Soggy English Muffins

Nine of Owen’s last ten birthdays have been in Italy. This year, Manchester, England. The highlight was a visit to Old Trafford, the famed stadium of Manchester United.  Another great tour! We had a morning to ourselves before getting the train to the Stadium so we walked around in the rain before taking cover for tea and crumpets. My first crumpet… hmm… took about 45 minutes to come and it was like a soggy, saltless, sugarless English muffin :(   I just Googled what others think about crumpets. Everything from: 

“Imagine a sponge made from a mix of bread and chewing gum.” to “They are soooo delish, with butter and honey or jam.....why i just had some gotta try them!  :))”

Sketchers take cover.

Canals & Locks of Manchester.

House boats, canoes, tour/party boats.

The pilot of this boat was sipping tea.

Every alley has kegs. This one had chairs, too.

Cool footbridge over the canal. Train tracks above.

The house boat's resident advertises her gardening services.

Old & new architecture co-exists in Manchester. The building on the left is an aviation museum which we popped in to.

Creative bench design.

This was amazing. Moss and other ground cover in between the tracks at this station. Seemingly, it was planted and cultivated.

OMG, I just Googled this... so cool. Architects are responsible for this! It is, indeed, cultivated.

Now, on to Old Trafford!

The have the tour walk through the "tunnel" on to the field as the players do, while they play the audio of cheering crowds. 

Back at home we had the birthday dinner at this pub.

A 19-year-old and his shandy.

Half lager, half carbonated lemonade (or 7-Up apparently!).

I got the ploughman's lunch. Never had so much cheese in my life!

And so ended our second-to-last night in Manchester!  Cheers!

She's a bit of a liar, and a cheat but she's alright.

Thursday was Liverpool day! A one-hour train ride delivered us to Lime Street Station, Liverpool, where we were met by our Beatles Tour guide, Stevie T. I had read great reviews about him on Trip Advisor so I requested him for our 3-hour tour. The kids have been listening to the Beatles with us in the car since they were little. One of my earliest memories was of my aunt Susy taking care of me for a weekend when she had tickets to a Beatles concert (1966?), so her friend Judy’s mother took care of me that day/night. I wandered upstairs in Mrs. Anderson’s house and alerted her that the beds weren’t made. (!) Not sure if I “remember” this detail because of her reaction, or because she told Susy and I overheard it being retold.

The weather was perfect for the way I pictured Liverpool. Gray like liver. And pouring rain at times. The rest is best told with pictures.

Liverpool's Lime Street Station, where we soon joined Stevie T.

Paul McCartney's childhood home—one of several, actually, as his mother was a maternity nurse who was moved around to be close to the neighborhoods she served.

Paul's room just above the door.  The house is a museum now.

John's house. Hundred's of songs written in this house, also a museum now.

This church is where John and Paul first were together but didn't officially meet. John was there playing in his first band, the Quarrymen.

The graveyard of this church is where John and Paul would go to drink and smoke. There are theories for and against the name on this gravestone being the inspiration for the song. Paul says no... he got Eleanor from someone he know, and Rigby was the name of a store or something...

This plaque is on the wall of a church building across the street where they later played music together.

Strawberry Fields was basically in the backyard of where John grew up. It was the grounds of some kind of home or school for disadvantaged girls. John's mother would tell him not to climb the fence because it was private property, but he did anyway, and said to his mother, "It's not a big crime to do that. Nothing to get hung about."

This guitar was signed by the members of The Quarrymen. Owen played Blackbird on it. Quite moving.

We were in Penny Lane in the pouring rain.

George Harrison's childhood home. Private residence, now. Stevie T. was greeting hello by two neighborhood boys who he said have been saying hello to him since they were toddlers.

And Ringo's childhood home :)  My favorite Beatle.

Near Ringo's home is the set for the BBC's Peaky Blinders series.

 And this is the building where Ringo's mother worked. It was later the image for Ringo's first album cover, Sentimental Journey.

Silly thing Stevie T. makes his customers do!  The tour is called Mop Top Tours.

And here we are with Stevie T. outside of the building where John Lennon was born. This is a selfie, but the second one was taken by a student passerby who offered.

After the tour we built in three hours to hang out in Liverpool before catching the train home.

Since it was pouring it wasn’t ideal, after a couple of hours we ended up at a pub having shandies. So fun. We’ve been spending SO much time together, sometimes conversation is lacking. Owen said, I wish we had a deck of cards or something, at which point Henry produced a deck from his backpack! Total lifesaver. We had a blast after that. 

The group next to us—two older couples—seemed to be noticing us. I had to look up Gin Rummy rules on my phone because we needed a refresher. I overheard one guy use the term Bum Fluff, so I looked THAT up on my phone:

Later they broke the ice and we chatted. I asked how old they thought the boys were and they said 17 and 19 or something… I had figured the Bum Fluff was in reference to their wondering if they were old enough to be drinking. Who knows.  They went on to tease me about cheating (because I was looking up things on my phone, I guess). I denied it, of course, but when I stood up to use the bathroom after we were done playing, five cards feel out of a fold in my shirt, only egging them on with their theory!  When we left they said to the boys, “Take care of her.  She's a bit of a liar and a cheat but she's alright.”

Meeting the Mancunians

After our little whirlwind London visit, we got up early and took a cab to the train station, and on to Manchester for five nights. Our driver was a Dev Patel body double. I didn’t get a picture of him, naturally, but here’s Dev.

We were his first customers, and he was a sweetheart. The cabbie we took from the airport kept saying how hot he was (it was a heat wave for England) and when he pulled over for gas (who fills up a tank with the fare in the car?), he asked if we wanted a water, which he’d buy in the gas station. This other guy, Dev, offered us water and Werther’s candy and had a full tank of gas to boot! His story: He had operated a computer, iPhone and electronics repair shop for two years, only to find out it was illegally leased to him. While he is in litigation to try to get it back, he’s driving the cab and taking Harvard University on-line courses to learn more. He grew up in Pakistan, has a girlfriend and a bright, promising future. But, he said, he worries he may never get to see the United States because if Trump wins, he won’t be allowed in. He refused a tip.

