Joined September 2015 Message
  • Day31

    Arrivederci, Italia!

    May 1, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Wow, it's hard to believe that our month in Italy has come to an end. We've certainly made the most of our time here and have covered many kilometers doing it. We've gone from the deep south to the far east in Puglia, enjoyed the rugged cliffs and beautiful coastline of Abruzzo and explored the rolling hills of Umbria.

    We've seen things, eaten food and drank wines unique to each region and spent time visiting with old friends. The pizza stains on my clothes will fade in time, but the memories of these thirty days will remain forever.

    This morning we took a short ride on Perugia's MiniMetro to the train station, where we'll catch our ride to Rome. We won't be spending any time in the Eternal City on this trip, we're just passing through on our way to the airport.

    Next stop: Marseilles! I'll finally be back in a country where I can speak the language, even though some people I know don't believe my Quebecois French truly qualifies as la langue de Moliere.

    On verra bien.
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    Abruzzo...Brenda's friend Gina thinks her family are from near this region. betty

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  • Day30

    Perugina, Amore Mio

    April 30, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Everyone knows them.

    I love them.

    They are instantly recognizable, and each one carries a brief message of love.

    And so, our time in Perugia would not have been complete without a visit to the home of the Perugina Baci.

    Because we had time on our hands and it was a beautiful day, Brenda and I trekked the 6.5 down and up kilometers from Perugia to the Perugina factory in San Sisto. Of course, knowing full well the factory tour ends with a chocolate tasting, the hike also burned off a portion of the hundreds of empty calories we'd soon be enjoying.

    Our tour was scheduled to start at 3:00, but in true Italian fashion, it didn't really get underway until almost 3:20. But it was worth the wait.

    The group was ushered into a small auditorium where one of the firm's master chocolatiers explained the science and importance of tempering chocolate when making confections. He then quickly produced enough ganache filled treats to serve the 35 people in the group, with a few leftovers that were quickly devoured.

    We then viewed a film on the history of the company, that originated in 1907, and quickly grew in popularity, so much so that Nestle acquired the firm for $1.6 billion in 1988.

    After a quick tour of the museum, and production facility (which unfortunately was not operating due to Easter vacations) we were brought to the tasting room where all the plant's products were available to sample.

    Oh, and sample we did! From the 85% bar to the 70% single source bar, the 70% blended source all the way down to the white chocolate, which, by the he way isn't really chocolate at all.

    And of course, there were the Baci. So many bonbons, so little time!

    All of them had the gianduia filling, a dreamy blend of milk chocolate and hazelnut purée topped with a whole roasted hazelnut.

    But some were coated in milk chocolate, some with the 70% cocoa dark chocolate, some with white chocolate and some with the new pink chocolate. Decisions, decisions. What the heck, let's try 'em all.....TWICE!

    But it wasn't all just about stuffing our faces. We also learned that the Perugina team once spent four days constructing a 6000 kg Baci for Perugia's annual chocolate festival, and then, in only four hours, fed the entire thing to the hoardes of people that came out to see it.

    And, more importantly, we found out that more Baci are shipped to Canada than to the USA.

    It makes me proud to be a Canadian!🇨🇦
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    what a fine day! betty

  • Day29

    Gubbian Adventure

    April 29, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 5 °C

    In her research of the area around Perugia, Brenda came across the town of Gubbio, located about 40kms from Perugia.

    We bussed there on a cool Monday morning, knowing ahead of time that rain was forecast for the afternoon. This was a very important fact, since the main reason for our trip there would be a very unpleasant experience in the rain and we therefore had to plan our time accordingly.

    Although Gubbio is another medieval hillside village surrounded by an ancient stone wall, one kilometer up the hill is a basilica that houses the remains of Saint Ubaldo (the rather ghoulish mummified body is on full display in a glass case above the main altar). But what makes visiting the basilica extraordinary is the very unique means of getting there. Yeah sure, you can walk up the switchback filled path to the top, but to get the real Gubbio experience, the Funivia Colle Eletto is a must.

    The cable car takes six minutes to reach the top, and it reminded me of getting on and off a ski hill's chairlift. The carriage consists of a birdcage-like wire cylinder in which two people stand for the entire ride. When one enters the station there are two red circles placed about 5 meters apart on the floor. Each passenger stands on one of the circles. As the car approaches, an attendant opens the door and instructs passenger # 1 to hop on, does the same for passenger # 2, and then closes the door. The cage moves at a steady speed and slows only for emergencies. The views from the cage were spectacular even though the skies were overcast and grey. Of course, riding up in the rain would have been no fun at all and, fortunately, we timed our trip perfectly.

    Because the lift shuts down between 1:15 and 2:30, and we didn't want to be stuck at the top for that period, we made a quick visit to the basilica and made our way back down to the city in the birdcage. As we disembarked, and began searching for a place to eat, the first raindrops began to fall. Our timing couldn't have been better!

