Archive | September, 2012

War and Italy

29 Sep

Since our arrival, the bridge at the end of our driveway has been closed. It leads to the small town of Montecastello di Vibbio where Diego and a farmer friend, John Luigi, live.  It has been a HUGE inconvenience because whenever we want to get to the other side we have to take a 20 minute detour. This is not an, Italian measurement either- it really is easily 20 minutes! They are essentially just giving the bridge a face lift, because you can still walk over it, just not drive. I asked when it was built and Claudia said the original structure is a couple of hundred years old, but it was bombed and destroyed in WW2 and the US fixed it after, that was in 1946. Another day, while walking down our driveway I asked Claudia what the huge indentations in the side of the mountain were from. She said they were bombs aimed at the bridge that missed. There are about 4 distinct spots that you can see on the hillside.

It might be my age and my mindset but I was blown away by how much the effects of the war are still prevalent here. I understand that the “reason” we became involved in the war was because of the bombing on Pearl Harbor, but outside of that attack and the bombing of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the physical land of the United States has gone unscathed. Italians, and many other countries around the world, are still dealing with and working around affects of a war the US was equally involved in. I guess I just don’t understand how that has happened through the years that we are the ones who don’t have to deal with the same physical repercussions of war as everyone else. Unfortunately war destroys many historical places, we have seen some of this near to our house. Also in Florence, Hitler destroyed all but one of the beautiful bridges that cross the Arno River, the commander charged with the task was able to talk him into saving one because of its history. One cool thing we learned while on our tour of Orvieto was that the city was salvaged from any bombing because it was considered a historical center. I’m not sure why it, and not other cities, got this protection, but Mitch thinks its because Orvieto wasn’t really key to winning the war so they were able to concede on letting it maintain all of it’s buildings.

The duomo (cathedral) in Orvieto that was salvaged in WW2

When discussing this with Ev and Claudia they told us it is even worse in Berlin. That many historical and beautiful buildings were destroyed in the fighting. While there, three years ago it was pointed out on many of our tours of the buildings with bullet holes in them, but I didn’t realize the extent of the complete destruction of other buildings. I remember our German friends saying they were embarrassed to be German because of what Hitler did to the Jews, and us Americans just didn’t understand it. It must just be a different way of rearing because seeing the destruction left from US bombers over 50 years ago doesn’t necessarily make me embarrassed to be American, but allows me to recognize that my allegiance won’t go towards such actions in the future.

Maybe someone with more knowledge of the wars or world history could help me make sense of everything, I will definitely be doing some more reading on the topic! But right now-more than ever- I just don’t think the end result of more wars justifies the personal, emotional, historical ( I could go on and on) wreckage that is left in it’s midst.Just another one of the beautiful lessons of life thought through travel. It allows you to be appreciative of what you have, and learn what standard you will hold your life to in the future.

Familiar faces

26 Sep

In Perugia with Aunt Vicki and Uncle Randy!

Just shy of a month here and we have been graced with visitors! My Uncle Randy and Aunt Vicki were in Europe for business and decided to come say hi to us for a few days. Getting here from Rome took 3 hours, where it would have taken an Italian 1 and 1/2, but they made it! Saturday we went to Perugia for a nice dinner on the Piazza. Mitch and I have always been there during the day, so we were shocked to see people of all ages thronging to the city center. Many college aged students, but also families and older couples all enjoying the beautiful fall evening. As I’ve mentioned before, our family owns a bed and breakfast outside of Perugia, so that is where we all stayed. Ev and Claudia were nice enough to give my aunt and uncle the suite, and we got stay there with them. After a delicious breakfast at the Casale we headed to Tuscany for some wine tasting. A unique aspect of wine tasting in Italy is that most wineries require an appointment and they can be very costly. Ranging from free to 40 Euros a person, the latter had better be some pretty amazing wine! We went to a very nice organic winery in Montalcino, Le Potazzine. The area is famous for their Brunellos and we tasted three very nice wines; Rosso di Montalcino 2010 made from a 5 star harvest with fruity and floral scents and light in body, Brunello di Montalcino 2007 from a 5 star harvest and the newest release with a medium body and scents of black pepper and black cherry and the Brunello di Montalcino 2005 from a 4 star harvest thus they let it age a little longer before release which gave it a deeper color than the first 2 wines and with much the same scent as the ’07. Yum! We loved them all, but the 05 was great. The set-up at Le Potizzne was really gorgeous and Michele, our tour guide and wine expert shared some really cool wine knowledge we had never heard before:

The mouth requires a full 11 seconds with the wine in it for tasting
The first sip essentially doesn’t count and it’s the second sip that tells you everything about the wine
Opening the wine bottle during a different weather pattern can change the taste of the wine

At Antonelli with our new friends Cindy and Leslie!

