A Travellerspoint blog

Phones and calling plans and phone cards....

...OH MY!

Question: How many people does it take to make a phone call in Italy?

Answer: We don't know. We never accomplished it.

Here was the plan:

I brought an Italian phone (thanks Jenny) that only had to be recharged. (more on that later)
Ben brought a phone with a SIM card.
Bob brought a calling card number.
I arranged a callback service.

We figured that with an Italian phone and 3 fallbacks, we were ok. Oh, the naivetee of non-Italians...........The SIM card phone was useful for Ben to call Laura, but because they had to call cell to cell, it was cost prohibitive.......the call back service I arranged just flat out didn't work............Bob's calling card worked from the pay phone in the coffeebar (often loud, making it impossible to hear the other party), but also only for calls home. Could not get it to work for "in country" calls.


Enter my Italian phone.

At first, the Italian phone worked. I used it successfully to call Suzy when I got to Rome. Then, it needed to be recharged. Suzy had the same kind of phone and she told me all I had to do was to go to a Tabachi and get it recharged. You remember Dan................I asked him to go to the Tabachi in Paciano and get the phone recharged. He returned after a long time with a confused look and a phone card with instructions written in Italian for recharging the phone. All we knew was that the instructions included taking the back off of the phone and the battery out to find the number.

Ok, later, I tried, but failed, using the Italian voice prompts. I decided to wait until Ben got there. He tried and thought he was successful, but.........no. He decided he wasn't successful because he had no signal in the kitchen. He tried it again when we were out and had a good signal. Ah.............no. Over the next week, I would find myself in town and a Tabachi open only to find I had either the phone or the card, but needed both. FINALLY, in Cortona, the planets aligned and I had the Bermuda Triangle... the phone AND the card and an open Tabachi. We (Ben and I) entered cautiously. It went something like this...

Ben (who has a good grasp of Italian) explained to the woman that we were having problems reloading the phone with the card.

The woman called a man and told him that Ben would explain the problem.

The man spoke German and French. Ben speaks German. He told the man in German about the problem with the card.

The man told the woman something in Italian. (I thought he spoke only German and French...)

The woman looked at Ben and said, "Problema." (I think we already knew that.........)

She then told him in Italian that the card wouldn't work unless we went to a TIM (Italian Verizon) store and that there wasn't one in Cortona open.

Let's recap:

It took 4 people and 3 languages for us to learn what we already knew....the phone card doesn't work.

Finally, after weeks of no phone, I decided to go into Moiano to the Tabachi where Suzy takes her phone. I tentatively stepped forward and offered the phone. I said the word for recharging. She took the phone and the phone number I'd written down, punched some numbers into a machine and "tutto a posto"........all good!

Moral of the story...........when in doubt, do what Suzy does!

Posted by Allegra51 17:09 Comments (0)

In no particular order...

Cracking pepper, panzanella and power tools

As you all know, I am a foodie. I may have more pictures of the food from vacations than the friends (I know what they look like!).


This trip, in addition to enjoying many meals out, I wanted to cook. I enjoy cooking and went to the markets for fresh ingredients for meals. As you've heard in the earlier blog entries, the welcome meal was typically a caprese salad. Some of the ingredients I bought for other meals were bread, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, grano padano, pecorino, baked ricotta, gorgonzola, chestnut honey, basil, parsley, some fresh chicken to be grilled and used in salads and pastas, and some fresh ricotta to be used on a spoon into my mouth. What you may not know is that I am also a pepper person. There are lots of us, some more serious than others. I know several people that carry their own pepper and grinders. I am not such a pepper person. I will, however go to extremes to have fresh cracked pepper.

When I was in Italy many years ago, I discovered the containers that have the grinders in them for pepper, nutmeg, etc. I was thrilled and used to bring them back with me from trips. Now they are readily available in the states, and I was pleased to see one in Betta's kitchen. However, when we tried to use it, it took about 83 twists for every 7 grains of pepper and the grains. That may have been tolerable, but what finally came out was almost powdered. I called in reinforcements. Bobby, a retired tool and dye maker, looked at it and said it couldn't be fixed. Jim, a retired school psychologist and public housing administrator, took a look and nodded confidently. After a bit of time, he smiled and announced that all you had to do was pull as you twisted. He offered a demonstration, but I was distracted by a fresh fig.....................Anyway.................at the next meal, I had my arugula, pomodori e pepperoncini ensalada dressed with the finest olive oil (insert angelic choir singing halleluliah here), balsemic vinegar (thanks, Lylaine) and sea salt all shiney and poised for pepper. I grasped the grinder, pulled and twisted. Pulled and twisted. Twisted and pulled. Pulled and............uh huh. No pepper. Bobby shrugged an "I told you so" shrug. I had to make do with minor pepper dust.

