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An oopsy!

I realize it has been a while since I posted. Things are a bit slow here right now. Doing the usual dentist appointments and stuff. The tomatoes are in and I am enjoying them as I am sure all of you who read this regularly will know. My own tomato plants are looking great and have lots of fruit so soon, I will have my own crop! Exciting. Our weather has been really nice the last couple days. Highs in the eighties. Just right.

I visited the big market this morning to get my semi-weekly supply of tomatoes and was simply floored by the number of English speakers that were there. The summer season is definitely here. We also went grocery shopping this morning and were astounded by all the languages. Everyone comes and rents, or have summer houses which need to be equipped so the groceries are the place they all must go! I kind of like all the hubbub.
The oopsy — A couple days ago, we were upstairs and I heard a loud bang outside. Curious I went to see. Looks like a small accident. Couldn’t be sure who did what but seems the BMW rear ended the Mini who had pulled into a parking spot. The Carabinieri came and so did lots of spectators. Created quite the traffic jam.

Last night we were privileged to meet some of the family of our friends Christie and Jane. There were twelve of them, so quite a handful. Last night was a re-affirmation of vows for Christie’s daughter and son-in-law. We didn’t participate but we loved being included. We sat at our own table and the party of 12 sat next to us. Our friends Manuele and Barbara and their sons also came. So nice to see them. Manuele was our Geometra on the first renovation we did. Here are a few pictures and a short video.

View from the dining terrace. Can anything be more beautiful?

We had a nice time and I loved watching them all dig right into the great food at Ristorante Agriturismo Calagrana.
We are getting ready for another trip. This one to Germany, our old stomping grounds from back when we lived there. We are meeting up with our friends Kaye and Jeff, and Steve and Shiromi, all Australians we haven’t seen since pre-Covid. We will be staying on the Rhine River in the most picturesque part, the Rhine Gorge. We leave July 15.

Happy Fourth of July to all my American peeps!! 🇺🇸

Shutter Management

Yes! It is summer! For better or for worse. Wednesday we had our first hot day 39C or 102.2F. We seldom use our air conditioning. We only have two units anyway, and they are old. We keep cool the old fashioned way — shutter management and fans.

We close all shutters around 11am. Making it dark inside. In the evening, after sunset, we open all the windows and shutters and let the cool evening air come in. We place fans in the windows to pull in the cool air. This makes the house very comfortable all night. Next morning, when we close up we keep all the cool inside. Works well. Every now and then it will just get too hot for too long and then it can get tough.

My orto is doing pretty well. I planted seven tomato plants of all sorts from seed. They are now happily growing in the new planters I have. Today I spied my first baby tomatoes. All the herbs are doing well except the rosemary which has croaked. Don’t know why. Basil is big and bushy. The little jalapeño I got is struggling for unknown reasons. But it does have quite a few peppers on it.

Qua and Quo, our fishes are doing well. If you’ve been reading this for long you’ll know last year we got three fishes for a small “pond” I made, Qui, Qua, and Quo. Qui unfortunately died of unknown causes. The other two are doing well and getting quite fat. Especially Quo.

This week has been busy! I had a final dentista appointment Monday. Then we met some new friends in the piazza at Bar Mary for caffè on Tuesday. Afterwards we shopped for groceries because we were having friends over for lunch Wednesday. Then, Tuesday night was quiz night, a benefit for a local charity called Books for Dogs/Libri per i cani. They have one every other month. We have a team. So we always attend. It is a British founded charity to support two canile (kennels) that take in abandoned dogs. One has 250! Very sad for the animals. Then our friends came for lunch which was fun.

It is now tax time here in Italy. We visited our Commercialista today. It is not my favorite time of course. I doubt I have talked much about this. Once you’re a resident here you are liable to pay income tax on your worldwide income. This includes a wealth tax and taxes on investments as well as social security and other income. The tax rates are higher here, but I reckon it all works out in the end because we have no property tax, nor state tax, and health care fees are negligible. We must file in the U.S. but we pay no taxes there because of the Italian/US tax treaty. I truly believe if a person wants to come live here they should contribute to the system, and pay for all the things they are enjoying.

I also met with Irma (our architect) to begin a new project. All three baths here are probably circa 1980, when this place was built. So they sorely need an update. We decided to start with the guest bath. It has an old shower which is the one we use because the bigger family bath has only a tub. We will rearrange the room. We will remove a laundry sink which we don’t use, and the bidet. This will be the spot for a new, bigger shower. I want a seat built in. And we both want a rain shower with separate squirter. Then the sink will move into the present shower spot. Probably two sinks. And the toilet will get updated plumbing from the old overhead tank. The dark blue tiles which go nearly to the ceiling will go and we will have a half wall of probably white subway tiles I think. Who knows when we can begin, but it will eventually get done. As always here in Italy, piano, piano!

Friday was our anniversary. We had a good lunch at San Giorgio in the Piazza to celebrate.

We, unfortunately have the horrible Saharan sand in our air again. This is the sunset Friday.

Luckily, today, Saturday, the air has wonderously cleared. It is not as hot either. A gorgeous day. The high will be about 82. There’s a nice breeze. Being market day I decided to walk into town and see if there are tomatoes yet.

Along the way.
It was bustling. I got there at 9:30.

😃 YES! I see my first caprese salad in my future!

And I got all of this. I was in time for fresh eggs. The gigantic garlic is called Aglione. Which means big garlic! It is used in pasta dishes. Milder than the smaller bulbs.

Buon weekend a tutti!

Molise – the region that doesn’t exist

Another (very long – lotsa pictures) road trip with my friend Jen, to Molise, region of her ancestors birth. We took one other trip here previously (link to first trip) and explored so decided to explore the other side this time. It is not a big region but is very mountainous so the roads are small. This time to get here we took the big A1 Superstrada. Got us down south super quick even at our snails pace 🤣.

I should mention that I pulled a muscle in my back around three weeks ago and it is still bothering me. I will be the limiter on this trip. Jen is super active and normally travels on her own. I feel badly that I will slow her down. I am mostly along for moral support for her driving. She normally uses only busses and trains, and occasionally planes. She also walks great distances. But Molise requires a car.

