We have been in Italy a little less than 4 weeks now and there are a number of things we have noticed which the Italians do a little differently than done in the US. Not that they are wrong, just different.
Signs, signs, everywhere signs. But no need to really follow the instructions on the signs. No Parking, Speed Limit, you name it. It seems the signs are viewed as suggestions, not actual rules that must be followed.
EXCEPT and UNLESS that sign says No Parking during Market days as evidenced by my ticket and charges below. Polizia charged me 28€ for the fine and 50€ to get my car out of the city impound lot. And it was so nice of the impound lot to say "Thank you and goodbye" on the receipt. And the nice Polizia DID give us a ride to the impound lot.
Take a Walk on the Passeggiata Side. Every evening BEFORE dinner, which is most often after 7PM, many locals go for a walk with the family. It is a slow leisurely stroll through town, it is a time to see and be seen and to have a little conversation with your neighbors.
Don't Be Shy. As a man, you cannot let a woman in your public bathroom intimidate you. As I entered this bathroom in Perugia Sant'Anna train station two women came in with me to clean. Also, don't be afraid to pee or poop into an open hole in the floor of the bathroom. It is so nice that they provide foot stands so you don't "mess" your shoes.
Don't RUSH me. Everything you have heard about long meals in Italian restaurants is true. As there is no tipping required they never rush you to pay the tab and leave so they can "turn tables." In addition, waiters and waitresses do not hover around you and instead tend to leave you to your dining partner. Letting the diners ask for the check.
No grocery carts ROLLING around the parking lot banging into cars because the previous user was TOO LAZY to put it in the corral. And that is because you deposit 1€ which releases 1 cart. To get the 1€ back you simply return the cart to the corral.
Don't TOUCH my apples or fuel pump handle. Or any other fruits or vegetables unless you have a cellophane glove on. Nope, don't even think about it. The stores provide the gloves next to the plastic bags. And then the gas stations also offer gloves. Which is nice so you can get back in the car not smelling of fuel.
Hook, line, and sinker. Right outside our apartment there was a fishing competition with EVERY man wearing his teams colors. Strangest fishing I have ever seen. They used rods at least 25' in length with no reels. They would put the hook with bait in the water and then with a sling shot shoot some more bait out to the line in the water. Must have been 40 men lining the banks of the Tiber.
GO HOME. In the smaller towns businesses close for a long extended lunch. Most everyone goes home for lunch and to relax for a couple of hours, typically closing at about 1PM and reopening at 3 or 4PM and remaining open until 7 or 8PM.. To a foreigner at first this is a bit of an inconvenience but after a short time you acclimatize and know you have to get your shopping done in the morning or early evening.
Spello - from the 1st century BC
Spello is one of those cities that just grabs you as soon as you enter its gates. It is old, very old. It was first populated by an ancient tribe called the Umbri and became a Roman colony in the 1st century BC. I can't imagine all the things that have transpired here or how many people have crossed its portals. There is so much history! If you have any interest in medieval art or architecture this is a must see town. There are so many significant churches, buildings and ancient ruins you could wander for days looking at everything.
Below are a few photos of one of its main churches - Santa Maria Maggiore, first known in 1059. Much of its art dates from the early 1500's. I have never seen a church like this and could have sat here for hours taking it all in.
Spello is also a city of flowers and there is a huge annual competition for decorating balconies, alleys and houses. The flowers spill into the streets and paint the city in vibrant living color. Here are a few photos of what is left in the middle of November.
There is a festival called the Infiorate which is the creation of 60 flower carpets on various streets and piazzas, and a three day festival going on right now that celebrates this fall's olive harvest and the new olive oil, olio nuovo. There are other events and festas throughout the year as well as theater productions and concerts.
Spello sits on the flank of Mt. Subasio so hiking the miles of trails here can be done throughout the year and it has also been named one of Italy's Most Beautiful Villages. It is one of our favorite places here, and if we return, it will likely be one of the towns we consider living in.
First Week in Umbria
Life in Umbria
We have been here for a week and are having a wonderful time. We’re getting used to the pace and rhythm of the town. This post is a general discussion about how things are here. It is different from the US but totally equivalent in every way. Here are some of our observations……
SHOPPING AND FOOD
Stores mostly open at 8 am and stay open till 1 pm when everyone closes and goes home for lunch. They reopen between 3 or 4 PM and are then open till 7 or 8 pm. Most places are open for a few hours on Sunday, after church of course.
