Monthly Archives: April 2016

Pretty mundane post today…

Today I bought new eye glasses. There is a shop just a block away owned by a very nice man who “tries” to speak English. We ended up speaking more Italian but that was OK as I understood most of it. I am sure I’ve mentioned the “culpo d’aria” or “hit by the air” notion here before but I am endlessly amused by it. The nice man who sold me my glasses was wrapped tightly in his scarf, inside his shop. It is not cold right now but Italians are terrified of being “hit by the wind” on the neck and getting sick. They also are still wearing their puffy coats with the scarves and it is near 70 out and warmer in the sun. To my chagrin I find I feel the need to wear a scarf much of the time now too! Grin…IMG_0734

I also did a bit of organizing this week. I ordered a bookcase from IKEA which took a month to be delivered. I have been juggling piles of papers since we came. It seems the idea of a filing cabinet is foreign here. They use boxes that sit like books on shelves. I finally decided to let this system into my life because the Capricorn in me could not stand to be so unorganized. The bookcase arrived and I assembled it. Then I purchased a number of these organizer books in various sizes and managed to get everything organized. Happy days!FullSizeRender

While I was going through all my papers I came across the printed copy of “Italy, the Owners Manual” which I bought when we were contemplating our move. It has lots of useful information. I decided to go through it to see if there was anything we still needed in it. Most of the information was about things we had already done to get here. I was discarding these pages but came upon a section on taxes. Car taxes specifically. We already pay real estate taxes (€50.00 two times a year), and garbage tax (€76.00 two times a year) – TV tax (about €100 a year)…but we hadn’t known about car taxes which are called auto bollo. We actually should have paid them on both vehicles when we bought them last year but since we are clueless Stranieri that didn’t happen. It was no problem to go to the auto club to pay the Volkswagon taxes for two years. It amounted to about €500.00. The taxes on the Porsche, however were a bit of a shock. Shouldn’t have been I guess. The bollo is based on value. There is also something called a Super Bollo on high horsepower cars. Turns out the Bollo for the Porsche was about €800 per year. The Super Bollo was €1,200 per year. Ouch. What we pay for our toys!

Another interesting turn of events here in Umbertide is that they are building a regional Mosque in town. This, as you may imagine, has caused quite a stir. Our friend went to the town hall type meeting last night. It turned out to be a several hour shouting match where nothing got done and no real information was shared. The odd thing is that they have already started building this Mosque. I wonder at the timing here. We are going to get the Americans together and compile a list of questions. Luther and I have two primary questions. Where is the money to build it coming from, and who will the Imam be? Pressing questions…we have no problem with a Mosque but if it is financed and staffed by radical Islamism, well we DO have a problem with that!

England – days 5, 6 and home

Our fifth day was a Saturday. We woke and went to the kitchen to fix our breakfast of crumpets with butter and jam, hard boiled eggs and French pressed coffee. We stared in disbelief at the wet snow coming down outside! It didn’t last long but was a surprise.

We had decided we would go to Chipping Norton and on to visit the Hook Norton brewery nearby this day. It was very much colder and spitting rain on our drive. We were very surprised that the countryside was snow-covered! Luther said it is the highest point in the Cotswolds so they would be colder. We found the brewery and learned you have to book for the tours so we just went to the museum and had a pint of their beer. Not bad ale.

Old photo.

Present day brewery after renovation.

We were just about ready for lunch so headed over to Stow-on-Wold. Before we got there we turned off into Oddington where a brown signed pub was supposed to be. We have learned, a little late, that the best pubs have the brown highway signs like tourist sites do. They seem to be of a better quality. This one, the Horse and Groom, was extremely nice. We sat by the huge, see through fireplace and ordered. The things on the menu were very intriguing, especially the appetizers. But I hadn’t yet had my fish and chips and the man said the haddock was fresh yesterday. So I got that. It was very yummy. An oddity in this area. Fish and chips are always sold with mashed peas. Don’t ask me why.

We headed over to Stow and passed through. A nice town, it was too cold for strolling around. We went back to Lechlade near where we are staying and bought something for dinner, some wine and some firewood. We were going to go to the Plough, a nearby pub but it was just too horrible out.

We had a fine dinner of veal chops with mushrooms, potatoes and broccoli made by yours truly! The fire was toasty.

Sunday, our sixth day, dawned bright and sunny with brilliant blue skies. A great day to go see the chalk horse in Uffington and the standing stones in Avesbury. I have always wanted to see the horse. It has intrigued me as it is across a hillside and carved into the chalk so it is white. It is made of very simple lines but most definitely a horse. Beautifully done. And over 3000 years old. Over the centuries the local folk have cared for it and probably used it in religious ceremonies. Turns out you can’t really see the horse. It needs to be viewed from above. Which has sparked UFO theories over the years. It DOES make one wonder why, since they couldn’t really see it back when it was created. We climbed the hill and could see the head and front legs from close up. We just couldn’t get the real impact of the figure. So I borrowed an aerial picture from above the horse from We were standing about where the red dot is to take the next photo. Don’t you love the minimalist way it’s created?
uffair DSC05489

We also visited Uffington castle or what was left of it. Just earthworks.

Next we drove across country, and beautiful country it was, to Avesbury. The standing stones there are really impressive. They were erected 6000 years ago. The stones are huge and rough hewn, not smooth and square like Stone Henge. They spread over a wide area and surround the little village.

There is a pub called the Red Lion amidst the stones. The sign out front says they are the only pub in the world inside a standing stone circle. Probably true! We had a beer there.

We headed north and kept a lookout for the brown pub signs. We passed several and stopped at The Baker. This place taught us that not all brown signed pubs are the same. This one was only OK. We had our lunch and headed back, taking the back roads. Such pretty countryside! We stopped at the Plough, near our cottage. Being as it was Sunday, it was packed with families enjoying the “Sunday Roast” which all pubs serve on Sunday. Roast beef, yorkhire pudding, mashed potatoes and assorted vegs. We only had a small beer there just to take in the ambiance. Nice place.

Last day. We were off to stay near the airport overnight. We drove across country on small roads. The scenery was pretty. When we got to Blechly we saw a sign to Blechly Park. That is where they broke the codes in WWII. It probably won the war. It is no longer used but they have a good audio tour and numerous multimedia stations. Very interesting. We left and stopped at the White Horse for lunch. It was probably one of the better pub lunches we had. I had chicken Brest stuffed with smoked cheese and ham on a bed of peas, broccoli and greens. Very tasty. Luther had grilled catch of the day.

Finally, a pretty little bird in the yard of the cottage on our last day. I looked it up in my bird guide and it’s a European Robin. A favorite bird.

We will leave very early tomorrow morning. Looking forward to getting back to my boys, Rocky and Simba!

England – days 3 and 4

The third day we decided to take the walk from our cottage through the National Trust buildings in the tiny town of Buscot next to us. There are one or two buildings not owned by the Trust but most are. We left the cottage and were wished “good morning” by the raucous cawing of the rooks. It sprinkled rain on the walk but it wasn’t too bad. There is a beautiful church at the end of the village which has had a place of worship since the 1200s and maybe longer. It is a place that exudes a sense of peace. I sometimes wonder if places on this earth are preternaturally spiritual and that’s why places of worship naturally gravitate to them over the millennia.

DSC05433 DSC05426

After our walk we drove into Lechlade, the next town from us, only a couple of miles. I wanted to explore the village. It is a lovely place as so many of these villages are but not so beautiful that it is overrun by tourists. Lots of little shops. A very pretty 12th century church essentially unchanged since it was built except for a new roof when the first one burned. This lets the church retain its symmetry which is not the norm in British churches. We ran into an eccentric man wearing a hat adorned with many pins and ornaments walking his little Jack Russel named Elsie. He was pleasantly plump and rumpled. I complemented him on his hat and he was very pleased. We petted Elsie who was dumped by some idiot and he rescued her. I enjoyed meeting him and even more, I enjoyed talking to him. I really miss that in Italy. I seldom can ask the questions in Italian that come to my mind when meeting people.


Here is a stone roof being repaired. A lot of work. Each stone is removed, piled up and cleaned and then replaced.DSC05435



We stopped into a shop called Cutler and Bayliss – Butcher and Greengrocer. We cursed ourselves for shopping at at Sainburys yesterday. This place had beautiful meats and poultry and also cheeses and veggies. Everything for a lovely dinner. We decided to go back Saturday for our last dinner ingredients. We also spied a cheese we’d heard much about called Stinking Bishop. My sister will recognize this and tell her husband Bill because it was in Wallace and Grommet that we heard of it and he’s a big fan. We bought a small slice and it certainly lives up to its name!

