Day 13 – Viterbo and The Italian Wal-Mart

viterbo coat of arms
viterbo coat of arms

We finally decided that Sophia’s cough was going to linger no matter what we did so we figured an easy day of lunch in the old town of Viterbo followed by a pilgrimage to the Iper Coop “shopping experience” would make for a good first venture out into the world for her. (And me!)  We called ahead to the restaurant and got their machine.  Since we had no idea what they said on the machine we thought we’d take our chances and head to Viterbo either way.

Again the ride to Viterbo was just as gorgeous as usual.  The girls have become totally jaded at this point, unimpressed by waves of sunflowers and shimmering groves of olive trees. We on the other hand can still not get over that this is where we are spending the month.  As we approached Viterbo it became much more suburban looking, strips malls and looming billboards, of course this was juxtaposed against the centuries old town looming on the hills above.

We parked and climbed up the steep winding road, Sophia wilting in the sun, until we realized that the restaurant was closed.  So, back down we went and we thought hey, we’ll just go to the mall and grocery shop first and grab something quick to eat. We headed back to the giant IPER COOP sign, parked and took the footbridge over to the mall entrance.  Well, the mall doesn’t open until 2:00pm on Mondays.  Seriously, we couldn’t spend money in Viterbo if we wanted to.

So, we headed back into the little town, parked at the first cute café we saw and went in to order some sandwiches and drinks.  Viterbo is like an Italian Ann Arbor.  It has a young college vibe, students gathered under trees reading and playing cards, cute little cafés.  We were quite happy with our find, but not as happy as our girls who discovered the enormous milkshake menu complete with whipped cream and m&ms on top.

milkshake in Viterbo
milkshake in Viterbo

After lunch we finally made our way to the Iper Coop – the entire reason for this trip in the first place.  The owners of our villa told us that this was “an experience!”  And that is what we were after.  I need to preface my insane adoration of Target and the like by explaining that as a life long New Yorker I have always loved suburban super markets.  I spent every summer of my childhood in suburban Michigan where my grandma and I shopped together at the giant Farmer Jack Supermarket.  I don’t think it was giant at all by today’s megastore standards but to a girl from Brooklyn where the grocery store aisles were too small for real size carts, saw dust covered the floors and cats prowled for mice past the meager produce section, suburban Farmer Jack was Disneyland.

The Iper Coop did not disappoint.

ipercoop viterbo
ipercoop viterbo

It was in a mall full of Italian versions of all the usual American mall stores.  One looked like Zales, one like Victoria’s Secret, one like Express, etc.  But, there at the end was the Italian version of Target meets Costco – the Iper Coop.  It had a bakery section like Costco but full of Ciabattas, tozzetti and biscotti.  It had a mammoth fish section that included live lobsters and also marinated squid, mixed shellfish for crostini and antipasti.  Every section presented an array of Italian specialties with variation like I’ve never seen – 8 kinds of tomatoes, enormous figs and lumpy shaped pears, 7 types of Gorgonzola, and more kinds of cured meats than I ever thought possible.  Plus, there was what you would expect – a huge wine selection, delicious homemade pastas and really cool Italian housewares such as pots and pans in turquoise and purple.  The girls had fun, we had fun and we even found mustard.

We also solved the big mystery about the shopping carts.  The first time we went to the grocery store my husband walked over to the cart area and said that you had to pay one Euro to use a cart, like the airport!  That seemed ridiculous so of course we grabbed a couple of baskets and went about our shopping.  Well, at the Iper Coop we knew we had no choice but to get a cart, yet there were three prices listed above the slot to unlock the cart – 1 Euro, 2 Euros or 50 cents.   An Italian woman who was getting her cart showed us what to do, and then we felt really stupid.  You stick your coin in the slot, it unlocks the cart, and then when you return your cart and lock it back in place your money pops back out at you.  Not only were we totally wrong, but also this is a brilliant idea.  It ensures that little old ladies don’t walk off with the cart and it ensures that people will put the cart back where it belongs rather than just leaving them willy-nilly all over the parking lot.  This is something we should have back home – except our largest coin is really the quarter and most Americans would rather give up the quarter than move their butts 20 feet back to the cart corral.

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One reply on “Day 13 – Viterbo and The Italian Wal-Mart”

  1. isn’t every day an adventure as long as it is in Italian??
    I also remember the first time I saw those carts in Israel, maybe 10 years ago, and didn’t understand why they’re not using them here. thanks for the fat butt 20 feet explanation!

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