Picture Italy on instagram.

roses just before a shower, running to the car in the parking lot at the foot of the escalator in Cortona.

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

Kiki finds a couple things to do in Umbria

Every time we go to Italy, and this is a dozen years now, we find things we can’t now imagine that we missed. Its just an embarrassment of riches waiting for us to discover.

Maybe a couple times in our Life After Buying a House in Umbria, people have said “well, gee, if you buy one place then you’ll never be able to go anywhere else. And won’t you get, like, bored?” As if. Every time we go to Italy, and this is a dozen years now, we find things we can’t now imagine that we missed. Its just an embarrassment of riches waiting for us to discover.
That came to mind when we got this fun-filled note from our buddy and co-owner Kiki. We have so much unscheduled merriment there in Panicale that we often teasingly refer to it as Panic Alley. What the heck, same general pronunciation?

If I interject and annotate her note I’ll put my words in Italic and in parens.

See you in Italy!


Hey Styooo, (how Anglo Saxonish name Stewart comes out in Latin-ish Italian. Regardless, music. Well, to my ears)

Pix when we can. (Fine, fine. I’ll do mine!) Too busy having fun. Here’s what we’ve done:

Wednesday arrival, lunch at GMB. (over over the top coffee, pastry extravaganza at bargain prices just outside Cast.d.Lago. fotos here hint of same. enclosed is their idea of civilized morning nosh, above, and box lunch, below. BTW, I think the lunch delights came to under $10 USD. Box and bows included.)

Thursday Morning discovered Salvatore’s, the new take-out in Panicale. Best bread ever, plus wonderful seafood lasagna (recommended by Giovanna) and torta di Napoli.

Thursday Night we hit Cortona to visit Kathleen’s Peaks Island friends. Saw Pia! Air-kissed and said ‘hi.’ (that’s Pia of Nando and Pia fame our old friends at Bar Sport by the intersection of the piazzas in the center of town. Just beside City Hall and across from theater) Kathleen’s friends want to buy here, so we told them about seeyouinitaly! (why, thank you) They’re smart, cute and funny. Yet more nice friends to have here.
Friday, back to Salvatore’s, then Assisi and our first gelato of the season.

Saturday Ikea in Firenze — wait ’til you see my new living room! …

Sunday, back to Salvatore’s, then brunch at Elida’s with Sophia + Anna; Sunday evening dinner at the Peter/Sarah’s with gang of ten others. so good to see.

Monday Siena, so Kathleen could see St. Catherine’s head — and thumb.

Today, Cetona with the Bowers to visit their antiques guy — and have a three hour lunch.

Tomorrow, Rome. Jim is driving us because he wants to see the Coliseum, too. Nice, eh?
(they are back. loved it eternally they said. But, no. They didn’t elaborate. Assumed they were just still having too much fun. Wait, wait “I’ve got mail)

Rome. That’s a riot about the earthquake. We were rather like you, Midge and friends when you were at the Autogrille when the place had been evacuated for a faux bomb scare: innocents abroad. We knew nothing. Jim drove us to Rome to pick up Rob, who slept his whole flight and was plenty rested. We parked near the Circus Maximus, walked to the Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Trevi Fountain. Had a good lunch — and the most incredible ‘iced’ cappuccino. Lovely. Lots of walking on what seemed like terra firma!
(versus the italian word for earthquake: terremoto)
No time yet to swim in pools, patronize favorite local restaurants or take pix. Definitely will!

What … flood? At the office? (can you hear the roar of the fans? she’s in Italy, we’re here with broken water heater water lapping at our office door. sigh. Almost fixed! YAY.)

Baci, baci.

A day in Cortona. Cappuccino, Cioccolato and TANGO?

When we left our house that morning all we knew was that we were going to see some houses with Giancarlo. And that we might see one in Cortona. Turns out we went there first and that was the start of an interesting day in that hilltop town.
In the first place, we were thunderstruck at how much we liked the house. Terrace AND balcony AND lakeview AND garage. In Cortona? Are you kidding me? Usually perfectly lovely places in Cortona have none of the above. It will make someone a nice home. Right in town.