We got to the train station way too early and I can’t remember why, but moods were FOUL. All I remember is the long faces….. Might have been something to do with my seven pairs of shoes and my heavy suitcase :(

Manchester is really cool-looking. Lots of orange. Brick buildings with all kinds of details. Pubs on every corner. Flowers spilling out of hanging pots. And there are canals with locks all through the 

section where we stayed, with tons of boat houses. 

 These little beer towels are hung like prayer flags.

We dropped our bags and went directly out for a bite so we would have an appetite for dinner four hours later. This pub was right around the corner. Really cozy—about four or five little rooms. Just chips, or crisps, as it were, because the kitchen wasn’t open yet. There were college (or Masters program) graduates in cap and gown with their parents all over the city.

Learn more about this awesome pub we were so lucky to have stumbled upon:

Our dinner restaurant was recommended by the hotel staff. NOT their finest hour. The place was called the Paramount and had slot machines and very drunk people arguing and crying and storming out and back in again. Can’t say it wasn’t entertaining!

Next morning, after an amazing buffet breakfast, Fred went off to his Symposium and the boys and I walked to the Northern Quarter—again, the part of town that is to Manchester what Williamsburg is to Brooklyn. Maybe a little more gritty—several thrift shops on every street. And one five-story store that was a throwback to Harvard Square’s The Garage from the ‘70s.

Everywhere we go, sketchers!

Quick lunch at an Italian place—silly thing to do, I know, but we had intended to have a coffee and then decided the food looked too good. I spoke Italian with the owner who was delightful. The bruschetta was too.

Owen found an amazing Barbour windbreaker—vintage, never worn—which he bought. I bought Henry a white shirt made by PINK for about twenty bucks. Also, a steal. 

Freaky plant!

Belts & scarves!

We then went to the Football Museum which was basically a big place to babysit your kids. HUGE disappointment. Luckily museums are free here, and the boys got to play ping pong at their outdoor table.

Then tea, scones and clotted cream at the quintessential tea house called Sugar Junction. 

Each menu was placed inside a hardbound copy of the same used book (The Saturday Book). Charming.

The day ended with a cocktail party for Fred and me (to go to, not in our honor!) to kick off the Symposium, followed by dinner with the boys at an Indian place next to the hotel—highly recommended by Trip Advisor, not the hotel staff, and delicious. Again, tensions running a bit high. Traveling can be taxing.

Fred met a man with whom he'd only been in contact via email—he wrote a book that Fred's in! His name is James Hobbs. The book is Pen & Ink.

To the Mother Country We Go

One week after the boys arrived in Viterbo, we left for a week in England. Fred is a correspondent with a group called Urban Sketchers, as I mentioned earlier. He has attended symposiums in Barcelona, Brazil, and now Manchester, England, with sketchers from all over the world. It’s a very cool group. 

When the kids found out this year’s Symposium was in Manchester, and that Fred got accepted (he has to propose a workshop each year and get voted in), and that it did not compete with our time in Italy, they listened anxiously to hear if they’d be invited along.  And they were. Sort of our last hurrah for a while, since they (and we) really need to save money for their tuitions.

We got up very early on Saturday morning to catch the train to the airport, having turned in the rental car the day before. There’s no sound quite like that of the four of us clacking down the cobble stoned streets at the crack of dawn. People peek out to see what’s up. The Americans are leaving today, they must think.

First thing that went wrong was I booked us tickets for 6:10 pm, not am.  (18:10! I’ll never get used to military time!) When I realized this, I got in line at the bar where they sell train tickets to buy the right kind—morning tickets for the 6:25 am train. They only take cash. I had none. The nearest ATM? Down the street. Henry and I bolted/ran the few blocks to the machine, got the money, got the tickets, with ten minutes to spare. Standing around waiting for the train it occurred to me I had bought tickets to Rome, not further on to the airport. (It’s a two-legged trip.) Back we went to the counter. Thank GOD I had enough cash left. It was terribly stressful. We have really heavy luggage and when the train does come, you have to walk across four tracks to get to it.

Once we got on, it was pretty smooth sailing.  At Heathrow where we landed, we found a cab that I had booked already on line. Nice guy. Drove us the hour (!) to our Airbnb in the Peckham section of London. It’s kind of like the Williamsburg of Brooklyn. Hipster. Twenty minutes from the city by train. Our flat was GREAT. Clean as can be. Awesome decor (two artist owner—graphic and interior, I think). Kids’ beds in a loft, ours on the lower level. The place is on the fourth floor of a converted Victorian schoolhouse. Really good find.

We had asked our host for dinner recommendations for this night, thinking we’d stay local. Peckham Bazaar was her favorite, so that’s where we ate. Amazing place. Outdoors on a warmish night. Small plates of Balkan foods. We got seven plates and tasted flavors we’d never experienced before. So far, so good! I didn't take this shot, but this is EXACTLY how it looked that night. Mine was blurry.

Fred got a grant to add this quick stop in London onto our Manchester trip, so he spent his time in two museums: The British Museum and the Imperial War Museum. It so happens, the boys were interested in the former, so I went off to Notting Hill for the day. Turned out to be a little lonely, and NH was more hippy than I’d realized. But it was fun to see the blue door of the flat where Hugh Grant lived (in the movie, Notting Hill). I shopped and walked and visited the Cath Kidston store, which I find sweet. 

Here's Fred getting ready for his day of research at the British Museum.

This bench... I've never forgotten this sweet inscription of the bench from Notting Hill. Nobody can access it because the garden is private, but I found this online.  "For June who loved this garden from Joseph who always sat beside her."

The blue door!  Behind that tree.

Very British pugs.

A Cinquecento INSIDE a store!

No idea the significance of these buildings, but they were colorful and others were shooting them. Something from the movie, I imagine.

Henry's girlfriend asked for this : )

When I met them back at the museum we had to run over to a phone place to have some new SIM cards installed in our phones. We needed to be able to reach each other if we did separate things or got separated accidentally. So that was done. Ten pounds for each phone for a week of data and unlimited texting.

