Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lost in the Moment – An Umbrian Olive Grove

Italy has plenty to offer the discerning traveler – history, culture, art, fantastic cuisine and wine!  What makes this country truly special though - are the life-long memories you take back when you return home!  Memories that at times can be so vivid, so precise, that you’ll be able to recall exactly what you were doing, thinking and feeling right at a particular moment. You could be enjoying an incredible view of the countryside from the walls of an ancient town, having a romantic dinner just off a peaceful piazza in Rome, or you may even be mesmerized by Michelangelo’s masterpiece inside the Sistine Chapel – and then all of a sudden it happens - you find yourself lost in the moment.  

A few years ago I was doing a little research on Orvieto, a majestic city located in the southern region of Umbria - its home to one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Italy (Duomo di Orvieto), and the producer of the famous Orvieto Classico wine. I remember reading about a small B & B located just below (and within walking distance from) the ancient city walls. What I found most intriguing though, was that you had to walk through an olive grove to reach the city gate – I’d never seen an olive grove before. Imagine making your way to a famous Umbrian hill town during a beautiful spring morning – and walking through an olive grove to get there! Talk about the essence of Italy! I started to think what if my wife Marion and I were there – what if it was us walking through this olive grove? I bookmarked the B & B’s website and made a pledge to go there some day. A few years later we did.

It was a perfect morning the day we drove up the stone driveway. The setting was beautiful – the grounds, the flowers, and the view. After checking in with our charming hosts we decided to head into Orvieto – and of course find the olive grove that would take us there!  Off to the right and alongside the B & B was a stone staircase, and I could see the city walls just beyond.  When we reached the top of the steps I took Marion by the hand, and sure enough there it was – right before our eyes.  The olive trees had a “make believe” look to them, and there was a small lamp post placed right at the foot of the hill. As we made our way through the grove, the city walls seemed to fade for a few seconds and as I turned and looked over at my wife - I found myself lost in the moment. I felt thankful for being here - this day - at this moment - in arguably one of the world’s most beautiful places. I was thankful for my wonderful wife Marion - my family and friends. Our day would be memorable - exploring Orvieto with its quaint streets and shops, and of course the Duomo. Later in the evening as we made our way back down through the olive grove, we could see a light up ahead – it was the lamp post (now lit) welcoming us back to the B & B.  

On the plane ride back home, I closed my eyes trying to remember each and every day of our trip. I was thinking of all the great things we did – all the great times we had. I was thinking of those few moments in an Umbrian olive grove - and just knew I would never forget.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Visit with Saint Ubaldo

Last year while traveling through the northern region of Umbria, my wife and I decided to take a day trip to the medieval town of Gubbio. We learned that only a few days before, this small town was overflowing with visitors for La Festa Dei Ceri (The Festival of the Candles).  The annual event featured teams of locals running through the streets carrying large wooden platforms!   Sounded like fun – but we were very grateful for a peaceful stroll along the quaint stone streets.  After lunch, we decided to take a cable car ride up the slope of Mount Ingino at the edge of town.  The “cable car” was actually a basket for two which for me was somewhat disconcerting – but when we reached the top, the view of the town below was breathtaking!  Following signs for the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo, we came upon a rather plain looking small church - Italy’s known for its spectacular churches but this wasn’t one of them.  When we walked inside my attention was immediately drawn to what appeared to be a glass enclosure sitting above the Alter, but we decided to sit in one of the small wooden pews to say a prayer.  The church interior was peaceful yet somber, and we could hear tranquil, soft music playing in the background.  As we approached the Alter I realized why the glass enclosure was there – lying inside was Saint Ubaldo himself!   After our trip, I became curious – who was Saint Ubaldo – what was his story?

Ubaldus Baldassini was appointed bishop of Gubbio in 1129 – he was a kind man who spoke of peace and forgiveness.  It was written that he once left the safe confines of the city walls hoping to thwart an impending attack.  He convinced the would-be aggressors to lay down their arms and saved the town from being destroyed - but while he was gone the city erupted into chaos fearing he had been killed.  When Ubaldo returned he climbed on a wooden platform and was rushed through the streets by several men to reassure its citizens that he was alive and well. After his death he was venerated as patron saint of Gubbio, and today his body rests peacefully inside the Basilica on top of Mount Ingino.  On the streets below, every May 15 during La Festa Dei Ceri, his memory lives on as men hoist wooden platforms holding candles (ceri) and proudly race through the streets in his honor.

