Category Archives: Trip Report

Molise road trip

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.

Along our drive through Abruzzo

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.

Along the corso. Good shopping and people watching.
Our restaurant

Our shared peppered mussels
My lobster pasta.

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.

Market. Fruit.

Market. Fresh fish.

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.

Marinelli foundary
Along our drive.
Two old men – one probably the Nonno. Grandfather. I love how Italian men adore babies.

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.

Decoration on a building
Someone loves flowers
Innovative way to keep your little pots secure

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.

Ancient houses built into the rock
Really pretty main piazza
Ready for winter
Look how that church is built into the mountain!
A beauty, posing in the sun for his picture
Loved the door in a door.
Itty bitty miniature cave. Tiny flowers.

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.

Castello. Too bad it wasn’t open.
An Italian hill town domestic scene

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.

My insalata di baccala
Richest risotto in the universe.

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.

Pietrabbondante

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.

Autumn color
Wild flowers growing in the ancient wall
Loved this wall. This stone shapes.
The seating, complete with backs, and sometimes arms!
What a view
Part of one of the temples
Molise traffic jam

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.

We HAD to stop to photograph this amazing view

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!

Says welcome in both Italian and Serbo-Croatian
One of the streets
Old Tom cat with a permanent scowl. Probably due to a fight. He’s enjoying the sun.
Near the church. Pretty paving stones
Lights all along the steets

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.

San Felice del Molise In the distance
From Via Adriatico guess what you can see?
Some pretty streets. The city totally closed up and silent.

We headed home to Termoli, and on our way we took so pictures of the spectacular sea. Beautiful beaches and real surf!

View of Termoli old city from beach road.

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.

Sort of like a Trabocco. Minus the big catapulting fishing nets. These are found slightly north in Abruzzo.
Said to be the skinniest street in Europe
Cathedral

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.

Puréed fave beans, chicoria and three, lardo wrapped, shrimp. Really good.
My Gamberi Catalan

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.
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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.

Ciao, ciao, ciao!

Cagli – Le Marche

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.

Heading into the big Apennine mountains – they form the spine of Italy. From north to far south.
Pretty sky
Many rocky cliffs
Trees turning
The long and winding road.

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.

Interior
My antipasto. Porchini arrosto (roasted) on a bed of potatoes with panko. Yum.

After lunch, we walked around the Centro Storico.

Porta Massara
The Comune
Fountain with four faces and sweet, potable spring water.
The main piazza, Piazza Matteotti, what else?
Torrione Martiniano
Pretty streets.

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.

Sardegna — Trip Report

This is a Trip Report, so skip if you’re not interested
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We decided to do a trip while the window of opportunity is open for us. Who knows how long it will last. One of the last three regions we haven’t yet visited, Sardinia, or Sardegna as the Italians call the island. It is north of Sicily and just south of Corsica in the Mediterranean. Things are not too good covid-wise in Sardegna. 2.3% RT. And they are having big wildfires on the west side of the island. Devastating the farmers. Sadly we read these fires are arson. The people who set them are firefighters who will be hired at €100 a day to fight the fires. Despite these issues we decided to go through with the planned trip.

We opted to fly. You can drive to the west coast of Italy and take a ferry. That way you’ve got your car. But we decided to fly. We could fly out of Perugia to the southern end of the island and drive three hours to our chosen destination. Or we could drive 2 hours to Ancona on the Adriatic and fly into the airport in the northern part. We decided on this one. We had not flown out of Ancona before. It’s chock full of the so-called low cost airlines. WizAir, RyanAir, Volotea and Vueling. It was a pretty easy drive except for construction zones. We had arranged to park off airport and that all worked well. We got checked in with all the hordes going to either Olbia (our destination) or Catania in Sicily. Lots of young people flying. The plane left on time and arrived 15 minutes early. We picked up the rental car and headed north to the Costa Smeralda. Emerald coast.

Really interesting terrain. Rough, rocky and reminiscent to me of the US southwest. Susan said it reminded her of Baja. There were enormous, wind sculpted rock domes thrusting up dramatically. And in the distance serrated ridges shot high into the sky in jagged peaks. There were houses and hotels all hidden out in this desert-like landscape. The ones I could see were much like the adobe houses in New Mexico with clay exteriors painted in pastel earth tones. With flat terracotta tiled roofs.

Our hotel is called Grand Relais dei Nuraghi. It is a small boutique hotel with only about 30 rooms. Many of the rooms are in separate cottages or duplex cottages. We checked in and got unpacked. Went to the pool for a glass of wine and later we had dinner reservations.

Our hotel
Huge, rock, just next to our hotel. Good landmark!

The food was good without being notable. They do half pension so many of the guests eat there every night. It’s not open to the public. I had a very nice shrimp appetizer, a carrot soup and then the “catch of the day”.

Sunset from our table
Shrimp starter
Carrot soup
Catch of the day

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Wednesday July 28

Above was the breakfast buffet. I thought it had gone the way of the dinosaur since Covid but it’s obviously back.

Today we went to explore “Billionaire” coast. The town of Porto Cervo. This town didn’t exist until the Aga Khan fell in love with the coast in the 1950s and decided to create a playground for the rich. He did accomplish that! He purchased the land from the poor inhabitants for a pittance in the 60s. They didn’t value coastal land, they were, in fact, frightened of the water from whence all invaders came. For these people being in the mountainous interior felt safe. The Port was built in the 80s and it is the best in the Mediterranean with 700 slips. The real estate here is THE most expensive in Europe. An eye popping $300,000 a square meter (!)

We had a lunch reservation at the only Michelin One Star restaurant in the area. Ristorante ConFusion. As the name implies, it is a fusion between Sardegnian food and Asian food.

We arrived and parked in an underground lot. We walked around the shopping area which was pretty and unusual and completely unlike anyplace I’ve been in Italy. It’s like being in Palm Springs or Boca Raton.

Tony shopping area
Looks like New Mexico!
Lamborghini dealership. What else?

Towering over everything were the mega-yachts in the harbor. You could walk in and gape. Which we did! We looked up the names of some of the yachts. One is owned by a Saudi. One of the biggest was owned by a Walton daughter of the Walmart empire. These yachts cost millions of dollars.

This one you can rent for €160,000 a week – plus €40,000 expenses…accommodates eight.

After some refreshments out of the hot sun we walked to our restaurant. Pretty place that felt comfortable and not pretentious…except for the fact that they bring a selection of glasses so you can pick your shape! That was a first. Chef Italo Bassi was very friendly and accessible. There were only two other tables so he had time to chat. We decided on a la carte for two of us and the Chef specialty 3 course menu for the other two. Prices were breathtaking, but the food was too.

Here are some of the dishes.

