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Assisi is more than San Francesco

6 Oct
06 October 2017.
St. Francis of Assisi naturally springs to mind, and surely we have the Saint to thank for the beauty of this town. Without him, who knows? But there is more to Assisi than a religious pilgrimage.
We visited Assisi on a day trip from Spello in 2011 and intended to make it back while we lived in Roma. Never happened. Finally, we included a return to this, Italy’s “Green Heart” and our timing was excellent: warmish fall weather and sun prevailed.

Classic Assisi shot: the Basilica of San Francesco. Such a humble man and such a grand edifice.

Rebecca Winke was my muse for our first trip to Umbria in December of 2011, although she did not know it. On this trip, I was pleased to finally meet her and we were able to stay in one of her traditional apartments right in the center of Assisi, an ideal location.

Typical Assisi street: steep!

Assisi is a good city for strengthening your thighs and we walked it all. Steep alleys, hidden staircases, and a few broad streets lead from one historic wonder to the next. There is the Basilica, of course, and more churches than I could count, but also the eremo (hermitage) of San Francesco above Assisi where his followers gathered. There is a lovely bosco (woods) now run by F.A.I.  (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) featuring hiking paths.  I was pleased to stumble upon the little-known, little-visited Museo del Memoria dedicated to the Assisi Underground: priests, nuns and lay people who saved many Jews during WWII. I had read the book several years ago but the museum is only about five years old. Moving to see this remembrance.

Now a church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, these columns remain from a 1st century BC temple dedicated to Minerva.

Assisi is also a decent base for exploring Umbria. Ric and I only managed one day trip this time, to Spello, but Perugia, Spoleto, and others are possible by public transportation, and many more interesting Umbrian towns are within a short drive if one has a car. There is, of course, wine, as Umbria is home to the great Sagrantino di Montefalco.
Regarding that day trip to Spello. you can read about it over at Project Easy Hiker. We took a great, but not-so-easy hike. We also purchased some fantastic olive oil and shipped it back to Oregon.
We found “our bar” the first morning, a place the locals go, and we patronized it each day becoming temporary regulars. There are excellent restaurants: Osteria Piazzetta dell’Erba, Trattoria Pallotto, and Osteria degli Umbri were so good we would have repeated had we been staying longer. We also enjoyed shopping in the tiny alimentari for food to prepare in our apartment.

Trompe l’oeil cat, Assisi.

We were fortunate to have Taxi Bruno (#23) pick us up one morning when we wanted to go to the eremo, which is above Assisi. Did we want him to wait for us? No, I said (Bruno only speaks Italian by the way), we will come back on foot. Va bene. On the way up, I started to worry. The road was steep, somewhat busy with traffic, and there was no shoulder. So I asked Bruno how we would walk down. The road or the path of San Francesco (Via Francigena) were the only choices, and the latter is rugged, he said. Talking amongst ourselves, we decided perhaps, if he could, we’d have Bruno wait for us. He was delighted to and gave me a very full account of how to visit the eremo and handed us an English-language guidebook to use. So we had a visit to this special little spot in the woods and Taxi Bruno took us back to Assisi. So happy we sprang for his services. Lucky us, on our last morning Bruno also showed up at the crack of dawn when we needed to go to the station on departure. We
Who would have thought going to Mailboxes, Etc., would be a memorable event? We needed to ship home olive oil and a few other things we had purchased and did not want to cart all over Europe for another month. Seems like a mundane activity, right? Not in Italy!

Lavender shop, Assisi.

We arrived about 11:30 to find the store locked and two dogs tied up inside, one of which was barking furiously. Since the store was supposed to open at 11:00 and we had traveled there by bus with these packages, we were a little miffed. But this is Italy and times can be approximate. I stuck my head into the bar next door and a group having coffee assured me the MBE guy would be back. Probably just making a delivery. One of the guys very kindly stopped after he had his coffee and called the owner to see: sure enough, he was on his way.  (I had tried to call but the number on the door was disconnected. If we had not lived in Italy so long I might have found this odd, but it did not seem all that strange to us.)

