A Clear Day in Umbria


Friday, December 22, dawned with particularly clear skies and beautiful morning light.  As I’ve said in other posts written here in Narni, the changing light over the town and the valley is one of my favorite things about staying here.  It never disappoints.

Michael had a difficult night and decided to stay in for the morning.  Joan and I wandered in town before ending up at the Narni city museum, which is small but has a few interesting items in its collection.

The 700,000 year old tusks are impressive for many reasons.  Looking at them makes me wonder what the world will be like in another 700,000 years.  Shoot, it makes me wonder what creatures will be wandering the earth a mere 100,000 years into the future.  Maybe they will have figured out what to do with our nuclear waste.

Our afternoon’s excursion had us being driven to Amelia, about 7 miles away, by an only marginally better Michael.  He stayed in the car while Joan and I explored this little hill town, which is surrounded by beautiful Roman walls.

Our most important discovery was of the Girotti gelato shop on the Via Della Repubblica.  And, happily, we discovered it on our way up, which allowed us to have cones as we ascended the hill and then get cups to go just before we left the confines of the walls.  Possibly the best pistacchio gelato ever; made with pistacchio “butter” from Bronte in Sicily where the best pistachios come from.  The young man who was behind the counter on our return visit was very obliging and wanted us to try everything.  He showed us the tub of pistachio butter (more the consistency of tahini) and pointed out that it was “cento per cento” Bronte pistacchios.

He explained how hurricanes in Madagascar had caused huge increases in the cost of the vanilla that they use for their gelato (tre cento euro per tub!!!)  No more vanilla for a while as a result. He also asked about Trump although his “trampa” didn’t instantly register as “Trump.”  Once it did, Joan and I made appropriately horrified and apologetic faces.  Finally, he let us know that Neapolitan pizza is the best in all of Italy . . . he’s from Naples, so he may be prejudiced.  Who knows why a young man from Naples is working in a gelateria in Amelia but I am glad he is because it made our experience about much more than just ice cream.

The municipal museum in Amelia is very good, better than Narni, and worth a longer visit than we gave it.  Its most impressive piece is a reconstructed bronze statue of Germanicus.  A rare example of a Roman era bronze.  The statue was discovered in pieces in 1962 during excavation for some sort of development. Its reconstruction involved many experts and the final product is quite impressive.

Posted in Art, Food and Drink, Politics, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment

An Artichoke By Any Other Name


would still be a carciofo in Italy.  And, although I tend to think of artichokes as an early spring treat, they feature on many menues here and now in the depth of winter.

Joan tells of an artichoke consumed in Rome that was delicious beyond belief.  It had its very long stem intact and all parts of the vegetable were perfectly cooked and delectable.

At our lunch at the restaurant “da Sara” just outside of Narni, we had artichokes, two small ones to an order, that were cooked to blissful tenderness.  No removing of leaves or choke required, all was edible.

Joan, inspired by our restaurant experiences, bought several long stemmed artichokes at Massimo’s alimentari and prepared them for us according to the directions given by a lady at the alimentari.  The results were slightly mixed; Joan thinks she should have been more ruthless when removing outer leaves as a few were not edible even after an hour of gentle cooking on the stovetop.

At our lunch spot in Siena, we, once again, had fabulous artichokes as shown in the photo above.

We may have to try again here in our own kitchen.

Posted in Food and Drink | Leave a comment



View of the Campo toward the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

We drove to Siena today, which is a very different thing, I can assure you, from driving our Sienna, which is something we frequently do when home.

From Narni it is a long drive, about two and a half hours.  But it is worth it.  The one thing I would do differently in the future, presuming I’d remember this nugget of information, is to go directly to one of the larger parking lots on the edge of the central storico.  We futzed around trying to get closer in to no avail but generating a certain amount of frustration.  We parked in the San Francesco parking area and took the five escalators up into the center.  You just have to know where they are and now we do.

We began our explorations by heading to the Campo and the Palazzo Pubblico.  Don’t think we have ever been in the Campo when there were so few people.  It was beautiful but brisk.  I think that could be the slogan of this trip: Beautiful but brisk.

We decided to go into the Museo Civico, which is in the Palazzo Pubblico.  The frescoes in the various chambers are beautiful and very different one from the other.  My favorite is in the “Sala Della Pace,” room of the peace.  One huge wall is taken up by a fresco depicting bad government.  The country is ruled by a horned tyrant and things are a mess . . . even the fresco is deteriorating badly.  On the wall that adjoins “bad government,” is the fresco depicting good government.  As you might imagine all is well in this country run by an obviously kind and just man.  The frescoes were painted in 1338, plus or minus a year or two.