Some of the many gifts from the chef. Along with four bread courses.
Yin and Yang. Essence of avocado.
King crab with Wasabi ice cream
Tagliolini with lobster. No skimping on the lobster!
Salmon “sushi” with morels.
Espresso served on a mirror

After our return and naps we went poolside and had drinks. It was very lovely. They bring a nice plate of food to enjoy with the wine so that was plenty. We didn’t really need to eat dinner after the mega-lunch.

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Thursday, July 29

This was the day we decided to go on a catamaran to the Maddalena archipelago. This is supposed to be the prettiest island group. There are some roads on the main island and you can ferry over with your car. There are a few towns as well. But the most popular way to see the islands is by boat. And BOY is it popular!

We left the hotel at 8:30 for the 40 minute drive to Porto Sardegna. We got there no problem on itty bitty roads to the very tip of the mainland. There we found a yacht club. A very cute yacht club. With cottages built into the rocks and hobbit bathrooms. At the bottom, a cafe. We hung around and finally boarded around ten. There were 18 of us plus three crew. It wasn’t crowded. It was mostly younger people. Plus one middle aged couple. The oddest group was a foursome of two boys and two girls from Calabria. They spoke a Calabrian dialect mixed with German. Really. Very odd.

Hobbit bathroom

We all boarded and were briefed about the boat, and how to use the bathroom. Then we took off. It was a nice boat called Alice. I know most of you won’t know this, but it is not the woman’s name…but the word for anchovy in Italian. Pronounced al-ee-chay. The boat was named Anchovy, because it skips over the waves Captain Alessandro said. There were two more crew, Ely and Sandro. Our first stop was Spiaggia Rosa. A pretty spot with amazingly blue water. We went swimming.

While here we had antipasto with bruschetta, olives, cheeses, salumi, and bread. Our next stop was Calla Vergine. This was so popular there were literally hundreds of boats of all sizes. Amazing. The water was lovely, calm and blue-blue.

I took this video to try to show just how many boats there were. Note: videos don’t usually play in the email version of this blog. To see it you want to go to NancyGoesToItaly.com

It was lunchtime and our Chef crew member Sandro, made a nice pasta lunch with rigatoni and lots of tuna. Served with beer, wine and cold drinks. It was delicious. Then we had fresh fruit, cookies, and Mirto, a potent drink made around here from myrtle.

There was one more stop. The famous pink sand beaches. I was the only person who opted out. It was REALLY hot and it was a ride on the rubber tender to the beach, then a hike over the hill and down, but you couldn’t go on the beach. The beach is protected by a full time caretaker because people were stealing the sand. No joke! One guy was caught with 3 pounds of sand and they fined him €3,000. Anyway, I decided to skip it. The rest reported I was smart not to go. I got to see the less than impressive pictures. While they were gone I went for another swim. The water is nice and cool and so salty it’s impossible to sink.

We returned at 5:45. It was really fun. I’m glad we did it. It is a thing everyone should see. The Maddalena islands are spectacular. But boy were we all whipped. It really makes you tired being in the sun and wind and sea all day. When we got back we all just opted for showers and room service. I slept very well!

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Friday July 30

Supposed to be 102 degrees this day. That is HOT. And the humidity is quite high. After our breakfast we had reservations to visit a winery called Carichera. It is one of the best and biggest producers.

We were greeted by Anna. She told us about the history of the vineyard and the family as well as the types of wines they produce. The family name is Capichera.

Next we were transported by golf cart through the vineyard to a brand new tasting facility. The entire vineyard has drip irrigation. Still, some of the vines were suffering.

Along the way she showed us some of the indigenous plants to include the myrtle, from which they make the Mirto liquor. Then the pretty strawberry bush which flowers in November and fruits in summer. The honey is said to be very healthful. It is also rare since bees often do not pollinate that late in the year so they produce little honey. Anna said the people of Sardegna are some of the most long lived in the world. This is because until recently the people only ate what they produced which is very healthy. Little was brought in. There was no globalization. Until only 60 years ago they still mostly lived in stone huts with no running water or electricity.

Strawberry bush

We arrived at the tasting room which was blessedly air conditioned. The big windows had nice views of the patchwork vineyards.

We decided to do two tastings and share. Luther and I got two Vermantino white wines, and two red. They only use the Vermantino grape in Sardinia to produce the white wine. The red was a Syrah and a Syrah blend. Very unusual grape in Sardinia.

The placemats had the names of the wines so you could place your glasses in the right spots. Look at the names of the wines above. Most are in Sardegnian dialect. It is a very strange language. When I got back, I looked up lingua Sarda. Turns out there are three Sardinian dialects. Then the top part of the island speaks a Corsican dialect because Corsica is very close. Then a small town, and area to the west speaks a Catalan dialect. Very interesting. So the wine names we’re in the Logudorese Sardinian dialect.

We had lunch reservations at Li Neuli. It’s the restaurant at a country club. It was nice. Air conditioned and a pretty room. Interesting menus with much fresh seafood served crudo — raw. To include sashimi, an octopus carpaccio and fresh tuna. I picked the octopus and a nice scampi dish. Just the right amount.

This is the Sardinian, cracker-like bread served everywhere. They even use it as a plate, putting it under cheese, fruit and salumi.

A good day. We finished off with drinks by the pool with our bartender friend Luca.
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Saturday July 31

We didn’t have much planned beyond lunch today. We breakfasted lightly because we had decided to return to ConFusion because we all liked it so much. I took some more pictures of the pretty buildings.

The lunch was wonderful as the last time. I only got an antipasto and a secondo. That way I would have room for dessert.

Lamb chops
House made vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. Rare to find vanilla in Italy.

This is Filippo. One of Chef Bassi’s chihuahuas. He was cute.

An excellent lunch. It’s probably good that this guy is not closer to where we live!

Later, when we went for our customary glass of wine at the bar beside the pool at seven, we had to say goodbye to the sweet bar keepers. Luca and Gabriele. Two young men, small in stature and dark with beards. Quite handsome. They had to dress in the hotel dark pants with shirt and dark vest with a tie. Sometimes I felt really sorry for them because it was damn hot in the sun in those hot clothes. But they were both very nice and seem genuinely to like us. Sometimes you wonder with these employees. They have to be friendly but these two seemed to be really happy to know us. Anyway, sorry to say goodbye. I wish them well in the coming times. Which could be difficult.

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Sunday, August 1

Thanks to Susan we got late checkout. Our flight is at 9:20PM. We can keep our room until six. A big thank you to our hotel. So we have this air conditioned space to share until we go to the airport.

We had hours to do things so we decided to go to the other big wine producer, Surrau. They had a three wine tasting with a nice plate of local cheeses, three meats, grapes, wine jelly and apple. Very nice. It was a big facility and very reminiscent of the California tasting rooms. Again that similarity to California.

