Italy 2008
Spoleto, Norcia, Adriatic Coast, Urbino, Lucca, Rome
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Itinerary2008-02-19 21:35

You can see a map of of Italy travels here

Here is our tentative itinerary:

Wed March 12: Fly to Rome, train to Spoleto
March 14-16, Spoleto, Hotel Charlston
Mon March 17: rent a car in Spoleto
Tue: March 18: leave Spoleto, drive through Le Marche
Fri: March 21: arrive Urbino
March 22-24, Urbino
Tue: March 25: drive from Urbino to Siena
Wed: March 26, drop off rental car in Siena
March 27-29: Siena
March 30: train to Rome
March 31-April 1: Rome, Hotel Tizi (phone: 0039 06 48 20 128)
April 2: Fly home from Rome

Charlie and Wynette married!2008-03-10 03:46

We did it! Finally! See the pictures here.

First days2008-03-15 22:19

Posted by Wynette: I’ll be lazy and use my first email to family as first blog entry (but take out personal notes). My apologies to those who already got this email! I edited it just a tiny bit.

We haven’t been on the internet yet. I’m writing this email off-line and will cut and paste into email later. In our hotel getting onto the internet costs $4.50 for one hour or $7.50 for 5 hours so we’ve been saving up for a 5 hour sprint. That’s to connect with wireless from the little laptop that Charlie brought and from which I am now typing and trying to get used to this itty-bitty keyboard. Today has gone too fast because I slept all morning — felt like I was getting sick, but feel better this afternoon so maybe (I hope) it was just still a bit of jetlag. We are starting to get to know spoleto. This is our second full day here. Our trip over went fine. We weren’t able to sleep much on the plane. So, we were ready for bed Thursday night, our first night here in italy. I think we were asleep by 8:00 pm and slept well. Funny, both of us became wide awake around midnight but listened to books on tape on our (respective) ipods and were back to sleep in a couple of hours. Getting back to report of flight over … we had many strange mobbed up lines in Milan to get through to catch the final leg of trip from Milan to Rome. We had our first coffee (cappucino) in the Rome airport train station. It was as good as we remembered italian cappucinos to be — nothing in the states comes close — I wish I could describe them and I wish everyone reading this could have one to see what I mean. Then a 30 minute train ride from Rome airport to Rome itself — was crowded and we had to stand. Then got on a train in Rome to Spoleto. We weren’t clear about the schedule/route and ended up getting off too soon. At first, we were upset about that (we were SOOOOO tired) but found we could catch next train in 1.5 hours and were in this charming little town named Narni and so we walked around a little and had our second cappucino in a little bar (what we’d call a cafe in the states) near the train station and started to feel relaxed and happy to be in Italia. So now we are in Spoleto, state of Umbria. There’s a large wonderful very old church two buildings over from our hotel and it’s ringing its bells like crazy right now — don’t know what is happening. (Well, I guess that’s where the bells are coming from.) We walked inside it yesterday. No one else was there. All this art and frescos and beautiful open space. And this church is such a minor tourist attraction in this town it’s hardly mentioned in the guide books. Everywhere you look there’s something ancient and spectacular and often beautiful and you can just wander by or in and no one is making a big deal about it. This town was initially built by the Romans in 300 BC or something like that. It was razed by Barbarossa in 1100 so most of what you see dates back to 1200s or later. However, some Roman things remain such as a very large amphitheater, I think where thousands of Christians were slaughtered. Again, it’s just “there” — no one making a big deal about it. Spoleto has a population of about 40000 so it’s an interesting mix of a modern city and an ancient one. We are staying in the “old town” part, but it’s only about a 10 minute walk to the newer part. I walked down there yesterday and found a shop where clothes weren’t too expensive and bought a black knit top — all the women wear black here — I wanted to fit in better. Of course the women are all thin — at least the younger ones. It seems women here are either young and thin or middle aged or older and slightly plumper. I guess I fit in more with the middle-aged crowd. The Italians are as nice as I remember. I try to speak Italian as much as possible when shopping, ordering, etc. and I often get the words wrong. They always very kindly correct me, with a smile. It’s a lot of fun to try to speak Italian and they seem to be delighted that I’m trying. One example. Yesterday, Charlie and I decided we needed to buy a razor blade to cut out a section of our guide book so we didn’t have to lug around the whole book. We passed an art supply store and realized that would be a perfect place to buy a blade. I stepped into the store entrance and two men standing just inside the entrance yelled for me to stop — but it was too late — I’d stepped into some wet cement that they’d recently laid. They were good natured about it and pointed me to an alternate entrance. Inside, I tried to say “I’m sorry” in Italian: “mi dispiace”. I said something like “mi dipacia” and he corrected me in a very friendly way. (Remind me I’ll show you the cool razor-blade thingy we got.) For lunch today, we had some memorable polenta with truffles (corn meal “pudding” flavored with the rare and delicious truffle mushrooms that grow around here and goat cheese). It was very good. Tonight we are splurging on a big 3-course meal at a highly-recommended restaurant so might have other food stories to report next email. Charlie just said to me from his position propped up in bed reading a book on his Kindle, “having a good meal made me happy”. We are only now getting our legs — getting to know this town, getting over jetlag, relaxing into being here. It’s great. We decided for this trip we mostly just want to “be here”. Relax a lot, go where the spirit moves us. Italy is a good place to do this because the people here are relaxed and happy and hospitable — at least in the smaller towns. In the cities or in the more touristy towns like Florence they are a little more stressed and tired of us tourists and less helpful and friendly. We haven’t seen a whole lot of tourists on this trip, I think because it is early in the season. I’m glad we came now. The weather is perfect. Cool and sunny and everything is green and we are seeing spring blooms. I bet things will be in full bloom before we leave in 3 weeks. Things sure aren’t cheap. It wouldn’t be too bad but the dollar is so weak now. 1 euro costs over $1.50. So a meal that would have been about $20 in the states costs us $30. We are paying now for our first trip to Italy in 2000 when the dollar was strong against the euro and a euro was only 88 cents. Then everything seemed so inexpensive! But no regrets. It’s good to be here again.