Our serendipitous journey up the mountain to this small basilica gave me yet another opportunity to learn something about this wonderful country and its people.  I couldn’t help feeling a little sad during my visit with the saint that day (like paying last respects to an old friend), but I could feel the strength of his spirit.  It’s been over 800 years since his death, and that spirit still remains in the hearts of the Italian people - perhaps someday we’ll return to Gubbio during La Festa Dei Ceri and have an opportunity to honor him as well!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Introduction and Passeggiata

My greatest love is, and will always be my wonderful wife Marion – until my last breath.  But a little over 25 years ago I began another great love affair - with a country across the Atlantic – Italy. 

It’s a place where the senses truly come alive – a place where life seems to slow down just enough so that you really feel like you’re living!  With each visit I have found something new to love, something new to learn – and I’ve always left, with a reminder that it’s some of the simple things in life that really make it worth living.

As family and friends have come to learn, I’m always willing and eager to assist with travel suggestions.  I also take great pleasure in sharing some of my wonderful experiences – some of the things I’ve learned.  So although my blog – “Let’s Make Sense” is all about personal finance and investing, I hope you don’t mind, if every once in a while I digress by Speaking of Italy.

An Evening Stroll

During the early evening hours and before dinner, many Italians go for a walk - “andare a fare una passeggiata.”  Couples - young and old, families and friends take to the sidewalks (and streets) of places like Rome, Orvieto and Cortona for a pleasant stroll.  La passeggiata (the walk) is one of the great Italian traditions – very different from what you might expect here in our country if you were going for a walk.  

For a few hours each day (weather permitting) everything seems to slow down - no one’s in a rush or in a hurry to get somewhere else – just taking some time for an evening stroll.  Young couples walk hand-in-hand, friends take some time to catch-up, seniors passionately discuss politics - it’s as if they’re celebrating the end of another day!  A little later – it’s enjoying time with family and friends over dinner – and some great wine! 

Today there are far too many things that demand our attention – too many distractions – too many things that occupy our time.  La passeggiata reminds me that some of life’s greatest pleasures can be simple – so simple that they often slip under the radar.   So if, and when, you have one of those days (good or bad) – do as the Italians do!  Take your sweetheart by the hand; call a friend, brother or sister and celebrate – andare a fare una passeggiata!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Civita di Bagnoregio - A Walk in the Clouds

Italy’s quintessential hill-top town is located just 60 miles northwest of Rome.  Medieval Civita di Bagnoregio is perched high up on a hill over-looking the Tiber River Valley in the Lazio region.  Founded over 2,500 years ago by one of Italy’s ancient civilizations (the Etruscans), Civita is connected to its more modern sister town (Bagnoregio) by a pedestrian bridge.  As you begin your ascent along the bridge making your way to the town’s ancient entrance, you get the feeling that you’re going back in time – that your about to enter some mysterious place that belongs in a fairy tale.   Occasionally the town sits above the morning mist – so it looks like its resting ever so gently on a cloud.  One of the distinguishing characteristics of this small gem is that there are no cars, no trendy shops, and no busy streets.  With the exception of a handful of locals (and a few cats) it’s basically uninhabited – nobody’s there!  For this reason, it’s known as “il paese che muore” – the dying town. The population has been dwindling for years – leaving its tranquil confines frozen in time.  

I visited Civita with my wife Marion last spring, and while it’s been gaining some popularity, we saw no more than a handful of visitors during our weekday visit.  Walking through the ancient passage way into the town – it felt like we were in a dream.  With its interesting architecture, silent stone alleyways, peace and serenity – Civita can be a welcomed respite from some of Italy’s more touristy towns.  It has a small bed and breakfast, along with a restaurant or two - but just beyond the town’s small piazza is an ancient olive press.  We sat in a charmingly rustic room while enjoying some fantastic bruschetta (toasted in a stone oven) and red house wine!

Our visit to this amazing little town will always rank as one of my all-time favorites - not just because of what I saw, but because of what I felt.  Our lives are filled with crowded supermarkets, restaurants and movie theatres – busy offices and city streets.  But for just a few hours during a beautiful spring afternoon – it was just the two of us – in a magical setting – a make believe place.  It was truly a walk in the clouds.