After seeing that we treated ourselves to a few minutes of town life. We peeked into Teatro Signorelli to see what was on offer for that night. Tango? You know we like Tango. And there’s at least two of us. Hmm. Then we went across the piazza for coffee at with our friends Nando and Pia’s at Bar Sport. And luckily I remembered I was a man with more than one mission. Multi-tasking will be the end of us, I swear. But a top mission was to find a place in Cortona for a friend to pop “the Question.” Shhh. Top Secret. So, I took it to the top dog in Cortona. Laying it right at Nando’s feet. He thought about it, scratched his chin, raised his eyebrows at Pia a couple times and nodded and told me to follow him to Loconda nel Loggiato not far from Bar Sport. We’d eaten with Nando and Pia there al fresco on the loggiato but we’d never actually been inside and even in Sunny Italy this was still March and still a bit brisk to be eating and proposing outside. We did that recon and send the name on to our friend with best wishes. Thanks Nando!

bruschettaartistiThis was maybe one day before the weather went totally wonderfully spring on us so it was not cold but cool and walking down Via Nazionale we saw a Caffe with a sign out extolling Zuppa! A cup of that and we’d be on our way. Or so we thought. The happy folks at Caffe degli Artisti decided we needed to be stuffed like Christmas Geese. Baskets of hot breads came un bidden and some of the most beautiful (they really ARE artisti here) and tasty bruschetta I could imagine. Also unbidden. By the time our soups came the waiters had pulled another table next to ours to stack our extra dishes on. Two of us ordered Ribollita and two ordered Zuppa and those two were asked if they wanted their zuppa with bread in it. Our friends shrugged and said ok. Which, in effect, made us all have the same huge bowls of breaded vegetable soup. And when we tried to wave away dessert, they brought a plate of pastries, anyway. Always liked Cortona.

We were having so much fun at this point we decided to sign up for the Tango show at the Signorelli. Getting tickets in the daytime was fun, the man behind the desk got his seating chart out and we walked around the theater and saw up close and personal exactly what seats were available and picked a third level box for five of us. Even though it would hold more, he assured us it would be “our” box. We watched them setting up for the show, bought our tickets and went back to Panicale for a few hours of R&R on home court.

We even bought a tango ticket for a friend who had no idea what we were up to on her behalf. We’d sort of said we’d get dinner together that night but we could not find each other by phone. Surprise! I was sure she’d be fine with it and she was.

When evening fell we gathered our squadra and wound our way back up Cortona’s hill in the big, black Delta Lancia one of our friend had inadvertently rented. What a sled that is. About the size of a Dodge Magnum, he’d had it locked solid in the tiny streets of Paciano and had to have kibitzing Italian bystanders spring it loose. So, we were all a bit leery of its mass, relative to our fine motor controls, but it was fine.

And so was just roaming the streets of Cortona off season looking for dinner right at dinner time. I’m seriously not working for the Chamber of Commerce here but I will say, I’ve never had anything but great food everywhere in Cortona. So, I was not even concerned. But I’d never eaten at the Osteria del Teatro Midge pointed out. What the heck, it is Italy, we’re going to the Teatro next door right after, how bad could it be?
Not bad at all. LOVED it. our bacala with chick peas was to die for. We didn’t want to ruin our main courses by having too many appetizers so we just got one antipasti plate “per la tavola” which was more than plenty because the plate they brought was huge. The “rosa della casa per favore” was a knockout bottle of Chianti. And when we again tried to wave away dessert for the second time in that city that day, here came a hysterical waitress with a chocolate board over flowing with chunks and slabs of every color of chocolate. And with a cleaver she started whacking and laughing. We first heard her earlier in the evening across the room and we were all wide-eyed certain there was a barking puppy in the room. Up close it was hard not to want to join in with her happy barking. There must be some law in Cortona about sending customers out into the cold, cruel world without dessert. Best chocolate ever, magnificent. Were there raspberries in it? Had my total undivided attention. And like with the antipasta plate, the waiters wanted to see those plates cleaned. “You’re Not leaving that piece of prosciutto/crumb of chocolate are you!?!”
And try to put a price on this dinner: Antipasta in profusion, pastas, main courses, contornis, wine, gorgeous decanters of sparkling waters, dessert. 98 euros. For FIVE adults. We left full and happy.
And stepped across the piazza to watch the swirl of people coming in to see the show. Going to a show in a place like this is worth the price of admission itself. 12 euros per ticket with swell views of the stage from a box just off center on the third level up. And the music was remarkable and the dancing lovely too. We seem to be on a strange tango binge. We saw the Napoletango show in Rome in October. Highly recommended. Saw tango in theaters and on the streets with hats being passed in Buenos Aires in February and now here we are in Cortona! Is this related to watching too much DWTS?

Here’s a video clip of the show shot with our brava new Sony.

Strolling down the cobblestones to the car afterwards we were all saying what a fine thing it was to be open to the moment and living the life spontaneous in Cortona. Even if it was just for the moment.

And, the Locanda nel Loggiato? It delivered later that week. When our friend asked the big question there over dinner, he got the answer he was hoping for. She said Yes!

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland


Spring ahead. Thinking Italy, Cortona & Umbria

Snow has melted enough here in Maine, that even though it is still deep – so deep you can’t slog thru it with boots – you still can’t snow shoe on it. Funny time. Time for it to go. And speaking of going. . . we are. To Italy next Saturday. March 19th. Yay!

