Yesterday, Italy hit the goal of 80% of people over 12 years old fully vaccinated. It is a BIG DEAL. I will say, life is pretty much normal here now. The latest proclamation has opened sporting events to 100% capacity. Gyms, theaters, swimming pools are all open. Of course, one must show the EU Green Pass (or equivalent proof of vaccination from another country) to enter any of these places, plus restaurants. Also, one must still wear the mask inside. Not a problem for Italians, who are not normally rule followers, but are doing it in this case. They, and us interlopers, all wear masks with no drama. Sad to say, a friend who came over from being in Florence, said he witnessed an American woman tourist in a clothing store there who jumped the line to buy something. She had no mask on. The clerk asked her to put on her mask and she said “no”. The security guards ejected her. Why come over here to visit and be so rude? These are the rules of the country who is your host. I sincerely hope this was an anomaly. She was that one bad apple…
Yes, there have been riots in Rome about the Vaccine mandate here. They are organized by a neo-fascist group and definitely not main stream. I read they may be banned. We don’t need this sort of dissent in the middle of a global pandemic. ~~~~~~ Otherwise it is definitely autumn in Umbria. The tobacco is being harvested, the sunflowers have dried and been harvested, the grapes have been mostly harvested. The fall vegetables are now in the market. If I go to the local Saturday market here in town, no one needs to tell me what month it is. All I need to do is look at the available produce and I know. 🙂
Wednesday mercato today, as usual. My market buy today was these beauties!
Porcini mushrooms only fresh in the fall. Many people go mushroom hunting around here. These are plentiful. I’ll be making tagliatelle con porcini – mmm.
Then I bought this…
Salame al Cinghiale. Wild boar salami. It will be for our Sunday Stuzzicheria to welcome our first guests!
That’s right! For the first time in over TWO years we are having visitors! I’m very excited. I will get into the who, the how, and the why…later. But for now, I’m getting ready for them.
Last week I procured some wild boar, called Cinghiale here. We here in Umbria and Tuscany are pretty much over-run with them. They breed twice a year with from 3 to 13 piglets every litter. They are so prevalent here, and so destructive, that there are no limits as to how many you can kill, in-season. I wrote a blog a few years ago about the Cinghiale hunts around here. Highly orchestrated. Interesting reading. Tis the season of the Cinghiale hunt.
Today, I am preparing cinghiale ragu. It takes hours to cook to be tender. And I can freeze it for an evening pasta dinner. I’m sitting here now and smelling it cooking. Devine!
We won’t eat this now, but I borrowed a picture of what the dish will look like, from the recipe which is an Italian recipe from ideericette.it .
Well, maybe not “adventures”…but stuff we did 🙂. Mostly eating. What’s new?!
Anyway, we had lunch with new friends we had not met before last week. They bought a house in Gubbio and were visiting the first time since Covid. It was a pretty day. We sat outside. We were at Ristoro di Campagna. It is a very Umbrian place. No menu, they come and recite what they’ve got. And we dined with chickens! A first for that!
Today we drove to Montepulciano. It’s about an hour and 10 or 15 minutes from our house. We were meeting up with an old friend, Rod, that we both worked with in Germany. Twenty six years ago!! 😳 We dined at La Grotta, one of our favorites. Been many times. It was pretty and we ate in the garden. It was great to catch up, and great to meet Ana, Rod’s wife. Yummy food and nice conversation. Here are my dishes…mmmm.
This is a trip report, so you can skip if you’re not interested.
Monday, September 20
A sunny Monday morning. A road trip to Molise with my friend Jen, to break in her new Patente, Italian drivers license. This license is required after one year residency in Italy. An American cannot exchange his/her license because there is no reciprocal agreement. One must study hours, and take the practice tests again and again online. There are 7000 possible questions. The test draws from this pool. The test is given only in Italian and it is one of the biggest hurdles an American must overcome to live in Italy. Once you’ve passed you must drive a low power car for a year, and adhere to other limitations. So you see why this was such a celebratory trip!
Jen is an Italian citizen. Her ancestors are from Molise. Once it was part of the Abruzzo region but in 1970 it split, becoming Italy’s newest region. But it is old and full of history. It can only be explored by car. So off we went. The trip there was not especially eventful. We drove through some exceptionally beautiful scenery. Our destination was Termoli, a seaside town. We arrived at 5:15. So it took seven hours. Mostly because Jen is strictly adhering to the laws. She does not want a ticket as a new driver. We experienced poor driving by Italians the entire trip, they are exceptionally aggressive and don’t pay any attention to the speed limits. They make their displeasure known by tailgating and even by blowing their horns to try to get you to speed up. I guess they just can’t accept a person trying to mind the limits. It was a bit stressful.
After checking into Cairoly Rooms, a quirky hotel right in the old town we rested a bit. Then we showered and went out looking for dinner. We didn’t have reservations and it turned out that was important. At a certain point we gave up and just decided to eat anywhere that looked OK. We chose Mari e Monti. They fitted us into an outside table. We had a wonderful time. It was not expected but was very much appreciated. We shared an order of peppered mussels. The mussels were tiny and sweet and clean as a whistle. So delicious. Then I had a spaghetti with a half lobster in a red sauce. and Jen had a smoked fish. They brought a dome and covered the fish. They put a pipe in it and lit a small fire in a pipe which blew the smoke into the dome, smoking the fish. Really different. We also had a bottle of Molise white wine with dinner which was exceptional.
Tuesday September 21
Next morning we paid a visit to the local fish market which also had produce. Just a half a block from our hotel. Beautiful food.
Since this is Jen’s home of origin I wanted her to make the plans. I am happy to just go along and enjoy. Today Jen was a lot more relaxed in her driving. We went about an hour and 20 minutes inland to a town called Agnone. It was way up on a mountaintop. The trip to get there was beautiful. Agnone is home to the oldest bell foundary in the world. No lie. Founded in 1339 and continuously operating ever since. By. The. Same. Family! 😳 Incredible. It is the Marinelli family. We didn’t want to take the Italian tour. A nice man named Ivo offered to show us the foundary. Not an in-depth tour but a basic little tour. The facts are incredible. They make primarily bells. Bells for churches all around the world. Each bell is a work of art. I learned the bell has exactly the same circumference at the base of the bell as the height. The top of the bell is half the circumference. The thickness at the bottom is 1/14th the diameter. They showed us how they make the molds, and the wax, and then how they finally pour the molten bronze into the molds which are buried in earth to keep them from melting or collapsing. There were many bells and they are all tuned to specific notes. Every major and minor note on a piano is possible. It is pretty incredible. No photos allowed inside the foundary. I got all mine outside.
Then we went in search of a small lunch. No good choice we got a little snack and drove over to the Centro Storico where we did some exploring. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and it began to rain. We did get some pictures but the lack of sun and light was a disappointment.
After arriving back in Termoli we decided to return to our restaurant from the previous evening. We treated ourselves to a feast. We had brodetto di pesce, which was a seafood soup speciality served to two people. The funny part was, because it was chilly, we were eating inside and we were the only table with people inside. We had an order of the peppered mussels, which take awhile to eat. The lady from the kitchen kept peeking at us to see when to bring the soup. They did bring it when we were done and it was a bubbling, steaming dish full of seafood to include two whole fish, shrimps with heads, mussels, and a lobster-like crustacean. There was bread soaking up the broth and then…then, they brought home made pasta to put into the broth. Oh what a feast it was. We ate and ate. The cook kept checking to see if we liked it. At one point I groaned with delight at the broth…which was the star of the show. So rich and pure. Essence of seafood. And that pasta in there? O my god. So good. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. I commend the kitchen for producing such a beautiful dish.
Wednesday September 22
Today was much cooler. We had decided to visit a town called Bagnoli del Trigno. A town built in and around a rock. A big rock. And it was a really sweet town too. Attractive big square. Easy parking. Pretty trees and painted houses. The piazza had big trees with benches. Pretty scalloped design cobbles. And a bar called Bizzarro. I kid you not.
We parked and walked up the big hill to get to the castle. It was not open but there was a nice lady who took us to a private museum which really was her Nonna’s house. Preserved with wood stove and no electricity.
There were ample photo opportunities in and around the town. Jennifer talks to anyone and she made many friends. After our walk we went back to Bar Bizzarro for refreshments. I ordered vino bianco…they didn’t have any. A bar with no white wine. How bizarre!
I had made a reservation for our dinner this night and the restaurant called me to say they had mechanical difficulties and we couldn’t dine there. So, for this reason, we thought eating a bigger lunch and no dinner was a good idea. We found there was a restaurant outside of town. We headed to Calice Rosso. It was part of a hotel and a big place. Nice people and food was good. It was the first place I had needed to show my Green Pass (Covid vaccine proof). I had a baccala salad which turned out to be enormous and I ate about half of it. And we both got the speciality dish – risotto con fonduta di caciocavallo e lamelle di tartufo nero Molisano. See how they draped thin cheese slices under the risotto? Very rich. Neither of us could finish it but it was really good.
We decided to visit Pietrabbondante, a town with an ancient amphitheater (Teatro). It took about 40 minutes to get there even though it was only twenty miles. In Molise, the terrain is rough and the roads small and twisty.
We easily found the site of the Teatro. We purchased our tickets and walked down the hill to the site. This Teatro was built by the Samnites around 400 BC. They were an ancient civilization in what is now south central Italy. The site is large with several temple remains and several walls with beautiful hexagonal stones. Very well preserved and snowy white. The amphitheater is nearly complete with comfortable seating complete with back supports. There is a lot still left to discover at this site.
We returned to Termoli and had a heck of a time finding parking. Until now it’s been pretty easy to find parking but today the streets were jammed. Maybe it was just rush hour but we weren’t sure. We found a space and hope it is a good and legal spot. Then we walked Jen’s two sweet dogs, Cricket and Eddie. They are quite happy to remain in the hotel while we explore.
Then we wandered into the town and had spritzes and snacks. It had gotten pretty chilly and the town was very different from our first night when it was warm out.
Thursday September 23
Chilly out today. We headed to the three villages that were founded by people from the Dalmatian coast – what is now Croatia. They are said to speak Italian and Serbo-Croatian.
Our first town was called Acquaviva Collecroce. Also named KruĆ. It was small and easily walkable but very hilly. Many signs were in two languages. There were lots of the typical men hanging around. We wandered and took lots of pictures. Then we stopped for a cappuccino at the No Problem bar. No problem!
We decided to have a Cappuccino at the local Bar No Problem. No problem!
The second city, which was also a Croatian town, was called San Felice del Molise. It was a larger town on a hill top. We only saw one reference to the Croatians and that was on the church. No street signs. No nothing. So different from the obvious pride the other town took in their origins.
We headed home to Termoli, and on our way we took so pictures of the spectacular sea. Beautiful beaches and real surf!
We found a good parking spot and we took a little break before going out to tour the oldest part of town which is enclosed in a wall and surrounded by the sea. Beautiful sea views and a semi-trabocco, the old fishing platforms from this region. There was very little to see on the quasi island. Few shops. Few restaurants (all closed), few bars. We did help a little lady to find a street. She was so lost.
Here are some pictures from the old city.
We went back up the corso and stopped in a bar for drinks. And people watching. Always fun and entertaining. We did some (mostly) window shopping and searched for a wine shop with no luck. I headed back to rest a bit before dinner and Jen kept shopping.
After a break, we headed back to the old city and our restaurant Svevia. I highly rated place. They were a little disorganized upon our arrival. The man opened the reservation book to the 21st and nodded and took us to our table. Only thing was…today was the 23rd! 🤦🏻♀️. Then someone came and asked what name the reservation was in. I told him Nancy. We got our bottle of wine and had ordered and they came AGAIN to ask the name. Each time acting as though Nancy was a totally expected name. I have to think whoever wrote my name down misspelled it or something. Mattered not since by this time we had our wine and couldn’t be kicked out!
We ordered and our first course was brought. I had ordered a sublime puréed fave bean and chicory with shrimp wrapped in lardo. Jen had gnocchi with shrimp. Mine was small so I finished first. They took my plate while Jen was still eating…VERY. BAD. FORM. Then they tried to take HER plate before she was finished. Unexpected in a Michelin rated restaurant. My secondi was gamberi Catalan-style. Very good big crustaceans with a diced veggie sauce. Served cold. With tools to crack the legs and a pick for the meat. I happily sat and disassembled my gamberi. Very yummy. Dessert was a ricotta whipped with chocolate sauce. And cookies. Very yummy.
Friday September 24
Homeward bound. Up an at ‘em and on our way by 9:30. Took five hours on the Autostrada Adriatico. It runs from Bologna to Bari. Good road. Quite a bit of traffic. Except for the frequent construction zones it moved along OK. ~~~~~~~~ So, on our trip we learned a few things. How to pump our gas. How to park and not get towed away. How to pay tolls. All good.
My personal observations: Best restaurant: Mari e Monti Best dish: brodetto di pesce Best site: Teatro in Pietrabbondante Best town: tie between Agnone and Bagnoli del Trigno.
I bet most of my readers don’t know Molise. It is very much the forgotten sister. Their Tag Line in their tourist brochures is “Molise, non-esiste” or, “Molise doesn’t exist”. I am here to say it does exist, and I think it is worth a visit. It is also one of the regions with the 7% tax scheme for those who are contemplating a move to italia.
This isn’t all about Otto Cento. First I need to give you links to previous posts about the festa, so you get an idea about the briganti and what they get up to. First 2014, our first year here. Next 2015, our second Otto Cento. These are just a couple years. If you are interested go to the search function and put in Otto Cento.
The Biganti are a big part of the fun of Otto Cento. They are the bad boys. Always up to mischief. And always during the wee hours of Saturday night. Today, I woke up to see in the middle of the piazza the biggest pile of shit I’ve ever seen. Along with some signs which I cannot decipher.
As you may notice the Briganti have hoisted their flag behind their creation.
To enter the piazza you need to go through a curtain which has large naked butt. You walk between the legs.
It is all in fun and the boys and their molls love it. I love it too. 💕 ~~~~~~~~ We went to lunch at Calagrana with a new friend, Brian, who is contemplating a move to Italy. It was a messy day weather-wise. It rained sporadically, and the sun shone some too. The view of the Niccone valley was, as always mesmerizing. We had a nice conversation and a nice lunch. I wish Brian luck in his quest to move to Italy.
When we got home the skies opened. Much needed rain! Lovely.
Stay safe all. Next up, my road trip to Molise with my friend Jen. Exciting.
I am amazed at the numbers of Americans arriving here in Italy right now. I guess many people waited until fall to come on the much wanted trip after the lockouts and lockdowns. I heard Florence is back to the teeming crowds of tourists, so long gone. I’ve seen pictures of other tourist destinations which are also very crowded. It is all good for the Italian merchants, restaurants and all the tourist oriented industries who have all suffered so much from this pandemic. They are all very happy to hear American voices again.
We have been meeting some of them. For a meal or a drink. Some are virtual-friends through my blog. Some already have places to live here and have returned after a long time of not being able to come. Many are looking for a property here. It looks like the property market is finally heating up somewhat.
We had a nice dinner with a couple who own an apartment in one of the many reconstructed borgos around here. Purpose built from old farms or small abandoned villages into vacation home enclaves. For my foodie friends, this was my Primi course last night. Pasta with a duck ragu, figs and nuts. Unusual and very good!
We just noticed there is a cannon in the Piazza outside! Along with the Italian banner. It is time for Otto Cento! For those who don’t know, Fratta ‘800 or Otto Cento has always been our town’s biggest and most fun festival. It was always held about this time of year and lasted for four days. A quasi recreation of the beginning of the Italian republic in 1861.
People dressed in period costume, re-enactments abounded, the cannons boomed, the horse Calvary were here, the briganti hid in their lair along with the ladies of the night in the brothel until Saturday night when they overtook the town. Garibaldi turned the tables and order was restored on Sunday. Four days of mayhem. 15 or more popup restaurants serving period food. Entertainment in keeping with the 1800s. Alas, since Covid it has been a shadow of its former self. But some people are keeping it going with restrictions. Hopefully in 2022 we can get back to our normal one.
~~~~~~~~ Today a decree will be signed to mandate vaccination to all workers in Italy.
From TheLocal “Italy is expected to become the first European country to make its Covid-19 health certificate mandatory for all workers in both the public and private sector from October, as the government tries to speed up vaccinations and keep the infection rate down.”
Every Sunday is pizza night at Calagrana. Fun and casual. Albi mans the wood burning outdoor pizza oven with his assistant. We ran into many longtime friends we hadn’t seen in a very long time. All were in good spirits and have weathered the pandemic. Also we saw newly returned friends Linda and Evan. They will be here enjoying their apartment and the pretty autumn weather. We brought along our friends Jane and Christie who now own the little apartment overlooking the square where we stayed while renovating our apartment. We all tucked into our pizzas, hot off the fire. So good! Thanks Team Calagrana.
This is our favorite butcher. It is about 20 kilometers from our house in a town called Bosco on the way to Perugia. We wouldn’t normally travel so far since we have nice butchers in Umbertide. But for something special, this is the place to go. It is extraordinary. It is local meat. I’m not sure why it is so special and so much better than other meats…but it is.