Dinner was at a very traditional pub—maybe more of a restaurant. Turns out pubs stop serving food at 8, which is an hour earlier that we’ve been used to eating in Italy. This took a little getting used to. 

That's pork in the middle... layers of meat and squishy fat, topped by crispy fat. Yep.

Hendrick's & tonic with cucumber. When in London!

There were a lot of less than pleasant times during these few days in London because it’s just too short a time to see a city like this and learn the tube and bus routes, etc. But we survived.  

Next day, up and out for Fred to the War Museum, and up and out for the rest of us to get Henry theater tickets to meet up with a friend from home that night (doing stem cell research in London for the summer!). After that, we grabbed lunch, then booked a Hop On/Hop Off bus tour to get around. First stop was Harrod’s for Owen’s birthday present—sunglasses. Then it was time to get back to Fred. Having not done much on the bus, we sent Henry off to his play and the three of us did a huge loop on the bus and saw all the sights. A really nice way to see a city. 

Harrod's candy shop.

Dinner was at a really cool pub called Gladstone’s (or The Glad) that had pre-made meat pies that were not bad!  The atmosphere was magical. There’s just nothing like these pubs at home.

Adorable little tonic water bottles.

We got home around 11 and around 12:15 I got a text from Henry saying his last leg of the trip was a bust because the tube stops running at midnight. He was about five miles away. He said he’d walk home, which of course was NOT an option in my mind. So I got an Uber to go get him. Actually, I got two Ubers to go get him, but the first one bagged after not finding him. It was tough because I couldn’t text with the driver because my Uber account has my US cell phone number as a contact. I tried texting and got an automated response that they did not recognize my number. So I had to agonizingly watch the little car icon on my screen back up and turn around and LEAVE the station where Henry was standing. The next guy, God love him, came immediately and found Henry.  YEARS off my life over this one. Turns out my bank doesn’t like Uber so they put our credit cards on hold the next day., without any communication with me. Just suddenly no money. Locked out.

Next day another cab would pick us up at ten to take us to the train station—on to Manchester!

Penthouse Pizza Party

The night before we left Italy, we had dinner with the extended Basile family, our friends next to whom we lived our first year here. What a dinner it was. Every time, actually. Last year was at the home of one of the daughters' family in a neighboring town. We had grilled EVERYTHING that day—steaks, potatoes, onions, peppers, tomatoes—everything that's ripe enough to pick, you eat in July in Italy.

This night's dinner was at another daughter's home just a few blocks from our place in Viterbo. Alessandra and Mauro's son Leonardo, whom we've known since he was 7 (now 17) met us with his girlfriend at the gates to the city. We live inside. They live outside. Apparently, Mauro is known for his pizzas—and now we know why. Since their apartment is on the top floor, they can have a pizza oven on their balcony, built right in. Unbelievably cool. We'd never seen such a view of the town we call home for one month of the year.

Mauro made 28 pizzas!  I can't remember how many kilos of dough he turned into those 28 pies, but WOW. We ate all night from tomato and cheese, to sardines, to Nutella pizza for dessert! Followed, of course, by homemade limoncello, orange liqueur, mirto (sort of like a blueberry liqueur), and Jamesons. :)

Pre-Pizza Party

Mario, the patriarch.

Just four of the 28.

Rooftop pizza oven.

Things in full swing.

Emilio & Roberto. A Basile son and a Basile son-in-law.

Leonardo & Sara.

Georgia & Mario.

Alessia & Ilaria

Antonella & Assunta (the matriarch)

Mauro! The pizza man!

Sisters—Allesandra & Emanuela

They are waving goodbye to us from the balcony as we make our way home. Does it get any better than this?

Don't Pigeon Hole Me!

The kids are here for this one week, but Fred's still working Monday through Thursday, so we'll entertain ourselves with day trips. On the agenda today is Orvieto, a hill town one hour's drive north. We've been several times, but we've never been to the underground tunnel tour. The next day will be Montefiascone, a closer town where we love a particular caffé and where we plan to camp out with our laptops. I'll be working and they'll do whatever. We drink cappuccino and soak in the Italian culture all around us. This bar has their version of MTV playing.

Orvieto. First stop was lunch. We drove the way I thought we always drive, following signs to the duomo and ending up getting dumped right onto the main piazza at the top of the town. Parking on the right. Best lot in the town. But we messed up and ended up a few blocks away. It didn't stop us from finding our favorite restaurant within ten minutes. Here we are sharing a half liter of vino bianco with our lunches. This is the first summer the boys have imbibed a bit. With us, that is.

This is the pretty amazing duomo of Orvieto. Like a wedding cake.

After lunch we went over to the underground tour. It was pretty cool. I guess this is the only shot I got. It's of the pigeon coop cave. They raised pigeons underground (those are their little individual holes—hence the term pigeon hole!) so if the city were to be under siege they would have food.

After this we went back to Viterbo to get ready for dinner, which was the Tuesday night artist talk and buffet dinner at the school. On the way, I got this shot of Monastero, the two-plate pizza place, and another of Fred, Henry and Owen.

The next day, Montefiascone, was a much less ordinary day—ironic, since Orvieto is the tourist-attracting town. NOT Montefiascone. But this is often the case with us.

Turns out it was a festival day here—La Festa di Santa Margherita. We made a note of this so we can come back next year at night and have dinner. We saw mostly preparations.

Tables set up in the lot where I usually park.

A visit to Montefiascone always involves a walk to the top, as does every visit to a hilltop town, for that matter—unless we can drive to it. This top is particularly cool because the view is of one of the area's biggest lakes—a volcanic lake called Bolsena. This lake represents the crater created by an old volcano. The sand around it on its beaches is black.

When we got to the top we looked down at what these people were looking at. A soapbox derby race! We had never come across one of these. Tires lined one side of the street, hay bales the other. Three cars at a time (all manned by teenagers, mostly boys, but at least one girl) took turns racing down the stretch of road, while all the townspeople cheered them on.

A priest and a couple of nuns were among the crowd.

We then walked a tiny bit further to the park at the very top on the other side.