It was very nice and afterword we enjoyed walking around and had lunch in Montealcino.We took at bit of a “detour” shall we say on the way back, ending up in Orvieto. But we got straitened out and went to a cafe in Perugia for dinner. It was great getting to spend some fun, relaxing time with family. They had to leave early Monday morning, so we went to a wine and lunch pairing at Antonelli Winery in Montefalco just the two of us. They are off to Ireland- happy travels you guys and thanks so much for coming to see us- it meant SO much! Antonelli is one of the biggest wineries in Italy, producing over 300,000 bottles a year. We tasted their Grechetti 2011, a very crisp young wine wine scents of peach and hawthorn flower, Montefalci Rosso DOC 2009 a medium to light bodied red that was a little harsh on the tongue but has great balance and is their #1 selling wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG a full bodied well balanced wine that was heavy on the tongue with flavors of black berries and pepper and their Pasito 2007 which they dry the grapes for 3 months before pressing, making it a thicker wine that they can get 14.5% abv. It tastes like a Port but is not fortified and it is great as a dessert wine. All the wines were paired with their delicious food that was all organically grown on their property! Right up our alley! The wheat for the pasta, tomatoes for the bruschetta, it was incredible! We sat with Cindy and Leslie, mother and daughter from Houston, Texas, and we loved them! They were so nice, we had a great time swapping travel stories and ideas! They were leaving the next day, so hopefully they had safe travels back to the US! Making new friends while trying new wine is definitely one of the things I love about Italy. I can’t wait to try and find their wines at home! This was our busiest but at the same time the most relaxing weekend we’ve had, I think the familiar faces had something to do with that!

Orvieto and Spoleto

22 Sep

This week Claudia and Ev were in Venice for work so we had the farm to run by ourselves. Our farm includes 1 hectare (2.5 acres) of grapes, a vegetable garden, herb and rose garden, orchard, 3 turkeys, 7 geese, 2 ducks, 12 chickens, 7 chicks, 2 german shepards and a Lorenzo (our 18 year old host brother)! It’s practically a full-time job just herding the birds into their cages, let alone feeding them, maintaining the wine that’s still in the fermentation process and keeping a teen-aged boy feed and (at least semi) happy. This week we weeded, dead-headed and pruned back the gardens and put up little Styrofoam protectors on every single vine to protect them from the tractor when we till the land between the rows. We also have to ‘punch down’ the red wine twice or thrice a day. (Side note: I love the word thrice, partly because my grandma used to say it and partly because I love The Golden Girls episode centered around it!) ‘Punching down’ the wine is essentially just stirring it to make sure the ‘cap’ or the top level of grape skins that are fermenting with the wine stay wet.

We worked after lunch (gasp!) a couple days to take yesterday and today off to visit some towns in our area. Orvieto was great! We got the combined ticket for the duomo, cathedral, and most of the museums in town. For 7.50 euro we were able to see the beautiful frescos in the chapels of the duomo, great marble statues with detail that was awe inspiring, fresco after fresco in the museum and architecture that puts ours to shame. My favorite part of the city was how they’ve changed many of the old churches into museums. It seems crazy that a town with 20,000 people should have 5-7 massive churches in this day in age. This may be the land of Catholics, but it seems far fetched that they would be enough parishioners with enough tithing to keep them open and with a priest. Instead, in Orvieto, many of the churches have become the permanent home to statues, frescos, paintings and other works of art. Considering many of the churches are masterpieces in and of themselves I find it a very resourcful was to maintain history while moving towards the future. We also went on our first tour here! Orvieto, like most of the cities in Umbria, is built on a mountaintop. Unlike many of the cities, Orvieto was built ontop of an already existing city and thus there are underground caves to explore. While many of the caves belong to private families now (most used as wine cellars) we were able to tour two and see underground pigeon homes, olive oil presses and wells. It was very interesting. We had a budget of 40 euro with a packed lunch and it was doable. The most expensive thing was paying to park!

