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A Beautiful Birthday!

23 May

Many, many thanks to all for the thoughtful birthday wishes, calls, emails, FB posts, etc., I’ve received. Since the most common theme was “Hope you have a great day!”, I wanted to share my day with you.

Some dear friends treated me to a grand lunch at Fischio del Merlo (whistle of the Merlo bird) in Passignano, another new restaurant for me.

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The setting, overlooking Lake Trasimeno, is so peaceful, especially on a Monday afternoon.

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The idea to come here was Loreno’s, as the restaurant is owned and operated by his sister Lorena. She started with a pizzeria on the lake, then built this entire place over the last 20 years.

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As Fischio del Merlo is so much more than a restaurant, a tour of the grounds was our first line of business.

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There are so many places to eat, whether around the glistening pool;

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under one of the sun drenched canopies filled with hand painted ceramic tables from Deruta;

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inside one of the many inviting and interesting rooms;

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or surrounded by a wonderful wine collection in the cantina.

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The attention to detail is amazing as Lorena is a collector of many things, including antique cars and this vespa.

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Len and I gave our best version of Roman Holiday…

©Roman Holiday

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Then it was time for lunch. Our al fresco table was ready and so were we. And since the large weekend crowds were gone, Lorena could spend time with us.

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We asked Lorena to choose the meal, and in traditional Italian style, the plates kept coming and coming, in between many toasts with delicious wines.

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We asked to see the chef and gave him a hearty applause! Lorena hired him 20 years ago and taught him well…I know, he hardly even looks 20. And that’s Bruno in the back.

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When I thought we couldn’t eat another thing, out came this delicious light white cake covered in chocolate, fresh raspberries, rose petals, mint, and a flower made from melon – served with one’s choice of digestivo.

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Following a chorus of Tanti Auguri, it was time for me to make a wish, blow out the candle, and thank my wonderful hosts.

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To Len, …”like birds of a feather we stick together… “(My Guy)

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and to our dear friends and fellow orto planters, (L-R) Carlo, Bruna, Loreno, and Fernanda,

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thank you so very much for a beautiful birthday filled with wonderful food, laughter and smiles, and best of all, your friendship.

Ai nostri cari amici e colleghi di orto, vi ringrazio molto per un bel compleanno pieno di cibo meraviglioso, risate e sorrisi, e, soprattutto, la vostra amicizia!

And a final note, you can have a simple meal here as well, and if seafood isn’t your thing, no problem. The restaurant is located just off the Passignano est exit, or just a short drive after you pass through the town.

So, did I have a great day? INDEED I DID!   Will I be back? Indeed I will!

Ciao,
Judy

San Feliciano Umbria

18 May

After many years in Cortona, I thought we had visited most towns and villages that surround Lake Trasimeno, but not surprisingly, there is always another gem to discover. Knowing we love fresh fish, some friends suggested we head to Ristorante Da Massimo in San Feliciano, Umbria. The restaurant is nestled on a quiet hill overlooking the lake.

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Meet Massimo, chef and proprietor of this over 25 year-old restaurant.

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We began with appetizers, and they were so good, we jumped right in and I didn’t get photos. Len and I shared an enormous plate of spaghetti con vongole (clams), one of the best we have eaten in Italy, while our friends shared a mixed seafood appetizer – first cold seafood then hot.

While this is not what we ate, I was able to get a photo of this spaghetti with mixed seafood.

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For our second course, Len and I shared grilled spigola, or sea bass, and it was delicious!

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Our friends ordered the oven roasted version with potatoes and olives.

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To accompany our meal, we drank a light sparkling white wine, perfect with seafood.

After coffee, we decided to take a walk in the town. From Cortona, the winding scenic ride along the lake eventually brings you to this small fishing village, perhaps “on the map” as it is one of the places you can catch a ferry to Isola Polvese in the lake. San Feliciano is about 35-45 kilometers from Cortona, depending on your route.

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Being that it was a weekday, and not quite summer, the town was quiet and we had much of it to ourselves. Not sure how busy it gets in summer, but there are campgrounds nearby, so our timing was perfect. In addition, in late July each year, the town hosts the annual Festa del Giacchio, a festival that pays tribute to an old fishing technique dating back to Etruscan times. Although the technique is no longer used on the lake, during the festival there are demonstrations, competitions, and opportunities to participate in all kinds of events.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Len has long wanted to rent a small boat and fish in Lake Trasimeno, and San Feliciano seems to fit the bill perfectly. Perhaps the best part for me is that Len can throw back whatever he catches, and after a relaxing day, we can all eat well at Ristorante Da Massimo, no fish cleaning or cooking required.