Pokemon Go is everywhere!

On the way home, I FINALLY pulled over to take a picture of one of the most amazing things ever.

This pole with the vegetation at the top looks almost like some kind of flowery palm tree. It is, in fact, a pole, maybe a light pole, with a plant growing at the top. It has grown bigger and bigger every year. Finally, I got up close and knocked on the pole. It seems to be hollow. I've seen this type of plant before and it is vine-like. So my theory is it found its way inside the pole, worked its way to the top, to the light, and now flourishes there!

At home, we got ready for dinner at Il Giardino del Papero (the Garden of the Duck), our all-time favorite spot in Viterbo. Along the way, we ran into Fred's TA, Karen Sung and her boyfriend Sam, dining at Al Vecchio Orologio (the Old Clock).

And at The Duck, we ran into this couple on a date—Erin, our writing teacher and her husband Frank.

We always start with this fried vegetable thing that's like tempura. Insanely good.

And I often get this—steak under arugula and tomatoes.

Yo, Hadrian!

Today was a road trip to Tivoli, Italy, home to Villa Adriana (known to us as Hadrian's Villa) and Villa d'Este, one of the country's most notable gardens. I just looked at my iPhone Heart app and see that I took over 16,000 steps that day. I recently discovered that this heart thing on my phone monitors my steps as long as I have the phone with me. I don't have to set it up to do so. Now it's a daily obsession. Every day, I walk more than anyone else in my family even if we're together the whole day. That's because my legs are shorter and I have to take more steps :) Kind of amusing in a sad way!

So, lots of walking around the ruins that are Hadrian's Villa today. The place was built in the second and third decades of the 2nd century AD as a retreat from Rome for then Emperor Hadrian.

Turtles and huge fish live in these two pools on the grounds.

Next stop, Villa d'Este. Having spent my junior year of college in Copenhagen, I think of Tivoli Gardens as this charming amusement park in the center of Copenhagen:

Alas, this Tivoli was not the first Tivoli; it was named after Jardin de Tivoli in Paris, which was named after the original gardens of Tivoli in Italy.  So, next stop, Villa d'Este, Tivoli, Italy—a 16th century villa near Rome, famous for its terraced hillside Italian Renaissance garden and especially for its profusion of fountains. This is the most amazing thing: 51 fountains, 398 spouts, 364 water jets, 64 waterfalls, and 220 basins, fed by a half mile of canals, channels and cascades, and all working entirely by the force of gravity, without pumps. This last part—NO PUMPS. Some of these fountains sprayed as high as a three story building. Crazy!

Dinner this night was back in the 'hood at one of our old favorites—Il Monastero, home of the two-plate pizza. It's not all that filling because the crust is sooooo thin. Mine's half zucchini and half arugula, tomato and mozzarella.

A very cool penthouse apartment seen on our walk home from dinner. Maybe that'll be our apartment next year! ;)

The Honeymoon is Over

It’s mid-July at this point in my blog, and our second honeymoon period is over as the boys joined us on July 23. They’re both in college now and need to work, so this is their last hurrah. One week in Viterbo with us, and a week in Manchester, England, where Fred is doing an Urban Sketchers workshop. 

See to learn what this is all about.

I left Viterbo early to make sure I got to the airport without any anxiety. You never know what might happen. Credit cards get stuck in toll booths, roads can be blocked, tractors might slow you way down, etc. But I didn't get tripped up on the way to Fiumicino until I was in the airport parking lot. I mistakenly got into a line to park in a lot for people with monthly passes. The gate closed in front of me AND behind me…. locking me in. Me, with no monthly pass or ticket or anything. I’ve been through this before and it always works out. Even with people lined up behind me. They’re used to backing up because often the machine is just broken. I pressed the help button, told her I had no ticket, and she said the gate behind me would open and I should back out… So, back out I did, all the way to the street and out again to find normal parking. 

From here it was very smooth sailing again. I waited for them to come out of the gate, snapped their photo when they did, pissed off Owen when I did that. Nice start. And off we went, back to Viterbo. Take ten.

After they unpacked, lazed around, napped and showered, we went to dinner at a new-for-us family-owned place around the corner.  As we left our apartment, the old lady across the street was looking out her balcony at us (per usual), so we told her our boys are here now. She was pleased for us.

Dinner was a very sweet experience. The son was our waiter, the father our host, and the mother the cook, we think. We never saw her, but the father came around smiling and chatting with people, and brought us biscotti and homemade dessert wine after our meal. The dessert wine was a ciliegia (cherry) liqueur which the host explained to us by bringing a bowl of soaking cherries to our table. They were delicious, too!

I ordered Chicken Viterbo-style, having no idea what that meant. Apparently, it's chicken and olives. They must've been surprised when I left most of the olives, but I'd just eaten a bowlful before dinner!  

The next morning we got up and out to join our Italian family friends the Basiles, next to whom we lived the very first year we came to Viterbo. We’ve gotten together every year since, at different houses among the extended family in and around Viterbo. One granddaughter Alessia spent Easter week with us as she was going to high school in Kentucky for the year! They are a lovely, boisterous, teasing, big family. It’s always a hoot to get together. 

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After this huge coffee gathering, they invited us for pizza on Friday, our last night. Stay tuned for those pics.

V is for Villas, Vignanello & Vallerano

Our next day trip was an atypical Wednesday off. Every year Fred switches with a landscape painting teacher so they can each have a full day of teaching and a day off, instead of two half days. This was our free day.

On our way to the car, I got my best shot SO FAR of a man inside a Cinque Cento. My goal is to get a shot of an older couple, in their Sunday best, together in one. I’ve seen this many times. It is a sight to behold. I did a Google image search to see if anyone else has had any success. Seemingly not.

And this shot from inside the car. 

We headed off to a charming town nearby—Vignanello—that has an amazing castle and garden. We've been to three of the top such gardens in the country: Villa Lante (in our neighboring Bagnaia), Villa Farnese in Caprirola and Villa d’Este in Tivoli near Hadrian’s Villa. The garden today at Vignanello was closed, which we had expected, but next year we have a plan with the person in charge there for Fred to draw inside.  