    We had a great lunch at the only vegetarian restaurant in Gubbio and I became an official town fool by running three times around the fountain and sprinkling myself with water.

    What a fool believes he sees,
    No wise man has the power to reason away.
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    what a cool adventure! betty

  • Day28

    Basilica San Domenica

    April 28, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    Just down the street from our hotel in Perugia is the Basilica San Domenica. We first saw it when we arrived here and immediately decided we wanted to pay it a visit. Like so many of the buildings and monuments we've visited, this place is ENORMOUS. To get an idea of its size, look at the photo of Brenda standing next to the entrance door.

    Originally built in two phases between 1304 and 1458, it was rebuilt in 1632 following a series of collapses.

    Not only is the size of the structure impressive, but so is the artwork, stained glass and carvings. Particularly striking are the 14th-century funerary monument to Pope Benedict XI, carved in marble and extremely detailed, and the 21-meter-tall stained-glass window that dates to 1411. The pipe organ is a "recent" addition and dates to the 16th century.

    As we toured the church, we found exposed portions of original frescoes that had, at some time, been plastered over during renovations.

    It boggles the mind to think how much beautiful art may be hidden behind the more modern walls. But then, I suppose the same can be said for this entire city, that has been built up over Etruscan ruins.

    And previous to that, Etruscan builders would have covered up traces left behind by Neanderthals 200,000 years ago.

    Time marches on.
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    Betty Jay

    yes those doors are mind-boggling!

  • Day26


    April 26, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    Perugia, where we're staying in Umbria, is a mere 25 kms from Assisi, which is the birthplace of St. Francis and home of the Franciscan Order. On Friday, which turned out to be a cold wet day, Brenda and I made our way to Assisi, arriving there after an hour long, milk run bus ride.

    With Easter last weekend, Italian Liberation day on Thursday, and Labour Day coming on May 1, many Italians added extra vacation days between the statutory holidays to have an extended period away from work. Consequently, when we got to Assisi, the crowds were enormous.

    The town was originally founded around the second century BC, but little remains of the structures from that period, other than a Roman amphitheater and the facade of the Temple of Minerva with its six Corinthian columns.

    The main attraction in the town is the Basilica of St. Francis, which is comprised of two churches, an upper and a lower chapel, both of which are magnificent.. In the basement crypt of the lower chapel, the remains of St. Francis are interred. This building probably ranks second only to the Vatican amongst Christianity's most revered places.

    I don't know if it was all the artwork, or the friars giving their lectures, or the throngs of worshippers, or some sacred aura emanating from the tomb, but I couldn't help but feel I was in a very special place. There was simply something in the air that gave me goosebumps, yet also made me feel completely at peace.

    After our visit to the Basilica, Brenda and I headed off to another of Assisi's main attractions, LA Rocca Maggiore, but that will be a tale for another day.
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  • Day24

    Scary Dark Places

    April 24, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    As one walks through Perugia, you are struck by the antiquity of the place. Many of the masonry walls surrounding you date back over eight hundred years. The stone carving is exquisite and the passages, tunnels and archways are unbelievably well conceived and engineered, even by today's standards. Of course, they would have to be in order to remain standing for so long.

    But I have to admit, sometimes passing through these dark portals, where so many countless others have previously trodden, wearing away the stairs and cobblestones, I get a serious case of the creeps.

    One such place in particular is Rocca Paolina, a Renaissance fortress that was built in 1540-1543 for Pope Paul III, thus the name.

    So large was the project, it destroyed many Etruscan, Roman and medieval buildings, as well as over a hundred tower-houses, gates, churches and monasteries. It turned the former streets of the historic city center into underground passageways, which Brenda and I briefly visited on Wednesday. Despite a temperature of 20°C outside, the air within the Rocca was very cool and damp and we had only begun our exploration when we decided we would have to return another day wearing warmer clothing.

    As is usually the case with these huge structures, photos cannot convey their vastness and breadth, but hopefully the attached images show a little of the magic we're experiencing.
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  • Day24

    Awesome Landscapes

    April 24, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    On Tueday we found our way to Perugia, the capital city of both the region of Umbria and the province of Perugia. The history here is mind-boggling, and dates back to the 3rd century BC! Equally astounding are the views from virtually anywhere you go in this hilltop city. From our hotel room we can look across the valley and see, 24kms away, the city of Assisi, home of St-Francis, which we plan to visit while we're here.

    Rather than try to cramp everything into this one blog, I'm going to break our seven day stay here into small chunks, starting with a few photos of the views. Enjoy!
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    Betty Jay for the soul.

  • Day19

    Il Castello di Roccascalegna

    April 19, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    Atop a steep stony crag in the foothills of the Apennines sits a castle, parts of which have been there since the 11th century.

    The vile Baron Corvo de Corvis ruled the land in the 1500s and enacted a law that entitled him to bed local brides on their wedding nights, thus making the most of his lordly rights by stealing their virginity in accordance with “Jus primae noctis” custom. Well, Karma got the best of him when one night he was stabbed to death by a particularly feminist donna.

