we had a good meal. Right away we had five plates of assorted antipasti. A spicy eggplant, a layered dish with roasted peppers, little sausage filled pastries, and others I don’t remember. We had two pitchers of red wine and a bottle of water. Then we ordered secondi. 3 got the calamari, one the grilled fish plate. After lunch Susan and Gary indulged in the famous canolli. I need to do this but I had the fresh strawberries. Luther had a amaro. Lovely lunch surrounded with Catanian families. And the bill? €65 euro. For all of that!

We got a taxi and went to the railway station. All the taxi drivers have been nice. We got our slow boat train. Took 3 long hours across the beautiful Sicilian center. Arriving in Palermo about 6:30 we caught a taxi to our apartment hotel. We had two one bedroom apartments in the oldest part of the city. I felt so bad by this point I was longing for medicine and bed. I barely took stock of my surroundings. Luther went for breakfast stuff and wine and snacks for his dinner.

This dog was a terror! Susan said she’d shoot herself if she lived near them.


Some of the Easter sweets along the way.

During the night we had terrible storms. Very high winds which woke us because the shutters on the outside were banging. Thunderstorms later. I had taken the Italian equivalent of NyQuil which did help me sleep better. But still not great. There was a 9am walking tour of Palermo booked but I felt I needed to continue to rest and I didn’t need to be walking around in the rain. So I did not go. But while they were gone the sun came out intermittently.

They returned at about 1:30. Much later than the expected 12 o’clock tour ending time. I was dressed and ready to go. We walked down the street to an open restaurant. They had grills set up outside and were roasting fish and steaming shellfish. What’s not to like. It was an excellent feed. No menu(or prices) brought a big bowl of assorted shellfish — mussels, claims, winkles, razor clams. And a plate of overcooked octopus. After that they brought a big platter with mixed grilled seafood. Whole, individually sized orate, swordfish, big prawns, cuttlefish. All quite good. Except the overcooked cuttlefish. At the end they brought lemoncello, grappa, amarro. It was good but not worth the €140 they charged for the 4 of us. Since there’s no menu there’s no price you can point to. I enjoyed myself so I didn’t mind so much. But I’m sure the locals wouldn’t pay that much.

That said, there were no locals in the place. A big table of mostly Americans that were a tour group. Extremely loud. One woman had an ear piercing voice. Her laugh was worse. And put all together we could hardly hear ourselves over them. We stopped them on their way out and found most were from Colorado. Then another couple came over. She was from New Zealand and he was Italian. They live in Abruzzo, our next door province. Nice folks.

During lunch I heard all about the tour I missed at lunch. They walked miles, with lots of steps. I could have done it but not while sick. They enjoyed it. Apparently the tour guide is a very opinionated 55 year old native of Palermo.

After that we walked to find a farmacia but it was closed. As luck would have it they arrived to re-open as we were deciding what to do. We asked for medicine for my cough and cold. Which I now have so we will see if it helps.
Didn’t help. Ah well. I brought some things from home so will use them. We stayed in tonight. Sad news on TV about Notre Dame burning. Big loss.

Tour today of the 18th Century Villas of the Piana del Colli. We were met by our guide Iolanda. We took a taxi out of the main city. The place we visited is were the king and the very rich would go in summer. First place we saw was the Palazzina Cinese. Where King Ferdinando of Bourbon lived during his exil in Palermo. Strange place. Had fake Chinese gates and even fake Chinese characters painted on its walls. Inside was a huge mish-mash. One room would be Chinese, one Grecian, the next, Arabic. The queens quarters were upstairs just above the guards quarters. Handsome men at the ready to service the queen 🙂 but, from her picture she was no beauty. But duty calls! The kings bath was on the bottom floor with a handy door next to the bath where the current mistress could escape when the queen put in an appearance. But the couple still managed to have 16 children 😳.

Next we visited Villa Niscemi which belonged to the Valguarnerano Princes who inspired Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa for his characters described in the Leopard. It is set in pretty gardens with ponds full of ducks as they were thought to be good luck. The Villa is used even now to greet dignitaries who visit Palermo. Beautiful place.

Palazzina Cinese. Basement door, which I thought pretty.

Palazzina Cinese. Interior decorations.

It wasn’t really 3-D but sure was a trick-the-eye painting.