Looking at the deep snow parked outside our windows here in Maine. Hoping it keeps melting. It has about three feet left to go. I know, “piano, piano” this too will pass. Our neighbors in Panicale, Umbria don’t see snow on a regular basis so it has a certain novelty to them. And after a snow fall, you can depend on someone to be grumping about it and you can also depend on someone else to say brightly “ricordi, sotto le neve c’e pane.” The corollary and only sometimes used as the rhyming finale is the less romantic, darker “sotto l’aqua c’e fame.” Snow does melt and feeds the crops which feeds everyone and of course it is better than too much water. So. Snow, good thing. In moderation.

Snow has melted enough here in Maine, that even though it is still deep – so deep you can’t slog thru it with boots – you still can’t snow shoe on it. Funny time. Time for it to go. And speaking of going. . . we are. To Italy next Saturday. March 19th. We’ll be in Panicale, Cortona, Siena for a couple weeks. Yay! Non vedo l’ora!
Every where I look we see things that point us to Italy. At lunch at my sister Gin’s next door today, we saw her Araucana chicken eggs in ceramic egg cartons we brought her from Cortona one time. Love the soft cream color that seems to be The Color of Cortona in the ceramic dept. And aren’t the eggs great? Not dyed. Just how they are. Almost too pretty to poach. Yes, we are ready for Italy and even Easter it appears from these eggs.

OK, See you in Italy! And soon!

Stew Vreeland

What to do what to do?

Friends dropping into our garden, painters painting the house, Paul Turina’s wine, flag throwing in Cortona, the great Lombard/Umbrian sausage cook-off

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PANICALE, Umbria–What is there to do on a typical Italian weekend? People will once in a great while say to us, “Oh, I could not imagine having a vacation home in the same place all the time. I’d get so bored, Don’t you run out of things to do?” Maybe if we were in Old Overshoe, Nebraska, but not in the middle of Umbria. It’s consistently crazybusyfun here.

We must be in better shape than I thought. We’ve been partying from dusk to dawn. Well ok, not so much on the dawn part, unless the sun is coming up around ten AM in Italy. Could that be? Regardless we are sleeping like pashas and keeping up with the prevailing party attitude here. And in the last couple days we had done what almost constitutes “heavy lifting” – for tourist’s anyway. Because it is all going by in such a blur, I had to check my hurriedly scribbled notes. Calendars and watches are just annoying distractions to tourists on holiday. Because we had done so much, in so little time, on this sunny Sunday siestatime we were sitting back and basking in all our accomplishments. Lets see, we’d been to a town-wide wedding in Panicale, and seen costumed flag throwers in Cortona, and an airshow in Castiglione del Lago. cortona italy in full costumeAnd a motorcycle show in the piazza yesterday. Don’t forget that. And half of what we’d done had been unplanned and extra wonderful for falling into our hands just for being here. Almost as much fun to look back on as it was when it was happening in real time.
prosecco kind of afternoon in Panicale Umbria


What is that I hear? It sounds like Midge talking to someone in the garden and the voices getting nearer and nearer. Houses and society are so open here in Italy, sound travels in strange and new ways. Our windows, sans screens, are usually thrown wide open. Where are the bugs? I really don’t know. Once in a great while a harmless bug will fly in but its not enough to make us shut the windows. And even when it’s too bright out we close shut the wooden shutters but still leave the windows open to let in the fresh air. And the sounds of Italian life passing by on streets on both sides of our house. Amazing what snatches of conversation you can pick up in the time it takes for a conversation to fade in and fade out as it passes by.

Because this conversation, with Midge in it, is almost upon me, I hit “save” and poke my head out into the garden where Midge is opening the door to the garden for some new English friends. He’s a veterinarian back in the UK and thanks to our web site and its match making powers, they have bought a home on some lovely private acres outside the city walls and just past some other friends’ home. So, they are going to be our neighbors in Panicale!

Perfect excuse to pop the cork on another of Paul Turina’s pretty in pink sparkling rose. Hey, it is almost five. Somewhere. And wait, what is that on the horizon of the garden? Buildings block the lake view through most of the town, so the spot on the street above our garden it is the first high place where you can actually see the lake. Which is why people so often stop right there to pose for pictures of themselves or to snap shots of Lago Trasimeno. It’s rarer to have someone setting up a canvas on an easel.
bills painting on the street in Panicale, umbria