We got there and did the usual. Roamed together a bit, then separately. I settled in at the bar there that I like. It's got a huge terrace overlooking the countryside with a crazy breeze. I’m surrounded, yet again, but older men in blue shirts. They hang there without ordering anything. 

The place we had hope to eat at was closed… 

More shots from around town.

This is a cool gutter-type thing. It’s a metal chain of links that goes from the edge of an overhang into a container. A pretty way to do a useful task. Very Victorian!

A healthy cat.

As I walked, I passed these women four times…finally we laughed together because clearly I was walking in circles.

Sadly, not all the cats are loved.

Since the place we had planned to eat was closed, and another was just too empty, we drove to the next town, the very small town of Vallerano. Fred found something on Trip Advisor (Osteria degli Orti) which we located almost immediately. It was awesome. The couple who own it left their jobs and home in Rome for a more peaceful life. The woman asked if we had been sent by Natalie. No, but we learned that Natalie owns a nearby B&B and sends her guests (many of them American, apparently) to this place. The atmosphere was lovely and warm. Great music. Find it on what I think was Spotify:


What we were listening to when I snapped a pic of the guy’s laptop was Renato Carsone, and the song was called Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano. Hopefully he didn’t play this because he had Americans in the house!  See the lyrics at the end of this post. And/or listen to it here:

Only one other table was occupied, and in another room, to boot, but somehow it didn’t give us that bad feeling you can get when you’re in a restaurant alone. I had my first timpano—the layered dish featured in the movie The Big Night. It was not all the same layers, though. Mine was cauliflower and… can’t remember… but great. Fred had a pasta dish with either wild boar or pig cheek which was also great. So we’ll be back.

You'd like to be an American

You wear trousers showing a famous brand
you wear an hat with the peak raised
you trotting along Tuleto's streets
showing off yourself, to make people look at you
You'd like to be an American,
'merican, 'merican
listen to me, is it worth?
you want to be trendy
but if you drink "whiskey and soda"
and then you have a long hangover
You dance rock 'n' roll
you play baseball
but who gives you the money to buy Camels?
your mother's bag!
You'd like to be an American
'merican, 'merican
but you were born in Italy!
listen to me, there's nothing you can do
ok, neapolitan? (person from Naples)
You'd like to be an American
You'd like to be an American
Who can people that love you
understand you if you speak half-american?
when you are making love under the moon
how come you say "I love you"?
You'd like to be an American
'merican, 'merican,
but listen to me, is it worth?
you want to be trendy
but if you drink "whiskey and soda"
and then you have a long hangover
You dance rock 'n' roll
you play baseball
but who gives you the money to buy Camels?
your mother's bag!
You'd like to be an American
'merican, 'merican
but you were born in Italy!
ok, neapolitan? (person from Naples)
You'd like to be an American
You'd like to be an American
You'd like to be an American
'merican, 'merican
but listen to me, is it worth?
you want to be trendy
but if you drink "whiskey and soda"
and then you have a long hangover
You dance rock 'n' roll
you play baseball
but who gives you the money to buy Camels?
your mother's bag!


Today was Vitorchiano, a neighboring town with one of the prettiest medieval sections we’ve come across. 

Cool car. Same color as our rental but hella cooler!

On the way to Vitorchiano, we stopped at a huge peony farm. I think the biggest in the country—maybe even the world. Of course, the blooms are gone, but it was pretty amazing to see the fields of peony bushes. What I would do to have just a small percentage of those plants. Clearly, I had peonies envy. 

What we saw (from high on a wall that Fred hoisted me up on).

What we would have seen in May!

It’s called the Moutan Botanical Center—over 200,000 plants covering 37 acres.

Once we got to Vitorchiano, we parked in the center and walked along a road outside of the walls so we could look back at the old part of the city. Fred wanted to find a good vantage point to sketch it. It’s tough because of all the locked properties. We did “break in” to one person’s yard because the gate was closed, but not locked. We discovered he keeps rabbits in cages in a garage. They were hot, in the dark, and had two-foot mounds of poop under their cages. My heart broke.

We moved on because Fred would not be so bold as to pull out his stool and set up camp while trespassing. Our next stop down the road was perfect. Someone’s driveway without a car in it gave us access to a breath-taking view of the city. Leaving Fred there to sketch, I walked back to the old town and walked it for about an hour before settling down in a caffé I knew of. 

This is the view of the old city where Fred stopped to sketch.

And this is the view I had from the old city looking over at where Fred sketched.

Here's a close-up of Fred sketching. I yelled "Fred!" and he looked right up!

A study in gray.

At six, we met at a different place—a bar inside the walls that has seating just outside the walls. Often we see waitstaff walking down the street with a tray of drinks and chips as they make their way to the seating area associated with their restaurant or bar. It’s bizarre—sometimes a block or two down a busy street! As usual, we sat with about 15 older men wearing blue. (All the older men here seem to wear blue—as do lots of their female peers, too, come to think of it.)  

And a study in orange.

My Spritz :)

Dinner at home was at a very local place we’ve been walking by for years—ten to be exact—and never felt any temptation to enter. Until a local woman mentioned that it’s great. And she was right—great pizza, great atmosphere, and you can’t beat the location—a five or ten minute walk.

Pizza with arugula, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella.

On Being a Paparazza

I write this today from a bar called Caffé Gnocchetto in Narni. I'm meeting Fred in a half hour. There’s a wedding going on right down the street, but I’m not shooting it. I find them stressful to shoot because I feel intrusive. Okay, the wedding’s out because this place is filling up with dressed-up people AND several guys in costumes with a snare drum. Sting is on the radio. Oh, wow, Fred just texted to say the bride is arriving just now in a dune buggy. SHIT of all the weddings for me to NOT SHOOT.

Fast forward, we had our spritz after Fred finished sketching and ended up not missing a THING except the arrival of the guests. BOTH weddings got out (the best part), one after another and we got to see it all. And I shot my ass off. Intrusive freak that I am! One guest even stepped on my foot—that's how in the mix I get!  She was all apologetic but I told her it was only my shoe, really.

