LeMarche: Catch-up post #1

I am determined to finish this, though I’ve been home and gone twice since Italy. Perhaps a day-by-day summary will be best at this point.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007: Last night we ate our final meal in Venezia with Scott and Nina. The old Italian man who helped us find the laundromat yesterday also showed us a little restaurant, out of the way of the tourists, and encouraged us to try it. We met several other people who looked longingly at the menu at Trattoria ai Giardinetto da Severino on Ruga Giufa, so we decided to make it our last Venitian repast.

Our waiter was hilarious, constantly telling us that a particular dish came with “raspberries from Knotts Berry Farm”! I don’t know where he got that phrase, or whether he once visited the US and ONLY went to Knotts Berry Farm, but despite the fact that he had a huge group across the hall to wait on (and therefore was less than properly attentive to OUR table), he endeared himself to us with that repeated humor.

This morning we got up early to say goodbye to Scott and Nina in the breakfast room, and walked them to their vaporetto stop so they could meet their train at the Venice Station. Then we had a leisurely breakfast ourselves, at Hotel Bel Sito, and followed vaporetto suit an hour later. We disembarked at the rental car station, picked up our car from AutoEurope and began our drive to LeMarche.

When the rental car agent asked where we were going to go, I told him we would wander through LeMarche for a few days. He raised his eyebrows and smiled. “LeMarche . . . che bella . . . and wild . . .”

We followed the smaller roads, near the ocean’s edge, stopped for lunch at a ristorante whose wait staff (and clientele) spoke no English at all. A good sign for a good meal. No turistico specials. I knew I wanted to head for Urbino first, the largest town in the north of LeMarche, and we arrived there in the late afternoon. Parked the car outside the old city walls, as usual, and began our ascent on the street inside the closest archway. When we arrived at the “centro”, we indulged in a cappucino first, got our bearings, found a recommended and inexpensive hotel (a GREAT relief after the expense of Venezia) and reserved a room.

When we checked out the bathroom, Neil commented that there was no shower. I walked the three flights down the stairs to the reception area, where the elderly woman who registered us was dismayed, in Italian, and I couldn’t quite understand her answer to my question about the “doccia” (shower). Finally, Neil had an idea, we trudged back up the three flights of stairs, and there, between the bidet and the sink, on the wall, were two water handles and above them, a shower head. No enclosure, no special spot for the shower, just a drain in the floor.

We encountered a shower like this occasionally on our early trips to Italy, and it always took us one good soaking to realize that before we turned the water on, ALL the towels, toilet paper, and anything on the countertops had to be REMOVED from the room or they too would get a shower. That problem solved, we returned to our car, to drive it to an overnight lot at the other end of the city.

Now Urbino is a beautiful hilltown with 15,000 permanent residents and 22,000 college students. Can you imagine the energy in a place like this? Beautiful palaces, churches, piazzas built perhaps 600 years ago, and the energy of 22,000 young people, happily studying in this amazing environment! I wish I were 20 again, for specifically this reason. Otherwise . . . it was too hard to be that age and I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience!

We wandered through the streets, got to the hotel again and shed our bags, and went into the ristorante attached to the Hotel. Antipasti, pasta, lamb (agnello), panna cotta for dessert, and a delicious wine called Lacrima d’Morro d’Alba (The tears of Morro d’Alba). Deep purple, rich fruit flavor, with a unique austerity underneath that was so different from any other wine I have ever tasted.

We sat next to a student and her parents during dinner, and began a bit of a chat. She had a touch of English, I had my primitive Italian, Neil and the mother kept quiet, and the father asked me question after question, carefully, slowly (for an Italian, this is a lesson in EXTREME restraint!) and in fairly simple language, so I could understand most of it. Between my half-assed Itali-english responses and the daughter’s matched mixture, we had the kind of interaction I could NOT have had without that two weeks of language school in Firenze. If I never learn another word of Italian, I will be grateful for that experience and several like it in the following days.

Early to bed, after a long day of driving, and the prospect of three more days of automobile exploration throughout this “wild” region.

More tomorrow.


Venitian skies . . .

were at their best yesterday. We had an absolutely spectacular day in Venice. Bright blue sky, sunny, and about 70-75 degrees . . . my perfect weather. Neil and I found a laundromat in a less touristy part of town, and were led right to the door by a local old couple, who then told us about a wonderful little restaurant out of the mainstream, which we will go to tonight with Nina and Scott. We wandered that neighborhood, found authentic mask shops, not the schlock, and did our laundry in between exploring the tiny tiny side streets along the canals in that part of Venice.

