A Morning at the Mercatino, a Trip to IKEA, and Fiat 500s

Just passing on information about a normal day—and on Wednesday the traveling “mercatino” comes to Spello, down below the city walls. I get my “old lady” shopping cart out, and head down the hill for produce and plants for my garden. It’s not just for shopping—the retired men all collect in groups and talk, and the women all seem to know each other. I’m the outsider, even after going every week to the same vendors, so for me it’s not a social outing, but really IS about the shopping.

This vendor is where I got my herb plants for my little garden. He has a wide variety of flowers, herbs, and cut flowers, but the prices and the quality of his herbs were the best.

This vendor had the best herb plants, and threw in a few for free

This fruit vendor has better prices than the one I frequent, but his fruit and vegetables are not of the best quality. He stands alone, with no one at his stand, when the other vendor has people lining up to pay. I purchased grapes here, and found them to be sweet, but absolutely without flavor. Since then, I only purchase from the second vendor, and buy grapes that have TASTE.

Not my favorite vendor--no taste in his fruit

Artichokes from Sicily—still not time for them in this area. We will be waiting for spring to have local “carciofi.”

Hothouse artichokes from Sicily

Another flower vendor—one of three—is located at the end of the marketplace street. I’m certain that business picks up when the Infiorata is approaching, but right now they mostly sell cyclamen, which do well here.

Mot much selling this time of the year--except cyclamen

I found this variegated purple-leaf ajuga and bought 3 small pots, knowing that I could divide them before I planted them in my garden. Sitting unplanted outside my door, they may as well have come from the moon. Nearly everyone who passed stopped to ask if they would survive the winter (yes), if the blue flowers were present all year (no), and where I got them (the mercatino). I have ajuga all over my yard in California, but I’ve never seen this variegated variety before, either.

I bought three of these ajuga plants, which must be a variety not seen before in Spello

Like the Cascine Park market in Florence, you can buy just about anything at the mercatino. Here, pajamas, underwear, socks and leggings are featured.

Can you imagine buying all these things that you cannot try on for size? Socks, maybe.

The “pensionati” (retired men) hang around and talk at the mercatino, and then go and get a porchetta panini and a glass of wine. The porchetta is a roasted pig, boned and filled with rosemary and garlic, and then sliced for sandwiches. Paola sometimes buys just the slices of porchetta, and serves them for lunch.

The retired men in line for a porchetta panino

This kitchen goods vendor has just about everything, and at bargain prices. I have had my hands on the pots and pans (need some, still), and looked around at the baking accessories, too—but I didn’t find anything worth storing until I got a kitchen. I can always come back later to shop. I could use one of everything, but I have to slow my shopping and wait for the kitchen.

Great prices on the terra cotta casseroles

Lots of tempting wares, but also lots of cheap plastics from China

These are fresh borlotti beans, my very favorite bean anywhere. In the US, if I can find them, they are usually called “cranberry beans,” and have fantastic flavor all by themselves. Adding some Umbrian olive oil over the top, they are fantastic. Robespierre buys these all the time and shells them for cooking, preferring fresh beans when they are available. He calls them “bombardiere,” or “bomber,” like the airplane, apparently for their digestive “after-effects.”

Robespier's favorite beans--and mine, too


After a few weeks of settling in, I had developed a list of things to bring back on my next trip to IKEA, near Ancona. On a day when the weather was good, I took my shopping trolley to the train, and stopped in Foligno to change trains and get tickets to the new train station right in front of the IKEA in Le Marche. I kept telling the ticket agent where I wanted to go, and he told me over and over that there was not a stop there on the train. I KNEW that there was, and continued pressing until his supervisor came and told him to enter it into the computer—it was a stop so new that he didn’t know it existed. At the train stop the signs were clearly put up by IKEA, advising travelers to stop in and shop.

On the IKEA side: "Looking for ideas to decorate your home? You're on the right track. Welcome."

Across the tracks, leaving IKEA: "You want to renovate your house? Don't take this train."

After three trains (Spello, Foligno, Ancona) I was there, and did my list in about 2 hours. I packed my trolley with all the heavy items (two floor lamps, sheets for the inflatable beds, wooden hangars, two rugs) and took along a big, blue IKEA bag for the light but bulky items: pillows, curtains, and assorted small things. I had a real challenge changing tracks and getting in and out of the trains with all that “baggage,” and the weight of the trolley was nearing 80 lb. or so—almost impossible for me to get up on a train without assistance. Somehow, with a little help from other passengers, I got all the way back to Spello, where Giorgia and Arianna were waiting for me in a car at the station—thank goodness!

My burden to get home to Spello on the train--from IKEA


An observation: here in Spello may be the biggest concentration of old Fiat 500 cars (the “cinquecento”) in Italy. I’m usually too slow to get my camera out in time to catch them racing up the hill, but some of these are REALLY old. Marcello, an older man I met the last time I was here, insisted on taking me home from the market on a rainy day, and I got my first ride in a cinquecento—a 1963 model. It is a shell with an engine—and not one extra. Not many American cars of that vintage are still being used daily, but here in Spello the cinquecento population seems to be thriving. (On my way uphill this week from the mercatino, three of them passed me going uphill.)

In Piazza Vallegloria

On Via Giulia

Heading up Via Giulia--Marcello in his 1963 Fiat "Cinquecento"

Cinquecento wagon in a garage on Via Giulia

Parked in Piazza Antonio Gramsci--another wagon

Leaving centro near the post office

Parked at the Post Office in Piazza della Repubblica

Giuseppina and her husband, and his Cinquecento

Near the edicola, with a flat rear tire

At the Mercato Usato in Spello

At the Mercato Usato in Spello, a second Cinquecento

Doing well here, and I’ve probably seen the last of the good weather, too. Susanna, the ex-pat American organic farmer, says, “It’s now monsoon season.” After 3 years here, she probably knows!

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