Friday, 24 June 2011

Buon Giorno from Spello 23.6.11

I started writing this email while sitting on a park bench in a small piazza in a gorgeous little Umbrian town called Spello.  Umbria is the Region next to Tuscany.  I had a beautiful garden bed of flowers in front of me; a lovely fountain on my left; and I could hear the couple who were sitting on the park bench on my right chatting away in Italian.  The weather was a perfect sunny day and I was sitting there contemplating when I was going to have my first Spello gelati!!!  Oh, didn’t I tell you?  I have decided that it is my duty to taste test the gelati’s in each town. I then headed off in search of my now favourite flavour, Niccola. And that was as far as I got with the email!!  Actually I did write out a few pages, but when I just re-read it, I realized you would have needed a whole bottle of wine to dull the pain, so I have started again.  I think I had been sitting on the park bench in the hot sun for too long!!! 
I arrived in Spello yesterday and after seeing what a gorgeous little town it was, I decided to stay two nights instead of one.  It certainly made the decision easier when I saw my lovely Hotel.  My wonderful spacious room has a queen bed and a window which opens up to a view of the valley.  It is three times the size of the cupboard I stayed in, in Perugia!!  Oh, and the staff are so friendly.  The woman at the front desk even insisted on carrying my luggage up the stairs for me.  Don’t worry…I helped. 
I do feel that soon I am going to have to put a big red sticker on it saying “Warning. Shopaholic Abroad. Bending knees when lifting is recommended”.  I am getting quite used to seeing the look of grimace (then horror), on taxi driver’s faces when they start to lift it into the back of their taxi.  First they try and lift it with just one hand, and upon realizing that they can’t even budge it, they then search for the second handle, and steady themselves before the big heave ho into the boot. I’ve learnt to say, “Si, e’ troppo pesante”, which translates to “Yes, it’s too heavy”.   They then give me a look as if to say, how the hell did you get it this far??  It wasn’t a pretty sight, let me tell you!!  They should be grateful they weren’t carrying it up and down the steps of the train station, not to mention attempting to lift it up into the train.  The other day, I managed to lift it up onto the first step of the train, to then realize that the doorway wasn’t wide enough to fit me and the suitcase.  So here I am standing on the platform, with my luggage blocking the steps.  For a split second I thought my luggage was going for a train ride without me.  I then used all my strength to lift/push/shove it up the next two steps and then climb on just before the train doors closed. I think I need to start giving clothes to charity!!!
Okay, where was I…Spello, that’s right.  There is a competition on in the town at the moment, which is a bit like a ‘best garden’ competition.  Except, the houses here rarely have yards, so instead they hang gorgeous flower pots around their windows, front doors and front steps. Some streets are just lined with these gorgeous flower pots.  So lovely!!!  The people are also buzzing about a flower festival which is on Sunday.   Most of the town folk work all night Saturday night to line the streets with artwork made from flower petals.  Today I saw heaps of elderly folk pulling apart shrubs in preparation for the event.  I had a chat to one old man sitting in the street doing it (after which he proudly posed for a photo)!!  He told me that they usually get about 50,000 tourists coming through the town to see it. While I won’t be here on Sunday, I went to a similar festival in Sicily and it was truly amazing. 
Okay, I just realized that you are probably wondering what happened between my last email and arriving in Spello? Or maybe not, but you should know me by now.  I’ll tell you anyway!! 
You know how I keep referring to the “Eat, Pray, Love” movie I am living, well I saw an English copy of the book sitting in the front window of a book store in Siena last week. So I decided to pick up the book and read the last few pages because I couldn’t remember exactly how the book/movie ended.  Okay…well… appears that my movie version will have a different ending!!!!  While we will always remain good friends, Mauro and I will not be driving off into the Tuscan countryside to live happily ever after!!!  Well, not together anyway. Sorry Mum if you had got your hopes up!!!
It was however a wonderful holiday romance and I am indebted to Mauro for making my four weeks in Siena four of the best weeks of my life.  And I do have some nice photos of myself, compliments of Mauro.  As I was taking photos of the Tuscan hillside, Mauro was taking photos of me!  Apparently I get this cute (his words) little expression on my face each time I get excited by a photo opportunity.  I’ve seen those particular photos of myself, and ‘cute’ is not a word that springs to mind!!  It was more a look of deep concentration, while contorting my lips as if in some bizarre ritual???  I will give it to Italian men though, for saying all the right things at the right time.  He was an expert at it!!! 
HHhmmm, although maybe not all Italian men.  Last week I was walking back to my apartment when the gentleman walking beside me asked for the time.  I replied in Italian and he then excitedly started chatting to me as we walked along.  When he found out that I was there studying Italian he asked if I wanted to go for a drink so we could ‘practice’ my Italian.  If you picture in your mind what a sleazy, yet well dressed Italian looks like (all inclusive of dark sunglasses and gold chains), you wouldn’t be far off the mark.  Anyway, I thanked him for his kind (?) offer and found an escape route in a nearby shop. 
