Roma

25 Oct

He put a ring on it!!

Sorry for the delay in posts, but last weekend Mitch and I went to Rome and fell in love with the city! We visited the Vatican, saw Trevi Fountain and… oh yea… Mitch PROPOSED!! But I’ll get to that. Ev had work to do in the US so we caught a ride into Rome on Friday night. We stayed at the very ironic Hotel Texas, but it was nice. Near Termini Station, the main train station in Rome and within walking distance of all the main sights, 80 Euros a night was not bad! After we got settled in our room, we went to meet my childhood friend, Barric, and his girlfriend Alix for dinner. They were conveniently on vacation in Rome at the same time so we got to see some more familiar faces! We decided to meet at Trevi Fountain which may be the most popular spot in Rome to meet, but we found each other! The fountain is as beautiful as everyone says it is- the detailing is breath-taking. You could easy sit there for hours just listening to the water, appreciating the art-work and of course people watching! But we left and found a cute restaurant on your picturesque Roman street and enjoyed wine, food and each other’s company for hours. After we walked around, stopped at a pub and ultimately found some Irish kids studying abroad in Rome and went with them to a disco (a club to us Americans). Apparently we were lucky to find one without a cover, but we danced the night away and had a blast. It’s amazing how nice it is to speak in English with other 20 somethings!

Celebrating our engagement with Barric and Alix!

Saturday we woke up and took the #64 bus to Vatican City. After a quick and easy hour in line, we were inside enjoying St. Peter’s Basilica. The art work is one of a kind, our favorite being Pieta. The statue of Mary and Jesus is representative of how Catholics look to Mary first and then through her look to Jesus. My other favorite thing was the marble colored speakers so everyone in the back can hear! Modern technology meet 16th century Catholic church! Afterwords we went over to the Vatican Museum.

Egyptian mummy!Wow is that a museum! It took hours to go through and after staring at I don’t know what for 3 hours we decided next time it would be worth it to pay for a tour guide. They have everything from ancient marble statues to  zombie looking Egyptian mummies and everything in between! One thing we didn’t know was that the Sistine Chapel was in the Vatican Museum and it took a little while to figure that out, but it was well worth the 15 euros. It was amazing to be looking with our own eyes on the most famous work of Michelangelo. It would have been nice if the guards weren’t yelling at everyone to be quiet and shouting, “No photo!” Other than that it was stellar. My favorite part is the sheath of skin hanging between heaven and hell, Michelangelo’s on self portrayal, this is the only time he is known to have done a self portrait. We had no idea the Vatican city would take all day, and we decided to not stress over seeing everything and just enjoy the city.

Celebrating our new engagement with gelato!!

After going back to the hotel and changing our clothes, we walked to the Spanish steps and up to the Piazza del Popolo. We climbed some stairs to overlook the city at night and just took it all in. We meandered down to the Piazza Navona which we had walked through earlier and shared a bottle of wine at a gorgeous restaurant while being serenaded by a the accordion. The piazza is often called the most beautiful in the city, and is full of artists and musicians. This is about the time Mitch started acting a little funny and after walking around the center fountain two times, “enjoying the beauty” he finally worked up the nerve and proposed!! It was funny because Mitch is more sentimental than I am and our true personalities came out: he was crying and I was laughing, jumping up and down! We went for celebratory gelato and prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) before heading home. It was all very romantic and very us!

The Pantheon

Sunday morning we met Barric and Alix at the Pantheon and I finally got to celebrate with another girl in person! Sunday we just walked around the city with them and stopping for wine every now and then. They were kind enough to celebrate at lunch with some prosecco together and it was really fun! After that they had to leave us (not everyone can stay here for months- sad) we went to see the Coliseum at night, which is gorgeous, and then crashed. Getting engaged and sight-seeing in Rome at the same time is exhausting! Monday was our last day and we crammed in as much as possible! Starting with a tour of the Coliseum, through Palatine hill and ending with the Roman Forum. Getting a tour guide was a great idea! The anthropologist filled us in on all the gory details since it’s construction in 80 AD. The Roman Forum also has significant importance in that the entire Western world was ruled from right there- it’s really amazing when you think about it. We ended the day playing Audrey Hepburn and putting our hands in the mouth of truth- we both kept them! Rome is a magnificent city, and the ambiance at night makes Roma even more magical.

