Sunday, April 10, 2005


The past few weeks have been busy. Easter Sunday found us in Todi having lunch at La Scaletta with Isabella and newly arrived Marguerite. The day was rainy, cloudy and windy, but because Easter was so early this year, that wasn’t a big surprise.

The day after Easter is a BIG holiday in Italy. Last year we had been invited to a picnic with Adamo and his family, but it was rained out. This year we had found several festivals that were being held on Easter weekend and Easter Monday. We had gone to Citta della Pieve on Saturday (detailed in a previous post), and planned to go to Montefalco on Monday.

Isabella had company arriving on Easter evening, but Marguerite was free…there would be no house-hunting on Monday. We enjoyed a fantastic day, also detailed in a previous post.

When Marguerite’s week in Todi was up, she moved to San Venanzo to spend her last four days with us. We picked her up in Todi, timing it so that we would arrive in Marsciano just in time for lunch at Ternana's!

As usual the food was incredible…Art and I are still amazed that eggplant has now become one of our favorite vegetables. Marguerite was able to tell from this one brief visit exactly why this place is our favorite. The friendliness of everyone who works there combined with the delicious food makes you think you’ve stopped by the house of your long lost Italian grandmother. And the good news is….it’s always dinnertime!!!!

After lunch we drove back to San Venanzo and got Marguerite settled. I had made lasagna for dinner, and it was waiting in the refrigerator. Marguerite had several houses that she still wanted to see, and she still needed to get in touch with Donatella at the TecnoCasa office in Marsciano.

We were glad that Donatella told us she would be in San Venanzo on Saturday, not only for Marguerite, but also for us. Although we’ve been here for eighteen months, Donatella had never seen the house since it was renovated. Every time she was in San Venanzo, either she didn’t have time to stop, or else we hadn’t been home. It was about time we gave her the tour.

Art and I were up early on Saturday and got our walk in before Donatella arrived around eleven. We gave her the tour and as expected, she hardly recognized the house. She was very complimentary, and seemed genuinely pleased with the many changes. We fixed her a cup of American style coffee, as requested, then agreed to meet at a local bar to see a few houses.

Marguerite rode with Donatella up to the hill town of Collazone. Although she was fairly certain she wasn’t interested in the house, Donatella wanted to get a better feel for the type of things that Marguerite was looking for.

Collazone sits up on a hilltop, so of course it has incredible views. The house we looked at was at the very edge of town, on the other side of the road that circled the city wall. This meant that the front of the house had views of the city wall, complete with a tower, and glimpses of the church tower through the trees. The back of the house had a panoramic view that went on for miles and miles….or maybe I should say kilometers and kilometers. The lot was fairly steep, but there were stairs that descended into a small garden area.

The house was a two family house, and the part for sale did have rights to the garden. A large garage was also included, and the house had two floors. The first floor was large, but needed to be re-configured to make it practical.
The upper floor was light and had large rooms. The smallest room was the kitchen, but this was relatively unimportant, since Marguerite and I agreed that the kitchen should be move to the ground floor.

Although the house was a good value and had terrific views, it just wasn’t the one for Marguerite. In addition to the views and the garden, she wants beamed ceilings, stone walls and lots of character. And she wants it to be in a city just large enough to have the basic shops and services. All of this presents quite a challenge given the restrictions of her budget, but she’s determined to hold out for what she wants.
Our next stop was in the adorable town of Papiano. It sits on a hill in between the high road and the low road to Perugia, and consequently we had never been there. Although it’s not a medieval town with a wall, I still found it charming. The house sat right on the main piazza, overlooking the shops and the ever-present war memorial in the center.

The apartment was up a flight of stairs and was absolutely amazing. Beamed ceilings and cute balconies. Very modern and spacious bathrooms. Several bedrooms and a nice floor plan. Good storage…even one large closet filled with prosciutto hams hanging from the ceiling….they smelled fantastic!

The coolest thing about this house was the garage. The garage itself was very large, but through the back of the garage was a warren of least four. One led into the other, until you were deep into the hillside. The final room had a large niche....maybe six feet by six feet, and it in were two large wine racks…Donatella told us that the temperature was constant here, so it was the perfect place to store wine.

For me, the only thing missing from this house was a garden. Had I seen this house when we were looking, I still might have had a hard time passing it up. Even two and a half years ago, the house was probably more expensive than we could have afforded, but I still wish we’d seen this cute town before….I just really liked the feel of it.

After we saw this house the three of us left Donatella and headed for Spina. Art and I had driven past this town during our house hunt and had dismissed it as too small. There had been a house for sale, but Art hadn’t even wanted to look at it because it was small, so we never pursued our investigation of Spina. What a mistake!!!

Spina is a medieval walled city….very small, yes, but there are basic shops and services just outside the wall, on the other side of the street. We got out of the car and walked into the city. To say that the three of us were instantly enchanted by Spina would not be an exaggeration. As we followed one street (and the word “street” is questionable….there are no cars inside the walls, and many times a stairway is all that connects them), into another, we were fascinated. And then we found it……a house that had obviously been long abandoned, but also a house that sat on the edge of the city wall, with great views of the countryside beyond.

Art asked a man who was passing by if he knew of any houses for sale in the village, and the man told us to ask the local geometra, whose office was just next to the bar. As I’ve said over and over, the best way to find a house is to find an area you like and then hang out in the bars, asking everyone you see if they know of anything for sale.

Before we left to find the geometra, Marguerite stuck her head in the house across the way from the abandoned one. We could hear a radio playing, so we rang the bell. A young girl answered, and amazingly she spoke a little English. She had bought this house a year ago, for about €110,000, and had paid probably another €100,000 to have it restored…but OH! Was it worth it!  There were three floors, beamed ceilings, great floors, a huge bathroom (in which she had installed a HUGE whirlpool tub), and of course the views! To make this place even more amazing, it had a tiny garden with a small outbuilding.

Marguerite was devastated….THIS was the house she wanted! THIS was the house she was meant to have! We immediately left to find the geometra!

Although we couldn’t find the office, we did ask at the bar and someone called the geometra. Although it was Saturday afternoon, he came down to meet us, then took us into his office. We told him about the house we had seen, and of course he knew it. He had been the one to do the renovations, being the only geometra in town. We asked about the house across the way, but no, it wasn’t for sale.

We told him the things that Marguerite was interested in, and what her budget was. The geometra wrote down the information, including our phone number, and promised to call if anything became available. He then showed us his house, which was located on the other side of the bar. He had done a wonderful job of restoration, and had some very clever ideas.
We walked through the town with him, and he pointed out a few places he thought might be for sale. Of course none of them were on the wall, which meant no view, but in a town like this, I’m not sure that it mattered. We thanked the geometra for his time and left, feeling a combination of excitement and disappointment.

Our next stop was Deruta. Marguerite wanted to look for a nice piece of ceramic to display, and we had a nice time wandering through the shops. Although she found something she liked, the colors weren’t quite right, so she decided to wait. Maybe when she returns in July she’ll find something…and in July, she’ll have her husband and kids to help with the luggage…another consideration when buying something heavy.

On Sunday we drove to Orvieto, one of our favorite towns. We spent an enjoyable afternoon wandering the medieval streets. Many shops were open, and Marguerite was able to add a hand woven scarf to her collection.

We were pleasantly surprised to see that the front of the church was now scaffold free! The scaffolding had been there for quite a while, and although I appreciate the fact that cleaning and restoration have to be done, I always feel badly for the tourists who aren’t able to enjoy the unrestricted view.

On Monday we went to the market in Marsciano where I broke down a bought a few tomato plants. We stopped back at a real estate office where we had seen a house listed that sounded interesting. After much discussion, we were told to come back at two thirty. We would see a house in Montecastello di Vibio, and also one just outside of Fratta Todina.

In the meantime we made one last stop at Ternana’s….Marguerite had come to understand why this place was so important to us. She had tasted the food and seen their hospitality….now she understood!

