Saturday, December 20, 2014

Buon Natale

We have been busy.  Guests, trips back to the US and now the holidays. Even though I am behind on my posts, I wanted to let you all know that I am alive and well in Umbertide.  This is the Christmas tree in Piazza Matteotti. Isn't it lovely? The photo is touched up with an app called Waterlogue. 

Just as a quick update, we have had two sets of the best guests ever. They should write books on how to be good house guests. My trip back to San Francisco coincinded with storms, bad weather and crazy Christmas shoppers. Good to be back in my tranquil Umbria.

Anyway, I hope all of you have a very happy holiday season, surrounded by friends and family who offer you love, support and kindness as we go into the new year.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Truilli and Gratefulness

It is a beautiful October day here in Umbertide. I am in a reflective mood thinking back on the great visit we had with our friends, George and Eileen. We so enjoyed their company and the exquisite vegetarian food that Eileen prepared for us. In Italy food is a form of love and nurturing, and I know that the food Eileen offered us was her gift of love. It was received and eaten in deep appreciation for our friendship and time together. Italian society is not one that says we must eat in order to live, but rather a society that says we live to enjoy eating as one of life's many pleasures. We loved the food and the company we shared with George and Eileen and were sorry when they had to return to the US to their own lives.

Gary and I have now lived in Umbertide for a year. We have had our ups and downs in adjusting to the transition, to the cultural differences, and in the difficulty in learning the language. We have felt isolated at times from our friends and from one another. We are so very lucky, and grateful that we have had the skills and the support systems to get through these initial difficult times, and have come out the other side smiling at one another, holding hands as we cross the street and being genuinely appreciative for each other's company.  We have bonded together by laughing at the insane people who have passed through our life. I am so very grateful that Gary and I truly like each other and respect each other as human beings. Retirement with someone who is not a real friend would be a drag that no amount of frenetic activity, jumping out of airplanes, going to concerts, kayaking across the bay, can cover up. I can see why Baby Boomer divorce rate is climbing faster than any other age group. If you don't like your husband or wife now, I can guarantee you that you being with them 24/7 will not improve things. It is hard, at our age, to think of divorce, but sometimes the best plan is just slip out the back Jack, hop on the bus Gus, make a new plan Stan, or Dave or whomever. Just get yourself free.

But the Stoic One and I are now doing fine. He is off tomorrow morning to harvest olives (la raccolta) while I await the return of the Sonos man who hopefully will work on our music system. This will be the Stoic Ones first time at picking olives. He has gloves and a warm vest. I'm sure his experience will be worth at least another blog!

Enough reflections, now on to Truilli land. A trullo (plural truilli) is a stone hut with a conical roof. Our house guest, George, is an architect, and he had read about them and definitely wanted to see them, so we left Lecce for the day and put ourselves in the very capable hands of our guide Anna. If ever you are in the area, I recommend her. Her English is very good and she is knowledgable and kind.

So truilli are found in Puglia, particularly the area around Alberbello. They are so darn cute. They look like little Hobbit houses.

Apparently years ago, there was a tax on permanent houses, and so the ruler at the time said, let's build houses that can be taken down quickly in case of an inspection from the tax man. Thus, according to the sweet Anna, truilli were born. They are dry stacked with no mortar and can easily be disassembled. In 1996 they were designated a World Heritage site. UNESCO List
The little top of the roof is a signature piece of the architect and designer who build it.

You are looking up at the inside of the room of a truillo. Interesting how each rock is fit perfectly one upon the other. This is another example of that great Italian style that we have all come to love.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mantatelurè, Lecce

We love Puglia. If Umbria is the new Tuscany then Puglia is the new Umbria, although saying that does a disservice to all three provinces as each one isl unique and loveable in its own way. When we have guests, we like to take them to Puglia to experience a different Italy. We always encourage our guests to see the main cities of Florence, Rome and Venice, but if they have the time, and or if this is a second visit, then we love to take them south to show them a way of life, food and architecture that represents this region of Puglia.