Joan and I decided that climbing up to the top of the tower was for another time; so, we left the Palazzo Pubblico and meandered up to the Duomo. Michael’s meandering was a heck of a lot more direct than ours and he had to retrace his steps to see if we had taken a wrong turn.  We hadn’t taken a wrong turn but we had taken a turn into a lovely little paper shop.  Shopping success.

The Duomo is just as I left it:  Still big and still striped like a zebra.  One difference is that you have to buy a ticket to enter.  Only two euros to visit the cathedral and the Piccolomini Library, a pretty good deal that helps a little bit in the preservation of this incredible place. I took full advantage of being in the cathedral and light a candle of Auntie Billie.  As I recall, she wasn’t crazy about the stripes but I’m certain she would appreciate my gesture.

One of the many striking features of the Duomo are the pavement panels, inlaid marble figures and designs.  They form the floor of most of the cathedral. Most of them are hidden under protective coverings but many are not. They are worth spending some time over.

After culture, food, of course.  We found a little restaurant for a late lunch of pasta, salad, artichokes and roasted potatoes.  Okay, I know it may not be the most balanced meal but it certainly was tasty.  We skipped dessert, which turned out to be a good thing.

On our rambles back to the parking lot, we encountered a chocolate store.  Great rollers turning with streams of chocolate dripping off, handsome young men with generous platters of samples, and lovely displays of boxes and tins of delectable treats.  I began with a limoncello filled bonbon, moved on to a cream filled cappuccino cookie, was forced to eat a pistacchio filled, waffle coated chocolate ball, and finished it off with a melon-liquor-filled-sugar-shelled-something-or-other.  We left a few more Euro notes there.

Drove home through the twilight, dusk and dark of the year’s shortest day and the A1’s slowest traffic.


Posted in Art, Catholica, Food and Drink, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment



Francesco, the newest Duck tifoso

Michael didn’t sleep well last night but still he was up for an excursion over to Perugia for the day.

The day was bright but very brisk.  We arrived about 10 a.m. and drove directly to our favorite butcher shop and, more importantly, our favorite butcher, Francesco.  As we walked in the door he was elbow deep in putting together a mixture for polpettoni (or hamburger, as he said).  He looked care worn and he had reason to.  He told us that his uncle, Sauro, had died in September.  Sauro had been like a father to him and the loss has been very difficult for Francesco.

I told Francesco that I can’t think of Perugia without thinking about both him and Sauro.  Sauro was always at Francesco’s shop since Sauro’s shop was right next door. He was a kind and gentle man and was always so friendly to us when we visited.  We shared a lot of joy in spite of not sharing a common language.

I had feared that Sauro might have passed away as he had been ill when we had seen him last in September 2016.  But I had hoped that my fears were unfounded and that we would get to visit with him again and that I would get to hear him call me his “tesoro,” treasure, again.  A very lovely man.


2012: Francesco, Sauro, Michele, Virginia

We had brought a couple of gifts for Francesco and he particularly liked the Duck’s cap.  We struggled through some more conversation before exchanging telephone numbers.  Francesco said he will call us on December 24 to arrange dinner with his family on December 26.  He has wanted to have us over for dinner many times in the past but it has never worked out.  I hope that this time it will.

We wandered Perugia’s centro storico, historic center, for some time.  Wandered up Corso Vannucci to the Piazza Italia, then went down into the Rocca Paolina to see the caverns and all the Christmas stuff stalls that have been set up within them.  All of the kitch and lights take some of the atmosphere away from the place but it was fun.

And, we had the great good luck to discover an art installation, Perugia Folgora, which was set up in one of the little carved out rooms of the Rocca and provided heaps of atmosphere.  The installation consisted of several digital projectors profecting images onto three walls and the floor of the room.  The images roughly depicted the history of Perugia through paintings, animations, music and other stuff.  The images scattered, blended, drifted apart, etc.  It was great.

Back down Corso Vannucci, past the wonderful pastry shop/café, Sandri’s, where we saw in the window a very large panettone that had been carved out to contain a crèche.  Leave it to Sandri’s.

