Churches and “Candles”

Charlie: Italy had a lot of churches. I suppose you probably knew that. But when you walk through these little hill towns and find four big churches in an area two blocks square you start to think they might have overbuilt a tad in the church department. It must have been a big drain on their capital. But it is great for tourists, each one is a little different. The big Duomo in Spoleto had a monochrome rose window. I am used to multiolored ones so it seemed a bit disappointing. We stopped in the little mountain town of Norcia and it had a bunch of churches in a small area, as usual, and some nice rose windows.Most churches have a place where you can make an offering and light a candle. My Catholic boyhood fails me here since I don’t remember any more details about it. Anyway, the churches in Norcia had a similar place but the “candles” were electric, made to look like candles with a bulb on the top. There were plugs to put the electric candles. I guess each one had current. I was wondering about curious little fingers but I did not touch one to see if I would get a shock. In Senigallia they went one better, the electric candles were all put in the plugs and there was an array of toggle switches, one to control each candle. You dropped the coin and flipped the switch and you’re done. I suppose Siena might have flat screen with pictures of candles and you touch it with a mouse to “light” it, and, why not, I suppose you could use your credit card to make the offering if you didn’t have a coin. The modern Church.

Window Coverups Exposed

Charlie: I grew up in a white house with green “shutters”. I use the quotes because they did not shut. They were decorative and attached to the outside wall, vertigial design elements reminding us of an older time in the US. Everyplace we have been in Italy have functional shutters that shut out the light almost completely, as well as rain and wind.Some places, and it seems like mostly places near the ocean, have a more modern shutter design. It consists of horizontal slats attached together and running in a track on each side of the window. There us a 1-inch wide canvas strip inside with fittings on the top and bottom. You pull down to open the shade and pull out and release to let it drop down. The fitting on the bottom prevents slipping so you can leave it at any level of openness. The slats are attached loosely to each other so when they are hanging there is aboout an 0.25 inch opening between them. If you lower it just to the floor these slits remain and you get some light and a breeze coming through. If you lower it more the slits fill up from the bottom and when it is fully lowered it is basically solid. The room then is like a cave with no light entering. This is great for sleeping late in the morning. I had one on Capri which was nice for keeping out the sun but letting in a breeze.

I think this is a very nice design and way better than blinds or levelors. They are ineffective at keeping out the light and it seems like one or more is often not working. Also there is the issue of whether to use the little twister bar to angle them towards the room or towards the window, neither is very effective. This design seems fairly sturdy and inexpensive to put in and repair.

On one trip we had just arrived two days before and still were jet-lagged. We closed these blinds and slept until about 4 pm the next afternoon. Even with bright sun it seemed like the middle of the night since the blinds were so effective. Needless to say we missed breakfast and it set us back a little in the jet-lag recovery process.

Store fronts have shutters also, some the pull-down type and some door-like. Shops close from 12 to 4 (aka 16) and when they are closed you can handly tell there is a store there at all. They sometimes look as if they had been abandoned for years. These old cities are pretty run-down anyway so it is hard to tell.

Units (warning geeky)

Charlie:We rented a car in Spoleto, to drop off in Siena. We had a tiff with the rental agent who wanted to sell us insurance even thoough the insurance was included in the price we paid. The form said something like “collision damag waiver up to a deductible of ZERO (sic)” We interpreted this as no deductible need be paid in the event of an accident and he interpreted it the opposite way so we needed additonal insurance. He filled out the form with our declining the insurance but what can you do?But that is not what I want to talk about. My driver’s license expires on 12/3/2008. He observed that the license had expired (thinking it expired March 12) and we had this long discussion about how, in the US, we put the month first. He finally accepted this. I assumed the difference was widely known but maybe not. Wynette’s license expires on 9/16/2010 which sort of proves it I guess.

I have always thought the US system was illogical and for a long time would writes dates in the form 3 dec 2008 to avoid ambiguity. As I got older I dropped that. It seems more consistent to go from the smallest units to the largest. We do that with times but in the opposite order, for example 10:43.

Another difference is that, in Europe, the street number comes after the street name. This actually is an inconsistency similar to our putting the month first since the street name is more general than the number and the city comes next. Our GPS has an option to put the number first or last.

We bought some milk and were looking for low-fat which we did not know the Italian for. The nutritional information gives grams per 100 ml and so we picked the 1,6 rather than the 3,2 (another difference which we won’t go into here). My first reaction was to think how handy the metric system was and that this was 1,6% and 3,2% but then I realized that grams are units of mass and liters are units of volume. I think that 1 ml of water is 1 gram but I’m not sure and in any case 1 ml of water with suspended solids is different and it would required a complex calculation to figure out the percent fat accurately.

Which brings we to my pet peeve about the metric system. I have often been harangued about how superior the metric system is. Such claims are invariably suported by arguments about the advantages of standardization that are independent of the measurement system being discussed. The metric system had the advantage of using the same base as our counting system and this is a definite advantage. But 10 is a terrible base or counting or measurement, with only two divisors (2 and 5). 12 is much better with four divisors (2, 3, 4, and 6). The “English” system uses base 12 a fair amount and is superior in that respect. I once heard a metric system harangue from an astromomer who spent his whole professional life using number systems with base 60, a number rich with divisors. Go figure.

This gets us back to time which is bases on 12s and 60s. I can’t remember whether anyone has tried to move times and date to base 10.