Oh, it’s Bill the painter, another New Englander, who’s earning the money for a several month long stay by painting up a storm of paintings on commissions from all his friends back in the states. Clever boy. Friends give him an agreed upon amount each, he then owes all of them a certain number of paintings and when he gets back to the states, he throws a party and by lottery his patrons chose their paintings. He says it works swell and everyone is as tickled as he is. Note: you have to be a good painter to get away with this. And he is. We’ve seen his work around town and his lucky friends are getting lovely things. “HEY, Bill!” I yell with a wave toward the house “Come get some bubbly” But he’s trying to work so he declines. So, fine. I point the bottle up at him and pop it and darn near wing him. He’s a marvelously fast and efficient painter and he did his work and still caught the end of the bottle. We were inside toasting his new work when I heard Bruno calling me from the calling spot above the garden. Did I understand, he wants to know, that we were invited to the special town dinner tonight? Whu? Missed that memo. Wasn’t the entire town eating together at the wedding feast, last night? He says invite all those people too, pointing at our guests. But, I’m not at all sure what we’re getting into here so I’m leary of that. Should have. Bad, timid Nordic anglo Stew. Loosen up already. It’s Italy and food, how bad can it be?


A few hours later, we were still stuffed as Christmas geese, from the feast the night before. But yet, here we were headed for another food oriented event. Traipsing down the coliseum-like steps of the amphitheater to the town’s canvas-sided and canvas roofed Party Barn “sotto la pizza” as Bruno describes it. This is a tall town and a lot of things, like the party barn, are under and over other things. Houses are piled high like a wobbly stack kids’ building blocks. The houses are almost on top of each other other but because of the steepness of the hill so many people have so many great views. Our skinny house, for example, has five levels. Our lower street, Via Grossi level where our cantina is. That level leads up to the garden by one set of stairs, the first set of stairs in the garden leads up the level of our kitchen and living room and then the next set of garden steps takes you up to the Via del Filatoio level. At that level we have bedrooms and bath and entryway and then, through a door that can be locked or not, usually not, you come to the entry hall for our friend Kiki’s apartment. And on wards upwards, always upwards you follow her wide, curved scala nobile to her lofty perch with its fifteen foot tall ceilings. Whew. From her lakeside windows it is a dramatic five stories down but, from her windows on the uphill side of her apt you are looking at Klaus’s garden. And his place goes up another five stories from there.
italian campers from lombard dueling sausages with umbrias in panicale,
Where were we? Oh, yes, “under the piazza” at the party barn. We could smell and hear the sizzling sausages before we rounded the corner and saw them on the industrial sized community grill. There’s Bruno’s wife Linda, Aldo and Daniela too. Shouldn’t the Gallos be in a coma somewhere after hosting 500 of their closest friends last night at that epic wedding party? Nope, nope they area fresh as a pair of Margherita daisies and ready to party and be social again. Turns out this is a cross-cultural dinner for the throng of Lombards campers parked next door to the Party Barn their RVs lined up soaking in the view in Panicale’s award wining and way user-friendly Camper Park.

This is to be a Lombard vs Umbrian Food Fest. Dueling Sausages etc. Some of the Lombards’sausages are almost pitch black and are simply called Nero. We’d call them blood sausages? We’re sitting between Aldo and the new lady mayor. She’s one of the few people in town I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever laid eyes on and she will talk to me, but only sort of, warily. I’m sure she’s wondering who the heck I am. Aldo tries to tell her but she is distracted, thinking of her welcoming speech which, after taping on a glass, she gets up and gives to us and the Lombards. They respond with applause and toasts of their own and thank her for hosting “this bunch of gypsies.”


The speeches stopped, the plates of food start coming and about that time Midge said “I give up. WHAT is going on? Who IS that lady beside you and who ARE all these people? And why are the sausages black?” You have to know Midge is a much better listener than I am. In any language. No one needs to translate for her when we’re in Italy and though she usually lets Gabby Stew do most of the talking, she is great at that too. When I’m not around. I find her in stores and piazzas in Italy and she’s always right in the middle of a fine conversation. But tonight, with all new food, new people, their accents etc. she’s really washed up on a foreign shore. In her home town no less. So, she and the mayor were pretty much both wondering What are we doing here?
lorena serving proper cappucchino in Panicale, umbria, italy
The food, in general, wasn’t wildly different that the Lombards brought. Rice instead of pasta was the most obvious difference and it is actually a difference that you notice. When I think of Italian food I think of porcinis and panacotta sure, but it is pasta I think of first. But they started off with a rice, bean and cheese combo that was very good. About half way through the list of every dish ever cooked, the Sainted Aldo excused himself saying he needed to get up to Bar Gallo to spell “the kids.” After their big, long, late night, wedding celebration, they had opened the bar at six or seven in the morning and been on their feet for another fourteen hours slinging coffee. With a smile on their face, no less! What vitamin supplements are they taking and can I have some, please? I’m in awe of their social/work ethic but not going to make any attempt to mimic them. Not in THAT good a shape.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland