“It was a dark & stormy night”in Citta’ di Castello

citta di castello, umbria, italy, stormCITTA DI CASTELLO, Umbria– It was a dramatic kind of day and night. Of course I enhanced the photo “a bit” but omg, we had never been to this lovely city and we’d been wildly turned around on mountain roads getting here. Seemed easy enough. Next time. When the thunder and lightning started, we were just coming out of a Signorelli exhibit. We’d been wandering through that castello for a couple hours and were on the far, far side of town. “Umbrella? I thought YOU had the umbrella!” we both said in unison. Shoot. Must be in the car. ooOK. But, a tiny, further “degree of difficulty” as they say in Olympic diving, was this: We didn’t know which way to run.

No idea WHERE the car was. hilltop castle, citta di castello, umbria, italy, almost stormOr, maybe you could say we knew where the car was but we didn’t know where WE were-relative to it. We had to duck into a doorway (luckily, doorway to an aces gelateria) and show a lady there a photo I had taken of the city gates that we walked thru next to where we’d parked. THEN we could start to run. At least at that point we were running the right direction. Memory. Must remember to use it sometime.

Shown here, above, parking lot view looking back at city. And to the left, yet another castle (ho hum) we past outside of town on the way back. Had to pull off the road to soak it all in. Out in the middle of the wild woods south of the city. We’re planning a return trip to this town. Obviously, lots more castles to see near Citta’ di Castello.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Want to see more pictures of Italy? See our instagram gallery. It’s growing daily as we sort thru photos of our most recent trip.

Picture Italy on instagram.

CORTONA & rosescortona350, cortona, italyEVERYWHERE, ITALY– You say you want more pictures of Italy? See our latest instagram shots That gallery is growing.

Instagram is too fun. Latest app for our brava iPhone, seems wicked user-friendly. I mean, if Stew can do. So can you.

Just add wi-fi, it’s a snap. Click the picture, adjust it, caption, send. Ta da!

This picture was taken just before a shower, running to the car in the parking lot at the foot of the escalator in Cortona. OH, you don’t know about the escalator parking trick there? Makes Cortona even more of a dream.

See you (on instagram) in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

TO THE FOUR CORNERS OF ITALY. AND BACK.

look-both-ways, trieste, bevagna, italyTRIESTE, ITALY –The lost province of Istria fading out of sight in our rearview mirror, we were headed through Friuli-Venezia (FriuLIVEnezia as the posters remind you) then the Venato. Then another hyphenated province, Emelia-Roman this time, then Tuscany, and finally “nostra” Umbria. It was five or six provinces in seven plus hours but leisurely, sunny, well-caffinated “don’t-miss-any-AutoGrills-at-all” kind of hours.

Barely paying attention, we were watching the lush landscapes roll by, and thinking The Big Thoughts. The ones we all think in quiet moments of a long trip when our minds on autopilot. When SUDDENLY like a EURIKA moment, it dawned on me: We’ve been everywhere, man, we’ve been everywhere. Over the years we have managed to see Italy from Reggio di Calabria and Siracusa in Sicily in the South – to Chivasso in the North (just below Lugano in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland). And from Genova and Torino in the West to Trieste in the East.

I think we can safely say we’ve pretty much done Italy top to bottom. And now add, the left to the far, far, almost in Slovenia, right.
coffeeandwine, Tavernelle, Bevagan, italy
BUT, WAIT. THERE’S MORE.

That revelation came to us the first week of our trip. But, oh so obviously, in between those four corners there’s things we will admit we’ve missed. For Example: just the other day, we went to a mid-morning! wine tasting at San Clemente Vineyards outside Montefalco. Hey, it is Eleven AM, somewhere. But, such are the rigors of traveling with our wine-importing friend Paul Turina of Turina Italian Wines. Back on the road, it dawned on us that we could take our friend Andrea’s (of Masolino’s in Panicale) advice and See Bevagna.

Bevagna is half an hour from Panicale. But, yet. We’ve never been there? How can that be? Walking through its gates we knew were someplace quite different. Different look and personality from any Umbrian town I’ve seen to date. Small, walled, lower buildings, on a plain rather than a hilltop as are many walled towns. Medieval overtones everywhere. Including one 14th century fountain that actually mirrors the one in Panicale. Just as Andrea had promised.

It was a dark and stormy day as they say in Peanuts. The word “cold” could be thrown in for good measure. But it was still a lark to shop about, have a nice lunch, see their museum (lots of Roman artifacts) go to their theater and then for the finale see the town’s pride: a huge black and white aquatic themed mosaic floor of a Roman Bath. This big floor was only a third of the whole bath system, the cold room. It was saved because someone built a house over this part at some point in Post Roman history. It was just re-discovered about 1900. Honey, look! I pulled up the carpet and there’s another darn Roman mosaic in this room too. Che sorpressa!
bevagna, italy, ape, geraniums, theater, tower And then, we met a charming British artist having a show of his ink drawings in a renovated church/gallery. And then, when asked, he pointed us down a nearby alley to his favorite restaurant. Which proves that when you are out and about, the best plan can be – no plan at all. Sometimes translated as Stay Loose. Which we did!

We certainly had no idea at our coffee that morning in Tavernelle that we’d be enjoying Bevagna for lunch. And just as our original destination of Montefalco had passed us to Bevagna, Bevagna was passing us on to Bettona. We were headed away from Bevagna on a back road outside of Torgiano, when we looked up and saw a towered village on a hill high above us and Bettona signs pointing right at it. That’s even closer to our home. How did that get there? Really no idea. But we’re saving Torgiano and maybe even Bettona for another day. Maybe we’ll discover them with our next round of company. Stay tuned.

Are we having fun yet? Yes, yes we are. I think we can safely put this whole day in the Win Column.

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland

SHOPPING. FOR A MOM. ON A RUN UP TO MOTHERS DAY IN ITALY.

MONTEPULCIANO, SIENA, ETC ITALY – We paid for this holiday in many ways. Do not go shopping with a mom at this time of year. Especially if she is your wife. Not on the day before Mothers Day. The operative phrase seemed to be “well, tomorrow is Mothers Day” What can you say, facts are facts. You might as well release your grip on your credit card for a minute and start picking bags and Sherpa-ing them to the car. That was our day in Montepulciano. And Siena, too, now that I think of it. Glorious, non-stop sunshine kind of day.

saintmadonna, poggi, umbria, italyThe actual day of Festa della Mamma dawned dark and sort of stayed that way. So we took a trip to nearby Poggi to see friends’ reno progress. Their house project shares a painterly and pastoral hilltop at the edge of Poggi with a tiny temple-like brick church. Its always been closed the many times we’ve been there. But this day it was open. They shouldn’t do this when tourists are loose in the area. You know what they say? Permesso? And in they come.

From the outside, this church-ette has a quietly abandoned look about it. But inside it is somewhat grand and ornate and seems ready for business. In fact there had been a baptism that very day. Which was why it was open. The church’s cleaning lady in no nonsense black apron, much to the annoyance of her leather jacketed son, ran and got us laminated Virgin Mary cards oblivious to her sons dark looks, beetled brow, the motor running on his car, just outside the door. The two of them perfect cartoon characters. A brooding devil and a beaming angel. One for each shoulder. We said our “la ringrazias” and backed out.

The next day, back in Panicale, our cleaning lady and good friend Anna had her purse’s contents spread out on our madia, rifling thru papers of all sizes and shapes, searching for the one with the hours she had worked for us written on it. Like a card shark dealing from a familiar deck, she moved past receipts, souvenirs, and what is this? Yes, it is a laminated Saints Card, not unlike ours. Which she held up for our edification. I pulled down our card from where I’d stuck it into the edge of the mirror frame and handed it to her. Whereupon it was promptly and affectionately kissed.

Nice to have cards like the other kids.

Here’s the card, and what Stew thinks it says. This is our translation, we welcome yours.

saintpreghiera, card from church in Poggi, Umbria, ItalyOUR REQUEST, OUR PRAYER

Remember, o most pious Virgin Mary, that there is not anyone in the world that ever has turned to you for your protection, implored your for your help and asked your sponsorship, that has ever been abandoned.

Spurred on as I am by this confidence, I appeal to you oh Mother Virgin of all Virgins, to you I come, eyes full of tears, heart full of sins, prostrate at your feet, begging for pity. Mother of the spoken word please do not despise my voice, but gently listen and grant my wish. Amen.

Indulgence of 300 days granted, every time. Limit one per customer, per month. Now, with new ecclesiastic approval. Collect all seven cards today!

Ok, that last bit was Stew-ified a small amount.

All best to all,

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

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ALWAYS IN HOT WATER. ONE WAY. OR ANOTHER.

PLUMBING SUPPLY OUTLET, SOMEWHERE IN PINETTA, UMBRIA ¬–Yes, in many ways, life is easier when your wife is a witch.

A good witch granted. One Darin could imagine himself kissing as he went off to his job at the ad factory. We’ve always had our time in the ad game in common, Darin and I. And I’ve always felt it went deeper than that.
shower panicale italy
Except instead of being on 1960’s TV, in an American suburb, we are in downtown Umbria. Ergo, we have company. Fun, lovely company. Then we traveled, came back, had more. Do not try being us without a calendar in hand. Both companies, plural, were in the same upstairs apt, just at different moments.

The second set are wonderful friends and neighbors from Maine, and Paul is one of the handiest people I have yet to meet. He can make anything out of any other thing almost as a party trick. Marvelously handy. But he couldn’t make hot water come out of that apt’s shower. And if he couldn’t make it work, it was well and truly fried. He could with the right tool. But it was the weekend. And then they left.

But with more company on the horizon, it was quickly falling to me to Stand and Deliver. Which means call the plumber. And bathe in the withering glare of his famously handsome but nevertheless, cold, ice blue eyes. Eyes that, as soon as I could find him (please allow a week to ten days) would be saying “a preschooler with half a brain, hint, hint, and the proper tool, a tiny pre-schooler could do this. I have massive, important castles and business people of great import to stare down, and yet you bother me.” So. I could go that route. And, or, I could be that tiny pre-schooler with the proper tool. And just do this thing.

As always, before any trip to a foreign land, say, an Italian hardware store, I take copious photos, and any visual aids I can break loose from the battle site. In this case, the tub faucet on which was written in script “Nobile.” All of which I packed off to the giant plumbing supply place. Where they gave me the same look I could have gotten from the plumber. And then they gave me what was even obvious to me, the wrong tool. And advise that was even wrong-er. Which boiled down to “Oh, llustrious client, Mr. PreSchooler yourself, please buy this wildly expensive pair of regular pliers and pull on that thing, there in the middle, pull like your wife depended on it. And then it will miraculously come off in your hand, and you will have no water at all in your home until you bring that part back here. And we’ll see what we can do. Maybe we’ll have one like that. Maybe.” And then he added “Semplicissimo.”

Hmmm. Ok. Like Scarlett I will think about that Domani. showerview panicale italy

Domani came, Midge left. For a Girls’ Day Out in, and surely involving a glass of, Chianti. But before she left she said “You know how I like to think that things left alone can fix themselves?” Yes, yes I do know that. But being someone who went to an actual engineering school for a couple semesters, that is really not fixing the actual faucet here.

After waves goodbye, I shut down the water supply right at the street. And cautiously approached the surly tub. New pliers in hand, I grabbed the thing they said to grab, it stuck, I wrestled, and immediately purpled the pointing finger of my left hand. At which point I realized I needed professional help. In oh so many, many ways. Because this valve thing isn’t going anywhere if it depends on me and this particular tool. And I can’t get any other tools because our car is cavorting in Chianti.

Friends? Already used Bruno to do a gratis repair in this bathroom, earlier this same week. And company still coming tomorrow. What to do now? What. If. I. Just …what if I just try, not the shower, slowly carefully try the tub faucet, just one more time?

In a scant few moments you could poach eggs in the water coming out of the faucet and you could hear the comforting roar of the gas heater. I’m more of a tub guy but I’m going for the gold now. I flip the lever to “Shower.”

Sure enough. She fixed it.

See you in Italy,,

Stew Vreeland

PS the landscape is the view out the window of the bathroom. To keep everything in perspective. That is the important bit! Hey, we can shower when we get home, right?