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!

LOOK OUT ITALY. HERE WE COME. THE $700 CLUB?

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
LA PRIMA VERA IN ITALIA.

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

Happy, well trained?


UMBRIA, TUSCANY, Italy— Be not afraid. Trains are no big thing at all in Italy. In fact, trains and training are a good thing. Look at these happy trainers. And why shouldn’t they be smiling. There are no Audis and Alfas bearing down on them. They can sit back and gossip, doze off, read their guide books, just be one with their inter tourist. The Italian trains have had a lot of of practice over the years and they almost run on time and they are a good value for the money. And the time saved over parking and driving as such makes them well worth the price and the effort. Being Italy, they do things how they do them there. Not always how we would do them in the perfect world where we ran everything. And we just need to get over it and adapt. The best part of the Italian train system is the Web site for Trenitalia Get it? Treni (trains) + Italia (Italy) = Trenitalia. Very nice contraction. Anyway, everyone in Italy takes the site as nearly gospel and refers to it constantly. It seems very dependable. Go to the English language section and it too is pretty bullet proof. Someone with English for a first language is vetting it and it seems to be entirely lucid at all times. Even for us foreigners!

Can you say “andata”? Can you say “ritorno”? Can you say “andata e ritorno”? That means round trip. Ask for it by name. If you are coming and going. Or just say “solo andata” if you are just going and never coming back, for example.


WE’VE GOT A TICKET TO RIDE
If you get a ticket for a specific time and date and it is in a cabin, just read the ticket carefully and you will see a train car and cabin and seat number. In the example shown here, to get back to our house in Umbria I was going from Rome to Chiusi on May 26th, leaving at 2:09PM. 14.09 in Italian or military time parlance. With this particular ticket, I was on train 586, car 6, seat number 53, in the middle of three seats. It makes sense after awhile.

We generally don’t get cabins but just get a generic ticket to Rome. Trains leave for Rome more or less constantly and you can go whenever you want with the generic ticket. Tickets are good for a long time.

STAMP COLLECTING?
Here is the only tiny trick. Which I conveniently forget fifty percent of the time: stamp the ticket. Stew. Are you paying attention? Like I said, the ticket has a long shelf life, but because of that if you don’t stamp it and the conductor doesn’t check it, you could use it again. So, they want you to stamp it in one of the yellow boxes that are all over all the stations and the platforms too usually. Either end, just slide it in the slot and it will make a bit of click and there will be really faded almost out of ink impression that only conductors care about. Says the date and time you stamped it. Then, after this stamping, the clock is running and the ticket/biglietto is only good for a finite period of time. An hour? I do not recall. Something like that. Just stamp it before you get on and everyone goes away happy. I’ve seen Italians who “forget” to stamp their tickets get yelled at. Of course, they yell right back. The conductors usually figure silly foreigners are hardly worth the effort so we play the poor blissfully ignorant tourist depending upon the kindness of strangers in a strange land and they just sigh meaningfully at our boneheadedness and write Who knows what the heck on the back of my ticket and shove it back at us with a world weary sigh of what is that? Pity? Disgust? Oh, well.

Do as I say. Not as I do. That seems to be the message here, doesn’t it?

See you on board,

See you in Italy,

Stew

WE ROME AROUND WE ROME AROUND

DATELINE: ALL OF ITALY— NEWS FLASH! ITALY WINS! THEY ARE IN THE WORLD CUP SOCCER FINALS. OPPONENT TO BE DECIDED TONIGHT. EITHER FRANCE OR PORTUGAL. Forza Azzuri! Yay Italian Blue. Did you see the match yesterday? Nice of them to have it on the Fourth of July. Wow. What a match. Beating unbeaten Germany in Germany. OMG. There must be much dancing in the streets in “football” crazed Italy today. FINAL MATCH ON FRIDAY, JULY 9TH.