We next drove to Burford. This is another pretty village that HAS been discovered by tourists. It has a street of shops and we had lunch in a pub there. We drove back to Buscot and decided to relax for the afternoon. I took some photos of the nearby Thames. There is a walking path that goes to Oxford many miles away. There are lots of narrow boats that navigate the river and it is on a side spur where they negotiate the lock near our cottage.



We had lunch here.

Our fourth day was spent at Blenheim Palace north of Oxford.

This is the birthplace of Winston Churchill and the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough since the 1700s. A magnificent place. Huge. Acres and acres of landscaped gardens, lakes and fields. We paid the princely sum of £40 for the two of us to go in. It was drizzling and quite cool with a stiff breeze. We walked the fairly long distance from the car park to the palace. Once inside your ticket gets you into the Churchill galleries, the gardens and access to the guided tour. We skipped the gardens because of the rain. Extra tours cost extra money, for example, the upstairs-downstairs tour which I thought would be interesting. The Churchill galleries showed the lineage of the Dukes and how Churchill fit into that. It gave a pretty detailed story of his birth and childhood and formative years. He was mostly raised by a nanny and his Grandmother as his parents were busy with their own lives not to include their children. The rooms went through the courtship of his wife, his military service, the onset of WWII and his becoming Prime Minister and the war years, and finally his death. It even had a gallery of his paintings, some of which I thought were quite good.

We joined the guided tour through the apartments, salons, library etc. Tons of significant art, tapestries depicting the first Dukes wars and subsequent Dukes and their wars. They are on their tenth Duke now I think. The family still has apartments in the Palace.
DSC05473 DSC05474

At the end we were regaled by an old gentleman playing the magnificent pipe organ in the library. We finally ducked out on him. I think he could have talked for hours!

The organ.

Detail on the organ.

We tried to find some pubs that had been recommended by our friend but the first town was so jammed we couldn’t park. And the second town we could not find at all. So we headed back to Burford and the Lamb Inn. We sat in front of the crackling fire and had a nice lunch. We ate in for dinner and had a fire to warm the drizzly cold afternoon and evening.

Last days.

Merrie Olde England – trip report – days 1 and 2

Another long trip report. If you are not interested just skip this post.

We are just back from Merrie Olde England. Oxfordshire to be precise, just at the edge of the Cotswolds. We flew RyanAir from Perugia to Stanisted. It took about two hours to get to our National Trust Cottage in Buscot village. It is called Lock House and used to be the lock keepers house. It was built in 1790 and has meter-thick stone walls throughout. We’ve stayed in four of these cottages so far and I think this one is the least comfortable. It does not have wifi which, in the future will be a priority. I like to keep in touch with my cat sitter via email. It’s also quite loud outside as it sits just beside a waterfall that roars. I am not sure if this is seasonal as it has been quite wet here. That said, it is fine for our six night stay.

Lock Cottage.

Rookery. Rooks, like big crows, live in neighborhoods called Rookeries and are raucous. Also, if you park under them your car is trashed. Our rental definitely was!DSC05458

Just outside our cottage this torrent rushed from the river into a wier and thence back into the river. Very loud.

Path along the canal over to the river.

The Thames river itself. There is a path the whole way to Oxford.

Our first day we arrived at about six in the evening and were pretty tired. We drove the two miles up the road to the Trout Inn, a pub. Inside was kind of odd because it had two long tables and a few small round ones in front of a cheery fire. The barman was large, cheerful of face and friendly. The menu was on chalk boards above the fire. At the other end of the room a band was setting up. It was Tuesday so that was kind of a surprise. The gents in the Thames Valley Jazz band as well as all the people in the place were older than us by a good bit.

We ordered the trout (what else?) and it was fried with lemon and butter with two generous bowls of sides. One was veggies, assorted. The other was french fries. The trout was excellent. They farm it in this area.

Trout by the fire. Cozy.

The band got going and were playing jazz from before and during WWII, which I enjoyed. There was a coronet, clarinet, stand up bass and a banjo. They were all pretty good. Too bad they couldn’t sing.

