Sunday, October 30, 2011

I think I know where Perugia gets its chocolate...

Perugia, city of chocolate, and dog shit. In Perugia, it’s everywhere. The dog shit, I mean. Well, in a lot of European cities, it’s everywhere, but the streets of Perugia seem to be a veritable minefield of the stuff. You see all different shapes, shades, sizes, and textures. You also see a variety of shoe-tread patterns in those that have been stepped in. Why is it so hard for people here to scoop up their dog poo? Can someone explain this to me? I know carrying warm poo around in a little plastic bag is probably not the most fun thing in the world, but that is part of owning a dog, right?

And that leads me to another observation – in all the towns we’ve stayed in during this trip, I have seen countless people walking beautiful, purebred, show quality dogs that are completely untrained. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people struggling, pulling, and yanking at the leashes of their gorgeous yet obviously totally untrained show-dogs. Is there simply a lack of dog-schools in Italy, or is it that Italians just couldn’t be bothered? I’d love to know.

Anyhow, we’re in Italy, so these blog entries are supposed to be fun!



It was a gorgeous, sunny, autumn day in Perugia. Despite the dog poop, we’re already really digging this town. We started off the day by walking to the old acquadotto, or acquaduct, which is now a walkway/shortcut from one neighborhood to another. It begins about a quarter of the way down a gently curving stairway, and takes you over streets and peoples’ backyards, eventually connecting with another street on the next hill over. There are even some cute houses/apartment buildings that are accessed via the acquadotto. The views from the acquadotto are absolutely gorgeous.






The acquadotto links up with a street that takes you to one of the many medieval gates, which is adjacent to the oldest church in Perugia, Tempio di Sant’Angelo, which supposedly dates from the 5th century. I think it was originally a Roman pagan temple, converted into a catholic church, because it is circular. Apparently, when baroque was all the rage, the interior was redone in that manner (I know, the horror), but later restored to its original décor.

We took the acquadotto back to the center of town, and made our way to the Etruscan arch. This arch, embedded into a massive wall that is a mix of Etruscan, Roman, and medieval-era stones, is pretty impressive. Colossal, even. Every town needs one! What’s also cool is how lengthy stretches of Etruscan wall extend from both sides of the arch, and at some point people (in the middle ages, I’m assuming) just built their houses into the Etruscan wall, using it as a foundation.  Some segments of the walls even have modern windows cut into it.



We strolled through the Centro Storico, eventually heading over to the Rocca Paolina, and checked out the subterranean streets that the Rocca covered back when it was built by the Vatican to suppress the city’s inhabitants. Apparently, in the 1500s, the Vatican sacked Perugia and seized control of the city. The pope at the time then had several city blocks razed and/or buried, to create a huge military fortress. The fortress was literally plonked down over several streets, which were more or less left intact and made into passageways within the fortress. In 1860, during Italian independence, Perugians destroyed most of the Rocca, given that it was a much-loathed symbol of unwanted Papal domination. In its place today is a nice park with wonderful hilltop views, a government building, and a piazza. Beneath the park, however, are the remains of the Rocca, including the streets that were covered up, which are now well-lit and explorable tunnels. There is also yet another Etruscan arch, which, when the Rocca was built, was left intact as a gateway into the Eastern side of it.

Subterranean Perugia
Perugia, city of stairways (and dog feces)


Another thing we’ve noticed about Perugia, is that the garbage people/clean up crews, that were a common sight in Siena and Florence, have been nowhere to be seen so far. And what’s really sad is how much litter we saw tonight, scattered all over the steps of the duomo that overlook the main piazza. We also noticed that the public trashcans around the perimeter of the piazza were overflowing. Do Perugia’s garbage people not work the weekends? Or is there something else going on? And why do Perugia’s inhabitants seem bent on trashing the place with dog poop and litter in the first place? It’s really sad.

What’s also interesting is the eclectic mix of people you can see hanging out on the duomo/piazza steps during the daytime. You can see families taking a break during a stroll, 18-year old ruffians not very discreetly selling drugs, college-aged couples making out, some tourists snapping photos or taking a break from their sight-seeing, couples eating gelato, young and always male gypsies sitting around, a few sunken-cheeked junkies and/or meth addicts, college students drinking beer, panhandlers, and pensioners out on their daily walk.

At night, however, the young ruffian types seem to take over. Walking by tonight, we saw several groups of them noisily drinking beer, a few of them smashing bottles, and all of them strutting around, trying hard to look tough. Of course there were plenty of normal, adult locals passing through the noisy but ultimately benign mayhem, and none of them seemed to be phased by it. This is definitely a striking contrast from the main squares in Siena and Florence, which seemed more, I don’t know… peaceful or mellow at night.

For dinner, we went to a place called Settime Sigillo. We saw lots of Italian-speaking locals going in, the menu had potential (and was cheap), so we decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, they had a woefully tacky medieval dungeon theme going on with the décor, which you couldn’t really see until you were well inside the place. But the restaurant was hopping, so we thought we’d chance it. Sadly, my tagliolini with porcini was, yet again, crapolini. Terezia ordered gnocchi with cheese, arugula, and speck, which was pretty good, but well short of stellar. Luckily, what saved the evening was a piece of veal we shared, which came in a black truffle and balsamic glaze. Cooked medium-rare, the nice cut of veal was perfectly tasty, tender, and juicy (and you could really taste how this thing had been milk-fed), while the subtle truffle/balsamic glaze enhanced the flavor nicely. I wouldn’t come back to this place, but if I did, I’d stick to the meat-based secondi. Maybe Perugia is not a good town for pasta? Serena warned that Umbria consisted mainly of hunters; maybe that translates to the local cuisine?

After that, we capped the night off with gelato from Grom. Grom is a chain that makes organic gelato, and which seems to be popping up in all the major Italian cities. We tried one in Genova. They’re pretty good. While not as magical as Kopa Kobana in Siena, the textures are good, and the flavors seem to be fine. It’s more expensive though: most places are about 1.80 for a small cone with two flavors, but at Grom it’s 2.20.

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