We took a trip down on Tuesday. When we go, we buy a lot. Normally, I make my own hamburgers from ground beef here because the pre-made patties are not good IMO. At Etrusco they make them really well. So we got four. Also we got some steaks which seem to me to be the equivalent of flank steaks and skirt steaks. Not normal cuts here. We got some pork sausages and a giant pork chop. But the coup de resistance was the bistecca. We got a T-Bone. But we also got a Tomahawk steak. I hadn’t heard of this cut until a friend in Florida posted a picture (thanks Lynn!) Then, suddenly, there it was at Etrusco. Serendipity.
Tonight I cooked it on the grill. It was raining and a bit of a challenge to cook, but I cranked out our tende di sole (awning) and it was fine. I had worried about the heat and smoke on the awning but it worked OK. The steak was exquisite. I don’t think I’ve had a better steak at home in my life. Picture — you can see where it gets it’s name.
And after slicing for dinner.
Mmm mmmm good. Sorry to my vegetarian friends. We don’t eat a lot of meat but if we do, it must be exceptional. I have complete faith in this butcher in how the animals he sells are raised. I do not buy meat that is factory farmed. Here in Umbria there are so many family farms, with small productions and humane treatment of the animals. If you deal with local butchers you know where the animals were raised and how. Same as your vegetables. Raised nearby, with no pesticides. It is one of my favorite things about living here.
In case you thought we never did anything…today we did a little day trip to explore a town we drove past last month. Cagli, in the Marche region, our next door neighbor. We are actually very close to both Le Marche and Tuscany here in the Upper Tiber Valley. We went the scenic route. It was a beautiful day. Perfect for the top down. Here are a few pictures I snapped along the way. I was very surprised to see a lot of the trees were changing their colors already. And even more surprised to see mostly orange. It is not a common color here. More yellows. Very few reds.
But then…a thunderstorm! Funny. I’m no meteorologist but I’m interested in things like how the big Apennine mountains affect the weather patterns. On the west side of them all was clear and no rain in sight. But once into the mountains I suppose the weather gets disrupted by the mountain ranges? I dunno. And I’m even more interested in the weather on the eastern slopes and the Adriatic. Anyway, we had a bit of a downpour just when we arrived into Cagli. We had to take cover in a coffee shop.
We had reservations in La Gioconda Ristorante. When the rain let up we found it and decided to eat inside since it was still sprinkling and cool. They did not ask for our Green Cards. The place was nice. The food good enough but not special. The service perfect. And they had a few nice touches like gifts from the chef, house made bread, and separate truffle and porcini menus. I went with the porcini, one of my favs.
After lunch, we walked around the Centro Storico.
There is always something to love in an Italian town. No matter how far off of the beaten track. We had a lot of fun, and a lovely day.
Tomorrow is Ferragosto. The August holiday which is dead center of the month. The month of VACATION!! Big parties tomorrow.
This is a mundane post. I got out early since the predicted high today is 38C. That’s 100 degrees in US speak. Hot. So I was up and out before eight. I did my shopping at our local market first thing. The high summer bounty of fruits and vegetables are beautiful. It was hard to stop buying. Here are a few pics of the deliciousness to come.
I ran into some friends and we had a chat. Mostly about their recent vacation to Como, and the wonderful food in the market. We shared some recipes.
I didn’t only go out to shop. I wanted to get in my walk early before the heat. And like I often do, I decided to combine my walk with an errand. I had finally gotten some more charcoal and was planning to grill. I’ve got a skirt steak that I aim to make into fajitas. It was calling out for an avocado to go with it so I walked to the so-called “Egyptian” market 😁 It is owned by immigrants and I guess people think they are from Egypt so they call it the Egyptian market. I kinda doubt that. But anyway, they have things available there that cater to the immigrant communities in Umbertide and the surrounding towns. Things like cilantro. They have it reliably. And they have avocados that are perfect, and reliably good. So I make a point to get my avocados from them. So, as part of my walk I got two avocados and while there I even decided to buy four ears of corn. I’m sure it won’t be up to my standards of sweet American corn, but I want it so badly, I’ll try anything. I’m going to grill two, for a salad, and boil two, to test how good they are. I asked where they came from and he said Sicilia. I think most of their stuff comes from there.
Here is the corn. All trimmed up.
On my way back, I was amused by this little grill on the sidewalk at our little corner store that sells all sorts of things for the household. The amusing part was that it said it was a barbecue “Professionale”. Right. Looks pretty flimsy for professional use!
That’s about it. I’ll try to remember to post a picture of our dinner tonight. And the corn whichever way I do it.