The daily diary of a wandering restaurateur In Italy
July 28 - Assisi
Got an early start to our last full day in Umbria. By 9am we were packed into two cars and headed for Assisi. Well, actually we first headed for Perugia. Eric had the burn to get to France as soon as possible. He hates the train, so picked up a rental car in Perugia and our little safari grew. Keeping two cars reasonably connected in Italian traffic is hard enough -- but three is impossible! It only took about ten minutes for the three cars to become separated (and I mean on three totally separate roads!) but we managed to reconnect and eventually wound our way to the hilltop town of Assisi, where its patron saint, St. Francis, has become a cottage industry.
Without doubt the best shopping of the trip -- a lot of interesting little shops tucked into the old buildings with some good products at reasonable prices! It doesn't get much better than that! The town itself had a wonderful feel to it, despite its obvious popularity as a tourist destination and religious pilgrimage spot. The area was damaged in an earthquake a few years ago and the reconstruction still goes on with scaffolds over a lot of the old buildings. The Basilica of St. Francis lost some frescos on the ceiling (truly a shame) but they have managed to put things back together in remarkable fashion.
The consensus was that the Basilica of St. Francis was the first place we visited on this trip that truly felt like sacred ground. St. Peter's was more impressive but impersonal. The lower chapel of St. Francis had a wonderful feel to it -- we could have stayed in there for days.
We opted for a picnic lunch before continuing the "shop til you drop" tour. We hit a Valentino factory outlet (excellent prices on designer clothing) and attempted to find Deruta, the ceramics center. Margene and I gave up after we back-tracked a second time. We went back to the house to relax while the rest of the gang continued the search. Eventually they found it . . . and said there wasn't anything that we hadn't already seen. Then they managed to get lost twice more getting home. Looks like Genie and I missed all the fun!
Our last meal together was at Silvana's. She was in the weeds and we barely saw her. The food was good, the service was slow and the pacing nonexistent. They even served one item I ordered after everything had been cleared from the table! It was a good time, but a decidedly different experience from our first visit. We were surprised that several parties came in and apparently were told to leave (or were told that they couldn't handle the party.) Karen wanted to jump up and seat them! Old restaurant habits die hard! I have never seen a place give away business like that.
I admit that I do not understand the economics of the restaurant business in Italy. There is no concern about turning tables (uncleared tables, even in the prime locations, often sit uncleared for 30 minutes or more), no apparent urgency to serve the guest (they will give you what you ask for . . . eventually . . . but you have to catch their eye and ask) and no apparent systems in place (every meal is an exercise in making it up!)
The evening meal never starts before 7:30 (many restaurants do not even open until then) and the meal is a 2-3 hour event whether you want it to be or not! In general, I thought the food was good and the prices cheap -- most of our meals, with wine, cost $15-20 a person! We were not eating very high on the food chain but looked for spots filled with locals. I am sure we could have spent more if we tried harder . . . but why?
Photos of Assisi
The gang . . . and some final thoughts on Umbria
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