A Twist To The Adventure

I’m sitting in the Toronto airport waiting for a connecting flight home to Halifax in about 2 hours, three days sooner than planned.

Gate 44 Toronto Pearson

What I haven’t mentioned was that I travelled with my “mystery” cough hoping the change in climate and location might actually reduce the tightness and congestion. In fact the reverse happened – I reacted to the alpaca, lots of vegetation was in bloom so lots of pollen, the old house, formerly a barn for animals and hay made the cough slowly worse. I woke up Tuesday morning (yesterday) and said to Linda I thought it prudent to get back home as quickly as I could.

To make a long story short, Gianni drove me to Tarontino to catch the train to Florence. Linda called ahead and reserved a hotel room for overnight. I was able to upgrade my return flights through Air Canada (don’t ask about the cost – as my late father would have said “it’s only money!”)

This morning I departed Florence at 6:40am to Frankfurt, connected to Toronto and am now waiting to fly the last leg of the journey shortly.

I’m not sick, but the chest congestion and the coughing are dreadful. My usual maintenance rituals aren’t working so it’ll be off to the doctor tomorrow to see what’s possible to settle my airway down.

I was afraid to stay till Saturday concerned the situation would deteriorate to the point that I couldn’t travel. Figured it a good idea to get home while I was able.

I had a great time for the 10 days I was in Tuscany/Umbria. Loved all the shmoozing and  eating we did.

And that’s more than you wanted to know!

Lace – Crochet & Tulle

Today’s highlight was our visits to Tuomo and Panicale to see two very different sorts of lace. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any of the (mostly elderly) women at work but we did get to meet one crochet lace maker and I was able to buy two small pieces which I intent to frame.

Crochet Lace Table Runner

Crochet Lace Collar

The hand work is simply magnificent – done with extremely fine crochet cotton and very fine steel hook. My maternal grandmother and her sister Rose both did crochet, but their work was not nearly so fine or elaborate. I crochet, too, but I’ve never tried such intricate work. I looked at it for quite a while.

The second type of lace is sewn with needle and fine thread through tulle.

Information On How The Lace Is Made

The Lace With Paper Template Beneath

Tulle Lace Christening Gown

[Note: Wi-Fi here is intermittent so I’ve learned to publish as I go.]

My maternal grandmother and her sister Rose both did beautiful crochet work but with a much heavier thread. I, too, crochet well but usually with wool. I will have to try some fine cotton to see if I can manage something this delicate – I imagine it could take years of practice!

And then the lunch.

Restaurant On The Lake Shore

I’ll promised myself I would eat sensibly today so while the others ordered full course meals, I ate some of the antipasto, and ordered a salad. I tasted the meat and fish meals – a forkful but that was it. The food, again, was delicious. Even with the meagre lunch I ate my evening meal consisted of half a pear. I could face no more food.

 

Citta Di Castello

Sunday – we visited nearby Citta Di Castello – three attractions. First we spent time at the linen museum and workshop where they display old linen artifacts of the region as well as manufacture goods for sale using the ancient looms. The linen goods are quite fine and beautifully made even if they limit themselves to a few old regional patterns.

Linen Cloths And Lampshade

The private Museum is also the home of one of  the first Montessori Casa dei Bambini – the school was set up to allow the women employed in the workshop to provide safely for their little children while they worked. A few of the early Montessori materials were on display – some geometric sets and alphabet cards.

I need an aside here. I’m sitting on the front patio back at the alpaca farm watching the lawn being mowed by the animals.

The Alpaca Grazing

The alpaca are totally ignoring me. Finally Marissa comes, opens the gate to the path to the road below and shoos them away and they cooperate. They are now grazing below.

Today, also, the wine festival was being held in the main square.

Registration For The Festival

We stayed long enough to take a few photos and people watch – a lot of people leisurely sampling the wines on display. Clearly a popular regional event.

Next we visited the Burri museum. This very large, windowless building houses many art pieces from huge steel sculptures to his black on black minimalist modern wall art to many small graphics in the lower floor galleries.

My favorite piece was “Metamorphosis” a very large single work comprised of nine repeating, yet subtlely changing panels:

Metamorphosis by Alberto Burri

I spent a long time observing the subtle changes from left to right as the work changes from ochre to black.

Many of Burri’s works are constructed of vertical panels – I could see none where the panels were aligned horizontally one above another. I’m assuming the panels were a consequence of the width of the materials he was using although I didn’t find that mentioned anywhere. I was also struck, particularly in the black on black works, by the  complete lack of reflected light of some of the matte black paint.  All very interesting to experience.

And then of course we stopped at an out of the way country restaurant for Sunday lunch.

The Country Restaurant

Antipasto, primo, secondo, and dolci. We ordered so we could share in every dish on the menu today. The food was simple and scrumptious: three different procciuti with cheese and fresh bread, asparagus crepes, lasagna, spinach ravioli in tomato sauce, followed by a grilled pork trio, grilled beef, and  roasted chicken in a lemon sauce with roasted potatoes, cooked spinach and roasted fennel. For dessert we had creme brûlée, a chocolate something, and biscotti with vin sancto. All wonderful.