Lunch at a little osteria off an alleyway.  It began with a shared order of gratineed cardoons, went on to three separate but equally delicious pasta plates and concluded with two dessert orders:  Joan – the house tiramisu, unlike any tiramisu seen before; Virg – Soufflé freddo di grana Padano con salsa mou (frozen grana padano cheese souffle with a caramel sauce).  YUM!!

Some more wandering before we ended up back at our old cafe on Via Priori and, since they had just one left in the pastry case, I ordered an arrogosta . . . Our favorite pastry cream filled, crunchy outsided, pastry.  After all, dessert had been at least 35 minutes earlier.

Home via the Sanctuario della Madonna dei Bagni.  Dark when we got home.  Another excellent day.  How do we keep doing it?

Posted in Food and Drink, Friends, Religion, Travel | Tagged | 1 Comment

Narni in December


View from Piazza Garibaldi (photo by Joan)

This is our third stay in Narni, our charming hilltop town in Umbria.  Both earlier trips were in September; some things are different in December.

The things that remain the same include:  The loveliness and comfort of our apartment with is sweeping views over the valley and its cozy sofas and chairs; the cordiality of the people here; and the remarkable mini-vistas that you glimpse as you walk down the streets and alleys of the town.

The things that are different are: The twinkly holiday lights on the streets; the Presepi (crèches) that you find in the churches, in the fountains and in nooks and crannies; the mostly bare trees; the snow on the hill tops; and the temperature.  It isn’t exactly cold but it sure as heck is crisp!!  The rain of Friday was short lived and we have been having blue sunny skies but the weather is cool enough to put roses in one’s cheeks and nose.

Traveling in the off-season has the advantage of having fewer people but you can also find some places closed when you don’t expect it.  That happened to us yesterday when we drove all the way to Lake Bolsena to a lake side restaurant only to discover that it was closed . . . I think for the season.  It was a perfect day for a drive in the country, so, it was hardly a wasted effort.  We did find sustenance back closer to home at the restaurant “da Sara.”  Good, homey food, locally sourced, reasonably priced and served in a warm, bustling dining room.

Posted in Accommodations, Festivals, Travel | Tagged | 1 Comment

Revisiting Old Haunts


Pizza girl in Terni

I was in an awkward position when I began to write the title for this post.  The first attempt came out as “revisiting old hunts” and the second “revisiting old aunts.”  Our friend Joan told me that must mean the post is supposed to be about her.  However, since she is nothing that can be modified by “old,” I disagree.  Instead this post will be about a few first revisits to favorite places.

While we were without a vehicle on Friday afternoon, we walked up to the top of our street into the heart of historic Narni and went to the fresh pasta shop.  My friend Tamara was there and we had a very pleasant good-to-see-you-again moment. Tamara described in detail all of the items on Pasta Fresca Valeria’s menu di Natale.  I think we have now decided to eat in on Christmas Eve rather than go out to a restaurant.  The options available to us are many and, except for three or four that involve things like lamb liver and hearts, all sound delicious.  Not wanting to wait until Christmas to have some good food, we bought some eggplant parmesan for our dinner.

We then went down to the alimentari on Piazza Garibaldi to say hello to Massimo.  Ended up buying a few things including some stuffed, dried figs that are a local speciality.  Massimo is delightful and enthusiastic but, unlike Tamara who speaks slowly to us, he speaks in an Italian rapid enough that it has me guessing at about 3/4’s of what he says.  We always end with smiles, though, and I think that means I haven’t made too big a blunder.

Once we regained our mobility, we drove to Terni, to the Ipermercato (for when a mere “super” market isn’t big enough) to buy some supplies.  Of course, that meant a trip to Eurofocaccia for some slices of pizza for a late lunch.  Sorry, Dave, no tuna pizza on offer.  They did have the strange hotdoggy-pig-in-a-blanket things shown below.  In keeping with our search for the best of the wurst in Germany and Austria, Michael thought you, Dave, might appreciate this photo.


Posted in Food and Drink, Friends, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment

I’m Back!!!

It’s only been three days since I last posted but it seems much longer than that. I feel as though I have been sucked into a back hole but am now having the impossible good fortune of emerging out the other side.  Horrible cold, coughing, sneezing, blowing.  I’d say “you get the picture” but I hope you don’t; it isn’t a pretty one.  And enough about health except to say that we have turned a corner.

So, let’s recap the last few days’ events:


Getting to know your rental car’s tools.

After our flight from hell, well, actually from Vienna but you know what I mean, we collapsed in our Fiumicino hotel room and didn’t see the light of day until Friday morning, December 15, when we rendezvoused with Joan for breakfast.