Umbertide has two weekly markets, Wednesday that is very large and fills the piazza and Saturday which is much smaller. Basically groceries and other things come to our doorstep twice a week. The Saturday market is known as the Kilometer Zero market because all the vendors are local and must be within a 1 Km radius of Umbertide. Everything is local and most of the produce is organic.
There are a couple of grocery stores in town for harder to find items but most folks shop the markets and their neighborhood Alimentary, or grocery store, because they want to support the smaller guy.
Prices for produce are reasonable. I paid about $1 for 2 lbs. of apples and got two heads of lettuce (with dirt from the field still on them) for $1 each.
Here’s a subtopic – Meat and Cheese. We are surrounded by more saturated fat than you can shake a stick at. I don’t know how they eat like this and stay thin or alive, but they are doing something right. Maybe because everyone walks everwhere, and it’s very hilly, they work it off. There are a lot of older Italians walking to get their bread, cheese and meat everyday. We should be so lucky.
Driving has been a bit challenging. The roads are good and so are the drivers generally, it’s that the roads are signed only with city names so when you are on the expressway and the sign says Cesena/Ravenna and the sign for the other direction says Foligno/Roma, you HAVE TO KNOW YOUR GEOGRAPHY! There is no north, south, east or west, no exit numbers, nothing. Just city pairs. We finally have a clue where things are relative to one another but it has been a bit of a challenge not to mention that they do drive a bit fast here. After driving our big truck though, our Smart car is a piece of cake. Most of the cars are very small, there just isn’t room for anything very large as city streets are narrow. Parking is also a challenge in many towns. There is usually no parking near your house so you park in a public lot as close as possible. You usually can pull up in front, drop off packages, then go park the car and walk back home. We are parked about a 5 minute walk from the house, which is pretty typical.
Even with over 4 months of using Duolingo to teach ourselves Italian, we are woefully unprepared. We can sort of communicate but it is a challenge at the market, the pharmacy and even getting a gelato. We would be in serious trouble if something major happened like a health problem. There are few Italians that have more than a handful of English words. I was lucky enough to have a women behind me in the store the other day who spoke enough English so I could use my credit card with a chip. This has been the single hardest thing and getting proficient in Italian is the ONLY way to get integrated into the community.
The expat community is very close and folks have gone out of their way to welcome us completely. Everyone has been extremely generous with their information and time and we can’t thank them enough. Right now we are in a small hill town called Montone, about 15 minutes from where we are staying
The Italians have also been very friendly and generous in their understanding of our poor language skills. Grazie di tutti!
There is a sense of community here as people get out every evening for the passegiata. This is exercise and a social ritual rolled into one event. It starts around 6 pm or so when the whole family comes out for a slow stroll around town. People greet each other, say hi, catch up on gossip, or just walk around. Then they go home and have a light dinner. It’s fun and good to see and be seen. Although it’s too early for the passegiata today I am going to head out for a walk through town, photos to follow.
Jim met up with another expat today to go for a bike ride. Jim, Tom, and Calvert (Tom’s significant other. The roads are decent, not great, but workable. The BEST part of the ride was the drivers. They gave a lot of room when passing. A LOT. Which made the riding enjoyable and not TOO much of a worry regarding vehicles. Jim is meeting another expat (we think from the UK) who is a big time rider. Who knows… maybe he has an extra bike.
A New Room With A View
Last year when we started our blog we named it Room With A View rather than something with RV or Airstream. We did this because we always knew we would travel and get a “Room With A View” whether or not we were in an RV.
So here we are with a new Room With A View – in Umbertide (um-bear’-tea-day), Italy. This is in the region just east of Tuscany called Umbria. Umbria is unique in Italy in that it is the only region that does not have either an international border or a coastline.
What we are looking at above (albeit through a screen) is the Wednesday morning market. The market spills outside of the main piazza so what you see below is about half of what all is available. You can get any fruit or vegetable you want (in season of course) as well as fresh fish, pork, beef, and all kinds of clothing and some jewelry. One place even had two whole pigs they were carving for people’s orders. The market repeats every Wednesday and Saturday.
We are on the third floor on the main piazza of the city, Piazza Matteoti. The Commune (co-moo-neh) government and police offices are headquarted on the piazza.
Below are some photos of our apartment and a couple from street level at the market. Notice the barrel ceiling in the apartment, it is really quite something. From what we can tell the walls are about 1 foot thick.
Here is a map showing where are in Italy and then a second map showing more closely where we are in Umbertide. We see the Tiber River out our rear windows. Pretty special place.
