Cycling and Golf


One of the biggest differences between life in Bellevue, America and our year in Perugia is how much time our family spends together, most notably, how much time Matt and I spend together.  It’s working out well; in fact, it’s even better than I expected.   However, we each came with a list of individual goals and intentions to cultivate these separate interests.  For Matt, these activities revolve around exercise.  His first purchase in Italy was a used Cannondale road bike, and his first cycling destination was to Antognolla golf course, just 13 miles outside Perugia.  Since then, he takes up to three trips a week through the back roads of the Umbrian hills and past the tiny country towns.  After 10 months of hearing about the peace and beauty of these mornings, this week I decided to followed Matt and see what his “alone time” is all about.

He starts at the apartment, right in the heart of Perugia.  From there it's one giant downhill cruise for at least a mile.  It seems like a great way to start, but must be pure hell coming home.

He starts at the apartment.  From there it’s one giant downhill cruise for 6 miles. 

Outside Perugia, the roads are very quaint and quiet and the hills are gently sloping.  This time of year, there is green green green in every direction.

Every couple of miles there is a new town to pass through.  By the time Matt gets to the golf course, he has wheeled through San Marco, Cenerente, Canneto, Colle Umbero, Maestrello and San Giovanni di Pantano

Following the road to the golf course.  The last sign reads "Antognolla."

Following the road to the golf course. The last sign reads “Antognolla.”

When he arrived, he changed out of his bike gear, got an coffee at the bar and headed out to the course.

When he arrived, he changed out of his bike gear and headed out to the course.

Teeing off on hole   .  (The ball is sailing off the top corner of the frame.)

Teeing off on hole 17. (Look, the ball is sailing off the top corner of the frame.)

On the putting green with some crazy beautiful medieval castle in the background.  Matt's best score ever at Antognolla is a 94.

On the putting green with some crazy-beautiful medieval castle in the background.

Heading back to the bike for the ride back home.

Heading back to the bike for the 12-mile ride home (and 700 feet of elevation gain).

Sports, School and Ice Cream (written by Tom)

by guest blogger Tom


My favorite thing to write about is football, especially the Huskies.  This fall I wrote weekly reports on college football.  I watched every Husky game from our computer here, and I’m excited to go to all the home games next fall.

There aren’t many Italians who know what real football is.  Some think it’s soccer, and some think it’s rugby.  Most people think I’m a rugby player.   I wear a Husky football jersey to school every day under my uniform.  On Thursday when I have PE, I get to wear shorts.  P.E. is one of my favorite classes.  So is French.

I wear a Husky football jersey to school every day under my uniform.

These are all the boys in my class except one, who was absent today.

But I don’t really like school that much.  In Math, we have to be very organized.  We have to use a red pen for the title at the top of the page, a black pen for headings, a green pen for lines and line segments, a blue pen for showing our work and a pencil for drawling angles and pie charts.  And the big problem is, we are not allowed to use white-out or erasers, so if you mess up, you have to start over.  Yesterday I asked my teacher why we couldn’t always use pencils and erasers.  She said that people would take home their assignments after they were corrected, erase all the incorrect answers and replace them with the right ones.  However, students still find ways to cheat.  The other day, I caught three of my classmates using cheat sheets for a test, so I got up, grabbed the cheat sheets, and turned them into the teacher.  Luckily, the three boys weren’t mad at me and they agreed not to do it again.  Hopefully, this will put an end to cheating in my class.

We have a class called Antologia where we read stories.  The stories are confusing.  I understand the words in Italian, but the story itself doesn’t really make sense.  For instance, there was one called “The Wolf and the Sheep.”  This is how it goes:

One day, a wolf and a sheep arrived at a drinking river at the same time.  The wolf was mean and wanted an excuse to eat the sheep.  He said, “Why are you dirtying my water?”

The sheep replied, “How could I dirty your water? You’re farther up stream than me.”

Then the wolf said, “Six months ago you were saying bad things about me.”

“Six months ago I wasn’t born,” the sheep responded.

