Sunday, July 23, 2017

Four Days In Rome Part 2

Rome_Italy_Vittorio Emanuele Monument_3754We slept late on Sunday morning and missed breakfast at The Beehive, but in Rome – or anywhere in Italy – a coffee and a croissant are as close as the nearest bar. We stopped at a bar near Termini for a quick breakfast then once again walked down the via Nazionale,
towards the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, nicknamed “the typewriter” or “the wedding cake”. The street in between the monument and the Coliseum is pedestrian-only on Sundays, which makes the area feel a little calmer, and certainly less dangerous when crossing the street!

 Although there were no cars there were lots and lots of people. Despite the heat, a beautiful summer day in Rome is not to be wasted, and the street, and the steps of the monument were crowded.

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We walked around the monument and up the broad stairs that lead to the Compodoglio, the piazza designed by Michelangelo at the top of the Capitoline hill. The two buildings that house the Capitoline Museums face each other across the piazza, and are connected by an underground passageway. Although the museum is quite large, and you might be tempted to see one building and skip the other – DON'T!

 I say this for several reasons, but first let me say that yes, I do understand that for most of you, your time in Rome is limited. You want to see the 'big' sites: The Forum, the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, St Peter's and the Vatican Museum. Spending time in a museum, even a smaller one like the Borghese, might not be on your list, and I get it. However, if you've been to Rome more than once, try to expand your list, add something new. Additionally, sometimes it rains when you're on vacation. Sometimes it's miserably hot. For these times it's always nice to have an alternative, and a museum can save the day. Be sure to make note of the closing day (usually, but not always, Monday), and if you plan to visit a large museum like the Capitoline, pace yourself!

Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_View of St Peter's_3946 One of the nice things about the Capitoline Museum is their restaurant, which includes a terrace with a view of the dome of St Peter's. We reserved a table at the restaurant's covered, protected, outside area, but either things have changed dramatically, or, more likely, I'd just forgotten how outrageously expensive it was. Next time we'll grab our food from the cafeteria-style counter (inside) and eat our meal inside, then walk out to the terrace to enjoy the view and snap a few pics. To add insult to injury, the waiter we had in the outdoor section was arrogant and condescending, so, lesson learned. The nice thing for a larger museum like this is that you can easily break up your visit with a meal, or just a snack, then continue your visit refreshed.

Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_View of Forum_3954Another tip: when walking through the underground passage connecting the two buildings, don't miss the corridor (accessed up a small staircase) that will give you an incredible view of the Roman forum. It's easy to miss, but well worth the diversion!

Although not every piece is marked in English, most, if not all of the exhibits and explanations are in English, so you can read as much detail as you want – sometimes it's too much detail, but it's always nice to know some of the history of the pieces you're seeing. 

The first building you visit, the Palazzo dei Conservatori, is filled with sculptures and artwork, while the second building, the Palazzo Nuovo, is a work of art unto itself.  The rooms!  The ceilings!  The chandeliers!  The frescoes! Much like the Borghese, the rooms in the Palazzo Nuovo were designed to impress, to dazzle and to amaze, and they do all that and more!
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Walking around on hard surfaces all day is tiring. The heat is tiring. Trying to absorb all the art, history and beauty is tiring. Pace yourself! We stopped in the mini Eataly in the Piazza della Republica.  Yes, it's a great place to find food items from all over Italy, but I didn't see anything I couldn't live without.  In retrospect we could have bought some snacks for dinner, but at the time we weren't sure what our plans were.  Later we walked up to the bar near Termini and bought two panini, some fruit and a small bottle of wine for an alfresco dinner on our tiny balcony.

Mondays can be tricky because many (but not all!) museums are closed on Mondays.  It was way too hot to go wandering around the Forum, Coliseum and Palatine Hill, so we decided to take the advice of a fellow traveler from the Slow Europe Forum and visit CineCitta, founded in 1937 by Mussolini (!), and made famous by Federico Fellini.  CineCitta is home to such blockbusters as Ben Hur and Cleopatra, and the spaghetti westerns of the '60's.  Martin Scorsese filmed "Gangs of New York" here, and more recently HBO's "Rome" ☺was shot here.  It's an easy Metro ride to the studios, which are located right next to the Metro stop, about 15 minutes from Termini.

Cinecitta_Rome_Italy_movies_3985We had a little over an hour to wander through the exhibits, housed in two buildings.  We saw costumes, posters and read about the many, many films that were made here.  Our guided tour in English through the lot was scheduled for 11:30.  The meeting point was the gift shop/cafe, where I found the souvenirs, like this clever fan, to be out of my price range.  (The fan, designed to look like strips of film, cost €23)



The lot tour took us to a large soundstage, then to various sets, all very realistic until you tapped them or took a look behind them to see the scaffolding that was holding them up. We saw sets for "Gangs of New York" and "Rome", as well as a production in progress.

At the end of the tour we took the Metro back to Termini, and walked down to the new Mercato Centrale, a huge, modern food court which has just recently opened.  There are many, many choices for food here.  We selected a table, chose a pasta restaurant, ordered our food and watched as it was being prepared.  The plates were handed over the counter to us to enjoy.  Servers came around, circulating from the large bar that's in the middle, taking drink orders.  We shared our table with a couple from Sicily who now live in Milan, so yes, all roads do lead to Rome!

After lunch we walked back to the Beehive to retrieve our bags, then walked back to Termini to catch our train back to Umbria.  Due to increased security, you must now show your ticket before being allowed to enter the boarding area for the trains.  Unfortunately our train was delayed 35 minutes, which affected our connection in Foligno.  We could have stayed longer in Rome and taken the direct train back to Ponte San Giovanni, but it's impossible to predict something like this.

We had a great time in Rome, and despite the heat I'm glad we went.  There is always something new to see in Rome, whether it's a newly discovered/opened site, or something we just haven't gotten around to seeing before, and of course there are old favorites like The Borghese, The Vatican, The Forum and Coliseum that can be visited again and again and again.  Rome is indeed the Eternal City.

Click on the link for all the photos from the Capitoline Museums: Capitoline Museum, Rome Italy 2017

Click on the link for all the photos from CineCitta: Cinecitta Rome Italy 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Four Days In Rome Part 1

I do NOT recommend visiting Rome in the middle of July, but a concert forced us to join the throngs of parched, sweaty tourists during not just a month that's traditionally hot, but also during a heatwave and a drought. Here's what we did, with some suggestions, and a few lessons learned.

We arrived in Rome at midday. We had taken the train from Umbria, but many people arrive directly from the airport after a long overnight flight. If Rome is your first point of entry, try to allow some time to adjust to the time difference, and don't over-book yourself. One of my top recommendations is to book a walking tour of some sort. These vary from inexpensive, basic sights of Rome to more expensive, comprehensive, and even customized, tours. Do some research and pick what suits your budget and your interests, but trust me when I say a guide will help not only save you time, but educate and entertain you in the process. You will come away with a greater appreciation for the sites you saw, and your time will have been spent efficiently.

We dropped our bags off at THE BEEHIVE, our go-to place in Rome. Like most places, they'll let you drop your luggage even if your room isn't ready, so we were able to grab some lunch and begin enjoying the city. We'd brought insulated water bottles to carry with us, because in the 90º heat and the intense sun, staying hydrated was a priority. We had lunch at the small mom-and-pop restaurant just around the corner from the Beehive. The Regina, just two blocks from Termini, the main train station, serves good food at reasonable prices and we were welcomed like family.

After lunch we headed back towards Termini, hung a right towards Piazza della Republica, then headed down via Nazionale. We walked in the shade – another simple tip – to avoid the blazing mid-day sun. Our plan was to visit the Domus Romane, a fairly new exhibit, housed in the Palazzo Valentini, directly in front of Trajan's column. The Palazzo was built during the Renaissance, directly over ancient Roman houses, and now thanks to plexiglass floors and projected lighting, we were able to see the ancient Roman houses (Domus Romane), and to get a better idea of how the rooms would have been decorated for the Imperial Romans who inhabited them. The tour lasted about an hour, and was well worth our time. If we'd arrived earlier we could have eaten at the restaurant next door, Terre e Domus, which boasts of traditional Roman dishes and wines. This restaurant is worth noting for its location – not much else nearby!