Sunday, June 9
We got off the big road and headed toward the countryside. Along the way we stopped and took some pictures. We had to laugh at the Delirium wine Bar. We circled back using the convenient round about and got a photo. Into the mountains we headed taking in the scenery. This beautifully decorated church caught our eye. We got out creakily, and stretched and checked out the church yard. 

Onward to our destination of Isernia. It is the capital of the province of which there are only two in Molise. Our hotel was a bit odd. The Alloggi Be Deluxe was tucked behind a bunch of commercial buildings down a driveway into a big parking lot where we spotted the big sign for it unfortunately in front of the overflowing, and fragrant dumpsters, with an arrow pointing up a ramp. We drove up and there was an enormous, empty parking lot. They had said there was ample parking and they didn’t lie. 

The sign to our hotel. Unfortunate location over the dumpsters. This is where the bear cub was.

No one was there so we sat and wandered and took pictures. Then Jen got a photo of what to us both looked like a bear cub. We had no idea if bears were near this area. But where was its mama? Later we showed it to a woman in a restaurant and she said there weren’t bears here, but in Abruzzo, next door, there are. She looked at our picture and agreed it sure looked like a bear. 

Anyway, turned out we could check in remotely using a QR code sent by the proprietor.  The rooms are quite nice. Well equipped and comfortable. I had to laugh when I saw the safe. It was on top of the minibar. But it was not attached to the wall! So you could conveniently put your valuables in it so any thief could tuck it under his arm for easy carrying. 

We headed out in search of a bar for a drink. It turned out this was not so easy! We were down the hill from the town. We looked on Google and found a nearby bar which purported to be open. It was not. Disappointment. The next one was up the hill more. Nope. In this way, even though I had hesitated to walk up the biggish hill we made it up to where the road flattened somewhat. It was pretty warm and we were sweating. Finally, we came upon a restaurant and asked if they would serve us a drink. The friendly woman said they were not a bar and were closed, but “of course”, and to have a seat under an umbrella outside in a pretty piazzetta. She put a table cloth on our table for us and we asked for a white wine and a beer. 

Next thing we knew I had a gigantic wine and Jen a huge beer. The sweet woman bustled out with a plate of really good appetizers and good Molise bread. We were pretty much in heaven because we had missed lunch.

My giant wine and Jen’s beer
Impromptu snack. Yum!

We kept on with our walk because we saw an arch ahead with a big bell. It was an entrance into the old city proper. Suddenly, there were plenty of people everywhere. A sunny Sunday afternoon invites everyone out. Gelati were being consumed at one of the two open bars. Finally open bars! We continued with our walk into the main piazza. It had a pretty iron gazebo at one end. And several places to eat and drink all around. We also checked out our restaurant for this evening. It was nearby. We had about 2 hours to kill and we didn’t want to walk to our hotel and back. So we hung around the piazza and people watched which is always fun.

Isernia street
Roman drinking fountain – Isernia

We checked out the rest of the town and went to our restaurant. We both had a creamy pasta dish with fresh truffles. Delizioso. On our pleasant walk back to our hotel, downhill, we took some pretty pictures of the lights and the lit up gate. It was a nice night. 

Delicious pasta with a butter cheese and truffles.
Isernia at night
Isernia gate

Monday, June 10
Next morning, I showered and wrote and headed to breakfast at 8:30. We showed the bear picture to the proprietor and her helper. They at first insisted it was impossible. And said it was a Cinghiale, I insisted no, not that. Not a dog. Not a cat. Everyone agreed it was a bear. She called the owner, Nicola. He came. He admitted it looked like a bear. We shared the picture and he called a Dottore expert. Eventually he tried to discredit our picture claim there was a bear found in a park not far away and in the next breath saying our photo couldn’t be a bear cub because there are no bears around here. Jen and I still have absolute certainty our bear is indeed, a bear. This picture has been cropped and I tried to increase the resolution. Not the best photo but I think he is recognizable.

Off on our excellent adventure for the day to a town called Frosolone, known for its knives. There were eighty foundries working a few hundred years ago. We first went to visit the museum of knives. Which was naturally closed. We had been told to go to the Comune and ask a person there for the keys. Well, he wasn’t in the Comune then. Finally a young man ran to get the keys and returned to take us and show us around. He was super sweet. Tried his best English and we sprinkled in our Italian and communication occurred magically. The museum was small but full of many knives from all eras and even from other lands. 

View along the way.
In the main square. Statue of a knife maker.
Frosolone street. Loved the laundry.
Knife collection in museum
Particularly evil looking knife. You are not going to get that out easily.

Then we went to visit the shop of the man who runs the museum. He is an artisan and makes every knife by hand himself. His shop was full of knives for every purpose. Many made by him. Some made in other places. The pocket knives were of incredible variety. I purchase a smaller chefs knife, and a lovely cheese knife with the pronged end. Both with olive wood handles. Really nice. Jen got a new mezzaluna and a chefs knife. The owner artisan came to meet us from his foundry. He was very nice. His wife was the one in the shop. 

Knife shop
Knife shop

Turismo Rurale Taberna Agricola was our target for lunch. Google maps said it was 25 minutes away. And off we went. It was a beautiful drive. We stopped multiple times for pictures. There were steep hillsides and wide valleys with many distant hill towns. The hillsides covered in bright yellow broom. They are extremely busy with the haying so there are the large round bales, cut hay awaiting rolling and tractors working the fields. So lovely. We turned down a tiny tiny road. And eventually came to our lunch spot. It was beautiful. We went down the steps and found an outside dining area. The two woman working there were some of the nicest and friendliest people ever. The food was delicious. We were famished. They brought us a gift from the chef. Incredible! 👀 a fried ball of cheese. Really good cheese called ??? and it was nestled into, and topped with caramelized onions. We could have had just these for lunch! So good. Shared squash blossoms. I had a half portion of vegetarian lasagna. And roast lamb with two fried chops. Jen had a decadent chocolate dessert. I had a bottle of Rosato (Rosé) and carried the rest back home with me. Excellent meal

Taberna sign and approach to outside dining area

Pretty uneventful return to Isernia and our hotel. We rested then went to the very convenient Tigre supermarket right beneath the hotel. A rather circuitous route to get there but we got a good picnic for dinner. At eight we met for our picnic in the breakfast area just near the front door. There are other guests in the hotel now. While we were eating a man named Carlo arrived. He is an obvious regular as he rolled right in and picked up his key and headed down the hall. Then he returned to pick up dishes for his dinner which he eats in the room while watching TV. He works for an automotive company here and lives in Rome. Super nice, friendly and helpful! I managed to lock myself out of the room and he was kind enough to call for me to get a key to get in. Whew!  After we ate we sat outside where there are nice tables and chairs and had our wine. Nice day.