Travel Day2008-03-15 22:33

Charlie: It would be easier to go to Europe if you lived in Atlanta but living in Albuquerque we have a multi-leg process to get here: car to airport, wait, 3 hours to Altanta, wait, 9 hours to Milan, wait, 1 hour to Rome’s Fumicino airport, wait, train to Rome central train station, wait, train to Spoleto, wait, bus to hotel, done!

Add to that: mistakenly get off train in Narni on the way to Spoleto in the belief that we had passed the town (Orte) where we thought we needed to change, spend an hour having a cappacino on a lovely afternoon on a cafe terrace in Narni waiting for the next train after the one we mistakenly got off of. Some mistakes lead to much worse consequences.

The coffee in Italy is still as great as we remembered. We ventured into having a machiando (espresso with a bit of foamy milk) and liked it.

We went to bed around 7:30 pm, woke at 12:30, listened to iPods for 30-60 minutes and slept until 7:30, easier than usual. We’ll see if it catches up to us. Europe is not on DST until April 1 so we have one less hour of difference to adjust to.

Penguins in Flight2008-03-15 22:37

Charlie: The in-flight entertaiment systems are pretty nice now, with individual screens and a choice of 5-6 movies, 30-40 TV shows. 30-40 music CDs, flight informationm, and a few other things, all on-demand. It froze up early on and the flight attendant announced she had to reset the system. Familiar console boot messages started rolling past on the screen and I realized it was a Linux system booting up, with the familiar Tux penguin on the top of the screen. Then it loaded the movie system.

My Tivo runs Linux also but you don’t see the boot messages when it boots, and I am writing this on my ASUS eee PC with Linux. Years ago I was at a conference where they asked how many electric motors you had in your house. The point being that you did not think of them as electric motors but as vacuums, hair dryers, etc. They said soon you would have that many computers. Now it seems like we might soon have dozens of Linux systems in our house, going by names like DVR, GPS, etc.

What’s on Your iPod?2008-03-15 22:39

Charlie: My trip entertainment is audiobooks on my iPod and eBooks on my (Amazon) Kindle. I counted them up and, by mere chance, I have 12 audiobooks and 12 eBooks. I just got the Kindle and I am liking it a lot. It is great to have 12 books in an 8x5x1 inch, 10 oz. package.

audiobooks: atomic lobster, blade runner, born standing up, grass for his pillow, the heretic’s apprentice, the inheritance of loss, into the wild, jeeves song of songs, mistress of death, the pythons, stiff upper lip jeeves, and thank you jeeves. As you can see I am on a P. G. Wodehouse kick.

eBooks: next time…

What’s on Your Kindle?2008-03-16 18:26

Charlie: malpractice in maggody, the rest is noise, persuasion, the infinity book: a short guide to the boundless, timeless and endless, your money or your brain: how the new science of neuroeconomics can make you rich, predictably irrational: the hidden forces that shape our decisions, the thing about life is that one day you’ll be dead, gods behaving badly, decoding the universe: how the new science of information is explaining everything from our brains to black holes, loser goes first: my thirtysomething years of dumb luck and minor humiliation, the pirates dilemma: how youth culture is reinventing capitalism, how starbucks saved my life, twinkie, deconstructed, musicophilia, the stuff of thought, the story of my life: helen keller.For those you counting up to (and past) 12 this includes some of wynette’s books and some samples i downloaded. amazon let’s you download the first chapter or so which seems like a good sales technique. they make it pretty easy to spend money on books. i guess that is the idea but it seems like we all gain from it.

looks like a lot of “how…” books, no? when i finish i’ll know how to do everything. i’m reading the maggody book now. this is a series by joan hess and they are like rich chocolate candies. i recommend them highly.

Coffee2008-03-16 18:28

Charlie: I’ve heard people say that Italy has the best coffee in the world. I’m not going to dispute that. I’m not much of a coffee drinker back home but I love the coffee here. I’m not sure what the difference is but the coffee is heavenly. Each day it is a treat. You drink it standing up, at the bar of a bar which sells coffee, alcohol, soft drinks, sandwiches, etc. It sometimes costs more if you sit down and most people drink it at the bar. The price varies from 0.90 to 1.30 (for us this trip), it tends to be a bit more the bigger the city but you never know how much it will be until you pay up. The quality is high everywhere. I have heard that the European traders are known to pay the most and buy the best coffee on the international markets.The machines all seem about the same and make 1-2 oz of espresso. That is combined with 4-5 oz of steamed milk for cappucino, a bit of milk for machiando and often drunk straight out of a tiny cup, often in a single gulp. Only children have cappucino after noon, children and Charlie and Wynette that is, who just love their cappucino. You can also have some kind of alcohol mixed with the espresso.