Which, to conclude, gets us back to Italy where cartons of eggs have 10 eggs in them, a decimal dozen. Which is another advantage of the metric system because a decimal baker’s dozen in presumably 11 which is 10% extra rather than 13 which is only 8,3% extra 😉


Charlie: We had great weather the first few days, warm and sunny. We thought we had brought too many warm clothes. It turned gray yesterday, we got some rain today and we have rain predicted off and on for the next week. We might change our plans because being in the mountains in the rain doesn’t seem fun. It s rainy at the beach also but that seems better. We’ll see tomorrow.

Staying in a town a few days

Charlie: It always takes a day or two to get used to a town, to learn how to get around, to learn where you like to have coffee, to learn the prominent landmarks. Once you do that you feel a lot more confortable and the town is more fun. The learning process itself is fun too, like a puzzle.

Itinerary Revised

We have been changing things on the fly, especially since we got the car on 3/17 (to keep until 3/26).

3/13 to 3/18: Spoleto
3/18 to 3/19: visit to Norcia and Carralucca (?), stay in San Benedetto on the Adriatic side
3/19 ro 3/20: Cupra Marattima, another beach resort
3/20 to 3/22: Senigallia, a beach resort
3/22 to 3/25: Urbino
3/25 to 3/30: Siena
3/30 to 4/2: Rome


Bottled water seems even more popular in Europe than in the US. There is some movement away from bottled water in the US for ecological reasons and more and more gourmet restaurants offer tap water instead. I wonder if that will happen in Europe too. Maybe they will lag a few years like they did with smoking.On the other hand, Spoleto has numberous fountains and most have a drinking spigot on the side. We weren’t sure at first but we have seen lots of people drinking out of them.

Smoking, by the way, is much less visible in Italy even since the last time we were here. We have yet to see anyone smoking inside, it might be against the law now. We still see a lot of it outside. You often see shop proprietors outside smoking.


Charlie: One of the big draws in Italy for us is the food and how we are feeling about our trip depends on how good the food is. We were tired the first day and had a meal that was good but not great so we were a bit down. Unless there is one memorable dish in a meal we tend to be disappointed. There has to be one where you take a bite, close you eyes and think how could food be this good. It really helps to close you eyes. That good but not great meal was 40 euros too which didn’t help.Yesterday we had a great lunch. We choose the place because it had polenta, a peasant corn dish that can be heavenly. This was with melted local cheese and truffles and was amazing. The tastes were so strong and interesting. It was served as a thin layer on a wood platter. We also had scallopine which was excellent also and a good salad.

Dinner was even better at a restaurant called Appolonaire which was recommended in four guide books. It lived up to its name. the owners were this older italian man who looked like the manager of a fancy hotel and his wife who was an Italian matron. They were friendly and knew a little english. We got a free appetizer which had some creamy stuff which he named in italian (rapa). We tasted it, it was great, of course, and decided it was turnip. he came back and said he had the english name, wynette said turnip and he said, yes turnip. everything was good to exceptional with a couple of close-your-eyes great dishes. 59 euro, not cheap but worth every euro cent. we were by some degree the oldest customers. it was mostly these young italian couples. everyone in italy seems to dress stylishly, especially the woman. it is fun to watch people.

today we went to a deli and pointed at things and got the makings for a picnic. almost everything was good and the soft cheese was wonderful, we’ll get more of that.

Breakfast and Weather and a Few Activities

Wynette: I’ll describe breakfast. The hotels usually provide a nice breakfast bar. They vary somewhat. In ours this time, there is lots of fresh fruit including oranges and a little machine from which you can make your own fresh-squeezed orange juice. We’ve had that every morning. There is dry cereal including good muesli which I always choose. Also, yoghurt, sausage, ham, cheeses, crusty bread, croissants, nutella (chocolate hazlenut spread), jams. About 6 kinds of pastries. Coffee (including cappucino), tea, several kinds of fruit juices, milk, bottled water. Breakfast is such fun. The only problem is that we are still a bit jet lagged and breakfast time ends at 10:00 and we’d like to sleep past then — but don’t because we want to eat the breakfast. If we didn’t have an alarm clock, we’d probably sleep right through. The woman who keeps the breakfast bar stocked is very nice and friendly. She tries to speak English to us and we try to speak in Italian to her. This morning she talked about what a beautiful day it was. It was beautiful and warm (but breezy) in the morning but then got cloudy and colder in the afternoon. It will probably rain tomorrow. We walked quite a bit today. Went out to a strange, very old crumbly church (4th/5th century) on the edge of town. It was next to the town cemetery. We saw graves from the 1800s through the 2000s. One was of a pilot who died in the air over Spain in 1934 or thereabouts. Later we saw the beautiful impressive duomo (not so crumbly and still in use).

The Italian People and Language

Charlie: We love Italy and the Italian people. They always seem happy. Maybe it comes from living in a good climate and having good food all the time. Our Italian is rudimentary, despite our best intensions, but we try. They always seem pleased when we try to speak Italian and correct us in a good-natured way that is encouraging. This is so different from the French who seem pained when you try to speak French and if you mispronounce a word even slightly they act as if what you said is not remotely similar to any word in the French language and pretend to have no idea what you are talking about (or maybe they really don’t hear it). This happened to me once in a grocery store where I tried to ask for orange juice (jus d’orange). My accent was, of course, bad but it was a grocery store and it was not that far off. I also saw a train ticket seller in a station less that 100 miles from Rennes profess that there was no such town in France when an American tried to pronounce the name. It sounded close to me and I could not tell the difference when the agent said it after the person had written in down.I have a theory that it is because French was an international language, the “lingua franca” and so the French came to expect other people to speak their language, kind of like English speakers do now. Italians did not have such expectations and so were more tolerant of mistakes. I heard once from a Peace Corps volunteer that they always tried to talk to children when they were learning the language since the children were patient and tolerant of errors.