To remedy that situation we parked in a grocery store parking lot for free today! Ha! It’s way worth the extra half a mile walk to save 10 euros. Spoleto felt smaller, but apparently has a bigger population that orvieto. We visited the ‘Rocca’, an impressive stone fortress built by order of the pope in the 1300’s then used as a home for the high-ranking city officials and to house soldiers in time of war. It later became a maximum security prison and recently (the 1980s) was converted into a museum and cultural center. Following our guide book, we walked across this spectacular bridge added to an already existing Roman aqueduct. I continue to be amazed at how this ancient civilizations were able to complete such architectural feats, the bridge is almost 300 feet above the ravine! On the other side it said there was an 800 meter walk to this grassy area with a great view… 1,600 meters and a mountain climb later the next sign  said we were only half way so we turned back. We did run into some German hikers on the way down and they said the sign meant 800m elevation and we were only 100m up the mountain to start with. Know this about Italy, they are never accurate or consistent with the measuring of any distance-ever. We chalked that one up to a nature-hike. Another combined ticket got us into all the museums in Spoleto. The Duomo, Casa Roma, the architectural museum and several others throughout the city, these combined tickets are proving well worth it. Maranda and I had a budget of 20 Euros today since there were fewer things that we had to pay for and we came in under that after buying 2 tickets and some Gelato to make up for the nature hike! We are thoroughly enjoying being able to travel and have a home base so we can just take a day pack, I am especially enjoying my first trip across the Atlantic and Maranda and I are definitely enjoying Italy

Here we are in front of the bridge/aqueduct

A little bit of Africa

19 Sep

On Saturday night our friend Diego took us to a friend’s for dinner. This friend happened to be an immigrant from Kenya. Upon entering her home she introduced us to all four of her children as well as the dog, cats and goats. The spread she had ready for us was little less than a Kenyan feast of multiple courses. Deep fried stuffed olives, mini hotdogs, quinoa salad, roasted potatoes, steak, sheep, beer and wine to name a few of the items we enjoyed. It was so fun to talk to her about everything from growing up with zebras and giraffes like we have deer in Ohio to the python that her grandmother slept with for years under the impression it was one or more of her grandchildren! The family didn’t find out for years and killed it when they did, crazy! We listened to Kenyan music and danced for hours- it was so much fun!

It was a really unique experience considering most people living in Italy are born and raised Italians. We are reminded daily of the rareness of the melting pot that is our home country. While there we discussed for the third time an issue that I had never heard of before arriving- the illegal immigration issue from Africa. To be honest, I had never even considered how close the African and Italian coasts really were. Official estimates claim more than 1,000,000 African immigrants are living in Italy today, with much higher unofficial numbers. These immigrants come from Northern Africa, specifically, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria. With more than 2,500 illegal immigrants a week, most are attempting to enter Europe through Lampedusa and other Italian islands. Lampedusa, although technically a part of Italy is actually closer to the African coast.

This is such a huge issue for multiple reasons. First, many illegal immigrants have drowned in their attempts to cross from north Africa. Second, tensions in the EU are rising over this issue. Italy has complained that other European countries are not doing enough to help with the situation. France is simply sending them back when they cross over, as would most other countries. All the while Italy is essentially treating them like tourists and officially allowing them to stay for three months, but unofficially allowing them to stay indefinitely. Third and potentially the most serious is the reason they are fleeing in the first place. Tunisia and sub-Sahran, are in a revolution and many are afraid that nothing will change after the war. The Italian government has declared the migration a humanitarian emergency and has asked the European Union for assistance, but to date nothing has been decided upon.

Italians are truly loving and compassionate people, which is why they are allowing the (basically) refugees to stay with little/no repercussions. The flip side to this is that they are straining already tense situations with their more strict neighbors. This is a serious topic that was brought to my consciousness in a very fun atmosphere, strange but I’m very thankful for the knowledge. Our new Kenyan friend seemed hopeful with the outcome and that allows my mind some rest. One Italian shared his thoughts on the matter and they seemed so similar to the United States relationship with Mexican immmigrants I had to share them. “People are upset they’re here, but they’re working jobs we aren’t willing to and they need to be here… what can you do?”

