We left Umbria after 6 days of wonderful tours, meals, making new friends and never reaching for our wallet all courtesy of the Umbrian tourism authority and Travel Bloggers Unite. We took a nice train ride of about 2 hours into Rome’s central train station.
I got off the train and desperately needed to relive myself of that morning’s espresso shots. The men’s room was as far away as it could be which only added to the desperation in my hustle. I walked into the room to find a turnstile with a coin slot. In order to get into the men’s room you had to put in 1 Euro. Even I, in my agitated gotta go mood, could do THAT math. In real money, the fee for using the bathroom was US$1.60. Welcome to Rome bozo. It turned out to be the only bargain in the city.
We walked out of the station to find a few dozen eager cab drivers ready to accept inflated (although metered) fares into town. I just sat back and watched what they call the eternal city drift by the rear window of the Fiat, while the numbers on the meter spun around like Marty Feldman’s eyes.
I lost myself in my first impressions of Rome. Rome’s color is not that of any other city I have ever visited. Not the color of concrete or steel and glass. No trace of the dark red of brick, or faded tropical pastels. Instead it was a very earthy color, organic in origin, for the city is made of limestone and tufa. It is often covered with a faded, worn, low grade marble that has the texture of aged cheese.
Our driver was intent on getting us to our hotel, which was directly in front of what would become my favorite spot in Rome, the Pantheon.
He was not giving us a tour, but when in Rome… We passed many fountains. Not the grand Bernini works famous in film and literature just fountains. Rome has probably more fountains than any other major city per sq. mile. It sure seems that way. Our route took us up one small road and down another, some barely able to allow passage of the vehicle, and all of them crawling with tourists. The going was slow, but the sightseeing was already marvelous.
When we arrived at the hotel and I looked at the meter (which was now smoking after having to work so hard) I realized I have paid less for air flights than this taxi fare. I did not know if this was karma for all the freebies I got in Umbria or not, but I knew the next four days were going to put a serious dent in my wallet. I could not imagine why Italy has a financial crisis. The place is overrun with international tourists; all paying prices that would make Michelangelo ask the Pope for a raise.
Stay tuned for future posts as I cross two items of my bucket list and enjoy the rest of this great city.
Please share with your FB friends, and make a comment. Thanks.
My wife Mary Ann has a job in a very modern, well funded library in Sharjah UAE. Thanks to the benevolence of the ruler of Sharjah who I unashamedly give a nod to whenever I see his photo. He supports education and the arts at great expense. Shukran.
Her title is Electronic Resources Librarian. In Umbria we got to see the oldest library books either of us will likely ever see, as well as a medieval email!
Now what about that medieval email?
This was another wonderful experience granted the delegates of the travel bloggers conference. We actually took it a step further by introducing Mary Ann as a professional librarian, so they opened the doors to the collection. Magnificent!
I will share this idea with any of you who can write grants. There is definitely an opportunity for a grant from someone like the world Heritage Foundation of Unesco to find a way to digitize these volumes so that scholars can use them without danger to the books themselves. Of course you would have to speak Latin…
Please share this with your FB friends, and tell any of your bookie friends about it.
Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more from Italy.
The last winery I took you to was new and experimental. See that post at http://theothersideofthecoconut.com/2012/05/04/beyond-assisi-winery-tour-stop-1/
Lungarotti is well established and traditional. Lungarotti wines can be found around the world. If your wine shop does not have any, educate them and have them buy a case or two. You will end up buying all they stock!
Lungarotti is the creation of Giorgio Lungarotti over fifty years ago, He had a vision back then that was very forward thinking. He had a great love of the land and a respect for the people of Umbria and the community of Torgiano. His commitment to the environment and the dignity of people shows up wherever you look at Lungarotti.
He combined family land holdings and worked with other land owners to create a winery with a spectacular range of varietals. In a brochure I was given, I count 27 different labels, some blends and some sparkling.
We were treated to a magnificent lunch of Umbrian specialties. During this feast they treated us to a lot of wine. At one point, I got up, left the table, stumbled my way to the reception area where they sold the wines and purchased a bottle of the nectar I was drinking. It is called San Giorgio. It is a blend of 50% Cabernet, 40% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo. I bought an 8 year old vintage because I was told it is best drunk aged for 10 to 15 years , and I did not want to wait more than 2! It is carefully stored where I will forget about it
I have a ream of very interesting promotional materials. but If I shared half of it with you, this post would be too long. I Suggest you go to http://www.lungarotti.it/en and see for yourself what a first class organization this is. It is not only a winery. They have a restuarant and a charming resort with a wellness center that specializes in vinotherapy! I would love to give THAT a try!