Loved these dragons. In every corner of the ceiling.

Another ceiling.

Wooden inlay doors.

Marble spiral staircase.

The kings bath. We were told the door was for his mistress to get away if the Queen was coming.

Villa Niscemi

After we returned we went just across the street from our apartment to l’Ottava Nota. Very good Michelin rated place. We had a lovely lunch. Mine was puréed fava beans with tiny crispy squid and for a secondi, scallops in a very complicated construction to include a fried artichoke which was hard to eat, a few blueberries, lingonberries, and many other things I can’t remember. The scallops were good, the rest, not so much.

It was a pretty restaurant.

We returned to rest up and nap. At six I decided I could go out with Susan and Gary to find the bar with a view we were told about by our tour guide. She must’ve gotten it wrong as we found nothing. We did stop at another place for aperol spritzes. Luther was still ailing (as was I) so he stayed in.

This was our street food tour day. It was my choice. It was an excellent tour. We were joined by 7 other people. Two Australians, a single woman meeting up with her mom, and an American family who live in Barcelona. Our guide, Liviana, was young and friendly and enthusiastic. I told one of my fellow tourers it felt like a friend was showing us around. We walked and tasted a variety of things, some of which I couldn’t eat. First thing was veal gristle and leavings from the abattoir floor, all organs and parts. It was fried in oil and served on its own or in a panino. My stomach just couldn’t do that today.

Then we went to a wonderful ice fruit drinks place. They had oranges, lemons and pomegranates which you could get over ice in any combination. They squeezed them to order. Refreshing.

Then we sat at a table and tried three things. A chickpea flour patty breaded and fried, a little log of mashed potato breaded and fried. It had caraway. Last was an arancina (I think that’s right) which is rice formed into a ball around a bit of sausage and…you guessed it, breaded and fried! They were all good. The arancina was seasoned with saffron which is abundant here.

Chickpea fritters

Mashed potato roll, reminded me of my Moms potato cakes.


Inside arancina

We walked through the market with all the vegetables. Some I didn’t recognize, like this one. If you know, do tell.

Ugly lemons, but I’m sure they are good.

Tiny wild strawberries.

Foraged, wild asparagus.

We left there and went to buy bread and cheese and Sicilian olives which we carried to Taverna ta Azzurra. A real hole in the wall where we spread out the noshes we’d bought and had some local wine. It was sweet wine. I was unfamiliar with it, it was reminiscent of a sherry.

We headed down the street and stopped at a stand where a man was making another odd dish. Spleen which he served alone or in rolls. I didn’t try it. Most people did, some even liked it.

Finally we stopped at a great gelato place. Super and unusual flavors. I chose cinnamon and jasmine. The jasmine is only this time of year and you won’t find it many places. The weird thing is they served it on a brioche. He sliced the brioche and put the scoops on it and topped it with whipped cream if you wanted, and stuck the end of a cone on top! Well, it just seemed a bit much for me so I opted for mine in a cup.

Some pictures along the way. Street band. They were good!

Starbucks knockoff.

A building that may have been beautiful once.

Street Jesus.

Street art.

We walked back home. It was fun but I am still poorly so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have.

Today, we visited Monreale the famous cathedral here with the largest mosaics in the world. 6,400 square meters! Much of it gold. It is incredible. The cathedral was begun in 1,174. So that puts it built at the same time as Notre Dame. We arrived on Giovedi Sante (Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday) and there was a mass going on. We stayed on the sides and listened to the beautiful music and the homily. The bishop spoke about the similar ages of the two cathedrals and the terrible loss to the French people and said his heart ached for them. This church’s ceilings are all wood too. A huge hazard over time I’m sure. But it made being there very poignant looking at the beautiful mosaics glowing all around and appreciating that they are there and safe, for now. Very moving.

I loved when the service was over and people were leaving. The organist could pull out all the stops (pun intended) in the recessional. He blew my socks off with a fugue of magnificent proportions. Wonderfully discordant, swelling to fill the huge space. It is an amazing organ played by a maestro. Built by the Rufatti firm of Padua between 1957 and 1967, it is the sole European organ with six keyboards with 61 keys each; 10 thousand pipes in wood and metal subdivided in three sounding bodies; the console is, among those which are movable, the largest in the world; and there some 400 commands, or stops. In 2015 the chancel was hit by lightening which knocked out the organ. It took two years to repair. Happily it is fine now and I loved hearing it.

