Monday, September 14, 2015

Umbria, Italy

Caleb making sure the leaning tower
of Pisa doesn't tip over
We drove to Umbria, Italy on Eden's third birthday.  Along the way we took a small detour to Pisa to visit the leaning tower.  I tried looking up the tower on our beloved GPS, Daniel, as a point of interest.  Well as luck would have it you need to know the Italian name, which I did not.  Fortunately, while driving along the freeway into Pisa, I spotted it in the distance.  I tried navigating Justin towards a rough direction of the tower and due to Caleb's stealth eyes he spotted a sign indicating the direction to go.  We followed the sign until we encountered some street vendors who told us we could not park any closer, but showed us an open spot along the road.  Once situated we walked over to the square and visited the tower.  The kids were fascinated by the tilt.  We took the required "holding up the tower" pictures and ventured back to the car to continue the drive to Umbria.    Once we arrived the first thing Eden wanted to do was go swimming in the pool.  We all did.  We rented a place that is a few kilometers outside a very small town called Ficulle.  It is a country house with a pool.  In fact, the kitchen is located in a separate building.  I thought this might be inconvenient, in actuality it is not.  

For the next few days we took it easy and stayed at the house enjoying the beautiful weather and the pool.  At first Eden was pretty hesitant about going in (remember the Antibes beach incident) and over the next few days she became bolder, to the point that now she jumps along the steps of the pool and dunks her face in saying, "Mommy, watch me swim!"

Danielle at the Pool

Once settled into a routine, Justin and I started home schooling the kids.  We have a great daily schedule that includes math, reading, writing, phys ed, coding, cooking, and will soon add science.  The history part we have incorporated with the places we are visiting, having them read and learn about the different sites they have and will see.  They are learning a lot in this regard, they seem to enjoy being able to experience it firsthand.

Kids doing school work on their Microsoft Surfaces

Our first venture out was to visit the area closer to "home".  Our host Shana told us that she was planning on going to the large weekly market in Chianciano.  We followed her in our car and then explored the market.  After the market we went to a great restaurant, that again Shana recommended, called Frattoria Pulcino.  It has a fantastic view and the food was delicious.  We had amazing pasta and polenta with a savory meat sauce and garlic sauce.  Then we got some tiramisu and panna cotta.  All with great wine from the region.  Here is a tip that came from my dad and has been spot on everywhere; get the wine from that specific area it will always be awesome and affordable.  Very true all over Europe.  After our wonderful meal we headed towards Montepulciano, parked the car and wandered the streets after an encounter with the kids park.  Everywhere we go Eden always asks to go to the park.  Give the kid a slide or swing and she is on cloud 9 for the rest of the day.  The quaint streets are lined with shops and restaurants.  Of course, gelato was on the list of things to get and so we did.  It was amazing.  You can add this to Eden's cloud 9 list.  Parks and ice cream what else can a three year old want.  We visited a couple of churches and as we were walking back it started to rain.  Once we got to the car it was a complete downpour.  We had planned on continuing on to Pienza, again suggested by Shana, but decided to take a drive to Lago Trasimeno.  We had a great drive.  Justin braved the downpour to go out and look at the lake, the rest of us stayed dry in the car.


View of Tuscan Hills from Montepulciano at the Frattoria Pulcino restaurant

Alley in Montepulciano
Chiesa Sant'Agostino Montepulciano

A few days later we visited Orvieto.  I had done some research and saw that they had a funicular that you could ride up instead of trying to park in the small city.  Much to Eden's delight we rode it up and took the bus to the main square, Piazza Duomo.  We grabbed a quick bit to eat at a restaurant called Al San Francesco.  They had this beef and potato dish that was so savory and delicious.  Caleb, Joel, Danielle and I all got an espresso to round out the meal.  We took a tour of the underground caverns in Orvieto that had been constructed in 600 BC by the Etruscans.  The tunnels and caverns were in use and expanded upon until World War II.  We learned a few interesting facts and here are a few of the ones that the kids liked best.  Danielle and Joel -- If you buy a house in old Orvieto, it comes with its own cave, maybe even a few.  Caleb -- Some of the caves were used for raising pigeons, to eat not send messages.  This practice was stopped by one of the popes because the pigeon feces had gotten so high outside of the windows that he wanted to stop merchants from climbing up the poop towers and smuggling in goods without paying taxes.  Caleb wondered why they just didn't clean up the poop towers instead of stopping pigeon production?  Good question.  After the tour we headed over to the cathedral.  This cathedral has been dubbed the "Golden Lily of Italy" since the facade is so ornate.  After our visit we wandered around the city and walked along the charming streets.  Found a park and had gelato, Eden was thrilled.  It was a truly amazing day.  I love the views of the countryside.  This is a truly extraordinary place.  The vegetation is lush, with rolling hills and stunning sunsets.   It is absolutely perfect.