“Your dad was saying bad things about me,” said the wolf, and he grabbed the sheep and ate him.  THE END.

In art history, we are studying columns.  There are three types of ancient Greek columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian.  On Sunday I found a Corinthian column in a town we visited.

In art history, we are studying columns. There are three types of ancient Greek columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian. On Sunday we found a Corinthian column in a town we visited.

One good thing about my school is that the teachers sometimes don’t show up.  This week, we have gone to school for 15 hours and for 10 of them the teachers were gone.  When this happens, we go into another classroom and write, draw, read or do whatever we want to.  Right before school got out today, we heard that all but one of our teachers for tomorrow are sick.  The principal gave all the kids the option to go to school or not.  You can probably guess what I chose.

One of the worst things about school is that we go six days a week. Then on Sunday, my one day off, my parents take us sight-seeing and we have to look at piazzas, churches and museums.  Last weekend we went to Montefalco and Bevagna, but at least I got to bring my football.

I played catch with my dad in the main piazza

I played catch with my dad in the main piazza.

While we were there, we went to a museum that was kind of boring, but at least it wasn’t very big.  My mom and I counted angels.  We found 96 in the main part of the museum.  Then as we were about to leave, we found a special angel-only exhibit downstairs.  The first one looked like a wide receiver who missed a catch.


And the second one looked like a disappointed coach



We have only 149 days left, and I’m glad.  I like Bellevue better.  I think everything is better back home like my friends, my school, my house, and even the food. At least here I can get gelato every day.  My favorite flavors are lemon, vanilla cream and chocolate chip, but I like Baskin-Robbins more because the ice cream is colder and the flavors are better.  I can’t wait to get home and eat pink bubblegum ice cream, cinnamon firehouse, and poprock swirl.


This copper griffin in the background overlooks Piazza IV Novembre and the  city's giant fountain.

This copper griffin in the background overlooks Piazza IV Novembre and the city’s giant fountain.

With the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, the mythological griffin is found all over Perugia.  It’s the city’s symbol, its emblem, its mascot, and during a soccer match, its nickname.

The city chose this creature as its protector during the Renaissance because of its association with strength, courage and intelligence.  The wings give it speed; the claws give it ferocious power.  It’s a combination of the king of beasts and the king of birds. Around here the griffin is everywhere.  Small and large statues guard the entrance to government offices, museums and public buildings.   Pictures are found on napkins, coasters, wine bottles and chocolate bar wrappers.  Griffins are also painted onto the traditional ceramics of central Umbria.  This month, Matt and I went on a griffin hunt to find as many as we could around our apartment in downtown Perugia.  Here are some of our favorites.

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And just two hours ago, I took a picture of a griffin I hadn’t yet seen. Like the saltless bread, this statue represents the Perugian irreverence towards centuries of papal rule. In the clenches of the griffin’s right front claw lies the Pope’s hat.  (And in the right claw is a snake representing the Italian triumph over the fascist years.)


But the griffin that is most personal to me is the one I wear every day.  For Christmas, my aunt and uncle visited a local jeweler and had silver griffin pins made for all of us.  They give us superpowers.  Without them, we’d probably still have the flu.


Golfing Lessons

Matt, Giovanni, Flavio, Sergio and Massimo

As far as most Italians are concerned, there is only one sport.  So when Matt told some friends that he plays golf three times a week, they were curious.  What is golf and how do you score a goal?  Matt tried to explain the basics, but it soon became evident that in order to fully appreciate the game, they would need to experience it.  So today he took Sergio, Flavio and Giovanni (and a couple of their kids in tow) to “Golf di Perugia” just 30 minutes outside the city to learn the basics and play the three-hole course.

Since we don’t have a car this month, Matt rode his bike.  He showed up early so he could rent equipment for them and reserve some space on the driving range.  At 11:00, everyone else arrived, and they began the lesson.  A golf pro was on hand to explain in Italian how to hold a club, how to stand and how to swing with the body.

Flavio and Sergio warm up with Matt.