To our beloved fans

16 Sep

Italian front porch

The title of this post is very sarcastic, sorry but I couldn’t help myself! I know that we’re developing a readership and right now many of you are still family and dear friends. However, the other day I got a facebook message from my best friend’s mom, Mrs. Linda Berg, with a few questions that I wanted to address. If there are any fans out there with questions be sure to let us know! If there’s anything you’re curious about Italy, our journey or us specifically our e-mails are marandasaling@gmail.com and mpramsey7@gmail.com or comment here! It’s great just knowing people and are reading and (dare I say?!) enjoying the blog! With that being said let me get to the aforementioned questions!

Do you miss air conditioning, or are you high enough in the hills that it is comfortable?

Todi sits at 410 meters (1,350 ft) above seas level, a little less than 300 feet higher than the altitude where we are from in Ohio (323 m(1,060 ft)) so it’s not as though the altitude keeps us cool, but we haven’t really been too hot. We got here at the end of August and it had apparently been a very hot and dry summer. Had we been here in the summer I would have missed air conditioning for sure, but we haven’t had it the last two summers so I’m sure I would have lived! Our first couple days were really the only days that felt like summer and then a cooler breeze has fallen on us. The temperature most days is between 70-80 degreed farenhent which is absolutely perfect in my book!

I noticed that you have never mentioned having a problem communicating. We (my best friend, Erika, Linda and her other daughter Ilsa) found that many spoke English; have you found this the same?

No! I guess I should have mentioned this before 🙂 Umbria is not the most touristy region of Italy so everyone doesn’t know English as much as if we were in the big cities of Venice, Naples, Florence or Rome. The biggest city in Umbria is Perugia. With a population of 168,066 people, it has close to half the inhabitants of Florence’s 370,702. When we visit the little touristy town squares the shop owners and employees know the English that they need to get you in their door and purchasing their products, but that’s all. Around town we most likely look like monkey’s playing charades trying to get our point across! The wonderful part of few people speaking English is it has forced us into rapid “learn Italian mode” and we are picking up bits and pieces everyday.

Has your family hosted American workers before, or is this a first for both you and them?

Our family has hosted “helpers” before. For about four years they have invited a variety of people from around the world  United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and of course Italy! to help at the farm. We are their longest stay at three months, as most people stay for usually two weeks to one month. As for us, I have one similar experience doing a alternative spring break in Costa Rica. Two friends and I did a work exchange at an animal sanctuary for about a week and it was a great learning opportunity! It was the first time I meditated on a daily basis, ate a vegan diet, bottle feed a baby leopard whose mother had been poached! It was fabulous, and thus far this trip is holding it’s own also!

Is Mitch finding the wine operations much different from the wineries in northern Ohio?

Oh my yes! Our operation is rather small as I mentioned in the last post, but only a bit smaller than most wineries here. Many here believe in having fewer vines, creating a higher quality wine and selling it at a slighter higher price to compensate for the smaller size operation. That is our mentality here also. A winery with many acres simply couldn’t do things such as hand pick. Many complications such as timeliness, grapes need harvested when they have a very specific sugar and pH reading, finding workers and more importantly if you can find knowledgable people to hand-pick the price of each bottle has just gone from $10 to $50 because you have to pay all those people. I will never again think “Yea, but what’s really the difference in machine harvesting?” Because the answer is everything! We literally chose each and every berry that went into that wine barrel. You just can’t beat that. So the size of the vineyard, the process of harvesting and the quality of wine is just… different. We absolutely loved our wine experience in Northeast Ohio and learned so much. That’s what’s great about wine, every person and every taste for wine is different. Many in Ohio prefer a sweeter, fruitier wine so that is what the industry provides. Here, people are willing to pay more for the wine to be exactly how they want it so that is what is provided. Learning to open your mind about wine is extremely important and seeing how different and unique the preparation process is has been beautiful. But yes, very different.

Thanks so much for the questions, I hope I answered them thoroughly! Keep the questions and comments coming!

Wine is in the air

13 Sep

In the vineyard !

Today we harvested! Vendemia, ‘harvest’ in English came a bit earlier this year because of the unusually hot and dry summer. I have to say, they may have been some of the most pleasant hours I have ever spent. Up at dawn and yoga practice done, we began bright and early. Having a small vineyard here, only one hectare or about two and a half acres we  were able to pick all our red grapes (Sangiovese) in one day. From my cute basket, to the birds chirping, to the rolling hills all around us- it was a nature lovers dream. I never had a full appreciation for hand picked grapes, but after today I know there is no comparison. We picked each bundle, hand selected each and every berry- only the best. There are no split grapes, half-eatten by birds, or shall we say “extras” caught up in the harvesting machine.

