We’ve just returned from ten days in Italy – spectacular Rome and dreamy Umbria. We rented a little apartment in Rome in a maze of side streets two blocks from the Piazza Navona. Our windows had geraniums in them and opened onto a quiet courtyard in the back and a bustling enoteca in the front. We had only two days to explore this amazing city – ridiculous, I know. We walked more than we have since we moved to London (which is a lot, considering that we don’t have a car here). Our little street branched off into dozens of alleys and quiet lanes, all cobblestoned. Our first night was spent exploring our neighborhood. We wandered into the Piazza and had dinner at another quiet square that housed only the restaurant and an enormous, silent church. After dinner we headed towards the Trevi Fountain and found rich, creamy gelato that we ate at the side of the water. We spent our only full day in Rome exploring the Vatican, climbing around the Coliseum and the Spanish Steps and wandering through the Pantheon before stopping for prosecco and bruschetta back in the Piazza Navona. On that second night we found a tiny restaurant on one of the out-of-the-way streets near our apartment. We were the only tourists in sight, no one spoke English, and the food was incredible. Perfection.
In Umbria we stayed in a cottage on an organic farm that produces olive oil from their own groves, figs from their trees, wine from their grapes and amazing honey from their own (very happy) bees. Our cottage was surrounded with roses, lavender and flowering vines of all types. We had a view from our back porch down to the infinity pool, which was surrounded by olive trees and looked out over a valley. From the hot tub and pool we could watch the sunset. The owner has two brown labs, one a puppy, who were always there with a cheerful tail wag or a happy bark when we returned from our explorations around Tuscany and Umbria. Umbria, for me, became almost a collage of mental pictures: Sitting on the porch watching the clouds turn rose-colored in the sunset to the point that they almost appeared to be glowing with light from the inside. Behind them the sky was bright aqua and in the midst of all this golden light birds wheeled with this amazing acrobatic grace on cool currents of air, catching the tiny, glittering insects that came out late in the day. Quiet, so quiet. Drinking rich, red vin noble. Ciabatta bread as I imagine it’s meant to be – golden, buttery, soft, almost nutty and with a thick, crisp crust. Smooth, velvety olive oil that’s so good I wanted to put it on anything and everything. And I did. Olive oil on the bright yellow tomatoes, still warm from the vines around the house, olive oil on crumbling Pecorino, olive oil on soft, juicy figs. The scent of lavender pervading everything.
One evening we drove to the next town on a quiet winding road through the hills. We came across an old man standing in the middle of the road. He wore a cap that looked a bit like a beret. He was gazing at a grove of trees, some olive, some apple with something like bliss and holding a scythe casually over his shoulders.
The markets in our village were closed each day from 12 to 5pm. As was most everything else. According to the signs, the markets were open again from 5pm to 8pm. Yet each time we visited the market during it’s supposedly “open” hours it was a gamble as to whether it would actually be open. More often than not, it was closed and silent. In our week there, we found no rhyme or reason to the timing of these closings. It seemed to be at the whim of the owners.
There was a very old woman who sat just outside the walls of the town nearest our cottage each evening at sunset. She hunched slightly and wore a black scarf over her gray hair. A cat lay sleeping on the wall above her head. It never moved when we walked by. But the old lady would always grin and shout “buona serra!” Then she would laugh and begin to talk to us in quick, happy Italian. We could only smile and hope she didn’t think we were rude when we couldn’t reply. Italian is not one of our languages.
Other memories come to me unbidden. These are not nearly as romantic. The itch that started on my left calf, moved to my right, on to my tummy and finally to my arms – all during one train ride to Gatwick. The resulting hives that required Benadryl and a fair dose of self-restraint to keep from scratching my skin right off. We still don’t know the cause. They disappeared as quickly as they came.
The rental car company that charged a 1,000 pound deposit in case of accident (we’d never heard of such a thing but once we got on the road we understood why) and told us the car (something called a Fiat Panda – I loved the name) was “new”. If by “new” they meant 15 dents and a massive portion of the back bumper missing, then okeydokey.
The automatic toilet in Cortona. I was dubious, at best, when discussing the possibility of me using such a bathroom. But Byron put the coin in, the door opened and I gazed upon my version of hell. Byron urged me, saying that once I was inside the doors would close and then open again in 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes! I questioned how I would get out before then. Byron looked confused but unconcerned. The door began to slide closed again. Byron struggled to hold it open for me but it closed obstinately. I remained on the outside. The door then refused to open again, the bathroom apparently offended by how unimpressed I was at its offerings.
When we attempted to return the rental car at the Rome airport there were no signs indicating where to go, necessitating a lengthy (and frankly boring) tour of Fiumicino. We finally dropped the car and made it to the plane. EasyJet is the low-budget version of Southwest. No genteel lines for the EasyJet customer. This was bum-rushing the ticket-taker at it’s finest. My bag was then searched getting on the plane. The lovely lady broke the zipper in her zest to explore the inner workings of my carry-on. She felt terrible and I strongly suspect she wished she’d never pulled me out of line. But we all know how suspicious I appear. Oh, and the seats don’t recline on EasyJet planes. So two hours in the full, upright position. My kind of flying.
We’re back in London now. Home. It’s interesting how going away on our first long trip since we’ve lived here has made it that much more of my home. It’s beautiful and sunny out my window, Daffodil can’t stop purring and my mother will be here on Thursday. Life is good.