The Italian People and Language2008-03-16 18:29

Charlie: We love Italy and the Italian people. They always seem happy. Maybe it comes from living in a good climate and having good food all the time. Our Italian is rudimentary, despite our best intensions, but we try. They always seem pleased when we try to speak Italian and correct us in a good-natured way that is encouraging. This is so different from the French who seem pained when you try to speak French and if you mispronounce a word even slightly they act as if what you said is not remotely similar to any word in the French language and pretend to have no idea what you are talking about (or maybe they really don’t hear it). This happened to me once in a grocery store where I tried to ask for orange juice (jus d’orange). My accent was, of course, bad but it was a grocery store and it was not that far off. I also saw a train ticket seller in a station less that 100 miles from Rennes profess that there was no such town in France when an American tried to pronounce the name. It sounded close to me and I could not tell the difference when the agent said it after the person had written in down.I have a theory that it is because French was an international language, the “lingua franca” and so the French came to expect other people to speak their language, kind of like English speakers do now. Italians did not have such expectations and so were more tolerant of mistakes. I heard once from a Peace Corps volunteer that they always tried to talk to children when they were learning the language since the children were patient and tolerant of errors.

Food2008-03-16 18:30

Charlie: One of the big draws in Italy for us is the food and how we are feeling about our trip depends on how good the food is. We were tired the first day and had a meal that was good but not great so we were a bit down. Unless there is one memorable dish in a meal we tend to be disappointed. There has to be one where you take a bite, close you eyes and think how could food be this good. It really helps to close you eyes. That good but not great meal was 40 euros too which didn’t help.Yesterday we had a great lunch. We choose the place because it had polenta, a peasant corn dish that can be heavenly. This was with melted local cheese and truffles and was amazing. The tastes were so strong and interesting. It was served as a thin layer on a wood platter. We also had scallopine which was excellent also and a good salad.

Dinner was even better at a restaurant called Appolonaire which was recommended in four guide books. It lived up to its name. the owners were this older italian man who looked like the manager of a fancy hotel and his wife who was an Italian matron. They were friendly and knew a little english. We got a free appetizer which had some creamy stuff which he named in italian (rapa). We tasted it, it was great, of course, and decided it was turnip. he came back and said he had the english name, wynette said turnip and he said, yes turnip. everything was good to exceptional with a couple of close-your-eyes great dishes. 59 euro, not cheap but worth every euro cent. we were by some degree the oldest customers. it was mostly these young italian couples. everyone in italy seems to dress stylishly, especially the woman. it is fun to watch people.

today we went to a deli and pointed at things and got the makings for a picnic. almost everything was good and the soft cheese was wonderful, we’ll get more of that.

Breakfast and Weather and a Few Activities

Wynette: I’ll describe breakfast. The hotels usually provide a nice breakfast bar. They vary somewhat. In ours this time, there is lots of fresh fruit including oranges and a little machine from which you can make your own fresh-squeezed orange juice. We’ve had that every morning. There is dry cereal including good muesli which I always choose. Also, yoghurt, sausage, ham, cheeses, crusty bread, croissants, nutella (chocolate hazlenut spread), jams. About 6 kinds of pastries. Coffee (including cappucino), tea, several kinds of fruit juices, milk, bottled water. Breakfast is such fun. The only problem is that we are still a bit jet lagged and breakfast time ends at 10:00 and we’d like to sleep past then — but don’t because we want to eat the breakfast. If we didn’t have an alarm clock, we’d probably sleep right through. The woman who keeps the breakfast bar stocked is very nice and friendly. She tries to speak English to us and we try to speak in Italian to her. This morning she talked about what a beautiful day it was. It was beautiful and warm (but breezy) in the morning but then got cloudy and colder in the afternoon. It will probably rain tomorrow. We walked quite a bit today. Went out to a strange, very old crumbly church (4th/5th century) on the edge of town. It was next to the town cemetery. We saw graves from the 1800s through the 2000s. One was of a pilot who died in the air over Spain in 1934 or thereabouts. Later we saw the beautiful impressive duomo (not so crumbly and still in use).

Some photos2008-03-16 22:49

cafe in narni

hotel charlston in spoleto

outdoor cafe

wynette having a cappucino

Water2008-03-22 19:38

Bottled water seems even more popular in Europe than in the US. There is some movement away from bottled water in the US for ecological reasons and more and more gourmet restaurants offer tap water instead. I wonder if that will happen in Europe too. Maybe they will lag a few years like they did with smoking.On the other hand, Spoleto has numberous fountains and most have a drinking spigot on the side. We weren’t sure at first but we have seen lots of people drinking out of them.

Smoking, by the way, is much less visible in Italy even since the last time we were here. We have yet to see anyone smoking inside, it might be against the law now. We still see a lot of it outside. You often see shop proprietors outside smoking.

Itinerary Revised2008-03-22 19:41

We have been changing things on the fly, especially since we got the car on 3/17 (to keep until 3/26).

