Water, water everywhere. Life on an Italian peninsula.

CASTIGLIONE DEL LAGO, Umbria, Italy – Not a bad place to be on a sunny day. The “del Lago” part you’ve probably already figured out is all about being right on the lake. Strangest, no – I think the chamber of commerce people would say most unique – geography I can imagine. First, you have this nice round lake in the middle of the Italian peninsula. There are some hilly approaches to the lake but mostly on the far east and some on the north. On the south it is all an agricultural plain around the lake, same with the west where this peninsula, for no reason at all, inexplicably juts straight out into the lake. And there it is. A long, tall rock in the middle of a lake. How did that happen?

I suppose it really doesn’t matter how it came to be there. The point here is that the peninsula is very interesting and when you get up there, the town built there on the peninsula has water on all sides. And you have enough elevation to pull up a gelati and enjoy the view. Look, isn’t that Panicale on that hill over there? If I squint I think maybe it is.
castiglione del lago in umbria, on an italian lake

When you first drive through the main gate you will likely be parking in front of a big palace where there are art shows and exhibitions. That palace is connected to a long skinny defensive corridor to an imposing fortress where the views get really grand and wild. You can sometimes see outdoor movies in the center of the fortress on a summer’s eve. Been there, done that, quite liked that. People smoke, they talk, kids run around, there is a long intermission. Very much not like a night at your multiplex back at the mall in your home town. Meanwhile, along the main, and almost only street, are frame shops, books stores, restaurants, hotels, and pastry and fruit stores of every stripe. And lots of stores with mounted cinghales where you can get wild boar sausage, wine, cheese and other necessities of la dolce vita. And down by one arched entry to the city (you can just barely see it in one of our photos here) is an eccentric “antique” store. Its merchandise is all over the map, just like the owner. He’s tiny and busy as a bee. We usually talk in Italian but every now and then he surprises us with his English. Something about South Africa? I disremember exactly where he misspent his youth. But what I do remember is pushing in through the clutter and inching my way sideways like a crab past decorative farm tools and glass dishes to the furniture cavern at the back and being kind of bowled over by the lofty, seemingly optimistic, prices. I expressed my “concern” over the cost there and the owner said “oh, you need my ‘cose povere’. We have a whole building full of poor things” He herded us out of his building, locking the door behind us, jumped on a long suffering Vespa and motioned for us to follow him. And we were off. The cinder block building he led us to was just a few blocks away, down the hill. And when he opened the doors it was like Ali Baba’s cave to us. Great, fun and funky stuff, dirt cheap. And choices? You bet. This was a nice size place and full to the rafters. In more, shall we say, our price range. We bought things we loved, he steered us to a cousin who is an aces restorer, we picked new marble tops for all of the pieces. That made them seem to match, we had them all stained to match, and a few months later we had a set of bedroom furniture to be proud of. They look old money but they cost hardly any money. And we got what we wanted.


Below the walled town itself the ground goes almost to sea level – ok, lake level. And there are beaches and ice cream vendors, and ferries to the islands and parks. And a nice drive around the peninsula. Being Italy, it is a bit of circuitous route with a baffling one way / non one way kind of pattern to it. Someone in their department of transportation decidedly thought about this way too long. But along the drive, on a sunny day anyway, the lake can be an almost unnatural Caribbean turquoise blue. And should a storm come up, I’ve seen that that blue can change to black water and white caps in a flash. When we took these pictures it was sort of an in-between kind of day. Just recently along this lake drive there is a new modern crop of sculptures that have sprung up. Their job seems to be to frame views of the lake the way their ancient ancestors in the city up above have framed their views for centuries. You remember Katia the broker of course. The people shown next to the sculpture are Katia’s parents celebrating life, good health and Italy on a summer day. Wouldn’t mind being there with them right now. Ciao, Mario, Ciao, Angela!

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

In Breaking News from Bar Gallo . . .

When we are in Italy you can usually find us there on Via del Filatoio. Our end of the street is quiet, reserved, great views, but it is mainly “four cats” and us. But the other end of the street – that is where the action picks up.

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy – The wheel turns. Another revolution. And a new generation comes to town. To our favorite town in Umbria, Panicale. I have to admit it is not only our favorite but it is also our “home town”. When we are in Italy you can usually find us there on Via del Filatoio. Our end of the street is quiet, reserved, great views, but it is mainly “four cats” and us. But the other end of the street – that is where the action picks up. We often find ourselves referring to the piazza as if it were an extension of the long standing village café/bar. This bar is the first place open in the morning and the last place to crank up its awning and stack up its chairs every night. We say, “Lets go to Aldo’s” and we sort of mean lets go down to the piazza. But have a cup of coffee first. All the stores, restaurants, the hairdressers, are right there. So is leaning against a sun-warmed stone wall or licking a gelati sitting on the fountain’s steps waiting for friends to come by. Just part of the texture of the place. And the focus here, as in many villages, is the village café by the gate to the city.

In the winter months, the bar closes one day a week. Monday. And it is a Blue Monday when that happens. Lost souls sit in the sunshine in plastic chairs in front of the locked metal doors looking for all the world like there has been a death in the family. I suppose I am exaggerating a bit, but people do know when Bar Gallo is closed, and the piazza seems a bit quiet, off balance, disoriented. I can promise I am all of those things and more.

love is in the air in Umbria, italyThe café is often just called “Aldo’s” (a photo of it is captioned like that on an internationally published calendar we bought here in Maine), but its true name is Bar Gallo. And it really is a Gallo family affair. Aldo and his bright, shiny penny of a wife Daniela seem to have been there smartly dressed six, and more often, seven days a week for more years than we’ve been coming to town. They were legends when we washed up on these shores ten years ago. Sister-in-law Leyda comes mid-afternoons and gives them a break. And more and more the last couple years, Aldo and Daniela’s son, Simone, has been swept up into the business. Building us our lifesaving morning cappucchinos, noonday proseccos, late afternoon gelatis and our after dinner, after theater, after whatever, night caps. Bailey’s and Orzo and Goodnight, Goodnight. Sogni d’Oro indeed.


And what is this? Simone’s found a honey. Look at that rascally smile on his face. Is that the cat that ate the canary or what? It looks to be young love in full bloom. Young and wired. And not just from the high test cappucchino. We may all be way up on top of a hill in Umbria but we’ve got broadband. And that is where Simone met his lovely Siciliana Lorena. On the internet. Isn’t technology grand? If you saw Simone in June you knew there was a Lorena countdown. At the bar, every morning. “Only five days.” “Will you be here Tuesday?” “ Four days. She’s coming Tuesday, you know”. And the next thing we knew, there she was behind the bar, dishing gelati and local gossip with the best of us – like she’d been here forever.

If a medieval village of brick and stone can be said to have a heart, it is surely its piazza. And the heart of Panicale’s piazza is right there under its striped canvas awning, right between its ancient marble fountain and the old town gate where the drawbridge used to be. And now Bar Gallo not only has a great family history, it also has new blood. The beat goes on.

Complimenti, complimenti pure. And happy congrats to Simone and Lorena and Aldo and Daniela and everyone sitting in the sunshine of Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.

See you in Bar Gallo,