The second day was sunny and cool. We decided to take the train into Oxford. It is a lovely city. Britain’s oldest university is here. It was founded in 1290. It is made up of many individual colleges, I think about 40. Some of the more famous are Brasenose 1509 (named for the brass nose-shaped door knocker on their main door), Christ Church 1120, Exeter 1314 etc. we picked up a little guidebook and it lists a few of the famous people who attended the colleges. Christ Church had William Penn. Brasenose, Michael Palin. Exeter, J.R.R. Tolkien. Magdalen College, Cardinal Wolsey, Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis, Prince of Wales, Dudley Moore and 14 prime ministers. Anyone who is anyone went here! Oh and there is a HUGE rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford. The architecture spans the centuries and so is quite beautiful and remarkable. Just a few pictures of the many I took are below.

This is the pulpit in one of the college chapels.

For Harry Potter fans. This statue in front of a college building was who Nearly Headless Nick was patterned after. Recognize him?

Room where the students go to gown-up before graduation. It is a glorious room. These ceiling carvings are each made up of a college donors initials. You had to give 500,000 pounds to get up there.

One of the beautiful windows in the same chapel.

The whole room. This also was in the first and third Harry Potter movies. It was the hospital where Hermione was taken when she was hurt.

Main cathedral.

Some of the college buildings.

We had lunch in the Turf Tavern, a 14th century pub. It is famous because it was the place that Bill Clinton said, “…but I didn’t inhale”. Pretty good pub food. We returned to our cottage in late afternoon after shopping for dinner provisions. A nice day.

Days three and four.

The 2016 marriage season has begun!

Last week we saw our first wedding of the 2016 season in the piazza. This little girl was so cute.

Some of the guests. These Italian men are perfetto! Don’t you love the artfully untucked shirts? Cigarettes and sunglasses are the finishing touch. Italian men wear blazers with jeans all the time.


There seemed to be a big Muslim group of guests.



And finally the bride. That must be the Mamma fixing her hair.

Later that day the Vespa Club had a rally. Actually it went on all weekend but this day was a slo-mo motorcross or something. They went v-e-r-y slowly through the course.


The piazza festivities have begun!

A day in Siena

On Sunday we took a day trip to Sienna. It was many years since our last trip on a long ago vacation. We are only 1 1/2 hours away by car on pretty good roads. We had thought last summer to go but decided to wait until there would be less people. We parked in one of the numerous lots and walked into the center. The Piazza is one of the largest I’ve ever seen and it is where they hold the Palio horse race two times a year. The city is divided into 17 contrade, or distinct neighborhoods each centered on a main street with a church. They each have a banner with animals or symbols to identify them and each contrada has its own long history and complicated set of heraldic and semi-mythological associations. The neighborhoods are fiercely competitive and each contrada has a horse running in the Palio. I am told if you marry outside of your contrada each member of the couple still must remain loyal to their own contrada and split up for the meetings and to cheer on your horse.

Enough of the history. There is tons more. This Sunday happened to be one of two weekends a year that they have a really big market in the Piazza. About half of the vendors were food sellers. The rest were selling clothes, scarves, hats, and trinkets. Here are a few photos of the market. This one shows the scope of this square and the market.


Prosciutto and meats.
Beautiful rosemary encrusted cheese.

These are not contrade flags. We thought they may have been the flag of the Hapsburgs who used to rule the city. They were pretty anyway so I took their picture.
The Duomo is one of the prettiest in Italy in my opinion. It was hard to get a picture. The facade was so ornate.


Inside the cathedral.


Beautiful marble scenes embedded in the floor. Vibrantly colorful. They keep them covered mostly, and randomly uncover some for a while. You can’t walk on them.


We also toured the building across from the Duomo. It was the first hospital not run by the church and was built for the common folks as well as the wealthy. They spared no expense on the frescoes inside! A civic hospital dedicated to caring for abandoned children, the poor, the sick, and pilgrims. It is the oldest surviving hospital in the world. According to legend, the Hospital was founded in 898 by a cobbler named Sorore. However, the first known document mentioning it is a “deed of gift” from March 29, 1090. Too bad we don’t care for our sick like the Sienese did way back then.

Frescoes in the hospital.



And finally…lunch! We had an excellent lunch at PorriOne. Very upscale food. Very unusual combinations

Two appetizers.

My secondi.

I didn’t take a photo but they brought a scoop of gelato kind of as a free pre-dessert. It was sprinkled with coarse salt and drizzled with fruity olive oil. Amazing combination and it worked!