Playing Gladiators at the Coliseum

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Santuario Madonna Dei Bagni

18 Oct

Santuario Madonna Dei Bagni

While traveling to Perugia one morning, Claudia wanted to stop and show us a a really cool, unique church. Mitch and I have seen our fair share of churches on this trip and while beautiful, even sometimes awe-inspiring churches at times feel like same-old, but of course we agreed. Santuario Madonna Dei Bagni is not your typical church. There’s a bit of a back story, but it’s worth it. Around the 17th Century (aka the 1600s) a husband was wondering the fields in despair because his wife was dying from childbirth. He stumbled upon a piece of broke pottery and picking it up realized it was of the Holy Mother and Jesus as a baby. His devout Catholic heart told him not to toss the pottery aside so instead he hung it up on a tree and prayed to Mary, begging her to save his wife. When he arrived home to find his wife completely healed he wanted to find a proper way to thank Mary. Deruta is the pottery capital of Italy, and apparently was in 1600 also. The man had a ceramic plaque made depicting his wife in bed and him praying to the ceramic piece in the tree.

The tree, left in the ground, that the church was built around. The ceramic piece is still hanging from it.

As more people’s prayers to Mary were answered, more ceramic plaques were commissioned and the diocese decided to build a church around the tree where the plaque still hung on it. So the tradition continues today and the church is more than overflowing with pictures of various accidents and incidents Mary has remedied for centuries. From funny to tragic, the plaques are magnificent because they show both the way everyday people lived in detail hundreds of years ago and the Italian population’s devotion to their Holy Mother. These are some of the stories.

 

An Italian in a concentration camp during WW2

A car flipped in the Tiber River

A woman possessed by demons

A man getting robbed

Women falling from an olive tree

Italy with tanks during WW2

A bicycle accident

Fall in Ohio

13 Oct

As expected, Mitch and my’s time in Italy has been amazing. We learn new things about wine, Italy, the world and ourselves everyday. As great as Italy is though, the fall season just doesn’t feel the same as home in Northeast Ohio. Now believe me I’m not typically one to get homesick, but fall just doesn’t feel like fall without certain things we have both grown up with and become accustomed to. Some of our fall favorites include, but are certainly not limited to:

Football! Be it college or high school, fall just doesn’t the same without the ole’ pigskin getting thrown around and someone unfailingly complaining about this coach and that referee. Although the Ohio University gods were smiling on me when the OU vs Penn State randomly played in Italy, the utter lack of football (American football of course) has been tough.

Our pet bunny, Indie, last year playing in the leaves!

One thing Ohio does exceptionally well in the fall is festivals and I eat up every one! Since I was a little girl my mom and I have gone to the Algonquin Mill Festival in Carroll County, Ohio. Put on by the Carroll County Historical Society, the festival offers everything from the steam powered flour mill to Carroll County genealogical informational it is a fest for the stomach as much as the eyes. My personal favorites are the apple butter with cinnamon and stone ground flour we store and use all year around.  My other favorite fall festival the Great Trail Festival in Malvern, Ohio. Clog dancing, fiddlers, living Colonial America and Storybook Craft Villaga are some things the festivals has do brag about, but my personal obsession has to be the ham and bean soup. I love it! The last festival is one of much smaller scale, but closer to the heart. The Constitution Festival in Louisville boasts a pageant, parade and Music in Motion band competition. All family friendly fall festivals that are Ohio specific!

Fall food in Ohio is a treat for the taste buds that the best tiramisu can’t match. Hot apple Cider, pumpkin pie topped with Cool Whip, and OktoberFests, specifically Cellar Rats InFestation! We are hoping to have a bonfire with some friends to make them some of our American favorites soon. This came up because they hadn’t heard of many of our delicious fall foods or activities. We hope to give them a small taste of what we call fall! This might be the nesting bug bitting me, but I love decorating inside and out for fall! It’s great because god does all the work in fall, natural beauty in the leaves changing, bails of straw, gourds, pumpkins, mums, corn stalks and scare crows. It’s funny because many of these things exist in Italy, but just aren’t as visible or used to give that fall feeling as much as at home. So as wonderful as fall in Italy has been, we would both take a weekend in Ohio this time of year to enjoy family, friends, food and festivals!