Our walk back up the via Nazionale wasn't difficult – the hill is very gradual – but the heat of the day was tiring. We stayed in the shade as much as possible, and once back at The Beehive (in The Sweets, just around the corner), we were happy to indulge in some air-conditioned air. We stretched out for a brief rest, but be warned – unless you're staying in a high-priced hotel, you probably won't have television. For most of us, as long as there's WiFi, we can stay connected via our phones, so this wasn't a problem. That evening we met a friend who lives in Rome for dinner at MEID IN NEPOLS, just a few blocks from our room, and all enjoyed a traditional Neapolitan pizza for dinner.

Day two began with breakfast at the Beehive's cafe. Yogurt, croissants and coffee got us going, and thanks to the shared kitchen at The Sweets, we had cold water (and even some ice!) for our scheduled visit to the Borghese Gallery. When planning your visit to any city, decide which museums you'd like to see, then check for opening days and times. Do some research to find out which ones require reservations, and which ones recommend reservations. I realize sometimes it's not easy to predict how your day will go, and when you'll be at a certain location, but sometimes a little extra planning will go a long way.
For the Borghese, reservations are required, and it's easy to book tickets online. The only other museum where I strongly recommend reservations is the Vatican. This is also one museum where I would strongly recommend a guided tour. Not only will you save time in line, you'll understand what you're seeing, and hear interesting stories about what your seeing, rather than just the dry, boring details.

 Okay, back to the Borghese. Entries are timed, so you know exactly when you need to be there. We'd taken the #910 bus from Termini, which dropped us off right at the entrance. I took my printed receipt downstairs to exchange for our tickets, checked my purse, and waited our 11 o'clock entry time. Technically you're only allowed 2 hours in the museum, but it's small, covering 2 floors, and two hours will be more than enough time. I recommend renting the audio guide – you can move at your own pace, and listen to as much or as little detail as you want. Knowing what you're looking at, knowing who created it and what makes it special enough to be in a museum is definitely a worthwhile investment.

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Borghese_Rome_Italy_Ceiling_3824  We'd plan to grab a panino or a salad at the museum cafe, but unfortunately it's closed, so we walked to Viale San Paolo del Brasile, a main street with many buses. We asked the driver “Termini?” and when he nodded yes, we boarded. Bus and Metro tickets are easily purchased at various locations around town, and we'd bought four tickets that morning. Bus tickets, Metro tickets and trains tickets MUST be validated! For the Metro (Rome's subway) it's unavoidable, since you need to insert your ticket in order to go through the turnstile, for trains the machines are on the walls near the trains – not on the trains! - and for busses the machine are on the busses themselves. After the short ride back to Termini, we walked the two blocks to The Beehive, had lunch at The Regina once again, then returned to our room for a nap – the main purpose of our visit to Rome was the U2 concert, and we knew it would be a late night! Once again, the air conditioning was heavenly!

We'd originally planned to take the Metro, then transfer to a bus to get to the Olympic stadium, about 4 ½ miles away, but when friend offered to drive us, we gladly accepted. We arrived around six so that we could exchange our vouchers for proper tickets. Being Italy, there were no signs, but with a little luck and a few helpful directions we found the office, got our tickets and walked back to the stadium. We knew our tickets were in the next-to-the-top row, in the middle of the stadium, but really had no idea how good or bad our view of the stage would be. Knowing that most concerts now use large Jumbotrons, we weren't too concerned. Additionally we knew that the Olympic Stadium features a covering over the roof, much like the ancient Coliseum used, so we knew we'd be protected from the sun.

The stadium filled up quickly, as well as the open space in front of the stage. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds took the stage at 7:30 and played for an hour. Although I'm not familiar with him or his new group, I was in the minority and his set was received with enthusiasm. The guy two rows in front of us was on his feet from the first note and knew every word to every song – he had a blast!

After Noel Gallagher left the stage it was a full hour before U2 took the stage – it seemed excessively long since all of U2's instruments were already set up – but I have no idea if this is normal for this tour. In any event, once U2 took the stage the crowd went wild! THIS was who we had all come to see! The complete set list AND all the videos are HERE.  

I hadn't looked at the set list prior to the concert, so it was a wonderful surprise to hear my favorite U2 song, “One”, during their encore. 'Encore' might not be the right word – I think it was really part 2, since it lasted nearly an hour!

I have a side note for anyone from Louisville who might be reading this: not ONE person left before the last note was played. NOT. ONE.

We had heard from friends that getting home from the concert might be challenging, and indeed it was. Although extra busses had been added, every one that passed us was jam-packed. We walked one stop closer, with no luck. We walked to the next stop, but still the busses were full. For us to get home we'd need to take a bus to a Metro stop, then take the Metro back to Termini. We'd heard the Metro was staying open one hour later than usual, until 1:30, but with all the busses full, and with no more busses arriving, we didn't know if we'd make it. It would take us a good hour and a half to walk home, through unfamiliar streets, and that just wasn't in our plans.

 As many of you know, in the states, after any large event, taxis would be lined up, waiting to whisk people away, but not in Rome. In Rome you need to make sure you're taking a legal taxi, because rogue taxis are a problem. Rogue taxis can be exhorbitantly expensive at best, and dangerous at worst, so you must get a cab at a hotel, at a taxi stand, or call for a cab. We tried to call the number but of course the line was constantly busy. I was getting more than a little concerned while I stood watching the horizon, hoping another bus would appear.

Art walked over to a local policeman and asked if it was always like this. “Yes” was the reply. Honestly, how do most people, who rely on public transportation in a city like Rome, get home after a concert or soccer match? Art explained our dilemma to the officer, and eventually he said, “Wait, I'll try to call a taxi for you. I'll call the dispatcher.” We weren't sure if he had a special, direct number for the dispatcher, but we thanked him and waited expectantly. After just a few minutes a taxi appeared out of nowhere – it didn't come from the street but seemed to come from the parking lot! Needless to say we didn't ask questions. We thanked the officer profusely and jumped into the cab. Whew! By this time traffic was pretty much cleared out, and the €17.50 for the cab ride – right to our door – was worth every penny and we tipped the driver generously. What a night! We turned on the AC, turned off the alarm clock and fell into bed with U2 songs still playing in our heads.

There are five albums with our pictures from this visit to Rome on our FLICKR PAGE

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Speaking Of Slow Travel....

I wrote about my fascination with transatlantic travel several years ago, in THIS POST.  Transatlantic cruises allow us to arrive at our destination without jetlag, and, if you plan wisely, don't cost much more than a plane ticket.  Additionally you also get up to 2 weeks of long, lazy days and several interesting ports of call.  Until recently we'd only been able to cruise from Europe back to the U.S., but my real dream was to cruise to Europe - I can never sleep on a plane, even with lay-flat seats (which we can afford anyway!) - so the drive to our final destination was always torture after a long flight.

Once Art retired from Churchill Downs we were free to cruise both to and from Europe.  We cruised to Barcelona last spring for our vacation in France, and we took the same cruise this year, arriving in Barcelona then driving to Italy.

The first stop on the cruise to Barcelona was Key West.  I'd never been to Key West before, so last year we toured the island and visited the Hemingway house, which was very interesting.  Other than that, Key West seems to be bar after bar, interspersed with food shops (key lime pie anyone?) and the usual T-shirt/souvenir shops.  This year we wandered around, not really looking for anything, but at one jewelry stand I spied a whale tale charm.  Hmmmm....I had a gold fluke, a souvenir from a trip to Hawaii many years ago, but since my hair's gone silver I've switched my jewelry to silver, so perhaps this would be the place to find a silver whale tale.  The search was on!

Whale fluke_Capricorn Jewelers_Key West_3377After several unsuccessful stops we found Capricorn Jewelers, owned by Loukas Kongos.  Mr Kongas, was born in Greece, studied jewelry making in Milan, and now calls Key West home.  He's designed some interesting bracelets, and to my great relief had exactly the size and style of whale tale I wanted,  I had my first souvenir of our vacation!

Our next stop was a new one, Philipsburg, the capital of Dutch St Maarten.  The season was definitely over, and ours was the only ship in port. The streets nearest the beach were filled with shops, but the further away from the beach we walked, the more run-down the area appeared.  We only spent a few hours here, and I don't know much about St Maarten, or the French side of the island, but I'm guessing tourism is the biggest industry. I'm sure there are incredible views and some great snorkeling and scuba diving.

