So, it was time to go back, and my dad had been offered the use of a house in La Marche, and of course we would need to go see the family. This time around we flew Swiss, and I learned that the Zurich airport is, in fact, not made entirely made out of Lego. So much for that fantasy.
After one night in Rome, we headed for the hills. La Marche, located on the Adriatic coast north and east of Rome, but not quite as far as Venice, is a lumpy blanket of hills and valleys, dotted with sunflower fields, olive groves and pristine lakes fed by mountain springs as they tumble down to the sea. Amandola, the town closest to our temporary home, is perched on a hilltop, with the old city at the very peak. Of course, due to my stellar navigation skills, we managed to steer the Ducato into a one-way street which got narrower and narrower like a scene from a Lewis Carroll story . At one point we had to stop and wait for some locals to come out of their houses and move their cars so we could squeeze through.
One of our number had booked her own accommodations in a beautiful bed-and-breakfast whose only downside is its location at the end of a long, remote track made of snow-white gravel. When we arrived at the address on the main road, a man came out to see what his dog was barking about, and -- after learning what we were looking for -- got in his car and beckoned us to follow him to the place rather than try to explain it. This became a recurring theme, and we were grateful that the local populace was so patient with befuddled tourists.
|La Mela Rosa|
We bumped and jostled our way along behind her to La Conca, the agriturista where we'd be dining. What we didn't know was this was a once-a-year event, and the place was swarming with people, but a table was waiting for us.
In case we had forgotten, we quickly learned that there is no such thing as a quick meal in Italy. Each dish was presented in succession, with plenty of time to enjoy it before the next one followed. After almost two hours we begged for mercy and our guide returned to shepherd us along the dark country roads to the house where we'd be staying.
|The view from our house|
We spent our days there exploring the villages and lakes around Amandola. We had some amazing fresh mozzarella in Sarnano, bought some local bread, cheese and fruit for a picnic on the shores of the Lago di Fiastra and sampled the signature dish of Ascoli Piceno: Olive all'ascolana - fried olives stuffed with pork or beef, tomato paste, and Parmesan cheese.
|Driving in Italy is fun!|
One whole day was spent driving to San Marino, a tiny country-within-a-country that occupies the top of a mesa surrounded by flat plains. A steep, winding road leads you up into the fortified complex which is chock full of churches, museum, and (surprise) gift shops. In the spirit of the occasion I forked over 5 Euro to have my passport stamped, just to say I was there. On the way home, I managed to get us REALLY lost, and a local guy who we flagged down in a parking lot tried to explain how to get where we needed to go, sighed and then asked if it would be okay for him to buy his beer before leading us back to the highway. Sometimes pity is useful!