After the laundry, we met our group of 7 other friends (a great traveling group, along with the others who were with us in Sicily). I had arranged a Venice Tour of the Doges Palace, Bridge of Sighs and Church of San Marco for them. Got them started, joined Neil back at the hotel and headed across the Accademia Bridge to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection Museum, a wonderful little gallery with all the usual 20th century suspects . . . Magritte, Pollack, Picasso, Kandinsky, etc. And a beautiful sculpture garden.

Back with the group to do some eating in little holes in the wall near the grand canal, and then four of us went to a Vivaldi Four Seasons concert in the Chisa San Vidal, performed by 7 enthusiastic string musicians, all young Italian people. The experience was the highlight of our week, I think, though we’ve had many exceptional days of traveling.

Tomorrow we leave for LeMarche with a car, and will wander that region until Saturday. Unfortunately, I haven’t loaded my photos from Venice and the last part of Sicily, so can’t post them here, but I will do it when we get to LeMarche.



Our week in Sicily is nearly over . . .

and I apologize for not writing to this site all week. I am finally at the only internet spot on the western half of Sicily, without going into the depths of Palermo, and this internet spot is about 40 miles from our villa, named Torre Castelvetrano. (I don’t think this site is able to do the proper paragraph spacing again, so Ashley, if you are reading this, please try to fix, and otherwise, I’ll try later when I ahve more dependable service.)

We arrived at the villa, all 15 of us, in four cars in the late afternoon last Saturday. The town is a fairly large but non-tourist town, and that turned out to be quite nice, actually. Our villa, difficult to find at first, is absolutely BEAUTIFUL, with lush grounds, palm trees, a very nice pool and a wonderful covered sitting place near the peach groves.

The olive groves are on the other side of the villa and guest house, and the caretaker and his wife live on the grounds as well. We have six bedrooms and four bathrooms in the main house, and a 2-br, 2-bath guest house, all in that old stone and tile roof construction that is so typical of Italy and some of France.

One of the delights we hadn’t counted on is a family of cats . . . we can’t quite figure out who the mamas are, because even the largest of the cats is quite small, but we have identified perhaps eight or nine little kittens, 6-8 weeks old, and of course they were just being weaned, with no real skills yet in catching the lizards, so . . . we are feeding them. Angela, Nina and I, the real cat lovers in our group, have been mixing little kibble, water and a bit of milk in two large cereal bowls, twice a day, so they won’t starve.

Hoever, now we’ve discovered that the caretaker and his wife are feeding them as well, so they’ll be fat cats if we ever come back here again.

Since the group is so large, we don’t try to do everyting together, but so far, Neil and I have wandered the ruins of Agrigento on the south coast, visited the little town of Selinunte, which ahs its own ruins, our closest grocery store, and some lovely restaurants with fresh fresh fish, since it is also on the coast.

We have tasted wine in Marsala, consumed lots of bottles of the local wine during the past week with everyone’s exuberant participation, and eaten lots of fresh fish, bread and cheese.

Neil, Brad and I went to Mount Etna on Wednesday, the largest active volcano in Europe. Took nearly 5 hours of driving (I’m the designated driver in Italy, for our car, at least) then about 3 hours on the mountain, including the cable car ride up to 2500 meters, the little van up to about 3000 meters, and the walking around the volcanic dirt and rock at the volcano site. Then down the mountain again, into the town of Nicolosi, through Gravina di Catania, a stop to look for dinner in a beautiful village on a hillside in the middle of the island called Enna (no dinner – restaurants don’t open here until 8:00 p.m.) and back to our villa by about 9:30 p.m.

A long day, but I didn’t want to come to Sicily and NOT see Etna.

So today it’s back to Marsala to a Mailboxes, Etc. to ship some things back home, grab tomatoes to add to our lots of lettuce for dinner, and then some relaxing time at our lovely pool before packing up and preparing to depart by 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.

We then head for Palermo airport, turn our cars in, and disburse to our various next destinations. Some will go back to the US, and some of us still have Venice and Tuscany. Neil and I will stay 3 nights in Venice, rent our car there for the exploration of LeMarche, and then, as I’ve said in the past, one last night in bella Firenze before we leave for Colorado.

Must go.

Take care.