After we left St Maarten we then had seven days at sea, which meant seven days with absolutely no agenda, no sites to see, no worries about making it back to the ship on time!  That's real slow travel!

Here are some shots from St Maarten, and a few from the ship itself.  Our all pictures are available on our FLICKR PAGE.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Traveling SLOW

Many of you know me today because we 'met' years ago on the Slow Travel website/forum.  While many of you remain virtual friends, I can't begin to count the number of real, solid, up-close-and personal friendships we've made because of ST.  Although Pauline sold ST many years ago, the site remained active, but experienced a gradual decline as many of us joined Pauline's new site, SLOW EUROPE.  Many of us also continued our friendships via social media, most specifically Facebook.  Eventually Slow Travel shut down, but the friendships remain.

Right now we're staying with our best friend in Italy.  We originally met her through a recommendation from someone on the ST message board, back in 2002.  We just had dinner with friends we met through ST, and later became friends with via the Expats In Italy site, which is also now gone.  In addition to the friendships, I can't begin to tell you how much valuable advice and insider information we've gained over the years.

Any time I have a question about travel to Europe, SLOW EUROPE is my first stop.  Whether I'm looking for restaurant suggestions for Rome, day trip ideas from London, or suggestions about where to base in France, the people on the SE forum always come through for me, often suggesting things I would never have found in a guide book.  Right now I'm researching for 2018, throwing around ideas about possible itineraries.  I feel like I'm thinking out loud, narrowing down my choices based on the experiences of others.  While every suggestion might not make it into my final plans, every suggestion made is what helps make my final plan my own, because I've had so many different ideas to choose from.

Here are just a few photos of places we've discovered, thanks to our slow travelin' friends:

St Cirq la Popie, France

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Trulli in Alberobello, Italy

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Vineyards in Barolo, Italy

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Interior of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain

La Sagrada Familia


Friday, June 23, 2017

I Heard It Through The Grapvine

As I've said before, Italy is all about connections.  Rather than setting out on your own it's always advisable to ask a local for the best place to buy anything, for the best restaurants, plumber, or doctor.  Additionally, Italians are definitely not shy about sharing their (unsolicited) opinions on any and everything.

Art and I both needed haircuts, so of course we asked around and decided to try the shop in nearby San Niccolo in Celle, just down the hill from us.  We stopped in Andrea's shop one day to make an appointment, then returned on the designated time and day, hoping we'd be able to communicate our wishes.  The first visit to any hairdresser is always challenging, but when trying to communicate in a foreign language, the challenge is even greater.  And yes, I will admit once again that my Italian leaves much to be desired.

The shop was small, but Andrea was assisted by a young woman and I was called to sit in the chair after only a few minutes, despite the fact that there were 3 other women already in various stages of cutting and/or coloring.  Because my hair is so short there wasn't a lot of direction needed, so I just put myself in Andrea's care and began to chat - more or less.  I can usually get my point across because I'm using the words I know.  If I use an incorrect verb tense, as I'm sure I do on a regular basis, the Italians are very kind and understand what I'm trying to say.  My problem begins once they respond, using words I don't know, often including contractions and dialect, in addition to verb tenses I don't recognize.  Reading a foreign language is so much easier than listening - nearly every word ends in a vowel and I rarely know where one word ends and the other begins.  But I persist!

Canalicchio_3247 Somehow the conversation took a turn and Andrea asked us if we'd ever been to Canalicchio.  No, we'd never heard of it, what is it, and where is it?  Andrea told us it was a small borgo that had been restored by a group from Rome, that it was beautiful, and that it was just above Deruta.  He told us to exit the E45 at Ripabianca and head towards Bastardo until we saw the signs.  Okay, our curiosity was piqued!

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Relais Canalicchio
A few days later we decided to check out Canalicchio for ourselves.  The drive up up up the hillside above Deruta was beautiful, and once we were almost there we spied what we were sure was Canalicchio - there was a medieval tower, surrounded by attached buildings, right at the top of the hill.  Wow!

