Friday, October 22, 2004


Our first houseguest, Laurie, arrived last Sunday. We went to pick her up at the train station in Perugia, where she was arriving from Florence. As we pulled up to the station, we saw several busses and LOTS of people. At first we were puzzled, but then decided that they must be going to the Chocolate Festival in Perugia.

Once we had parked and walked through the station, we saw that there was a special train set up just to shuttle people back and forth to the Chocolate Festival. A train left Ponte San Giovanni every ten minutes, just after another train had returned from Perugia. The round trip cost was only €2, and we thought this was a great deal.

We had been discussing our plan to go to the festival. We had decided to look for parking near the language school first, then go through the Galleria Kennedy and look in the parking lot near the escalators, and if that didn’t work, we’d look near the bus station before giving up. We knew parking would be hard to find, and we also knew that we could come back through the week when it would be less crowded.

When Laurie arrived, we asked her if she would like to go to the festival right away, and she was as enthusiastic about the idea as we were. We stowed her luggage in the car, bought our tickets, and rode the train into Perugia. Once there it was just a matter of following the crowd to the festival.

And what a crowd it was!!! There was a sea of people as far as the eye could see, and seeing any chocolate was almost impossible. There were three stages set up where people were carving huge blocks of chocolate into busts or castles…and the shavings were being distributed to the crowd. Music was playing, and booths lined not only the main street, but also several side streets.

It was hard to take in all the different varieties and brands, and most of the vendors didn’t seem too eager to give samples, so we bought a few things along the way, but I was mainly looking for the Perugina booth to buy some chocolate bananas for me, and a few treats for my kids and grandkids.

We had a few treats along the way…a cup of the thick hot chocolate, a hot torta al testo spread with a thick layer or Nutella, and a Baci or two. After pushing our way through the crowd from one end of town to the other, we were exhausted and ready to head home. The quick train ride back to Ponte San Giovanni had us back to our car around six, and we headed for San Venanzo, stopping by Ternana’s for a quick bite.

On Monday morning we headed to Marsciano for the market. We bought a few things, walked through the hidden medieval center of Marsciano, and stopped for some fresh pasta. We stuck our heads into the Tecnocasa office and Donatella said she had time to have a cup of coffee with us. Ternana’s had been so busy on Sunday night that Marushka had asked us to pay our bill the next time we came. Not wanting to let it slip our minds, we decided to stop by and settle up now.

After paying our bill and having coffee with Donatella, we walked back through the market and bought our usual market day lunch…porchetta sandwiches, then drove south to show Laurie the city of Todi.

Since it was early afternoon, everything in Todi was closed for lunch, but all we really wanted to do was walk around and let Laurie see the centro and the beautiful views. By the time we arrived back in San Venanzo, I introduced Laurie to finocchio (fennel), and prepared it for dinner. After cleaning and trimming, I parboiled the fennel, then sliced it into chunks and arranged it in a baking dish. I sprinkled it with olive oil and a good amount of grated Parmesan and a dusting of breadcrumbs. I stuck it in the fridge until it was time to be baked.

I planned to have tortellini stuffed with spinach and ricotta and coated with fresh pesto, the fennel, and bruschetta toped with diced tomatoes. Quick, simple, and very delicious.

On Tuesday we woke up to rain, rain, and rain. We had planned to go to Assisi, and since Laurie is only here for four days, we decided to continue as planned. We took umbrellas and hoped for the best. We were disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to show Laurie the beautiful views along the way, but luckily the clouds cleared just as we approached Assisi, so Laurie was able to see the magnificent basilica through the mist.

We parked at the far end of town and walked towards the basilica, window shopping along the way. My grandson Nicholas had asked me to help him with a school project…he had sent me a small cutout figure of a boy…Flat Stanley. A Flat Stanley had been sent by each member of Nicholas’s class to various places…our flat Stanley was one of the few to leave the United States, and our job was to photograph Flat Stanley at different locations. Luckily for Nicholas and Flat Stanley, he had arrived just as we left San Venanzo for Assisi.

We took several pictures of Flat Stanley at various places in Assisi, including the Basilica. The rain stopped and started and got heavier and lighter throughout the morning. Once we arrived at the Basilica we had a chance to dry off and warm up before we ventured out again.

On our way back through town towards our car, we stopped for lunch at a cute little place Art and I had found on a previous visit. We had wanted to try someplace new, but the other two places that had been recommended to us by Rebecca were both closed on Tuesday.

Our lunch was light but delicious. Laurie had green fettuccine with ceci and peppers. Art had spaghetti with pesto, and I had torta al testo with arugula and cheese. We tried to keep the lunch light because we knew we were having lasagna for dinner.

The drive home was the scenic route, past Bevagna and Montefalco, along the Strada del Vino, the wine road. The sky started to clear as we drove, and by the time we arrived in San Venanzo the sun was out.