Bend, OR and RV trouble
We left Cape Perpetua and it was an emotional departure. We were truly honored to be chosen to volunteer there and loved the people, the place and our time there. Sadly we must move on for now and have started our travels back to northern Arizona. We headed to Bend, OR, a fabulous outdoor mecca, and it was sunny and 80 degrees when we arrived. That feels HOT after our summer on the Oregon coast, where 65 was a "warm" day.
Unfortunately while we were on the coast we were dogged by a non-functioning furnace which meant three trips to the RV dealer in Eugene, a 190 mile round trip. They diagnosed it as 3 different furnace issues and got it working all 3 times, but when we'd get it back to the Cape, you guessed it, it would quit running again. This morning it was 40 degrees outside and 45 INSIDE the RV, a bit brisk. Out of frustration we called Airstream and they gave us the number for a mobile RV service here in Bend and we couldn't have been more pleased. They were here and gone in an hour, diagnosed the problem, a loose wire in an internal switch in the furnace and voila, it was fixed. Yea! Warmth! Finally!
I also conquered the Lava Tube today. It's a one mile long UNDERGROUND lava tube/cave in the National Forest and the last time I was here, a long time ago, my claustrophobia got the better of me, but not today, We were in and out in an hour and a half. It was really much easier than I remember. Below we are almost back to the opening. Most of the cave has no railing or stairs and you are walking on the uneven sandy floor of the tube. It is a constant 42 degrees inside so we wore our down coats.
I can't say enough about the biking and hiking here. There are more miles of road and trail than we could do in a lifetime. We are happy campers :-) I would highly recommend the hike along Benham Falls, a beautiful stretch of the Deschutes River. The trail goes for miles and you are only limited by how much time you have. There are any number of websites that have info about Bend. Visitcentraloregon.com has a comprehensive list of things to do and places to stay.
Monday we head east to Burns, OR then south into Nevada, on to Las Vegas and finally to Flagstaff and Cottonwood. If we come across anything good along the way, I'll be sure to let you know.
Where Has The Time Gone?
WOW, it seems that we just got here. And now we are down to the last 3 weeks of our tenure here as Visitor Center Hosts at Cape Perpetua, Oregon for the US Forest Service. We have made great friends while here, had many visit us (Denise/Carol, Mark/Tina, Lori/Chuck, Julie/Wayne, and Geni/Peter).
We had SO many great experiences from talking with visitors from the four corners of the globe, to great ocean and forest hikes right from our front door.
The Forest Service management, staff and all the other volunteers were a pleasure to work with. Would we do it again? In a heartbeat.
Below are some slideshows of our best memories of the Summer of 2015. Hope to see this again soon.
The Cape at night with a new moon and high tide at 1:30AM.
Sweet Creek Waterfalls. 14 waterfalls in a 2 mile hike. Hard to go wrong. Here are the best 4.
The ocean was ALWAYS beautiful. Sometimes we were down close and other times way above it, but it was always gorgeous. And sometimes there were whales or gulls putting on a cool display.
And then of course there is the forest, after all we are in the Siuslaw National Forest.
Even though Tide Pools are a part of the ocean, we are giving them special mention here because they are just so neat and so unlike anything we have encountered in our travels.
And last but not leastgvcdirtucrtuy` was our MOST unique visitor. While we had folks from as far away as Russia, Italy, China, and even Kansas the most unique visitor was Phil. Phil, the Goat. The owner SAID Phil was going to become mutton. But we doubt it.
It has been difficult to buckle down and get the blog written so I apologize for such a long delay between posts. This is a place that just grabs you and it is hard to sit inside and get this done but I can finally start sharing it with you.
This place hits all your senses; the crisp ocean smell is everywhere, you can hear the roar of the waves from INSIDE the RV, the mist creeps through the Sitka spruce that march down to the black lava of the coast and you can feel the concussion of the waves standing near the shore. It is a living, wild and dynamic environment and it absolutely gorgeous.
Although it is hardly "work", our primary job is to greet folks as they come into the Visitor Center, answer questions about hiking trails, local animals and plants and be ambassadors for the area and the National Forest. Part of our daily responsibility is roving the 26 miles of trails they have here and our commute to the "office" is through old growth forest. It has been a wonderful experience talking to everyone. Below is Ranger Jim in uniform. We have to have a bit of fun on the job afterall We "work" every Thursday through Sunday from 9:30 am to 4 pm and the rest of the time is ours. We spend much of that free time exploring the area so we can familiarize ourselves with the small towns and other places and events nearby.
