Sunday, June 24, 2007

IS IT SUMMER YET????

I woke up to the sound of a lawnmower this morning. Those of you in the states are thinking, “Big deal!”, but really, here in Italy, lawns and lawnmowers are not that common! The sound of a lawnmower on a Sunday morning was familiar, yet out of place. I guess the unusually mild weather we’ve had necessitated it’s use, probably across the street at the nursing home.

The weather here has been strange, but I think that’s something anyone can say anytime and anywhere in the world. There just isn’t ‘normal’ weather anymore!

One of the big changes for us has been enjoying dry summers, as compared to the steam bath Louisville becomes in the summer. Clothes dry on the line in record time….even overnight! With the great breezes we’ve been having, I want to hang clothes on the line every day, just for the sweet smell.

As a trade-off for dry summers we have to endure wet winters here in Umbria. Winters can be cold, dark and damp….but this past winter was unusually mild. I don’t think we had fog more than a few times, and it never lasted for days on end like it usually does. We also didn’t have much rain this winter, and while it was nice to have a relatively dry winter, now we worry about the crops in the summer. Hopefully the rains we received in May will help replenish the moisture we so desperately need.

Summer has teased us with it’s arrival more than once this year. Each time the temperature starts to go up I think “Uh oh, this is it! Summer’s finally here!”, then a cool breeze blows in and things cool off again. The pattern seems to be warm, sometimes HOT days with clear blue skies during, then in late afternoon the wind starts to blow. Someone somewhere must be getting rain, but we haven’t had any here for several weeks. Anyway, the winds bring in a nice blast of cool air, making it perfect for sleeping.

Last night I even had to drag out a sweatshirt! Yes, it was that cold…and the wind was blowing! There was a concert in the Bar Centrale with a live band (our friend Erika and her accordion),
and once the sun went down and the breeze picked up, it was almost cold! No complaints from us….we may yet swelter through July and August, but for now it’s perfect…..hot days, cool nights!

I hope there’s enough moisture in the ground to sustain the sunflower fields, which I think will start blooming en masse within the next two weeks. Can’t wait!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A TOWN PICNIC

Once we knew the dates for our grandson's visit, we scrambled to make reservations for our travels. We knew that the longer we waited, the more crowded the typical tourist spots would be. We booked our visit to Venice and northern Italy for just a few days after Nicholas arrived, knowing that it wouldn't take him long to adjust to the time difference. When we realized that we'd miss the town picnic, we were really disappointed, but sometimes you just have to make the tough choices.

After we were back in San Venanzo, Armando and Guilda mentioned something about the picnic. We said we thought it had been held on June 2, but they told that due to the bad weather, it had been rescheduled.

We'd been contacted by Jill, someone who'd found our blog and was interested in seeing out house, so we suggested that she and her friends come by early, look at the house, then go to the picnic with us. They happily agreed.

The day of the picnic was a perfect one, and in the morning all the Ferrari's stopped by.
  We weren't in a big hurry to get to the picnic grounds, going under the usual rule that Italians have a very relaxed sense of time. What we didn't take into account was the fact that no matter what they're late for, Italians are NEVER, I mean NEVER late for lunch! Lunch is at 1 o'clock no matter what, meaning that when we arrived, fashionalby late at 1:20, lunch was well under way and all the tables were taken.

We found a large rock to sit on and grabbed the last few plates of antipasti while everyone else was starting on the pasta course. Because there was only one large pot to cook the pasta in, multiple batches had to be cooked, so we had plenty of time to get started, to find some bottles of water and fill our glasses with homemade wine.

Not surprisingly, the men do the grillling and the women do
the pasta. The men do lend a hand in lifting the perfectly cooked pasta out of the boiling water, then help with mixing it with the sauce. This is definitely a case where too many cooks do NOT spoil the pot!  After the pasta there were grilled meat and sausages, then plenty of homemade desserts.

Nicholas tried to catch some tadpoles, and I wish we'd brought his sandals so he could have just stood in the creek. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be as many kids at this year's picnic, or at least not as many around Nicholas's age.

