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Trip report: Spoleto, Siena, Montalcino, Proceno, Rome.

Trip report: Spoleto, Siena, Montalcino, Proceno, Rome.

Apr 25th, 2005, 01:06 PM
  #1  
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Trip report: Spoleto, Siena, Montalcino, Proceno, Rome.

Our party consisted of me, Henry, my wife Pat, and our granddaughter Lexi, aged 9. We left on the 16 March 2005. The flight into Rome was uneventful. Our flight was scheduled to arrive at 0845 and we were on time. By 0915 we were through passport control and in the baggage claim area. I went to the ATM (bankomat) and withdrew 500 euro. Picked up our bags, walked through customs, and we were on the street by 0930.

For those of you new to Italy, Italy is still a cash society. Merchants prefer cash and will give a discount for cash payments. Euro are easy to obtain. Bancomats are everywhere. I use an ATM card (no debit function) because I feel it is safer than a debit card. If an ATM card is lost or stolen it is useless without a PIN (my wife carries an ATM card on the same account in case of loss). A debit card can be swiped in a reader with no PIN or can be used by phone or web without a PIN or even the card. Since the limits for purchases are much higher than cash withdrawal (cash withdrawal limit of $300 and purchase limit of $5000 is pretty standard) your account can be wiped out fast if a debit card is lost or the number obtained by various means. I never bother to check what network the bank is on and never had a rejection on this trip. Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, and Banca di Roma cover all of Italy. I also used Banca Toscana, Banca Intesa, and Banca Livorno. I try to avoid Bankomats in airports (except the baggage claim area since it is restricted) and train stations to avoid problems with pickpockets and scam artists. I am probably just paranoid but I have had no problems in 12 trips to Italy and would like to keep it that way.

Since I bought a cell phone for Italy ($50 on e-bay plus insurance and shipping ÔŅĹ total$65), I needed to find a TIM store to get a SIM card. After asking several airport workers about the TIM store it appeared that there used to be one at the airport but they closed it. So we walked across the street to the train station and got our tickets to Spoleto. Actually you get tickets for the train to Rome and a separate ticket for the trip to Spoleto. When traveling with a child you need to ask for the family discount (two adults and a child).
Henry is offline  
Apr 25th, 2005, 01:09 PM
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We rented an apartment in Spoleto, La Terrazza (http://www.greatrentals.com/Italy/12084.html) and the owner said her husband, Laurie, would pick us up at the train station. When we arrived at the front of the station a charming English gentleman was waiting for us. He drove us to the apartment (actually about 100 feet from the apartment since the apartment is on a pedestrian only street) and showed us how to get in and how everything worked. The first floor of the building is businesses (upscale clothing store and the like) so there was a key to get to the elevator and stairwell, a key for the elevator and a key for the apartment. Spoleto is a very safe town so I assume the security is to keep out the opera rowdies who come in the summer for the Festival dei Due Mondi.

La Terrazza was a very nice apartment. Everything was very clean and comfortable. The bedrooms which are not shown on the website were very nice with double beds dressers and armoires. There was a very small balcony that looked out over the street. The TV had satellite and VHS and a couple dozen movies. The kitchen had everything you needed to prepare a meal and the refrigerator was stocked with wine, cheese, beer, vegetables, milk etc. The cupboards were stocked with cereal, pasta, coffee, sugar, salt etc. there were two comfortable couches and a day bed in the living/dining room as well as a table and four chairs. The terrace was large and had tables and chairs and plants and flowers. The bathroom was large and had a tub. I was very pleased with the apartment and would recommend it highly.

Laurie made sure that we knew how to work the appliances and pointed out their basket of tourist information and a couple of pages of emergency numbers and suggestions for trips and restaurants and told us to call him if there were problems or we needed anything. He also arranged to pick us up and take us to the train station on our departure.

We left the apartment and headed down the street to Piazza Garibaldi, about a block away. First we got Lexi a gelato (she had been in Italy almost six hours and had not tried gelato). Lexi declared that she loved Italian food. We saw a TIM store in the Piazza so we walked in. They spoke no English and my Italian stinks but in fifteen minutes we had a working phone. On the website for TIM it said that a SIM card with twenty euro of call time was 45 euro but in Spoleto I paid 40 euro for a SIM card and 30 euro of call time. In the TIM store they told us that the COOP (supermarket) was about three blocks away so we went and bought necessities and headed back to the apartment.
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Apr 25th, 2005, 01:11 PM
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After a rest at the apartment we walked through the upper town and did a little window shopping and had dinner at Trattoria dell Arca di Drusca. Lexi had her first Italian pizza and decides it is the best! Back to the apartment for an early night, jet lag has set in.

