Our Week In Umbria

It felt nice this week to stay in one place.  Our last two vacations have been the busy kind, where you move to a new hotel every other day and start to resent sitting in the car.  This time we settled in at our Agriturismo in Assisi and took day trips to the local attractions.  There is no giant ball of twine in central Italy, but there was a giant ball of Baci!

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PERUGIA

In Perugia we toured the Perugina Chocolate Factory where Baci is made.  My first experience with Baci was back at Starbucks in the 1990’s, when we made Baci Frappuccinos by adding four Bacis to the blender.  It was so good!  But nobody bought it, and now they have Goo Goo Cluster Frappuccinos or whatever, which I’m sure taste good but cannot be as good as Baci.  Anyway, we learned that Baci means “Kiss” in Italian, just like Hershey’s.

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The tour took us through the harvesting of cocoa beans and the story of the Perugina company from 1907.  It was interesting but the tour group was a little restless, probably because everyone was eager to get to the tasting.  So many different kinds of chocolate!  And afterward I had to haul it around with me everywhere, so it wouldn’t melt in the car.  Mike, do you have the chocolate?  I’m sure Jake and Eli are fine, but make sure the chocolate is okay!!

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ASSISI

St. Francis founded the Franciscan Order in Assisi in the 13th century.  There was so much religious fervor back then, like the whole world had gone manic!  But it’s nice that all that manic energy left us with so many beautiful cathedrals, especially on these hot days, so we can go inside and cool off.

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Assisi is a beautiful place, glowing golden up on the hillside with shops selling crucifixes and raisin strudels.  Monks wandered around the city fraternizing with their monk friends in long, dark robes.

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We stopped for pizza and slurpees, and Mike made the observation that Americans are noticeable for their love of moisture-wicking fabrics.  Surprisingly, what does NOT set us apart is a love for Slurpees.  Italians drink Slurpees too.

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Assisi has buses full of tourists like everywhere else, but also landscapes of normal life.

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Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a place where a Vespa is “normal life?”

One church had an art exhibit honoring Mary, molded to fit in the curves of your hands.

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Depending on how you hold her, Mary is holding baby Jesus, or holding water, or when held sideways, becomes a dove.

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There were 33 Marys to represent Jesus’ 33 years on earth, surrounded by the Alpha and Omega (first and last).

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There was also a giant Tau representing the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  We hope the boys are learning something from all of this!

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GUBBIO

The hilltown of Gubbio made our list because it promised a gondola ride up to the top of the city in a giant birdcage.  It did not disappoint.

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Rustic and bronze-colored, with a local market in the central square, Gubbio felt more medieval than the others.  You could buy porchetta from street vendors.

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We also ate the best gelato of our lives in Gubbio.  I can’t remember the name of the place but they had mint!  The good kind, that doesn’t taste like toothpaste!  Gubbio also holds a festival each year where they carry a dead saint through the streets.  Mediterranean countries like Spain and Italy are really good at odd festivals celebrating things in the streets; bulls, tomatoes, wine, salt.  I guess dead saints too.  They also put the Pope in their lanterns.

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Eli was a little weirded-out by the mummies in the church.  He whispered to me, “it smells like death in here.”

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SPELO

We came to Spelo because we read it was the home of a Spring Flower Festival, celebrated every year on the first Sunday after Corpus Christi.  There are Eli’s feet on a diagram showing which flowers go where.  Sort of a Paint-By-Number, but with flowers.

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Most of the city was quiet and closed, but we had lunch outside in a languid courtyard where I had my first Americano.  It’s the one on the right, made from Campari and Martini Rosso.  Mike’s Campari Orange is the bright pink one on the left.  He has a knack for ordering bright pink drinks.

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MODENA – Emilia-Romagna

Ferraris are made in Italy!  Just outside of Modena, famous for cars and sweetly syrupy balsamic vinegar.  In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words.

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SAVIGNO – Emilia-Romagna

The last small town we visited was unexpected, not on any list, but where we ended up one night when all the restaurants near us were closed.  A kind gentleman called to make us a reservation, then directed us to Savigno, a village south of Modena, and one of our new favorite restaurants in the world.

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It was a complete accident on this last night in Italy, when we had contemplated just staying home.  Maybe that was part of the magic.

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At Amerigo we learned about Parmesan gelato and Lambrusco ice cream, that you can make soup out of peaches, and that Italians really can make chocolate cake soffice that is as good as any chocolate cake in the world.  We learned that real spaghetti bolognese does not have tomatoes, and that the classic way to eat bolognese is with raw red onions on top.  We tasted Pignoletto, a sparkling white wine made in Emilia-Romagna, and had big glasses of Barolo with our tortelli and chantarelle lasagna.  The boys helped us discern the terroir.

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I think we all loved tonight.

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And so with that experience our Italy trip comes to a close, in the best possible way, with a memory that is once again one of the best ones yet.

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