10/14/2003 Italy in Fall 2003 Day 7 - Macerata
Jim and Diana write:
It is quite foggy and cool as we take in the view from our balcony, but I am confident that weather will change later in the morning.

We are planning to head to Ancona, the major port city in the area. I seem to have an affinity for Italian port cities, which Diana doesn't altogether share so she is dubious about this expedition. As a sweetener, I plan to visit the Riviera del Conero after Ancona and have lunch at a seaside restaurant.

The weather begins to clear as we approach the coast and by the time we have entered Ancona, the sun is shining brightly. We make our way to the "centro storico" and are directed in and out of small, narrow streets as we head to the harbor. We pass the university--a cloister that looks more like a US college campus than any other university we have seen in Italy--pass a long rectangular piazza--the Piazza del Plebiscito--and end up right on the harbor. The harbor is picturesque, completely surrounded by a ring of hills. Driving out to the end of the road, we stop and visit the Arch of Trajan, a second century Roman construction still in excellent repair. There is a similar arch a few yards down the road, built in the 18th century by Pope Clementine XIII, which is much worse shape. Diana notices that there are very few containers on the docks ("cans" in the language of "The Wire") and only two or three ships in the harbor. There is a large ferry terminal for ships to Greece, Croatia, etc. We drive to the other end of the harbor to see a big fort-like building called the Lazzaretto....they used to use it as a quarantine area for incoming passengers; now it houses art exhibits and other shows.

The Duomo is on one of the hills--Monte Guasco--overlooking the town, so we start following signs. As we climb further up the hill...through residential neighborhoods...the streets get narrower and narrower; at one point, we can barely squeeze through a construction area, but we are waved past by the workers and continue to go up. Just when Diana is sure that we are on the wrong road, we emerge at the top in the parking lot for the Duomo and find a space directly in front of the entrance.

The Duomo (called San Ciriaco) is set in a hilltop park with splendid views over the harbor and down the coast. The cathedral itself is quite interesting; the outside is built in the Romanesque style similar to the cathedrals in Puglia to the south. Inside, the decoration is pretty spare, which is usually more to our taste. Due to reconstructions over the years, there are three altars and lots of old Roman columns are incorporated into the structure. There is an interesting connection to the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme that we visited in Rome, according to the Cadogan guide book. "The building is dedicated to St. Cyriacus, the converted Jew who revealed the whereabouts of the True Cross to St. Helen" (the mother of Constantine and the benefactor of Santa Croce in Rome).

Outside, we come upon the English tour group who are staying at our hotel in Macerata and we listen for a while to the guide's commentary. The trip downhill is less exciting than the trip up; there is a new road that goes directly from the harbor up the side of the hill--suitable for buses and tourists. We park on the harbor, buy some postcards and go for a walk in the old town. Ancona had been heavily bombed during World War II and also has suffered recent earthquake damage, but the city center has been nicely restored...there are nice pedestrian shopping streets, the Piazza del Plebiscito is a handsome, nicely designed space, and there are some interesting churches and medieval buildings to admire. As we drive out of town, we pass several other large squares and parks in the downtown area--a market is being held in one square--and the road out of town is along a tree-lined boulevard ending at a big war memorial right on the water.

Just south of Ancona is a high headland called Monte Conero....almost 2,000 feet at its summit. This area has some beautiful beaches tucked under sheer cliffs and beautiful wooded areas on its slopes. We stop for lunch in Portonovo, a beach community where restaurants and bathing facilities line the shore. We have a very nice lunch at Il Laghetto, a Slow Food recommendation, while looking out over the blue water and the cliffs beyond. Diana has a square cut pasta (alla chittara) with zucchini and gamberoni (a minature lobster that Italians seem to favor, but we find hard to eat and not particularly tasty)--the sauce is tasty, and piece of sea bass baked with tomatoes and potatoes, which she likes very much. I have a saute of vongole (small clams) which is quite good and an adequate fritto misto....nothing special. We drink a whole bottle of a local Verdicchio which goes down very easily. We note the other tables of Italians having dishes that appear nowhere on the polenta with seafood and a red sauce......and wish we remembered to ask for the daily specials and get access to those special dishes.

After lunch we explore some of the little coves in the area....most of the establishments are closed for the season....and then continue our drive. I take the road to the top of Monte Conero, but the summit is closed for military purposes. We do get some dramatic views on the way down over the coast to the south and we stop for a while in the town of Sirola, whose piazza is designed to take advantage of the stunning views over the water and back to the cliffs.

We drive back to Macerata past the towns of Loreto and Recanati....the vistas along this route are spectacular. Back at the hotel, we take a nap (we are not used to a whole bottle of wine for lunch) and soon it is time to decide about dinner. We decide to go back to da Secondo where we had eaten the first night. As we are walking there, we come across two groups who are celebrating their graduation from the university and one of the groups is having dinner at da Secondo; they have taken over half the dining room.

We think the waiter recognizes us from two nights ago, but we don't get a particularly warm greeting. He does put us at a table in the main room so we get a birds-eye view of the festivities. Our food is quite good again.....although the staff is hard put to take care of the graduation party and the full restaurant. Diana watches with sympathy as the young apprentice waiter is ordered around by the two senior waiters...he seems to be constantly running and yet he is constantly being yelled at.

Diana has a plate of local ham with crostini....toasted bread with olive oil and garlic; the ham is much sturdier than prosciutto di Parma and some of her portion is too tough to cut. I have a local speciality--a soft salami called ciauscolo--which is very delicious. When they are out of the farro soup, Diana orders the bean soup and I order the large ravioli with cheese and tomato sauce. Both are very good and we exchange dishes half way through. For our second course, we share a large platter of fritti--lamb chops, olives, vegetables, etc. We specify that we want to share one order, but we are sure that we have been misunderstood. It is very good, but we can barely eat half of it. We drink our second bottle of wine of the day....a Rosso di Conero (from the area we had driven through earlier in the day.)

The battle to get the check ensues.....the three waiters are scrurrying to take care of other customers and they take no notice that we have finished eating. However, the two Italians next to us can't even get them to take their order, so Diana feels that it's not because we are foreigners that we are being ignored. She also thinks that on some level they think they're doing us a favor, not rushing us out of there, and the fact that we prefer to be done doesn't register. It gets to be a game to see if we can get them to come over. Finally, we get up and stand at the bar where the checks are kept. We finally succeed in paying (the waiter had understood that we wanted to share the fritto misto) and walk back to the hotel.....a long day with two bottles of wine.

Tomorrow we will visit Fabriano to the historic town which has been a center of the manufacture of fine paper since the 13th century.