Then we drove up into the mountains to a small town called San Pantaleo. It has the only piazza in our part of Sardinia. It also has attracted artists. Cute place. We visited the piazza and the church.

The town is full of little stone buildings. These are the typical houses that the people lived in before globalization.

The town nestles up against these massive, wind sculpted granite mountains.

We decided to have lunch here in a place called Zara Cafe. Cute family owned place. Dad is the cook, Mom and son run the front. We had fresh grilled fish. So good.

We returned to the hotel and stayed until five. Then for the horrors of travel nowadays. If we didn’t catch Covid here, we never will. Crowds of young, and, I’m sure, unvaccinated people. No social distancing possible. Everyone was good about wearing the mask at least. But it was horrible.

The flight was fine. It only takes 45 minutes. We landed at 10:40PM. Got our car just fine and decided to drive home. Only an hour and a half and it was fine. It was great to be home with our poor cats. The temperatures have been in the 100s and the house was very hot. I threw open the windows and hopefully it will cool off tonight.
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Now for my best and worst…
Our hotel. Grand Relais dei Nuraghi. There were some glitches but they work hard to fix things. And they let us stay eight hours after checkout for free. 👍
The two bar tenders, Luca and Gabriele, need special thanks for their always cheerful care.
Best foodConFusion
Best outing — Catamaran to the Maddalena archipelago.
Best thing — those brilliant, cool, clear, electric blue waters!
Worst thing — Olbia airport.
All in all a fun trip. Would I go back? Probably not. It was not the “real” Italy. It felt like the US in many ways. The landscape and architecture looked like the US desert southwest. Because of this really big difference from what we are used to, it was a great get-away if only because we felt far away from home, in an exotic place for six days. I’m glad we went. I know we missed the interior for the most part and the south. So I can’t speak to those parts. Of the two islands, Sicily and Sardinia, I’d pick Sicily.

Bye bye Sardinia

In five days we will know if we got Covid. We were hyper aware of the threat. The rate of transmission in Sardinia is the highest in Italy. And there were hordes of young people, most likely to not be vaccinated…or to follow the rules. We were in very crowded inside venues. The young people from Calabria on our catamaran tour were unlikely to be vaccinated and no one wore masks. I will report back!

Trip Report – Sestri Levante and the Ligurian coast

FINALLY! A Trip Report! If you’re not interested just ignore.
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For our anniversary we decided we needed a short trip to celebrate. First trip since last September. Long, long days of lockdowns and restrictions. We decided to go to the Mediterranean coast. North of the Cinque Terre and south of Genoa. We haven’t explored this area before.

We left Umbertide at eleven. It’s only around a three and a half hour drive. We stopped for a picnic. They don’t make that easy in Italy. They have rest stops but they seldom have a picnic area. I think we did see three places with a parcheggio and tables but two of them were too early and the one we thought was perfect was closed! So we kept going. Finally by 2PM we found a rest stop with a few picnic tables in front of a shop. We decided to just go for it. I’d brought some pasta pesto salad and some fried chicken. Can you say picnic? We also had some wine. So it all worked out.

We continued and arrived in Sestri around three. We were staying in the Hotel Vis a Vis. Way up high above the town. As always, the parking and access are ridiculous. The hotel assured us there was parking. And I guess technically there is. The drive up to the hotel was several very sharp hairpins and super steep. We negotiated it OK but, not having ever been here before we didn’t know what we were headed for. We were nearly at the top and a woman waved us back. So we backed up and got out of the way…two cars cannot possibly pass each other. The woman helped her husband to get out of his parking place…no easy feat. We figured we would continue on up and we took his parking place. Luther said he didn’t fancy taking the car back out so we will probably just hang around the ‘hood and see what’s to be seen. At least for tomorrow.

Reception checked us in and took us to our room which wasn’t quite finished so we went to the rooftop bar for a drink. Beautiful space. Views to die for. I forgot my big camera but this one is from my phone. It’s the view. And the bay is called the Bay of Silence. Isn’t that a pretty name?


After relaxing and getting cleaned up we enjoyed the bottle of champagne and strawberries we had in our room while watching the football match — Italy/Wales…Italy won 🙂. Then we headed for dinner. The restaurant in the hotel is Olimpio. On the fourth floor with glass walls all around. Good table spacing. It was my first time eating inside a restaurant since last fall. The sunset was gorgeous.

The meal was good. I had oysters again. And we split the Dorado catch of the day. It was baked in a salt crust and beautiful and tender.

Monday
Morning and it is our actual anniversary. First to breakfast. They have it in the dining room and there is a nice outside garden space. Typical Italian breakfast with many breads and pastries, yogurts, ham and cheese. Also available were hard boiled eggs and toast and cereal. For extra money, you could get eggs anyway or a whole list of omelets.

Today we planned to explore the town and do a walking tour. So by around 10am we were off. The hotel has this cool elevator that goes right down through the mountain to the street level below. Makes for easy access to the beach and the town. The first thing I noticed was the brightly painted houses. And many, many trompe l’oeil facades. This yellow house below has a flat wall. The 3-D affects are painted on. Very well done I say. If you click on the photo and look closely on the right side, I’m pretty sure that the house painter actually signed her work. There were many, many more in town painted like this.

We walked down to scope out our restaurant choice for tonight. It is on the Bay of Silence, named Portobello and owned by our hotel. The bay of silence has a breakwater and is quite small.

We did a lot of walking. It is pretty touristy with small streets. We stopped for refreshments. Here are some pictures.

We returned and rested and cleaned up and headed for dinner. Portabella was a nice place right on the beach with much to watch. Little kids were still out playing on the beach. Adults were swimming. Boats were returning.

Liguria has very different food from our part of Italy. It is almost completely seafood based, but what is the biggest surprise is the prominent place potatoes play in so many dishes. When we were here a couple years ago I had octopus which was served atop a pile of mashed potatoes. I was surprised. But now I see it was not unusual. My pasta dish was a thin twisted pasta served with a sauce of cooked diced potatoes, green beans and pesto. Of course, everyone knows pesto was invented in Genoa so I had to try it. It was a strange dish. But very good! Luther got stuffed anchovies. They also use a lot of olives and tomatoes in their dishes so it had that. For his main meal he had a seafood dish with a prawn, mussels, a scallop, and a little tower of fish, potatoes and other things. I had a filet of Ombrina. They called it Croaker in English but it sure wasn’t anything like the Croaker I’ve had in Virginia. Very dense and thick white fish. I finished with a scoop of sorbet. A nice anniversary dinner.

Tuesday
We have two nice balconies. One faces the town. One faces the water. Every morning and evening I spend a lot of time out there.

We decided to explore the coast north of Sestri this day. This meant we needed to move our car 😳. Just kidding, it wasn’t too bad. Our parking spot was better than most, believe me! It’s like sardines here. Once we got out , we held our breath that no one would be coming up the driveway. It is not big enough to pass.

We headed for Portofino so we could say we had been. It was a bit of an ordeal. Driving there is not recommended. Judging from the number of people we saw walking along the road I’d guess most people get there on foot. We did make it and as anticipated there was no parking. So we returned to Santa Margherita Ligure, the town just next to Portofino. I did manage to snap a nice picture of Portofino on our way out.

Turns out there was quite a lot of street parking in Santa Margherita. The Angelo Giallo.

Once parked we wandered the town. It’s very cute and has a lot of small streets and nice shops, restaurants and bars. We stopped for refreshments. I tried a spritz made of St Germain, Prosecco, ginger ale, ginger and mint. It was refreshing.

We found a lunch spot, Il Patio, and had a tasty lunch. I had spaghetti with vongole, spaghetti with clams. Luther had a fish Ligurian style.

While we were eating a blackbird found a treasure just across from us! A cherry. He had a good time pecking and chasing it and pecking it again. I got a pretty good shot.

Pictures of some of the streets.

They had a pretty and very baroque church.

We returned to Sestri and stopped in the supermarket to buy a picnic for dinner. It would be beautiful to sit on the balcony and watch the evening come. But first we wanted to go to the roof top bar one more time before we left. It is a beautiful place.

We had cocktails. I had a Mojito. Luther a spritz. They always bring a nice plate of munchies to go along with any drinks you order in Italy. It is not done to drink without eating.

We enjoyed our picnic of cold meats, cheeses and fresh sweet cherries. The weather was wonderful.

All in all it was a nice and relaxing trip. I would go back to this area again. It wasn’t my favorite beach but the town itself was nice. The hotel Vis a Vis was not quite the cruise ship it tried to be. It had lots of good things going for it. They just need to up their game on a few easily fixed items in the room.

We left at around 10:30AM and got home by 2PM. It is ungodly hot in Umbertide. Like a blast oven. It makes me want to go RIGHT back to Sestri!

Ciao for now!

Torlonia Marbles – Rome

Off to see the the Torlonia Marbles in Rome. They have been long buried from sight. They are amazing. Here is a great link from BBC about the Marbles.

We drove to Foligno and took the 9:20 Frecciabianca. Comfortable train, fast and with few stops we arrived by 11am. When we exited the Termini Stazione we first saw a vaccination clinic set up in front in the parking lot. I’ve heard Lazio, the Region that Rome is in, is doing very well with the vaccines. Most of the people waiting looked young.

We took a taxi for our 11:30 tour. I bought the tickets online. We’ve only been to Rome four or five times in our lives. This was a very different Rome. As so many have said, it’s empty. Our first trip there many years ago we foolishly drove. When we FINALLY got to our hotel the desk clerks asked “what made you think you could drive in Rome?!” We have avoided it ever since. But yesterday? The taxi zoomed freely down the wide and mostly empty streets. It was a breeze. I said to Luther “we could do this!”.

The taxi let us off at the bottom of Capitoline Hill. Now it is a series of museums but back in the Roman times it was where the Senate met. It’s up high with great views all around. On our way we passed a great viewing point for the Roman Forum. It was empty, save for a couple of families. Once up on top, it again was quiet. As Luther said, “you could hear a mouse dropping…” sorry 😊. We found the entrance and went into the exhibit. Do read the article I linked above to understand where these Marbles came from, how the man who collected them locked them away in a filthy space for years and years. See below picture I borrowed.

Now they shine brilliant, bright white. I found the faces of the statues so expressive. I did take a “few” pictures. So I’ll post some here. Hard to choose which to pick, so I put a lot in. They all come from Rome or Greece and are dated from around 200 BC to 300 AD. I will include text in the captioning under the pictures if I can remember anything.

Old man from Otricoli. Luni Marble.
Frieze detail.
Frieze detail.
Seaport. Greek marble.
This is a magnificent bowl. One piece of marble. Enormous. You can see Luther’s leg just stepping out for reference.
I love the detail of the basket.
Odysseus, escaped from a blind giant by hiding under a sheep. The giant was touching everything that was leaving. All he touched here was a sheep…so Odysseus got away.
Baby strangling a goose.
Guy lost his head…but his nose? I guess maybe they cut it off first. I’m sure there’s a story somewhere.
Statue of a resting goat. Amazing detail. Greek marble.
Of all the statues I’ve ever seen, this is the ONLY one with a ‘stash. Check it out!
Archer. Greek marble.
A satyr, the caption said. I thought they were goat-men, but apparently not always. There were two side by side. They were so relaxed.
I love this statue. Don’t remember what it was called.
Married couple.

We were hungry now and had reserved a table in a restaurant nearby. Ristorante Dulcis in Fundo. Took us a while to figure out how to get off the Capitoline hill and down to the normal streets. On the way we passed a great overlook of the Forum. Amazing. And with only a couple people in it.

Then this place was tucked away on a small, and quiet street. Nice outside space. Yesterday was the day restaurants can serve inside, but I prefer to be outside. As we sat down, I spied, with my little eye, another patron eating a plate of oysters on the half shell. I haven’t had them since my last trip home which was two years ago now. We got menus, in English. I hate English menus. So I asked for Italian ones. But the oysters were nowhere to be seen. The word for oysters is Ostriche. But when I asked they assured me I could get them. So I did! And then a plate of fat noodles with shrimp. Very good. Luther got the antipasto fruiti di mare. Seafood plate. And then a spaghetti with shrimp.

All in all the day in Rome was great fun. We returned on the 5:25 Frecciabianca and were back in Umbria by 7pm. One of the reasons we like it here is that both Rome and Florence are easy day trips. It’s good to visit the big city, but I want to live in a smaller town. For me, big cities are fun only in small doses.
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Today is Republic day which commemorates the end of the Monarchy in Italy. The people voted to do away with them. It’s a national holiday. Buona festa della repubblica! 🇮🇹

Senigallia on the Adriatic

We had a nice overnight with friends to Senigallia. It is an easy drive. About 1.5 hours if you don’t stop anywhere. We planned some visits to wineries along the way so it took longer. Most of the trip, outside Umbria, was in Le Marche. A pretty region similar in landscape to Umbria except for the proximity to the Adriatic.

Our first target was Matelica. The landscapes and views are beautiful. It’s agricultural and also pretty mountainous. They’re are lots of wineries. They make primarily Verdicchio which is a nice white wine. If you find a good producer, it can be very complex. We chose ColleStefano. A nice property. All the wineries are in the middle of the harvest and the crush so we had a bit of trouble visiting them. We bought a case of the Verdicchio and a few Rosati (Rosé).

View from the tasting room.

Our next goal was finding a place to have the picnic we brought. We visited another winery. We could purchase, but not taste because the family was busy with the harvest. No place to picnic.

