Home coming. Soon

MAINE, LONDON, ROME, PANICALE, PADOVA, TRIESTE. Well, that is how we see it now. Leaving tomorrow, Thursday for London to visit our Wiley. See the sites there, something about a play with Danny DiVito. And then Sunday all three of us hit the easyJet counter and wing our way to Rome. Non vedo l’ora.


ci vediamo in Italia e

See you in Italy,


The Italians are coming, the Italians are coming . . .

What would the world be without an Italy? Discuss among yourselves and get back to me? I was thinking about this after having pizza at a seminar yesterday, penne pasta primavera last night at home and on my way for a shhh-don’t-tell-the-office cappucchino breakout this morning. When! What to my wondering eyes should appear but a brand new Fiat 500. Parked right next to me. What a trick pony that is. The owner was getting his haircut when they saw me taking his car’s portrait and salon emptied and we had a moment there. Fiat execs would have been misty-eyed at the enthusiasm over their new baby. This one is a limited edition. Edition of 500. Wicked cool.
And of course that reminded me that the Italian Life Expo team just got confirmation yesterday that a literal boat load of Italian products got onboard in Genoa. And that ship has sailed! Wines, olive oils, copper and ceramic wares all pointed towards Portland, Maine. The Italians they belong to are probably packing their bags as we speak. The countdown is well underway, let the festivities begin. Got your tickets? June 9-11 on Portland’s waterfront.

To keep up with the details about this happy bit of Italy coming to our shores Follow the Expo on Twitter and/or “Like” their Facebook page

See you in Italy (when Italy comes to Portland!)

Stew Vreeland

Food and Wine comes to Panicale

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PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–Our friends Peter and Sarah are packing as we speak to head off to their lovely, newly renovated house in Casamaggiore, in Umbria. They just called last night to ask if we had seen the March ’09 issue of Food And Wine Magazine. It features our Umbrian hilltop castletown of Panicale. Sarah is a great and inspired chef and baker so she has a subscription. It isn’t in the newsstands yet. We’ve checked. But the How to Cook Like You Own an Italian Villa article IS online already.

Matt Molina, a chef at L.A.’s Osteria Mozza stayed at his boss’s house recently. That would be the Panicale home of Nancy Silverton. She is a co-owner of Osteria Mozza and the story line is about Matt’s food adventures all around this part of Italy. I’m getting hungry just reading about Panicale. And all nostalgic as well. But, we are taking action!


We have plane tickets in hand and happy to have them. We chased prices up one side of the internet and down the other. We’ve made this trip hundreds of times and it’s an adventure buying every time. This time we found very good and reasonable $700 something on Alitalia. Boston to Rome direct. An overnight flight is an overnight flight. Direct flights makes life so much simpler and so much less room for that “Oh, sorry your connecting flight couldn’t wait and oh look there it goes without you” business. Plus, this non-stop flight gets into Roma at 7 AM. I’m good with that. Landing at say 10 or so after pulling an all-nighter finds me much less coherent than at 7.

Our car rental charge for three weeks were in the low $700 range. We went through, as we usually do, Auto Europe. No, this is not an ad. I WISH I got paid for mentioning them! Alitalia? Same non-lucrative deal. Anyway. We ran through our car needs and the bottom line kept coming in just under $900 – for three weeks. Part of the problem, one issue, was that we were coming into the country at 7 AM one day and leaving at 10 AM on the way out of country. So that Three Hour Day became a full day’s charge. Talk about not enough hours in a day. I could pay the charge or hang out watching the clock for three hours. After being up all night? I don’t think so.

So I called Auto Europe back and said “But what if we put our early-morning, post-arrival time to use and headed North by train to Chiusi. And picked a car up there at the train station? Chiusi is easy to get to by train and only ten minutes from our house. No sweat, they were all about that. That not only chopped a day off our bill, but they said they were also able to take off a “Rome airport delivery charge.” That was a new one to me. And in the “That Doesn’t Make Any Sense, But I’ll Take It” category they then said if I picked their car up in Chiusi I could return it to Chiusi or at the Rome airport-–for the same price. Our choice. Here’s what I got out of this exercise: I asked a few questions, had them email a couple written proposals to me, and didn’t take the first rate they gave me. And after a couple five minute phone calls, I had somehow saved almost $200. Highest and best use of my time all week!
springtime in Siena, Tuscany and Panicale, Umbria

MA! Va le la pena. As they say. Umbria in Spring. In my mind I can almost see it, touch it, feel it. Whatever effort it takes to get us to the promised land is worth it. So, now that the airline and car rental planets have been so nicely aligned, we are holding our breaths and happily counting the days until our mid April touchdown.