We finished lunch at a quarter to four. Rolled home and to nap!

More surprises tomorrow – but less eating for me.

 

Perugia

We spent today visiting Perugia – the capital city of Umbria. Lots of people but it seems the visitors are predominantly Italian. Saturday, today, was also the antique market so it was very busy particularly in the top level of the city.

But let me backtrack. We arrived, parked at the central bus station, met Marco our guide and began our exploration upward. Perugia is a many layered city – Perugini liken it to a wedding cake, each layer perched atop the previous one.

Rocca Paolina

We began by taking a couple of underground escalators upward and inside the Rocca Paolina – a fortress structure the foundations of which were built by the Etruscans, added to during medieval times, built and rebuilt repeatedly – even today construction is ongoing to convert some of the interior spaces into shops and markets.

Inside Rocca Paolina with Marco

The history of this place is very visible in the construction elements – Etruscan stones large, square without any mortar; medieval building blocks smaller, less regular, Renaissance more brick-like. Originally the main “street” was open above but when the city was taken over by the Papal States in the 12-13 hundreds the Pope decreed previous construction be demolished and the street was enclosed.

Perugia remained under the rule of the Papacy until the formation of the Italian a state in the mid 1800s. At that point symbols of Papal power were torn down and new civic buildings were erected. Each successive city incorporated the construction of earlier ones both as economical but also as a way of showing subjugation of previous rule.

To really see and understand the history of Perugia would take several visits and lots of poking around!

We ended our visit with Marco at the fountain in the upper Piazza which separates the Cathedral and the civic building showing the conflicting forces which shapes the life of Perugia.

The Fountain

It was now time to eat something but on our way for lunch at Da Peppone – a pizzaria – we stopped at the chocolate shop recommended by Marco (not for the tourists – for Perugini).

Inside The Chocolate Shop

Outside The Chocolate Shop

At lunch while eating some very tasty pizza (mine a 4-seasons with artichoke, mushrooms, ham, and cheese – I asked for 2 anchovies) the waitress walked past with what looked like an amazing meringue covered cake:

The Amazing Cake

We actually sampled it, but it wasn’t what we expected. It turned out to be a dry cake iced with meringue – looked much better than it was.

Our last stop of the day was to a museum/workshop dedicated to the preservation of the old weaving patterns. Today there are very few hand loom weavers. The work we saw this afternoon was amazing.

An Example Of Weaving Taken From A Medieval Painting

Marta Brozetti really does wonderful work that preserves the old techniques. She does try passing on what she knows but it’s quite likely her work is a dying art.

I’ll share one last photo

A Near Full Moon Over Maridiana

This was our view as we sat on the front patio enjoying a light evening meal.

The alpaca and sheep were in for the night, the birds had settled, and we were sipping wine and enjoying ourselves.

More adventure tomorrow.

Poppies, Cortona & Antipasti

Right now the countryside of Tuscany and Umbria is ablaze with poppies – not planted but growing wild everywhere. This morning we had a chance to make a brief stop to photograph them.

Hillside Covered With Poppies

They glow in the morning sunlight – whole fields of them. I have no idea how long they last or whether they’re harvested or not but they sure are lovely.

Poppies (Closeup)

We saw the poppies on our way through windy mountain roads to Cortona, nearby in Tuscany. Cortona is situated part way up a steep slope, a tiring city to get around because except for one rather flat street, the streets need serious climbing.

Cortona – A Side Street

Our first stop was Il Pozzo – owned by Ivan (never got his last name) a wonderful Italian charmer. He’s an historian, an archeologist, an art aficionado. The shop has a superb collection of art, photographs, old maps, hand made paper.

Ivan gave us the history of the building – it’s foundation is Etruscan, then medieval building sits on top, followed by more recent construction on top of that. When he bought the building 18 years ago he had no idea what he would uncover as he began clearing away the accumulated debris.

At the center of the main floor is an old Etruscan well!

Looking Into The Well

The well is about 10-12 feet deep – a water depth of 5-6 feet, the surface 5-6 feet below the glass covered opening. The well had been used as a dump for centuries and in excavating the mud Ivan came across artifacts originating from Roman times, as well as bits of medieval pottery. Currently he keeps carp in the water which sits atop many feet of unexcavated debris.

Ivan, Describing the Digging Process

Following the history lesson, Ivan provided us with Antipasti that were out of this world – he’d prepared three hot dishes to spoon on top of some fresh focaccia:

Antipasti

  • Tomato sauce with juniper berries which gave a distinct burst of gin flavour
  • Chicken livers with anchovy, capers, vino sancta, salt and pepper
  • Fungi porcini

all simply delicious!

Following our visit to Il Fozzo, we climbed a street from the Piazza to have lunch in a nearby restaurant. Another delicious meal.

Antipasto For Lunch

I ordered what I thought would be a small antipasto, this is what arrived, all delectable. I managed to eat about a third of the offering. What we’re disovering is just how much Italians eat.

