Since my last blog entry, Two Gypsy Souls have been on a whirlwind adventure through Italy, and what an adventure it has been! It has been challenging to secure a decent wifi connection which is why this entry has taken significantly longer than usual, my apologies. Anywhoo…
Where do I even begin? I suppose it would be best to pick up where we last left off…. Amalfi. As the coastline disappeared in our rear view mirror, destination Abruzzo was a go! We would just have to spend a considerable amount of time driving in order to get there.
Castel Del Monte was our first stop of the day, however, we were sad upon arrival to discover that a large portion of the town was devastated by an earthquake in 2013. The combination of constant construction clammer and the presence of multiple scattered cranes across the skyline diminished our excitement for the once peaceful and picturesque mountainous community. We spent little time sight seeing before returning to our vehicle. Due to the chaos, any chance of staying in this location had disappeared and we concluded it would be best to carry on.
Our plan B was to once again camp at an Agriturismo, yet…. fate, flow, destiny (or whatever the heck you want to call it) had something else in store for us. When we arrived at the large rod iron gate of the tricky to find property, we were greeted by an adorable golden retriever who, (like most people in Italy) did not speak English. We asked him if anyone was on the property or if he could open the gate to let us in, but he just looked at us dazed and confused while wagging his tail. Clearly, there would be no getting past the gate of this place.
“OK, now what?” we both thought to ourselves. There was no plan C. Popoli happened to be the closest of several nearby towns which simplified our decision. We jumped back in the car and headed that way. Upon our arrival, (surprise, surprise) the tourist information office was closed, and not just for the day… for the rest of the season. I am not overeggagerating when I say this day presented us with multiple challenges!
Our next plan of attack was to locate a cafe with wifi. Two slice of pizza and a latte later, we had secured our accommodations at a nearby hotel. We walked around Popoli for close to twenty minutes, searching for the hotel on foot. I’m not sure how it happened, but we managed to get slightly turned around. Ironically, when we finally found it, we instantaneously noticed that it was located directly across the street from the pizza parlour we had used to book our reservations!
The historical hotel was situated in the heart of Popoli. Our room was nice with a cute little balcony that looked out over the centro park and canal which runs through the middle of town. We even had heated floors! As we settled in for the evening, once again we were graced with (dun,dun,dun….) rain. That ominous rain cloud seems to be stalking us these days! The downpour was consistent all night and there was even thunder and lightning. We were thanking our lucky stars that the Agriturismo was closed, the dog didn’t speak English and fate led us to Popoli… because we would NOT have been happy campers in the heavy rain.
Breakfast the following morning and every morning included warm croissants accompanied by a plethora of baked goods and deli favourites, cappuccinos and a juice bar. I’m feeling like Julia Roberts these days in eat, pray, love…. the food in Italy is delicious and not entirely nutricious! Pizzaria, momma mia! Nom, nom, nom!
We finished breakfast and spent the rest of our day exploring various communities in Abruzzo including Roccacasale where we hiked up to castle ruins which have been converted in to the community center. We also visited Pacentro where we met a furry tour guide who led us to the top of town. Our full days of adventure seem to be going by ever more quickly lately. It is hard to believe that we have less than two weeks remaining in Italy.
Early to bed and early-ish to rise, we drove to a popular ski village called Scanno the following morning. Home to the famous Sarracco Fountain built in 700 and the Holy Souls Church built in late 600, this town has both modern flare and architectural heritage. We spent a considerable amount of time in the community taking photographs and learning about the history of this Byzantine village, before moving on to a small town close-by called Villalago.
As the name suggests, Villalago is a lakeside hamlet. Because of it’s high elevation, this town was particularly chilly. Many of the doors in this community were winterized or boarded up, leading us to believe that most of the homeowners in this area must use the apartments as winter getaways for skiing and winter activities due to it’s close proximity to Rome.
While roaming through the streets, I happened to come across an extremely friendly little feline. I don’t know his name, but he followed us all through town, meowing all the way. He reminded me of my cat at home named Jackson, who I am really missing these days. This fur ball was overly vocal and affectionate, just like my cat and he even bit me (gently) after many failed attempts for my return of affection! There was a part of me that wanted to scoop him up and bring him back to Popoli with me for some kitty snuggles… but don’t worry, I resisted.
Our last stop for the day was a tiny cluster of homes known as Castrovalva. We thought for sure that it would be a prime location for photographs because it was perched high in the sky on the edge of a cliff. Sadly, it turned out to be a total bust because there were no views from the top despite it’s elevation. A tall wall surrounds most of the homes, making it impossible to experience the views from street level, however, I imagine the views from inside the homes would be marvelous.