3/13 to 3/18: Spoleto
3/18 to 3/19: visit to Norcia and Carralucca (?), stay in San Benedetto on the Adriatic side
3/19 ro 3/20: Cupra Marattima, another beach resort
3/20 to 3/22: Senigallia, a beach resort
3/22 to 3/25: Urbino
3/25 to 3/30: Siena
3/30 to 4/2: Rome

Staying in a town a few days2008-03-22 19:42

Charlie: It always takes a day or two to get used to a town, to learn how to get around, to learn where you like to have coffee, to learn the prominent landmarks. Once you do that you feel a lot more confortable and the town is more fun. The learning process itself is fun too, like a puzzle.

Weather2008-03-22 19:43

Charlie: We had great weather the first few days, warm and sunny. We thought we had brought too many warm clothes. It turned gray yesterday, we got some rain today and we have rain predicted off and on for the next week. We might change our plans because being in the mountains in the rain doesn’t seem fun. It s rainy at the beach also but that seems better. We’ll see tomorrow.

Units (warning geeky)2008-03-22 19:45

Charlie:We rented a car in Spoleto, to drop off in Siena. We had a tiff with the rental agent who wanted to sell us insurance even thoough the insurance was included in the price we paid. The form said something like “collision damag waiver up to a deductible of ZERO (sic)” We interpreted this as no deductible need be paid in the event of an accident and he interpreted it the opposite way so we needed additonal insurance. He filled out the form with our declining the insurance but what can you do?But that is not what I want to talk about. My driver’s license expires on 12/3/2008. He observed that the license had expired (thinking it expired March 12) and we had this long discussion about how, in the US, we put the month first. He finally accepted this. I assumed the difference was widely known but maybe not. Wynette’s license expires on 9/16/2010 which sort of proves it I guess.

I have always thought the US system was illogical and for a long time would writes dates in the form 3 dec 2008 to avoid ambiguity. As I got older I dropped that. It seems more consistent to go from the smallest units to the largest. We do that with times but in the opposite order, for example 10:43.

Another difference is that, in Europe, the street number comes after the street name. This actually is an inconsistency similar to our putting the month first since the street name is more general than the number and the city comes next. Our GPS has an option to put the number first or last.

We bought some milk and were looking for low-fat which we did not know the Italian for. The nutritional information gives grams per 100 ml and so we picked the 1,6 rather than the 3,2 (another difference which we won’t go into here). My first reaction was to think how handy the metric system was and that this was 1,6% and 3,2% but then I realized that grams are units of mass and liters are units of volume. I think that 1 ml of water is 1 gram but I’m not sure and in any case 1 ml of water with suspended solids is different and it would required a complex calculation to figure out the percent fat accurately.

Which brings we to my pet peeve about the metric system. I have often been harangued about how superior the metric system is. Such claims are invariably suported by arguments about the advantages of standardization that are independent of the measurement system being discussed. The metric system had the advantage of using the same base as our counting system and this is a definite advantage. But 10 is a terrible base or counting or measurement, with only two divisors (2 and 5). 12 is much better with four divisors (2, 3, 4, and 6). The “English” system uses base 12 a fair amount and is superior in that respect. I once heard a metric system harangue from an astromomer who spent his whole professional life using number systems with base 60, a number rich with divisors. Go figure.

This gets us back to time which is bases on 12s and 60s. I can’t remember whether anyone has tried to move times and date to base 10.

Which, to conclude, gets us back to Italy where cartons of eggs have 10 eggs in them, a decimal dozen. Which is another advantage of the metric system because a decimal baker’s dozen in presumably 11 which is 10% extra rather than 13 which is only 8,3% extra ;-)

Window Coverups Exposed2008-03-22 19:47

Charlie: I grew up in a white house with green “shutters”. I use the quotes because they did not shut. They were decorative and attached to the outside wall, vertigial design elements reminding us of an older time in the US. Everyplace we have been in Italy have functional shutters that shut out the light almost completely, as well as rain and wind.Some places, and it seems like mostly places near the ocean, have a more modern shutter design. It consists of horizontal slats attached together and running in a track on each side of the window. There us a 1-inch wide canvas strip inside with fittings on the top and bottom. You pull down to open the shade and pull out and release to let it drop down. The fitting on the bottom prevents slipping so you can leave it at any level of openness. The slats are attached loosely to each other so when they are hanging there is aboout an 0.25 inch opening between them. If you lower it just to the floor these slits remain and you get some light and a breeze coming through. If you lower it more the slits fill up from the bottom and when it is fully lowered it is basically solid. The room then is like a cave with no light entering. This is great for sleeping late in the morning. I had one on Capri which was nice for keeping out the sun but letting in a breeze.

I think this is a very nice design and way better than blinds or levelors. They are ineffective at keeping out the light and it seems like one or more is often not working. Also there is the issue of whether to use the little twister bar to angle them towards the room or towards the window, neither is very effective. This design seems fairly sturdy and inexpensive to put in and repair.

On one trip we had just arrived two days before and still were jet-lagged. We closed these blinds and slept until about 4 pm the next afternoon. Even with bright sun it seemed like the middle of the night since the blinds were so effective. Needless to say we missed breakfast and it set us back a little in the jet-lag recovery process.

Store fronts have shutters also, some the pull-down type and some door-like. Shops close from 12 to 4 (aka 16) and when they are closed you can handly tell there is a store there at all. They sometimes look as if they had been abandoned for years. These old cities are pretty run-down anyway so it is hard to tell.

