Wynette: We took the train today from Siena to Lucca (actually 3 trains). On the second leg of the trip, the train was crowded and we squeezed into 2 free seats in a set of 6 where 4 young people were already sitting — they were probably early college age, 3 young women and a young man, probably traveling together. They all were listening to ipods and didn’t seem to be in a good mood, a little sullen-seeming, not friendly. Maybe it was because they were so into their music. (I can relate to that.) They spoke among themselves (minimally) and Charlie and I talked a bit, but our two groups did not interact. After about 20 minutes, one of the girls pulled out a tube of hand cream. She put some on her hands and then offered some to the boy sitting beside her (across from me). He took some. Then she passed it on to the girl sitting on the other side of the boy (across from Charlie). She also took some cream into her palm. Then she offered it to the girl across from her (and beside me) who took some. Then she looked at me and smiled. I held out my hand and she put some in my palm. We all laughed. Of course, then she offered it to Charlie. He declined. But by then the ice was broken. The cream smelled good — like coconut. Charlie and I got off the train (in Pisa to change trains for Lucca) shortly after that.
Wynette: Charlie wrote a while back about electric candles in churches. First we saw electric candles you put into a socket. Then we saw electric candles with little switches. Now, I want to report we saw electric candles that require nothing but a donation of a coin (any coin I think) and a random candle will flash a bit (so you can tell which is yours) and then lights up. That was back in Urbino. Now we are in Lucca; visited two churches today. They both had real candles, some were votive candles arranged on holders in nice spiral patterns.
Truffles for sale in a store in Spoleto
5th century church near Spoleto, from the front
from the back
notice the playboy
Fixer-upper, on a sign outside a real-estate office
Charlie between the lions
slow food, fast food
proschuito for sale in Norcia
Castelluccia, a tiny town in the Piano Grande
view from our hotel room in Cupra Marittima
clean clothes! at the laudromat in Senigallia run by Bangladeshis
market in Senigallia
Dance lessons anyone?
Rotunda a Mare in Senegallia
Wynette went to the 1 euro store
Duke Federica da Montefelco (more)
Wynette before Easter lunch
Wynette: It was mostly sunny when we drove into Urbino yesterday afternoon. It’s a beautiful place. Very green. Hills, low mountains. Got cold and cloudy and some rain shortly after we got here. We woke up to rain this morning. Still we had a great time touring the Ducal Palace (a Michelin 3 star attraction) and museum and then had a wonderful Easter lunch at “Taverne del Artistes”, a low key ristorante with simple but fantastic food. I had risotto with mushrooms (primo course) and lamb (secundo course). We had a special Easter appetizer. Deviled egg. And baked pear with good cheese melted on top. Then came back to hotel to dry out and rest. We are on the 4th floor (they call it 3rd here) and have a beautiful view over the town and into the green hillside. And, it turns out to be a good place to watch it snow! The rain turned to snow about an hour ago … 4:30 pm or so. It made us laugh. We were so surprised. Charlie decided he had to go outside and check it out. I’m staying here in the room, warm and dry. Well, as soon as I wrote that, Charlie returned. He said people on the street are giddy, too. He said people were laughing and though he couldn’t understand what they were saying he was pretty sure they were saying “can you believe this weather?!” And he brought me a canoli!
Charlie: When I went out I was going down the very steep, narrow street that leads up to our hotel. A car stopped in front of me and an older woman got out and there was some discussion between her and the people in the car. Then she turned and saw me coming down and said “a senore!”. She grabbed my arm and asked (I assume, it was Italian) whether I would assist her down the hill. I said yes and we went down to the bottom and down the still-steep street. She asked me where I was going and we communicated that I would take her to her house which was a five-minute walk. She tried to chat but all we got clear was that I was from America (I said Los Angeles, it is easier, people know it, and it is close to being true), that I was here at the Hotel Raffaello, that I was with my figlia, and the weather was crazy.
Charlie: Each coffee bar serves only one brand of coffee and the brand name is prominently displayed on the outside sign. Often the brand name is on the napkins and cups as well. We didn’t pay too much attention to coffee brands before since they all seemed equally good. Illy is one of the most common brands. They have expanded to the US. We went to an Illy coffee bar in DC. RomaCafe is another and there are many more.
In Spoleto we were talking to the woman who manages the hotel breakfast and she said she had used another brand and it was too strong and she switched, to “Due Mondi” a reference to Spoleto’s big “Two Worlds” festival in the summer. After that we started noticing that some brands are much stronger. One the Adriatic coast it seems like most of the coffee brands are stronger. Wynette puts two sugars in the strong ones and doesn’t like them as well but I like the stronger coffee better.
Charlie: we are in Urbino in Hotel Raffaello which has WiFi in the room so we can post more easily, and maybe get some more pictures up. We have a nice room on the top floor (the fourth, third in their terms) with amazing views of the city and countryside. The large church and bell tower is not far away. The bells ring the quarter hours.
It is Easter and at midnight the bells went crazy. It was enough to wake the dead. (A little Easter joke, or maybe a Jerry Garcia joke) but you go right back to sleep and it is actually kind of nice to hear the bells.
Charlie: I studied some Italian before I went but I have little facility with languages so I am very poor at Italian. I was waiting in the lobby for Wynette to come down for breakfast and they wanted to get my order. I wanted to say I was waiting for my wife but could not remember the Italian word so I used the French word, ma femme, which I did remember. The woman said “Vous attendez (something) femme?” (something like that, as they say, pardon my French) Since the French was rapidly getting beyond my ability too I just said “si” (switching back to Italian). I guess I should stick to English and hope for the best but it seems like you should try.
Charlie: Italians are quite fashionable and almost always look good when they are out, at least the younger ones. They have this concepts of “la bella figura”, projecting a good image or something like that, when they go out. They seem to take a lot of care when they dress. The younger women are almost uniformly thin, many model-thin. Jeans are worn tight, skin-tight in many cases.Eyeglasses seem to be in fashion. I see more people wearing glasses. The current glasses are quite flashy and have big bows (the side elements that attach to the ears), very wide and decorated.
When we were in Italy 3-4 years ago, shoes with long pointed toes were in fashion. Some were so long as to be cartoonish, 3-4 inches past where the toes would end. Now all the shoes have square toes. I guess they have to make big changes to get everyone to switch.
Charlie: As you probably know, hotels are graded from one to five stars. We almost always stay in three-star hotels. When we were younger we were more tolerant of two-star hotels but now we expect certain things. There must be a check-list of things they must have, for example, they always have hair dryers whereas two-star hotels usually do not. The three-star hotels range from 80 to 120 euro, cheap back when the dollar and the euro were close in value, more now that the euro is at $1.50. But still not bad. I think prices might be higher to northern europe, a strange thing to me, why would a place with worse weather and worse food be more expensive?
I read in the New York Times that five-star hotels are not fancy enough and do not offer enough services for the new super-rich and there are starting to be six and seven star hotels.
Charlie: Everywhere I have been in Italy before this, the restaurants (or osterias or trattorias, I never got the differences straight) all had menus displayed out front. In Spoleto we went to one that had a menu out front but when you get inside, no menus, they just tell you what is available. Anyway, we get to the east coast of Italy, in San Bennedetto, and most restaurants do not have menus displayed. I was sure it was a law that they had to have menus. Now I don’t know what to think.We’ve had some great meals and a few not-so-good ones but we genernally have excellent food. But we always try to go to places that are recommended by someone. We have a “Slow Food” book that lists restaurants all over Italy that serve local food cooked in traditional ways. We had bad luck with one of them but maybe it was the jet lag, we had great luck with one in Senigallia.