 

 

Life is our playground

8 Oct

After a wonderful day of wine and food tasting we were having a meal with friends when the topic of recess was brought up. We were talking about how unfair and ironic it is that recess is taken away in adulthood when a break to run around and play with your friends is exactly what you need to break the monotony of everyday life. It reminded me of speaking with someone before we came that said, “Italy is amazing! It’s a wine-lovers playground.” Ahh the playground, where children are spinning on the merry-go-’round, flying on swings and laughing playing tag. This is the memory we all have of our idealist playground. But how true to fact are these memories? What about when you’re the kid sweating like a dog pushing your “light as a feather” (or so they would have you believe!) friends. Or the kid getting kicked by not-paying-attention to Suzie on the swing. Or my personal favorite, the poor kid who is awful at sports and doesn’t want to play but is forced into the humiliating process of being picked last. We seem to forget that the playground is not all it’s cracked up to be.

“The world is a playground, and life is pushing my swing.”

-Natalie Korcis

How different is this from everyday life when you are living a life of love, beauty and experience? I’m pretty sure most people think we are here drinking wine floating through Venice on a gondola taking in the scenery. Not hardly! We work like dogs 6 days a week to enjoy small pleasure. It is funny how one minute we are slaving away in the vineyard hoeing all the weeds away from acres of vines, and the next we’re relaxing, overlooking the Italian countryside enjoying a glass of wine from these same grapes. We will be moving rocks, dare I say boulders, from a new field destined for vines convinced this is what living in the desert feels like and the next walking through a medieval town saving drips off of our gelato and smooching with no shame. Everyday is a roll coaster of fabulous highs and rough lows. Of moments in which you are  questioning if you will make it through and ones that you are hoping will never end.

My friend Allie and were discussing on a recent trip if our study abroad experience in Ecuador was really as spectacular and eventful as we have saved in our minds and hearts. We used to say “Our lives” because it seemed like the gods were always smiling on us and our lives just seemed unusually perfect. But were we looking back and pushing aside the times we got lost in Guayaquil at night, couldn’t order what we wanted at a restaurant because we couldn’t remember the words and couldn’t get anyone to understand us and ended up in a brothel (a story for another time)? Do we only remember the good times? And how quickly do we forget the bad? We decided it was a combination.  Of course things weren’t always being handed to us on a silver platter, although sometimes it felt like that. But we took the good with that bad, always focusing on and drawing from the good so that is what stuck.

Peruvian playground

I’m guilty of this with my college experience. I’m a Bobcat through and through. I bleed green and white, love our ridiculously easy fight song and believe Athens is the happiest place on the planet. I find myself mourning my days of Pawpurrs, sorority sisters and PRSSA vs Ad club kickball games. You would be hard pressed to get me to choose anything over Homecoming and when I see another Bobcat anywhere in the world I find myself in a bear hug in seconds. What I have forgotten is term papers, exams and Morton hill. Many of us look at the past with rose colored glasses, which is great! Why shouldn’t we remember the good, but why shouldn’t we also see the good in the present? Throw on those glasses usually used for the past and see today as you might look back on it in 40 years. Take it all in. Laugh when you’re frustrated, smile when you’re sad and experience the beauty of your playground.

Life is the same way. It can be our playground in every sense of the word. What it can’t be is our magical, enchanting playground with butterflies and rainbows. Sometimes we fell and scrapped our knees and fell of the jungle gym and everyone saw our ‘Today is Monday’ undies (Just me??). If we can remember that life is not always as perfect as our memories allow we can stop pining for what used to be and start experiencing what is. Allow yourselves to wake up and be on the playground, our playground. Laugh and sing and smile, but when you do cry, hurt or anger- remember this is your playground!

The Festival of St. Francis in Assisi

5 Oct

Assisi, Italy

This week Mitch and I got to go to Assisi for a mini-vaca with my Uncle Bobby! He planned this trip for the Festival of St. Francis and because it is only about 30K away we decided it would be a great place to meet up. I knew I wanted to visit Assisi for years now because as a child the choir of St. Joseph in Canton, Ohio where my dad’s family attends was invited to do a tour of Italy singing in various holy centers. My grandpa and aunt were both in the choir at the time so it turned into a mini family vacation. In Assisi the mass was given by Rev. Msgr. Carfagna, the priest from St. Joseph’s and they sang in the tomb of St. Francis. Because of the acoustics it apparently sounded like angels singing and was a magical evening. I am so happy to say that I have now been to the place where my family sang like angels in the tomb of the patron saint of Italy. Although we were only there for two days, it was both tiring (the hills in Assisi are RELENTLESS) and rewarding. As many of us aren’t Catholic and may not be familiar with St. Francis, let me give you all a bit of a run down.

San Damiano, the church he rebuilt and wrote The Canticles

As I mentioned, St. Francis is the patron saint of Italy, but also of animals and ecology. St Francis is such a cool guy because he actually practiced what he preached and believed in sister mother earth and peace. He is actually a great person to emulate regardless of religious orientation. He was a lover of nature and took the gospel literally, following exactly what Jesus said, “Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff” (see Luke 9:1-3) He grew up in a wealthy merchant family, living a life of opulence, a life he would later consider pure sin. On his way to fight in battle he had a vision that lead him back to Assisi to give up his worldly possessions and live in poverty. In layman’s terms, we have the son of a very wealthy cloth merchant begging throughout his hometown. On top of this he was begging old party buddies… and oh yea, he was naked. Everyone thought he had lost it! He finally put on a burlap bag and his persistence in this lifestyle proved he was serious about his change of heart. He developed a following that eventually turned into the Franciscan Order, the women of the Order of St. Clare and the Third Order of St. Francis. Believing that nature was the mirror of God, St Francis wrote “The Canticle of the Creatures”. In this beautiful prayer he refers to brothers sun and fire and sisters moon and water.

“All praise be yours, my Lord, through our SisterMother Earth, who sustains us and governs us,and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs”

I just love this! And in his “A Simple Prayer” he makes such humble requests as joy where there is sadness and love where there is hatred (now this is my kind of Catholic!) I could go on and on! If interested be sure to look up about the shewolf he tamed that is the only animal buried in any Catholic church in the world and learn about the “St. Francis cross” or the Hebrew letter Tau. So, here we are in a United Nation’s World Heritage Site taking in such treats as the Basilica, San Damiano, Santa Chiara and Piazza del Comune.

Basilica di San Francisco where St. Francis is buried

We went to mass on October 3rd, the eve of the festival celebrating the anniversary of his death. Even though we couldn’t understand anything, the choir sang beautifully and the energy of St. Francis was everywhere. It was quite the experience for Mitch’s first Catholic mass! After mass we planned on walking up to the Piazza del Comune where we had seen people dressed in medieval garb earlier to grab some dinner. Wow were we surprised! Just as we got there we heard drumming and in came a processional of drummers, dancers, medieval royals, archers and a flag corps. We had stumbled upon a celebration we didn’t even know was happening! With free wine, food and entertainment we ended up standing there for hours and loved every second of it! All Petittis know Uncle Bobby is a self-proclaimed wino and can appreciate just how very thrilled he was at discovering the free wine station 🙂 There were drumming, dancing and flag corps performances as well as an archery competition. The culmination ending with fire-breathing men on stilts performing a show that would put even Cirque du Soleil to shame. Amazing!