Tuesday, June 11
We left Isernia at around 9:00. Another nice day. Along our route there was a prominent church up on the hillside on a mountain. We decided it was a must stop and see place. It is called Basilica Minore dell’Addolorata. It is relatively new with a very large and ornate exterior and big central dome. It was nearly empty. We took a few pictures and headed out to our first “real” destination – Serpino.

Basilica Minore dell’Addolorata
Memorial erected by some residents of Castelpizzuto. Jen’s ancestral town.
Cool model inside church

Serpino is an archeological dig and site dating from the Samnite and Roman times. A relatively big site with intact gates and many walls, and the old Roman roads are also fully intact. Inside there are residential zones, a forum, an amphitheater and a swimming pool and athletic area. Getting there was a hoot. We, of course were following Google maps. We missed our turn because we were distracted by two Carabinieri doing random stops under the bridge next to our turn. So we turned around and missed the turn again…and again! How embarrassing. The cops probably didn’t notice but we did. Finally found the turn. The ruin is along small roads and it felt isolated. Hold on to your hat! Here come the pictures!

Entrance with site map
In case you want to read about it.

We parked and were greeted by two friendly dogs and a cat and then we entered the park. The people working there were quite worried that people would not pay for their tickets so we went to the Biglietteria and bought our tickets. We probably spent two or three hours there. We did stop at a restaurant on the far side out one of the four gates. Turns out, you can enter from the main road. We had a snack which we shared with the cat and dog and then walked back in and finished the tour. People live almost within the site. It must be strange to live in or next to a few thousand year old Samnite and Roman town. I wonder if they hear the ghosts of those ancients at night?

Actually this is a newer (few hundred years old probably) but they used one of the Roman pillars in the construction
For my hubby.
Porto Bojano /Bojano gate
One of the many intact Roman roads. See the (very worn) stepping stones?
Flowers growing on all the walls – they are called Stonecrop. A succulent.
Double arches beside amphitheatre
Double arches again
From “backstage” entrance into Ampitheater
One of the intact walls. I love the way they constructed them. No mortar of course. Nothing like them in our time
This shows how there is a double row of very long and square stones cut to fit perfectly.
Porta Bojano from outside walls
My favourite gate. Porta Benevento (good wind). The most remote gate
Porta Tammaro
House and farm just in the park. It must be strange to live there.

We left Sepino and headed for Campobasso, the capital of the other region of Molise and our destination for three nights. We had recommendations for a safe parking garage and found the correct street but the garages were not open. You had to call and they would come. 

We walked to our hotel in the Centro Storico which was about 10 minutes away. Rolling the suitcase was difficult on the rough stones. We found Palazzo Cannavina Dimora. A nice young man helped us with the suitcases and showed us our rooms. It is an old Palazzo so the ceilings are probably 20 feet high. With windows just as tall. Interesting, quirky art work and decor. But nicely appointed. Jen had an issue with her room. There was a piano teacher in the apartment above her room and she could hear the lessons. That wasn’t so bad except when we returned from dinner at nearly eleven they were STILL at it! She contacted the young man on WhatsApp and he made a phone call and the piano stopped instantly.

Our street
Our street

Dinner was delicious. Monticelli Sapere e Sapori. Not far from the hotel. I loved my antipasto. A spicy roasted red pepper sauce with a poached egg. Very delicious. And then a pasta with fresh peas and truffles and a cheese. All good. Jen got a cheese soufflé and a pasta aglio olio. We shared a nice Molise Rosato. Love the soft pink color. We had an after dinner drink at a local bar on the way back. A threesome was at the table next to ours with a very rambunctious poodle. Really friendly we had a good chat and they recommended a restaurant for us to try. That ended a very nice day.

Wednesday, June 12
Dawned another nice day. I contacted Mario, the owner of the casaficio (cheese maker) that we want to visit while here. We decided to visit Thursday. That left Wednesday free. We decided to stay in Campobasso. I was happy for a down day. We walked to pick up my hiking sticks from the car. They help my back by making me stand straighter and take a little of the load off. It allows me to walk much longer without pain. We didn’t really walk much. We ended up sitting in a cafe and having a spritz or two. They had old music on from the 70s I think. We listened and tried to name that tune and artist. We headed out and stopped by the restaurant that had been recommended to us to reserve since they wouldn’t answer the phone. They were very rude to us so we left.

My room
Hotel terrace

Back at the hotel we made a coffee and took it on the pretty terrace here. There is a courtyard behind us and we could hear eating sounds. We looked on Google maps and figured out which place it was and made a reservation. 

Dinner at Ristorante L’Approdo, a fish place directly behind our hotel, was funny and confusing. We arrived and entered. No one was around so we sat in two chairs near the door and reception area to wait. A waiter showed up and we thought he was going to seat us but instead he asked if we wanted some Prosecco. Come no? we said (why not?) So we sipped and waited and no one asked why we were there. Finally Jen asked if we could be seated, certo, he said and took us to a table. A very odd start. 

We were given menus. The place had one wavy, blue tiled wall. Like the ocean. The other two walls had large seascapes. There were metal railings on the walls, like a boat. 

They seated another couple across from us. We ordered and spoke only Italian. The waitress seemed faintly amused. The couple just sat stock still and listened to us. And that couple stared at us the entire meal. Giving us the side eye or turning to stare blatantly. I finally started staring back and she would quickly avert her head. So strange.

But with all that the meal was yummy. We split an order of mussels. Then split a pasta with lobster. Then we each had a secondi. Jen had fried calamari and I had roasted spigola. Sea bass. We chose a nice Pugliese rosato to drink with dinner. Very nice and I was stuffed. 

Returned to the bar beneath our hotel and had after dinner drinks. Off to bed!

