Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Beautiful Walk

The beginning, with the Tiber to the right of us.

I wake up most mornings at 4:10 and walk a mile on my treadmill. The routine gets old fast but is necessary to feel alert and ready for the day. In Umbertide, even when the summer heat arrives, the humidity stays low and walking is quite enjoyable, especially in the morning or late evening. We choose a different route each day but our favorite is along the Tiber river that flows adjacent to farmland peppered with poppies in late spring and sunflowers in the summer.

One Sunday morning we interrupted a fishing tournament and had to dodge cars and poles which were packed along a trail where machinery seems incongruous.
With no fishermen to block the view you can see across the river.

Most mornings, though the walk is limited to a few early risers who are exercising their dogs. With such beautiful views it is difficult to maintain a steady pace and you can easily slip on the uneven path.

A view that required a stop from walking.
As we leave the Tiber, our walk winds around a bend leading back into town. The area is farmland so the views are still there but at a distance.
Through the blue flowers.
A few twists and turns lead into a neighborhood cloaked in trees and flowers where again the cars just seem to get in the way.
Back to town.
Generally we end in the Centro Storico, or older part of town, where our view is a small park and Santa Maria della Reggia, the main church in a town of many churches.
The church is on the left shaded by trees.
In addition to the reward of a healthy walk, a serene view, the final stop is Antico Caffè Giardino, where the juice is freshly squeezed, the coffee made to order, and the stock of pastries beckons.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ill in Italia!

"Pronto Soccorso"
After more than a dozen trips to Italy, it was time for one of us to get sick. Mike was the one who was unlucky enough to be chosen.

Three days after we arrived, Mike began to feel sick with a fever and its accompanying aches and chills. It soon became clear we needed help and went to the local hospital which is only a couple of blocks away not knowing what to expect. Well... here's what happened.

After we found the emergency room, Mike was immediately seen. As two male nurses checked him out, the female doctor asked questions and entered the information into a computer. They spoke well enough English and we knew enough Italian that communication was not a problem. He was diagnosed with influenza, given a glass of water mixed with Paracetamol, which we call acetaminophen and then given a prescription for a mix of Paracetamol and Ibuprofen. I was a bit concerned as no blood test was performed nor any meds like Tamiflu offered. With some research on the Internet, I realized that although this was my experience in the states, it is reasonable for flu to be treated in this way.

The total cost for the visit was 25 euros or about $28.00. No insurance forms nor residential information were needed. She just asked for a passport. When we shared where we lived the doctor smiled and said we would probably see her again as she walks her dog in the piazza here. This was significant to me as we live in a very modest housing area so I am guessing doctors don't earn the salaries they do in the states.

The business office was not open on Sunday so we were on the honor system to pay within ten days. The bill has been paid the process for paying was as informal as the visit had been.

The only problems I encountered were trying to treat Mike like I would in the states. He found the illness affected his taste buds so sodas were out. I tried to locate ginger ale but only found some bitter tasting ginger soda. There were no water based soups available so I relied on chicken broth and added some pasta. After five days of being ill, the local grocery finally filled their ice cream bin, and I was able to find some great tasting popsicles. They did have some wonderful small boxes of orange juice that he is still drinking.

Mike is feeling much better and is ready to do some exploring. I was nervous experiencing the unknown but we do have friends who tried to help and have shared with us their positive experiences dealing with the Italian medical system.

Coincidentally, Mike ran into an American woman at a local cafe. Their vacation here had been extended when while hunting truffles her husband fell and broke his hip. He is still recovering. Umbertide's hospital is known for their rehab facilities and the lady shared that the attendant helping her husband is a trainee from Brentwood, TN.

I really don't wish to know more for now but understand on a logical level that if help is needed it is there.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Markets Days

Panoramic View of the Piazza Giacomo Matteotti
Almost every Italian town has at least one market day. On that day vendors set up stalls and sell everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, as well as plants, clothing and kitchen appliances.

Our town has two market days. The big one is on Wednesday. Most of the food portion is located in the main piazza, Giacomo Matteotti and then trails toward the east with cheese trucks, porchetta (roasted pig) trucks, a large candy stand, and a couple of hand-made jewelry stalls. At the end of this section, you cross a pedestrian bridge and end up between several streets filled with clothing, linens, leather goods, and many other knick-knacks. It is always busy.