Cue my Willie Nelson song… the next morning we were “on the road again,” heading for the region known as Umbria. Along the way, we stumbled across a historical village called Capestrano, complete with a castle. We delighted in the picturesque fall palate while driving through the mountains, as the leaves have now begun to change colour. The winding road led us along a beautiful lake and through mountain passes to Norcia, a strange place with multiple wild boar butcher shops, where of course we purchased salami. Considerable elevation was gained prior to dropping back down and eventually arriving in a place called Bevagna, Umbria.
Agriturismo Dei Elfi in Bevagna became our home for the next three days. As I mentioned, the leaves have begun to change colour and I feel this may be the last of our camping endeavors in Italy. The evening temperature is now dipping below 10 degrees and the rain seems to be occurring far too regularly for my liking. With less than two weeks remaining in Italy, I would hate for either of us to catch a cold with these chilly, damp nights of camping.
Assisi , the birthplace of St. Francis, was our first stop in Umbria the following morning. Known as the city of peace, Assisi is rich in historical architecture and countless monuments. Along the way, we happened to stumble across a duo performing music in the streets. I was entranced by the sound they were creating with the combination of a hand pan drum, a cello and a didgeridoo… yes, we bought their CD.
I’m not sure if I have mentioned how terrible the radio is in Italy. I mean, it stinks! We have spent plenty of time driving around listening to the stations rotate about ten songs over and over between lengthy commercial adds. This, accompanied by static fuzz whenever you turn a corner has resulted in many headaches and knowing far too many words to the horrendous top forty Italian hits! This CD will hopefully keep us from going crazy in the car!
Our time in Bevagna and the surrounding areas flew by quickly. I literally blinked and three days had passed by. The rain woke us early on our final morning in Umbria, which was the nail in the coffin for our final night of camping. Plus, the biggest spider I have ever seen was lurking on our tent! Thankfully, we managed to pack up before it really started to pour.
Ensuing a soggy morning, we set off for Siena in Tuscany or Tuscano as they call it in Italy. Wow, what an amazing medieval town! The historic center has been declared a Unesco world heritage site. Sena is one of the nation’s most visited tourist attractions and is famous for it’s cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the Palio horse races which take place in the enormous plaza twice a year. All I can say is if you are ever in Italy, this gloomy, gothic yet beautiful municipal is worth a visit.
We pursued several boroughs the following afternoon including Castiglione Del Lago and a cute community called Chiusi. Afterwards, we headed for the natural hot springs located in Bagni San Filippo which were fantastic! Someone has spent a great deal of time constructing pools which the warm water flows into. The steady flow of water spills over the edges from one pool to the next. Each basin varies in both temperature and size. This place was like heaven.
We were feeling woozy following our relaxing afternoon in the pools, but mustered up enough energy to head for the town of wine known as Montalcino. The township takes its name from a variety of oak tree that once covered the terrain. The strikingly high site of Montalcino offers stunning views over the Asso, Ombrone and Arbia valleys of Tuscany. Silvery olive orchards, vineyards, fields and villages are sprinkled over the land as far as your eyes can see. The lower slopes of the Montalcino hill itself are dominated by highly productive vines and olive orchards.
Our final day visiting the area included a quick stop in Sarteano where I came across a Peace flag, which I then realized said pace, not peace… but when I told Josh of the mix up, he explained that it did in fact say Peace (in Italian)! We shared a good laugh over the missing e.
Next, we hit Montepulciano, a medievl and Renaissance hill town. Montelpuciano is a major producer of both food and beverage. The heavily touristed site is renowned for it’s pork, cheese, “pici” pasta, lentils, honey and is also known world-wide for it’s wine.
Ensuing our full day of exploration, we once again headed to Bagni San Filippo for a second soak in the hot springs.
Originally, we had planned to have a short visit and a glass of vino in the springs but after meeting an interesting character named Cesar, we ended up drinking the entire bottle of wine and staying in the pools long past dark.
Even though he did not speak English, and clearly we do not speak Italian, we were all able to converse in broken translation. It was an absolute blast singing disco songs together. Cesar would hum the tune and we would sing the words in English. He would occasionally chime in for the lyrics he did know… Cesar loves disco!
With pruned hands and feet, we headed back to the city. We experience Siena in the evening and again the following morning. After snapping many shots of the humongous centro and intricate Duomo, we enjoyed a snack in the plaza before once again jumping in the car.
Abruzzo, Umbria and Tuscany have been truly amazing, ingraining unforgettable memories in to my heart. The culture and the history has been richer than I could have ever possibly imagined. Now we are moving on to the beautiful coastline of Cinque Terra. See you there!