It is crazy just how much you can truly smell the wine in the air as soon as the grapes are harvested. This is because as the grapes are picked we incidentally make juice and as we work down the vine, the sun heats the juice and it begins to ferment before we can even get it in the fermentation tanks. With wine on our noses and hands sticky from the sugar, the hours flew by as we worked with our hands and allowed our thoughts to wonder.

After all the grapes are harvested and stacked on the tractor, we take them to the cellar. We dump them into the hopper and they fall down into the de-stemmer. Pumped from there into the fermentation tank where the yeast is added, the grapes begin the transformation from yummy snack to even yummier adult beverage! Not only is the finished product delicious, but the process by which it comes about is rather lovely itself. Wine may by my new favorite scent!

Florence/Firenze

11 Sep

We were graced with the beauty of Florence, ‘Firenze’ in Italian, this weekend! Our family’s bed and breakfast is near Perugia so Claudia dropped us off at the train station after we harvested white grapes in the morning. I love the train system here! Two hours in the car seems like awhile, but on the train you can be reading, journaling, admiring the beautiful Italian countryside and two hours is gone in a flash. Upon arriving in Florence we met up with my friend from college, Katina. She lived in Florence for about a month in between jobs so she knows many of the local secrets. It was so great getting to meet up with an old friend and see Florence at the same time. We stayed at a small hostel right off on the the main squares, Piazza della Repubblica. This square is absolutely breathtaking (I’ll explain in detail in a minute). That evening we walked around the city to familiarize ourselves. We got what many locals consider to be the best gelato in town. Gelato is rumored to have been created in Florence so it is truly the best of the best! My Auntie Florence (I swear that’s my great-aunt’s name! Just convenient) gave us $20 with strict instructions that it was to be spent solely on gelato and am I ever grateful we listened! Some of the secrets to gelato 1) The container. Plastic usually equals store bought and metal equals homemade. 2) Color. Bright colors are typically artificial or store bought and more subdued are homemade with natural flavors. 3) For better prices and (generally) quality steer clear of the main piazzas and hit up the gelaterias on side streets 4) Higher price does not equal higher quality, in fact most of the higher prices mean it’s store bought and you’re paying an up-charge, where homemade is less expensive. So there’s my expertise on gelato… to date. I’ll let you know more the more cones I consume 🙂

Our favorite gelateria!

After gelato on Saturday we went to what many consider the best restaurant in Florence. It’s practically hidden in the side streets and although everyone and every book says you need a reservation, we walked right in at 8pm on Saturday no problem. From the dried hams hanging from the ceiling to the owner walking around to each table making sure everything is perfect, Il Latini screams Italy. Homemade everything down to the wine and olive oil- this place is so fresh they don’t even have menus because meals vary depending on what was the highest quality, most fresh ingredients available at the market that day. We enjoyed a delicious first and third (appetizer and main dish), skipping the second of pasta with both wine and laughter. We got the experience and meal for less than many in America spend at a fake ‘fancy’ chain restaurant.

Piazza della Repubblica

Sunday and Monday were spent doing the touristy thing. Katina did her job showing us around and because Florence is really not that large of a city we were able to feel comfortable knowing our way around very soon. We decided to save all of the museums and churches that required money to get in until October or later as many of the prices drop to half because of the ‘high season’ being over. David will wait. We ate lunch near our hostel in the P. della Repubblica and it may have been the most beautiful lunch I have ever experienced. Beautiful to my eyes with the gorgeous carousel taking children and adults for a spin. Beautiful to my ears with the women singing opera off to the side of the  square being accompanied by an accordion, free, for all to enjoy. Beautiful to my nose with the bouquet of the red wine. Beautiful to be mouth with the fresh fruit and cream I was eating. But mostly beautiful to my hand to be held at the moment by the man that I love. After saying goodbye to Katina on Sunday night we walked around for 4 hours doing nothing but enjoying each others company and the beauty of Florence at night. Mitch looked at me said, “The city is yours” so we just did as we pleased. Following Katina’s advice to see the city at night from the Piazza della Michelangelo, we climbed what seemed to be a mountain of stairs to not only be greeted with a most steller view of the city, but with fireworks exploding in the background. It was magical! We have no idea why there were fireworks at midnight on a Sunday, but it made my weekend! We sat on the stairs until the grand finale and lazily walked back to our hostel.