Churches and “Candles”2008-03-22 19:48

Charlie: Italy had a lot of churches. I suppose you probably knew that. But when you walk through these little hill towns and find four big churches in an area two blocks square you start to think they might have overbuilt a tad in the church department. It must have been a big drain on their capital. But it is great for tourists, each one is a little different. The big Duomo in Spoleto had a monochrome rose window. I am used to multiolored ones so it seemed a bit disappointing. We stopped in the little mountain town of Norcia and it had a bunch of churches in a small area, as usual, and some nice rose windows.Most churches have a place where you can make an offering and light a candle. My Catholic boyhood fails me here since I don’t remember any more details about it. Anyway, the churches in Norcia had a similar place but the “candles” were electric, made to look like candles with a bulb on the top. There were plugs to put the electric candles. I guess each one had current. I was wondering about curious little fingers but I did not touch one to see if I would get a shock. In Senigallia they went one better, the electric candles were all put in the plugs and there was an array of toggle switches, one to control each candle. You dropped the coin and flipped the switch and you’re done. I suppose Siena might have flat screen with pictures of candles and you touch it with a mouse to “light” it, and, why not, I suppose you could use your credit card to make the offering if you didn’t have a coin. The modern Church.

Restaurants2008-03-22 19:48

Charlie: Everywhere I have been in Italy before this, the restaurants (or osterias or trattorias, I never got the differences straight) all had menus displayed out front. In Spoleto we went to one that had a menu out front but when you get inside, no menus, they just tell you what is available. Anyway, we get to the east coast of Italy, in San Bennedetto, and most restaurants do not have menus displayed. I was sure it was a law that they had to have menus. Now I don’t know what to think.We’ve had some great meals and a few not-so-good ones but we genernally have excellent food. But we always try to go to places that are recommended by someone. We have a “Slow Food” book that lists restaurants all over Italy that serve local food cooked in traditional ways. We had bad luck with one of them but maybe it was the jet lag, we had great luck with one in Senigallia.

Three Star Hotels2008-03-22 19:49

Charlie: As you probably know, hotels are graded from one to five stars. We almost always stay in three-star hotels. When we were younger we were more tolerant of two-star hotels but now we expect certain things. There must be a check-list of things they must have, for example, they always have hair dryers whereas two-star hotels usually do not. The three-star hotels range from 80 to 120 euro, cheap back when the dollar and the euro were close in value, more now that the euro is at $1.50. But still not bad. I think prices might be higher to northern europe, a strange thing to me, why would a place with worse weather and worse food be more expensive?

I read in the New York Times that five-star hotels are not fancy enough and do not offer enough services for the new super-rich and there are starting to be six and seven star hotels.

Fashion2008-03-22 19:50

Charlie: Italians are quite fashionable and almost always look good when they are out, at least the younger ones. They have this concepts of “la bella figura”, projecting a good image or something like that, when they go out. They seem to take a lot of care when they dress. The younger women are almost uniformly thin, many model-thin. Jeans are worn tight, skin-tight in many cases.Eyeglasses seem to be in fashion. I see more people wearing glasses. The current glasses are quite flashy and have big bows (the side elements that attach to the ears), very wide and decorated.

When we were in Italy 3-4 years ago, shoes with long pointed toes were in fashion. Some were so long as to be cartoonish, 3-4 inches past where the toes would end. Now all the shoes have square toes. I guess they have to make big changes to get everyone to switch.

Language2008-03-22 19:51

Charlie: I studied some Italian before I went but I have little facility with languages so I am very poor at Italian. I was waiting in the lobby for Wynette to come down for breakfast and they wanted to get my order. I wanted to say I was waiting for my wife but could not remember the Italian word so I used the French word, ma femme, which I did remember. The woman said “Vous attendez (something) femme?” (something like that, as they say, pardon my French) Since the French was rapidly getting beyond my ability too I just said “si” (switching back to Italian). I guess I should stick to English and hope for the best but it seems like you should try.

Easter Morning2008-03-23 08:20

Charlie: we are in Urbino in Hotel Raffaello which has WiFi in the room so we can post more easily, and maybe get some more pictures up. We have a nice room on the top floor (the fourth, third in their terms) with amazing views of the city and countryside. The large church and bell tower is not far away. The bells ring the quarter hours.

It is Easter and at midnight the bells went crazy. It was enough to wake the dead. (A little Easter joke, or maybe a Jerry Garcia joke) but you go right back to sleep and it is actually kind of nice to hear the bells.

Coffee Branding2008-03-23 08:33

Charlie: Each coffee bar serves only one brand of coffee and the brand name is prominently displayed on the outside sign. Often the brand name is on the napkins and cups as well. We didn’t pay too much attention to coffee brands before since they all seemed equally good. Illy is one of the most common brands. They have expanded to the US. We went to an Illy coffee bar in DC. RomaCafe is another and there are many more.

In Spoleto we were talking to the woman who manages the hotel breakfast and she said she had used another brand and it was too strong and she switched, to “Due Mondi”  a reference to Spoleto’s big “Two Worlds” festival in the summer. After that we started noticing that some brands are much stronger. One the Adriatic coast it seems like most of the coffee brands are stronger. Wynette puts two sugars in the strong ones and doesn’t like them as well but I like the stronger coffee better.

Urbino! Snow! Easter!2008-03-23 17:06

Wynette: It was mostly sunny when we drove into Urbino yesterday afternoon. It’s a beautiful place. Very green. Hills, low mountains. Got cold and cloudy and some rain shortly after we got here. We woke up to rain this morning. Still we had a great time touring the Ducal Palace (a Michelin 3 star attraction) and museum and then had a wonderful Easter lunch at “Taverne del Artistes”, a low key ristorante with simple but fantastic food. I had risotto with mushrooms (primo course) and lamb (secundo course). We had a special Easter appetizer. Deviled egg. And baked pear with good cheese melted on top. Then came back to hotel to dry out and rest. We are on the 4th floor (they call it 3rd here) and have a beautiful view over the town and into the green hillside. And, it turns out to be a good place to watch it snow! The rain turned to snow about an hour ago … 4:30 pm or so. It made us laugh. We were so surprised. Charlie decided he had to go outside and check it out. I’m staying here in the room, warm and dry. Well, as soon as I wrote that, Charlie returned. He said people on the street are giddy, too. He said people were laughing and though he couldn’t understand what they were saying he was pretty sure they were saying “can you believe this weather?!” And he brought me a canoli!

Charlie: When I went out I was going down the very steep, narrow street that leads up to our hotel. A car stopped in front of me and an older woman got out and there was some discussion between her and the people in the car. Then she turned and saw me coming down and said “a senore!”. She grabbed my arm and asked (I assume, it was Italian) whether I would assist her down the hill. I said yes and we went down to the bottom and down the still-steep street. She asked me where I was going and we communicated that I would take her to her house which was a five-minute walk. She tried to chat but all we got clear was that I was from America (I said Los Angeles, it is easier, people know it, and it is close to being true), that I was here at the Hotel Raffaello, that I was with my figlia, and the weather was crazy.

View from our hotel window before and after snow.

More pictures2008-03-23 20:06

Truffles for sale in a store in Spoleto

5th century church near Spoleto, from the front

from the back

Grave markers

notice the playboy

Spoleto Duomo

Fixer-upper, on a sign outside a real-estate office

Charlie between the lions

slow food, fast food

proschuito for sale in Norcia

Castelluccia, a tiny town in the Piano Grande

view from our hotel room in Cupra Marittima

clean clothes! at the laudromat in Senigallia run by Bangladeshis

market in Senigallia

Dance lessons anyone?

Rotunda a Mare in Senegallia

Easter decorations

Wynette went to the 1 euro store

Duke Federica da Montefelco (more)

Wynette before Easter lunch

More on church candles2008-03-26 18:13

Wynette:  Charlie wrote a while back about electric candles in churches.  First we saw electric candles you put into a socket.  Then we saw electric candles with little switches.  Now, I want to report we saw electric candles that require nothing but a donation of a coin (any coin I think) and a random candle will flash a bit (so you can tell which is yours) and then lights up.  That was back in Urbino.  Now we are in Lucca; visited two churches today.  They both had real candles, some were votive candles arranged on holders in nice spiral patterns.

Lotion on a train2008-03-26 18:47

Wynette: We took the train today from Siena to Lucca (actually 3 trains). On the second leg of the trip, the train was crowded and we squeezed into 2 free seats in a set of 6 where 4 young people were already sitting — they were probably early college age, 3 young women and a young man, probably traveling together. They all were listening to ipods and didn’t seem to be in a good mood, a little sullen-seeming, not friendly. Maybe it was because they were so into their music. (I can relate to that.)  They spoke among themselves (minimally) and Charlie and I talked a bit, but our two groups did not interact. After about 20 minutes, one of the girls pulled out a tube of hand cream. She put some on her hands and then offered some to the boy sitting beside her (across from me). He took some. Then she passed it on to the girl sitting on the other side of the boy (across from Charlie). She also took some cream into her palm. Then she offered it to the girl across from her (and beside me) who took some. Then she  looked at me and smiled. I held out my hand and she put some in my palm. We all laughed. Of course, then she offered it to Charlie. He declined. But by then the ice was broken. The cream smelled good — like coconut. Charlie and I got off the train (in Pisa to change trains for Lucca) shortly after that.

Villa Cristina2008-03-27 16:44

Wynette: We decided not to stay in Siena after all. We did need to return our rental car in Siena so, the night before, we stayed in a little hill town, Castellina in Chianti, 20 kilometers north, at a bed and breakfast named Villa Cristina that we read about in Osterie & Locande D’Italia book (“a guide to traditional places to eat and stay in Italy”). We had a large, pretty, comfortable room with a great bed. The front garden/patio was filled with blooming tulips and forsythia and other flowers. They have 5 guest rooms. I think we were the only guests. That didn’t stop them from providing an amazing breakfast, the best we’ve had so far. Perfect soft-boiled eggs, the first on this trip, and a delicious hard cheese and some good pears and warm croissant-type pastries filled with a soft cheese. Plus the usual good muesli and fruit juices and yoghurt and bread and jams and Nutella and ham and sausage and soft cheeses and capucini. The B&B is owned/run by a remarkably friendly and kind couple. We were lucky to find this place to stay.

