Saturday, October 13, 2012

Back in Oakland

Yesterday we had our friend Simone drive us and Joseph and Paul to the train station in Foligno.  It is about an hour from our house.  We got on the rapid train and were in Rome in an hour and a half! This was great, and we think we like the connection better than going to Terontola.  We had no special plans for Rome being there for less than 24 hours.  We were lucky, the weather was good so after we arrived at our hotel, "Inn at the Forum" not the Hotel Forum, we got out and walked around.

Leaving Umbria and going into Rome is a very disturbing experience for my psyche.  Instead of feeling like an American tourist, I feel like and Italian country bumpkin.  It is weird.  Rome was lovely, not too many tourists is packs.  If ever you get the chance to go to Rome, I think October tis the best month.  You do face the possibility of rain, but it just serves to clean the city, as the taxi driver told me.

We shopped on Via Corso.  Many things on sale.  We did some early Christmas shopping which was fun.  Had a light lunch and had ice cream for dinner.  Perfect.

We had an easy flight home.  Going into Chicago we were 1 hour early.  Go into SFO on time, picked up by our driver, Muhammed, the man from Afghanistan, and we were on our way.  I was unsure how Luca would greet us after being gone so long, but for Luca, he was almost speechless.  No high whining, no twirling, just this look of amazement on his face and he hasn't moved 6 inches from my side since.

I woke up with a redesign for the furniture lay out of the apartment.  We will be going back the first of December to choose some things for the remodel. Here is the kitchen we picked out.

You can't really see the material, but it is very cool kind of nubby material.  In Italy, they measure the space and make everything to order, then they come and install it in about 4 hours.  Amazing.  When I explained how US kitchen remodels are done, they just shake their head, mystified.

Anyway, we have measurements and decisions to make for the kitchen, floors to select and bathroom marble to choose.  I am so happy that we have finally made this decision.  I will post pictures once we are in.  There is a renter in the space now, so it was a little awkward to take photos.

I am facing so much preparation work to get this house in Oakland ready to sell.  We aren't going to take that much stuff over so that means we need to sell, give away, throw away a household of STUFF! The Stoic One is taking this on.  I look at each thing, hold it, think of the memories, feel sad and get no where.  Needless to say, he has a different approach.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


People ask me what I am going to do in Italy once we retire here permanently.  Hard to tell, but I think this month might be a good preview.  I am doing final edits on a book I am writing, I work on this blog and then finally we walk 4 to 5 miles a day.

Recently we have started to "walk to lunch." There is a Rosticceria that is about 2 miles from our apartment.  This is a marvelous place.

We would call it a take out place, but that would be such an injustice.  The food is absolutely delicious. They have roast chicken, roasted potatoes, grilled vegetables, mixed greens, faro salads, etc.  Everything delicious.  The signs are telling you that today they have fish.  It was Friday.  So they have mixed fried fish, delicious and a special fish sauce for your pasta.

Here are some of the types of pastas you might chose.
Just cook these until it is al dente, use Antoinetta's sauce add onion, sautéed in olive oil, basil, you have a perfect meal cooked by The Stoic One.

After we walk to lunch, and walk back.  We have put in our 4 miles.  We walk another mile in the evening when everyone comes out about 6:00.  Just in case you were all worried I was turning into a whale, I have been getting on the scale once a week and have not gained any weight.  It is all the walking I am sure.

The other thing we do is explore little towns.  There are so many nooks and crannies in Italy to explore.  Yesterday we were walking in Cortona, a city made famous by Frances Mayes.  Lots of tourists, mainly Americans.

Anyway,  I am very happy here.  I am extremely happy that we finally settled on a place to live.  Keep your fingers crossed for Joseph and Paul today that all goes well for them.  They have been through the wringer with things.

Off for our morning walk!

Monday, October 8, 2012


Yesterday, we went to the notary to complete the purchase of the apartment on the Piazza San Francesco.  It was usual Italian chaos.  At the meeting were the Stoic One and me, the notary, the scribe the witness, the woman from the bank the translator, the two people selling AND their 3 year old daughter.  We were supposed to start at 10:30 and I thought we would finish in an hour and that would give us plenty of time to pick us Joseph and Paul at Terontola train station.  How long have I lived in Italy? How naive am I???

So of course we didn't start on time.  The sellers were late.  Then everyone had to have formal greeting and comments on how much the little girl had grown since they last saw her.  She was not a quiet 3 year old let me tell you.  She had a video she played at maximum volume, ran around like a banchee, and everyone paid attention to her.  Italians love these little ones.  Ok. So we finally start 15 minutes late.  Then here is what happens.  The notary reads all of the documents in Italian, while the scribe shows us the computer and makes changes as the notary speaks.  The notary stops (I love our notary by the way...more on her later) then the translator reads all of what the notary has just said in English.  This takes some time.

