Jamikins and Bikerscott do Italy!

Old Jun 20th, 2012, 06:13 AM
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So nice of you to make time to post on Fodors during your vacation Jamikins.
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Old Jun 20th, 2012, 04:41 PM
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annhig - I had the same thoughts as you regarding the "smalls." Course, sometimes I'm not "the brightest bulb in the pack."
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Old Jun 20th, 2012, 06:26 PM
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gomiki got it. ;^)
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Old Jun 24th, 2012, 08:29 AM
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Happy days - finally we have wifi!

So a lot has happened since we left off...we've toured famous mosaics, cooked some amazing food, drank a lot of wine (let's be honest) and seen some very pretty towns and villages. But we are only halfway done...


Day Two – To Le Marche

The bed at the B&B, while foam, turned out to be quite hard. We both have relatively good sleeps, but both woke with sore backs – fortunately mine worked itself out fairly quickly, but Jamie whinged about a crick in hers pretty much all day.

Breakfast included a few pastries fresh from the bakery that morning, really good cappuccinos, and fruit juice. Of course the sun shining through the open door in the sitting room with the smell of the jasmine plant down stairs wafting through helped quite a bit, both with our concern about our backs and our outlook for the day.

Our plans included packing our bags and driving pretty much all day, so we weren’t in a particular rush. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before going back to our room and getting our things together. The owner of the B&B kindly helped us down to our car and waited while we backed out (in the narrow space, not the easiest task, especially in a new car as I couldn’t see either the front or back really). Gazza was worth his weight in gold and got us out of Bologna with no major hassles – we were away on the A14 headed south towards Rome and La Marche.

We’d decided an hour detour wasn’t too far out of our way, so made a side trip to Ravenna. Advice received suggested that we park at the train station, which we found without much drama. Even better was finding a parking spot just up the road, which turned out to be free, as it was Sunday. Despite my OCD in relation to cars and the locking thereof, we secured Giancarlo (the car) and walked into the centre of Ravenna.

The town itself isn’t actually that big, and even though it is the middle of June, what I would expect as prime tourist season, it wasn’t busy at all. Hardly any shops were open (which is normal for a Sunday), but the hordes of tourists were conspicuous in their absence.

Ravenna is known for its Byzantine mosaics scattered throughout a few churches in the city. We walked to the largest, the Basilica di San Vitale to buy our €9.50 tickets to the Basilica and four other churches/baptisteries with the famous mosaics.

I was surprised with the beauty and craftsmanship of them, despite having seen photos before – the pictures hadn’t prepared me for the size or intricacy of the works – entire walls and ceilings were covered in tiny tiles, all perfectly positioned and coloured. It looked like paintings, only it was all in stone – I certainly wouldn’t have the patience to put it all together.

It was hot. The signs we saw showed the temperature pushing 33 Celsius, but it felt hotter than that in the city centre. I can’t image what it would have been like with crowds. We wandered through the four sites and were suitably impressed with the mosaics – definitely worth a side-trip to see them. At this point, it was after noon and we were getting a bit hungry, so we stopped at one of the few restaurants open in Ravenna on a Sunday afternoon for what turned out to be quite a good lunch. I’d tell you what the name of the place was, but I don’t remember, and quite honestly it wasn’t good enough for a recommendation so we’ll leave it at that.

We walked back to the car, which I’d managed to position such that it was in the shade all day and not scorching hot as we’d expected. Again, Gazza directed us out of town and we were back on track for our final destination of the day – La Tavola Marche.

It took another two hours of driving to reach it, the last 20 minutes down a mostly dirt road interspersed with small sections of really bad tarmac. The potholes and swerving around were worth it though – we came around the final corner to find a big stone building on a hill overlooking a little valley and the road. We parked the car, got our suitcases out and walked into the central area to find absolutely nobody home.

After poking around for a while to confirm that our welcoming committee was truly absent, we did the only reasonable thing we could – we pulled together two loungers and sat at the side of the pool, soaking in the hot sun for 10 minutes until Ashley, one of the owners, arrived.