Many of those we work with are also volunteers and there is a very active group of locals as well as those of us who are here for several months. They are wonderful people and we have some great new friends.
We also see some spectacular things from the Visitor Center windows. Yesterday we saw a pod of six Orcas. Today we watched four Gray Whales moving north and two of them were a mother and calf. The mother would periodically roll onto her side so her calf could feed. It was incredible as it unfolded about 200 feet away from us. On a bird hike today we saw 21 species in an hour and a half including a juvenile Eagle being mobbed by gulls. There are both forest and sea birds here such as Wilson's Warblers and Pacific Wrens to Oystercatcher and Surf Scoters. There are also Bobcat, Elk, and their main predator, Mountain Lion, plus Black Bear.
There are a number of scientific studies being done here in the Siuslaw National Forest. We spoke with a biologist from Oregon State University in Corvallis and they are mapping the habitat of small forest carnivores like Marten and Fisher. Because the forest is so dense and the terrain is so rugged they came up with the idea of taking shelter dogs and training them to alert to the scat of these carnivores. Scientists retrieve the scat, do a DNA test and map where these animals hunt and live. This is a great win-win situation for both the dogs and scientists. All they need is a ball-obsessed dog.
Over the next several posts I'll report back on some of our other activities, nearby towns and the history of the area (which dates back to Captain Cook and the late 1700's) and we'll have time to explore more of Oregon, but with all that's going on we have so much to keep us busy right here.
Astronomy night in Lone Pine, CA
Lone Pine, CA sits in the shadow of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48, and we had planned on being there for at least several days. It is a very pretty setting with the ridge of the Sierra Nevadas stretching as far as the eye can see from north to south and the Owens valley to the east.
We originally planned on staying in a BLM area area called Alabama Hills, but when we got there the roads were very sandy and we were afraid of getting stuck, plus, the roads didn't match what was on our map so we were afraid of going down a road and not being able to turn around. This unique geological area was named by Southern sympathizers in Lone Pine who decided that the Confederate cruiser "The Alabama" (which had destroyed or captured 60 Union ships in 2 years) ought to be celebrated — so they named their mining claims after her. Over 400 films have been made here over the years and it is a very popular bouldering spot with hundreds of routes. There are approximately 100 natural arches as well. Additionally, Mt. Whitney is only 115 miles from Death Valley so that little distance separates the highest and lowest points in the contiguous US. For any of you truly hearty, or insane, souls out there you might be interested in the Badwater Ultramarathon, which goes from Badwater Basin at -282 feet to the Whitney Portal at 8,360 feet...in mid-July when temps are often around 120 degrees.
Since we couldn't stay there, Plan B was a place called Tuttle Creek Campground, also a BLM site, which cost a whopping $5 per night. This campground has good internet and cell which Alabama Hills didn't have and it was in the shadow of Mt. Whitney. After setting up for the night, we noticed a group of guys two spots down from us setting up all this high tech equipment.
Jim went to investigate and it turned out to be a group of friends from California who are VERY SERIOUS amateur astronomers. They get together several times a year, in very dark places, to do several nights of astronomy. The Mt. Whitney area has little light pollution so is one of their regular spots. This was a truly spectacular evening of viewing and we saw things we never thought we would see - new stars in the Orion Nebula, spiral galaxies, the belts of Jupiter and its four largest moons, several star clusters, and a really incredible phenomenon called an iridium flare, which is the sun's reflection off a satellites solar panels. Several guys were doing direct viewing and a couple of folks were doing astro-photography with PC's and very specialized telescopes. Here are some photos of their equipment.
As I mentioned we wanted to spend a few days here exploring the area because there's a lot to see but we received an email from the Volunteer Coordinator at Cape Perpetua and it turned out that one of the Visitor Center couples had a medical emergency and had to leave quickly so they asked if we could possibly come a few weeks early. Well we said, "Of course we can!" so we pulled out the next morning headed for Yachats. We had some ocean and forest to get to, oh happy day. Below is our last view of Lone Pine, California, our last sunset in the desert for the next several months.
Before I talk about our plans for this coming summer, I have a correction to make to my last post. I hate lists because as soon as I make one and put it out there I will forget someone, which is exactly what I did. When I mentioned our wonderful friends in Cottonwood, I forgot Kim and Chris. As it turns out, I've known Kim since fifth grade at Stranahan Elementary School in Sylvania, OH and all the way through high school. Speed ahead 40 years and through a series of events I discovered that she and her husband lived in Clarkdale, AZ, less than 10 minutes from us in Cottonwood. Talk about a small world! We reconnected and have had some wonderful meals and good laughs with Kim and her husband Chris. So....I apologize for not including them, it was a major oversight.