Spring is one of the best times in Italy and we can’t wait to see our all our friends there. What a breath of fresh air it will be after a bundled up winter of snow to see the Umbian countryside in all its many shades of green. The fruit trees will be in bloom. And dozens of kinds of flowers, the early bloomers. We especially love the forty-foot-long yellow rose bouquet our house and garden set out on our pergola to welcome us home at this time of year. Grazie, grazie infinite, Casa Margherita.

Non vedo l’ora and I can’t wait, either.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

The purple and white spring flowers shown above are from Spannocchia outside Siena, Tuscany and the yellow ones are from our garden in Panicale, Umbria

Like the swallows, we have found our way back to springtime in Umbria

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–Yes, we are here. I think.

Bit dazed and dislocated from the typical overnight flight. And so happy to find out we’re not only here, but we’re wired. Was just iChatting and IM’ing with our office in the states. Airport/wireless thing continues to amaze as we walk in and fire it up and the messages they do pour in. Tiny glitch this time. Our friend Elida that came to visit from Panicale recently said she had checked our house for us and our broadband didn’t work. So I came in the living room a bit on tiptoes, edging up to our snakepile of wires and devises. And I could see there were loose wires. But. What goes where? Uuuugggh. Not a big thing for say, the proto typical fifth grader, but for old dog, this is a new trick. No earthly idea what any of it could be doing as it sits there sullenly hmmming to itself and flashing its many tiny green eyes. I can only do my few computer oriented things by rote. But I can take digi photos. And do. And I found the photos I’d taken of the hookup tech genius Maurizio did in 2006, and put everything EXACTLY as per those photos and bingo! his system still worked and messages started pouring in. Highly recommend that method of cheating for the low tech among us.

And our poor un-used Italian cell phone. Been languishing about lost and useless in my sock drawer since last June. Almost forgot to bring it. Charged it up and we were back in the game without missing a beat. How does that even work?
autogrill the place for road food in italy and especially coffee

Easiest best flight ever. Boston to Rome no changes, nowhere. Ugly food on ALITALIA but the many post touchdown coffees along the autostrada (so few miles per gallon of cappucchino) were even better than I remembered. I can still remember the first time I ever braved my way into one of those Agip “Autogrill” cafes and tried to figure how the heck to order anything. Decades later, it almost makes a modicum of sense or we’ve just quit thinking about it in the American part of our brain. Hmmm good. Cooooffffee. It is slowly dawning on me: WE MUST BE IN ITALY. When out of the blue this thought occurred to my barely awake self: WAS THAT A FERARRI? Cars passing us, trucks, trucks, trucks passing us. Voomm, voomm, vooom, they all sound alike. Except for that SNNAP, SNARL, GRRReat sounding silver coupe. Yike. What a voice. We sooo heard it before we saw it. And then we saw it no more. Solid gone.

We actually landed early due to big old tail winds and were in Panicale before noon and off to the races. Cool temps here but all is lush green and everything is in full flower. Which is good. Earlier they were complaining drought almost. Seems good now. Cherry trees, wisteria, lilacs, iris, stuff I don’t know what is, etc.
sign of spring in italy too - liliacs

Our garden has had a major prune/whack. How did that happen? And all the shutters have been redone. I mean I can guess which good friend did it but wow. Took the bulk of the old fig out. The main trunk is gone, stump about 10 inches across. Bruno and I had talked about taking that out and letting the good big side shoot that are major tree like items themselves, let them take over. Everything in the house is polished to within an inch of its life. So good to have good friends that will do this. I know we pay them for their work, but it is really so much better than I would ever expect that it really feels like there was a large helping of love mixed in with the work. Really an attitude fixer that is. I have to do (but want to and like to) do some heavy weeding but even the remaining weeds aren’t like disgusting or anything at all, I know they are weeds but when viewed from the street above, as most people see the garden, they are just green stuff. They even masquerade as fairly organized weeds. But their days are numbered.

Kind of an on-going shock to get here so relatively easy and to be so organized. Where ARE we?


FLORENCE, Italy–“Babbo . . ?” “D’amore?” Italian daddy getting his sleepy, curly headed toddler off the plane. Babbo must have called his son Love or Treasure, I don’t know how many times, just getting out of their seats and into the aisle. Made me ashamed of my parenting skills. I wanted to be that dad and have one of our kids be that lucky toddler for even just that moment. We are in a good place.