The morning of October 4th we went to the celebration mass in the morning and touristy stuff in the afternoon, enjoying gelato and limoncello along the way. It was a great two days. We aren’t what most would call very religious, but enjoyed learning so much about this very loyal and (what I would call) chill saint. Aside from the religious aspect, Assisi is a beautiful city sitting high above Umbria with views for miles. With Friar Tuck style monks and nuns walking around everywhere it is a really unique place to visit. Architecture from Roman and Etruscan times, the city looks celestial from below. Being there on such a big day, there were thousands of tourists and religious pilgrims, but everyone was kind and fun and brought a nice,warm feeling. Needless to say, spending time with Uncle Bobby was great! I love meeting new people, but it is always nice to talk and laugh with someone who shares your memories and jokes. We had a fabulous experience in Assisi, I highly recommend at least a day visit for anyone touring Italy. If anyone has any cool St. Francis knowledge, please share in the comments! Thanks!

Happy family 🙂

Italian Food Rules

2 Oct

This week we went to an Italian-wide ‘sagra’ (festival), Primi d’Italia. Held in Folingo about an hour away from Todi, this is an entire weekend devoted to ‘primi’, the first course served after antipasto in Italy, better known to us Americans as pasta. Pasta was in the store fronts, made into art work, fashioned into dresses, pasta was everywhere! And let me tell you, we are getting jipped on the pasta selection in America! There are thousands of types of pasta here. It was really cool to see how much fun they were having with it. It was a treat for our eyes as well as our mouths, as many of the exhibitions were in hundreds of year old buildings with frescos on the walls. Walking through the main food tent we had samples being offered to us from every direction. Salamis, breads, chocolates, truffles, real balsamic vinegar, it was amazing! If there is one thing Italians love, it is their food! And they take their food every seriously.

Mitch and I enjoying our lunch!

Italian food rules. Duh. That I expected, what I didn’t expect was all the rules associated with enjoying this food. Mitch and I are constantly getting corrected by our family and Diego for certain table and food manners that are completely acceptable at home in Ohio, but shun-worthy here. They are too funny not to share so please enjoy… but remember you’re enjoying them all at our expense! Hopefully we will learn our way around these Italians kitchens soon. Either that or our family is going to kick us out because of embarrassment!

Pasta Vespa!

Types of pasta for specific sauce. At home if you have rigatoni and tomato sauce, you eat just that. Not the case. They will change meals if they don’t have the correct noodles for the various sauces. An example is that carbonara sauce is to be served strictly with spaghetti noodles and meat sauce with short pastas.

Summer vs. winter food. Italy gets colder than most Americans think. Most of Italy experiences at least a mild, to more serious winter weather. Because it is so hot in the summer they eat their summer foods, light pastas, etc and winter only the warm foods like Polenta.

Drinks. Surprisingly, we have found the Italians who drink tea mostly follow tea time. Tea is only to be drunk at tea time, while espresso is to be drunk ALL the time! No no, but at least in the morning and after lunch (remember after lunch here is around 3pm).

No eggs for breakfast! Toast, sunny side up eggs, hash browns, orange juice, now this is a great American breakfast! This is also an Italian dinner, the frittata. It is basically an omelet that you fry first and then bake in the oven. Italians think it’s appalling to eat eggs in the morning.

Plates matters. Italians only eat certain foods on certain plates. Pasta in shallow bowls, meats and sides on real plates, desert only on desert plates and bread on the table. Lorenzo refuses to eat pasta if I serve it on a real plate… Italians boys are really as big of mammas boys as you might think! And their mammas really take care of their every whim.

The spaghetti spin. This is Mitch’s least favorite rule, because everyone points it out. Italians never cut their pasta, only spin it on their fork on the side of their bowls until it barely fits in their mouths. Apparently only Italians in the north spin on a spoon, here no way.

Multi-colored and multi-shaped pastas!

The murder rules. These are ancient rules that many still practice. You never pour a beverage into someones glass with your palm up so it looks like the bottle is pointing at the person. In medieval times this was the signal that poison was being poured into their cup. At the table hands must always be above the table… so everyone knows you aren’t holding a knife to kill them with! Funny, but followed at the same time, they usually have no problem keeping their hands above the table because they’re essential to telling every story and making every point.

These are only some of the Italian food rules we have discovered so far, but will never forget! They are not shy about pointing out that we’re doing something wrong.

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?”

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