Padlock and keys

The only thing worth mentioning we did on Monday is technically not allowed and could result in a 50€ penalty, but what can I say, I guess I’m a hopeless romantic. The Ponte Vecchio literally meaning ‘old bridge’ and first appears in writing around 996. During World War 2 the Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence not to be destroyed by Germans during their retreat of August 4, 1944, an direct order by Hitler. It is rumored the bomber couldn’t bring himself to destroy such a beautiful, old bridge. Store fronts have been many things through the centuries, but are currently high-quality jewelers and art collectors. Anyway, back to Monday! Legend has it that if you and your loved one attach a padlock to any surface of the famous bridge and then throw away the key into the Arno River below, your love will be bonded forever. Millions of couples have come to the Ponte Vecchio for exactly this reason, to lock in their love and throw away the key for eternity. Following tradition, Mitch and I locked our padlock onto the bridge (secretly of course) and threw our keys into the Arno below. Even though it is believed the tradition was started by a locksmith at the end of the bridge to increase revenue and the overabundance of padlocks gave the bridge a gaudy appearance, I’m still glad that we got to partake. To semi-quote Mitch, “The city will always be ours”

Some things to think about

5 Sep

Italy is not only gorgeous, but the people are both genuine and kind. With that being said, moving here instead of simply being on vacation proves a bit more challenging. None of the challenges are by any means deal breakers, but they are worth mentioning. First, the lack of transportation. Italy, as most of Europe, has a very reliable and user-friendly public transportation system, but being that we are living with a family in the country and about 7k outside of the nearest town of Todi we are kind of stuck here at the farm. We only work 8am-2pm and have our entire afternoon free (steller!) and would like to putz around the nearby towns and familiarize ourselves with the area. Now in a more flat area this might not be an ordeal, but in Umbria it turns into an Olympic cycling event! The hills and mountains provided our leg muscles with a real challenge and we only made it half-way to Todi! Jeeze, and I thought we were in shape! The good news to this challenge is that 1) We were introduced to our new friend Diego! He is a guy about our age who lives just across the river. He’s very nice, funny, friendly (and might I mention stylish) and he’s offered to show us around a bit! Yea yea! 2) Claudia, our host mom is going to lower the age on her insurance to 24 on their “farm” car so we can drive it to town and the train and/or bus station.

The second issue we’ve been dealing with is the Italian time frame. This is the American coming out in us, but when someone says we are going to leave a 2pm, but don’t show up until 2:35pm, it’s a bit annoying. In Italian there is a saying, ‘la dolce far niente’ which translates to the ‘sweetness of doing nothing’ and boy do they live by that! It’s beautiful in a way to watch them sit for hours, just talking and laughing- even running to the hardware store turns into a mini-party. It will just be something that takes some getting used to. Slowing down and realizing there is more to life than keeping a schedule is an invaluable life lesson we will forever have Italy to thank for.

Third might seem weird coming from someone in their early 20s, but holy cow do these people stay up late! Now, I’ll admit that I am one for getting my sleep (I like my 8 hours) but in that States this is pretty commonplace. Not in Italy. I don’t know how they do it! Because we have a late lunch, usually around 2pm, dinner isn’t served until around 8pm. This would be fine if you ate and then went to bed… but no! They want to go out and walk around or go for ‘un cafe’, a shot of express that takes them 2 seconds to drink, but 2 hours to experience. The other night Diego was kind enough to show us his favorite bar in Marsciano, a nearby town. First let me clarify that “bars” here are so much more than what you would think of a bar in America. Bars open early in the morning and begin serving espressos, as the day wears on most also serve pizza and gelato. By nightfall it’s a restaurant and full bar complete with a soccer game! That’s right, you can get expresso, ice cream and a drink all at the same place- they’re amazing! So we’re eating pizza and drinking a local Umbrian beer around 10:30pm and the place is quieting down, so we figured we’d go home soon. Not the case! Around 11pm hoards of people started flooding in and we realized this night might not end for quite awhile. Around midnight we let Diego know we had to work in the morning and came home, but for a Sunday night we were shocked by how many children, families and elderly people were out enjoying friends and espresso that late. This is something we will have to just adjust to. What’s the old saying? “We can sleep when we’re dead!” It’s time to experience the Italy right now 🙂