The entire borgo is now a luxury hotel,RELAIS CANALICCHIO, and we just began wandering through the maze of buildings.  A few people appeared, members of a group that wa staying there.  Some were artists, others were walkers, and each group had found the ideal spot to pursue their interests - Umbria has something for everyone!

Here are a few more pictures from that day, and as always the whole album is available on our FLICKR PAGE

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Do You Know Sagrantino?

Before we moved to Italy in 2003 I knew very little about wine.  What I did know was that it was usually expensive in restaurants, which kept me from ordering it, because the only other thing I knew about wine was that I had no idea what I liked.  Other than Chianti, I don't even think I knew the names of any wines, grapes or regions.

Although I now know a little more about wine - with the emphasis on 'little', the things I've learned are important.  Probably the most important thing I've learned about wine is that wine improves food and food improves wine and they should always always always be enjoyed together.  While I still can't tell you which wine pairs best with what food, I'm learning.

Cantina ChiorriWhen we lived in Louisville we enjoyed the wine tastings at Westport Wine and Whiskey.  In Italy there are so many wineries, ranging from tiny local home-based places to large, international companies, and many, many regional cantinas where you can fill up your 5 liter fiasco from a gas pump style hose for €1 per liter.  We recently visited Chiorri to take in the view and enjoy a refreshing glass of grechetto on a warm summer's afternoon.  Being able to have this wine by the glass let us sample, which led us to buy 5 liters to enjoy at home.

Those of you who know a bit about wine may know that Tuscany is famous for its' Brunello, and that Piemonte is known for Barolo and Barbaresco (And if you're interested,HERE is a link explaining the differences between those two wines, both made from the Nebbiolo grape.)  Here in Umbria there is also a very regional, very delicious and not as well know wine, Sagrantino,  There are about 50 producers of Sagrantino, and its production is strictly controlled to ensure the highest quality.

If you're visiting Umbria this year - and if you're not already making plans, start NOW! - the best way to see the beauty of Umbria and sample some of these great wines is to hire a knowledgeable guide.  We highly recommend GUSTO WINE TOURS.  Run by an English couple, Mark and Giselle Stafford, Gusto Wine Tours lets you meet the producers, mostly small, local places, sample the wines, not have to worry about driving,  enjoy the beautiful countryside, enjoy an authentic Umbrian lunch and spend the day with Mark, who is as knowledgeable about the wine as he is charming and witty!

Sharing the joys of Umbria, and of Sagrantino with the world is something we love to do.  If you've been putting off that trip because you're worried about earthquakes, please let me reassure you - Umbria is up an running, with little to no damage from earthquakes that occurred in other regions!  Come to Umbria, enjoy its' food, its' scenery, its' people and its' wine!  Book a tour with Mark and Giselle at GUSTO WINE TOURS for a truly special, unforgettable day!

You can also find Gusto Wine Tours on FACEBOOK.  

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

More Of Umbria

Because Kim and Bill's time in Umbria was so short we tried to maximize every moment.  Our first day together was spent in Orvieto, my favorite Umbrian town, included a fabulous lunch, then a visit to Todi.  The day ended with our arrival at La Locanda del Tramonto Infinito where Kim and Bill experienced the love, warmth and generosity of the Italian culture.  They instantly became part of our extended Umbrian family, and we wanted to make sure that this experience continued.

My previous post was about our morning in Deruta, visiting Tassi Ceramiche.  There we experienced warmth and generosity from Marco and Valeria, and although brief, I think during our time there we made friends for life.

We wanted to continue the Umbrian experience with as much tradition as we could, so we stopped for lunch at il Testone in Santa Maria degli Angeli. Il Testone is known for their torta al testo, a flat bread made on a hot griddle, cooked over hot coals.  Hot coals are also placed on top of the torta to ensure even cooking, then quickly brushed off when the bread is ready.  A raging fire provides a continuous supply of hot coals, as seen here:


The hot, flat bread is cut into wedges, then sliced horizontally and filled with meats and/or vegetables.  I think the most traditional filling for torta al testo is grilled sausage and cooked spinach, but there are many, many options, including prosciutto, which is what Bill chose.  And yes, when you're in Italy, is really IS all about the food.  And the wine.  And the people.

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