So what took the most time, is one of the sellers was certain we needed to pay IVA on our purchase.  Since this would have been 22% of the purchase price, this would have been a deal killer for us.  The notary said no, the seller said yes. (Why the seller would care is complicated...the sellers were basically a company not an individual and there are tax implications for the seller if we didn't pay the tax) Ok. the seller insists, calls her accountant who says, yes the buyers must pay this tax.  Faxes go back and forth. Our notary says no.  Show the person a written copy of the law.  More faxes.  Our notary does not budge.  We don't have to pay.  Seller not happy.  Stoic One very happy.  We exchange checks, pleasantries and it is over.  Only 30 minutes late to pick us Joseph and Paul!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ostuni, the white city

We sadly left AP and our shopping frenzy, climbed into the beast and headed south.  Along the way our friend, Doug, offered to drive, and he did an excellent job, once he figured out where 6th gear was. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Francavilla al Mare.  A comment about traveling and eating in Italy past and present.  For those of you who never traveled in Italy without a GPS, you have no idea how insane it used to be.  We were always lost, always trying to read 20 vertical signs in 10 seconds and always choosing the wrong road.  We wandered into trattorias having no idea what we would find. Yes it was more adventurous, but it was also very stressful with undue pressure on the driver and navigator.  Switch to present time.  We plug in our destination, check it with the map on our IPhone, check it with the actual map (don't forget to always have a paper map) and we have a sense of security as we start out.

Finding lunch is also much easier.  We pick a town then I check TripAdvisor in Italian and English. I read the worst reviews, decide if the person is a crank or not, read the excellent reviews, and then we decide.  It was in this way that we came upon the restaurant Il Marchese del Grillo.  It had 83 reviews in Italian, none in English.  The owner was very kind in seating us and once he learned that we were Americans, he really wanted us to try all of the dishes...we tried was the first time I have had 2 pasta dishes in one meal.  He is from Rome and the dishes served are typical Roman, but that suited us just fine.  Thanks to a GPS, iPhone, and some luck, we found this great place, ate in an hour, and were back on the road headed toward Ostuni.

Ostuni is referred to as la citta' bianca because it is a white city.  It has that Moroccan, Tunisian look to it, with back alleys, stairways leading into enclosed patios etc.

The area around Ostuni has been inhabited since the Stone Age.  This is hard to comprehend. Anyway Hannibal destroyed the city (what was up with him by the way? the elephants, the ransacking!  I wonder what his mother was like). Anyway, the Greeks rebuilt it and named it "Astu (new)Neon (town) which became Ostuni, in case you wanted to know.  People come here for the beaches, which we never got to, the city architecture which you can see, and the grapes and wine which we tasted, molto buono.

We stayed at a beautiful hotel called La Sommita' Relais.  The hotel was an old building in the middle of town that had been restored by a company in Milan.  The look of it was fantastic.  The biggest shower I have used in Italy.  They came and got us, and parked our car at the bottom of the hill, so we could walk around with the other tourists and not worry about the "Beast" other wise known as a Nissan Pathfinder.

The combination of the old Baroque style and Milanese minimalist style is so luscious for me.  I love the juxtapositions of the two.  This hotel has a one star Michelin restaurant which is as you would expect: beautifully presented food, minimalist, great colors, good tastes, expensive.

The other site to see in town is a museum that has the remains of a 25,000 year old pregnant woman.  She was found in a cave nearby and they carbon 14'd, or whatever they do now, her age to be 25,000 years ago.  We were all most intrigued with her. They said she was 20 years old and the baby was almost full term.  They found sea shells that were used as her burial bracelet and red shells that were used in her hair. You must use your imagination to think what she was like.  They don't know how she died.

The Brents left early the next morning on a 6:00 AM train...we did not see them off.  We drove home in one fell swoop, stopping to eat a sandwhich at an Autogrill.

Getting back to Umbertide was lovely.  Antonietta called to make sure we were ok and that the trip had gone well.  She told us to stay home for a while and save money for the new renovation.  We plan to do just that.

It is great to have company and see Italy through different eyes.  We also see ourselves differently. Gary and I both remarked how food obsessed we have become.  We can't help it, it is the entire country.  We have been eating at home since we got back, waiting for our next set of visitors and our next adventures into the Umbrian life.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Norcia and Ascoli Piceno

We have been on a driving tour of central and southern Italy, accompanied by our friends, the Brents.  Here is a picture of them, aren't they cute?