This visit we stayed at a marvellous hotel,  Mantatelure' It is in a central location, with a well thought out and executed restoration. The building is from the 1500's. The owner has a love of design, which is evident through out the hotel.
The outside space is as interesting as the inside space.

Every nook and cranny has an interesting display that makes one stop and look.

This view is of the entry way to the hotel taken from the roof garden.

The hotel also offers 2 apartments as well as the regular rooms.

The hotel offers an excellent breakfast and has excellent customer service. They provided us with a guide for a tour to Alberobello and Ostuni. I can't recommend this hotel highly enough. We loved it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Roman Food Tour

 Here are some photos from the inside tour of the Colosseum that we did yesterday. We were lucky we had a clear day and the photos came out well.

After visiting the Colosseum we stopped at the Spanish Steps, a common gathering place for tourists. The Stoic One spotted this young lady walking by. He seems to have a minor obsession with women's shoes. So far I have not caught him wearing any, but then again he is a size 13.

Note the cobble stones that she has managed to walk over. How she does is it beyond me. She does have good calf muscles and hopefully strong ankles.

I know that there are some readers out there that think that the only thing the Stoic One and I do are have two hour lunches and feed our fat, little faces.  This is not too far from the truth. The real truth is that we both appreciate and actually honor the food that we eat.

We signed up for a food tour of Campo de' Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto with Elizabeth Minchilli.Elizabeth Minchilli  We met Elizabeth at the base of the statue of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar who was burned at the stake in this exact spot 400 years ago. He was tried by the Roman Inquisition for his theories that stars were distant suns surrounded by their own planets. Imagine such heresy! He also denied several core Cahtolic doctrines, ie the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the viginity of Mary, etc. Not a good thing at the time of the inquisition. He is regarded by many as a martyr for science.

His statue was placed to directly face the Vatican.  Pigeons now roost on his head, while American students sit at the base of the statue happily eating ice cream, oblivous to his courage and unfortunate demise.  It was a sunny day, blue skies with a mild breeze that reminded us we were not that far from the sea. it was a perfect Roman day for an outing.

After finding Elizabeth at the base of the statue, she directed us to a small coffee shop owned by an 85 year old woman who sat on a stool in the picture window, much like a cat who curls up in a sun beam. Elizabeth picked this coffee shop specifically, like she did for every stop on the tour, for its historical, and cultural significance. At every stop she knew the history and the background of not only the shop but the people who ran it. It made the tour so much more interesting.

Elizabeth took the time to introduce herself, tell us where she came from, and how she got interested in this type of work. She has written 7 different books, 3 of them which I owned prior to knowing her. "Italian Rustic" has always been one of my all time favourite design books, "Deruta" talks about the heritgae of the cermaics in that city. Her new book Eating Rome, I highly recommend. Elizabeth's books

Elizabeth started the day by asking us about ourselves, how we came together as a group and a little about interests. It made such a difference to have that bit of time to orient ourselves. Elizabeth then told us what we would be doing for the day, and the 5 of us started out into the bright Roman sun.

We began our tour at the Campo de' Fiori Market.

The grapes above, Pizzutello, are the favorite eating grapes of the Romans.

The market is south of the Piazza Navona. Campo di Fiori means "field of flowers" and it was given this name because in the Middle Ages the area was actually a meadow. It is now a market for the well to do who live near this area. The produce is lovely, hand picked and expensive. Elizabeth knew the stall owners, their history, and the struggles they have had to maintain the quality of their produce. We found the butternut squash Eileen was searching for as well as a truffle slicer I was looking for.

Our next stop was the Forno de Campo de Fiori, a traditional bakery known for some of the best pizza slices in town. They make a delicious "pizza bianca" or white pizza that is also used to make sandwiches. It should be eaten within the hour, so it is ok to eat this while you walk through the streets.

We did some cheese tasting at Beppe e i Suoi FormaggiBeppe and his cheese

We tasted buffalo mozarella next to cow milk mozzarella and did the same tasting with ricotta. Fascinating to taste these two next to one another. Of course, we all preferred the buffalo cheese. At this cheese store we tasted a robiola and a very soft and creamy gorgonzola. It was to die for.

