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 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.
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.
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.