Now we were extremely lucky to arrive on St. George’s day. In Torgiano this day in early spring marks the start of the new growth on the vines. They have a special celebration where they burn the cuttings of the old growth in giant bonfires all around the region.
I’ll get back to that, but first let me introduce our most graceful hosts.
OK, now to St. George’s day. This special day in Torgiano is celebrated with Bonfires of the old vines. Us bloggers from TBU were invited by wonderful Teresa to a celebration held by her family and community on a hill overlooking the valley. The aforementioned gold medals are badges of honor for those folks who contribute their time to organizing this event.
They roasted a pig, and we ate it with gusto. Of course there was wine! Altogether it was a wonderful night.
Thank you Lungarotti! Thank you Teresa, I have not been so welcomed by anyone in ages.
To my faithful readers, please share this with your FB friends so that more people can learn about this fantastic family and their fantastic wine!
Between winery stops I am going to tell you about a visit to another medieval town. Umbria has these beautiful little towns on hilltops wherever you go. They are just far enough apart that one can imagine a person living in the 15th century in Assisi or Bevagna for their entire life and never traveling to the other. I would need to bone up on the local history to know who they had to fortify the villages against, but each one is surrounded by formidable walls with solid gates.
This post will center on Bevagna.
Every year in June the town has a celebration, reminiscent to me at least, of a renaissance faire. The entire town dresses in medieval costumes. This celebration is not intended to be a tourist attraction, they do it for themselves to celebrate their heritage. That being said, I think it would be a wonderful time to visit Bevagna for a day during a longer stay in Umbria. Included in Bevagna’s celebration is a contest for the best recreation of medieval crafts. We visited two past prize winners. A papermaker and a candlemaker.
We also went to a Olive oil producer. I will cover that in a future post, so stay tuned.
Thanks for reading, and I love comments. You can also subscribe to my blog using the little button on the right. You can also share this with your FB friends and Twittermates, with the share buttons below. Please do so. That will increase my readership and boost my ego. Some people increase their readership to be able to sell ads on their blog. I am ad free and always will be!
The bloggers conference was over. I did not mention meeting Steve McCurry, maybe the best travel photog on the planet.
Now the Umbria Tourist board treated us to one of six 2 ½ day tours around Umbria. We choose the wine and crafts tour. Others chose the chocolate tour or the adventure tour with white water rafting. Umbria has many attractions and if you are ever in Italy, be sure to visit this wonderful region.
Our first stop was at a very new (in Italian ages) winery. It is called Terra Margaratelli. Our guide works for the Umbria wine promotion board, so the wineries all know him. They knew a bunch of travel bloggers were coming and they really put out the spread.
This winery like I said is almost brand new. They are trying new varietals and blends. They also have resurrected some old endemic varietals mostly grown only by private local farmers and are bottling them commercial for the first time. I really liked the guy in charge. He loves his work and is passionate about it as only love can make you.
We were treated to as much wine as we could handle and still be able to climb back into the bus. My favorite was perhaps the best white wine I have ever had. They call it Greco di Renabianca, it is 100% Grechetto. It is a very full bodied white, with a complexity that makes you think and taste more than once. Because this is still a small winery, I do not know if you can get this nectar in the USA, but ask your wine shop to get some, well worth it!
Next post..the next winery. Or is it the crafts in a medieval village. I forget, too much wine!
If you are ever lucky enough to get to Assisi, do yourself a favor and stay at San Crispino. In fact if you are ever in Italy, go to Assisi so you can stay at San Crispino. Take this all the way and just plan a trip to Italy specifically to stay at San Crispino. Honestly, I liked it that much.
It is more than a hotel. It is more than a hotel and a spa. It is a hotel, a spa and a wellness center all wrapped up in two beautiful facilities.
Deep into the medieval city of Assisi on quiet cobblestone streets San Crispino has a small hotel which is actually a historical mansion. It has theme rooms designed to add to the feeling of living in the 15th century, only as a noble. Each of the rooms has a private garden. I’m not talking a few plants on a balcony here,oh no. This hotel provides you with a big lush garden you could play sports in! The rooms we saw were sumptuous.
