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.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

SABINA TRAVELOGUE - Part 2 (March 21 - A Visit to Poggio Mirteto)

What grows in balcony flower pots in Poggio Mirteto
March 21
So it is really quiet out here in the country... This morning we were awakened by a symphony of bird songs, cats yowling and dogs barking far off in between some intermittent crowing of proud Sabine roosters. The cats are very territorial here. I am not sure if they actually fight, but they sure let an interloper know that it is not okay to enter their vicolo. We had a quick breakfast of leftover frittata and toast with prosciutto and coffee. 

Richard is heading out to Roma for an afternoon with friends in Rome. I am off to another hilltop town called Poggio Mirteto to meet Ms. Alessandra Finiti, someone we have met through Facebook, and who is in the forefront of the work to promote the Sabina as a sustainable, Eco-friendly tourist destination

A new friend here remarked yesterday that "A day in the Sabina can have 48 hours". I believe she was referring to the pace of life here... With no judgement... but maybe a little humour. Richard and I got all dressed up to board the bus for Poggio Mirteto ... He planning to forge on to Roma, and me staying for lunch in Poggio Mirteto with our friend Alessandra. 

Petrocchi Bar and Bus Stop with the Church of the Annunciation behind - from Google Maps
We went down to the little bar beside the bus stop expecting to be able to hop on a bus and be off, only to find that the next bus to Poggio Mirteto was at 13:00. : ) 48 hours, indeed! So now we are back at the house all dressed up waiting for another bus, and Richard and I will now both be able to meet Alessandra for the first time. 

Alessandra is a lawyer living and working in Roma, but she was born in Poggio Mirteto where here father works as a real estate agent. She is very active with a group here on Facebook that includes photographer Giorgio Clementi—I think I have mentioned him beforeand Arianna Ceraola, a local tour operator, who are trying their best to promote the Sabina as a sustainable, Eco-friendly, "light footprint" tourism destination.

Pristine Sabine countryside - Photo courtesy of Luca Zarathustra Bellincioni
It is a job that requires tact and a good sense of balance. The Sabina's big charm is that it is rustic and undeveloped in terms of tourism infrastructure, yet full of history, breathtaking scenery, gastronomic pleasures that include the best olive oil in Italy, and some amazing local delicacies. 

Long a part of the Papal States, the area did not have a high profile in the renaissance like Firenze, Pisa, Sienna, Genova, etc. The Sabina's glory days were the middle ages when the great Abbey of Farfa held sway over much of the region. 

Farfa Abbey

If you are interested, they post a lot of great pictures and articles in a number of pages on Facebook including Hello Sabina, and Bassa Sabina in Vetrina. Giorgio Clementi has a great website and has a video channel on YouTube. Search for it under "ClementiGiorgio".

Anyway, we are meeting Alessandra and perhaps Arianna for lunch. The weather is fantastic here. 19°C with clear Sabina skies.

Richard is out sitting on the little terrazzo listening to the birds and the sound of chainsaws in the distance. Alla prossima!


Post Card Collage of images of Poggio Mirteto by Alessandra Finiti

Richard's Facebook Post about Poggio Mirteto

Richard Rooney by Alessandra Finiti

Ok, I will try and keep this short, as I am not a big poster of things and I do have a bit of a love\hate\love relationship with Facebook, but, James asked me to post MY thoughts about our day today, so here goes.

The day started out a bit rough as I probably had no sleep the night before and was in that frustrated state of knowing a lot of Italian words but unable to piece them together except in a way that to me sounded like something a two year old was saying (no offense to two year olds).
Allora! I was supposed to go into Rome for the day to visit friends, that went sideways as our bus never left here for the station until 1pm, making it too late, so in typical Italian mindset I just went into plan B. James asked me to join him in a lunch date with someone a lot of you already have seen on Facebook, Alessandra Finiti, someone we met on Facebook some time ago. James and her especially have common historical interests. After a hilariously careening ride up and down hills through Roccantica, seeing Catino and Poggio (Poggio means hill) Catino which has a 1200 year old Lombard tower, I was literally holding on tight as we turned corners around steep hills, one time scraping the side of a guard rail, just chuckling all the way, my kind of ride.
We met Alessandra 15 minutes late, here not unusual. Not going into any detail, to me, she was, as my cousin Des would say, so beautiful she would make a grown man cry in his soup. We ate at a cosy little restaurant called I Mille Sapori on the main Piazza in Poggio Mirteto a place very close to her heart. Her father lives there, he also joined us during lunch, which was just simply, delicious. I had the butterfly (farfala) pasta in a light cream sauce with bacon and peas, James had a local dish Stringozzi with pepper and cheese , Cacio e pepe.
While James and Alessandra talked history, Alessandra's father, Luigi, yes Luigi, and I talked language and words. Being a true Canadian, I immediately apologized all over for my poor Italian, and he just looked at me and very slowly said "Passo doppo passo" which means one step after the other . He said "Piano piano", which means slowly, take your time , and just by saying those words in his very kind way, he immediately put me at ease. He talked about how difficult it was to pronounce words in English with "th" in it and I talked about words in Italian with double R's. Luigi is about maybe in his late 60's and works in real estate for the entire region including Rome.