It turned out that a pair of ladies staying at the B&B had left for a walk in the hills early that morning, with a plan to return by 4pm at the latest. It was almost 6 by the time we got to the place and Jason, the other owner, had decided that two hours late was a bit too much, so had jumped in his car to scout out the route as much as he could. Ashley, unaware of the impending drama, had been out running some errands.

We arrived right in the middle of all of this, and when Jason got back it was decided that a call to the carbineiri was in order. Ashley got on the phone with a worried Jason and the husband of one of the errant wanders looking on – as she was explaining the predicament, who casually saunters down the drive but the two ladies.

Apparently they’d misheard Ashley’s instructions that morning – evidently “walk until you are tired, then turn around and come home” turned into “walk until the trail ends, then turn around and come home.” Unfortunately the trail ends 10kms away in the village San Angelo in Vado, a 20km round trip over some pretty rustic trails through the mountains for them.

Much relief for all concerned and their cooking lesson scheduled for 4pm started only a few hours late. Part of the charm of the cooking school is that they cook dinner for themselves and other guests, if others are staying for dinner. We’d booked in for the evening so spent a relaxing few hours enjoying a quiet bottle of wine and soaking in the rural atmosphere. It’s amazing how different the noise is here from the endless cacophony of London – birds and bugs, the rustle of the wind through the leaves of the trees, the rush of the river in the valley below – so different than the cars and lorries and horns and shouts of chavs.

Dinner was served outside in the dwindling light. Four courses including 3 antipasti’s as a first course, then a pasta course, then pork tenderloin wrapped in pork cheek, and finally a walnut and nutella cake – all amazingly tasty. Of course we also had a litre of the actually quite good house white wine, served out of a barrel I think. I finished off the meal with a café correcto (or something similar) on Ashley’s recommendation – an espresso with a shot of grappa in – significantly better than it sounds like it should be.

We ended the night after the sun had set with a walk down the gravel road in the darkness. We saw real stars for the first time in years, a nice change from the London light haze that we normally get. We also saw clouds of fireflies, something neither of us had ever seen before. If ever you get a chance to talk a walk at night in the Italian countryside, far from any cities or towns, with the stars lighting your way and the fireflies flashing in the fields and woods around you, I highly recommend you take it.
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Old Jun 24th, 2012, 08:32 AM
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And our pics from Ravenna:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...3&l=b6ac759fa6

Looking forward to our dinner at the Masseria tonight
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Old Jun 24th, 2012, 10:03 AM
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Jamikins, have you ever seen the mosaics in Monreale? If so, are they anything similar to Ravenna?
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Old Jun 24th, 2012, 11:35 AM
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love the pics........awaiting next installment ..hmm a litre of italian house wine...very appealing on a pre work night here in london!
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Old Jun 24th, 2012, 12:41 PM
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Sundried...not yet...Sicily is one of next years trips!!
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Old Jun 24th, 2012, 02:15 PM
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pacino - I'll chime in here - we've seen the mosaics in
Montreale, Istanbul and two weeks ago, Ravenna.

Montreale is the most stunning IMO - esp. the huge Christ
Pantocrater over the altar. However, the mausoleum of Galla
Pacida (sp?) in Ravenna was just lovely and very 'approachable' compared to Montreale.

So glad you are back posting, Jamikins - love your TRs.
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Old Jun 24th, 2012, 02:45 PM
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I.m enjoying your trip and looking forward to Puglia.
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Old Jun 24th, 2012, 03:07 PM
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The mental picture of boiled calamari will stay with me for a while as I struggle to replace it with a vision of fireflies flashing in the fields.

Great report and I do like the idea of other people taking a cooking class and you get to eat the dinner that would definitely suit me better than having to cook!
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Old Jun 24th, 2012, 11:29 PM
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Haha - sorry sassy_cat!

Another gloriously sunny day here in Puglia! Off to see some small towns and trullis today!