We didn't stay as long as we might have if there had been some other boys his age, but it was still a pleasant day and a wonderful meal. Jill, her mom and her friend said they had a great time, and thanked us for inviting them.

We left before the karaoke music began, and I have a feeling we might have missed the most fun of the day!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

VENICE!

Our six days on the road were wonderful! We started out early Monday morning, headed for Venice, and by one o’clock we’d checked into our hotel, the B&B La Palazzetto. The location was great…just a few minutes walk from the Grand Canal, maybe ten minutes from Piazza San Marco, but secluded enough to be quiet at night and feel like a neighborhood rather than a tourist trap.

We set out to find something to eat, and settled on a pizza place not far from our hotel, up the Strada Nuova. We then set about exploring Venice
with Nicholas as our official navigator. Although tourists were most definitely in evidence, we never really felt the crush.

We walked around Piazza San Marco, made a quick tour of the church, then headed towards the water. Nicholas is very interested in glassmaking, as am I, 
so we took advantage of one of the free water taxis out to Murano to visit a factory. We had fun watching one of the artisans create a horse right before our eyes.

Nicholas was interested in a glass cat, but needless to say, his budget necessitated looking carefully for the budget priced items. After careful deliberation, he finally found something he liked, and as we left the glass factory we discovered that stormy weather had moved in. It was now cold and windy and spitting rain. And of course we hadn’t brought umbrellas or jackets with us!

After taking the vaporetto back to Fondamenta Nove, we hung out at a wine bar, drinking hot chocolate and wine, nibbling on snacks, waiting (and waiting) for the rain to pass. We finally made a dash for our hotel…about ten minutes away, and managed to get inside before we were completely soaked.

We headed out for dinner after getting warm and dry, using our copy of
CHOW! VENICE to find a restaurant nearby. Casa Mia, on Calle dell'Oca, was cute and homey. Although the service was great and the setting was attractive, we found the food to be just okay….nothing special at all. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t anything memorable. At least we hadn’t walked a long distance, or spent a lot of money.

The next morning we started off early, meaning we only had a short wait before riding the elevator to the top of the campanile. What struck me was the fact that from high above, the canals weren’t visible, and other than being surrounded by water, there was no evidence that Venice is a city of canals.

We had a tour of the Doges Palace scheduled, meaning that we could by-pass the line that had already formed. Being able to book tours online is such a time saver! The Secret Itineraries Tour took us to places where the general public can’t go, and of course we learned many interesting things about Venice, the Doges, and some of the more famous residents of the Palace and it’s prison, including Cassanova.

After a relaxing lunch we wandered some more and decided to go back to Murano. Due to the bad weather we’d only seen the inside of one factory, and we thought it might enjoy seeing the rest of the island.  Although Nicholas had bought some glass figurines they really hadn’t been exactly what he was looking for, so he wanted to check out a few more shops.

Trying to balance our desire to see and learn about Venice, yet still keep Nicholas interested wasn’t too difficult. We just kept it loose, tried to hit a few high spots, but not cram too much history down his throat. We didn’t take a gondola ride with him because we didn’t think it was really worth the expense….but we did tell him that maybe one day he might bring his girlfriend or wife to Venice, and then they could share a special gondola ride!

I tried to balance planning ahead and serendipity. I made all the hotel reservations in advance, printed out maps to each place, and had a general idea of what we could see and do in each place, but other than that, we didn’t rush from place to place, ticking off sites as if they were just items on a list, not places to enjoy.

For our last night in Venice we found another nearby restaurant in Chow! Venice, this one on the Fondamenta Nove,
Da Alvise, featuring seafood. Because we wanted to eat early, we arrived as soon as they opened at seven, and had the undivided attention of both the kitchen and our waiter! We enjoyed our dinner here, and would highly recommend it.

We left Venice the same way we had arrived, boarding the vaporetto at the Ca' D’Oro stop back to Piazzale Rome where our car was parked. At €20 per day this isn’t the cheapest parking option for Venice, but because our time was so limited, and because it was only for two days, we decided it was worth the cost. I made reservations in advance, which probably wasn’t necessary in May, but during the crush of high season, it might be advisable.

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