Breakfast at Villa Cristina:

Checking out:

Carrying the bags through the garden:

Parking sign:

Husband/Wife Oops2008-03-28 17:25

Wynette: I told Charlie with dead certainty when we first got here that husband in Italian is figlio and wife is figlia (pronounced fill-yo and fill-ya). So, we’ve been calling each other figlio/figlia and referring to each other to others that way. Frequently. (E.g., “Mi figlio has the hotel key upstairs.”) Well, tonight, more than 2/3 into our trip, for some reason, I decided to double check this in a dictionary. Well, turns out, figlio means son and figlia means daughter. So, we’ve been referring to each other this whole trip as “son” and “daughter”! The correct words are marito (husband) and moglie (wife, pronounced mol-yay). Later, after we knew of our mistake, we were walking to the laundry and on the way saw a business named something like Buca e Figlii, which, of course, means Buca and Sons. That would have been a dead give away since, before, I would have thought that meant Buca and Spouses.

Changing rooms2008-03-28 17:39

Charlie: in Urbino, the hotel had wifi but they said it only worked in the lobby and on the first floor. Being aesthetes and not in any way web junkies we opted for the third floor for the view, which was spectacular. It fired up the pc and it found the network at 58% (no password) and it worked flawlessly the whole time. We uploaded photos and never had a problem.

In Lucca they said they had wifi and we took a room on the second floor. the wifi reception was terrible, basically unusable, and the view was just of the building across the street.  Some sort of wifi karma I guess.

In a related story, the shower in Lucca had incredibly low water pressure. It was one of those spray things that you can take off. When we did that and turned it so the “spray” was pointing up, it did not go up at all and just dribbled off the spray head. In other words, less than gravity pressure.

Assuming these two issues were related we asked for a room on the first floor and got switched today. The wifi here is great and the water pressure looks much better.  And this room has cool floor-to-ceiling french windows in the bathroom.
Being shy people we were a little reluctant to ask. One issue was of the reason to give, is low shower pressure enough or do we admit we can’t live without wifi? We chose wifi and they seemed happy with that.

***2008-03-28 20:17

I have always liked the Michelin green guides. One thing I like is they are not afraid to give an opinion. All sights are given 0, 1, 2 or 3 stars. Three stars is worth a journey to see and two stars is worth a side-trip to see. At least that is what it used to be, I just checked mine and now *** is highly recommended, ** in recommended, and * is interesting. They mention some sites with no stars at all but do not give an interpretation of that. I used to joke that it meant that if you were driving by, and your head was already turned in that direction, then you should look at it.

The * system is quirky It is common to have a * church with a ** alter, sometimes even a *** window although a two-star spread in a site in uncommon, except in whole cities. Rome, of course, is *** and so, of course, St.Peters, and so, of course, is Michelangelo’s Pieta inside it, but St. Peters also contains ** statues and * angels and the porch and facade have no stars. In an interesting turn, the dome is ***, but the summit of the dome has no stars but it does have a *** view.

I was touring France some years ago with my family and the two boys quickly learned the Michelin star system. We would stop at a church and if it was only one * then they would stay in the car and my wife and I would tour the church. They would get out to see a ** church.

I don’t like the Michelin guide as much as I used to though since my values have changed. I am not so interested in seeing particular things as just seeing what is there at a place. I sometimes say I haven’t seem everything but I have seen one of each type of thing. This is, of course, not literally true but it is close enough to being true that it is a good working guide.

Michelin only likes specific attractions, buildings, paintings, statues, views, etc. But if you go into a little housewares shop and get a souvenir vegetable peeler that you will use almost every day and you have a pleasant interaction with the shopkeeper and you try to explain what you want in Italian and she corrects you in a good-natured way, Michelin does not give that any stars but it is a *** experience for me.

Hotels, as we mentioned before, have one to five stars. It seems more common to have a five-level rating scale than the Michelin 3 (and a half maybe) level scale. As you know, especially if you saw Ratatouille, Michelin also rates restaurants with one, two or three stars.

Lucca Brava2008-03-28 20:26

Charlie: We decided we didn’t want to go to Siena as originally planned (see previous post). We had heard good things about Lucca as an under-appreciated city to visit and there was a NY Times travel article about it. It turned out to be a good choice.

Lucca is fairly large, about 80,000, but the Old City is small enough to walk around it. Since it is not one of those damn hill towns, all the streets are flat and people ride bicycles a lot. We see bicycles parked all over, usually old ones, since they are just used to get around the city. This means there are fewer cars. The whole feel of the city is calm and we love to just walk around. Despite not being a hill town they do have a wall, but, since they are not a hill town, they have more space so the wall is a standard 20-foot wall on the outside but on the inside is a large berm the height of the wall and 40 feet wide. There is a biking and walking path all around the wall, which is 2.5 miles around, and there is a large green space area all around the outside of the wall. It is quite pleasant to walk around the wall and see the city. We rented a tandem bicycle and biked around the wall this morning.

Lucca has some impressive churches and is filled with lovely piazzas. Here is the facade of the Duomo:

and an interesting circular piazza:

Market in Lucca:

Grass chair and table at the market:

And Lucca even has Old Charlie:

We have a nice little hotel (Albergo San Martino) which has eight rooms, six double and two suites, that was just remodeled, just remodeled, they finished last week. In fact, we checked into a room with no shutters and when we got back from lunch it did have shutters, newly installed. The Michelin guide said the staff is young and energetic and they are, and they speak English (and French and German) and are very nice. The rooms are in a yellow-orange theme and are quite pretty. The breakfast is quite good and visually appealing with the same orange theme in the dishes.

