So what is my wrap up of our wonderful experience in Umbria? Well, I guess the first time visitor to Italy is more or less compelled to see the famous sights of Rome, Venice and Florence, and they are wonderful cities in their own right, but there is not a city in the world that is representative of its country. To get a feel for a culture and place, the tourist must go further afield. Tuscany is now well known and popular, Umbria is less so. It is well worth exploring. English is spoken, not as widely or commonly as the new tourist might find comfortable, but that is part of the appeal, to find a place which has not been so over-run by tourists that the local culture has been subsumed. You will never go hungry, even if the menu is not in English, and you may possibly find yourself introduced to a new taste sensation. Bill and I had a dinner spoil at a nice restaurant for our last night, and I took the opportunity to have one last pasta dish based on truffles.
You can get around on the local trains and buses, but having a car is very convenient. We were surprised to discover that we had travelled 1000 kilometres just in jaunting around. Driving on the left is daunting, although Bill found it much easier than a previous holiday in Germany. Just keep in mind that every time you turn a corner, the driver should have the centre lines on his left. Staying off the autostrada reduces the amount of time you will be tailgated. On the other hand, if you leave too much space between you and the next car, someone will jump into the spot. Hire the smallest car possible because the roads are narrow. Indicating is practically non-existent. It is not clear who has right of way at a roundabout, and local drivers will try to force their way in, even driving beside you and forcing you off course, but if you hold your nerve it seems to be the one who is already on it who is in control of the roundabout. If you see someone indicate in one direction, and move in another, or turn the wipers on when the weather is fine, then it is probably another tourist who is also used to right-hand drive and has the controls back to front.
Umbria is a hilly – I would even say – mountainous country. We saw many cyclists in racing gear, but few tourists travelling in this manner. It may simply have been a matter of the weather, although I do imagine you would need to be fit if planning a cycling holiday in this area.
Cities, towns, villages and hamlets are close together, frequently a mere two kilometres apart. I could picture that in times gone by, young men might fall in love with a woman of the next village, and gladly make the walk to the next town to catch a glimpse of her.
Umbria is also green and agricultural, olives and grapes being prominent. The air is replete with birdsong. Swallows are flitting everywhere at this time of the year, and nests have young that are still being fed. The scenery is dotted with yellow and red, the yellow of the ginestra, and the red of poppies, all growing wild round about. In the towns I was frequently aware of the scent of jasmine, and most houses dress up with bright window boxes of geraniums, petunias and violas. Bells sound everywhere, and echo in the distance. Some churches have more than one bell, giving off different tones, as if they are having a conversation. Water courses are a light aqua green – I am no geologist, but I suspect it is from the limestone of this region. Most houses are built of stone, and others are cement rendered and painted. Best of all for the tourist, Umbria is clean and free of graffiti, so that its wonderful offerings are shown off to their best.
And then there is the food. We have tried numerous types of salami, cheeses, pizzas, pastas, grilled meats and vegetables, and cakes. If you express an interest, the people in an alimentari (delicatessen), or in a shop selling ‘prodotti tipici’ (typical products) will be glad to give you a sample taste. Torta al Testa is best bought fresh cooked, the type that is being prepared commercially does not do it justice, it comes out a little heavy and dry, while the real deal is fluffier inside and crispier on the outside. Everyone should try truffle at least once in their life, you will either love it or hate it, and there are manyndifferent dishes containing this ingredient. Just be prepared to pay a little more for this delicacy.
What more can I say? Except – Come and see Umbria for yourself!
Saturday 8th June 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline signing off from Assisi.