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Ristorante Da Massimo and San Feliciano, two great additions to our list of favorite places!

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Ciao,
Judy

La Cannuccia, C. del Lago

10 Oct

Winter arrived today, so say the Italians, as the winds were strong and the dark clouds made the temperatures drop. Suddenly, fashion consisted of turtlenecks, an abundance of scarves, and “puffy” (down) coats and jackets. Luckily for us, we were prepared.

With a sprinkle in the air in Cortona, we got in our Fiat 500, destination unknown, and soon found ourselves in Castiglione del Lago. Stronger winds and bigger clouds greeted us,

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but without rain, and a goal of fresh air and exercise, we were happy to walk as we had the lake and view to ourselves.

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Water is mesmerizing, and as we walked, we watched the waves crash upon the rocks. The seagulls were playing what looked like Marco Polo, that “catch me if you can” game we played as kids and they played with the waves.

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After awhile, the clouds broke across the lake and the sun shone like a spotlight on several of the hill towns.

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Eventually, we stopped for lunch at La Cannuccia, our lakeside go-to cafe. We ordered our usual split lunch, a grilled panino and mixed salad, which is served with delicious warm rolls.

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After lunch, Riccardo asked if we were football fans.

“I’m a big baseball fan at the moment,” I replied, “as I’m from Chicago and …”

“Chicago Cubs!” he said and smiled.

“We live about two miles from…”

“Wrigley Field!” he exclaimed.

“You must like baseball,” I said.

“Not so much. It can be boring, especially when there is a pitching battle,” he replied.

“Like the first game the other night…” 

“When the Cubs won 1-0 against the San Francisco Giants,” he quickly replied.

“We haven’t won in over a century, and…” 

“The goat,” he said, and raised his hands like Italians do. “I don’t believe.”

By now, Len was intrigued. Since our dear friends, Carrol and Larry, had left weeks ago, Len had not found anyone to have a good baseball conversation with. And here was Riccardo, born and raised locally, owner of a bar in Castiglione del Lago in the center of Italy, speaking English, he – a fountain of knowledge about American baseball, a sport that wasn’t even his favorite.

After they talked baseball for a bit, I asked what Il Cannuccia means. “It’s the tall grass that grows in a swamp,” he said, as he pointed to the bottom right of a giant photo on the face of the bar.  100 years ago, much of the lake was a swamp.

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The present bar was built in the 50’s. It has been in Riccardo’s family since the mid 70’s and is now operated by Riccardo and his brother Simone.

La Cannuccia Bar©Blogginginitaly.com

La Cannuccia Bar©Blogginginitaly.com

I asked if I could take a few pictures.  “Sure, but the best view is looking out.”

La Cannuccia Bar©Blogginginitaly.com

La Cannuccia Bar©Blogginginitaly.com

Easy to see why he thinks that and one of the reasons we keep returning.

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After lunch, I considered having gelato, as theirs is very good. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, Ricardo asked if we like cream. “Sure, why not,” I answered, and he set off to make something special for us.

He arrived with this.

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This incredibly light “sugar donut” is called a ciambella. He quartered it, and topped it with  panna fresca, (fresh cream,) and cacao candela, (cinnamon). My sister Florence and her husband Vince would have ordered this and skipped the salad and panino. Benita too.

Castiglione del Lago in Umbria is about 30 minutes from Cortona on the SW corner of Lago Trasimeno. Although Cortona is a city where you don’t need a car, if you have one, it is such fun exploring all the neighboring towns, taking in the sights, and making interesting new friends like Riccardo. Who knew???

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

Rilassamento = Relaxation

2 Sep

No better way to relax than to head to one of Lake Trasimeno’s islands in Umbria. Yesterday, we took the ferry to Maggiore, the only inhabited one.

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Some of our group chose to relax inside the ferry,

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while Fernanda and I enjoyed the breeze on our faces.

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The calm ride offered beautiful views, and we arrived eager to explore the island.

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Maggiore is a small fishing village which reached its height in the 14th century. Today, I am told, only 17 residents inhabit the island year round. Most of the buildings date from the 14th century. We climbed to the top and saw these historic buildings along the way.

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©Blogginginitaly.com Villa Guglielmi

©Blogginginitaly.comChurch of San Michele Arcangelo

©Blogginginitaly.com Church of San Michele Arcangelo

It is on a path, beneath this Church, that St. Francis spent 40 days and nights in prayer.

©Blogginginitaly.comChurch of San Michele Arcangelo

©Blogginginitaly.comChurch of San Michele Arcangelo

The church sits at the top of the island, nestled in olive groves, and provides lovely panoramic views.