OK here come the pictures. So, so beautiful. I couldn’t decide so there are quite a few.

Organ. Just one half. The other half is opposite.

The mosaics in the church are breathtaking. Be sure to click for a better look.

This is the Nave.

The ceiling is wood.

Much of the walls are Bible stories.

The following are some of the carved tops to the columns in the Cloister. They are all different and very intricate.

The cloister columns are also all different.

Fountain in Cloister

The day was the best yet. Beautiful blue sky, slight breezes, perfect temperature. We had a great cab driver. Very garrulous. And opinionated like they all seem to be. Susan gets them started and they are off and running.

View from Monreale of Palermo.

The death march. It is an arduous journey. We had to kill time until 1:30 before boarding the very uncomfortable, two car train. We knew what we were up against after our journey here. And we wanted regular seats. We had gone to Track 7 as advertised and at the last minute they said track change to 10. We were fartherest away and were outrun by all the teenagers and 20 somethings. We all managed to find a seat, if not the best seat. After 1.5 hours a lot of people got off so we had a bit more room. It is a long, boring ride.

Arrived in Catania at 4:30. Took a taxi to the airport. It was a little weird. There were probably ten taxis out front of the station. The person allocating the taxis talked to some, who apparently rejected us. The most ratty taxi possible was available. It was a real rattletrap. But the driver knew the roads. And when he saw a backup he veered off and we went through some very sketchy neighborhoods, and what smelled like the main fish market. Flying down these tiny twisty streets with people BBQing along the edges. It was wild. Our driver was silent until he hit a final traffic jam and got very animated. I think he had had a choice of two ways and opted for this one…and wished he’d gone the other way. It was amusing. We all shook hands with our toothless driver, who was very competent.

We checked in and did security and found a table at the only food place there. Had wine and we all, over time, had food. Then we boarded and flew the little over an hour to Perugia. Finally down to the last leg. The drive home. We fetched Lucca the wonderdog, Susan and Gary’s pup and headed to Umbertide. It was Good Friday, just after ten. The collegiata was lit up so pretty. There were candles burning in all the shop windows and doorways. We walked towards our apartment. There were lots of folks in front of Bar Mary. As we turned the corner to our street we were confronted by the Good Friday procession. Respectfully we waited for the priests, candle bearers, the dead Jesus statue, the mourning Mary, upright on her platform, all followed by the band and all the towns people. Finally able to get to our door we were home!

It was a tough trip for me. Towards the end it was much better. I won’t do best and worst. We liked our apartments and the location. Butera 28 Apartments. And the restaurant l’Ottava Nota was very good. We did enjoy sitting at a nearby bar in the evenings. A good trip, overall.

Puppy rescue!

Yesterday was an exciting day. I helped a group of FaceBook people in the UmbriAliens group find someone to raise two little puppies that had been discarded. They were found in a plastic bag hung on a tree limb. There were six, so young their eyes are not open and they still have their umbilical stubs. There were six. Now there are two. Four died. People don’t neuter their dogs here and when there are resulting puppies their solution is to kill or discard them. The good news is that these two are now going to be hand raised by my friend Angela here in Umbertide. The person who had been caring for them (Sarah) drove them all the way from south of Rome to Umbertide. Several others involved came along to see the babies and watch them find their new temporary home. No one is sure of the breed but the think they may be pit bulls. Which is good news for them because pit bulls are rare in Italy which will make them adoptable. There is one boy, and one girl. Pictures from Sarah.

Other happenings in Umbertide recently included a vintage car show. I had no idea they were all outside in the Piazza until I happened to glance out. These weren’t all exotic types. Many were ordinary cars of their time. Here they are.

All lined up and driving out. I always wonder where they go. Maybe to another town?

I really am ready for the spring produce to start coming into season. This time of the year there is very little new growing  yet. I’m sure seedlings are being nurtured but they aren’t in our local market yet. Just the same old boring winter veggies. I love them but I’m ready for something new. I always visit the Saturday Kilometer Zero market – our local growers and producers. This time in hopes there might just be something new. Not yet…alas. But the sun was shining and everyone was in a good mood so I snapped a few photos. Still waiting for spring…

Curly kale. Green and purple.