    Our tour of the castle was most interesting with each room providing some description of what went on there back in the day. The most disturbing room was the torture chamber where various devices, such as a rack used to stretch wrongdoers until their joints dislocated, and a tall, thin wooden pyramid upon whose point witches or females possessed by demons were sat and …… gravity took over. Ugh!

    The views from the castle were outstanding, but anyone visiting should wear shoes that are suited for climbing.

    Check out the amazing drone footage on this YouTube video:
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    Betty Jay

    that castle looks more like an institutional prison...that Baron behaved like a criminal. bj


    Yay to that feminist bride! mj

  • Day18

    I Trabocchi dei Abruzzo

    April 18, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    If Puglia is Italy's heel, Abruzzo is the lower calf. The landscape here is very rugged with steep cliffs, rolling hills and the snow-capped Apennine mountain range.

    But unique to this part of Italy are the numerous trabocchi that you find all along the Adriatic coastline.

    In the 18th century, Abruzzese fishermen devised an ingenious method to reap the fruits of the sea, even during bad weather. Using wood from the local Aleppo pine trees, they built massive wooden structures, on piers, a couple hundred meters from shore. From the shelters, two long poles, aptly called antennae, extend, and a net is strung between them. Using winches, the net is lowered into the water, which is at least six meters deep, and then promptly raised, hopefully filled with the catch of the day.

    Sadly, many of the trabocchi fell into disuse and disrepair over the years, but several were repaired and rebuilt using public funds, others have been converted into popular tourist attraction restaurants, and some still operate exactly as they did nearly two hundred years ago.

    In San Vito Chietino, where we were staying, they are so numerous, the area is labeled La Costa dei Trabocchi (The Trabocchi Coast)
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  • Day17

    Ciao, Puglia

    April 17, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    After leaving our trullo in Alberobello, we turned in La Grande Orange at the airport in Brindisi and then caught a train to Pescara, where we spent our first night in Abruzzo.
    We had pizza at Pizzeria Gluten Free (yes, that's really the name), where they serve nothing but gluten free products. I’ve eaten a lot of GF pizzas and have tried making my own dough at home, with varying degrees of success, but never have I ever had one whose crust was indistinguishable from a regular wheat flour dough. That is, until today. They used a variety of different GF flours in the mix to produce a crust that was crispy, yet whose rim was filled with air pockets and would spring back when squeezed. Quite amazing.

    After dinner we turned in and, in the morning, made our way to the airport to pick up yet another rental car. Once again, Brenda’s desire to drive around Italy in a Fiat 500 was foiled when we were upgraded to a Lancia Ypsilon. Surprisingly, the Italian car has a lot less pep than the Citroen we had in Puglia – I would have thought Lancia, with it’s racing heritage would have been the sportier drive, but such is not the case. I guess I’ll just have to wait for some kind rental car clerk to upgrade me to a Ferrari or Lambo.

    Speaking of which, I see more Italian supercars in Vancouver in one day than I’ve seen in Italy in eighteen days. In fact, the only high-end wheels I’ve seen was a Maserati SUV. Go figure.

    Our next stop is a four day stay in San Vito Chietino, a small fishing village on the coast where we’ll be visiting with our friend Tash and her family. It is truly beautiful here, but the city is divided into an upper and a lower town.

    We rented a very nice Airbnb in the upper level and Tash resides, you guessed it, in the lower town. We had arranged to meet up with her and her sixteen-month-old son, Giorgio, yesterday afternoon and began walking down the main road with its many switchbacks and without any pedestrian sidewalks. Despite the lack of high-performance cars on the road, it seems like most Italians drive like they’re behind the wheel of an F-1 car. I’ll be driving along at twenty or thirty kms over the posted speed limit and cars whiz past me like I’m standing still. Worse yet, when I see them coming up on me in my rear-view mirror, I hold my breath and close my eyes as they always wait until the last possible second to move into the passing lane, missing my rear bumper by inches. Naturally, when driving on winding roads, they are always looking for the racing line, which places a pedestrian on a road with no sidewalks into very perilous position.

    Fortunately, after negotiating a couple of switchbacks, I spotted some stairs that seemed to give us a safer route into the lower town, which indeed they did.

    We spent the afternoon getting a guided tour of San Vito from Tash and then met up with her husband Alessandro in a little café where we had our first Aperol Spritz apperitivos and plates of local cookies, some made with almond flour that Brenda could eat.

    After drinks and a snack, we headed back to our accommodations, which seemed like an awfully long way up when viewed from the lower town. We nonetheless slowly climbed the hundred of stairs to the top, picked up some fruit and veggies at a local market and a couple of slices of pizza and focaccia for me and locked ourselves in for the night.

    Tomorrow, we’re excited to be having lunch at Alessandro’s restaurant, Insight Eatery!
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