Pretty view from the second winery.

Off we went towards Senigallia. No picnic tables to be found. Finally along the Lungomare, the sea coast, we found a small park with a table. The town is quite empty. Quiet. We checked into our hotel, TerrazzoMarconi. Our view.

The Pavillion

The evening was a fancy dinner at a Michelin 3 star restaurant Uliassi. Seafood. It sits right on the beach. It was sprinkling as we walked to dinner. We had to wait a bit for the doors to open. Here are a few pictures.

Cuttlefish with quinoa and nori seaweed pesto.
Shrimp in a citrus sauce.
Pasta with oyster sauce.
Sea bass in squid ink.

A nice evening.

Thursday morning. We had a nice if surprising breakfast. Buffets have disappeared since the advent of Covid. We had seen none until today when they had a completely open buffet. No glass covers over the food or anything. No restaurants in the Marche took our temperature or contact info. I suppose all the regions have their own rules. We even had a mini-bar, also a thing of the past since Covid.

Luther and I took a walk on the beach. It was hot!

We got underway and headed for another winery for a tasting and to purchase. This one was near Jesi.

Winery entrance.
Fall is coming.
First Verdicchio.
2nd
The house of the property.

After our nice tasting we headed for Fabriano and lunch. There is good news. And there is bad news. We arrived and parked and walked to our intended restaurant. They were closed. So we went to a small piazza not far away where there was a nice bar. So we settled in and ordered lunch. The bad news was, the food was awful. I can’t remember when I’ve gotten such bad food in Italy.

The town of Fabriano is known since the 1300s as a primo paper making city. They are even a UNESCO heritage site for this to this day. I love this city. Here are some pictures.

It was a fun little giro. I must keep in mind that the sea is very accessible and go more often.

Trip report. Naples and Positano

Here’s a trip report. The trip was short but the report has plenty of pictures. If you are not interested, as always, just skip!

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We took the train to Rome. It was a FrecciaBianca. One of the high speed trains but the slowest of the three kinds. We booked first class. There weren’t many people in our car. The seats were staggered anyway so no one sits near anyone else. We all were wearing masks. This was the longest stretch that I will have worn a mask non-stop. I put it on at 9:15am and it will come off around 3pm. (Except for eating)
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Then we boarded the FrecciaRossa to Napoli. This is the fastest train. We got up to 298 kph. We can get from Umbria to Naples in just over three hours, including a change of trains. We were in the business class car called “Area Silenzio” the silence area. Nice in there. Big cushy seats. Only one other passenger. Took just over an hour to get to Napoli from Roma. Before we boarded they passed out little bags with: a mask, gloves, antiseptic wipes, a cover for your seat back, water, cups and napkins, nice.

FrecciaRossa
Our speed.
party pack! Masks, wipes, gloves, etc.
I booked the Area Silenzio. It is so tranquil.

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I brought a picnic. Egg salad sandwiches with tomatoes, and peanut butter cookies courtesy of my friend Jen (yum – thanks Jen). And a bottle of white wine. Livin’ large on the FrecciaRossa.
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We had, for the first time, hired private transport from the Naples train station, to Positano – two hour drive.

Cliffs of the Amalfi coast.
COVID portrait. Our driver insisted.

The other two times we’ve visited, Luther drove rental cars. This time, our driver was waiting for us and he drove us expertly to our destination. All we had to do was walk down the hill to our hotel. It was pleasurable experience. If we ever again have guests who manage to come, we will do this again.

Our hotel is called Palazzo Murat. Our first visit to Positano was in 1994 when we lived in Germany. This is the hotel we stayed in then. So, kind of for old times sake, I chose this one again. It is much more luxurious than before. Might be the best place in town. They have a pretty patio bar. Our room has views of the sea and the duomo. There is also a large garden beneath our window. 

Across from us.
Breakfast terrace from our balcony.

The entire building is wrapped by a bougainvillea that is more than a century old. It’s main trunk is as big as a tree. For a plant enthusiast it is incredible. Along the balconies, and above the walkways there is a Genus Bignonia. There are also a banana plant, and tropical plants. My friend Doug would love it. There is even an entire trellised lemon, orange and tangerine grove. To one side there is the restaurant’s garden full of beautiful ripe tomatoes, and herbs and salad greens used by the chefs. All of this in the center of Positano. 

Vegetable garden.
Pool
Centennial bougainvillea

I was intrigued by the history of the Palazzo. It is 17th century and was the summer home of the King of Napoli. He was the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1808 he visited Positano and fell in love with the house. He spent summers with his lovers away from the politics in Napoli. 

Now the house is the home of the Attanasio family. Several generations have lived here and made the hospitality of the hotel their careers. Each member of the family looks after a specific department. 
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After we arrived we rested and showered and met our friends Gary and Bill for drinks in the pretty bar as the sun set behind the cliffs. They had taken the boat from Salerno, where they live. I met Gary, virtually, a few years ago through my blog. We had met in person in Rome for lunch back in December, what seems worlds away now. I was happy to try an interesting drink so Gary and I tried a Bellini. Peach juice (fresh) in Prosecco. One of us tried the Fresh Breeze, a cucumber based drink. And one got a white wine.

Bellini.
Fresh breeze.

After drinks we wandered down to the beach. Gary and Bill had already made reservations for us at Chez Black. This restaurant has been there since 1949. We even ate there in 1994. The food was good. And the servers were nice. We started early. By the time we left the place was packed. That had been a surprise. Positano is positively packed with tourists. Mostly young people. They have mandatory masks inside but not on the street. I admit to not feeling comfortable with this.

Octopus carpaccio. Oh my. So good.
Spaghetti al mare…seafood pasta. Also very good.
Luther had the grilled fish plate.

After dinner we sat in the patio bar where Luther could smoke his cigar. Pretty at night.

Cigar man
The beautiful patio at night.

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Our one full day in Positano I wanted to do some shopping. We rose and took our time going down to breakfast around 9:30. I thoroughly enjoyed it. They brought a plate of pastries and jam. And we ordered OJ (fresh squeezed – no surprise being in the citrus capital of Italy) and cappuccini. Then we ordered a la carte the smoked salmon Insalata dressed with a mustard, honey vinegrette. Very yum and light. 

My delicious smoked salmon salad breakfast.

After breakfast we walked all over Positano. The shopping was not what I had hoped. Maybe when I get to Napoli. Or maybe not. I was looking for some interesting necklaces. Not expensive but kind of large with interesting colors and stones or shells or … But I found only one store with interesting things like that and they are an expensive store. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spring for that amount of money. Maybe tomorrow morning, before we leave I will go back. Or not…

Park bench pal.

