Tuesday 29 January 2013

SABINA TRAVELOGUE PART 16 - April 5 - Dreaming of Real Estate?

This could be a view you wake up to....
We made pasta last night, a simple red sauce with some sausage... We drank a nice bottle of red wine and got an early night's sleep... Today we spent a quiet day walking around Casperia and having some peeks inside some houses... 

On one of our trips out of Casperia by bus and train we had a bit of a wait for our train connection. Walking around the little village of Poggio Mirteto Scalo, we noticed a real estate office beside the little frutteria across the street from the station... and Candace went in to check it out. 

View of the real estate agency from Google Street View
When she emerged from the office of the Agenzia Immobiliare Sabina, it was with an appointment to meet with one of their representatives. Today was the day for that appointment.

From our very first visit to the Sabina, of course we started to dream about having a place here. How could you not? It is one of the most beautiful places in the world, a piece or real, honest, rustic, unspoiled Italy, as yet untrammelled by tourist hoards, and I hope it stays that way... Il Sogno, the Phillips' house here in Casperia, is aptly named...The Dream... and what a happy dream. You can feel their love for the Sabina and this amazing hilltown in its walls... Another thing you can feel is their appreciation and respect for "place" in the way they have restored their house...  


On our first visit here three years ago we made an appointment with Giancarlo, an agent for another real estate firm called Tecnocasa and were shown a number of amazing houses, some that were ready to move in to, and some that were ruins in need of major restoration. Ironically, this house (below) that we visited three years ago, which we called Il Nido because of the occupied pidgeon nest we found behind one of the storm shutters, has since been bought and is being restored by a woman from Canada. It was a huge, amazing property with some traces of frescoes inside. It needed a lot of money and tender loving care... and I have the feeling it has got all that right now    

Il Nido was truly amazing, but the property that caught Richard's and my fancy was a smaller, more modest house higher up the hill on Vicolo Serpenti. 

It was affordable, had a marvelous view, it was ready to move in, and most importantly, it had a beautiful orange guardian cat...

Timing and finances, of course, are everything... Though we did a lot of research and soul searching when we got back home to Canada, owning property in the Sabina had to and still has to remain a dream... but who knows?  

There are all sorts of properties for sale in the Sabina, and as far as I know, all across Italy these days... The downturn in the economy has made it hard for people to hold on to farms and country homes that have been in the family for generations. 

There is something so very sad about seeing so many Vendesi (For Sale) and Affittasi (For Rent) signs in Casperia, and in the other towns we visited. You see them on the doors of farm houses, palazzi, apartments, even little ruined cantinas, everywhere you go.

Richard inspects a sign on a house on Vicolo Serpenti
 So there is something exciting and at the same time a little bit melancholy about looking at houses here. One person's opportunity to realise their dream sometimes means that another person or family has lost theirs... I suppose that is the way of the world but...

The realtor who came to show us around, Rosanna, is a very interesting lady. She lives in Casperia now, but she has spent a lot of time outside of Italy and is fluent in English and French... as well as Italian. She took us in to see a number of properties, including this one which was once the town Locanda or Inn. 

Note the large dining room for the guests.

The windows at the end of the dining room overlook Piazza Umberto 1 and Friends Caffe. It made me wonder about the volume of our volubility as we enjoyed our Negronis and our stringozzi in the evenings in the restaurant down below... One thing I love about Casperia is the peace and quiet of the place... Have I been one of those noisy, abrasive foreign tourists? I hope not.

This is the view from the front door of the old Locanda. It overlooks the winding basalt cobbled road that leads up into the town from the Porta Romana by Friends Caffe and up to the piazza where the Comune Office is.

Richard loved the big old camino or fireplace in the old inn.

We visited quite a few houses, including a stunning palazzo and a number of smaller properties

Some of these were thoroughly renovated and some of them beautifully restored, or in need of restoration.

It was a rare priviledge to be able to see inside not only the houses of local Italians, but also some of the vacation houses owned by people from outside the country. 

This house also had a guardian cat... Maybe the cats are wanting us to make a decision...

Our tour of those houses on the market with Rosanna left us with lots to think about... The dream is certainly still there... We will continue to look into places to buy or perhaps even rent in the Sabina... and one day, when the stars are all properly aligned and the finances are there, who knows??? Wish us luck!

We said our goodbyes to Rosanna and made our way up the 200 or so stairs to Il Sogno.  

Stairs in Casperia courtesy of vagabondo.net

There was a huge thunder shower with hail in the afternoon. The narrow streets turned suddenly into rivers. I am glad we were  inside when that happened. Candace and Richard played cribbage in the evening. The game got very heated and I heard some very interesting pseudo-Italian profanities being traded. "Mangi le mie scale!" "Eat my stairs"???

Tonight thunder and lightning and rain dominates the skies around Casperia!

Monte Soratte courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
For those of you interested in looking into real estate in the Sabina, you will find a number of links to real estate agencies that operate in the area on the right hand side of the page of my blog. You can also go on youtube and do a search with the words "immobiliare" and "Casperia" or "Rieti" to get some inside views of some of the real estate that is available in the area. If you liked one of the hill towns featured earlier in the blog, just search with the name of the town and the word "immobiliare" on Youtube or Google.

Sunday 20 January 2013

I GATTI DELLA SABINA - The Cats of the Sabina

One of the very few downsides to being away from home for a long time is worrying about our cat Smokey... I don't really worry about him. I know that he is healthy and that Richard's nephew Geoffrey is looking after him well, taking care of his cat box, keeping Smokey fed, watered, entertained, etc. and that our neighbours will look in on him while we are in Italy... but I must confess I miss Smokey while I am away. 