We then went to Norcineria Viola, the best cured pork store in Rome. Our friend George, being a vegetarian, kept his shades on to distract him from all of that meat!

Elizabeth had warned us not to have a big breakfast as we would be eating and walking all morning. By the time we got to lunch we were all moaning, but we persevered. Our lunch spot was in the Jewish Ghetto and is called Da Gigetto. Da Gigetto

Before comments about lunch, a few words about the Jewish Ghetto. It was established in 1555 and more or less controlled by the Vatican. At the time the ghetto was established, there were about 2,000 Jews in Rome and they were all ordered to live within the confines of this space. The area was walled and locked at night. It was located in one of the most undesirable areas of the city because it was subjected to frequent flooding by the Tiber. Although the Jews could not actually own property in the ghetto, the landlords could not neither evict them nor raise their rent. I suppose this was small consolation.

There were only certain occupations the Jews could do: ragmen, fish mongers, secondhand dealers. Their life was one of hardship and poverty. The ghetto walls were finally torn down in 1888. The Roman Ghetto was the last remaining ghetto in Western Europe until the Nazis reintroduced them in the 1930's. Today the area is known for wonderful eating places, as well as a beautiful synagogue with a small museum inside. 

One of the ways that the Ghetto has memorialized the dead is by placing plaques of individuals who had lived in specific houses and then died in the Holocaust. 
This placque says, "Here lived Angelo Citoni...born 1873...Arrested Oct. 16, 1943 and deported to Auschwitz. Murdered Oct. 23, 1943." The area is filled with placques such as these; a personal reminder of a horrific time. We sadly left this area and continued on through the Ghetto.

We settled down for lunch not thinking we could eat much more, but we were mistaken.

We started with "Carciofi alla Giudea" deep fried artichokes and zucchini flowers. Delicious.

Next we had 3 different pastas; Cacio e Pepe, Arabbiata, and Amatriciana. 

We left the Ghetto and passed by the Piazza Farnese and the French embassy. The building, designed by Michaelangelo, is considered to be one of the most beautifully proportioned in Rome.

There are so many weddings celebrated in Rome; here is another one.

If you are interested in food, I highly recommend Elizabeth's food tour. She is fun, knowledgable and organized.
Of course we could not leave, without leaving you with a little something sweet.

Next stop, Lecce.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

October in Rome

We are in Rome for 3 days with our lovely friends George and Eileen.

Eileen is a former work collegue who has become a very dear and valued friend. She has supported me through many family challenges. George is an architect and has worked with us on several home improvement projects. Eileen is also an artist and a phenomenal vegetarian cook. Both she and George offer a different perspective on things that we are seeing and experiencing. Eileen is a great person to talk to, funny, wise and grounded. She is not only an artist but also an excellent executive coach, if ever you should need one.

One of the things I have noticed with people seeing Italy for the first time is their astonishment about experiencing the real thing versus some imitation. My friend Lorraine kept asking is this really real? Are we in Disneyland? To see Rome, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Spanish Steps in the original creates a cognitive dissonance after seeing so many imitations and movies. Most of the important monuments in the acient world have become iconic representations of something other than themselves. Logos of famous things rattle around in our consciousness and it is sometimes difficult to put all of that aside and try to see the classic site without our personal filters. To see the Colosseum in the context of the middle of the crazy city of Rome is in and of itself a trip. It is difficult sometimes to see things without hanging it on a familiar framework or without absorbing it and trying to pretend we own it.  Although they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I think it is basically a lack of imagination.

So the first day we were like demon tourists. We stayed at a lovely apartment that we found through City References. The apartment was located just blocks from the Campo dei fiori, a new location for us. I loved the area. Great walking, restaurants and shops and not too far from the classical sites.

We had an audio guide of the Colosseum, first time I had actually been inside. It is a bit overwhelming with the size of the structure, the size of the crowds, and listening to the bloody history of the place. I was relieved to leave after 2 hours. There is an additional tour of the underground which we didn't take. Maybe next time.