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Afterward, we worked our way down the hill to the main and only street in this car-less town and enjoyed lunch and the view.

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Who is this man in so many of my photos??? I’ll have to ask Carrol.

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My favorite part was this delicious dessert!

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Then off to the dock to return home.

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On the trip back, the sun gave us lovely shadows of the town’s reflection

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as well as clouds dancing on the lake.

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Half an hour later, and very, very relaxed, were arrived back in Castiglione del Lago for the ride home. All in a day’s work!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Andrea Roggi, Sculptor

1 Nov

It would be impossible to separate Andrea Roggi from his art, or nature from this man – a poet, painter, artist and sculptor, who has never lost his childlike curiosity for life, nature and human potential.

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©Andrea Roggi

His theme epitomizes his work: Love and Creativeness Make the World Go Around.  And when you enter The Circle of Life Art Gallery in Cortona, you are simply in awe of the man and his passion.

Circle of Life Art Gallery, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Circle of Life Art Gallery, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Circle of Life Art Gallery, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Circle of Life Art Gallery, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Circle of Life Art Gallery, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Circle of Life Art Gallery, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Len and I had the good fortune of meeting Andrea and were invited to his nearby studio, situated in his Parco della Creatività. We were quickly surrounded by Andrea’s artistic passion, as well as his goal of bringing art enthusiasts, young and old, together.

Parco della Creatività, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Parco della Creatività, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

 

Parco della Creatività, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Parco della Creatività, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

This wonderful sculpture is called Family in Flight – think, be and fly together.

Parco della Creatività , photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Parco della Creatività, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Parco della Creatività, photo permission, ©Blogginginitaly.com

In 1991, Andrea set up his workshop, La Scultura di Andrea Roggi, where he works with bronze and marble to create small to very large-sized pieces. He uses the complex and detailed long casting process to transform his drawings and clay models into incredible bronze sculptures.

Andrea, along with Chiara, one of his staff, patiently led us through the process.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

I hope my photos depict even a little of the complexity involved in this ancient process. All of the written info that follows comes from  The Circle of Life Gallery: The Lost Wax Technique.

The lost-wax technique, for casting large, hollow bronze statues, has been known since ancient times. Through the forming step, the artist makes a mould of the original clay sculpture, revealing a “negative” impression which can be later used to produce multiple copies (replicas).

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

During the wax pouring step, molten wax is introduced into the mould and allowed to cool.

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

This wax copy is then “sprued”, i.e. fitted with a treelike structure of wax rods, called “sprues” which, by converging on the same point, will serve as channels for the molten bronze to flow through and as air vents for gases to escape.

Subsequently, during the wax chasing step, heated metal tools are used to carefully rub out any imperfections and to redefine the details. Then the reworked, sprued wax copy is dressed and coated with refractory plaster (to obtain a so-called “ceramic shell”).

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Next, the burnout stage takes place, during which the ceramic shell-coated piece is placed in a kiln, where the plaster becomes strong and the wax melts down and runs out (hence the term “lost wax”), emptying the space previously occupied and leaving a detailed impression within the shell.

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

This empty ceramic shell (which represents a second negative mould) will receive during casting the molten bronze, poured in at a temperature of about 1,100 °C (about 2,000 °F).

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

The filled shell is allowed to cool and finally broken off to reveal the rough metal casting.

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

At this point, the parts of the sculpture are welded together and the bronze sculpture undergoes  extensive metal chasing, which includes surface smoothing (raspinatura, to remove all tell-tale signs of the casting process) and detail chiseling (cesellatura).

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

In the last stage, the surface is varnished by applying the so-called patina, which gives the bronze its final and unique color qualities, while avoiding a rapid oxidation and enhancing the aesthetic value of the sculpture.

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Andrea Roggi with permission ©Blogginginitaly.com

Andrea told us that while his original drawings and molds are the beginning of each creation, he works each and every piece to his satisfaction throughout the process, thus, no two pieces are exactly the same.

Inspired primarily by nature and his family, he has produced a number of public artworks in Italy, located mainly in Tuscany and Umbria, but found in other countries as well.

In Memory of Aviators sits between Piazza Garibaldi and the park in Cortona.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

And a life-sized statue dedicated to native Roberto Benigni, (Life is Beautiful), can be found in Parco della Creatività.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Finally, while touring the facility, I noticed a small sculpture that had been formed but was not yet complete. I asked if I could pick it up. It was a small sculpture of a man and woman reaching into an olive tree, something especially meaningful to us this year. And it seemed to have my name on it.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Soon, Io vivo in Te, (I live in you) will be going home with us.