We had planned to go to Cortina, but the weather did not cooperate with us.  It was cold and rainy and so instead we decided to head toward the sea and then south.

Our first stop was Norcia, for lunch of course.  We ate at one of the best restaurants ever.  I know I keep telling you this, but this one was really spectacular.  First I need to say a few things about Norcia.  It is in Umbria, our province, in the southeastern part.  It is known for the scenery and hiking, but most of all it is known for its pork products.  In fact, the word "norcineria" in Italian is used for products made from pork.  There are huge ham hocks hanging in the stores, sausages arranged in artful pyramids, and salami hanging everywhere.  The people in the town seem happy to have the tourists.  Many Italians go to Norcia for truffles (the mushrooms not chocolate).

We stopped to eat at the Palazzo Seneca.  It is a Relais and Chateux, and the restaurant is called Vespasia.  The building is from the 15th century and has been painstakingly restored. We were greeted by a very sweet young girl, who wanted to show us the hotel and tell us of its history.  Her English was excellent and she was very knowledgeable about the building and the surroundings.

We told her we had just come to eat, not to stay.  We were escorted into a perfectly appointed dining room.  Each table had 4 large leather arm chairs instead of the usual uncomfortable straight back chairs that are usually found in Italy.  One look at the chairs, and I knew we would be here for a while.

This was our first course

So going from left to right, there is a ricotta pie, whose crust was so delicious we were shocked.  At first we were all just eating the inside cheese, then someone had the bright idea it should be eaten together with the crust it came in, delicious.  Just below the ricotta pie is a hard cheese and a type of marmelade made to be eaten together, then prosciutto and different types of salami.  Unfortunately, this is it as far as pictures, just trust me the rest of the meal was equal to the first. We were the only people having lunch and we all wondered how in the world a restaurant like that could stay in business.  If you ever go to Norcia, you must be self indulgent and eat here.

After lunch, we walked around trying to digest all of that pork product.  I was groaning for the rest of the trip and swore to go on a chicken broth and lettuce diet, a promise I soon forgot at the next meal.  How the Italians can eat these meals, stay thin, and not get sick is a true mystery of metabolism.

Anyway, we left Norcia and drove on to Ascoli Piceno.  First a word about the Stoic One's driving.  Any complaints I have ever made about how he drives is hereby rescinded for now and eternity.  He kept us from having head on collisions at least twice on the windy road through the mountains.  The Italians turn into maniacs behind the wheel.  They are impatient and foolhardy when it comes to passing. They seem to have an irrational belief in their driving skills.  The 3 passengers were terrified.  The Stoic One remained calm, hugged the ditch and we were all saved from death by Italian drivers.  It was with great relief that we arrived in Ascoli Piceno safe and sound.

The town, hereby referred to as A.P. is the province of Le Marche!  Donna, take note.  I have been wanting to go to Le Marche for about 10 years, but we have never gotten there til now.  It is the province that is due east of Umbria.  Its history goes back to pre-Roman times.  AP was located on a major road that transferred salt from the sea to the other parts of Italy.  Salt back then was like oil to us now.  A big commodity.  AP became part of the Roman Empire, rebelled against Rome, became part of the Roman Empire again.  After Rome fell, AP was ravvaged by the Ostrogoths, the Lombards, the Franks, and then became a free municipality.  I guess they couldn't stand the peaceful times and so had major internal strife that led to more ravaging.  Finally in 1860 it became part of the United Kingdom of Italy.  Except for ravaging tourists, it has been more or less peaceful since then. Meeting the people today, you wouldn't guess they have had such a warlike history.

The city is beautiful, built of travertine marble that is taken from the nearby hills.  Its central Renaissance Square, the Piazza del Popolo is one of the most beautiful squares in Italy.

This is one of the local girls.  She doesn't look war like but she does look dangerous!

In case you think all we do is eat and look at pretty girls, we do go to a museum now and then.  AP has a ceramics museum, which I thought would be interesting.

Here are a few of the things that were in the museum.

As we walked through town, we saw a woman doing her laundry at the old Roman laundry place.  This laundry spot is all marble, running water, and a place to scrub the clothes.  There is also a place to step up if you are short, so you won't hurt your back.  Did I mention these Romans were clever people? Anyway here is laundry Roman style all made of marble, still holding up 2000 years later.

One final thing to say about Ascoli Piceno, it has the BEST shopping I have found any where in Italy. Why this is, I haven't a clue, but the items in the store are exquisite, priced well and beautifully displayed.  The sales people are also anxious to help and will walk with you to another store if they don't have what you are looking for.

For those people out there who love rural Italy, this town is a must see.  Charming!