Friendly cats all over town came out to greet us.

So Mr. MBE shows up, unlocks the door, offers apologies, and introduces us to Arturo, one of the dogs, who is on a leash tied to the counter. Arturo seems docile now that we have been let in and anxious to make our acquaintance. I have never met a dog I did not like, and they like me; except Arturo. But for the leash restraining him, he would have taken my face off! I backed out of reach just in time! And the owner did not seem to find this so odd. Ahhh, Italy. I’ll bet if I met Arturo in a restaurant we’d have been fine.
I kept my distance from Arturo, although Ric did not seem to have a problem. The guys at MBE took good care of us and even made us a nice espresso.

Everyone seemed to have beautiful flowers around their entryways.

My only regret about our stay is that we did not get out into the Umbrian countryside more. Without a car it is difficult to do. It is, I think, a little harder to navigate on public transportation than Toscana. But that makes it all the more charming.
Here are a few shots from our hike in the Bosco di San Francesco.

 

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Familiar faces and places

22 Sep
22 September 2017.
When “Taxi Ivan” picked us up in Bolzano last week, we could scarcely contain our excitement. We were returning to Ortisei for our 6th summer visit. Ivan remembered transporting us with our cats last summer.

The street where we lived, temporarily. So charming!

Despite the calendar, it did not feel like summer.  Lows of 2 C/35 F and highs of 12  C/54 F were not quite what we expected. We each had to purchase a fleece as a warm layer: our long-sleeved tees and rain jackets just did not cut it.
Nonetheless, it felt like coming home. We stayed in the same apartment we shared with our cats, Libby and Jane, last year. Justine and Siegfried at Residence Astoria greeted us like old friends. We were honored to see Justine had purchased our book for use by her guests! Even the staff in the gelato and grappa store recognized us. It really felt great to come back and feel so at home. And my Italian came back rather quickly, if imperfectly.

That view looks fake, but it very real. The Sciliar and Punta Santner with Compatsch in the foreground.

We managed to carve out two good hikes in our four full days. One was crossing the Alpe di Siusi on a favorite route, stopping for strudel at a preferred mountain hotel. The other a very cold hike through fog across the ridge at Rasciesa. Luckily hot coffee and fine strudel awaited us at the rifugio.
Another day we listened to the forecast of rain all day and decided not to risk a mountain expedition, so we took a bus into Bolzano for shopping and lunch. But we never got our umbrellas wet! Not in 36 hours! It looked like rain most of the day so our time at higher altitudes might have been cut short. Hard to know when to believe a forecast.

One of our favorite rifugi, Rasciesa. We were the first customers at 9:45. As we were leaving, the crowds were arriving.

We cooked several dinners (restaurants get tiring when you travel long term) but treated ourselves to one fine meal at what has become our favorite fine dining establishment in Ortisei, Restaurant Concordia. We were one of only three parties on a Sunday evening, all seated in a cozy room with the woodstove burning. We dithered over many fine options on the menu, choosing an antipasto of involtini with mozzarella and grilled vegetables and secondi of venison and pork, with a fine local Lagrein to accompany. Everything was superb! The owners are wait staff and chef, making for a very personal experience. They were thrilled to hear we returned to them after a great experience last year. It is so nice to go to restaurants away from the main streets, no matter how small the town, and find such intimacy.
Here are a few more pictures from our stay in Ortisei. Click any picture for complete captions.

The canal where we live.

We are now in Venezia and the weather gods have cooperated. We were out in shirtsleeves and ate lunch al aperto twice this week.
Venezia is, of course, very familiar to us. We’ve been here 10 times although I am not sure we should count our one-night-stand in August of 2016 when we came here simply to briefly escape the heat in Roma. We know where we are going most of the time although I am grateful for GPS on the phone when we get twisted about. The first few times we visited we used only paper maps. I am happy to have adopted the electronic form when I see others standing around gaping at their maps trying to decipher Venezia.