But first, another installment:


Day Three – A Plague upon Your Houses

Finally, a B&B with a comfortable bed! We both had an excellent sleep up until 6:30am, when we were rudely woken by a persistent and loud knocking on the small bedroom window. It took me ages to work out where the noise was coming from, and by the time I had pin-pointed it, it seemed to stop. Right until I got back to sleep, then straight back to BANG BANG BANG. I’d had enough and got up, storming over to the window ready to let whoever was absolutely have it. BANG BANG BANG. It was a bird throwing itself with some force headfirst into the window. Repeatedly. What can one do in that circumstance, except go back to bed and hope he brains himself at some point.

It continued for another half hour when either the severity of his concussion got the better of him, or he finally got it through his tiny little head that he couldn’t get through that way. Birds are stupid.

An hour later, my alarm went off for 8am. Jamie had planned a morning in Fossombrone for its Monday market – we’d planned on buying supplies for dinner at the market and cooking in tonight. With a slightly woolly head we got up and got ready, having a leisurely breakfast before loading into the car and driving out.

We both love French markets, and were very much looking forward to poking around an Italian one for a few hours. We made it into Fossombrome relatively quickly, and despite my unwillingness to park anywhere the mood took me in an Italian manner (at least from what we’d seen of Italian parking thus far on the trip), we found a parking spot in a lot right across the road from the market. We paid the euro for an hour and walked into what turned out to be the worst market I’ve been to in continental Europe (about average by British standards though).

Only one or two veg stands, three trucks selling porchetta (whole roasted suckling pig, served on a bun), and uncountable stands selling crap clothes, shoddy shoes, and bric-a-brac of various sorts. It makes sense I suppose for a region that doesn’t have malls, but it wasn’t what we’d been hoping for. We walked from one end to the other hoping against hope that we’d just picked the dodgy end and the proper market was at the other, but our hopes weren’t fulfilled. It was all dodgy.

Disappointed but slightly the wiser, we walked through the lower bit of Fossombrone to see if the town could redeem itself, but it couldn’t. To be fair to it, we didn’t make it up the hill to see the ancient bit because we’re a bit lazy and it was very hot, but it seemed like one of those places that’s really beautiful and picturesque from a distance but that’s about it.

Back into the car and off to stop numero due (number two) for the day – the tiny olive growing village of Cartoceto. Gazza decided to have a bit of fun with us, knowing my dislike of hill starts in manual transmission cars (I’ve always owned automatics, and we don’t even own a car at all in London, so I don’t really get much practice). Added to this is the shocking condition of our hire car’s clutch – whoever had this car before us thrashed the hell out of it, and I could barely get out of the parking area at the B&B with no walls or buildings or people about. So Gazza tried to take us up through the cobbled, steep, and narrow centre of Saltara. Not bloody likely. We took a detour and found signs pointing us in the right direction.

We got fairly close to Cartoceto and Gazza tried it on again, directing us to the narrow and windy Centro section of town – we were on to his tricks and parked up the first spot we saw and walked in. Which turned out to be a really good decision – I have no idea how they can call those roads in Cartoceto, two horses would have trouble passing!

The temperature was topping 37 Celsius, and there were no obviously located lunch venues other than a café in a parking lot at the bottom of the town. We persevered, climbing what seemed endless staircases up to the top of the village where we were rewarded with a ridiculously good three course lunch for only €27 for the two of us, including wine. They’d managed to confit a chicken in olive oil as far as we could tell, which is so much better than it sounds, and it sounds bloody tasty!

Sufficiently full, we trooped back down to the car, stopping briefly at a little cheese shop to pick up some parmesan for dinner and some homemade goats cheese for snacking – a fairly large selection only cost us €9 – I love the countryside.

We stopped briefly in Piobbico for a glass of wine for Jamie and a sprite and gelato for me (no wine, driving - sad). We sat at the one of the two cafés on the main road in Piobbico that wasn’t full of old men playing cards and pretended to be locals for a bit. We’ve often talked about our dream of moving to France for a life in the French countryside, and one of our key requirements is a little village nearby that has a few cafés, at least one good restaurant, a few little grocery stores, and at least one bigger grocery store. Piobbico seems to check all the requirements, other than not being in France.