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Dinner in the restaurant at our hotel with Gary and Bill. First drinks on the patio. Such a pretty place. We just had to walk down a set of steps to the restaurant. I’m afraid I wasn’t impressed with the food. We had a bruschetta gift from the chef. I had tuna with a Bloody Mary sauce. It was not notable. The squash blossoms looked good. It was still an enjoyable dinner with good conversation and companions. 

Squash blossoms
Tuna bloody mary
Polpette aka meatballs
Bye Bye Positano.

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We breakfasted and left our pretty hotel to meet our driver Vincenzo. He whisked us straight to the Grand Hotel Excelsior.

Luther’s eggs.
My own personal frittata in a cute pan.
The Amalfi coastal drive from the van.
The Amalfi coastal drive from the van.

For this, our first trip to Naples, I chose the seafront. There is a row of big hotels. They sit directly across from the Castello Ovo. All around the castle are seafood restaurants. It is a quiet area compared to in the city center. Next time we come we decided it would be more fun to be in the city.

Our hotel is described as the Grand Dame of hotels. It was nice enough, if a little dated. Very large room with olive flocked wallpaper. High ceilings and a decent bath. Two big windows looked out on the sea. The room had a seal across the door indicating it had been sanitized. The hotel takes all the Covid precautions. The top floor is a roof terrace. Pretty flowers and trees around and among the tables. They serve breakfast here as well as drinks at night. The breakfasts were good.

Sidney the seagull was our assigned gull during our stay. Always on duty.

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The first night we decided to have dinner at La Scialuppa. Right beside the water. Outside tables. They took our temperature and then we had to fill out a form with our contact info – document number telephone etc. everywhere we went they took our temperature. Food was good enough. I had the Caprese salad and a pasta – big tubes with a pistachio cream sauce and prawns. Very rich. I was glad I had ordered the Caprese. And we could actually see the island of Capri where the Caprese is said to originate

Couple of guys entertaining us. They were fun and serenaded me with “that’s Amore”
Our hotel from our table. Hotel Excelsior is on the right.
Luther’s appetizer
My pasta.

We returned to the hotel and went up to the roof terrace for Luther to have a cigar and an after dinner drink. It was very pleasant.
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After a good breakfast of scrambled eggs fruit and toast we grabbed a cab and went to the Museo Archeologico. The cab ride was beyond exciting. The traffic in Naples is legendary and our taxi driver was expert.

We have two full days here and today was the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. We’ve wanted to visit here for years. They’ve got all the original Pompeii art, frescos, mosaics etc. Also Greek, Roman, Etruscan, and all the prehistoric societies in southern Italy. We toured for almost 3 hours.

The museum was really great. In it they have all the bits of Pompeii and Herculaneum that they removed. Entire walls from houses with their frescoes. Mosaics. All kinds of ceramics and pottery. There was an Egyptian section. A Roman section. An Etruscan section. A Greek section. Even a prehistoric exhibit. Lots of carved statuary. The focus is on the bottom of Italy. The heel and toe of the boot up to about Rome and also Sicily and the islands like Capri and Ischia. Excellent museum. We spent about 3 hours there.

Roman sculptures

They had a cute photo installation with some of the sculptures juxtaposed into photographs. Here are just two of them.

Decoration from a Pompeii villa
Portrait of a Roman intellectual woman.
Map of the early settlements at the base of the peninsula.
One of the beautiful floors. We had to wear shoe covers.
I don’t know why I liked this, but I did. Until he removes her helmet, he doesn’t realize he killed a beautiful woman warrior.
Greek drinking cup.

We left the museum and headed down Via Toledo. It is one of the main drags in Naples. Very busy street. We were looking for a place to stop for refreshments and to rest our feet. We found a place in Piazza Dante. It didn’t have food though and we were hungry. We used the phone to find nearby restaurants and went to one called Cisterna. It was close. I ordered a wonderful ceviche with lime. Cool, light and refreshing. We were planning an outing later in the afternoon so took a taxi back to the hotel.

My ceviche.

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After resting we headed out to find the cigar store that Luther had heard of to see if he could buy some cigars. It was about a 15 minute walk but the sidewalks were very hard to walk on. Hard stones and uneven surfaces. And lots of traffic and crosswalks. Very chaotic. Not liking it. We found the store and Luther got his cigars. Then we headed to a wine bar he had found. We had a glass of wine and walked back to our chosen restaurant, 28 Posti Bistro con Gusto. I was sorry to see it was inside dining but the tables were far apart. After a temperature check and document filing as usual, we sat down and ordered. I had bruschetta with colorful tomatoes and peppers. And then a spaghetti con Vongole. Both tasty. We walked back to our hotel and I turned in. I was bushed after a very full day.

Thursday. Our other full day in Naples. The weather has been hot. And no rain. We left after breakfast. I had downloaded an app called GPSmyCity. You can pick any of eight or ten walking itineraries or custom make one. We took a taxi to the starting point at the Duomo of Napoli. The duomo is enormous. And very pretty. We started following the tour. It was nice. It told you where to go and then had nice write-ups of the sights. The second stop was the Naples Underground. I really was enjoying this neighborhood. Skinny streets, lots of shops. Lots of people shopping for their groceries at the individual food shops. One for fish, one for pasta, one for bread, one for fresh vegetables. Lots of life. This is where I’d like to stay next time.

Duomo.
One of the cool little streets near the Duomo.
Fish monger.

Then, there was this sign. Translates as — Top signs says, they are awarding degrees immediately. The second sign says they are hiring housekeepers who have the measurements of 90-60-90 with offers of food, accommodation, washing, rinsing, drying, ironing, massage and sex at will. Okay then….

We kept going, seeing Piazze, and churches, statues, and landmarks. The tour actually ended at our hotel. We decided to stop for lunch. We couldn’t find anything with outside tables. Eventually we found a cute trattoria. It didn’t have outside tables but it didn’t feel too cramped. They took our temperatures and we filled out the forms. They are required to keep the forms for two weeks. If anyone gets infected they can use them for contact tracing. I had Caprese insalata again. It is just so good because we are in the land of Mozzarella di Buffala. It is much creamier than what we got in the US or even in Umbria. We also noticed it is spelled Muzzarella here. From the dialect of Naples. Which is getting closer to the Muzzadell’ you’ll hear in NJ and NY Italian communities. After the Caprese I had another pasta with seafood dish. It had Pecorino cheese in it. It was sort of a cross between Caccio e Pepe Roman specialty and pasta with seafood. Strange. But good. 


Since we had a big lunch we decided to stop by the grocery on the way back and put together a picnic. We got ham, mortadella, and two cheeses. Along with a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. The end of a nice day.