Thank you to San Crispino for a wonderful afternoon in Assisi!
Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis, born in 1182. Yup, that makes him older than me. I grew up knowing about St. Francis of Assisi and his love of animals and peace on earth, and I’m not even Catholic.
When I signed up to go to Umbria, I started looking at the web, and I was thrilled to know that Assisi was a spears throw away from where we would be headquartered. TBU and the Umbria tourism people did a wonderful job of making a pre-conference tour to this medieval city available.
Assisi is strategically located on top of a small mountain, or high hill, depending on your perspective. In fact, throughout Umbria there are medieval cities, surrounded by walls, occupying defensive positions in elevated areas.
The towns, although constructed before anyone dreamed of the new world, are still vibrant homes to hundreds of people. Residents go about their days, walking streets laid out in the 12th century. The reason we were guests here is so that we would blog to the world and promote tourism. I hope we help a little but it would be a shame if thousands of google-eyed, awe struck people like me wandered the cobblestone streets which are actually someone’s proud home. So, only half of you go, OK?
The centerpiece attraction in Assisi is the Basilica of St. Francis. There are two levels to this structure. They actually make up two churches. The upper was built in 1230 to 1253 on top of the lower that was finished in 1230. Both levels are wondrously decorated by the greatest artists of the 13th and 14th centuries and have fantastic stained glass windows.
So what is a Basilica I hope you are asking?
In the Roman Catholic Church, a basilica is a designation for an important church building. A basilica is designated by the Pope to buildings that carry special spiritual, historical, and architectural significance. Once a basilica — always a basilica. This is a Papal Basilica, and it has a Papal throne. Every Pope since 1230 has visited here, except John Paul I of course. The throne is there for viewing, but I was not allowed to go sit in it.
There is also a monestary attached to this Basilica where the Order of Franciscan Friars is based. They are a humble group and you see them walking the ancient streets to this day.
St. Francis’ tomb is in the lower level and many make a pilgrimage to pray for perhaps a miracle. I prayed that he give our cat a brain.
My next post will still be in Assisi at a wonderful hotel/spa/wellness facility called San Crispino that treated us to a spectacular afternoon. Stay Tuned!
I do not know where to start about my last ten days in Italy, so I guess I’ll start at the start.
Back in December ’11 I ran across a website called Travel Bloggers Unite. Dyslexic as I am I thought it said Travel Bloggers Untie, so I perused it. Oliver, the head honcho (maybe the sole honcho) at TBU was touting the third TBU conference. This one was to take place in Umbria, which is a region of Italy largely lost to the tourist trade. It should not be. Umbria is one of the prettiest and hospitable places on the entire coconut.
The conference attendees were people I was very glad to meet. With a couple exceptions, I was the senior member of the circuit. I never meet these people travelling because they are mostly young enough to be my children. With that said, we have a huge thing in common; we all love to blog about traveling the world. With THAT said, I had one big difference with the majority of them. They support their travels by blogging, I do it for fun, and hopefully to entertain you my faithful readers. Maybe I am just too lazy to find sponsors, or maybe I do not want my blog to look like a NASCAR, whatever. I just do not “Monetize” (a blogger buzz word) my blog. I have nothing against those who do. In fact I admire people who can travel incessantly, and get paid by everyone from Ray Ban to American Express to support the wanderlust. It is just not my style or my need.
Amazingly the conversations did not center on war stories from different destinations. Oh there was the occasional “once upon a time in…” stories but they were more in passing than anything else. There were a lot of conversations about maintaining a blog, length of posts, how often you post and building readership. On the last point, it seems that Facebook and Twitter are the main avenues for finding new readers. I am late to both games, but since the conference I have managed to double my presence on the two of them.
TBU arranged this conference, but it was the Umbria agencies for tourism and wine that hosted us in an incredible fashion.
After the conference Oliver arranged with The Umbrian Tourist people to take six groups off on amazing, beautiful, educational and fun trips. Ours was to wineries where we were treated like royalty. I’ll say more on that, much more, in upcoming posts. Let us just say, that when people treat me the way we got treated in Umbria, I am going to tell you about it. Hopefully it will plant the idea in your head that the region is an excellent destination for a vacation.
I want to Thank Oliver Gradwel, TBU and the region of Umbria for one of the best travel experiences of my life, AND the fact that I did not reach for my wallet once in 5 days. SWEET!