Thursday, June 13
We had planned to visit the caseificio – cheese farm. Very famous. The owner, Mario Borraro was super sweet but his son had an operation and wasn’t doing well, so we opted to not bother him right now. Jen did her amazing research and found an interesting sounding town named Civitacampomarano. Yes, a real mouthful! It is a hill town and they are promoting artists to paint murals on the walls of the town. It just so happened that the next day after our visit today was their big festival. The town was preparing while we were there. Nice town. Great castle. The murals were great. At one point I let Jen go off on her own because of some steep staircases I did not want to chance. She shared her photos of some of the art down in that part of town. I waited up by the castle and watched the cats and the locals and the numerous sparrows. 

I probably have 30 pictures between my own and Jen’s. I am just picking a few (if I can restrain myself!) For everyone to see.

Work in progress
I am the girl on the left. She is me, to a tee, as a young teen.

As we walked toward the road we happened upon a Trattoria. The only one we had seen in town,  named Agricola Li. Si. Odd name. We were hungry so we went in. This is where the fun began. The room was unadorned. It had four tables in it. We ordered from the very small menu. I ordered the Pasta Li. Si. It had tomato and sausage. Jen got the baked scamorza with truffles. They brought cheeses and pickled cabbage with bread to snack on.

Two gay men came in and sat down at one table. Then the table behind us filled with a diverse group. A mother from Finland with her two boys who she said had an Arab father (never again-she said). They were dark. Then her mother, from Sweden and her father. The mom ordered small steaks for her boys and a large steak for herself.

Meanwhile they began a conversation with the two gay men who, it turned out, came from the Lake Como area. We chimed in with our home country of the U.S. to complete the mix. Then the food came to the big table. Mom was flabbergasted at the size of the steak. It was like a Bistecca Fiorentina. She decided she couldn’t eat it without some plain pasta. Hilarity ensued. The cook, a woman and super nice who spoke some pretty good English was having a hard time getting what this woman wanted. One of the gay guys also was sitting there with his mouth hanging open, aghast at the request…his partner was encouraging her to just get what she wanted. The cook did all the appropriate Italian hand gestures. Forehead smacking, eye rolling, but all in a good natured and entirely hilarious fashion. It was like watching a sitcom. We were in stitches. We left before the cook could bring out whatever she did with the steak and plain pasta. The whole thing was a one of a kind experience. And one that could only happen here.

Some of the cast of characters

We headed back to the car still chuckling. The trip back was uneventful. We parked in the garage and headed back into the centro. We freshened up a bit and went out for a drink. On the way we stopped in a few stores and I bought a necklace. Jen bought a hand towel, hand painted by this nice lady with a map of Molise with its specialities. The weather was really quite cool, almost cold and I was in shorts and T-shirt so we didn’t last long . After the drink we stopped in a clothing store. Neither of us likes to try on clothes but we did. I ended up buying a couple blouses and Jen got a really nice pair of brown jeans that fit her perfectly.

Friday, June 14
We were off to our last night, in Vasto, on the Adriatic Sea. We got to the coast in just a little over an hour. Roads are decent but mostly two lanes. We had decided to stop in Termoli. It is where we had stayed the whole time on our last trip. Nice seaside town. We are still early in the very beginning of the Season. Not many people around. All the rental umbrellas and chairs were all set up on the beach in neat, colorful rows. It seems so un-Italian to be so rigid with the rows. But I like it.

We found a convenient parking lot, paid our 3 euro to park for several hours, and walked off into the middle of town. We wanted to dine in Ristorante Mari e Monti. We had eaten there twice on our last trip. I had a nice, cool seafood salad and then a red snapper dish. Both delicious. Jen got pasta with lobster. 

We then went for a walk. We crossed to the island, connected to the main land by road. Got some good pictures of the seaside with the umbrellas. And then into the center with it’s little streets. It was the riposo so everything was closed. We wandered back to the car and headed up to our last stop.

We were met at the parking garage by Anita, the owner of Palazzo Florio, a boutique residence. Anita is from Finland and looks it. Petit, with very light blond hair, she wore shorts and a T-shirt and was energetic and fit. She pointed out places to see in the centro storico where her hotel is. Then, we went up the stairs to the 2nd floor where we did the formalities of getting our ID for the cops and paying for the rooms and parking. I opted for less stairs and less room. Jen went up one more flight to the junior suite. I visited it and it was lovely. 

After freshening up we headed down to check out Vasto Centro. There is quite a bit to see. At the end of the street was a church with extremely exuberant bells!

Just on past was a large building with gardens and then a beautiful promenade along the old walls overlooking the bay and Adriatic Sea. Gorgeous views. The promenade was lined with restaurants and above them apartments with those same incredible views. Lucky them! We circled up and ended up on another street with another church and then some good window shopping.

Then circled back to the first church where there was a bar recommended called Sideways. We sat and had a mojito and then Jen had another and I had a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. We ordered a selection of French cheeses just for a change. They were wonderful. The French make some great cheeses. I also got some good people pictures which I don’t often do.

The ubiquitous Obituary board. Always see the older folks checking out who has checked out!

We decided to walk some more and saw a lovely square with palm trees and ringed with pretty buildings. In the center a fountain. The sun was setting and we loved photographing the light on the buildings and the shadows. Really pretty and a great evening. Strolling back we spotted a gelateria. What better way to end our evening. We got a cup each with two flavors each. I got pistacchio and cocco. Good. Perfect. Off to bed and home the next day.

Loved the shadow from the big conifer

Saturday, June 15
Our hotel serves breakfast in the rooms. Jen and I were going to have it brought to mine. There was a little checklist of things to get. We had ordered the night before for around 9:30. Anita showed up with this wonderful tray of delicious pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, cappuccino for us. The pastry I ordered was a croissant filled with cream. Anita said this bakery makes their own cream filling – it’s not the industrial stuff many places use now. So good, and so something I never eat because it is so caloric. But I’m on vacation so an exception was made 😁 I should note this is the breakfast Italians eat daily, a sweet pastry, cornetto, and a coffee.

The drive home up the coast was on the big superstrada. But with views of the incredibly blue Adriatic off and on all the way. Jen was sweet and brought me home adding an hour and a half to her trip. Her city is having a huge festival called the Quintana. Jousting contests between the different neighborhoods. Big deal. We had no idea what the traffic would be like or road closures. Anyway, we are both home safe and sound after an amazing road trip planned entirely by my friend Jen. Molte grazie amica mia! 