FLORENCE, Italy–As I said, we are in a good place. Except. I must do a rant on the new airport. OMG. Has anyone else had this problem? Please tell me it was just us on a bad day. Does anyone else think they’ve ruined the airport with their “renovations”? Who created this mess. I want names. I want them now.

Is this tacky of me? Everyone hates a complainer. In fairness, you may know I have bragged on the Florence airport here for years. Always a favorite. A jewel among airports in my book. I take it all back. They were closed or months to Renovate and all they did was Ruin. Shame, shame. Some how, they did not get the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” memo. Ok, they had already started the goofy unloading thing where you get off the plane and jam your way onto a waiting bus. Then when it is totally stuffed with people and their bags, the driver puts it in gear and goes maybe half a bus length. And stops. You uncurl yourself from around a pole and get out. Totally Peter Sellers movie material and idiotic but everything else was so charming it was sort of light comic relief. Now it is just another annoyance.

Previously, there was one belt delivering up bags along the back wall of the first room you came to right off the plane/bus. Instant bags. Now there are two or three mini baggage carousels. But no baggage. Not without a wait. There was only one plane on the ground and it was ours. Only maybe 15 people waiting for their bags. And waiting. And waiting. The Italians in the group were throwing blind, running fits. A British expat, the picture of patient patrician ennui, said no bag ever comes in less than half an hour in this new system. Whattheheck. The plane is parked right there at the end of the bus right outside the door to this room. I’ve known Malpensa and believe me this is no Malpensa. Just tiny little Florence. And wait a full half an hour we did. The wait for the bags was almost as long as the flight. Unexcusable. And no excuses were offered to anyone by anyone. The Italians kept yelling at the staff behind the glass partition of Lost Baggage and didn’t even get a shoulder shrug out of them. Baffling.

In an aside here, yes I do know/admit that I have advised heartily against non-carryon bags. For this very reason. I was tricked. They changed the rules on us and only one carry on is now allowed on almost every flight in Europe. I will be blogging on that subject shortly. I have a plan!

oh we got dem mean old rental car blues in Italy this time

whats not to like in car rental in Italy today?
Oh, I’m wound up now. It use to be you came out of the door to baggage, had the customs guys totally avoid eye contact with you and you were in The Car Rental Zone. In the Arrivals building. Because you had Arrived. Well, the customs guys in the dove grey military uniforms and the German Shepards still act like you don’t exist and the car rental places? They do not exist. They are solid gone. Now you are just dumped directly into the Departures Terminal where you run into a wall of people trying to Depart. No clues to location of auto rentals at all. If you ask around someone may point you out the door. Where you are literally now on the outside looking in.

The building vaguely to the left as you go out the door of Departures is low, concrete and foreboding with chain link and barbed wire on most sides and there is one side with four windows cut in it, facing the parking lot. The concept appears to be that it is never, ever going to rain or snow here and you can just cue up OUTSIDE for your car. In any kind of weather, all year round without so much as a piece of plywood tacked up as a shelter. And you can stand there all you want. The people inside are so confused and distracted that they pay you no mind at all. At least that was our experience at autoEuro???? Their window was covered with notices in every language saying Stay Outside. Then. OK, if you HAVE to come in, one person in a group can maybe come in. BUT NO BAGS. Leave them somewhere? And so there you are. And really outside really looking in between the friendly notices. And no obvious door whatsoever. The only door that potentially could get you in the building is sort of white painted so you can’t see in and all it has to invite you in is three signs. All saying the same thing. All in English. Here’s what they say: Only Staff.

welcome mat is always out at the Florence airport.Naturally, here and in Wonderland, that could mean Come In because everyone is doing that anyway. With bags. I don’t care what their sign says, you can’t “leave bags unattended” in an airport. So you enter this strange world. Blank white walls, no signage, like a regular row of offices in your accountant’s building except with lines of irritable people cue’d up at the doors of each office. The Germans ahead of me had been given a car with at least one flat tire. They couldn’t even leave the parking lot. They had filled a whole sheet of paper with written explanation of their plight and then the frazzled clerk told them to Go to the car and wait and in half an hour someone would be there to fix the flat.

Perfect opening for RyanAir flights to Umbria. Can’t wait to give their Stanstead to Perugia flight a try next trip.

See you in Italy!


P. S.

I would love to hear positive stories of this new airport, because Florence is totally cool. And we have raves on downtown Florence coming up from the end of our trip. Let me know if this airport debacle was just me? Go to the “Comments” icon right here and tell me your experiences there in Florence.

OK, the next blog is a total rave! Promise. Just felt I had to warn travelers about this big sea change at our formerly favorite airport.