Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Rhinos go to Umbria

I'll try to write a brief summary of our trip to the region of Umbria.  Umbria is the only region of Italy that is landlocked - little trivia for ya.

It was truly a lovely trip.  We have established a good routine on our family trips.  We're up early (every single day despite my pleas for sleeping in) and we have our breakfast, shower and head out to explore.  We do our sightseeing while most people are still waking up and it's fantastic this way because it's not too crowded yet and you get to see the real city.  Around midday when the streets start filling with tour groups we find a restaurant and have lunch, enjoy people watching and beating the crowds as typcial Europeans eat about an hour later than we do.  A bit more looking around and maybe some gelato (ice cream) and then we drive back to our apartment/hotel.  This particlar residence was perfect as it had lots of outdoor space for the boys to run around and burn off energy.  Paul and I would relax with a glass of wine and enjoy the scenery and the sounds of little boys playing.  We would have a light dinner and call it a night.  Perfection.

We went to the towns of Assisi, Gubbio, Perugia, Orvieto and Panicale and we also did a bit of exploring around Lago Trasimeno.  Lago = Lake.

Assisi is of course famous for its' patron Saint Francis.  It is quite interesting to me that St. Francis lived a life of poverty and the Basilica they built to honor him is rather fancy.

Perugia is famous for its' chocolates, though I never saw a single chocolate shop in the town.   I thought that was very strange in comparison to Belgium which is also known for its' chocolates and you can't walk more than 10ft. without finding a new and yummy treat to try.  Oh well.

Gubbio was quite an unexpected gem.  We hadn't heard much about this town but the guidebook made it seem interesting so we took a look.  It is a beautifully preserved medieval town and we really enjoyed wandering its' streets and exploring all the different alley ways.  We were very surprised to find a big kids' playground next to the Roman theater - it would have made a great place to take a picnic but we had already enjoyed lunch in the main town.

Panicale was recommended to us by our host family and we were thrilled we took the time to see this quaint little town.  It's what the other touristy towns were before they only catered to the tourists.  It was quiet, lived in, real.  And we had some of the best gelato of our trip right in the little square!  I tried to link a wikipedia article but there wasn't any real information to share.

We had a kids' day and went to a local park.  It was an amusement park of sorts, quite old fashioned and really a little boring but guess what?  The boys LOVED it.  There were petting zoos, things to climb on, cars to drive and rockets to climb.  It was here our boys rode a horse for the very first time and now they want to take riding lessons! 

On our way home we stopped in Orvieto to see the Duomo and it was very impressive.  But, of the other little towns we visited Orvieto was my least favorite due to the large amount of tourists.   

The local food and wines were fun to try.  Truffles are abundant in this region and are incorporated in very interesting ways into the food.  My absolute favorite was the pizza I had in Orvieto.  Light, crispy firewood-oven baked crust topped with a truffle cream sauce and mozzarella di bufala - divine.  I will say that the local breads we tried were very disappointing.  I'm not sure if our tastes have grown specific to the breads of our Campania region or if the bread was really bad but something was just "off".  Another regional favorite is Cinghiale (ching-GYAH-lay) which is the local wild boar.  Everything from sausage to meat sauces are made with this, interesting flavor - not my favorite but I think I could get used to it with time.  The local olive oil is very good, a light almost buttery flavor that's great on a simple salad with a touch of balsamic vinegar.

We enjoyed being here in Spring as we were treated to new blooms of gorgeous flowers everyday.  In particular we loved the poppies - bright red specks of joy amongst the fields, along the sides of roads and in the most unexpected places.  I think the poppy is actually a weed?  But what a beautiful weed.

In my humble opinion, Umbria is better than Tuscany.  Tuscany seems to be way too eager for the tourists whereas Umbria continues to live life and invites you to join right in.  The rolling hills are beautiful, the weather in late April is fantastic and there is enough to do to keep you busy everyday all-day or it's peaceful enough to do absolutely nothing but relax and take in the culture.  Umbria is the Italy I thought we were moving to, it's the Italy you visit and say "I could live here".

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