She’d had a wonderful week in Rome, soaking in the sights for the first time.  She was in radiant good health.  Okay, I know I said enough about health but this is an important piece of information to fully understand what a very good friend Joan is.  Instead of turning her napkin into a face mask the moment she saw and heard us, she acting as if nothing were the matter.

Michael and I walked to the car rental office in the terminal and got our car for the next two weeks: an Audi of some sort.  Very nice, an upgrade in fact.  Drove the block  to the hotel and began to shoehorn all of our luggage in, which we did accomplish. Out onto the highway and headed northeast to Narni.  It wasn’t a particularly nice day; we had lots of rain but it was Italian rain and that made all the difference.

We arrived in Narni mid day.  Michael, full of confidence from having done this several times in the past, drove right up into the heart of the historic center in order to wend his way through the labyrinthine alley ways of that part of town.  The object being to get the car right outside the door to our building.

He made only one very small miscalculation and turned one tiny street too soon. This would not have turned into a BIG problem but for the fact that the front passenger side tire hit a marble protuberance on the corner of a building on the corner of the street.  The protuberance was only about eight inches tall and wide, which is why he didn’t see it, but he had the great bad fortune of hitting it just right causing the tire to lose its seating on the wheel.  Instant flat tire.

Of course, he didn’t notice the flat tire until he had backed down the 100 feet to our front door.  For those of you who have been to Narni, you know that the street I’m talking about is barely one car wide and fairly steep.  It was pouring rain.  We off loaded our gear and then Michael, good man that he is, went back to the car to try to figure out what to do.

He drove it back up the 100 feet to the junction of the tire eating alley and our alley and found an almost level place to park the car in a tiny piazza.  After puzzling over the tools in the photo above, he shook his head and came back to the apartment.  He managed to get ahold of the English roadside help line for Hertz and within a couple of hours a guy in a GREAT BIG tow truck showed up.* At that point, several old guys from the surrounding buildings came out.  After all, this was more excitement on Via dell’Asilo than they’d had in years.

The mechanic person had the tire off and the donut replacement tire back on in no time.  I feel certain the the local old guys wished it had been something a bit more interesting.

The sad part for us was that we couldn’t just have the other tire repaired and put back on the car.  It turns out that a flat tire requires replacing the car!  And that meant we had to drive to Orvieto on Saturday to pick one up.  We now have an Opel station wagon; no problem with baggage stowing with this vehicle  but I doubt if Michael is going to want to drive it up to the building when it’s time for us to leave.

*He, too, smashed into the marble protuberance but did not mangle his tire.



Posted in Frustration, Health, Travel, Walking | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Worst Flight Ever?

No photos to accompany this post.  If I had one, it would be of Michael wedged into an airplane seat with his right hand clamped on my left thigh, his head bowed and his lips muttering not prayers but words of terror.  But before we get to that let’s back up a bit.

When I planned this trip, I had to book the flight from Vienna to Rome separately from the rest of our flights because the time between segments was too long to book them as a continuation.  I chose Austrian Airways because they had a great flight that would have us leaving Vienna at 11 a.m. and arriving in Rome at 12:30 p.m.  I booked with a real live Austrian Airways representative on the telephone.  I even booked “extra legroom” seats; numbers 9C and D.

The trouble with booking too far ahead, however, is that flight schedules change and that is precisely what happened to us.  Months agon, I received an email telling me that my lovely 11 a.m. flight had been cancelled and that we had been rebooked onto a 6 a.m. flight.  Well, 6 a.m. was impossible. It meant that we would get no sleep the night before.  So, I called the nice Austrian Airlines number and spoke to someone about the change.  I was told that the rules of carriage allowed them to change the time of a flight up to 5 hours in either direction without incurring any responsibility to let me change to a different flight without having to pay a change fee.

Because we HAD to change the flight, I asked what the change fee was; it was more than just booking another flight.  That’s what I did.  With the help of the gentleman on the phone, I booked a 7 p.m. flight out of Vienna.  Of course, my extra legroom seats got lost somewhere along the line.

I tried unsuccessfully to check in 24-hours in advance of our flight.  When we got to the airport, I tried unsuccessfully to check in using the handy kiosks provided.  I attached myself to an Austrian Airways representative and told him my difficulties.  He tried to check us in using his big check in computer behind the counter; he was unsuccessful.  He tried again; he was unsuccessful again.  He kept shaking his head and looking at us sorrowfully.  Finally, after looking at something else on his computer, he looked up and said, “I see the problem, you are booked on a charter.”  What that meant was that the flight was not operated by Austrian Airways but by some company called Eurowings.

We finally did get checked in but our seats were numbers 30A and B.  The plane only had 31 rows.  As we boarded, we noticed that the first 15 or so rows were “extra legroom” meaning a person could actually sit in the seats without having his or her knees  smashed against the seat in front of them.  Then we got into the “regular” seating. OMG!!!  It was insanely cramped.  Michael was folded up like a piece of badly done origami.  With my stumpy legs, I had enough legroom but no shoulder room.  I hunched my shoulders together for the entire flight.  Before we took off, the flight attendants made their way down the aisle to insure that all carry on baggage  had been properly stowed below the seat in front of you.  What a joke!  You couldn’t even see the floor.  However, lack of legroom was the least of our worries.

Once we were airborne, our plane was banged all over the sky.  Turns out that flying over the alps often entails turbulence.  We had plenty of it and that is when Michael gave me the hand shaped bruise on my thigh.  The poor guy was terrified and miserable and sweating bullets for about the first 25 minutes of the flight.  Awful.  Now we know why we don’t fly budget airlines or even coach if we can avoid it.

With all the drama of the flight, we did make it safely to Rome and are now sitting in our lovely apartment in Narni.  We’ve had a tiny bit more drama today in our rental car but I will save that for another entry.


Posted in Frustration, Travel | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Goodbye Uniworld


Virginia, Renate and Claire

Our last night on the ship saw us all decked out for the  “gala” farewell dinner.  Well, as decked out as my every expanding waistline (and every other line) would allow.  I had to wear a scarf/shawl in an attempt to disguise my back boob bulges!!!

No sooner had I sat down and placed the white linen napkins on the lap of my black dress than Levente slid in next to me and replaced the white napkin with a black one  “We don’t want you to have little white bits on your black dress.”  That sums up the level of service to which we have been treated for this entire cruise.

Uniworld says that they strive for excellence in service and they certainly achieved it on this cruise.  Everyone has been incredible.  If you turn your laundry in in the evening, it reappears the next morning ironed and folded and beautiful.  Our housekeeper replenished our chocolate dish no matter how many times I dumped the contents into a zip lock bag for future consumption.

The waitstaff was exemplary:  We usually sat in an area where Paul, a young Romanian charmer, took care of us.  He was brilliant; an incredible flirt, personable and funny.  He made every person he served feel as if he was focused only on that particular person’s needs.

This cruise has been a delight in spite of the colds that many have either brought with them or acquired once here.

The gala dinner was a fitting send off.  All of the food was as beautiful to look at as it was delectable to taste.  We will miss the luxury of this cruise during our next two weeks on our own in Italy.


Posted in Food and Drink, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment

Vienna: Back Where We Started


Tuesday evening, December 12, we arrived back in Vienna where we began our trip on November 30.  A lot of water has flowed down the Danube since then and we have been fortunate to have been floating down with it.

Since I’ve last checked in with you, we have had two busy days.

Tuesday night, we were driven out to Klosterneustein for a brief tour of the monastery, which is stunning, and for a Mozart and Strauss concert, which was even more stunning.  Our orchestra consisted of seven musicians and they were joined periodically by two opera singers: a soprano and a baritone. Small venue with great acoustics, small audience with not too much coughing and an amazing program made for a thoroughly enjoyable night out.

Yesterday, Wednesday, December 13, was our last full day with Uniworld.  The morning was free to do as we pleased and what we pleased was to take a late (10:30 a.m.) shuttle to the Rathaus and then explore on our own for a couple of hours before rejoining our group  for a short tour, just the highlights, of the Art History Museum.  The museum was purpose built to house the massive collections of the Hapsburgs and it is spectacular.  We barely moistened our toes as we peeked at a few of the rooms.  We didn’t do any paintings, just STUFF.  Glorious stuff. It was a treat.

Dave, Claire, Michael and I made our way to the Goldenen Wurstl on Graben for a final wienie; we went to the Christmas market at Maria Theresia square for a final mug of gluhwein (and a bonus final paper cone of some of the finest freshly fried potato chips I have ever had). The potatoes were a recommendation of a teacher we met on the square.  An altogether excellent final day in the city.

Posted in Family, Festivals, Food and Drink, Friends, Health, Music, Travel | Tagged | 1 Comment