Let's talk about summer. We've logged a lot of miles this past winter and we are ready to slow way down for the summer months so we considered a number of possibilities. We could have gone back to Montana and Glacier which we were planning on doing, but then we starting talking about doing something in a volunteer capacity. These volunteer positions include everything from docents to camp hosts, and in return for volunteer hours you receive free camping, usually in a nice place. Hmmm. Where would we find something like that?
Volunteer.gov is a clearinghouse of volunteer positions for the National Park Service, BLM, Corps of Engineers and other state and local agencies. There are thousands of opportunities that range in length from a few weeks to months. Pick a state and you can look at everything that's offered. We had become a bit burned out on the desert - pun intended, so were looking for a place that was completely different from where we had been living. Here is what we found: Cape Perpetua Visitor Center Host - Yachats, OR. Jim and I both had volunteer experience in a similar vein - me with leading bird hikes and working in the Red Rock State Park visitor center and Jim as a mountain bike patroller for the Coconino National Forest. Plus we had actually been to Yachats on vacation (say yah-hots), so we applied. We had to supply the Forest Service with references, a personal statement about why we wanted the position and details of any relevant past experience. Several weeks later we received an email from them that we had been accepted. We were quite surprised...would they really want US? We are really excited to be spending May through September on the Oregon coast, with an RV pad at the Visitor Center and all utilities paid. In return, we "work" from 10 am to 6 pm, 3 or 4 days per week, recommending hikes, promoting the area and being ambassadors for one of the most beautiful stretches of the Oregon coast. No toilet cleaning necessary :-) we couldn't be happier. Imagine the sound of the ocean and dinner while the sun sets into the Pacific. The hiking, biking and photography will be top notch.
Now the invitation part. If you are reading this we would love to have you come for a visit. The central Oregon coast is beautiful, wild and a great place to spend a summer vacation. There is camping nearby at Cape Perpetua Campground, or for a larger overview of camping in the area, try any of the places listed on Campendium, a website owned by friends Brian and Leigh. There are also some wonderful hotels in Yachats itself, and we can highly recommend the Overleaf Lodge as we have stayed there. Summer highs run about 65 degrees and lows 55.
We will be heading that way via Lone Pine, CA, Reno, NV, and Ashland. OR. I will leave you with another link to info on the Cape and a few photos done by the Siuslaw National Forest.
Cottonwood and Flagstaff, AZ
We've continued to use Cottonwood, AZ as our "home base" and with our friends here it's a big draw for us. Every time we're in the area we get a warm homecoming from everyone, even when we come back unannounced or it's a very quick visit. So, with that said, and before everyone leaves for their summer adventures, I would like to give a very special mention to Deb, Jim, Geni, Peter, Heather, Scott, Marilyn, Zig, Deb, Jerry, Sharon,Vince, Becky and Terry. Phew!! We love you all and thank you for your friendship. We had a great Friday dinner with the group before heading north to Flagstaff and cooler weather.
Flagstaff is absolutely one of our favorite cities. Nestled in a Ponderosa pine forest, it's the home to
Northern Arizona University, Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was discovered), and Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona, pictured above. Jim's niece, Bridget, is here and we always have a wonderful visit with her and her family when we are in town. This time was no exception.
Flagstaff is probably best known for it's outdoor activities which are superb year round. The great weather makes it easy for folks to get out and hike, bike, or ski in the winter. Speaking of biking, I have to mention that yesterday Jim rode to the top of Snowbowl, the local ski area, at 9300' elevation. Altogether he did 37 miles, 2700' elevation gain and an average of over 6% grade on the last 6 miles. Wow, what an accomplishment! I've been able to get some multi-mile hikes in around Schultz Pass. The scenery is beautiful and I got to a point on the trail where I heard no manmade noise. It was unbelievably wonderful to hear only birds and wind. Speaking of birds...two great sightings were the Pygmy Nuthatch and the Lewis's Woodpecker. The photo below is a Pygmy Nuthatch poking it's head out of an old woodpecker hole and a view of some of the Ponderosas along the trail.
Now that spring is finally here, we'll be starting our northward swing next week. We're heading to Utah, Idaho and west into Oregon. More on our summer plans shortly.
Join Denise and Jim as they go looking for the next beautiful Room With A View