Mike purchasing some grapes.
My routine is to buy fresh fruit (always at least one cantaloupe) and some tomatoes, and then get two sandwiches from the porchetta truck. We tend to visit the same vendors each time. I then check out the bakery which is two streets over and look in on the English book store. This place is only open on market days and gives all their money to the local animal shelter. The books are used and cost one euro but I have found some hidden treasures.
Out local bakery
The market is ready to go around 9:00 and stays up until 1:00. You must have cash as no vendor accepts credit cards. The ATM is in the piazza so this is not a problem.
Mike finally purchased a man purse (or murse) as he calls it to carry essentials.
The towns close by have their own market day on other days so if you were to miss the Wednesday market you could just choose another town.

The cafes in the piazza stay open and arrange their tables around the market so one can have a coffee and greet friends in addition to shopping.

Saturday's market is much smaller, just in the piazza, and features food and items made in the region. So far this year much of it has been local vegetables but you can also buy olive oil, honey, pastries, porchetta, and ceramics.
Saturday Market

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Patience Is Not a Virtue But a Necessity!

Panoramic view from a favorite gelato place
Much of what I will share is quite positive; we wouldn't have bought a house here otherwise. But as with everything in life it must be balanced.

We used an Italian bank to finance the loan for the property. During that time I had to learn how to send money from the states to a checking account to pay the loan as well as utilities on the house. The utilities use direct withdrawal but each requires a form to be filled that is unique to the utility and turned into a different place in the area. You can try faxing or emailing but almost ALL of my emails are ignored and faxes are often busy. After a year of working with our property manager and my own efforts everything was set up.

Then... last fall the original bank sold our loan and all the accounts with it to another bank. Only the gas withdrawal remained effective. The process took nine months to a total migration that occurred on May 27th. In each step of the process my bank account number called an IBAN number in Europe changed. With the full migration of information, I am not sure that the gas still works as the bill was posted but has not been withdrawn as of today.

The first to deal with was electricity. The past due bills for no apparent reason kept being sent to the realtor from which we bought the property five years ago. When the electric was turned off for nonpayment the realty finally contacted our property manager. He then had to make many, many phone calls to get them to change the address. They would not turn the electric back on until I paid the bills and signed a new contract. I did this as soon as I was aware of all of these circumstances. Also realize that the paperwork is in Italian so Google Translate is a must, as well as learning some Italian phrases. After much persistence on the property manager's part the electric was turned on. They were not able to pay the most recent bill or do the direct withdrawal, so the first point of business when we arrived was taking care of all of this. You can pay your utility bills at the local post offices so we did that but you must bring a passport and pay a euro or two. I sat in the car while Mike tried to take care of this but no... the bill was in my name so I had to come in and show my passport. We were fortunate because you must take a number at the post office to be served and it can be quite crowded at times. Next we visited the local Internet Center to print off the form for direct withdrawal and fax it to the electric company. That went fine. You just need to know that they are not open from 1:30-4:30 each day. A few days later the new electric showed up in my bank account. All is well there.