We return you now to our regularily scheduled blog:

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ROMAN AROUND PANICALE

PANICALE, Umbria— There is a Roman family who live on the street below us. And some other Romans who live beside us. Now we have another new neighbor from Rome: Amselmo. He’s not new. Just new to us. Like many a Roman in Panicale, they are more often than not actually originally from Panicale, but they live and work in Rome. And come home to Panicale on the weekends. It’s a couple hours and couldn’t be easier for them. He and his wife have a building down the street from us. They live on the top two or three floors and for the last year or so have been renovating the ground floors of his building into a stylish weekend home for his adult kids. We’ve been watching the progress every time we go by and if Amselmo’s there he invites us in. Very much a constant twinkle in the eye kind of guy. He did the place for his kids to lure them to Panicale but no dice, they didn’t come as often as he had hoped, so he’s selling it.

PANICALE GOES ROMAN

ROME, Italy— They say Rome wasn’t built in a day. But we saw the heck out of it in a day. Did not know you could do that. So, I had to be coaxed and cajoled into spending a day in Rome. Well, I got my just deserts there. What a fine and fun day in the sun that turned out to be. Like all recent converts, I’m all fired up and ready to go again at the drop of a hat. Mood swings? Yike. Here’s the no-stress way we spent the day. Got up at seven. See that wasn’t so hard, now was it Stew? Had a leisurely coffee with Aldo, caught the 8:59 Chiusi to Rome Termini. Trenitalia (trains of italy) by the way, is pretty much bulletproof train schedule site. With brother Roger and his wife Donna in hand we pulled into the Rome station at 10:46. I defy any one to pilot a car to central Rome in an hour and three quarters from Panicale in the middle of Umbria. Usually it takes us three solid hours to get to Romes’s airport. I’m guessing the trip to the center of town would be a comparable driving nightmare.

The train pulled in right on time, ten euros later, by cab (yes, yes we could have walked but we didn’t know that now did we?) we were at Hotel Giuliana on Via Agostino Dpretis. Antonio greeted us happily as Roger’s reservation filled his last room. Hey, Antonio, save us a room. We will be back!

GETTING AROUND IN ROME

We found the hotel in DK Eyewitness Travel under “Rome” under “Termini”. This book proved bulletproof too. So helpful for scooting around town. Ok, one drawback. The book is not only heavy with detail, it is just plain heavy. Another time I might just read, review and leave at home. But as a security blanket, it was worth its weight in gold. A slightly braver Roman Traveler might find true happiness with just one Dam map. We used our really tough, light, durable Van Dam “Street Smart Rome” folding map a hundred times in the one day. Unlike a lot of embarrassingly large, bed sheet sized maps, this one is discrete and folds out more like a brochure. Colorful, simple, helpful, laminated. Would not go without it.


WHEN IN ROME

So, what did those resources help us see in one easy day? Lets start at the Terminal:

Hotel. Got in, chatted up the nice staff, got settled, oriented.
Coliseum. This was no drive by. We did the complete guided tour. See below.
Roman Forum
Hadrian’s Column
Victor Emanuel Monument. Also see below.
Bernini’s Elephant based obelisk
The Pantheon!
Trevi Fountain

All on foot and all casual. This was absolutely not one of those forced marches tourists sometimes inflict on themselves. We’re way to lazy for that. We stopped, we gawked, we took each other’s pictures in front of every piece of carved marble in town, we sat in the sun, we ate paninnis, we licked gelatis. And then, Midge and I caught the 5:14 back to Chiusi after making sure Roger and Donna were all organized, finding them tickets for their next day’s trip to the airport. We showed them the trick to catching that train. (The trick: that train comes in off to the side of the major tracks. To your right as you are looking at the trains going to every corner of Italy. To the side and waaay down the corridor. That’s right, just keep going. Airport train is a bit different as it is sort of inter-city, special deal) The train station in Rome has become very uptown and cool. Like a trendy mall versus the greasy gritty third world dump I remember it being. I was, and remain, impressed. With train, station and Rome.

LOOKS LIKE THE TREVI TO ME

What a lovely way to spend a sunny Sunday. To think that two days ago my sister in law was wearing my parka! If I had had a wool scarf in Montepulciano even the day before, I would have worn it too. Today Rome was blessed with Tshirt weather and we were reveling in it. And loving the fact that a lot of the city was closed to cars and major streets around the forum were reserved for pedestrians and bicycles. Not sure what the occasion was, but regardless, let us just wave goodbye out our train window and say Viva Roma!

I hope to be writing up some Helpful Italian Train Riding Hints shortly. Fun for all ages.

Until then,

See you in Italy,

Stew