Before we met with the realtor, we wanted to check out another house that Marguerite had seen on the internet. It was a newly constructed house, but had many features found in the ancient houses we all love so much. There was great attention to detail, and in addition to a fantastic view, this house had the added benefit of being on one level. Although not in a town, it was still amazing enough to warrant a look.

Marguerite was confused about whether or not this house was still for sale. The workmen told us that it had been sold, but gave Art a phone number and told us that if we called it later, someone who spoke English would answer. When we called, the person who answered did NOT speak English, but he did tell Art that the house was sold.

The houses we saw later that afternoon were interesting, but not for Marguerite. The house in Montecastello di Vibio overlooked the front of the theater (the smallest theater in the world), but it was just a little too small. The other house was well outside the walls of Fratta Todina, well away from all the shops and services, and additionally was one of four or five houses that were all connected to one another. A borgo, just a newer one.

Although Marguerite didn’t find the house of her dreams, I think she’s fairly certain that it does exist. She hopes to return in July, and I’m sure she now has an even better idea of what she wants and what’s available. She also came to realize that compromises might have to be made. She now knows that a fabulous house with a fabulous view might be worth having to drive into town, or that a fantastic house within a fairy tale walled city might be worth giving up a garden for.

After we dropped Marguerite off at the Orvieto train station on Tuesday, the phone rang. A man asked “Is this Barbara Skinner?” He was the English speaking man we had been trying to call on Sunday, and the workman had given him our card. He turned out to be half English, half Italian, and he was the builder! He said that he’d love to meet us…he said he’d really enjoy speaking English for a change!

He told us that he was building another house just outside of Piedicolle that was even bigger and better than the one we had seen on Monday. Although this house was sold too, it would give us a chance to see more of his work, and he told us that he had another piece of land with great views that had already been approved to build on. I think we’ll give him a call one day next week. Knowing a builder who also speaks English can’t be a bad thing!

Adamo gave us a tour of the countryside the other afternoon. We met him at four o’clock, not really sure where we were going, but we thought we’d see the farm of his nephew, and also the place were we were supposed to have a picnic with them last year. I thought that the two places might be the same.

We turned down a small paved road just outside of town. Art and I had walked down this road before, but never beyond where the pavement ends. As this white road went up and down, we were treated to views of San Venanzo from a completely different direction.

After driving rather slowly for about five minutes, we arrived at the farm. As expected, there wasn’t an animal in site. Most of the animals in Italy seem to be kept inside for most of the time, but I’m not really sure why.

Adamo’s nephew and another man were feeding the cows when we arrived. Some of the cows were the white Chiana breed, while others were a light brown color…maybe a Jersey? There was a calf that was less than a week old, and I mentioned that I would love to see a calf being born. Adamo said if he knew about it, and if the time was right, he’d give us a call when the other cow had her calf.

There were also pigs at the far end of the barn. One variety was black with a wide white band around its chest, and Adamo told us these were Sienese pigs. I don’t remember what the other breed was, but I was disappointed that there weren’t any cute little piggies to see.

Some of the pigs were in an outside pen, and Adamo told us that they would be allowed to wander the woods, and that some of them would breed with the cinghiale, and that this would produce a tastier meat with less fat.

We left the farm and continued down the white road, and the car nearly bottomed out several times. I’m not sure we’ll ever drive down this road, but it was interesting to see the woods in the early spring before everything has leafed out.

We eventually ended up back on the main road, but much closer to Ospedaletto. Adamo turned down another small white road that had a sign at its entrance: Troccia…or Traccia… di Santo Venanzo…The trail of San Venanzo? I’ll have to check that out a little more.

At the end of this road was a large clearing filled with picnic tables and a HUGE brick BBQ grill. A rushing, babbling stream running nearby added the perfect touch. What a great spot for a picnic! Adamo told us that this was here for anyone to use, and I’m sure on Sundays it’s packed. Should we ever want to have a picnic there, a weekday might be a better choice!

Later in the week we stopped by the garden center to find some Roundup, or a similar product to kill the weeds in our sidewalk. The two spray bottles that I found cost €15….about $20, so I decided to see what I can find in the states. I know these products are expensive, but $20?!


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