Wednesday morning was beautiful and sunny…perfect for our planned trip to Orvieto. We wanted Laurie to be able to see Orvieto rising above the valley as we drove the mountain, and we weren’t disappointed. There was a layer of clouds BELOW Orvieto, making it appear even more magical.

We had arrived just in time to take the tour of the caves that had been dug by the Etruscans. The volcanic rock, tufa, is quite soft, and there are over one thousand caves in the area. Art and I had toured the caves before, but since I really like caves, we didn’t mind seeing them again.

We had time to tour the inside of the Duomo before the cave tour, and were especially glad that the majority of the scaffolding has been removed from the front of the Duomo.

After the cave tour we wandered down the shop filled streets towards our restaurant. Orvieto has loads of ceramic shops, and it’s always fun to look. We had a light lunch, then walked backed towards the funicular end of town to stroll through the castle grounds and visit St Patrick’s Well…an engineering marvel!

We drove back to San Venanzo the same way we had come…up and over Mt Peglia. The views are spectacular when it’s clear, especially when you can see Orvieto off in the distance.

Our schedule of sightseeing in the morning, lunch, then a leisurely drive home seemed to work well. We had time in the afternoon to relax or nap, and ate dinner at home every night. We did drive down to Marsciano one evening after dinner so that Laurie could sample Stefania’s wonderful gelato, and none of us were disappointed.

On Thursday we awoke to another beautiful day, and had planned to visit Perugia. We thought we could visit the archaeological museum and then take a quick stroll through the center of Perugia and the Chocolate Festival, since Laurie had seen so little of it on Sunday due to the crowds.

Once we got into Perugia, the traffic was extremely heavy, and parking was nowhere to be found. So much of our time was spent stuck in traffic and creeping along that we decided to leave Perugia and just drive out to the Perugina factory. We hoped that our friend Corinna would be there, since we hadn’t seen her for several months.

Once we arrived at the factory in San Sisto, a suburb of Perugia, we were surprised to see several tour buses parked in the lot. We (barely) found a parking spot, and walked towards the museum. I was sure that during this very busy week tours were not being given, but luckily I was wrong. A school group was just getting ready to tour the factory, and we asked if it was okay if we joined in. One of the employees said yes, and said that we would see Corinna after the tour.

This was our fourth tour of Perugina, and it was the busiest we’ve ever seen it. I think every machine must have been working…Baci were flowing down conveyor belts, being wrapped, and being packed into containers of varying sizes and shapes. Every Baci in the world is produced at this plant, so it’s a non stop job. Elsewhere other chocolates were being produced, wrapped and packaged. The large hollow Easter eggs that contain tiny toys were already in production, and these were being unmolded and packed with toys as we watched.

Since this was a large group of teenaged kids, no commentary was given, but in the past, when the group was smaller, the guide had stopped at various points to tell us about the specific machines and operations.

Once we were out of the factory, we re-entered the museum where Perugina products and advertisements from years past are displayed. Also on display was the world’s largest Baci, weighing in at 13.183 pounds! This one is a copy of the one made last year which was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records. I think they plan to shave this one into small pieces and give it to the crowd on the closing day of the Chocolate Festival.

As we had done in Assisi and Orvieto, we took pictures of Flat Stanley with the giant Baci, and with some of the chocolate displays. Although Art was a bit chagrinned at having to hold up this little paper doll, since this is a project for our grandson, he suffered this humiliation with grace. Everyone else was happy to pose with flat Stanley once we explained the project.

On Friday morning when we took Laurie to Orvieto to catch the train to Rome, Flat Stanley had his picture taken with the trains. He had also been olive picking, seen an Ape, and sat on a cinghiale!

Laurie was headed to Rome for a short one day visit…her plane leaves on Saturday morning to take her back to London, and then back to the U.S. She’s had two weeks of London and Italy, and plans to come back. We had a lot of fun taking her around, showing off our adopted city/region/country. We only had one day of bad weather, and managed to sightsee despite the rain.

We were happy to find a message on our answering machine from Emmelunga telling us that our armadio will be delivered next Tuesday, and Mauro flagged us down to tell us that our garage door will be replaced on Monday. It seems to have developed a large bubble, maybe from being exposed to the hot afternoon sun.

We had a call from fellow slow travelers Jack and Suzy, and hope to get together with them in the next few weeks. They are here for several weeks to house hunt, although the dollar is taking such a nose dive right now this might not be the time to buy! I hope this poor exchange rate will improve with a new administration, and analysts say that this is a normal pre-election occurrence. I hope they’re right…the euro now costs over $1.26, which means we lose 26% of every dollar we convert. Ouch!


At 10/23/2004 03:15:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Italian for fennel is (finocchio)

At 10/23/2004 05:32:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The one good thing about the dollar being so low is that it will discourage Americans from buying property in Italy.

At 10/23/2004 06:02:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo!!! I agree with the last comment. One less American expat means one less blog, and one less self- appointed expert on Italian life.