Cabbage and leeks. The leeks are sweet. I poached some in butter the other day which were delicious.

Dried grains are always around. Ceci beans, Cannellini beans, lentils, etc.

Umbrian olive oil – the best!

Specialty of central Italy, Porchetta. Whole boned pig stuffed with herbs and roasted overnight for about 12 hours. Addictively good.

Umbria is the land of Pecorino cheese from sheeps milk. And ONLY Pecorino cheese. The good thing is they make it in many ways, from fresh and soft, semi-hard, aged, and flavored. It is good but sometimes I miss the variety.

And everyone is starting to think about planting spring flowers. So far I’m holding off.

Senore Honey was there with all his products. Honeys from different types of flowers. I bought chestnut honey and was very surprised at the strong flavor. Not sure I like it. He also has bees wax candles and other things.


Not good news

If you follow my blog you’ll know that I had knee replacement surgery here in Italy in January 2018. I learned a lot about the Italian system before and after the procedure. I learned all about what to expect when you go to the hospital. And what to bring with you, which is very different here.

2018 Knee replacement part 1
2018 Knee replacement Part II
2018 Knee replacement Part III

I learned that the nurses don’t help with many basic things like bringing water. Or ice. They do blood pressure, medications, take blood for tests, basic bed making and body wash. But for your personal self, it’s on you to have a wash cloth, water, soap, a basin and toothbrush, toothpaste etc. for personal clean up. For anything like this you would need a helper. A family member or friend. Odd but true. Different hospitals have different rules. And, of course, very few people speak English. It makes for a lonely time without being able to speak to anyone.

OK so, my operation last year was fine, the PT in hospital was good, if painful. No opiates or pain killers in Italy. I was released but didn’t really understand I was supposed to go into in-patient rehab for 3 weeks. When I found out, this floored me. I couldn’t face it. After being in the hospital for a week I wanted only to be home. So I didn’t go. We arranged a nurse to help with re-dressing the incision. And hired a private therapist for PT in house. And all went ok.

I was told it would take 6 months to a year to recover. So I waited. And did my exercises… and I was in pain. Especially going up and down our 56 stairs. I returned to the doctor 6 months after the operation with concerns about how my knee “looked”. There was a malformation in my opinion. But the Dottore said all was well. Tutti va bene. So. I waited.

Now, more than a year later I am still in pain. Rising from a sitting position and doing stairs are quite painful. And getting more so. I decided to consult another doctor. I knew him from previous consults. I like and trust him. He sent me for X-rays of specific sorts. I returned and he said I need another operation. There are three issues. First the kneecap is skewed to the side because the ligaments and muscles are not holding it in place correctly. Second the top part of the prosthesis is too large for me. Last the bottom part of the prosthesis is slightly twisted off center. He said I could get lucky and they would only have to repair, realign the ligaments and muscles over the kneecap. But if the other two things seem to be an issue I’ll need an entire new implant. He will only decide once he can see it. Sigh. I have to lay this at the feet of the other surgeon. 😡 Not what I wanted to hear but I expected it, I guess.

My doctor asked me when I wanted surgery. I was taken aback. Last year I had no choice. The doctor put me in the queue. It took about 7 months and I had no real choice for the date. This doctor seems to have his schedule in a book he keeps and is able to pick dates. I will never understand this crazy health system here. Since I have multiple trips planned this year. And I don’t want to cancel them. First a week trip to Sicily in April. Then a 10 day trip to the US for my nieces wedding in May. Finally a special anniversary cruise in the Greek islands in July. I decided to choose end of September, after my friend Eunice goes home from a visit.

So I’m scheduled for surgery on 27 September, in Perugia in a small clinic/hospital and I will be in a total of 18 days. To include rehab. This time I will stay in for the entire rehab. It will be easier if hard to be in the hospital that long. I’m sure not looking forward to it! But it is what it is. On the bright side, I’ll lose weight! Food is awful in hospital.

The news for my blogsters is that I will share another exciting hospital stay experience with you. This time to include all that in-patient rehab! 😳 and Hey! I will learn more Italian.

Meanwhile I’ll enjoy spring in Umbria. And hopefully I can enjoy my upcoming trips. Fino a dopo i miei amici!