Prepare for Departure

The day before my return home was spent in Falconara Marittima, the town on the beach just north of Ancona, where the airport is.

Poster advertising chestnut sagraI’d planned to go to a sagra and to visit some furniture and home goods stores, but the big earthquake that morning changed my plans. I didn’t do much besides watch earthquake news on TV and have lunch and dinner.

I ended up having both at the same restaurant, Il Paradiso, about a half-mile walk from the hotel. You go down a steep hill to the beach, across, and then back up the hill. Good place. Lunch was a great spaghetti with clams and mussels, followed by a great lemon chicken scallopini. I was then treated to both a local amaro and a local coffee liqueur by my waiter.

The most fun time to go to a restaurant in Italy is Sunday lunch. Whole families go out together and eat and drink and laugh. It really makes you feel good.

Despite the quality and the hospitality, I didn’t intend to return for dinner, but I had a change of plans. I decided to go out and fill the car with gas, so I wouldn’t have to do it the next morning. Italian gas stations these days seem to be just gas pumps. No people there, no convenience store. :-). First station I stopped at had a sign that the card reader wasn’t working. At the next one, it wouldn’t take my credit card, since while we’ve started using chips in the cards in the US, I didn’t have the PIN number I needed.

pompa di benzinaWhat you do is insert euro notes to a machine, which then sets the pump to deliver the gas. That’s fine in general, but it makes it hard to use when you need to fill up a rental car before returning it. So I try a 20 euro bill. I return to the pump — and it won’t work. I ask a local who happens to be there, but he can’t figure it out either. Finally I try putting the nozzle back and removing it again. Bravo!

But 20 doesn’t fill it up. So I try 5 euro more. Close, but still not full. All I’ve got left is a 20 and I figure the penalty from Hertz will be less than that. So back to the hotel. But by now it’s dark. And even with Google maps, I can’t seem to get back to the hotel. Up the hill. Around. Down. Up.

At one point, I make an almost critical error. I pull over on a downhill to look at the map. Now I see what to do But I got too close to the next car downhill when I stopped. As soon as I put the clutch in to reverse, I go down the hill toward the car. After a couple of attempts and stalls, I figure I’m in a bad way. I’m a foot from the car and can’t back up.

Two choices I see: roll (gently) into the car, probably setting off an alarm, and then try to reverse, or put on the parking brake, rev in reverse, release the brake and hope to go uphill. I don’t like number one, so I try two.

Luckily, it worked, but the smell, from either the clutch or brake burning was really strong.

I was so glad to get to the hotel and out of the car that I decided to return to the restaurant I knew I could walk to. Pizza this time. And a half liter of wine to calm the nerves. Very good.

First image: Copyright © Our Big Italian Adventure
Second image Copyright: morenosoppelsa / 123RF Stock Photo

La Medievalia a San Ginesio

medieval soldiers

I may have found a way to get our son Jack to visit us in Italy.

The hilltop town of San Ginesio, about 25 minutes from our property, holds a 10-day festival, La Medievalia, in early August. It commemorates the 1377 victory of the Sanginesine over the attacking forces from the town of Fermo.

The festival is built around a competition, il palio, between the four parts of town. They challenge each other in medieval events: archery, crossbow, and two other events. They are, as I read it, a relay race having something to do with swords (?) and an event where a horseman tries to spear a ring while riding by. (I’ve seen this done, but don’t know the English word for it.)

Throughout the festival, cooks from the four parts of town make dishes based on the cuisine of the period.

The fun concludes on August 15 with the final event, for double points, in which a horseman tries to hit the center of a shield with a lance.

August 15 is a national holiday in Italy and is widely celebrated with a palio, the best known of which is in Siena (actually on August 16 there.). The holiday is believed to go back to the Emperor Augustus, commemorating a battle won vs. Marc Antony in 21 BC, but is held on August 15 to coincide with the Assumption of Mary. In the ancient games, there were races not just of horses, but of oxen, donkeys and mules.

Now, if they raced dragons ridden by elves we’d get Jack over there for sure.

Image source

An Experiment: Frasassi

To fill in between posts about the house, I thought I’d try an exercise. Write about places to see in Le Marche, with rules being I can only do research using Italian-language articles, and I’m going to look up as few words as possible.

Le Grotte di Frasassi

Le Grotte di Frasassi, or the Caves of Frasassi, seem to be a good place to start. In north-central Marche, about 66km (40 miles) northwest of Colmurano and about an hour and a half by car, these are some big caves. The Italians like to point out that the cave just inside the present entrance could comfortably contain the Duomo of Milan, the third largest Catholic Church in the world, behind St. Peter in the Vatican and the cathedral in Siviglia, Spain. (We’re talking about a space about 400 X 600 feet and 650 feet high. In the vernacular, that’s about 4×2 football fields and really high: let’s say half the Empire State Building.)

Frasassi CavesThe caves weren’t discovered until 1971, when some spelunkers from a Marche caving club felt a strong breeze coming from a small hole in the ground. They had to enlarge the opening to get in, where they saw … a very small room, but with some small gaps where the wind was whistling through. After some days of digging, they finally were in a place they could stand and they saw … darkness. But big darkness. They dropped some stones off an edge they (fortunately) did see and estimated the fall at 100m (330ft). Watch your step! They called this cave “La Grotta Grande del Vento,” the Big Cave of the Wind.

The process that formed the caves started about 190 million years ago. So far, they’ve discovered over 40km (25 miles) of cave passages. One passage connects to an earlier-discovered cave, La Grotta di Fiume. Together, they form a large underground web under the land around the Comune di Genga, in the Parco Naturale Regionale della Gola della Rossa e di Frasassi.

Inside, the temperature is always 14C (58F) and the humidity always 100%. The air holds as much water as possible. The rest keeps dripping and forming the stalattiti e stalagmiti. (Those are your stalactites and stalagmites.)

You can take the general tour, of about 1600m (a bit less than a mile). (No photos, they say. That’s the special “Photo Tour.”) This tour is about an hour and 15 minutes and costs about €15. For those over 12 years old, there’s also the 2 hour Percorso Azzurro (Blue Tour), price unknown.

Last, there’s a Percorso Rosso (Red Tour), about 3 hours and described as somewhat challenging. In fact, the description on the website says, “you are hooked to a rope, turn to your left and try not to look down” over the 30m (100ft) drop. Then it’s Attenzione la testa! (watch your head!) and … di nuovo a piedi … (… back on your feet … ) so there are some low, narrow passages.

As a total aside, I visited Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota (180 miles of passages — a big boy cave) many years ago. They told us a caver can fit through a hole if it’s bigger than the span of your hand.

This is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Le Marche, but it’s mostly Italian tourists, not foreigners. TripAdvisor shows 1600 reviews in Italian, 100 in English.

Just to show you how crazy August is in Italy, here are the tour times, July vs. August:
July: 10:00 11:00 12:00 2:30 4:00 5:00
August: every 10 minutes from 9:00 to 6:00

So, I say we visit on a rainy day in the spring or fall. Do you want to join us? (You can go on your own on the Percorso Rosso.)

Image: By Kessiye (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons