10/12/2003 Italy in Fall 2003 Day 5
Jim and Diana write:
Today, we leave Rome....but we know that we will be back in the not too distant future.

We wrestle our luggage down the four flights of narrow stairs and wait for our taxi to take us to the Avis office just off the Via Veneto. In the past we had gotten the car and driven it back to the center to pick up the luggage, but this time we decided that the Euro 15 that the cab would cost was worth it to avoid having to drive back to the center and then back out to the East.

The cab driver drove past us first and about five minutes later, he returned--backing up the entire length of Via dei Coronari. He drove like the proverbial Rome cab driver....aggressively and we headed up the Lungotevere. I had just read a description in the H.V. Morton book about Rome where he describes in great detail a harrowing cab ride he had taken; things seem to be much the same 50 years later. He asked us where we were heading next and when we told him "Macerata", he exclaimed that Macerata was his home town.

He delivered us safely to Avis where we joined the short queue of waiting prospective renters. The two car rental clerks were quite deliberate filling out the necessary forms and then they had to personally descend into the garage to bring up each even though there were only three or four people ahead of us, it took about 45 minutes for us to get our car.

The car we get is a roomy Opel Vectra, with a very big trunk. Immediately after we leave the office, I make a left turn instead of the right turn I was supposed to make and we have to scramble to get back on course. After a few anxious moments in an unfamiliar part of Rome, we stumble on the Via Tiburtina, a main road that leads us to the access road to the autostrada that we are looking for.

The drive across the peninsula goes through (and under) the Appenine range...the long chain of mountains that forms the spine of Italy from the Alps to the toe of the boot. In this area, the highest peaks reach up to 9,000 feet; the scenery is quite spectacular, especially with the clear, sunny weather. There are also many tunnels under some of the is 3 miles long, another 6 miles. It takes less than two hours to reach the Adriatic Coast...including a stop for a sandwich at an Autogrill. If only American turnpike rest stops would contract with Autogrills.....

We arrive in Macerata around 2 pm; it is a provincial capital in the southern part of Le Marche region, located about 15 miles inland from the Adriatic. The old town occupies the summit of the hill and the new town spreads out down the hill into the valley. The buildings are constructed of light yellow bricks made from the local clay and the color gives Macerata (and other Marche towns) a very different look than Tuscan or Umbrian towns. After a long circuitous route up to the center, we see a sign for our hotel...the Claudiani. The signs direct us into an impossibly narrow street and after a little while, we see the sign for the hotel's garage. Thinking that we might have to check in first at the desk and there being no place to pull the car up without blocking traffic, we go past the hotel. However, our only option is to exit the we make a full circumnavigation outside the walls of Macerata and when we are back in the old town, we pull directly into the garage.

Our room was billed as a suite with a balcony with a view (for Euro 125/$140.00 US--a travel agent rate), but suite and balcony and view hardly do the room justice. The room is enormous...decorated in some sort of Art Deco style, with a sofa, a folding glass screen (to separate the sleeping area from the living area), an easy chair, a table and chairs. The balcony is through large French doors and is about 15 feet square. The view is an almost unobstructed 180 degrees (there are two construction cranes to the left) over a picture postcard view of rolling hills and endless ridges, towns off in the distance, and the Adriatic Sea way off in the background.....unbelievable--a Renaissance painting landscape.

After we enjoy the view for a while, we unpack, check our e-mail and head out for an introductory stroll around Macerata. There is a flea market in the center so we browse for a while (something that I would never do that at home.) Diana is tempted by some embroidered pillow cases, but settles for some almond cookies and currant preserves. I am surprised to find that one of the items for sale is a baseball. [This becomes less strange when we pass a sign for the Macerata baseball field on the outskirts of town.] The town has comfortable proportions....some grand palaces and attractive piazzas. It is a university town, which dominates one part of the town. Since it is a Sunday afternoon, it is hard to get an accurate picture of what the town is like since most businesses are closed, but there are quite a few shops open today because of the flea market.

Diana goes is getting a little chilly...and I continue my exploration--I am looking for a place to eat dinner as well to get an overall sense of the town. To my surprise, in one of the large squares, the Italian Department of Labor is holding a weeklong employment fair. There are four small motorhomes and some tents, where Labor Department staff are putting on workshops on resume writing, job seeking techniques, how to find financial aid, and other related topics. I hope to be able to go there and talk to some of the staff about their programs.

I also find our dinner destination--Da Secondo....and call to make a reservation. It is just before dark, so we get into the car and take a quick ride around the new town and out in the countryside, but we lose the light at around 6:45 pm and our tour is called because of darkness.

We go to dinner around 8 pm and, other than a tour group in the back room, there are no customers in the restaurant. The waiter brings us menus in English but we tell him that we prefer the Italian version....maybe the food tastes better from Italian menus. We decide what we want to have, but before we can order, the waiter brings us a large plate of a Marchigiano speciality, a fritto misto with deep-fried, breaded, stuffed olives (from Asoli Piceno), zucchini, artichokes, turnips and--one very odd one--cubes of deep fried breaded cream....slightly sweet and not all that pleasant. The frying was wonderful however....light, crisp and very tasty.

Since we had been planning to share a large platter of fried meats and vegetables as one course, we have to revise our ordering plan.....Diana has a plate of orecchiette maceratese--tomato sauce with basil and cheese and I have the local speciality--vincisgrassi--which looked and tasted a lot like lasagna--very delicate noodles and a very tasty ragu. For dessert, I had a delicious panna cotta with a berry topping and Diana had the tasty berries themselves--frutti di bosco (fruit of the woods). We drank a full bodied local red wine--Rosso di Piceno--which we enjoyed very much.

The waiter had been very attentive and charming at the beginning of the meal, but as the restaurant filled up and regular customers began coming in, the service got a little lax. But we enjoyed our meal very came to Euro 60 for everything...about $68.00 US.

En route back to the hotel, we stopped to investigate a poster that Diana had seen from the car; she thought it had Hebrew lettering. We found it and it turned out that there had been a Jewish music festival, including a klezmer band, in the area the week before.

Interesting that we find--in a mid-sized provincial town in central Italy--a baseball, a government job training program and a poster for a Yiddish music festival. Tomorrow, we head for some of the towns to the north and west of Macerata.