Then a buffet lunch at a roof top garden overlooking the Forum; at the Hotel Forum. I had seen the restaurant several times but had never made my way up there. The view was great, the service was excellent and the food was varied. I had excellent grilled swordfish. Some of the other dishes were a bit bland and typical buffet fare. The price was fair E30 a person for all you could eat, a special lunch deal.

 A nap for the Stoic One and me while they made their way to the Pantheon. Later the 4 of us walked to the Spanish Steps, and then through the major shopping area, it reminded us of Southern California and was too boring for us. We headed down to the Trevi fountain, that now has no water as it is under restoration. People were still lined up to drop a coin in the dry fountain and take a photo.  Not us. We moved on. Shopped in little small streets, Eileen bought a very unique necklace for a friend and then back to our apartment. Tomorrow we have a food tour of the Campo and the Jewish ghetto.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Umbertide '800 Festival

In Italian it is called the "Ottocento" or 800.  It took me a few times to realise that the town was not celebrating things that occurred in the year 800 (yes the town was here and could have celebrated that period). Instead, it is 1800 that is celebrated. In 1863 the name of our town was changed from Fratta to Umbertide in honor of the Crown Prince Umberto.  The festival celebrates this time.  It is really just an excuse to dress up, socialise, listen to music, drink and eat. All things Italians love.

The people in the community are encouraged to dress up and have fun.  I had a dress but the weather was too cold and rainy for me. It clearly didn't stop others.

All ages and body types enjoy the festival.

Our piazza is in the background of this picture. It was so great because all cars were banned during the festival. It was really nice to have the space for humans rather than cars.

I love people who laugh easily. I am in the right country.

Isn't she lovely? Her face is the face of this place.

All of the restaurants and taverns spiffed up and put on their best for the tourists who came for a visit.

The best places had a line up for food.

It looks like Luca but it isn't. He was safely hidden away at home. Italian crowds are not his favorite thing.

There were circus people and games for the kids. This guy looks a little ominous but I think it was part of his act.
The last day we had beautiful weather. We hope it will encourage people to come back next year.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


We trained it back from Tegernsee to Munich. Unfortunately the weather followed us so we decided to do some inside exploring by going to museums. The first museum we visited is called Residenz or Royal Palace. It began construction in 1363 and it was added to after various fires. In 1944 it sustained major damage from Allied bombs. The reconstruction has taken decades, but it is now open to the public. The austere external facade belies the opulent treasures that lie within.

Each room seemed to be more breath taking than the next. We did not see what the Residenz looked like after the bombs, but I can only imagine. It is astonishing that they were able to restore in such a manner.

There was interesting shopping in Munich as well.  No, I did not buy a dirndl, although these are quite lovely.

They really do wear these. Munich is called by some the city of lap tops and lederhosen (knee length men's breeches made of leather.) Not as many stores for those as there were for the dirndle's.

The rain continued and so we went to the BMW museum.

The architecture of the building brought to mind speed, elegance and design.

Oh, and did I mention power?

The displays inside were artfully done.  Hard to capture it in photos. I did fall in love with this little car from the 50"s. I never remember seeing it before.  Apparently it was quite popular at the time.

It was really just a motorcycle with metal around it, but so cute.
Such a clever way to get in and out.

I wonder how much they paid him to do this ad?

Saturday, September 13, 2014


I guess this is my season to visit the Germanic side of life. After we left Amsterdam, we flew into Munich and then took a train down to the lake area of Tegernsee.

We stayed at a luxious spa resort with a commnding view of the lake.

Unfortunately our weather was not the best. Luckily the hotel had an indoor heated, mineral pool that was divine for relaxation and a little exercise. The food at this hotel was fantastic, and if ever you are in the area, I highly recommend it.
Das Tegernsee

The area reminds me a bit of the Italian lakes, particularly Lugano.  There are boats that ferry passangers across the lake and to all of the charming towns that cling to the edges of the lake.

The archictecture was "Heidi" like; balconies, flowers in the windows.

Even though the weather was cool, cloudy and often rainy, we tried to eat out on the terraces whenever possible.  We noticed the sheepskin blankets carefully placed to make sure the patrons did not freeze their butts off.

Of course there were lovely desserts and pretzels wherever we went.