The following morning we breakfasted and packed and checked out. We grabbed a taxi to the station and found our train was delayed 25 minutes. It meant we’d miss our connection. But we grabbed the next one so not terribly inconvenient. The downside was the train was a Regional and it was packed. Everyone put their bags and backpacks in the seat next to them, taking up 2 seats each. They had no seats marked restricted which would have helped with the distancing. But this meant that a family who got on couldn’t find seats. No one wanted to sit right next to, or across from anyone. Including me!
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Final thoughts. I always love Positano. Taking the private transport from the Naples station there was seamless, relaxing and painless. The town was packed on the Sunday afternoon when we arrived. I was surprised. Monday was not as bad. But still a lot of people. Masks are required indoors but not outside. The hotel Palazzo Murat is amazing. The food in Positano was not at all notable. Chez Black was the best.

Naples was as I expected. Busy chaotic Italian city in the south. Lots of horns honking. Millions of Vespas and motorcycles. Crazy drivers. But they did let you cross in the crosswalks. The neighborhood up near the Duomo was the most interesting. There are many places we didn’t see of course.  They don’t seem to use the word Ciao as often in Naples as they do further north. The food in Naples was not notable. Not bad but not great. We didn’t get any pizza. Maybe next time.

Road trip! Abruzzo!

This is a mini trip report. We decided to do an overnight to one of our favorite areas, Abruzzo. We also traversed Le Marche on the way. The motivation was to revisit a restaurant we had visited a couple years ago that we really liked then, and also to arrange a winery visit and tasting. To get away for a while. Change of scenery.

We were just coming off of a bad heat spell that had broken with storms. We left on a Tuesday morning with fresh air and sunshine. Perfect top down weather. We drove south through Spoleto and headed east along the river and through the gorge that cuts through the mountains to Norcia. Then over the mountain pass and down into the flats near the Adriatic sea.

Our winery, called Tenuta Torretta, was up in the hills just into Abruzzo. We had an appointment at 2:30. We were having some pretty spectacular thunderstorms. The winery had amazing views to the Gran Sasso mountains and the sea. And a ringside seat to the lightening show as the storm moved up the coast.

Here is the storm over the Adriatic. Lightening streaked from clouds to ground as we watched.

Later, after the storm passed. The sea is a pretty aqua.

Here is the view towards the Gran Sasso – I’m sure it’s spectacular when the storms aren’t around.

The view out over the olives and through the vineyards is gorgeous.

We were met by Cinzia (the Italian version of Cynthia, my sisters name). And afterwards her sister-in-law and her father. It became a real family affair. I think they have missed having visitors during the Corona lockdowns. Anyway we sat outside at plastic tables and tasted three whites, a Vermentino, a Pecorino, a Chardonnay. The big surprise was the Cerasuola, a wine made from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes which they allowed to sit with the skins for only half a day. Then the skins removed. But in that short time the wine becomes quite red, redder then a Rose but served chilled just the same. And more full flavored. Then we had two reds. Along with the wine we had good bread and sausages.

I liked all the family. The two sisters were super friendly. And the Dad mostly talked to Luther about the winery. He was probably our age. We bought three cases (of six). It was WAY more than a tasting and I think it lasted almost 2 hours! This is the kind of experience I enjoy most here.

Cinzia.
Dad.
The brother is missing. They missed having visitors I think!

Here are pictures of the wines we tried and the sausage nibbles we had along with bread.

Cerasuolo. Interesting cross. Not quite red, not quite rose, and served chilled
Cerasuolo – see the color?
Chardonnay. Vines were very old.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – the big red of this region.

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We headed down to our destination for dinner, Villa Maiella in Guardiagrele. The hotel is mostly empty. From the breakfast tables there were five rooms occupied. It is also a very basic place. It sorely needs an upgrade. The bed was comfortable enough and the AC was great.

The claim of this place is its restaurant. It does not have an a la carte menu. Just tasting menus. Differing sizes. We didn’t feel up to a 12 course dinner so we chose the smaller menu. It was good-ish. Not as good as I remembered from last time. The biggest downside was the dining was inside. Widely spaced tables but still, I am not comfortable in an enclosed, interior space. And most tables were full.

Good bread.
Stuzzichino – gift from the chef.
Gift from the chef. Mousse.
Chitarra di patate – literally, Guitar of potatoes. The circle is pasta made from potatoes. The type (shape) of the pasta is Chitarra. Loved this course!
Bianco di tacchino con finocchi, arancia, nocciola – Turkey 3 ways.
Ravioli di burrata allo Zafferano deL’Aquila e Lenticchie di Caprafico – mmm mmm good.
Stinko d’Agnello – Shin of lamb
Nettarine e bavarese bianca
Our wine. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
The terrace where people had drinks and got the menu.
The dining room. Pretty well spaced tables but I’ve been reading a lot about ventilation carrying the air hither and yon.

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The morning dawned very cool and partly cloudy. Someone said, we went from August to October overnight! We had a nice view of the Gran Sasso mountains, the biggest in Italy and they are now a large park. We had a nice breakfast in the basement. The hotel, after reopening from the lockdown, moved the reception into the basement.

We set off for home, deciding not to visit another winery. We drove through almost continuous thunderstorms all the way up the coast super strata. This highway is very nice. It runs from Bari all the way to Ancona. We turned inland and passed through some of the pretty Marche countryside. The rain finally let up just after we arrived in Umbria. All in all a nice short getaway and change of scenery.

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Stay safe everyone and be vigilant. 🌈 andrà bene.

Our first trip since Lockdown

Sunday, June 28
It was a birthday celebration. The plan was simple. We were driving on our first road trip from our house in Umbria to a hotel on the Mediterranean coast to a town called Castiglione della Pescaia. It would not be a long drive, only 2-3 hours.

We drove the Angelo Giallo for the first time since lockdown. We had taken it to the dealer for it’s annual servicing and it had a coolant leak. So we were all set. We left at 1:30 and drove from our house to Siena on the decent four lane road and then went south and slightly west to our destination. A pretty and interesting route.

We arrived at about 5pm, just after our friends Susan and Gary. It was Susan’s birthday trip and Luthers birthday is July 5 so kind of a piggyback. Hotel L’Andana is a few kilometers from the coast. From certain parts of the property you can see the sea. It is over 500 acres of land. They have hundreds of olive trees, all regimented and perfectly shaved. They look like they have all had the exact same flat-top haircut.

This is the driveway and gate. It was 900 meters long.
Maremmana cattle. Amazing horns. Nearly went extinct. Mussolini drained the swamps where they were adapted to live and work.
Our room. Great AC!

The next two are pictures of the property.

We rested and changed for dinner at the hotel. They have two restaurants, only one of which was open. The more casual of the two. Nice spot outdoors. Lots of spacing between tables. Everyone wore a mask. Unfortunately for me my main course was inedible. Grilled octopus on mashed potatoes. The octopus was a Goodyear retread tire. Almost impossible to chew. I rarely have an experience like this, and never in Italy. So I sent it back and got chicken. Susan and Gary got the Branzino cooked in a pouch which they loved. So, it was a mixed result. I might also mention, this restaurant was EXPENSIVE. 