But I'll start with our first stop, a town called Terni. More like a city. I roamed a lot, Fred roamed and sketched. I worked from a caffé, after which we moved on to Narni, one of our favorite towns.

I might do a series on ashtrays like this. So common to see outside of bars or caffés. Fred thought a nice idea for a series would be church confessionals all around Umbria and Tuscany where we take day trips. I'm not feeling it though. I'm more about the ashtrays.

This was my Terni office.

This is a bridge in Narni, or the remains of one. Huge chunks of it are deeply embedded into the earth. Tons of artists have painted these ruins. Fred thought he would, too, but as is often the case, the overgrowth of bushes and trees surrounding it gave him no opportunity for a vantage point. Lots of traipsing around in the brush to no avail.

Now for the two weddings. After our spritz...

...we saw the crowd begin to form almost a processional down the street from us, following a band of trumpeters and drummers and men and boys with huge flags. Turns out we were about to witness an Italian tradition called Flag Tossing.

The men and boys are called sbandieratori. They throw the flags in the air, catch them, much like batons, and flip them around, over and under their legs, etc. It was most fun to see the boys do it.

She is the mother of the boy in the photo below. We later saw him at another wedding in street clothes.

Love her! My own Isabella Rossellini!

Love this guy. I also saw him later at the next wedding!

I think the first bride arrived in this car, and left in the Ferrari below.

And this dune buggy was the next bride's vehicle of choice to her wedding which we came upon just after the other ended, a block away—another block another church.


Some townsfolk who were not among the invited.

The young sbandieratoro let his buddy carry his drum.

Could not get enough of these two!

Nice tie :)

One of the groomsmen.

This boy's getting fresh!

These guys are waiting for the bride and groom to come out so they can pop these huge "crackers" and shower them with tissue hearts.  There are two on the other side, too.

These old friends were so happy to run into each other—and on his daughter's wedding day to boot!

Our neighbor back home in Viterbo!

Day Trippin

Fred works Mondays through Thursdays here in Viterbo, so we have three days in a row to ourselves. Friday we hit three small towns under an hour’s drive away in Lazio: Corchiano, Fabrica di Roma and Civita Castellana. Most likely we won’t be going back to them, but it was interesting enough. When we get to a town, we walk around together for a while, then separate for Fred to go make a sketch, and for me to find a coffee shop and work or blog or sort and edit photos or nag the boys via Facebook Messenger or pay their tuitions…. or all five. I’ve been freelancing as an art director for all but one year of the ten we’ve been coming here, and it would not be good business to turn down work for the month. It’s good though. I don’t like relaxing unless I’ve worked some to earn it.  

Corchiano is too small to be on this map, but the others are there.

Most of the cats live outdoors and are scrawny, weepy-eyed and flea-ridden, but once in a while there is a loved-by-humans one—flea collar and all!  I love their faces.

A rare door left open to this courtyard. Corchiano.

Thank you very much!

These are ruins we roamed looking for a good spot for Fred to draw. See Fred midway up, halfway from the middle toward the left.  

Some artist ex-pats in Civita Castellana. Friends of a friend. Small world.

There were two guys in this tractor, one teaching the other.

Fred doing what he does.

At the end of the last town of each day trip we meet up and have a drink in a piazza. Yesterday was a spritz and a beer at the Grande Café in Civita Castellana (big white building with the flag). Free peanuts and chips, too :) The funniest thing is when we get to these towns, we wind and wind and wind our way up to the centro (the historic center of town)—having learned never to grab a spot too early because the walk can be miles!—and every so often we realize, once we're there and the main piazza opens up to us, that we've been to this town before. Such was the case in Castellana. But it's nice to know where to have that drink. 

We got home around 8:30 and went out for dinner at 9:30. AMAAAAAAAZING dinner around the corner from our place.

Pappardelle, asparagus and pig cheek (guanciale). 

The Morning After

My post today was going to be about the flags that so proudly hung yesterday before the Euro Cup game, but today, Italy having lost, they are all but forgotten and hang in twisted wind-blown messes. But I started to see just as many perfectly-hanging flags that my point couldn't be made. Nonetheless, I will share the photos.

Today, Sunday, is eerie and quiet for out-of-towners in this little city—particularly this day after the defeat. This is the day I always find myself wishing I could take a picture of sound. I walked for two hours with my camera, trying very hard to LOOK and not just SEE. Or vice versa. I can never get that straight. But mostly I heard instead of listened. Or vice versa.  I talk about this every year, the Sunday sounds. A chair scraping as someone pushes back from the table. Glasses, plates and silverware being put out or put away. Soccer on TV. And voices. When you don't know what people are saying, it's just noise, so you hear it differently. I realized today it's just like the theory of looking at an image of a face upside-down if you want to try to draw it because your brain won't see it as eyes, nose and mouth, but rather shapes, lines, shadows. So the talking is part of this kind of fabric backdrop. Kids' voices, especially, are captivating to me. ALL Italian kids have raspy voices. I've looked into this but found no facts.... but it's true. And because of the cadence of the language, everything they say sounds like, "Why can't I?"  Try this to see what I mean:  Say "We're having spaghetti with meat sauce tonight for dinner, and after we'll go out for gelato," to the tune of "Why can't I?"

Cats are found under cars on days like today.

I love that someone took the time to put this potted plant in this hole.

Gates are always closed and locked in Italy, but this gate was left open and I got to see this huge courtyard! Funny parking!

There was a wedding today—apparently, weddings are most common on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings. We can’t have Catholic church weddings at home on Sunday mornings because of mass. So I don’t get that. I saw a bunch of adorned cars carrying dressed-up people, so I knew there had been a wedding. I went up to the church nearby and an old woman was sweeping the steps while a man shouted at her from the inside. I mean screamed AT her. There was a white Volkswagen bug convertible with bows on it and a man in a suit standing by. I sensed that he was waiting for the bride and groom who were most likely having their pictures taken, post ceremony. Sure enough, three photographers came up from an alley followed by the couple. I asked if I could take photos too, so they let me—they even asked the couple to pose for me :)


The first few days back at our second home are always such a blur from jet lag that we remember them only through photos. Already yesterday is a fuzzy recollection. Here's our first night's walk to dinner. Back in the 'hood. Already I've seen Coat Man (the guy who roams all over town wearing as many coats as he can seem to collect, the top one being fur) three times. He seems happier this year and says, "Buon giorno, Signora." I smile and greet him back, but apparently another option is to just give him a dirty look. It's startling to come upon him because he looks like a bear.