We finished lunch at about 2:30. We then drove uphill to the Sanctuario Di Santa Margherita – a large church on the outskirts of Cortona. The inside of the cathedral was lavish and the views of the surrounding countryside spectacular. On our way home we made a brief stop at a monastery nestled in a corner of a large olive grove – one of the last stopping places of St. Francis of Assisi, the rather large well kept buildings now house just 5 Franciscan monks.

I slept most of the way home – it’s all that food midday that does me in. We’ve just finished a light dinner of sautéed chicken breast with salad. It’s now time to call it a day. Another adventure tomorrow.

A Wonderful Meal

We have had a grand day. We visited the Hemp Museum near Spello. The mission of the Museum is to revive interest in and skills associated with the originally thriving hemp production in Umbria. More about that later.

The outstanding event of our day was lunch. We originally stopped at a restaurant in an old monestery to have lunch but the restaurateur had no food and no chef because of the holiday yesterday. He suggested we go to another place not far from where we were.

The Restaurant As We Were Leaving

It took a bit of hunting to find La Laconda di Valacasana – located on this pond filled with trout. The house specialties: trout and truffles (this being the truffle region of Umbria).

The Setting

The meal began with appetizers provided by the house: first two plates of various prosciuttos and pecorino cheese with truffle, trout, and creamed truffle bruschetta, then two more plates each with three different truffle samplers. Next a bowl of some kind of thick bean soup, then a liver dish with some kind of vegetable, and one more that I can’t now recall!

Then the waiter asks what we want to eat. We ordered: trout with truffle (x2), tortellini with creamed truffle sauce, polenta with truffle (and other ingredients), spaghetti with a truffle sauce, mixed salad and spinach with parmesan and garlic which we shared around.

As We Are Finishing

We ate until we were all stuffed, then slowly pushed away from the table to head on to Assisi to view the Duomo.

The entire meal for six, with many bottles of water and carafes of wine – €100!

Back to the hemp museum.

Setting Up A Weft For Weaving

The museum houses a collection of old linen, cotton, and hemp garment and other artifacts beautifully preserved and housed in drawers with details of age and donors displayed. Beautiful hand work. There are small looms for people to try their hand at weaving, a large loom on display. A lovely young woman, a fashion student, walked us through the collection with explanations in English.

Our last stop for the day was a visit to the Assisi Cathedral

Assisi Cathedral From A Distance

Because lunch had done me in (we didn’t finish till 3:30), I abstained from the steep climb to the church and instead accompanied Linda to do some grocery shopping. The small supermarket wasn’t busy so the staff were happy to provide an informal language lesson – it’s a surprise how vocabulary and phrases are coming back after 50 years.

We’re now sitting on one of the patios with wine and more food (if you can believe it), enjoying the end of the day.

Looking forward to whatever is on the agenda for tomorrow.

Arriving At Maridiana (Umbertide)

The weather here today was simply gorgeous. The further away we got from Florence, the cooler and breezier it became.

We made several stops on our way to Maridiana, the alpaca farm. Our first was the Prada outlet.

The Prada Entrance

This is the best I can do with this – the front door! No photos allowed inside. It would have been fun to have had images to show the flashy goods and the ridiculous prices – I came across a women’s simple leather jacket for €2500 (we saw beautiful leather clothing in the market yesterday for €150-€400!) I didn’t last long – a key fob for €100 was way beyond anything I was prepared to spend for a Prada trinket. I retired to the cafe to wait for the others.

Our next stop was the town of Arezzo – a typical old Italian town with a large Duomo which we stepped into. We wandered about town for a bit before stopping for lunch in the Piazza Grande. The town was mobbed since April 25 is an Italian national holiday of some sort; people everywhere enjoying the day.

Piazza Grande in Arezzo

By the time we’d finished lunch at 3:00 we decided to head straight to Maridiana. The farm is situated in the Umbrian hills. The photo flattens the countryside which in reality consists of well defined slopes.

At Maridiana

Green, green, green! The landscape has turned verdant this past week we were told, with red poppies in bloom along the highways, and lots of other vegetation in flower.

This is one of the two houses on the farm. This one is large – it houses Giani and Marissa the owners as well 3-4 guests in a separate half of the building. Another building close by has space for another 3-4 guests so the place accommodates our party easily. Each building has a kitchen, dining room, living/sitting room on the main floor and two bedrooms on the second each with its own bathrooms. Definitely more than comfortable for our stay.

The Back Side Of The Farmhouse

The star of the establishment is the newborn alpaca. The animals were lingering near the house to welcome us.

Alpaca

Marissa had prepared us a welcome dinner of fresh local cheese, salami, a barley salad and pizza, finished off with fresh fruit tarts, and of course white wine. Here we are eating on the patio under the wisteria which had bloomed in the past two days. Quite lovely.

Dining Under The Wisteria

Tomorrow we venture further south to a hemp museum which houses a largish collection of hemp artifacts gathered from local residents who have had these curtains, tablecloths, garments in their families for multiple generations.

We will have an early-ish start in the morning in order to arrive by ten or so. Should be very interesting.