The next shopping trip, I picked up another pepper grinder. This is where there is a difference of opinion. I think that I asked Jim to pick up a grinder. He thinks that I picked it up. In either event, someone picked up a grinder bottle of pepper. At the next meal, my grilled chicken pici with pesto awaited the crowing glory of coursely cracked pepper. I again grasped the grinder and while removing the protective plastic seal on the top, realized that it was not a grinder at all, just a bottle of pepper corns. I had already tolerated a non-perfectly garnished salad, I could hardly accept the same for my lovely fresh pasta. The gauntlet was down.

I looked for alternatives. I took stock of the area. I had Neopolitan bread (more on that later, in the power tools entry) fresh produce, a pasta drainer and lots of wine. Lots of wine! My McGuyver alterego jumped to his feet "A wine bottle and a ziploc bag.....stat!" I dumped the peppercorns into the ziploc bag and instructed Jim to get a wine bottle and get rolling (someone had to take command!). Jim stood rolling the wine bottle across the peppercorns, using his whole body weight against the plucky berries. After 5 minutes or so, he had about 1/10 tsp of cracked pepper. I claimed it for my pici and threw up my hands in defeat.

Quietly. Thoughtfully. Ben went to the utensil drawer. He removed 2 tablespoons. He put some pepper corns in one and placed the other on top and pressed. In about 30 seconds, he had perfectly cracked enough pepper for all of us to use.


I mentioned Jim. Jim is half of Kathy and Jim Ranney of St. Patty's Day Breakfast fame. You already know that he is not the best pepper grinder fixer or pepper basher with wine bottles. What you do not know, and he has until now kept from most of the world, is that Jim is a bread and bread product addict. You may think this an overstatement, but condsider the inventory after one shopping trip with Jim:

Sesame bread sticks
Rosemary bread sticks
1 loaf Umbrian bread
1 loaf Semolina and white bread
1 loaf round bread with hole in the middle (you can imagine the name that loaf got....)
1 loaf Neopolitan Bread
1 loaf "what the hell is that one Jim. Are you kidding me with this??" bread
1 bag peanut flips (more on that later.........on second thought, forget the peanut flips)

The preceeding is what he bought AFTER my intervention. Had I not been there, we would have needed an api to get the yeast goods home.

After a couple of days, it became clear that Jim, while a professional bread eater, was not going to have time to consume all that he'd bought. Solution? Panzanella!

For the uninitiated, panzanella is bread salad. For Jim, it's a dream come true. My simple recipe follows. It is delicious and beautiful. I took a picture, of course, but so far have been unable to get them to show up in the text....

Slightly stale bread cubes (in our case a half a ton...you may want to use less)
Cubed fresh tomatoes (about 1/3 more bread than tomatoes)
Diced sweet onion (not a lot, just enough for the flavor and crunch)
Torn fresh basil or parsley or both (lots)
Salt and pepper (you can forego the wine bottle/spoon adventure if you like)
FINEST olive oil you can lay your hands on

Toss all together and allow to marry for several hours (turning as you think of it) or overnight in frige. YUM!

Writing that, I remembered a phrase that an italian woman told me when we were talking about pasta and sauce. She said, "The sauce. It is condimente, non ingrediente." I loved that. A condiment, not an ingredient. That is the way the onion should be used in the panzanella................

This leaves me with the power tools portion of our posting. It is also bread related. It would be natural to think that all the bread in Italy is delicious. It would be natural, but erroneous. The Umbrian bread is just plain bad. It's dry and without flavor and doesn't even look appealing. The Neopolitan bread has character. It has a soft middle and a NOT SOFT crust. I am told (Suzy) that the people of Naples throw out the middle and only eat the crusts. I wonder, if that's true, if the anthropologists that study their remains in the future will know why their teeth are worn down more than those of the Umbrians and others north of Napoli.

You all remember Dan, don't you? Well, I had gotten a loaf of Neopolitan bread from Anna's store to serve with the caprese I had when Dan and Constance and Lylaine arrived. The next day, I asked Dan to slice some bread to have with the prosciutto, salamis and cheeses. I should say here, that this bread is NOT for sissies (not that Dan is a sissy). Well, the assault began with a medium-sized serrated knife. It became immediately clear, that this was not the tool for the job. He then went to a large knife, but without serration. Defeated. Then the large, serrated knife I had bought at market just for the job.........I guess you could say it worked, but Dan had broken a sweat and we had half a piece of bread. Dan looked up, out of breath, hands blistered and bleeding and asked if there was such a thing as a Home Depot in Italy, because nothing short of power tools was going to cut this bread! It was only a slight exaggeration. In the coming visits to Anna's for bread, we requested the pane piccolo (small loaf) and found that we could get our knife through it for 4 days before we had to take it to a construction site.

Bread is very significant to the different regions and significantly different. When Suzy told Betta (from the Emilia Romana Region, north) that she was getting bread from Naples, Betta sort of rolled her eyes and muttered, "no salt". It was clear that she was NOT a fan. When Suzy and I talked about it, she said that this went back centuries to the salt tax wars. There was a tax on salt and some refused to pay it/use it. When the tax was initiated, they stopped putting it in their bread. To this day, their descendents continue not to use it in their bread. This is one of many examples in Italian culture, where following a thread to the past reveals purpose in the present . I was thinking...anyone that will continue making bread without salt perhaps a thousand years after the tax is serious about tradition! This is a simplification, but such a dedication to tradition is at the heart of much of the Italian/regional culture.

Posted by Allegra51 15:48 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

August 11, 2008

Update, update...

-17 °C

...Just a quick entry to let you know that I'm hoping to get to the trip journal written but not entered due to lack of Internet access during the final 3 weeks of the trip. I have over 800 photos to resize and rename and categorize as well. It's my goal to have both tasks completed by the end of the week. Stay tuned to see if I'll make my goal.

Smart money is betting against.............

ps-Check out photo gallery. I DID make sure I had a Gubbio pic to post.


Posted by Allegra51 07:11 Comments (0)

July ??? 2008

I have no notes...

...and dont know what the date is...it is not on this computer....I found myself with a few minutes before the English Library closes and have completed my Florence research for tomorrow, so here is an off the cuff entry.

I have not written lately because much of what we have been doing was done by prior guests. There have been some notable additions, but I need some time to give them full attention before posting them. It may be a while before I can get online again, since tomorrow we are going to Florence and after we get back, it is the weekend and I cannot get online. Monday, Bob and I are going with Suzy to visit lower Umbria and Tuesday, we leave for Pompeii, Sorrento and Capri for a couple of days. Maybe we will get to post something when we get back, before leaving for Roma and homa.....I dont even want to think about leaving yet, but leaving is a fact of life in an experience of this sort.

Ben left this morning and his absence is felt dearly by all of us. He has an almost scary mastery of the language and was our "lifeline" for questions and information. He made a few friends in town and always had the scoop on what was happening. In addition, he knows so damned much, that he was a life saver answering questions about culture, architecture, history, geography and....and... and (you get the picture). He contributed heartily to Bobs "Team Crossword" challenge (more on that in another entry). He was also our navigator (only had to turn around one time) and official chingale (wild boar prosciutto....more on that later too), finochiona (fennel salami), mortadella and hard cheese slicer. Beyond all of that though, he has been a wonderful addition to this whole experience. Kathy and Jim got to reconnect with him as an adult (had not seen each other in 7 years), Bob and Ben got to know each other better (Im pretty sure Bob likes Ben better than he likes me) and I got to fulfill my dream of sharing this place with him and also the gift of time together..............I need a moment to wipe a tear.

A quote comes to mind. "Instead of crying because it is over. Celebrate that it happened." That is just what we will do. Ben, you can be sure that there will be a toast or 2 or 3 on the terrace to you tonight! Safe voyage, Benjamino.


You can all look forward to entries about concerts in Paciano, dancing on balconies, not dancing in the park, why I am NOT going to the opera in Cortona, and bread, and FOOD, as well as some other thoughts and observations, both personal and cultural.

Until then............ciao, tutti. (I think that means bye bye, all, but since Ben is gone, if I told you to clean your plate, I apologize.)

ps-Can you tell that I cannot find the apostrophe on this keyboard? Very few contractions and if they are there, they are without apostrophe.

Posted by Allegra51 07:30 Comments (0)

July 17,18, 19 2008

Time to break out another caprese salad...

...After several bouts with the Italian phone system and a still-unknown reason why Bobs flight showed up nowhere in the Rome airport arrivals system...connections were made and they stepped off of the 4:19 from Napoli Centrali at around 4:30! The Bs (Bob and Ben) were both pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the area and the antiquity of Paciano. They were not so pleasantly surprised with the trudge up the hill. Since they spent so long in travel, we just toured the house, and enjoyed the welcome to Paciano caprese followed by wine and a visit on the terrace. If that were all we did, that would have been enough. Sharing this with them has been my dream. (I miss you, Andy.)

The morning after we took a drive over to the lake for the group to pump some wine and then just parked and strolled the lakeside. Lunch was at a restaurant there and Ben ordered a tourist menu. We thought that one of the plates was tuna, but it arrived and was a plate full of whole, fried tiny fish. "Minnows." Bob said. They were good though. Bob got 4 grilled fish and each was a taste we had not had before, save the grilled trout. One of the fish was white lake carp. It was the most unique in taste and texture...more meat-like. We all agreed that it was good, unlike what you hear about carp (eat the board and throw the carp away). At one end of this lake are posts and other things sticking up out of the water. Theories abound about their use. We will have to do research. Perhaps if we go out to Isole Maggiore on the ferry one day.

The other forray we made today was to Mr. Petumis for chestnut honey. It is a beautiful ride and you can see little Lake Chuisi from the road to Voiano. When we arrived, we were half an hour early, so we took a little longer drive and then returned. We could hear a table of people enjoying a dinner upstairs from the shop and decided to wait. I explained that they should not expect Mr. Petumi to come bounding down the stairs at 4 sharp. While waiting (after 4), a young man came out to use a cell phone. He paid us no attention, noticing us, but without acknowledgement. Call done. Back inside. A few minutes later, he had another call and the same thing...no acknowledgement. I asked Ben to go back and check the days that he was open. Ah. Chuiso Venerdi. Rats closed on Thursday. Off we went. Later, when looking at Bens dictionary we discovered that Venerdi is Friday...we were there Giovedi. Hey kids....learn your days of the week in your new language!

We had good intentions for Saturday (up early and out), but sleep prevailed. We went to the Cita Della Pieve street market in what was left of the morning and then to Cortona in the afternoon after a long riposo (Ben did calesthenics instead of resting...little did he know what awaited in Cortona). Around 5, we took to the road. Our parking spot at Cortona yielded good and bad news. The good news was that we parked at an Etruscan wall and gate. The bad news was that the street at that gate was at about an 89 degree slant.

I hadnt mentioned it before, because I didnt want you to worry, but I have been having back problems. I mention this now, because as we were ascending the "Strada Everest" a large group of elderly people, mostly women, exited a building just ahead of us. Most of them in modest heels and most of them with canes. Now, I know it wasnt a race, but if I hadnt pushed the slowest 2 out fo the way near the summit, all of the old, infirmed nonas would have beaten me to town! Im certain its because of my back...

We finally found some action in Cortona (tourists), thanks to "Under the Tuscan Sun". We looked around for a while and I checked out the place I must return for the opera tickets (more on that later) and we decided to try Suzys recommendation for a restaurant. Unfortunately, those in the know had called for reservations and all that was left was indoor seating and we wanted to eat outside to enjoy the energy of the street. We decided to try Julios (about which I swooned in the 2006 gornal). We had to sit inside there too, but that was fine as the only benefit to eating outdoors at Julios is a breeze and a view across a busy road to the lake, but it was already dark. We enjoyed a wonderful meal and the experience of eating with mostly local families.

Sad note. They were out of the fagioli a umido, for which I chose Julios. A moment while I grieve..........ok. I am better now.

They were NOT out of crema catalana though. It is a warm, silken, eggy custard bottom reached by excavating the crispy, bruleed top. Another moment for sense memory...............ok. We came home and finally celebrated Bens birthday with chilled prosecco around the cucina table and converstation thtat looped around and between such topics as mullosks, politics, conspiracy theories, capers...

NOTA...Constance Sanders......Suzy Googled capers and read the wiki site information on them. There was NO mention of being related to olives. None. All data supports the pickled bud of a thorny shrub theory, cosi.......prove it, CMMS!

...Sudoku, iron wall-support design, and the Italian telephone system. B and B have a lot of theories and even more questions!

Posted by Allegra51 07:57 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

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