Grazie mille, Andrea, for sharing your time, passion and extraordinary talent with us. Our day spent with you will be one we will always treasure.

Ciao,
Judy

Note: For those who plan to visit Cortona, be sure to add the gallery to your must see list, and please say hello for me.

For more info:
The Circle of Life Gallery
Via Casali n.6, 52044, Cortona, Italy.
Telephone:+39 0575 653125
thecircleoflifeartgallery@gmail.com

Cantina de’ Corvi, Spoleto

9 Oct

During our visit to Spoleto, our hotel clerk recommended the Cantina de’ Corvi, a wonderful place to eat.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

We went for lunch and liked it so much, we returned for dinner. Can’t have too much of a good thing!

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Meet Ciro and Marianna – the owners of this new restaurant.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Marianna is the chef, and quite a skilled one at that. Turns out they are from Naples, the native home of most of my ancestors. Marianna’s love of cooking recipes passed down from her grandmother, as well as Ciro’s appreciation of her home cooking, led them to open the restaurant in early 2015.

For lunch, we started with stuffed peppers and eggplant. Delicious.

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Then we each had pasta pomodoro. Why is it that fresh tomatoes at home never quite taste like these in Italy?

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©Blogginginitaly.com

We kidded a lot with Ciro, he asking us to correct his English and we asking the same of him of our Italian. Ciro, ricordi: “Is there something else you would like?”

Their menu boasts of food from the land and sea, so in addition to pasta, they have quite a selection of beef and seafood.

Our conversation turned to baccala, that awful looking salted fish I see at the market.

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Wiki

I made a face and Len told Ciro that as kids, they would all feign illness when his grandmother announced baccala was for dinner.

Ciro said he had felt the same, and for years, his wife asked him to try her baccala. When he finally did, they put it on the menu. Ciro convinced Len to try it for dinner – no obligation if he didn’t like it. I was still skeptical.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Well, as you might guess, it was delicious. Even I tasted it and agreed.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

My dinner was spaghetti con vongole, one of my favorite dishes in Italy.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Both dishes, as is the case with great recipes from Napoli, include those incredible tomatoes.

For dessert, we shared a slice of ricotta and pear cake – light and not too sweet.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

We’ll definitely return to Spoleto, not only for its history and beauty, but also to spend more time with our new friends, Ciro and Marianna. If you go, please tell them Giuditta sent you. And by the way, I gave Don Matteo their card, so you might just bump into him as well!

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Ciao,

Judy

 

 

 

 

Spoleto and Don Matteo

7 Oct

On Tuesday, we headed to the walled medieval hill town of Spoleto in southern Umbria. We had decided to visit because of its ancient history and also because an Italian show we watch, Don Matteo, is being filmed there. The episodes, in Italian with English subtitles, help us learn Italian and are even more fun to watch when we are familiar with the shooting locations. The first eight seasons were shot in Gubbio, which we visited last year.

Spoleto’s first Roman settlements date to around 240 BC, and most of the historical sites are in the upper part of the town. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and we were able to walk miles through the town and enjoy some pretty spectacular views.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

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©Blogginginitaly.com

The upper part of the town is called the Centro Storico, or Old Town. Here you find the Piazza del Duomo, a sprawling piazza at the base of a beautiful stairway.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

The original Duomo was built in the 12th century with a Romanesque facade, however, it was remodeled during the Renaissance and now has beautiful pink stone and colorful  mosaics.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

The inside is equally impressive.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Sitting majestically above the town is the medieval Rocca Albornoziana fortress, built in the 14th century on the foundation of the Roman acropolis. Once a seat for local governors, in 1800 it was turned into a jail and used as such until the 20th century.  Today it houses a museum and also hosts summer performances.

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From this vantage point, there is an incredible view of the 750 foot Bridge of Towers, or Ponte delle Torri, a 13th century aqueduct that crosses a deep gorge,

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©Blogginginitaly.com

as well as this panoramic view of the valley below.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

There are elevators and escalators that reach the various levels of town. Although we enjoyed the walk up, we were also happy to have SIX long escalators return us to the lower part of town.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Before dinner, we walked another area of the town and saw the ancient Teatro Romano.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

As we strolled, the setting sun was splashing the sky with its color palette.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

The scene so perfect, we felt as if we were on a movie set.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

It was definitely time for appertivo…

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with the most spectacular view…(photo is untouched)!