Entrance to Albergo San Martino

Bathroom of our first room

First room

Bathroom of our second room

Hill Town Fatigue2008-03-28 20:44

There is a something very appealing about walled hill towns. There is nothing like your first hill town, for us it was Orvieto (on a previous trip). I have seen several hill towns described in travel books as the perfect hill town. You need to have walls, of course, complete if possible but few are. They have the twisty, little streets, churches, beautiful views. We stayed in a near-perfect hill town in Croatia.

We started this trip with five days in Spoleto which is a very nice hill town. Later we spent three days in Urbino which is the only hill town in Italy (they say) which doesn’t have urban development around it, although there seemed to be a little.

But there is a sameness about the hill towns and the streets are awfully steep when you walk around, and space is always at a premium. And there are usually lots of tourists at hill towns because everyone likes them. Anyway we decided to skip Siena. It just seemed like it would be too crowded and too much the same.

We enjoyed the Adriatic beach towns that we stayed in, especially Senigallia, so we decided to drop off the car in Siena and immediately take the train to Lucca.

Hill town pix:  the steep alley up to our hotel in  Urbino:



The hill town of Castelina in Chiati, near Siena:

More photos2008-03-28 20:50


More food:


Easter cake

Snow on the drive through the mountains from Urbino to Siena:

We wear our best clothes to the laundromat because all the other clothes are dirty.

Electric candles in Lucca Duomo:

Castles and Forts2008-03-29 07:46

Every walled town is essentially a fort. For higher security or a smaller investment they would build a castle, or castelina (small castle I think). The larger ones seem to be called roccas. We have seen a lot of all of these.

Many of these castles have large, cavernous rooms. I was reading the sign on one of these and they said the room was divided into two floors using wood structures. One huge room was divided into two living floors and each “floor” room itself was divided three rooms, which made them of reasonable size.

I had never heard that before but it makes a lot of sense. You build the big rooms in stone which is strong and good for defense but then you build the smaller rooms out of wood which is easier to work with and easier to change. And the wood structure is protected from the elements. Very sensible and it makes the large rooms more logical.

Lucca has a wall all around but was never attacked, maybe because it had walls. The only time the walls were used was to prevent a flood from flooding the city. And now, they use it to bicycle on.

Driving in Italy2008-03-29 07:56

We were worried that the driving might be hard having heard of the aggressive Italian drivers. They are aggressive but overall the driving has not been bad, you just have to get used to their style. On the freeway, more correctly “payway” since they are toll roads (but no toll house cookies — the toll houses are all automated), people follow pretty close when they don’t think you are driving fast enough.

I read once about someone who got a ticket on a French freeway for driving too long in the left lane, which they reserve just for passing. I don’t think that is true here since I have seen people linger in the left lane, but more often they move up close behind you, pass, and quickly move back into the right lane. When I passed in a slower American style once I had a BMW right on my bumper flashing his lights.

They drive pretty fast in these little hill towns and walled towns even though the streets are narrow. There are no sidewalks and so the  pedestrians have to watch out. But there seems to be a compact between the pedestrians and the drivers, the cars are aggressive but they give way if you assert you right.

I was talking to a friend who lived in New York once who said that NY drivers look for a certain rhythm and look in pedestrians. If they see it they know the pedestrian is a New Yorker and knows the rules of walking and they will be able to predict accurately what they will do. It seems like something similar is going on in the Italian towns.

Italian countryside2008-03-29 19:52

People have been living in Italy (and all of Europe) for a long time. When you drive through Italy you don’t see very much wilderness, a bit in the mountains. In central Italy, where we were driving the countryside is low, rolling hills with some higher hills and mountains. Everywhere you look it is green fields with houses dotting the countryside. It is still”natural” but a man-made version of natural.

I guess you call that rural, but it is more like America was rural a long time ago because most of the farms are small and the rural areas don’t seem to be dying like they are in the US. Large-scale agriculture makes food prices go down but there is such a large cost in other areas that it doesn’t seem like it is worth it.

List of things to write about2015-12-16 20:39



Lunch in Senigallia friendly talkative man, people friendly and then say bad things about you, Charlie’s book on India.

Laundry in Senigallia

Le Marche and Umbria greener than Tuscany

Urbino: Easter Lunch

Urbino: view from window

Decided to go to Lucca instead of Siena (not as many tourists)

Castellina in Chianti, Villa Cristina

Lotion on the train

We took the train today from Siena to Luca (actually 3 trains). On the second leg of the trip, the train was crowded and we squeezed into 2 free seats in a set of 6 where 4 young people were already sitting — they were probably early college age, 3 young women and a young man. They all were listening to ipods and didn’t seem to be in a good mood, a little sullen-seeming, not friendly. Maybe it was because they were so into their music. (I can relate to that.) After about 20 minutes, one of the girls pulled out a tube of hand cream. She put some on her hands and then offered some to the boy sitting beside her (across from me). He took some. Then she passed it on to the girl sitting on the other side of the boy (across from Charlie). She also took some cream into her palm. Then she offered it to the girl across from her (and beside me) who took some. Then she smiled and offered some to me. I took some, too. We all laughed. Of course, then she offered it to Charlie. He declined. But by then the ice was broken. The cream smelled good — like coconut. Charlie and I got off the train (in Pisa) shortly after that.