Fourth are bugs, more specifically mosquitos. Notice the mosquito net over our bed- it’s more 100% necessary! I hadn’t considered that the bugs would be so bad, but we are covered in bites morning and night. Our upcoming relief is this winter that will kill them off and we won’t have to deal them as in the heat of the summer and fall. The scorpions on the other hand will remain with us year around- Yippee! On the bright side, most of them aren’t more poisonous than bees and not very aggressive, so easy to deal with. The flies, spiders and other insects are rarely more than annoying but annoying they are. Winter may only rid us of one of these creatures, but it will be a very welcome vacation!

Lastly, it has been difficult adjusting to the Italian eating situation. We are up with the family having breakfast, of which we ALWAYS have the most, around 7:30am. I’m definitely missing my daily green shake here, but I have asked to use their blender to be able to make it once or twice a week because I thought my intestines were crying out from all the meat, cheese and carbs I’ve been shoveling in! We start work as soon as we’re done with breakfast and work until lunch. Typical one might say? Yes… if lunch were served before 2pm! Being fairly athletic, Mitch and I usually eat every three hours at home and the six hours we are experiencing now is killing us. I’m so glad my mom when to Sam’s Club before we left and sent us with a mega box of granola bars! As I mentioned earlier, dinner isn’t usually until around 8pm and it is very light. The family usually doesn’t even eat anything besides a light snack while we are preparing a real dinner, just late. We’re beginning to adjust by making sure we’re full at breakfast, snacking and drinking even more water than usual. Side note- Italians don’t drink water! Okay- some, but because of some combination of the price of water, water from the tap not being clean and their love for espresso they drink very little water. We look like such tourist carrying around or huge water bottles all the time, but water is super important to our diet so it’s a must.

So those are the complications we’ve experienced thus far. Clearly, none of them are sending us packing for home, but all of them something to consider before making the decision to spend an extended period of time in Italy. All are part of the beauty of diversity in cultures we are able to experience while here, and we’re loving it!

Ciao Italia

2 Sep

Hello family, friends and fellow world travelers! I am very excited to be settled in our new job and home in Italy enough to get the blog up and running! First, let me set the scene. Mitch, my boyfriend, studied Horticulture at Kent State University and developed an interest in wine grapes after taking Geography of Wine with Professor, Aron Massey. Being an avid world traveler, when Mitch expressed interest in studying the old-world style of making wine overseas, I all but bought tickets that day! It was so easy to make the decision because with my degree in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University  I can continue doing freelance social media for my clients internationally- check us out, Bellflower Communications!

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So, here we are! Through HelpX, we found a family that owns a small organic farm and vineyard. We work 8-2 six days a week in exchange for our room and board. In our case, we have living quarters with a bedroom, bathroom and sitting area! We eat all three meals a day with the family… even on Sunday when we don’t work. We arrived in Rome on Monday August 27th and have been loving every minute since! Todi,Umbria, Itlay is the beautiful town we are nearest and the farm is about 7 kilometers (4.3miles) from the city center, but it is all uphill so we haven’t ventured walking yet. Umbria is a lesser known region of Italy, smaller in both size and tourism to its more popular neighbor, Tuscany, but has just as beautiful scenery and we have heard it called “the best kept secret” of Italy. This is where some of the best wine in Italy is produced and where, when the Pope ruled, he preferred his wine to be made.

So far we have spent our time working on a variety of jobs so we are ready for harvest season. We’ve cleaned and readied the cellar,  cleared out the garden for the winter vegetables, laid bricks and stone for the outside kitchen and gave the kitchen inside a deep cleaning. With around 2 hectors of grapes (5 acres) we will have our work cut out for us when we begin hand harvesting the grapes. I think what we have enjoyed the most is wine talk. Most lunches and dinners last at least 2 hours and Ev, the owner, has been telling us everything he knows about the history and future of wine. We’ve learned more in that last 5 days, than in our whole lives! We’re not sure how long we’ll be with this family, in Italy, or much right now but that is part of the adventure and we’ve been soaking everything up so far. Join us on our journey!

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