Greve in Chianti

We went for an overnight to a bed and breakfast outside the village of Greve in Chianti. I had ordered a long time ago, some hand painted ceramics. The artist is pretty popular and put me on the list. It was finished, and ready to pickup in November. I wanted to stay in the BnB which was owned by her friend, and where her studio was.

Turned out, I couldn’t go in December because of travel plans and Christmas. And then in January she went back home to Spain and the BnB was closed for the winter. Then we had the big March trip to the U.S., and on and on. When I finally decided to try to reserve a room he was nearly booked! So I took the one day he had open.

Finally on Thursday we headed out for our nice overnight. It was pretty weather. Perfect top-down weather. We decided to do a wine tasting/lunch combination. We went to Savignola Paolina in Greve. It was a pretty place. Not too big. We had reserved online but they didn’t seem to have our reservation. The staff was super friendly. They set a table for us outside with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. They were all very friendly and seemed genuinely to enjoy chatting, asking where we were from and telling us all about the winery and the wines.

We enjoyed a plate of three types of bruschetta, a plate of charcuteries, and a risotto made from their red wine. We tasted a rosè, and three Chianti Classicos of ascending quality. There is no white wine made in the Chianti district. At the end we had a taste of the one Merlot, which is not a DOC wine. And then the one called Mio which was made by the Swiss owner. Both of these had productions of 1200 liters only. I loved the top Chianti we tasted as well as the one just down from it. The rose was also quite nice and much more complex than any other rosè I have had. We bought a a case of wine.

We then went into the town of Greve. Chock full of tourists. We had a dinner reservation there that night. On we went to find our BnB called Selvabella in Chianti. It was down a tiny little gravel road about 2 kilometers. Thank god we didn’t meet any other cars. We parked and were greeted by Marta, the Ceramicist, and three resident dogs. She was super nice. We toured her studio and I got to see my ceramics.

The top two are the two fish platters. Then my favorite, the bird plate with a European Robin, a European blackbird, and a Hoopoe. The last being a favorite bird. Then two nice sized bowls with a snail and a hoopoe. They are a size I was lacking. Big enough for a big serving of whatever side or salad I made.

We were kind of out in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t want to negotiate the narrow road out and drive after eating and drinking. We asked if they could prepare dinner for us and they said they could. We had a nice dish of pasta and a pretty dessert. Both delicious. There was another American couple there from South Carolina and they also enjoyed the same dinner as we did. Bernardo, the proprietor was a good chef. He loved to experiment so had a lot of ingredients that were unusual. For the pasta we had a goat and pork ragu. On top was a pulverized bay leaf powder. The dessert (pictured) a panna cotta, was topped with a pulverized fig leaf. We talked a long time about cooking.

Next morning we packed up and headed home. Took a southerly route which was much better. We can do the trip in just over two hours. I love the Tuscan wine areas. They are also popular with tourists and the whole area is pretty much booked for the season.

Buona domenica a tutti!

Induction cooking – how I like it

I have always been a gas cooking person. Now I have induction in the new kitchen. I promised to post about how I like it. So far so good! I actually like it, with a couple caveats. Many people don’t know about this. It is a magnetic field that makes the heat, but only in the pot. The surface doesn’t get warm. The metal of the pots get agitated by the field, creating heat. It heats up very quickly, and it cools nearly instantly.

Here is the island with the cooktop. It is hidden. It is above the black oblongs which are where the controls are.

This is a close-up of the controls. The little thing shaped like a corner is to line up the mats for cooking.

These are the silicone mats that you lay on the countertop for the pots to sit on. It doesn’t work without them. They also protect the counter.

I have made numerous things so far. I was pleased to see it gets very hot to sear things like the chops pictured. Here are just a few things.

One thing I don’t like. I boil water for spaghetti or pasta and if I don’t keep the lid on it stops boiling. I also noticed the heat cycles on and off and the water boils then doesn’t, then does. Since I’m not familiar with induction I am not sure this is normal. I have also had sporadic problems with it showing an error when I’m cooking two things at once. I haven’t figured out why. Is it operator error? Is it a defect? Not sure. I guess time will tell.

Schengen Shuffle

Ligurian coast

I have to admit I spend a good bit of time reading the Facebook groups that are set up for immigrants to Italy — Retired in Italy, Americans Living in Italy, Ultimate Italy, Affordable Italy, etc. I answer a lot of questions. There are a lot of people who want to move here. I think there are a combination of reasons. The Baby Boomers are all retiring right now. People are tired of the strife in US politics, the anger that seems to permeate society now. Prices are high in the U.S.. There are many descendants of the Italian immigrants who migrated to other countries over the last hundred years who are eligible for Italian citizenship.

I actually enjoy helping people with this…most of the time. Thing is, so many people don’t do the slightest bit of research before asking a very basic question. So many young people want to come and that can be very difficult. There are very few Visas for them. For retirees, it is easier. There is a Visa called the Elective Residency Visa. It is for people with enough passive income to qualify, who don’t need to work…i.e., retirees. Or smart young people who made their pile early and can qualify. But no work allowed.

Night view

Some facts about coming to live here. If you are not an EU citizen, you will need a Visa to come. Buying property is easy but it doesn’t confer permission to stay past the normal 90 day tourist visa. After you receive the Visa, you must apply for a Permesso di Soggiorno (permit to stay) within a week of arrival. Then you apply for residency. (Fact – you can’t buy a car unless a resident). Also, one of the biggest hurdles to living in Italy is obtaining your driving license. Test in Italian. Must be taken within a year of residency. Once you become a resident you will be liable to pay Italy taxes on your worldwide income and investments.

It is this last bit that seems to make people balk at moving full-time to Italy. It is a pet peeve of mine that so many people try to find a way to get out of paying taxes here but still want to be able to live here and enjoy all the things that the taxes pay for. Enter the Schengen Shuffle. Americans, Canadians and many other non-EU countries have an automatic 90 day tourist visa to come to any Schengen country — most of Europe is in The Schengen Zone. So a person can come to Italy (for example) and stay 90 days, then they must exit the Schengen zone for 90 days. They can repeat as often as they want. They never become residents. They never pay taxes. They use things taxes pay for, like museums, monuments, parks, historical sites, beaches, schools, universities, libraries, hospitals, public transportation.

Historical site… Paestum Greek temples

To exit the Schengen zone and stay in Europe there are only a few possibilities. The United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Albania. Turkey. Or you can go back to your home country.

Now, from my personal perspective, the taxes are not all that bad. The tax rates are higher, yes. There is a tax treaty between the U.S. and Italy to protect against double taxation. We pay no tax in the U.S. now. We don’t pay any property taxes on our home here — we used to pay $10K+ a year in the U.S., a big savings. We don’t pay state tax, another ~$8K saved. Now that we have become permanent residents our health care is free in Umbria. [Other regions may vary.] You can apply for the long term residency at the five year mark. The cost to enroll in the system before you become a permanent resident is capped at €2,700 a person annually, but could be less. It is income based. €2K minimum cost. This is cheap by US standards. Cost of living here in Umbria is less than half what people pay in the U.S. and for some of the best, safest and most tasty food anywhere. To me, it is about a wash. Not all that much more in taxes and so worth it to us to live in this beautiful and tranquil country. 🇮🇹

La Dolce Vita 💕

Living here is not perfect by a long shot. There are a lot of hurdles people must leap. The bureaucracy is horrible. One must negotiate everyday life in a foreign language. One must abide by their rules. It is nothing like the U.S. One will get homesick. One will miss things from home. For us, the challenges are part of the draw. It keeps your mind working overtime. All normal, everyday things are now a challenge, or an adventure, depending on how you look at it. We are happy to be living here. Frankly, after ten years here, it is now our home. 🙂


My friend Doug and I like to go to the Iris farm over in the Niccone valley every spring to admire the blooms and lovely gardens. It is called IrisUmbria. It is open on weekends in May.

Casale – main farmhouse – and upper fields.

As an addendum to my Trip Report on Albania. Many people said they’d never go after reading it. I didn’t mean to put people off. The people are so very nice, the prices are so very low. The food is good. Fresh seafood is wonderful. The towns very pretty. The beaches are pristine. If you hike, the Albanian Alps are amazing and attract a lot of hikers. I feel for the people there. They had a very hard time so are a bit behind the rest of the former communist countries who didn’t live under as cruel a regime as the Albanese. It is so near Italy. We will go back, this time to a beach off season. It is just next to Greece and it’s beaches just as nice and at way less than half the price! Give it a try. Another thing that is of interest is that it is not Schengen. This makes it a place to go if you’re trying to do the Schengen shuffle. I will write about the Schengen Shuffle soon.

Trip report – Albania

Another trip report folks. As always many food pictures 🙂. If you’re not interested please ignore.

Monday, April 29
We had an early flight out of Assisi airport to Tirana, Albania. It was about 1.5 hours on WizzAir, another of those low cost airlines that fly in Europe. We met up with our travel companion, Jen.

The flight was fine. We landed in Tirana and made it through passport control. We noticed that our passports had been checked no less than three times! Once to check in, once at Italian passport control, and once on arrival in Albania. Albania is not in the EU nor Schengen and it uses the Leke for its currency. 

We retrieved our luggage and I bought a SIM card for my phone so we could navigate. It was very chaotic and I managed to misplace, lose, or be slick-fingered-robbed of 20,000 Leke that I had just gotten from the ATM. It was only about $20 so not the end of the world. We next rented our car from Europcar. A white fiat with plenty of room. It was a hot day and we slogged to a far parking lot to find the car. It really was quite the madhouse! Cars everywhere jostling to get in and out of the lot, blocking each other’s way. Part of the problem was that the road you had to exit onto was bumper to bumper too. Albanian drivers in Tirana turned out to be pretty aggressive.

Finally on the road out of the crazy traffic we were in on way to Berat. At first it was supremely ugly. Many half finished buildings and abandoned this or that. We got to the seacoast and got our first glimpse of the incredibly turquoise Adriatic. Durrës was the name of this city and it was big. Lots of hotels on the beach. Definitely not my type of beach town.

The taste of the Albanians definitely tends to the highly tacky. Overdone crenellations and white columns abound. Huge stone lions outside businesses, huge eagle-like birds topping rooftops. Seems nothing is too out there!

We were headed south towards some very tall snow-capped mountains. We passed through a large area that bristled with oil derricks. It smelled strongly of oil, similar to the smell of jet fuel. Ugh. We didn’t know they produced oil.

We passed some pretty houses among vineyards and other crops and saw an enticing looking restaurant, so we stopped. Kantina Edoni was perfect. We sat on a covered porch. The temperature was just right. We had salads and melty cheese, olives and then we each had a seafood dish. All, except for the grilled seafood which was over-cooked, good. Albanian food definitely tends to the Greek. A bottle of the local wine from this family owned cantina rounded out the meal. A great find for a first lunch. 

Baked “white cheese”. When you order they ask “white or yellow”. 🙂
Tomato salad(!) two whole and very large tomatoes. Most things are to share.
All the olives we had were delicious. I picked up one of the orange slices was surprised to find it was a lemon!! I never found out what it really was. Why it looked like an orange but was sour like a lemon.
Jen’s cod. She loved it.
Front of restaurant.

Next stop Berat. We arrived at Tradita e Beratit, our hotel for the night. It was up a narrow street of super uneven stones, very hard to walk on. It is family-owned and they were super nice and gave us a welcoming blueberry juice drink and a sweet. We also saw their “museum”. The house had been an inn for 350 years and was their ancestral home. We stowed our stuff in our rooms. Ours had a nice view and was pretty with lacy curtains and a comfy bed, but was super small, I was glad we were only there one night.

In the vaulted “museum” in the hotel.
From our window
Just across from the hotel. Cliff. The castle is on top. I liked the church halfway up.

The town kind of sprawls along the Seman River which is obviously glacial in origin from its color. The really big mountains we saw on our trip are nearby and the river originates there. Our part of town was the oldest. There are three bridges. Two are pedestrian. Since we were only here one night we went out for a walkabout right away. We walked down the river and crossed to the main part of town and saw the promenade along the river and with a lovely park and many restaurants. We visited an old church and a mosque where a kind man lent us scarves so we two women could go in. 

Orthodox church
Art in the church
Berat mosque.
Looking up river
Berat is known for it’s windows.
The oldest bridge.

We returned and decided to eat just below our hotel. They said it was affiliated with them. Dinner was OK. So far things are fresh but very basic. Prices are super low. A salad is $3.50, an entree is $8.00 – $10.00. But don’t expect fancy meals.
Tuesday April 30
We got up early and had a really nice breakfast. Served on pretty olive wood platters. We had flat, pancake-like eggs, a sweet cake, olives, cucumbers, cheeses, tomatoes, fresh yogurt. Along with blueberry juice and a cappuccino.

Berat breakfast
Hotel cat. She was happy on top of the drink machine and didn’t want to be bothered!

We checked out and drove up to visit the castle above the town. It was more than a castle. Almost a village up there. People selling things. A hotel. Places to eat etc. also a lot of churches and one mosque. Nice weather. My knee doesn’t like too much up and down so I walked up a steep incline and walked around the town but, I let my fellow travelers visit all the churches etc. while I walked slowly back down the uneven road to the car. I had fun and enjoyed the excursion. 

A bunch of kids arrived when we did. Field trip! Photo op!
The castle and wall.
Part of the village
Loved the pineapple topiary.
One of the churches in the castle complex.
Girl scritching stray bitch who was very pregnant. More strays-to-be on the way 😢

We headed north along the same route we took the day before. The traffic is pretty terrible; so many trucks clog all the roads. Very few are more than two lanes. There are hazards like bicycles and people walking, as well as the many stray dogs and cats. We passed right by the airport and continued north to a town called Kruje. It was way up in the granite mountains and was quite large. It also had a castle and we headed there. 

We found parking and walked up the road toward the castle. There were shops all along the way selling clothing, rugs, embroidered table cloths and runners, olive wood bowls and trays. We were hungry so we stopped in a roadside restaurant. It had amazing views across the valley. Another typical lunch. So far the food has not varied much. Starters are always salads, feta or other cheese either baked or not. Olives, etc. Mains are seafood near the coast or roasted meats. Lamb and goat are popular and also beef and chicken. The sides are grilled vegetables, roasted potatoes, French fries, etc. After lunch Luther and Jen went up to the castle. Turns out there were two museums and just the ruins of the old castle remained. Jen and I bought blouses on our way back.

Kruje Castle museum
The bazaar near the Kruje castle.
Odd pizza-like appetizer to share. The bread base is corn bread, a surprise but is common there.

Back in the car we wound our way back down the mountain, this time dodging loose cattle who seemed to be tended by a man but he couldn’t really keep them out of the road. The trip to Shkodër was about an hour and a half more. So many trucks! I amused myself snapping pictures of the amusing and strange architecture along the way. They build these places alone, often in a big dirt or gravel lot with little or no grass or shrubbery. These buildings look stark and alone. Many seem unused.

This one seems to have a missing second floor but they are using the first.
This was a wedding venue. It was in a very ugly area.

We arrived and found the hotel (Çoçja Boutique Hotel) with some amount of difficulty as usual. It is a lovely hotel with underground parking. Prices here being so low, Luther and I had gone for a suite and it was enormous. Very comfortable. Both hotels so far have had little bottles of the exact same shampoo, and tiny soap bars, also both the same. No other “condiments” as I call the amenities normally in a nice hotel like this one.

We met for a drink after a short time to refresh and then decided we were ready for dinner. The hotel recommended a restaurant which is affiliated with the hotel. It was about a five minute walk away. We walked down our street and crossed the big street. On the other side was a really nice pedestrian and bike zone. It went directly in front of the Great Mosque – Ebu Beker Mosque. And just past it the Orthodox Cathedral of the Nativity.

Great mosque

Dinner was delicious. Many dishes made a return appearance. Grilled “white” cheese, grilled vegetables, a Greek salad. Then three seafood dishes. A whole sea bass for Luther which looked delicious, and two shrimp dishes. Mine was shrimp in orange sauce with vegetables, and Jen got whole grilled shrimp. After dinner brandy and a walnut yogurt dessert for Jen. Very yummy.

Baked cheese.
My shrimp
Luther’s bass

Luther finally had his cigar outside. We have a very nice balcony in our room with table and two chairs. It even has a view of the Great Mosque. And I got to hear my first calls to prayer.
Wednesday, May 1
A holiday all over Europe – Labor Day. We weren’t sure about Albania. But it was listed as one on the Internet. We had breakfast at ten. It was good and unusual.

We headed out to visit the Site of Witness and Memory. It is the first museum dedicated to the victims of the horrific communist fascist regime here in Albania. Luther described it as the North Korea of Europe. They were isolated and alone with an evil dictator and regime. Hundreds of thousands died, many innocent of any real crime, many by horrific torture, imprisoned in notorious prisons. Cruelty was the name of the game. The regime stamped out any trace of religion. Most clerics died or were imprisoned. All mosques and churches were destroyed. Atheism was the only possible belief. The museum was very moving. The cells where the prisoners were held are preserved. The torture room is preserved. Some of the victims who lived in the cells were remembered with their pictures inside each one and their stories written down outside the doors. So sad. People can be so evil. I just don’t understand.

This woman refused sex with the commandant and he put her in a bag with a wild cat and beat the cat with crowbars. She was unrecognizable when released. This was a common torture.

We shook off the mood and did some wandering about town. Nice place with pretty parks and walking streets. We sat and had a beverage outside. The weather was perfect. We decided on a seafood restaurant and it turned out to be very good. We had a plate of bruschetta and a salad to share, and we each ordered a fish or fishes. Along with wine. Price was 7,700 Leke, or around €77.00 or $78.00. The prices are amazingly low.

Jen’s cod
One of the mosques
Street life
Talisman. I saw garlic hanging in front of a lot of houses.

Luther and I decided on a siesta in our room and Jen went a-wandering as is her wont. Later we met up for aperitivo in a bar nearby called ORO which had snacks. We had drinks and snacks and a great wide ranging conversation. When we emerged we found ourselves about midway between two mosques when the call to prayer began. It was quite amazing to hear the dueling …. what do you call it?  Singers, callers, Imams, the men who intone/sing the calls? It is such a melancholy, but in a way, calming sound. It had rained while we were in the bar. Our hotel courtyard was wet. We retired to our rooms.