We finished our drinks and ice cream and walked up to the Conad (my juvenile mind can’t help but change the first letter when I say it) to finish buying dinner – pasta sauce, a few bottles of wine, and some yoghurts for breakfasts. Back to Giancarlo the car for the final push back to the B&B.

We spent the last of the blisteringly hot afternoon lounging at the pool, soaking up the sun while we read our books and swam in the cool water. It seems that the caterpillars are starting to disappear – oh, I forgot to mention the caterpillar situation.

As it turns out, this area is having a bizarre plague of caterpillars. And by this area, I mean a few square miles around the B&B. And by plague, I mean of biblical proportions – we thought there was some sort of bizarre tree disease that had killed all the trees around here, but it turns out that it’s the billions of caterpillars eating everything green in sight. Well, not everything – it seems they like most trees including the pines, but dislike any shrubbery, grass, or things that live on trees (holly, or those climbing vine things). They’re EVERYWHERE, underfoot, falling off the roof, climbing walls. Apparently it’s a freak of nature sort of thing and has never happened before, and now it seems they’re all building their cocoons. I’d love to see the butterfly population later this year (or however long caterpillars take to turn into butterflies…).

After sitting in the sun as long as we felt was reasonable given our pasty British skin tone (we’re so white we’re almost blue, but the gills are coming in nicely), we moved to the little table outside our apartment for a glass or two of wine. Dinner was fettuccine with a meat ragu topped with the parmesan from Cartoceto, followed by a very nice local Sangiovese and my top 70’s rock playlist on the ipod.
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Old Jun 25th, 2012, 04:08 AM
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Ah can't believe I missed the first days of posting of your trip report. Darn work gets in the way. But all caught up now!

We stayed 4 nights in Bologna at the same B&B as you. Wonderful hosts and we loved the city and the glorious food.

You guys write fantastic trip reports, always making the reader wish they were your travelling companions.

Looking forward to more.
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Old Jun 25th, 2012, 04:11 AM
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"We paid the euro for an hour and walked into what turned out to be the worst market I’ve been to in continental Europe (about average by British standards though)."

Thou needs to get to Yorkshire some time lass
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Old Jun 25th, 2012, 08:17 AM
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Bilboburgler - true, we were just at a really crap market in Rye so it's still fresh in our minds! I am sure there are some wonderful ones in yorkshire!

Ps - bikerscott, the trip writer, is my hubby, definitely not a lass ha
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Old Jun 25th, 2012, 11:37 AM
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we came across the market in the town we were staying in this weekend, [Wells, in somerset] and were pleasantly surprised. Before the rain drove us indoors, we spotted stalls selling herbs, growing and cut, a lady selling eggs [from her own hens, presumably] nice bread and cakes, some interesting looking crafts, etc, etc.

I agree that it is unusual to find a crap market in Italy, but i suppose it has to happen sometime. I think I'd have put up with it to be with you on the trip though!

BTW, immimmi - <<Pacida (sp?) in Ravenna was just lovely and very 'approachable' compared to Montreale>> - can you tell me why the mosaics in Monreale are less approachable - we're planning a trip to sicily and they are on my list!
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Old Jun 25th, 2012, 12:07 PM
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Annhig - we went to a few in La Marche, and it seemed to be the same vans at all of them...fortunately they have cafes with strong coffee and/or gelato to soften the disappointment.
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Old Jun 25th, 2012, 01:35 PM
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ann - in the Bapistry in Ravenna you are physically very close
to the mosaics (it's a small space) and the Galla Placidia
mausoleum is small enough to wander around near the walls; in
Montreale the huge Christ Pantocrater is up high over the altar so is distant.

We will now return to the regular scheduled and wonderful
program....sorry for the disruption.
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Old Jun 25th, 2012, 01:53 PM
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bikerScott - no more porchetta vans? - shame!

immimi - thanks!. i understand what you meant now.
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Old Jun 25th, 2012, 02:23 PM
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It was more the van after van of crappy cotton t shirts that did us in!!
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