AZinItaly

A couple of Phoenicians living temporarily in Roma

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

Another taste of Umbria

Inside the Carapace

Tenuta Castelbuono

I’ve mentioned in the past the great expatriate organization that we joined, Internations. A few months ago at a wine tasting, we started to chat with a fellow American, Susan, who’s originally from Georgia. She has lived abroad for the past 15+ years. It turned out that she has a flat in Rome around the corner from us. A few great dinners later, and we were invited to visit her at her home in Umbria.

Susan’s story and her place, Il Gusto del Paese is so interesting, I want to share a bit of it with you. She decided 8 years ago while living in Brussels, to buy property in Italy, renovate it and create a guest villa. You have to visit her website, Il Gusto del Paese, there’s a link on the right, because you can see photos there of where she started, and the results that she created. It’s amazing! She renovated a dilapidated 17th century farmhouse and stable. It’s located on 6 acres on a hilltop overlooking rolling green Umbrian hills. The main house is 3600 sq ft with 4 bedrooms/baths, a huge kitchen (great for cooking lessons, or everybody helping to make a meal), several cozy sitting areas, outdoor patios that overlook the countryside, an outdoor fireplace and pizza oven, swimming pool, vegetable garden, an annex that is also rentable as a one bedroom unit, and an exercise space. It’s all done in a rustic, yet modern Italian style with clean lines and lots of comfy places to lounge.

Susan vacation rents her property, Fondo le Teglie (on her website, click on “Properties”, then “Villas” and it’s the first listing) and also manages other properties in Umbria. She provides a number of other services to customize your vacation and is a gracious host and guide. I probably haven’t done her or her website justice here, but please take a moment to check it out and if you contact her, let her know you heard about Il Gusto from me!

So, we spent the past weekend as Susan’s guests in Umbria. It was so nice to be in a house again, cooking dinner, building big roaring fires, looking at the stars and remembering with reverence how quiet it can be when you are outside of the city.

Saturday, Susan and a friend, took us to visit Fillipo, who toured us through his family’s home. It was a 12th century monastery, complete with it’s own chapel and vineyards. His parents lived in the home, and are now doing some more renovations to it in order to vacation rent it. We then went nearby to enjoy a personal wine tasting at their winery’s cantina, Cantina Peppucci, where Fillipo explained each wine that we enjoyed and shared his experiences running a winery. We left with a case of great Umbrian wine to replenish our stores, and were on to our next adventure.

Enoteca Onofri in Bevagna

Enoteca Onofri in Bevagna

For lunch we visited the medieval town of Bevagna and Enoteca Onofri. The menu was typical of Umbrian cuisine, heavy on game meats. Michael enjoyed fresh pasta with cinghiale (wild boar) ragu and we all appreciated the local wine.

Our next adventure took us to a winery Susan wanted to check out for her guests.  With her friend in the passenger seat navigating, we wound our way down a dirt road and strategically placed, large steel sculptures. At the end, we came upon Tenuta Castelbuono, probably THE most unique winery anywhere, “a journey into the world of art and wine”. The building is called The Carapace (turtle), designed by a renowned artist and sculptor, Arnaldo Pomodoro. The winery is owned by the Lunelli family, who for the past 3 generations has run the Ferrari winery in northern Italy, which is famous for making sparking wines. The sculpture took 7 years to build and is described as follows: “This unique work of art is a shrine to hold the precious great wines of Sagrantino and Rosso di Montefalco, the true souls of Umbria.” I was able to take some good photos, and the link to their website can be found at the right.

Tasting area at Tenuta Castelbuono

Tasting area at Tenuta Castelbuono

On Sunday we braved the cold and damp weather and took a 7 km walk in the hills around a hunting preserve near Susan’s home. In the afternoon we visited the hilltop town of Todi. Susan’s friend gave us a tour of her flat, which was part of a medieval palace, complete with frescos, brick floors and a peep hole in the stairway where you could see who was coming and pour hot oil on them if need be! We had great pizza for lunch at Cavour, a lovely ristorante-pizzaria in the town, complete with a roaring fire and the owners enjoying lunch with their family at the next table.

Seeing Umbria through the eyes of someone who lives there and loves the area, provided a new different perspective to us, one we hadn’t previously seen through our own eyes. Living abroad, we are so fortunate to meet so many interesting and amazing people, like our friend Susan. She truly gave us il gusto del paese, “a taste of the country”.

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London

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

We had the good fortune of being offered a coworker’s townhouse in Central London over the holidays while she and her family went back to the States. It was a generous offer, too good to refuse, so we didn’t!