It is no wonder then that both Richard and I took a lot of pictures of cats while we were in the Sabina. The Cats of Rome, of course, are famous... meriting their own calendars, post cards, fridge magnets, etcetera... They even have their own tourist attraction, the Cat Sanctuary of Torre Argentina, which recently has become even more of an attraction because recent findings from a team of Spanish archaeologists indicate that it is the location where Julius Caesar was assassinated

Legend has it that the first cats brought to Rome arrived there with Cleopatra. Whatever the truth is, it is estimated that today there are about 300,000 feral and semi-feral cats living in 2000 colonies in the Eternal City. I don't know how many there are in the Sabina, but it seemed that everywhere we went there were cats... And that made me happy.

A handsome, vigilant Tom in Bocchignano, Comune di Montopoli in Sabina

Of course, like in Rome, some some of these cats were feral or semi-feral, but many were well coddled pets. 

Mao Mao, on the road to Casperia's Cemetery
There were lots of times when we came across cats that we thought were wild but later found out that they weren't. Some of these cats survive by their skills and wits alone, but many of them are looked after by the townspeople who leave out food and water for them daily. These are the portraits of the cats we met in Casperia in 2009.

Kimbo resting on the cobbles. Photo courtesy of Luca Bellincioni
These are the cats we met during our last visit to the Sabina in 2012:

A well planted cat in Bocchignano, Commune di Montopoli in Sabina
 And the cats of Catino...

Gatto Catinese courtesy of Alessandra Finiti

Do you see the Cat in Catino?
I am not sure if this door sign in Poggio Mireto refers to the cats in the following picture...

The cats have found their favourite place to enjoy the sun...
The same cats in the same position weeks apart, taken by Alessandra Finiti
These cats live at Farfa Abbey...

These cats are from Fianello in Montebuono... Both of these photos are courtesy of Alessandra Finiti.

 This photo is from our visit to Tarano in 2009. Can you see the guardian of the garden?

He's to the left...
Italian cats like bird baths as much as Canadian cats...
And who can forget our visit to Poggio Mirteto? This next photograph was the first picture from our 2012 Italian holiday to be posted on Facebook. We believe her name is Principessa. Grazie Alessandra!

Photo courtesy of Alessandra Finiti

The feline welcome wagon in Poggio Mirteto
Certain cats though, stand out... One is this cat... We call him Casperia's Welcome Wagon... although we have recently learned that his name is Cicciopalla which translates as "Chubby ball"...

This cat owns the main gate of Casperia. Cicciopalla lives in the open, rejecting offers of a regular home... He prefers to live out near the main entrance of town and gives each who enter his own particular greeting. I believe he may be in the employ of the Casperia Pro Loco.

Cicciopalla earning his keep as the ambassador of Casperia
Bravo Cicciopalla!
But one Asprese cat stands head and shoulder above the others we have met. This is Mao Mao. Mao Mao shares a home with our good friend Nicoleta, who works at Friends Caffe'. When we first met Mao Mao, Richard and I were heading for a visit to the Casperia Cemetery. All of a sudden, this beautiful long hair silver tabby appeared by the side of the road and demanded attention.

This cat was extremely friendly. It loved to be patted and responded to our attention with cheek rubs and head butts.... the cat got so blissed when we patted her (it was obvious that she was a girl) that she actually drooled. In later descriptions of her in our Facebook posts we dubbed her "The Drooler".

It was only later that we found out that this very friendly cat was actually bonded to and lived with our friend Nicoleta Stoichescu who works at Friends'. 

Tita, who prowls Via Massari close to the Palazzo Forani

And I mustn't forget these cats, the lords and ladies of Gusto Al Borgo...


Every time we connected with one of these Sabine Felines it felt like we were meeting a messenger from Smokey. Each of them was telling us, "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

Since we returned to Canada, more cat photos have been posted by various friends in Casperia, Tuscania, Catino and Poggio Mirteto. It seems that Smokey is working to set up the Sabina Feline Welcome Wagon for 2013. We look forward to reconnecting with our old furry friends during our next visit. We also look forward to making the acquaintance of new ones... like this welcomer in Stimigliano...

Photo courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
and of course Boh and Romeo back in Casperia... 

Photo of Boh (or Romeo) courtesy of Stefano Aperio Bella
Cicciopalla and Boh, courtesy of Stefano Aperio Bella
So Cicciopalla and Mio are one and the same cat... Interesting.... courtesy of Stefano Aperio Bella
This post is dedicated to Mao Mao (The Drooler) and her fabulous human, Nicoleta Stoichescu. Apparently Mao Mao has been diagnosed with diabetes and has some other health issues as well. Our hearts go out to sweet Mao Mao and to our dear friend Nicoleta. We hope Mao Mao is feeling better soon.

Nicoleta and Mao Mao - Photo courtesy of Nicoleta Stoichescu

If you are interested in learning more about the cat sanctuary of Torre Argentina in Rome, here is a link. http://www.romancats.com/index_eng.php 

The feral cat colony is cared for by a corps of dedicated volunteers. The global financial crisis has had a major negative impact on the number of visitors, as well as the amount of donations received. Lack of funds has slowed the sanctuary's sterilization programme. If you are interested in helping these people in their work. Here is a link. http://www.romancats.com/help/help.php 

A.S.T.A. (Associazione per la Salute e la Tutela degli Animali) is the Italian version of the S.P.C.A. Here is a link to their website.

There is also an organization called the Anglo-Italian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:

Smokey thanks you for taking the time to read this blog and for your support and care of his feral brothers and sisters in Italia. 

Smokey vuole ringraziare tutti voi chi ha preso il tempo di leggere questo blog e per il vostro sostegno e la cura dei suoi fratelli e sorelle selvatici in Italia.