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Even the doves were happy.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

And now for our surprise encounter. I mentioned that Don Matteo is being filmed in Spoleto, and we found this billboard.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

While walking up the stairs to the Duomo, we both sighted a familiar person dressed in his usual black attire and baseball cap. It was, to our amazement,  Terrence Hill, or as we know him, Don Matteo. Really! A pretty incredible coincidence since he was one of the reasons we had come to Spoleto.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Thanks, Don Matteo, for spending a few minutes with us and making our visit to Spoleto one we will always remember! Spoleto – a check off our bucket list with an unexpected and very happy memory!

Ciao,

Judy

 

Gubbio

15 Jul

A fun and interesting way to help improve foreign language learning is through TV. Len and I watch a number of Italian detective series including Commissario Montalbano, filmed in Sicily, and Don Matteo, filmed in Gubbio. Besides hearing the language, (and having English subtitles!) the shows often provide lovely views of their filming locations.

A few days ago, we took a drive to Gubbio to find the sights associated with the Don Matteo series, even though it seemed a bit touristy. Don Matteo, played by Terrence Hill, is the priest in Gubbio who casually helps the police captain and marshall solve the weekly murder mystery. In fact, I doubt there is even an annual murder let alone a weekly one. Nonetheless, we wanted to see the beautiful sights so often shown in the show.

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And lastly, “Don Matteo’s Church”…IMG_3092

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Gubbio, such a lovely town!

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Ciao,

Judy

15,000+ Views!

31 Aug

I am delighted to report that this week, Blogginginitaly.com surpassed 15,000 views! Pretty amazing, especially as it began as a fun way for me to share our travels with family members and a few friends.

IMG_1809Over the last two years, my blog has been my journal, giving me a place to record my thoughts, experiences and pictures as we travel around Italy.

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To my surprise and delight, its reach has broadened and now includes viewers from over 80 countries.

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Many thanks for all your thoughtful comments and encouragement. Writing my blog is an endless learning curriculum for me – one that is filled with never-ending yet truly satisfying homework.

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It’s a joy to share my reflections about Italy with others who love it so, and a privilege to share it with those who can only dream of going.

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I can think of no better way to say thanks than by sharing some of my very favorite views.

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And of course, let’s not forget the food!

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Finally, to Len, with whom I have seen all of these views,

a little something we saw on a hillside…

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Ciao, Judy

Judy in window

Italian Hill Towns

7 Jun

Just returned from a two-day tour of the Italian countryside in Tuscany and Umbria where the drive was as lovely as the three ancient towns we visited.

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Our first stop was Citta di Castello, meaning town of the castle. Although there actually is no castle, there are stately old buildings and monuments, and of course, in the “larger” cities as least, a duomo or cathedral. The area was an ancient Roman port on the Tiber River and some archaeological remains of the port are visible in the southern part of the historical center.

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Eliza, at Antico Canonico where we spent the night, was most helpful in telling us about the city as well as other nearby towns which we visited the next day. Our “hotel” was originally built years ago as a home for priests. While the door to each unit is the original “cell” door, the apartment behind is simple, ample and clean. Yes, this is our apartment door!

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In the afternoon, we enjoyed  watching the men’s bocce tournament. And in the evening, we strolled the town with the locals.

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The next morning, our first destination was the lovely town of Citerna in Umbria, a tiny hilltop town which boasts of Etruscan and Roman origins and is ranked among the 100 most beautiful villages in Italy. It is the northernmost town in Umbria and while it was severely damaged during WWII, you’d  never know it today.

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The panoramic views as we left town were spectacular!

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From there we headed back to Tuscany to a town called  Anghiari. At first, this appeared to be a “modern” town until we came upon the ancient hilltop walled city. Anghiari is famous for a 1440 battle between the towns of Florence and Milan, and even inspired Leonardo da Vinci to create a fresco in Palazzo Vecchio. Although the original fresco has disappeared,  a sketch of it by Peter Paul Rubens is still in existence.

Peter Paul Rubens' copy of the lost Battle of ...

Peter Paul Rubens’ copy of the lost Battle of Anghiari. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The ancient town is filled with steep, winding streets, and on one of them, we came across a wonderful shop called Carabattole. Sitting inside was Marinella, from whom we learned about tombolo, an art not practiced in the US.

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I bought a lovely pair of earrings similar to the ones shown above. Afterward, we enjoyed a simple but wonderful lunch at a local Cantina.

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When we returned to Cortona and talked to some of the locals about our trip, many had not even heard of tiny Citerna. How lucky for us that  Eliza directed us there, as well as to Anghiari. Continuing to follow the road less travelled without agenda always brings us wonderful surprises and new memories as well as the opportunity to share them with you.

Ciao,

Judy

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