We chose to fly British Airways (BA), which has an easy direct flight from Rome to London’s Heathrow Airport. Lots of folks have told us about getting incredibly cheap flights on Easy Jet or RyanAir. But in order to take advantage of their low fairs, you must be prepared to pay extra for every little thing and only have a carry on bag. We seem to be incapable of packing all the clothes, shoes and toiletries we schlep along into the regulation sized teeny, tiny bag. Michael is fond of saying “go big or stay at home”, so we go BIG and fly with BA where we don’t pay extra for a large bag. The flight crew on BA is so cheerful and chatty too, plus the booze is free. It’s a no brainer for us!

Our friend’s home is in the Belgravia area of central London, a short walk from Victoria Station, Buckingham Palace and wonderfully, Harrods department store. We arrived on Christmas Eve. After quickly settling in and meeting our friend’s cats, which were our house companions for the week, we jumped into one of the plentiful black taxis London is famous for and headed to Sofra in Mayfair. At Sofra, we enjoyed a tasty Turkish dinner complete with Turkish wine and took some baklava home for a late night snack.

This was our second trip to London, having gone earlier in the month for a few business meetings Michael had there. After living in Rome, London is striking for its orderliness, cleanliness, the cheeriness of its people and the multitude of languages you hear spoken on the streets. Hardly anyone we met was actually from London. Those few Londoners we did meet, always commented on how few of them there were around and how difficult it was to get traditional British food anywhere. (I can’t feel too bad for them, really, haggis, bashed neeps, fried fish, and blood sausage, yuk!) In fact, London is Europe’s largest city with 9 million people, where 300 languages are spoken by it’s many immigrant citizens and visitors. It’s also wildly expensive with the exchange rate at about 1 GBP (Great Britain pound, they opted out of using the euro) being equal to $1.81 US.

In front of Buckingham Palace

In front of Buckingham Palace

As we were in London over Christmas day and Boxing Day (the 26th), which is a national holiday originally celebrated as the day in which employers would gift their staff for Christmas, it was a quiet few days with lots of places closed.

We were however, able to enjoy a morning tour of the major tourist sites on Boxing Day through Golden Tours. There were only 5 of us on the little tour bus along with our guide David, who was a retired broadcaster for the BBC and World News Service. He was quite interesting and a great tour guide. He showed us Buckingham Palace and the surrounding parks. We viewed Westminster Abbey, the Parliament and Big Ben and got to see them from the other side of the Thames River, which is one of the most famous shots of London (we later saw the shot in a James Bond movie). We saw the old city of London, which is the original city, and now the main financial district. We enjoyed a tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral where Diana and Charles were married and visited the crypts below, where many famous Londoners are buried and where the Royal Family sometimes holds church services in their private chapel. Our tour included Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus (which is NOT an actual circus, but a circular “square” in the city), Chinatown, the West End, the London Eye (a giant, slow moving ferris wheel that offers great views of the city) and 10 Downing Street where the prime minister resides. We almost got run over by the horses during the changing of the Calvary, who guard Buckingham Palace! It was a great morning, and I’d highly recommend the tour.

During our visit we went to see the musical Wicked at the Victoria Apollo Theatre. It was a wonderful production with great costumes, easily understood songs (I have tended to avoid most musicals because I find it hard to understand the singing), and a delightful story. I was tickled for days after seeing it.

We chose to go tour the Tower of London unfortunately on a cold and rainy afternoon. The Tower is a complex of buildings that were at various times in history home to royalty, and a prison which became famous for torturing it’s prisoners in cruel and crude ways. The Crown Jewels are housed in a museum there and unfortunately the line was sooo long and it was so nasty outside, that we decided to forgo it for another time.

Yummy Sushi at Zuma

Yummy Sushi at Zuma

It was great to sample some of the variety of cuisine available. We ate French food at La Brassiere on Christmas day, sushi at Zuma in Knightsbridge, yummy fresh salads at the Botanist in Sloane Square, great barbeque in Harrods’s food court and a lovely dinner with views over the Thames at Harvey Nichols with Michael’s boss. We shopped, mastered riding the Tube, had drinks at a few great hotel bars, and ate lunch at a traditional English pub. I got a good hair cut at an Aveda salon and we relaxed in our friend’s lovely and comfortable home.

It was a wonderful trip and yet we were happy to return to the sunshine and our familiar flat in Rome to celebrate the New Year. We return to London again later this month (more business meetings for Michael). I plan to use the time to see some of the great museums. Hopefully we will be able to take in another show or a play and try more yummy

I know it’s a bit late, but a sincere and heartfelt, Happy New Year to you all!

 

In front of 10 Downing Street

In front of 10 Downing Street

The bar at La Brasserie

The bar at La Brasserie

At the changing of the Calvary Guard

At the changing of the Calvary Guard

Michael and a phone booth

Michael and a phone booth

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Another shot of Big Ben and the Parliament

Another shot of Big Ben and the Parliament

Eye of of London

Eye of of London

Gates at Buckingham Palace

Gates at Buckingham Palace

Big Ben and the Parliament

Big Ben and the Parliament

Eye of London at night

Eye of London at night

Tower of London

Tower of London

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