One of the advantages of not researching a destination is that everything you discover for yourself is a fresh delight. Such as our day jaunt to Gubbio. At first simply a place name on a map, what we discovered on arrival was another medieval hillside town with rich colour and interesting alleyways. The stone of Gubbio is darker than Assisi, but it is no less impressive. There is even an ancient Roman amphitheatre.
Gubbio was dressed in flags hanging from every window, whether they are always flying, or whether they were in honour of the Republic Day, or for some other festival, I was not certain, but they each have significance.
For example, some relate to Saint Ubaldo, the patron saint of this area. On the 15th May each year, there is an event called ‘The Corsa of the Ceri’ and three teams of young men dressed in the colours (yellow, blue and black) of their patron saints, Saint Ubaldo, Saint George and Saint Anthony, race through the town bearing aloft three large wooden poles with a statue of their saint on top. The poles are about four metres high and shaped like an elongated egg-timer. An odd way to describe it, but that is the best I can come up with for these strange shaped objects.
Then I noticed signs for a “funivia” -a cable car. We arrived at the ticket office at the foot of the mountain just five minutes before lunch siesta, and after some confused chatter with the attendant, we understood that there were places to eat at the top – so off we went. You stand on a marked spot as the carriages come around in a continuous loop, and then run alongside for a couple of steps as the attendant opens the cage door, and then “whooshka”, with a little hop jump you are in the cage and the door is clanged shut. The attendant had set Bill and I at different spots on the launch pad, with the intention of putting us in together, but in the end, Bill jumped into the one behind, and the upside of that is he was able to take a number of unflattering photographs of me in the process 🙂
Ascending the mountain by cable car offers a spectacular ride and a panoramic view of Gubbio and the surrounding countryside, and there are walks and churches at the top also. We visited the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo, which houses the intact body of the saint, and also the ceri, which I described earlier.
We ate at the aptly named Ristorante Funivia, where I had my first taste of truffles. Umbrians are truffle mad, they put it in every conceivable dish, including a honey which is eaten with cheese, similar to our liking for fig or quince paste with cheese.
I had pasta ‘carbonara al tartufo’ – a standard carbonara except prepared correctly with the rich egg sauce, and infused with truffle, and more sprinkled throughout. The aroma is distinctive and pungent, the taste is earthy, and faintly reminiscent of mushrooms – like a porcini mushroom. You could even describe it as a mouldy taste – but in a pleasant way. The pungency lingers in the mouth. It is possibly an acquired taste, and there are several varieties of truffles. For my taste, I found I liked it immediately.
Bill went for a chicken dish which turned out be a type of chicken cacciatore – rough cut chicken pieces in a tomato based stew. It was served with a chunk of the Torta al testa that is the Umbrian specialty. The waiter told us they prefer to call it ‘Crescia Di Gubbio.’ I am not sure if that is meaningful, but ‘crescere’ does mean ‘to grow up’ or ‘to raise up’. So maybe they are saying the bread is raised in Gubbio. If that is the case, they don’t raise it very much – it is after all, a flat bread.
This restaurant is another that gave us delightful friendly service, and the view from our window side seats was superb. We had elected to sit inside. Once again the rain was holding off long enough for us to do a few things, but its presence was ever threatening, and the temperature was a little chilly. All the locals are complaining about the unusual weather. At least it makes a good start to a conversation, I can get practice by repeating the same phrases. We had a good chat to this waiter, who is most likely the owner, and as we left he pressed an envelope of postcards and a souvenir key ring into our hands. Very kind. By the way, as an aside, alcohol is cheap in Italy, which is one thing against moving here to live……..we’d have to practice too much restraint!
Bill is a good driver, and I am a great navigator, so for our return journey, I led him off the beaten track.
Well, maybe I am only a good navigator, because I led him so far off the beaten track that we had to turn around when the road dwindled to a goat track. We went into tiny hamlets with names such as San Pellegrino, Piagge, Poggio San Ercolano, Pieve Compresseto – you can imagine how Bill interpreted my instructions for which direction signs to follow. As we wound through these ancient places the locals stared at us. Most of them were dressed in their rough farmer’s clothes, not at all like the smartly dressed people of Assisi. They were probably wondering what the heck we were looking for, as the whole area is surrounded by a ringroad. I had chosen to try to cut us through as a scenic shortcut. It did give us a good look at traditional country life. Finally we pulled up at the side of a road well outside of the last village to ask a local to confirm our position on the map. It was a middle-aged man and his son who had doubled up on a bicycle to get there. They were stripping a ginestra bush. ‘It’s for the Infiorate tomorrow,” the man told me.
Aha! The flower festival. I wished him good fortune for the weather.
And of course, it was bucketing down again shortly after.
Events of Saturday 1st June 2013 Garrulous Gwendoline