Lexi sleeps through the morning. She was one tired puppy! We walk through the upper town to the fortress but canít get a tour unless we have a party of four (same as when we were there in 2000, we are destined to never see the castle) so we stroll across the Ponte di Torre. We have lunch at Trattoria/Pizzeria dellíArca di Drusca. Back to the apartment. Lexi does some homework until we go out for dinner at the Osteria dell Trivia and the food, especially the antipasto, was excellent.

Itís Saturday and our plan is to go to Assisi. It takes about 15 minutes to walk to the train station. We take the train to Foligno and then jump right on the train to Assisi, total time about 40 minutes. We take a taxi up to the basilica and go through all the levels of the church. Lunch is at Trattoria Al Camena Vecchia. We then walk to the church of St. Mary Sopra Minerva. The temple of Minerva was built 100BC and the columns were used for the present church. After shopping and gelato we checked out the church of St Rufino and the basilica of Santa Chiara (St. Clair). A quick trip on the train back to Spoleto and dinner at Trattoria Pecchiarda.

Sunday we head to the Duomo then the Roman House. Lexi thinks the Roman House is cool. While strolling through the streets looking at the arches and alleys Lexi notices the windows and flower boxes painted on the otherwise blank walls and thinks it is a great idea. For lunch we go to the Osteria di Matto, about fifty feet down an alley in the middle of Piazza Mercanto. The owner, Fillipo, is very friendly. He brings us our wine and some picture books of Spoleto to browse until our antipasto arrives. Fillipo starts bring the antipasto, telling us the Italian name of each dish and explaining what is in it. He keeps bring dishes and keeps explaining. I counted nine separate plates but I may have missed one. Fillipo sat with us and talked about his life and his town while we had the primo and dessert. We were entertained and feed for three hours at 15 euro per person plus drinks. We all had a great time.
Henry is offline  
Apr 25th, 2005, 02:33 PM
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Thanks Henry, looking forward to more of the report. We were in the same spots two weeks before.
buongiorno is offline  
Apr 25th, 2005, 04:27 PM
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Henry, Did you ask them to stock the refrig with all those goodies, or did it come with the apartment.

Great report - nice apartment.
Budman is offline  
Apr 25th, 2005, 04:28 PM
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Hi Henry,
How sweet that you got to take your granddaughter to Italy. I think that is so wonderful. I have dreams that I will be healthy enough to enjoy such a trip when I have grandchildren. Keep the report coming.
yipper is online now  
Apr 25th, 2005, 04:51 PM
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Hi Henry, your lucky little granddaughter! Memories she will have all her life.

Uhm, if you want to adopt one of us you would then have a party of four and you could do the tour of the castle next time. Just a thought! I am sure one of us here will be glad to volunteer.

I do have a question regarding your ATM card (with no debit portion). May I ask if this was a Visa ATM or a Master Card ATM? I ask because evidently is some countries it is now getting harder to use a Master Card ATM without the debit portion. Evidently a lot of ATM's require a Visa ATM, which I do not have. I can get one if I open up another checking account at a different bank however. Thank you.
LoveItaly is offline  
Apr 25th, 2005, 08:46 PM
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Budman,
I made no requests for food. Laurie said this was just a little something until we could shop.
Loveitaly,
My ATM card is not logoed. Just a plain ATM. I can't speak about other countries but in Italy I have never had a problem because I didn't have a debit card.
Henry is offline  
Apr 25th, 2005, 08:48 PM
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Monday Laurie picks us up and takes us to the train station. Before we left I knew there was a scheduled train strike for 0900 but since I did not see any signs yesterday I thought maybe it was cancelled. No, the signs are up now so we go to the back up plan. Take the train to Filigno, before 0900, and the bus to Siena, with a change at Perugia. We arrive in Siena and go to our hotel, the Alma Domus. The room is small and simple but very clean and only 75 euro for a triple. There is a small balcony with a view of the Duomo. We have friends in this town so I know from past experience that we wonít spend three hours awake in this room over the next two days.

We are hungry and it is getting late so we stop at the first place we see La Pizzeria di Nonna Mede and everyone has pizza. We take Lexi to see the Duomo and she is impressed before we even get inside. The façade is much more elaborate than the one in Spoleto. Our friend, Fiorella, calls and we go to meet her, hugs, kisses tears, the usual greeting after almost a year since our last visit. We walk to the Campo and catch up on what has happened in our lives. We get a table on the Campo and have Proseco. Fiorellaís mother and father walk by so more hugs, kisses, tears for nonna and nonno. We make plans to meet Fiorella and her husband, Paolo, for dinner. We meet Fiorella and Paolo at the restaurant and have a great dinner. It is after 2300 when we finally get Lexi to bed.

Tuesday we take the bus to Florence so the girls can shop. I point out that they have shopped everyday since we got here. I am told that today we are doing serious shopping. We go to the market and stores and my wife does serious damage to the budget although I will admit to buying her a black with white trim leather jacket but only because she looked so stunning in it. Lunch was at Trattoria Za Za, nothing special but the girls did not want to lose shopping time by looking for something better. I did manage to show Lexi the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria and take a quick tour of the Pitti Palace but she liked the Ponte Vecchio because of all the jewelry stores.

When we get back Lexi is not feeling very well so we decide to make an early night of it. Dinner is at La Cenella and it is very good.

Wednesday is market day in Siena and my wife loves this market. Lexi and my wife are up early to meet Fiorella at the market. Lexi is not much into the museums but she loves to shop. I think my wife is a bad influence on her. I check out of the Alma Domus and have them hold our bags. I meet up with the girls and they have bags of stuff. Fiorella offers to take us to the car rental agency so we pick up our bags and are on our way. At Eurocar Lexi informs me that she is not going to the farm with me but is staying in Siena with Fiorella. Fiorella says she would love to have a granddaughter for a day to show off to her friends. She will bring Lexi to the farm on Thursday. OK, Pat and I head to the farm.
Henry is offline  
Apr 26th, 2005, 08:31 AM
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La Crociona (http://www.lacrociona.com/) is like home for us. It is a vineyard that produces brunello, arguably the top wine in Italy. It is about three kilometers outside Montalcino, in the village of La Croce, on the road to SaníAntimo. They have seven apartments that they rent. Each one is clean with modern bathrooms and functional kitchens. The beds are comfortable and there is plenty of room for your Ďstuffí. Parts of the buildings are from the 1400ís so the walls are a meter thick. The armoires and dressers are several hundred years old. There is a restaurant, La Crocina, in the village that has very good food at a moderate price.

When we arrive at La Crociona we are met by Fiorellaís children, Barbara and Roberto, who run the day-to-day operation of La Crociona. After the usual hugs, kisses, and tears, Barbara and Roberto tell us to get settled and then they will show us the new wine cellar that is being built. We take our bags into the apartment and find a bottle of rosso for me and candy for Lexi. I drive down to Buonconvento, about fifteen minutes away, to shop at the COOP (supermarket). There is a COOP in Montalcino but it is closed on Wednesday afternoon. Since Lexi is not with us we can get her a surprise for Easter, a chocolate egg. These eggs come in various sizes from about six inches tall to four feet tall and are hollow with a surprise inside. They have Ďthemedí eggs at the COOP, Barbie, Bratz, etc. We get Lexi a Bratz six-inch egg. When we get back to the farm I start the washing machine to get our laundry done and see Barbara hurrying across the road to her car. When I ask what the problem is she tells me that Lexi misses us and want to be with us so Fiorella is driving to the farm and Barbara will meet her half way to pick up Lexi. I tell Barbara that I will go. I get Pat and we head to Siena. About half way there we see Fiorellaís car and call her cell to tell her to pull over. We turn around and pull in beside her to get Lexi. Fiorella is disappointed she wonít have Lexi but Lexi has never been a night without her mom and dad or us and she was scared. Fiorella heads back to Siena, she has business there, and we head back to the farm.

We have dinner at La Crocina. The waiter, Luca, makes a big deal over Lexi and she loves it. The food as usual is great.

Thursday we take Lexi to Montalcino. Lunch is at Il Grifa, it used to be Da Do, and the pizza is still very good. Lexi thinks the Rocca in Montalcino is cool. We climb the towers and explore the walls and Lexi gets great pictures of the countryside. Dinner is at Porta Cassero and as usual is very good. Lexi has the sausage and thinks it is the best she has ever had.

Friday is market day in Montalcino so everyone heads to the market. Even though the Siena market was ten times bigger than the one in Montalcino Pat and Lexi still find things they cannot live without. After lunch in the apartment we head to Pienza to show Lexi around. Back to the apartment we find Fiorella and she wants to show us the new wine cellar. Still under construction, the cellar is huge. Most of it will be underground both for the wine and appearances. There will be an office, so business will no longer be conducted at the kitchen table, a tasting room, bathrooms, storage, holding vats, and barrels. There is a mason putting stone on the concrete walls so the new cellar will blend in with the old village.

Saturday we go to San Quirico díOrcia. Lexi looks at the churches, the walls, the gardens, but all she is really interested in is lunch. We have lunch at Vecchio Forno because it was highly recommended on the travel boards. The food was good and the wine list was extensive but the prices were a little high for what you get. We drive on to Bagno Vignoni; it is very small but has great views. We drive on to Bagni San Filippo. While the drive was nice Bagni San Filippo did not have much going for it, a bar and a hotel/restaurant. Following the path of the spring was a muddy affair so we gave up and headed home. Dinner was in Montalcino at Il Moro, basic Tuscan food that is good at a reasonable price.

Sunday is Easter and we are having the Easter meal with Fiorella and her family. This is an all day affair we are fortunate to be part of the family feast. Massive amounts of food are served, Fiorella is an outstanding cook, along with gallons of wine. There seems to be four course of just dessert. Then the Easter gifts are handed out, everyone gets something. Lexi gets a chocolate egg and politely shares with everyone. We waddle back to the apartment.

Monday is overcast and we go into Montalcino to let Lexi explore the town. Madonna del Soccorso is a nice church on the edge of town that usually offers great views but not today. We walk up to the Duomo and Lexi starts to get concerned about lunch so we go down to Grappolo Blu. There are no tables available at 1230, I am amazed, and then, I realize I forgot to set my watch ahead last night. 1330 on a holiday everyplace will be full. We manage to get a table at Il Moro and have a great lunch. Back to the apartment we want to spend some time with Fiorella but she is busy in the cantina selling wine. There are dozens and dozens of people buying wine where do they come from I ask Paolo, he says it is a holiday. We have an excellent dinner at La Crocina

Tuesday I awake with my right eye swollen shut and when I look in the mirror the right side of my face is red. Since I canít get my contacts in I get my emergency glasses that I have not worn in 20 years. It takes time for my eyes to adjust to the new focal distance so I canít drive. Roberto drives me into Montalcino to the emergency room and they say I have an allergic reaction and prescribe a cream, which Roberto picks up at the pharmacy. Since I canít drive we walk around the area most of the afternoon and pack up for our move tomorrow.

Wednesday the swelling is much worse, it takes an hour of hot compresses before I can open my eye. I can now see with the glasses so we say good-by to everyone and head to Proceno. It is only about an hours drive and easy to find. Lexi has been looking forward to this stay. It is in a castle and she can be a princess.
Henry is offline  
Apr 26th, 2005, 09:00 AM
  #11  
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Great report! The Spoleto apartment looks like a real gem.

Thanks for sharing!
Sally
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Apr 26th, 2005, 10:12 AM
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Henry, I'm enjoying your report. I remember your last one that included your grandson. He seemed much more interested in the churches/sites, don't you think? I wondered if you had bought your train tickets ahead of time. If so, do you get a refund when there is a strike and you have to change your plans?
SusanP is offline  
Apr 26th, 2005, 10:59 AM
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Henry - Thanks for the great trip report. Any chance of sharing what Pat & Lexi purchased so gleefully? Glad to hear they were helping the local economy!
cobbie is offline  
Apr 26th, 2005, 02:35 PM
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SusanP,
Your memory is very good. Each child is unique and I try to accomodate the differences.
I don't buy train tickets in advance. On the routes I use there is little problem.
cobbie,
There didn't seem to be a theme, more like sharks with blood in the water. I noticed a lot of handbags, coat, shoes, scarfs, material, sunglasses, ceramics, shirts, pillow covers, table cloths,and art.
Henry is offline  
Apr 26th, 2005, 02:48 PM
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Such a wise grandfather. I'm sure Lexi will have fond memories of this trip. What fun she must have had with a shopping-loving grandmother! Of course, we want to know where they got all this good stuff during their "serious shopping" in Florence...
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Apr 26th, 2005, 02:53 PM
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Henry, if I am to judge from that shopping list, you must be among the world's most forbearing -- and probably generous -- men on earth!

Your trip report is wonderful, and I look forward to the next installment.
Eloise is offline  
Apr 26th, 2005, 09:43 PM
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Eloise,
You say that like I have a choice.
Henry is offline  
Apr 26th, 2005, 09:45 PM
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Castello di Proceno http://www.castellodiproceno.it/iti-proceno.htm looks just like the pictures on the web. The master bedroom is large with a king sized bed and the other bedroom has two twin beds. The living room/dining room is large with couch, two chairs and a corner fireplace. Everything in the apartment is beautiful. The kitchen is very tiny but functional. There are French doors leading out to the castleís garden.

We drive to Acquapendente for lunch. The owner of the castle senora Bisoni has recommended a place but I canít find it. I settle for a place that is on the edge of town and has a parking lot, Aqula díOro. The food is good and the price is reasonable. We go back to Proceno and look around. The castle gardens are large and occupy several levels. On the lower level there is a pool and restaurant but neither are open this early in the season. The walk around town (population 633) is brief. There are two grocery stores, one bar, one bank with a bankomat, and a lovely church. The only restaurant is the part of the castle. We have dinner in the castle restaurant the food is good and the price is reasonable. The restaurant itself is filled with antiques and very charming, the kitchen is in an Etruscan tomb.

Thursday we had planned on going to Orvieto today but after an hour of hot compresses my eye is still closed and there are scabs on my forehead and eyes. It is hard for me to see how bad it is but Lexi helps out, she tells me Iím going to scare little children. Iíve set up a tour of the castle this afternoon so we go to the grocery store and get food for lunch. After lunch signora Bisoni shows us the castle. The tour starts in her living quarters, which contain a 1720 printing press using carved stones, a pianoforte and harp from the 1700ís, about 20 Etruscan urns in almost perfect condition, and many other items that you would see in museums. We get to go in the dungeon, cross the drawbridge, and climb the tower. The views from the tower are fantastic. Lexi even gets to ring the bell at the top of the tower. The tour of the castle is my favorite part of our stay in Proceno.

After the tour I ask senora Bisoni when the pharmacy opens and she tells me it is closed on Thursday nights. I tell her we will see her at the restaurant and she says they are closed on Thursday night, actually only open on weekends, she opened special for us and a couple other guests that arrived on Wednesday. When I asked when the grocery store opened I thought I knew the answer, Thursday night is a bad time to be in Proceno. Senora Bisoni said that she would get the grocery store open for us. She rang the bell of the apartment above the grocery store and told the owner we needed groceries. He came down and opened the store for us.

Friday I am looking and feeling worse. I look like I have been beat with the ugly stick. We are waiting at the pharmacy when it opens. The pharmacist looks at me and says she canít help, go to the hospital in Acquapendente. The hospital is easy to find but parking takes a bit more work. Since I canít find the emergency room I stop three doctors in the hall, show them my eye and the cream I got in Montalcino, and they all agree that that is the wrong medicine. They grab an orderly and he takes me to the emergency room. The doctor in the emergency room confirms the medicine I have is wrong but he wants a specialist to see me. The doctor tells me to comeback at 1500 or 1600. We decide to go to Orvieto for lunch and be back at 1500. Lexi likes the Duomo in Orvieto but lunch at La Nanelli is only average. Back at the hospital in Acquapendente we wait for the specialist. The hospital is very old the waiting room has frescos on the walls. The specialist, an occulista, examines me and says the medicine I have is wrong, I have herpes. This is not a big surprise since my wife told me on Thursday that she thought I had shingles and better get to a hospital.

I end up with three prescriptions: pills, cream, and eye drops. My wife interprets for me, not the Italian but the medical terms, these are all anti- viral medicines. This is serious and the doctor is worried for me. We go down the block to the pharmacy and wait for it to open. When the pharmacist arrives we show her the prescriptions and she checks the computer and says the first one is 180 euro for seven pills. I donít know how to say generic in Italian! Fortunately, she doesnít have that drug but has another just like it. She calls the doctor and gets his OK. The new drug is only 108 euro. She gives me the eye drops but doesnít have the cream and says she canít find it anywhere in the province. I tell her I will be in Rome tomorrow and she says you can find everything in Rome.

Dinner is at the castle restaurant. While the food is very good and the prices reasonable the best part is the ambiance. Dinner is at 2000 and we sit by the fireplace enjoying a glass of proseco while reading tonightís menu. Our orders are taken by the fireplace and we converse with other guests until the antipasto arrives. We are surrounded by a 12th century castle that is filled with antiques from the Etruscans to the 1800ís.
Henry is offline  
Apr 27th, 2005, 04:17 AM
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Henry, I perused the Castello di Proceno website and could not find any rates. Do they rent by the day/week and/or both? How much did you pay?
Budman is offline  
Apr 27th, 2005, 05:00 AM
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Henry, I am loving your report. It brings back wonderful memories of traveling with my grandparents. And my sympathies for the shingles. I've had them in the past and it is terribly painful. Hope your recovery was swift.
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