Next they headed out to the three-hole executive golf course.  It was definitely a beginner day; however, Sergio played extremely well with a bogey on every hole for a score of 12.  Matt held his own with a nine.

Giovanni teed off with a surprisingly strong swing

They kept the golfing under two hours and then found a restaurant nearby to spend the rest of the afternoon.  They ordered a huge platter of sausages, pork chops, filet mignon, flank steak with mushrooms, flank steak with artichoke and a bowl of french fries.  As they were finishing dessert and their grappa-coffees, Matt asked the guys if they had any hobbies.  Giovanni said that his was eating.

Before leaving, they all agreed to meet again in January.


Perugia’s Soccer

Late Saturday night, we got a call from our friends Sergio and Milena asking if we’d like to go to the stadium with their family on Sunday to watch Perugia vs. Gubbio.  Hell yes.

Perugia’s team use to be great.  In fact, they even went to the championship once after an undefeated season (a long, long time ago.)  They’ve since been demoted from series A to series C but hope to someday make a comeback and play the big boys from Milan, Turin, Rome and Naples.  Still, this is soccer and we’re in Italy, and the support for the home team was wild.  We didn’t care if it was a lil’ kickers league.  It felt good to participate.

The red and white crowd was screaming victory chants as we arrived, and flags were flying.  This was an especially important game for Perugia because they hadn’t played Gubbio in over 20 years.  And since they are neighboring cities, it was time to demonstrate some dominance.  We listened to our friend describe how certain rivalries evolved between cities around Perugia:  over the millennium, Umbrian city-states have been defeating and conquering each other, often with terribly grave consequences.  Even though the battles are over, the stories are retold and taught in the classrooms.  Apparently, the scars are especially vulnerable on Sunday afternoons.  He said that the citizens are still fighting the old wars.  While the cities of Gubbio and Perugia weren’t particularly combative, they still have some might to assert.  “Just wait till Perugia plays Arezzo!”  he said.  (Apparently, they had some big disagreements during the Middle Ages.)

Milena, Sergio and Massimo

It is quite a bit different from the fancy sports arenas back home.  The concessions consist of bottled water, bags of Ritz crackers, coffee and focaccia.  Apparently, you can get your coffee spiked if you want, but nobody seems to be drinking or eating.  It’s all about the game.  There is no score board and no Jumbotron showing close-ups of the plays.  We couldn’t even find a timer to know how many minutes were left.  So we watched and cheered and counted down on our cell phones.

Within seconds of half-time, Perugia stole the ball dribbling it downfield before swiftly kicking it past the diving goalkeeper and into the net.  Tiny pieces of everyone’s program went flying through the air as confetti.  Needless to say, the half-time break was festive. Perugia scored a second goal towards the end of the game.  And victory was theirs.  We celebrated afterwards with gelato and beers at a nearby park.

Wooing the boys

New Fans

Tom and Ray don’t want to go to Italy.  They’d rather stay here with their friends.  We try to romance them with promises of gelato every day.  But they keep a running list of all the bad things about moving 5500 miles away.  (I tell them it’s not 5500 miles but 9000 kilometeres . . . ha ha, but they don’t laugh.)  The list goes like this:  “I don’t want to leave my friends.”   “I don’t want to go to a school where no one speaks English.”  “I don’t want to have a dress code.”  “Celsius is confusing.”  “I don’t like foreign food.”  “It’s going to be too hot.”  “I don’t want to miss UW Husky football season.”   I get it.  I moved to a different state in seventh grade, and it sucked.

But this week, fate has tossed these sports fans a bone;  Italy is in the Eurocup ’12 finals.  And the playoffs were sweet.  Last Thursday, we watched the semifinals on ESPN and caught some soccer fever.  Thank you, Mario Balotelli, Italy’s hero of the moment, for the two beautiful goals.  You scored new fans.  And now Tom and Ray feel some connection with the national pride and a little solidarity with a winning team.  That’s all I can ask for right now.

(Please win against Spain on Sunday.)