We're here this year for the first two weeks sans sons. It feels strange. The apartment is much neater, the refrigerator much less full, and my head much less carefree. I saved a few bucks on car rental by not getting one till tomorrow, hence I had to do the grocery shopping on foot. These two bags were packed so heavy I had to stop several times on the way home. I know they don't look it, but they were. A man helped me for a block or so as I led him to a working ATM. (Not an easy task—to find a working ATM.)

Our first night here we had dinner at the Spaghetteria with the group. Delicious pasta, as always, followed by tiramisu and mirto, an aperitif— Again, Fred and I were zombies for most of it.

On the way to dinner, we came across a palazzo with a big screen set up and a schedule of movies for the summer. Tonight's show was Spotlight. What I would have done to be there for the end of that. I imagine having only an elementary grasp of the language wouldn't matter.

The next day, Saturday, was of course wedding day in Italy. Here's a unique wedding car!

And the wedding party—more typical.

Last night, we were only semi-zombified and watched the Italy/Germany Euro Cup game in the piazza of our Duomo with about two thousand other Viterbese folks. An ambulance and five EMTs stood by, waiting for God knows what.

It was quite moving to stand with them while they sang their national anthem at the beginning of the game. We had not heard it before. The whole town was there, young and old, drinking beer, water, wine. Cheering till what I imagine has led to some serious vocal fry today.

Then we lost. I'm grateful it didn't hurt as much as when my son's teams lost championships. You have to pick and choose where you put your whole heart and soul. I kept mine safe this time around. We actually watched the penalty kicks in a bar near home because we had to use the bathroom, so the final half hour was a different experience. About eight of us in there, watching a TV that kept pixellating and threatening to freeze, but nobody could get up and look for someone to fix it, for fear of missing the action. When we lost, everyone stood up immediately and simultaneously, and walked out.

Last Two Days. Ciao Ciao!

July 29 was Owen’s 18th birthday, and the day before we left. I was determined to make it fun for him since his last eight birthdays have been spent packing and cleaning, or flying. So I took the boys to the lake again, came back home and packed up the boxes, went back an hour later to pick them up (spent two hours just driving!), came back and brought the boxes to the storage area, and the car to the rental place. The damage from the accident was only $272, and even at that, I believe my credit card will be reimbursing me. We had our birthday gift-opening ritual on the balcony with drinks and cheese and crackers, then left for our final dinner at our favorite place, The Garden of the Duck. The host was fantastic as always. Plus, ALL the students were there!  The boys had steak with Himalayan salt, a favorite of Owen’s. 

The Garden of the Duck

Argentinian steak

...with Himalayan salt. This year it came in a grinder and it was better because you didn't get a big chunk of salt.

Ever the teacher! 

Owen's cake.

And in the morning we woke up for the last time in Italy until next year. It's the day we get up at 6 am and walk through the streets of Viterbo dragging our suitcases along the cobblestones making a holy racket, but something inside me feels happy in a vengeful way because of the horrific sounds we’ve been waking up to all month. The bus brought us to Fiumicino, which was a bit unpleasant because we had to wait so very long… 3 1/2 hours… sitting on the floor… waiting for our gate to be posted. This, after a one-hour wait for our check-in line to open up. That, after a half hour trying to find our check-in line. And they could not seat us together even though I did everything the travel agent told me to do to arrange that. 

Finally we boarded, flew to Paris, boarded the next plane, and got home at 6:15 to be greeted by Adam’s parents and Henry!

Playing cards at the Paris airport.

A woman playing the piano they have set up at the airport for anyone who knows how to play (or not, for that matter!), and a trumpeter joined in with his piccolo trumpet. He/they were amazing! What a treat. It brought everyone together, smiling.

Rome by Segway

Today, the boys got up and took a train to Rome. They had 4:30 Segway tour reservations which we made yesterday. It lasted for three hours, after which they jumped on the train back to Viterbo. As I write, all I know is that they got there and were just at Piazza Navona having Nutella crepes. The texts were upbeat and cheerful. Whew.

Fred’s sketching all day and I am preparing Owen’s gifts for his birthday tomorrow. I usually buy things here because he sees things he likes, but he’s getting a year subscription to Apple Music, so I picked up just a few smaller things in town.  Fred and I will have dinner out tonight for our second time alone this month!

Post Script: The day in Rome was fantastic. They loved the Segway tour and can’t wait to do one again.

And they're off!

Apparently, the guide asked Owen to repeat her gestures for the folks in back :)

And.... they're back!

Vulci & Il Monastero

Slow morning today. I drove Frank to store his boxes at the school. The boys got a few slices of pizza for lunch, and we all drove out to Vulci, about an hour away. We took a scenic route through a road carved out of tufa (soft, volanic rock) with sides about 20 feet high. Once at Vulci, we passed on the museum and the boys went straight to the watering hole. It’s truly like a hole, surrounded by cliffs, with a waterfall that you can stand under. Fred went off to draw and had a very unsuccessful time. No shade, no good vantage point. Plus, he fell so he looked like a wreck when we saw him next. I went to the restaurant and set up shop. There was wifi, shade and a great steady breeze.  I was going to simply have coffee, but everyone around me was having lunch, and it felt rude to sit there for three hours and just drink coffee, so I went full out and had a salad, a glass of wine and a bottle of sparkling water. Doesn’t get any better than that. 

The boys trekked back up the hill after about an hour and a half, and shortly thereafter, so did Fred. So we were back on the road a bit sooner than we’d expected. Once home, we recharged and went out to Il Monastero, home of the two-plate pizza for dinner. The tradition is to photograph each person with his dish, or dishes, as it were.