At 10/25/2004 03:18:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judith again.
First a reply to the above anonymities. I don't think Barb proposes herself as an expert, but an explorer. In fact, in New York City alone there are over 100,000 Italians-- not Italian Amaericans, but regular passport holding Italians, so I don't think American expatriates need apologise for their presence in Italy.
I think if you don't like this or other expat blogs, maybe you should spend your online time elsewhere.
Barb, I took the electric train into Perugia Saturday to buy my year's supply of Valrhona for cooking. It was unpleasant. Crowds were awful, they were running special trains from Ponte S Giovanni, but using our trains as well. I went in, bought what I needed, bought a few of the new offerings of DOC chocolates, attempted a department store, but was quickly discouraged and left town on the next train.
I bought an extra kilo of Valrhona special for an Italian friend who is forever disappointed when she tries my chocolate recipes. I had recently tried the super-cacao Perugina, but found large hard bits of undermilled cacao in it and it was still oversugared. So here goes another year of truffles and torte and ganache!

At 10/25/2004 03:49:00 AM , Blogger Barbara said...

Judith you're right...I'm no expert on ANYTHING, much less life in Italy! I guess that's why I keep asking so many questions! As for the other comments, you really have to wonder about these people who read the blog, then say how much they dislike them...makes me think they must have really empty lives! Thanks for the defense, but at this stage of the game, I have to let Ricky Nelson of all people be my guide: "you can't please everyone so you gotta please yourself!" As for the chocolate festival, I learned my lesson...never again will I even THINK about going on the weekend! I wish I knew more about the various brands and percentages of chocolate to buy some really good stuff!

At 10/25/2004 06:28:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comment was not solely aimed at Barb, although there are a few instances when it could and should. There are many blooming American expatriates (what a load of cobblers!) who think a couple of years under their belts in Italy make them know-it-alls.

For example, “Judith here” is fond of the term "the little electric train". There is nothing special about the electric train. Almost all train lines in Italy are electric, not just the little one or the big one. If the term is used to refer to the Ferrovia Centrale Umbra system, then it’s potty. “The little electric train” in Umbria is not electric, it has never been. It has and it uses a diesel engine. The electrical line is in place, but it’s not operational. The latest news is all trains in that system will be changed in the near future but who knows how near is near.

Barb stated that my life is “really empty”. It depends on whose standard on which to base the question. I don’t think mine is so void that I have to use everyone with whom I came into contact as a source of babble. I wonder if your friends and acquaintances gave you permission to air their personal life and their family problems on the Net. Continue on that path and you will soon find yourself a nobby no-mate.

At 10/25/2004 07:15:00 AM , Blogger Barbara said...

When a person (repeatedly!) comes to a blog that they disagree with and obviously do not like, then I have to assume that their life must be a little dull. Just my observation. Please feel free to read other blogs that are better suited to your tastes...mine will remain the same...not authoratative, just observational. MY experiences, not intended to be taken as the last word for anyone. bye now!

At 10/25/2004 02:01:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read your blog a few times, only because I like Umbria and have considered purchasing a home there. Although I respect your premise that you began this blog only to chronicle your new life abroad and for your own enjoyment, you certainly are aware that your blog can be accessed from the Slow Travel website and on the first page of the site. You are a very frequent poster on Slow Travel's message boards and maintain a high profile there, so perhaps that has drawn a bit more attention to your blog and the critiques too.

Calling your blog boring is a bit too elementary and in your defense I would say that you have never once claimed to be a skilled journalist or to lead an exciting life. And, after all, if I were to publish the day to day activities of my life here in America, I have no doubt "boring" would surface often in the commentaries. I suppose some hold you ex-pat bloggers to a higher standard.

However, your multiple entries about what I have come to term as "the Americanization of Umbria" are tedious
(just so I don't use the word "boring"). On and on about hauling back special crystals from Lowe's to hold water in the rocky soil of Umbria and your constant quest for Duncan Hines, even in the Eternal City - please give us more about what you do like about Umbria and Italy and the Italians and less about the items you have found to be missing in the shops, or the implied notion that a full life can't be led without them. I certainly don't expect all to be rosy or fictional, so definitely write about the problems you encounter with a new language, a new form of government, the difficulties of being stranieri in a small town, etc.

I hope this criticism was constructive.

At 10/26/2004 07:23:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barb, I do love your blog! But I also have to agree with the poster above who questions your writing about friends and acquaintances (this applies to everyone else writing blogs too, not just Barb). For example, all your writings about the guy Enrico (?), the one who's into Texan things, portray him as a clown, a wacko. And his wife as a timid, sorry excuse for a woman. Sorry, maybe you didn't intend it that way, but that's how it comes across. I really don't think you would want them to know you are portraying them in this way. Or better yet, how would you feel if you discovered that Enrico was writing a blog about his inept, ridiculous American neighbors? Just some food for thought...


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