Well, three days later, I was standing in the piazza in Siena when I saw the same gentleman about to walk past me.  He stopped and then turned back towards me.  I thought, “Oh no, he’s recognized me”.  But nnnoooo!!! He asked me for the time again!!!  I was about to say, “its time you bought a watch”, but instead I just tilted my watch towards him and said nothing.  This time he quietly walked away.  I’m thinking it must work for him as a pick up line or surely he would have thought of something new???  Maybe I will put it to the test one day and let you know if it works!!! 
My third and final week of Italian lessons went way too fast!!  But I can proudly say that I have learnt heaps and am able to hold a reasonable (although somewhat disjointed) conversation now.  When I went to my ‘parrucchiera’ (yes, very strange Italian word that stands for hairdresser) I was able to chat to her for an hour while she put foils in my hair. Again at times it was a bit like multiple choice.  I would say a string of Italian words and she would then repeat three possible sentences that I may have been trying to say.  She was just lovely and the colour turned out fine!!!
It was very sad saying good-bye to my flatmate Hilda.  She was quite the character and I loved her philosophy on life.  She believed in Destiny and that we all have a certain path in life that is already mapped out for us.  She said that if you stray from the path, then the universe will present things to you to try and get you back on track.  She even drew me a diagram during breakfast one morning to explain “il destino”.  I can’t wait to find out what is on my path.  I hope there are lots of shops that line each side of the path???  Surely if I am going to give some clothes to charity, they will need to be replaced at some stage!!!
Hilda also introduced me to a friend of hers, Vincenzo.  As fate may have it, Vincenzo lives in Tivoli, which is a town just an hour outside of Rome that is full of famous fountains & gardens.  My cousin Rosaria had recommended that I go there and I had planned to do that when I next returned to Rome.  Well, guess who is lined up to be my tour guide of the gardens in Tivoli this Saturday!!! 
Well, after a last good-bye dinner with Mauro Friday night, I had to say good-bye to Siena Saturday morning.  I made my way to the train station (yes, by one of those poor taxi drivers), and off I went to Cortona for 2 days.  Cortona was the setting for the other fabulous movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”.  Hhhmm, come to think of it, Diane Lane ended up single at the end of that movie!!!
Cortona is one of the oldest and most scenic hill towns in Tuscany and was just lovely!!! I was staying in a beautiful old hotel right in the centre of the historic town.  And I can assure you, it is not called a ‘hill’ town for no reason!!!  I walked up and down so many hills I’m sure I wore off all three of the gelati’s I ate while I was there!!! Um… am not so sure about the whopping big pizza and pasta dish I ate…. ..
Oh, that’s right, I think I wore those off in Perugia, which was the next town I stayed in for 2 nights.  And probably just in the hotel itself!!  I was very happy (?) to find out that I was on the 2nd floor and had to carry/drag my suitcase up 5 flights of stairs to get to the 2nd floor!!!  I remember thinking just before I got there that I would need to ensure that I did a lot of walking.  Well, careful what you wish for!!  I did 2 trips to take my luggage up (as my day pack weighs almost as much as my suitcase).  Then found out the toilet didn’t flush, so walked back down to reception to tell them.  I was then given a password for internet access and when I got back to my room it didn’t work, so I walked back down to tell them. Yes, I did try the room phone, but that didn’t work either. Then as I was walking back up the stairs, the hotel key tag fell off the key ring and rolled…yes, you guessed it… all the way back down the stairs.  I almost had to have a kindy nap before I saw any of the town!!!  And of course, there were 500 flights of stairs to get from the hotel to the centre of the town.  But I did buy a lovely new (very lightweight) top in one of the shops in Perugia, so I have fond memories of the town.
On the second day in Perugia, I took a bus trip out to Assisi.  Assisi is a beautiful medieval town and is the burial place of St Francis.  He is buried in the amazing Basilica di San Francesco which is the huge feature of the town. The church walls are lined with frescoes (artwork) depicting the life of St Francis.  You weren’t allowed to take photos in the church, so there were young artists everywhere sitting down sketching the paintings.  I actually contemplated doing it myself, but realized that stick men in robes probably wouldn’t quite capture the beauty? There were priests and nuns walking around the town everywhere, not to mention all the shops being full of Christian memorabilia.  I felt like a little pilgrim myself walking from church to church. Note, I didn’t say from shop to shop!!! Okay, maybe just 3 shops.  One to get lunch, one to get a gelati, and one to buy these cute little hearts that I found???
And yes, I have met some lovely people along the way.  Each time I sit down to eat, I somehow find myself in a conversation with the people seated beside me; whether it be at a coffee shop, on the steps of a monument, or on a bench at the train station.  It has been great!!
And then of course I took a train to Spello yesterday.  I leave here tomorrow to go to Rome for two nights and then on Sunday I am returning to my beloved Sicily for 4 nights.  Can’t wait.
Well, it’s definitely time to end it here. I hope this finds you all happy, healthy & enJOYing your life.
Love Joy xxxx

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