Monday, Susan’s birthday. And today was to be her day. Beautiful sunny weather but would be hot. We had breakfast outside under the trees. Near our dinner spot from last night. They’ve got loads of help here, so service was great. Not always experienced, but always someone there. I had scrambled eggs. There was a big buffet but they had to serve us. Buffets aren’t allowed since Covid. Luther had smoked salmon. There were croissants and bread and butter, yogurt, freshly squeezed OJ. Eggs, any way. Just fine.

Outside dining area. Breakfast and dinner.
Outside dining area. Breakfast and dinner.

We left after breakfast and headed for the beach. Castiglione della Pescaia is the pretty town nearby. We drove through, turned towards the beach and ended at a dead end. Finally extricated ourselves and headed down the main highway that parallels the coast. We drove through a big park. It was a huge forest of umbrella pines. Quite amazing. Campgrounds were in and among the trees. At the end, I saw there was a town called Marina di Grosseto. I peered down the first road we came to and I saw umbrellas and a big parking area under the pines. Not looking a gift horse in the mouth we parked and walked to the beach. Tre Stelle, a little Bagno, or beach restaurant with its own umbrellas out front. We rented two, and four chairs and even finagled towels. The beach was beautiful. Maybe 40% full. Lots of empty chairs. And all the umbrellas were well spaced with at least six feet between them. Felt very safe. Nice breeze. Susan got her birthday wish to sit on the beach, go in the water. I did too but since I had no suit I got my pants good and wet but didn’t swim. The water was a perfect temperature.

Our beach.
Our beach.
Our beach.

After a few hours enjoying the beauty. We headed back to Castiglione della Pescaia. We had reservations at Bagno Tito. Right on the beach. We found a free on-street parking place and walked to the beach. Just 3 blocks. It was a really nice little beachy place. We sat under umbrellas on the beach. The food was good enough. Not great but fine. We had nice local wine. A nice breeze. What else could you wish for.

Lunch. Bagno Tito.
The view from our table, right on the beach.
Luther got Alici…fresh anchovies. Cracked pink pepper cornes perked it up.


We visited the local Coop grocery store where we bought food for a picnic in the room. Then, back to the hotel for showers and a nap. The picnic was fun. Nice conversation. Later, Luther and I sat outside while he smoked a cigar. I listened to the night noises. Owls maybe? Or small creatures? Horses neighing. Long soft sunset like we get during the longest days of summer. 

Tuesday — We met for breakfast at nine. More scrambled eggs with salmon. A good breakfast. We had to get out by ten because we had an appointment to taste Bolgheri wines an hour away, up the coast. A place called Fornacelle.  As always it was a wild goose chase to find it but we persevered and with the help of google maps finally found it. These wineries are all on the flat lowland between the beach and the bluff rising to the mountains. And the area is networked with little one lane roads. 

Our hostess, Sylvia, was a member of the family which owned the winery. A small operation. She showed us the cellaring room with the oak barrels. And an art installation along with art upstairs in a gallery. They use this on their labels. We finally settled on a pretty patio outside to taste. We had a 100% Vermentino Zizzolo white, a 100% Semillion white (aged in oak), a Rosso Zizzolo blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. These two are named for a small fruit tree which produces an apple-like fruit. They had a tree next to the patio. Next we tried a Red made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. And finally a 100% Cabernet Franc called Erminia. This last one was a beautiful wine. My favorite. She brought crostade with their good oil. A very fun tasting which lasted longer than expected. We had a second appointment but couldn’t keep it and make our lunch reservation.

The cellar.
Zizzolo tree and fruit.

Next few are of the patio where we tasted the wine and some of the wine bottles we tried.


Off we went to Agriristoro La Cesarina. Another exciting adventure in tiny one lane roads, eventually going up the bluff to the top where the restaurant was situated. What a view. Small, casual, place. Obviously their home as we interrupted their lunch. The whole family was there. Turns out Nonna was the cook. Very traditional Tuscan cuisine. But all good. We had antipasto for all four of us plates of meats with melon, cheeses with figs and fig jam. Bruschette – red pepper and liver. All good. Then we had main courses. All the choices were very long cooked meats. A roast pork with carmelized onions. Roast cinghiale, roast beef. Everyone liked theirs. The wines were Bolgheri wines and good.

La Cesarina dining area.
La Cesarina dining area.
The view.
After lunch digestivo. Anise and something else I couldn’t place.

Driving home was another hoot. Up and down the mountains through the valleys. But we got home in time for Susan’s conference call.  
We again gathered for snacks. Watermelon, a little cheese was left and some mortadella.

I rose a bit early and tried to sit outside but the humidity has risen and there are millions of gnats and tiny bugs. So I had to retreat. I did take a shot of the long morning shadows which I thought was pretty.

We breakfasted and got on the road. Home in 2 hours 10 minutes.
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Impressions for our first trip. Restaurants were generally doing well with good distancing. Bagno Tito, the beach restaurant had no paper towels. That was bad because after you wash your hands you don’t want to touch handles etc. All other places had immaculate and fully equipped bathrooms. The hotel was very nice, clean and had great beds and linen. No worries there. The two beaches were sparsely populated and all umbrellas and chairs widely spaced. Unless in the great out of doors, everyone wears masks. So I’d give Italy an A.

During the trip we saw 2 German tags, 3 Swiss, 1 UK, 2 Monaco, 1 Lichtenstein, 1 Netherlands, and one Austrian. Every other tag was Italian, so Italians far out numbered everyone else, very few crossing the borders.

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I see things aren’t going so well in the US. The EU decided not to let travelers from the US into Europe. The benchmark scientific metric used was new cases over the past two weeks per 100,000 people. The average among the 27 European Union countries was 16 in mid-June; in the United States, it was 107.
Please everyone, wear your masks when not in open countryside. It would slow the virus to a crawl and the economy could come back without drastic shutdowns. It’s really not hard…I hate the masks, but I wear them.🌈

Road trip!

So, tomorrow we are off on our first excellent adventure since total lockdown here in Italia. A heady time! Also, a little nervous-making. 😳  But you have to put your toe in the water sometime as I say.

Today was all about packing, ironing, doing last minute errands, and buying picnic stuff. All of which we have finished. We also went out for an apperitivo at Bar Mary. Almost all the tables were taken. We sat at a table next to a guy alone at another table. Heard him talking, British. But I recognized him….then I finally got it. Ralph Fiennes. I knew he had a place here in Umbertide but never I had actually seen him. Wow. I had a drink next to Lord Voldemort! 😳
 
I have friends who are avid bikers. They took this picture on their recent ride. One million happy Umbrians – thanks James and Virginia Lupori!