Incredible saute of mussels and clams at Trattoria da Jonny.

It was another fine meal we got ourselves into at Trattoria da Jonny. Or rather, I should thank Michele over at Meandering with Misha for getting us there. She raved about it in March and I remembered her post was so inspiring we had to go. We were shocked to arrive and find the place lightly attended while out on the main tourist piazzas things were humming. It was to our advantage: a finely prepared lunch in a peaceful location with only schoolkids and local shoppers passing through. We kept it simple: branzino with spinach for Ric, a lovely bowl of mussels and clams for me, accompanied by seasonal veggies and roasted potatoes we shared. A little Soave washed it down nicely. A lot to eat for lunch but after our three-plus mile morning walk (and knowing we’d do four more miles before the day was finished) we deserved it. Again we are preparing food a casa so a simple salad and more good wine (Donna Fugata why are you not exporting to the U.S?) made a fitting evening meal.
When we travel long like this, our evenings are much like being in the U.S. If we do not go out to eat, and if we’ve had an active day, a simple supper at “home” with perhaps some streaming of American TV is a nice way to chill out. Unfortunately, Amazon and Netflix are wise to our use of a VPN. Although Amazon worked in Ortisei, they are apparently on to us now. We found PBS is still willing to feed our need with their fine programming. Is anyone else watching Ken Burns’ “Vietnam?”

Giant hands support a building along the Grand Canal. Interesting metaphor.

In addition to eating at several new-to-us places, this is turning out to be an art tour of Venezia as we finally attended the Biennale. More on that later. Always new things to see even in a place you’ve visited many times.
Per addesso, ciao!

 

What’s new?

29 Mar
29 March 2017. It is difficult not to think of Italy and our Italian life. I love being back in Oregon and living in a small coastal community, but Ric and I do have a fondness for things Italian and wax nostalgic about our fabulous years in Roma.

The Alpe di Siusi, Italy, one of our favorite places.

I am delighted to see new people signing up to follow this blog. I hope you find it useful in planning your trip to Italy, or perhaps you are just reading and dreaming about Italy. I do that a lot myself. 
Since GoodDayRome is on hiatus until we travel to Europe again, you can join me over at Our Weekly Pizza for commentary on our continuing search for great pizza, or at Project Easy Hiker where we are blogging about hiking. As the weather gets better, we’ll be out-and-about on the Oregon Coast adding to our hiking repertoire. 
And if you know anyone traveling to Italy this year I hope you will tell them about our new book, “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena.” The Val Gardena is a paradise and easily experienced on foot with a series of easy hikes, suitable for children, the elderly, or anyone who wants to enjoy the alps without climbing them.

We wrote a book!

10 Feb
10 February 2017. Having frequently mumbled to myself “Someone should write a book,” I actually became the “someone.”llbarton_3d_mockup
Ric and I have hiked in the Dolomites around Ortisei for the past five summers. The genesis for the book was this hike advertised as “easy” in local information but I was certain we were going to die at least twice during the trek. As we recovered from the experience I said those famous words about writing a book, and the trip turned into a research venture. Ric and I carefully traipsed the trails and documented a couple of dozen walks during our 4-week stay in Ortisei last July. Then, in the midst of the craziness of the past few months — moving to Oregon from Italy,  buying a house, relocating to the Oregon coast — we’ve managed to publish a book. Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena: 20 Easier Walks in the Dolomites near Ortisei, Selva, and Santa Cristina is now available from Amazon worldwideSimply search for it (typing “Hiking Val Gardena” in the search box on any Amazon site will bring it right up), or in the U.S. click here. 
I also have a new blog, ProjectEasyHiker, and will be shifting my focus to writing about our exploration of the Oregon Coast or anywhere else we may travel. Good Day Rome will be maintained as an archive and as inspiration strikes I may blog here as well. If you would like to continue our relationship, please head on over to PEH and follow. Project Easy Hiker is also on Facebook

