Thursday, 29 November 2012

SABINA TRAVELOGUE Part 3 - March 22, 2012 - To Roma and Back

So, what a day we have had so far... This morning we got up bright and early to take the 9:00 o'clock bus to Poggio Mirteto Scalo to catch the train to Roma.  

Map of Ancient Imperial Rome

First we had a quick peak at Facebook and were delighted to see that Alessandra had posted some pictures of our visit to Poggio Mirteto with her from yesterday. Boy, am I glad we dressed up! The pictures were great... I love the one of Richard and I walking in a line followed by a Mirtense cat. Grazie Alessandra!

The first picture of our Trip to Sabina posted on Facebook - Courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
Our plan was to come into Roma and meet our friends Ken and Steve then head to the rent-a-car agency at 8B Via Po to pick up our car, and drive back to the Sabina. 

A daily morning scene in Casperia - People waiting for the bus in front of the Banco Etruria and Alimentari
Many Asprese commute to Roma to work and there are many people taking busses from around 7pm. There were still a few waiting for busses at 9:00. We got on the bus with our BIRG Pass which allows unlimited travel during the day on the train and bus routes of Lazio... 

This is quite a deal for stranieri like us who tend to want to get off and on a number of different busses and trains in a day. We saw the train to Rome pull in to Poggio Mirteto Stazione as our bus arrived. 

Poggio Mirteto Scalo Station courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
Thinking that we might miss the train, we took a run for it and jumped into one of the cars. Who should be sitting in the seat across from us but Arianna Ceraola, our friend who picked us up at the same station the night we arrived late from Frankfurt and drove us to Casperia! She was heading into Rome with her mother to see her husband Domenico who was in the hospital to have an operation on his eye... Domenico injured himself in a freak accident playing rugby... Anyway his operation was today and Arianna and her mother were on their way to visit him in the hospital.

Arianna's mother is studying English with a tutor. We had a great conversation about a number of things which was eventually joined by a lady named Grace (who had lived for a number of years in California and whose children were American by birth) and another man across the way... The discussion turned to the pros and cons of living in Italy or the USA and it got quite animated... One major issue discussed were the roads in Italy. Grace argued that things were better in America where the roads were straight and wide and there were freeways. The man across from us liked things just the way things were. The next subject talked about was the expansion of the T.A.V. high speed train in Northern Italy. This topic is very controversial. We had noticed anti-T.A.V. graffitti here and there. The discussion on our train to Roma got quite heated. Richard loves to see the passion of the Italians when they get loud and animated. For him, it was a riot. For me, I must admit, I was a tad nervous...  Either way, it was a memorable entry into Roma on the train. 

Before anyone could come to blows, we arrived in Trastevere Station. and walked around for a while to find a Wind Store where we bought our cell phones. We then headed back to the station and caught the No. 3 bus to the Circus Maximus between the Aventine and Palantine Hills near where Steve works at FAO

The Palatine as seen from thebus stop in front of FAO.

Steve met us at 12:00 and we walked to the Trattoria all'Aventino restaurant at the foot of the Aventine where we were joined by Ken. I had a great salad of bresaola, rughetta (wild arugula), and parmigiano and a plate of gnocchi with ragù. Richard had a dish of bicoloured pasta with peas and ham and a cream sauce that was very good. A flask of local vino rosso, acqua frizzante and an espresso completed the menu. 

In the course of our discussion over lunch I discovered to my horror that I had left my International Driver's License back in Casperia. I was not looking forward to the prospect of having to return the next day with my license to pick up the car and thus lose a day of driving through the Sabina.

Via Salaria in red
In the end I needn't have worried. After a circuitous route that included subway and bus and walking in the wrong direction a couple of times and finally finding the place, the agent didn't even ask to see the I.D.L. What a relief!

As you can well imagine driving in Roma can be a bit daunting. I have done it before but somehow I was more worried this time... If we could get to the Via Salaria, the highway that follows the ancient (close to 3000 years-old) Sabine salt trade route from the coast to the Apennines, I knew I could find my way from there. Though Roma itself is not that well marked, I knew all I had to do is follow the signs for Rieti, the capital of the province and other signs would show me the way. 