Her hair was attached to that rosemary bush all night :)

Under the Tuscan Sun

Got up today in Arezzo and prepared to drive to Cortona. We decided to drive home slowly and see the Tuscan countryside. Breakfast was nice. We thought it odd it that they asked for our room number when we ordered cappuccino. I asked at check-out and it turns out, they do charge for extra coffee at breakfast (it’s a B&B) because some people were having seven or eight cappuccinos and it was costing them too much money. Fred and I had two each. She said one comes with the room, but if you want two, that’s okay. Breakfast is 8 to 10, and check out is at 10. Made for a bit of a rush because usually they end breakfast with a little extra time to gather your things. At check-out she handed me an evaluation form to check off my satisfaction rating, 1 to 10. AWKWARD because of this one complaint I had about the fact that there was no where to sit and just “be.”  As I wrote, I told her that everything was great but the chair in the room was a little low and that when my husband sat in it he was too low to reach the desk level where his iPad was. She said, “Oh, that’s because we are so short.”  ? Whatever. The chair was stupid. Case closed. It was an easy chair, not a desk chair. We drove home via Cortona, which was amazing. [Later found out it’s the setting for Under the Tuscan Sun.] Found a place for a quick slice of pizza, which I passed on and had a LARGE cup of gelato which allowed me FOUR different flavors. Heavenly. And my first [and only!] gelato of the month. On the way home we stopped at a lake for a spritz and some chips to break up the drive. The boys did not find this necessary. Got home at 6:15. All of us completely zoned out for two hours. Fred made some pasta. We had dinner. The boys played Minecraft while I washed dishes. Now Fred and I are in bed reading, blogging, etc., while the boys watch for shooting stars and satellites, calling us out to the balcony at every spotting.

Cool flea market!

Four flavors!

An Italian relic.

Funny pigeons. Very still. All staring in the same direction.

A Beautiful Life

Before the wedding, we went to some famous churches. I shopped and walked—mostly walked because stores were closed due to the time of day. I’m not a museum or church person, and I need my alone time, so I let them go on ahead with the museum/church stuff. We were separated for only 40 minutes. 

We lunched at a cute spot which we had seen on the way in—just a little panini place—but ended up having Caprese salad (me), lasagna (the boys) and pizza slices (Fred). It was nice and JUST about to rain. After that was when we came upon the wedding. 

Chinese-Italian kids. 
A Beautiful Live was filmed here, apparently.

Finding the Villa was a bit challenging, but Adam had a thought. Since the spot on our GPS for the villa seemed to be between two roads, and the road we were on seemed not to have a road TO IT, maybe we should go down the other road. Sure enough, there it was. A long cypress-lined road lead up to the Villa. We parked and were given the keys to our room. Fred and I took the “superior” room, while the boys got the standard. I felt very tormented by this, but in the end, the rooms were almost identical. I have no idea what made one better than the other, except that ours had the complimentary Chianti, which leads me to believe they had assumed the married couple, and the person making the booking, would be the one to get the Chianti.  

The boys spent the afternoon at the pool, ignoring the rules to take a foot bath and a shower and wear a bathing cap before entering. There was much PDA by some Italians at the pool, which Owen found awkward. This is the case in the entire country. Funny how customs are. You would not see such PDA in Ireland.  The boys later took out bikes and road around the area.

Fred and I tried to find our refueling methods—his being drawing, mine being writing this blog. But there was not a spot on the grounds (ACRES) to sit in the shade, with wifi. The biggest drawback of the place (which was otherwise quite like paradise) was that there was no place to simply “be.” The room was too hot, sadly, and the only chair was a very low slung one at a desk. Sitting in it preventing you from having any relationship with the desk because it was too far away. It’s obnoxious to complain about a “villa,” but it was not expensive, and it’s clear why it wasn’t.

Dinner was another adventure. The Villa’s dining room was full for the night. I had not intended to book there, but was sorry that I didn’t think to ask if the boys could have a bite there because they wanted to take advantage of the pool, and the grounds. But then again, the pool closed at 8. We left at 9:15 for a pizzeria Fred found on Trip Advsior in a neighboring area of Arezzo called Poggio. It was an 18-minute drive and when we got there we were psyched to see that we were the only non-locals (bingo!) There were probably five or six tables, one of which was quite large, and possibly adjoining another. We surmised this because the people at the tables were talking to each other. But then, the people at the other two tables struck up a conversation too! It was impossible to figure out who knew each other ahead of time, and who was just friendly, (aka Italian). An hour or so later, we were back on the road to the Villa.

Funny, this would never be on an American coke bottle.

The Villa's restaurant.

More Wows & Vows on a Saturday in Italy

Woke up in Florence and had breakfast. The boys had already come and gone from the breakfast room before Fred and I even got there. Got out the door by 10:30, the time when the garage guys told us we would have our car, but when we got there, no sign of our car. They had told us we can pick a time and the car will be there, but if we change our mind, just call and they’ll have it there in ten minutes. We got there and they looked at us like they’d never seen us before (but I remembered the guy because he looked more like an American dad than an Italian guy) and he asked, Did you call?  oy…. Fred went to a bookstore down the street and got back just in time for our car. Off to Arezzo!  We were dying to get there because we wanted to see the sights and be at our Villa as soon as check-in at 3:00. But much to the great annoyance of Owen, there was a wedding about to happen as we were getting to the car, so we stayed an additional 45 minutes. It was amazing! We usually see or partially see two or three weddings most Saturdays in July, so we’re a little used to it, but still, it’s always a hoot, and this one was awesome. This post will be all about the wedding, and the next one will be more about Arezzo.

Babies are always welcome at an Italian wedding.

Love this guy. I think he's the grandfather of baby Gabriele. 

Onlookers from the wine bar across the street.
Onlookers are totally accepted and expected.

Fantastic fashions on these guys.

Two funny things here: the two girls in front were just passing by, not wedding guests.
And the couple in the back, same. Just watching & judging.

Boys & girls.


the lovely bride!

And her mother adjusting her train.