Next up water. I noticed that no water bill had been paid since last November but the property manager said no late bills had shown up at the house and I had received no emails so I waited until I got here. There were two late bills and I was able to pay them online. No response was given to my email sent prior to this about fixing up the direct withdrawal. I tried faxing a new form. Busy signals for two days. I then decided to go to the actual water department in our town. It is only open from 8:30-12:30 on Mondays. Monday morning I arrived at 8:30 on the dot and there was an line out the door. Since we had to be somewhere else at 9:45 we left. Arriving back in town by noon, I ran over to the office where the line was still out the door. They were serving number 27 and I was number 52. I waited for over an hour. They locked the doors at 12:30 but continued to help those who were there before. When I finally heard my number called, I found out that the lady behind the counter spoke no English so with Google Translate on my phone I communicated my problem. She punched many keys before she asked if I had paid my late bills. I had and I am still somewhat perplexed that she didn't see that as the money has run through my account in the states. She then said that she did not need the withdrawal form as all was well. Since our communication was so mixed up I never could get her to understand that the payment was made my me not by bank withdrawal. She gave back the form and I left.
View from the inside the Water Department
I did some more searching around at my Italian bank account and noticed an "enable" button by the water withdrawal. Thinking perhaps that selecting this would fix my problem, I did and was told that I would be unable to access without setting up "Strong Authentication." I tried. To make this long story less long, the process involves sending a code to a cell phone and it won't work on anything but an Italian cell phone. The next day I chatted online with the bank and after a 30 minute chat was told I would have to go to the nearest branch and get a "token," since I did not have an Italian cell phone. When I asked where the nearest branch was he said to check their website. The website said to go to Fabriano, which is an hour drive to the east. We arrived at 10:00 and did not find our bank. When we went into the bank which held the same address, they said it was not and had never been a branch of our bank. They looked up the nearest branch to Fabriano and sent us to the east coast of Italy to Pesaro. Fortunately this branch does not take a siesta and was open all afternoon. An hour and a half later, we found the branch and two hours later with many phone calls and signing of papers were given a paper token that required an Italian cell phone. In other words after a full day of driving and spending time in offices we are no better off then when started. Next step - check out cheap cell phone to keep in the house for emergencies, as well as editing bank accounts.

To recap, we have been here going on three weeks. The electric is good to go. I may have to pay water online each month when I think it is due. I am still figuring out the gas. Last year we began the process of acquiring broadband wifi. That was concluded two days after we arrived. Still no evidence of direct withdrawal for this despite the fact that the company filled out the form in front of me.

Living here each June brings many pleasures but at a cost!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Benvenuto in Italia!

Five years ago we made a dream come true and bought a small townhouse in a small town in central Italy. For one month of every year, June, we move in and attempt to live as Italians. 

First of all our Italian is limited and most of the people in this town speak little English so that can be quite fun. But they are willing to work with us and communication occurs.

These are some of the things I have learned. In no particular order:

1.     Bad pizza in Italy is better than most of the pizzas offered in restaurants in the U.S.

2.     Speaking a little, clunky Italian goes a long way in relationships with the Italians. They like the effort.

3.     Italians drive fast and get impatient with hesitant moves.

4.     You might as well plan for a nap during the hours of 1:00-4:00 in the afternoon because in most non-tourist towns businesses close at this time.

5.     Some of the best wine (and the most inexpensive) I’ve ever drunk, I probably won’t see again because of small wineries who don’t distribute widely.

6.     Small cafes can have great pizza and pasta. You don’t need to spend much money to get good food.

7.     I have never eaten a better apricot or cantaloupe.

8.     Hilton hotels have nice touches of American ways if you need a little bit of home but Italian hotels are the reason to come – so much more character.

9.     But on that same note, don’t expect to have air conditioning that works, fans, or soft mattresses.

10.  You must eat gelato (ice cream) everyday around 4:00.

11.  When paying with paper cash, whatever Italian is said at the moment, say “No.” They are asking if you have coins, so that they can return any money owed to you in paper. You will need those coins for parking, tipping, laundry, purchasing water, gelato, etc.

12.  Yes, while Italian servers do get paid better in Italy, they most certainly enjoy tips and won’t be insulted if you leave one.

13.  You will have to ask the server to take your order and bring the bill. They expect you to enjoy your meal and provide the privilege of doing that. When you are ready to leave ask, “Il conto per favore?” and your bill will arrive.

14.  All taxes are embedded into the prices on menu and store items so you can figure out total costs easily.

15.  Avoid sleeveless tops if you plan to visit churches or you may be asked to leave.

16.  Say, Arrivederci instead of Ciao, unless you know the person. Ciao implies a personal relationship.

17.  Many restaurants don’t have English menus. A dictionary will help but read carefully or you may end up with surprises on your plate – think cheese Crème Brule with scallops on top or bread with liver spread.

18.  Priceless artwork will show up in the most humble of places.

19.  Have your camera ready at all times. You can’t imagine the beauty that may be just around the bend. We turned into a blind corner and up above us was an ancient aqueduct.

20.  If you have read this far, you understand that food is important. Buon appetito!