The one problem we did come up against was that often the signs were not visible on the winding roads until too late. Or sometimes there are so many signs jumbled all together in no particular order (at least not alphabetical) that it is hard to read them while driving through an intersection. 

I made one false turn at an intersection that took us on a very roundabout route via Fara in Sabina, the venerable Abbey of Farfa, and through a number of beautiful hill towns including Poggio Mirteto and then Cantalupo, before finally reaching our home away from home, Casperia.

We drove into the parking lot, tired but happy and then thought we would go to the alimentari to get some Prosecco, eggs, and white wine... But when we got there we noticed the store was closed. They are closed Thursday afternoons. We thought, oh well, Domani, and as we turned to go, we heard a familiar voice say (in Italiano) "What do you need?" It was Irene, (pronounced "ee-ray-nay") one of the owners packing her car in from of the store. We said, "It's okay. You are closed, we can come back tomorrow." Irene said, no, Massi (Massimo) her husband was inside and it would be okay... Like good Canadians we said, "It's okay. See you tomorrow", but she insisted and called out to her husband and opened the store for us. They didn't have to... We are after all a captive market in that there is no other stores where we could buy what we were wanting. We would come back the next day anyway because Conadthe name of their storeis the only option. But this is the way, of this part, of the Sabina at least... Massimo greeted us with a smile, asked us about our day, and got stuff for us from behind closed counters. It was a 9.50 Euro purchase, and they opened the store for us.

Church of the Annunciation near Casperia's car park.

We headed up the hill, bathed in the glow of the kindness and hospitality of our Asprese hosts. 

As we headed up the hill, we bumped into Franco, one of the owners of Gusto Al Borgo, the Agriturismo just out of town that we ate at twice three years ago, at which we plan to relive our tradition of a glorious Easter lunch. 

One happy Canadian guy at Gusto al Borgo on Easter Sunday, 2009

Franco and his wife Paola have apparently opened a small restaurant inside the town. We asked when it was open. We're they open tonight? Franco said, Certo, and that he would meet us in the piazza at 20:00 and walk us to the restaurant on Via Massari. So that is our plan for tonight. There goes the diet. Oh well... Domani!!!


"Danger Will Robinson!" As I mentioned earlier, we bumped into the owner of Gusto Al Borgo, Franco, on the way into Casperia this evening... We found out they were open this evening and decided to go tonight... 

A dinner or lunch at Gusto Al Borgo, now inside the town walls on Via Massari, is worth the airfare from Canada, Eh, Richard? Franco and his chef/wife Paola recently opened the in-town version of their stellar agriturismo/restaurant in a recently and exquisitely restored house in Casperia. 

Let me cut to the chase... A decanter of their house red is placed on our table, followed by a salad of radicchio, walnuts, blood orange with a peperoncino balsamic reduction... This is quickly followed by a fried polenta sandwich with cheese and mortadella inside. Next came a plate of beautifully deep-fried artichokes and zucchini blossoms stuffed with cheese and anchovies... 

Two very happy Canadians in Casperia, March 2012. Thank you Paola and Franco!

The stars of the dinner, secondo me, were the spinach and ricotta gnudi on a tomato concassé. Ask Richard; he will tell you. This was followed by a plate of fettuccine with meat ragù... Then the main course of veal cutlets fried in sesame with zucchini fritters.... Richard orders a second bottle of wine... Franco obliges... Then dessert... Tiramisù... and generous portions... Followed by espresso and, my favourite, Laurino, a home made liqueur of bay leaves that I remember very fondly from our last visit three years ago... I think we are through, but no, Limoncello is brought out... I am not sure if this is proper Italian, but I call out to Franco, "Franco, e' permesso di essere cosi' felice?" I hope so... 

Cincio, keeping an eye on the customers

For all you cat fans out there, the restaurant has about six cats. One female tabby, Cincio, was quite friendly. I miss our cat Smokey... A presto.

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