Luther tried to smoke a cigar but got rained out about halfway through. I liked Shkodër but it wasn’t what I had expected.
Thursday May 2
Next morning we grabbed another good breakfast and headed south from Shkodër. About an hour and a half later we arrived at the Tirana airport to drop off the rental car. We didn’t want to keep it because our flight the next day was at the ungodly hour of 6:20am so the rental agencies wouldn’t be open. We took a taxi into town to our hotel called the Capital Suites Center. It was on two floors of an old communist building. The owner, called Albi, was an entrepreneur who bought up the space and renovated it into hotel rooms. To be honest the rooms were not great but for one night it was OK. Albi and his friend, Henry, and Steve the evening clerk were all very friendly and helpful. Albi told us he made money also buying wrecked luxury cars in the U.S. and shipping them back twenty at a time, to be repaired and resold in Albania. We had noticed the Albanese really like their nice cars. They might not have much else but they spend their money on cars. I think there is a lavazh, or car wash, every fifty feet!

We had a fun lunch in a sort of Hard Rock Cafe place near the hotel called Restorant Tymi. Salads all around and baked feta, olives and corn bread in yogurt. 


We went off to see what we could see in an afternoon. First up was the large Skanderbeg square. Sight of the uprisings against the Enver Hoxha regime in 1991. We wanted to visit one of the two bunkers left over from that time. The one we went to was where records were kept, tortures were carried out, interrogations were carried out and spies were trained. Everyday people were enlisted to spy on their neighbors and rat them out. No one could be trusted. People abused their power of course, accusing a neighbor of a crime to get back at them for some slight. I didn’t care for how they exhibited everything. Narrow hallways had posters on the walls with a chronological history from the 1950s until the end in 1991. Claustrophobic space with way too many people. 

Communist building on the square
I love Tirana
Entry to the bunker

Out into the sunlight again. Whew. We went to see the Cloud, a sculpture by Sou Fujimoto, then walked towards a very inviting street lined with bars and lots of tall trees and gardens. Quite nice and we sat and people watched for a while with drinks. Fun! Tirana is quite pretty with lots of skyscrapers of maybe 50-60 floors. Many under construction. Interesting architecture. Many shops. Quite prosperous. A surprise to us all. We had expected a gritty city. The streets were wide and all was clean. 

The Cloud
People watching on the pretty street
The guys across from us were looking at all the girls as they passed. Very amusing. But this old woman asked for money and happily they all gave her some.
Boys looking cool never change the world over!
Interesting architecture. Those protruding squares held up balconies 😳
I called this the building block building
Loved this color

We walked back to the hotel to get ready for dinner at a seafood place recommended by Albi. It was delish and the most expensive place we have eaten yet. Pretty space named Gusto. Owned by an Italian. All seafood and fresh fish from the Ionian Sea every day. A big array of fish of all kinds on ice as you walk in. Luther and I had whole sea bass. Mine was grilled and his was in a salt crust. Jen got shrimp risotto. We also had a Greek starter to share – shrimp in a red sauce. Very nice. 

We went to a bar for a nightcap and Luther had a cigar he bought in the restaurant. The bar was short on variety of drinks. No brandy, cognac, amaro, but the music was fun. Oldies.
Friday May 3
Up at 4:15. Ugh! Taxi had been ordered for 4:45 but we were ready at 4:30 and he was there when we went out. 25 minutes to airport and into the fray to get checked-in and through security and passport control. We were very glad to have US passports because there were scanners and our passports were readable. The poor Albanese were stuck in a very long line. A quick macchiato for us and we went to our gate.

There was a big storm with lightening and thunder and rain passing through. Oddly they let everyone get checked and make everyone wait outside. We finally ran through the rain to go up the steps to board. Just after we boarded a very belligerent Albanian man got into an altercation with the crew for some reason. Loud shouting and many hand gestures. The cops were called. The captain said he wanted him off the plane. A friend pleaded leniency. But the captain was really angry that his cabin crew had been abused by this idiot. So off he went with the cops who confiscated his passport. He wasn’t getting to Perugia today. 

So what did I think of Albania 🇦🇱? The people are very friendly. The country has been through a lot. It is still healing. It is extremely cheap. It has mountains, flatlands, and Alps. The beaches are beautiful there, primarily in southern Albania near Greece. Smaller fishing type villages. But locals told us the huge influx of tourists in the last two years have made doing anything in the beach areas in July and August nearly impossible. There are hiking areas in the Albanian Alps which are formidable! Most other tourism is minimal. Probably the only reason I would return would be to spend a week on the beach in May or September. Off season. Just to relax and eat amazing seafood.
Best and worst.
Best hotel – Çoçja Boutique Hotel in Shkodër
Worst hotel – Capital Suites in Tirana
Best lunch – Fish in Shkodër – amazing and cheap!
Best dinner – Gusto, Tirana
Best breakfast – Berat
Best outdoor sight – castle in Berat
Best indoor sight – Site of Witness and Memory – Shkodër
Best city – Tirana
Best town – Berat

Inauguration of the new kitchen

I know it has been a while so I’m catching up now. We have been pretty busy. We had to outfit the kitchen, both by buying some new things and also bringing things up from the other kitchen. It took a lot of work but it has now reached a state of usability!

We took a trip south of Perugia to a store called Alessandrelli. It is a housewares store. I bought some frying pans, some glasses, plates, salt and pepper shakers, sugar bowl etc. These things along with what I bought online pretty much put me in action. Pictures on the ride to and from show the beauty of Umbria in spring. 💚

I had invited four friends for lunch on Thursday which was Liberation day here in Italy. It may have been premature! But it all worked out in the end. I didn’t know how to use the appliances. I learned how to use the oven. I made a cake! I also learned how to use the induction cooktop. Interesting and will be a future post.

On Monday, we go on a short trip to…Albania! Yes. Albania. Not just anyone wants to go there, but it is what they are calling the “new Croatia”. The beaches are said to be legendary. And it is incredibly cheap! I will, of course do a trip report. It is just for four nights. Probably too short but we can go back. There are flights from our local Perugia airport which makes it easy.

Ciao for now!