Cave in Orvieto
Caleb and Joel in cave.   Pigeon holes in the background
Orvieto Duomo
View of surrounding area from Orvieto
Our next adventure included Perugia, Assisi and Todi.  First stop Perugia.  I had Justin park the car in a specific place because I had read that you could take an escalator to the city while passing through an area called Rocca Paolino.  After frustrating directions Justin successfully navagated us to the correct parking lot.  I will say the first couple of escalators were rather disappointing and I was starting to lose hope until we got on the third escalotor and about midway through looked up and saw the underground city.  This place was used as a defensive place for the city.  It incorporated 4 churches 1 dungeon, and around 400 homes all connected by tunnels.  The entire city is underground.   Most of it was destroyed once the city united to become present day Perugia, but a small area still exists.  We walked through the tunnels and got to visit a few of the remaining structures.  It is incredible to see an entire city underground.  Once we completed this area we took one last escalator to the city above.  We walked over to the Piazza Republica and had lunch at Cafe Blu.  We walked over to the main Piazza and saw the duomo.  We wandered past over to an old aquaduct that has been turned into a walkway.  We walked along towards the university.  The views were great of the city itself.  So this whole time we had been gradually going down and there was a particular street I wanted to go back up.  Well, that street was closed due to road work.  We ended up taking the street over which Justin had to push Eden in the stroller up the steep, winding road.  Once at the top we celebrated his efforts with gelato.  We walked over to the square that we started at and over to the whispering walls.  I had read about this online and had kept this a secret too.  So what you need to do is have one person stand in a corner and the other person stand in the opposite corner, look up slightly and while facing the wall whisper your message to the wall.  The person on the opposite side should be able to hear the message clear as a bell.  Well much to our amusement it worked.  We all took turns trying it out.  The legend says that you are supposed to whisper words of love and if the other hears the love will endure.  Thank goodness Justin heard me.  Whew!

Underground city Rocca Paolino

On the old aquaduct in Perugia

View from a high vantage point in Perugia

Eden enjoying a daily gelatto (always strawberry flavored) under the "Hotel Eden" sign in Perugia
The whispering wall in Perugia

After we headed to Assisi since it is just a short car ride away.  We walked through the town towards the Basilica San Francesco.  We spent a good amount of time walking through the upper and lower church.  We read the story of St Francis of Assisi to the kids and were all surprised to find out that Brother Elias and his posse took St. Francis' body during the funeral procession and laid him to rest in the lower church were he still lies.  Brother Elias did this because he believed that St. Francis would not have liked the elaborate ceremony that had been planned saying that St. Francis gave everything of himself without ever wanting anything in return.  On our way back through the city we took a turn onto Via Montecavallo and saw the most extraordinary thing.  All along the street are white "sheets" hanging from lines, but these are not ordinary sheets.  These "sheets" are canvasses with the faces of different people on them,  We could not figure out what it was about even though we asked a few people, but it was one of the neatest things.  We all contemplated what it was about and came up with a few theories.  Thinking it was most likely one of two:  either the faces of people that lived on the street, or the faces of people that had been important in the city.  It was one of my favorite things.
Once back at the car we loaded up and headed to Todi.  We got there later then expected and grabbed some of the last slices of pizza at one of the few places still open.  The funny thing was that the husband of the couple who owned the restaurant had put a couple of margarita slices off to the side for his dinner and the wife was not happy about that because all that was left was potato and onion, which we were fine with.  Well, once we were sitting outside to eat the wife brought us the margarita slices free of charge.  I kind of chuckled because I could see that the husband was pretty upset about it.  We told her we didn't need them but she insisted.  All of the pizza was good and by the time we left Eden had charmed him and he was not upset anymore.  We walked around just for a little and headed back home.

Basilica San Francesco

White sheets with portraits on them lining a small street in Assisi

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