We interrupt this move for a Swiss break

13 Oct
13 October 2016. We have mixed feelings about our impending departure. Many reasons we will miss our life in Italy yet in some ways we can hardly wait to get our butts on the plane. (See Missing the U.S.A.) We have a lot of little errands to do before we move back to Oregon, but most of them cannot be done until the final few days before we fly. So in fact, we have very little left to do until October 24. It’s not like we are packing up the whole household so why not take 10 days in Switzerland?
This little cow is at about 4900 feet. She has a freash dusting of snow and a great view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

This little cow is at about 4900 feet. She has a fresh dusting of snow and a great view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

The Bernese Oberland of Switzerland is one of our two favorite places to visit and to hike, the other being Italy’s Val Gardena. After our glorious month in Ortisei in July, we thought a compare-and-contrast trip to the Bernese Oberland — specifically the Lauterbrunnen Valley — was in order.
RIc brought his Swiss hiking hat along, luckily. On the trail from Grütschalp to Mürren.

Ric brought his Swiss hiking hat along, luckily. On the trail from Grütschalp to Mürren.

Last year we came at the very end of September and encountered eight days of Chamber-of-Commerce weather. This year, we are a bit later and the villages are definitely napping between the intense periods of summer tourists and winter skiers. Days alternate between sunny and clear and overcast. Supposedly tomorrow it will rain, but we’ve had some terrific hikes and it should be nice enough on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to hike again. This is our fourth trip to the area and proves once again that repeat visits are advantageous. With a base of familiarity, we are free to discover new facets of the region. Being here in almost-off-season gives more insight into local life and there are fewer tourist groups packing the trains and lifts. Click on any image below for a better view. 
This is the view from our apartment in the valley. Cows in the meadow, and a magnificent waterfall.

This is the view from our apartment in the valley. Cows in the meadow, and a magnificent waterfall.

We now have a favorite apartment here, at Ey-Hus. Owner James Graham (j.graham320@ntlworld.com) said I could share his contact information with you if anyone is interested. Two bedrooms, one with twin beds, one bath, small kitchen, nice big lounge, a view onto the waterfall and up to the mountains. The neighbors are grazing cows with their melodic Swiss bells. There’s a laundry, too, and a bus stop nearby allows one to easily travel the 1 kilometer to-and-from the train station with luggage or when one just does not feel like walking. As most of you know, we avoid cars when possible and this is the perfect place for a car-free holiday, with mountain trains and gondolas that go everywhere.  Renting an apartment and cooking most meals is a real budget saver in pricey Switzerland. James’ apartment even has a slow cooker so we can queue up dinner to cook while we hike.
The other direction off our terrace is this pretty house and the village church.

The other direction off our terrace is this pretty house and the village church.

The Val Gardena and our beloved Ortisei is less expensive, especially for food, and frankly, the restaurant choices are superior in the Val Gardena, but we don’t really visit either area for the cuisine. We come for the hiking and the scenery. And for the mountain transportation.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley has an incredible network of trains and lifts. It is thrilling to soar to the top of the Schilthorn and to chug all the way to the Top of Europe, the Jungfraujoch! It is also a delight to simply walk the easy hiking paths past the magnificent Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau, whether in sun or in snow. By comparison, the Val Gardena offers hiking in high meadows as well as along rocky ridges, and it has the rifugi that we love. In Switzerland, there are few places to refuel along the trail. There are restaurants at the lift stations, but few-and-far-between are rest stops to hike to for a meal or a bathroom. 
Like trying to decide which child is your favorite, I cannot choose between Ortisei and Lauterbrunnen and what each region has to offer. I love them both. For those looking for a unique European getaway, spend 4 or 5 nights each in Ortisei and Lauterbrunnen. The U.S. has nothing like this. Contemplate what it might be like to visit the North Cascades or the Rocky Mountains if served by transportation systems like in Europe, as well as rifugi where you can eat good food, drink great coffee, possibly sleep, and always find a toilet when you need one.
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