10/13/2003 Italy in Fall 2003 Day 6
Jim and Diana write:
The view from our balcony is an overcast sky, but there are patches of blue trying to peek through....

Breakfast at the Claudiani is main complaint is that the cappuccino is lukewarm. But they have delicious small rolls, good cornetti, and a nice variety of Italian yogurt--which Diana is getting quite a taste for....much tarter than American style and, even with fruit added, not too sweet. There is an English bus tour staying at the hotel....they have already finished breakfast and are ready to leave for their day's excursion when we come down.

Our plan today is to follow the Touring Club Italiano's Heritage Guide plan for the area around Macerata. The Heritage Guide series are translations of the Italian guides so they are more detailed than most other English-language guides. However, the English translation often leaves a lot to be desired.

I am able to maneuver the car out of the hotel garage without any damage to the car....Italian drivers are very skillful at backing up and escaping from tight spaces. This garage has the additional hazard of support columns placed in the most inconvenient spots; the plaster shows the scars from encounters with fenders and bumpers over the years.

The traffic pattern out of Macerata flows in a counter clockwise direction around the walls of the town, so that you may have to almost completely circumnavigate the town to get to your desired road. You have to be constantly alert to the signage; if you happen to be in the wrong lane when your desired turn comes up, you either have to move quickly or go around the town one more time.

We spend the morning driving around the countryside....which is either strikingly beautiful or dotted with new factories or commercial buildings--a sign of the strength of the local economy but a thorn in side of scenery consumers. We visit two of the towns on the Heritage Guide itinerary--Treia and Pollenza; while both of them are beautifully sited and Treia is quite a handsome town, there was really little of touristic interest for us. We enjoyed our stroll around Treia--the sun was out, making the town even more attractive; Treia's main claim to fame is that it holds a festival every year for a local ball game--pallone dei bracciale (supposedly similar to jai alai). They also used to play the game in the arena in Macerata, now used primarily for opera. We notice some bleachers with netting in back of them across from a high wall on road just outside of town; I speculate that is where they hold the pallone festival every year.

Pollenza has beautiful views over the countryside from its hill top perch, but the town seemed a little drab. We hit the end of the market...mostly clothes and household goods...but it is pretty quiet. We follow our nose to a bakery where we buy some local pastries (Diana says it is very similar to "mandelbrot" ) and she also buys some grapes at a "frutta verdura". We look at a couple of the highlighted churches and head back to the car.

Next stop is the town of Cingoli, also know as the "balcony of The Marches". It sits atop a hill at about 2000 feet and has spectacular views in all the Adriatic some 30 miles to the east and to the Appenines some 20 miles to the west. It is mainly a summer resort, so that combined with the fact that we arrive around 1 pm, everything in town is shut up tight. We stroll around the town, admiring some of the churches and medieval buildings and admire the view from the "balcony", but we are unsuccessful in finding a restaurant or a cafe open for lunch. However, we are "saved from starvation' at the last minute when we discover an open bar called "American Bar" . We have a few small sandwiches which are quite good.

At this point, I decide to stop relying on the Heritage Guide for our itinerary and we head for the town of San Severino Marche...which calls itself "the city of art". San Severino's old city on top of the hill is visible for miles as we approach, but we miss the sign into the centro and have to double back after a few kilometers. Once in the modern town of San Severino, we make several false starts in climbing the hill but finally reach the top. The old town turns out to be mostly abandoned.....there is a hotel up there but except for the old Duomo, a museum and several other buildings, there is no sign of life other than a couple of other tourists at this hour. Back down the hill, we find the center of town which is highlighted by a grand, almost elliptical piazza, surrounded by shops and palazzos. We stop for a coffee and wander around a bit, but we are too early (3 pm) to see too much activity. (This precipitates our semi-annual discussion - should we not follow the Italian custom and take a siesta after lunch, when everything is closed anyway - that would be me, Diana - or should we continue as indefatigable tourists, simluating mad Englishmen in the noonday sun - that would be Jim. Jim invariably prevails, but for the record, he who claims to never nap, has on this trip taken two naps, of his own accord, and is none the worse for it. D.)

Back in the car, we head for Tolentino, about 10 km to the southeast of San Severino. We are looking for the Basilica of San Nicola, the church of a very significant 13th century Augustan preacher and an important Italian pilgrimage destination. The town is set in a valley and is surrounded by modern suburbs and industry. The centro storico is also confusingly marked and we drive through many narrow streets and residential areas looking for the Basilica. In one of the narrow streets, a small truck is parked blocking the way and I have no choice but to back up about 50 yards...not my favorite task. Luckily we have full collision coverage on our rental car because in the course of getting out of the street, I scrape the rear fender against a wall and crack the rear tail light cover.

We do find our destination, park the car and walk down a very handsome street, lined with very substantial buildings. The basilica is very impressive from the outside--there is a 14th century portal--and inside the wooden roof is very ornate. One of the chapels has a wonderful fresco cycle done by local artists in the style of Giotto. The frescoes are from the 14th century and they are in wonderful condition; the colors are very bright--there are scenes from the life of Jesus, Mary, and San Nicola on the walls and the Apostles on the ceiling. There is also a lovely cloister attached to the church.

The main piazza also surprises is surrounded by a number of nicely decorated palazzos and is highlighted with a clock tower that tells the time, the date and the phases of the moon. The main street and this piazza seem to be from a different town....the rest of the centro storico is quite undistinguished.

The road from Tolentino back to Macerata is not very scenic but lined with factories and stores. Tolentino is a center for clothing manufacture and there are numerous factory outlet clothing stores along the road.

Back in the hotel, we rest and read before dinner....I walk over to the TIM (mobile phone store) to see if they can help me restore the SMS (short text message) on my phone; it quit working two days ago. The salesmen patiently tries for about a half hour....even exchanging the card from his phone to see if there might be something wrong with the phone...but he finally gives up, apologetically.

We have dinner at the Trattoria da Rosa, right across the street from the hotel. It is written up in most of the guide books, including Slow Food. As soon as I sit down and look at the menu, I have a bad feeling about the place. The menu is a little too creative for me and has too many odd combinations of ingredients. The room is a bit small and the seating area is cramped. While only two tables are occupied when we come in, by the time we leave it is full and there is a good bit of cigarette smoke.

It turns out that the food is pretty good, but we are not too pleased with the service or the atmosphere. I have a plate of ham and salami to start, followed by the lasagne-like vincisgrassi--which was tasty but not as good as the night before; Diana had gnocchi with basil and tomatoes, and lamb chops (abbachio scottadito) which she liked a lot. We had a half liter of the house wine, which was thin and not very good. No desserts.....the bill came to Euro 53.00. I don't think we will be returning for a second meal.

We only have to walk across the street to get back to the hotel. Tomorrow we are planning to head for the coast and visit Ancona and the Riviera del Conero.