Dottor Luigi had to return to work, but for the next hour Alessandra very kindly showed us around her home town. What I love about the people I have met is their hospitality, kindness, and generosity. They have taken the time to make us feel at home whether it be by giving us a little bag of olives on the house, or picking us up or driving us somewhere. It just goes to show, you never know how your day is going to unfold. (I guess I didn't keep that very short) I don't normally post on FB that much, especially on holidays, but I think people should know about people like Alessandra and her Pappa Luigi.

My (James') post, which followed Richard's Post
What a great day! Richard has posted in more detail what we did today. I just wanted to reiterate what an incredible pleasure it was for us to meet and spend time with Alessandra Finiti and her father Dottor Luigi Finiti in Poggio Mirteto today. First of all, the drive there was amazing. We whizzed through the winding roads of the Sabina at breakneck speed, passing through Roccantica and then driving by the equally majestic Catino and Poggio Catino. Every twist of the road brought a new photographic opportunity, at least for a split second. : ) In these first days of spring, the green of the field was almost iridescent. The silver sage of the Sabina olive groves was incredibly beautiful. We had a great lunch at I Mille Sapori on the main square, the Piazza dei Martiri della Liberta'.

Richard had an animated discussion with Dottor Luigi on one end of the table while Alessandra and I talked about the challenges of promoting the Sabina region to the right market on the other. 

In the middle of the lunch Alessandra received a call from photographer Giorgio Clementi on her cell phone. He is in the midst of restoring an old house in Catino, one of the smaller towns we passed by earlier on our bus ride. If you have been following our posts you'll no doubt have seen his amazing photos of the Bassa Sabina. He has tagged us in a number of them. Grazie Giorgio

Catino in the distance seen behind a field of poppies by Giorgio Clementi
 Giorgio's photos posted on Facebook had a huge influence on how we are spending our time here. It sounds like we will be getting together with him some time later in the coming weeks. That will be great.
Photo courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
Dottor Luigi had business to attend to so after lunch we said our good-byes and we headed out to explore Poggio Mirteto with Alessandra. Poggio Mirteto is very beautiful. 

Here is a wonderful video by the talented photographer Paolo Pitoni that introduces the various attractions, scenery, heritage and charms of Poggio Mirteto.

It is amazing what a twenty minute bus ride means in terms of building materials. In Poggio Mirteto different stones were used to build the houses, churches, and city walls than those used in Casperia. The colour scheme here is  completely different than that seen in Casperia and Ci sono meno scale li! : ) 

The Porta del Sotto Gate to the Old Town, courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
There are actually two Poggio Mirtetos... The modern town which is the largest in this part of the Sabina, and the Old Town or Centro Storico at its core that you have to access via an old stone gate off the main Piazza.

Poggio Mirteto's Centro Storico has limited car access.

Detail from a door
A tower from the walls of Poggio Mirteto's Old Town
Cats seem to be the good-will ambassadors of the Sabina. At one point in our visit we came across an amazing sight, five cats sleeping in separate plant pots on the same balcony. 

Photo courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
I had seen a photo of this very spot by Alessandra before, but I did not know it was taken in Poggio Mirteto. My photo at the top of the blog and this one by Alessandra were taken quite a few weeks apart. It is evident that each cat has its own favourite place to sleep! 

Speaking of cats, we had a very attentive little grey and white cat escort us for a lot of the tour.  

We took a lot of pictures and a video or two. I hope we can figure out how to post these soon. 

This iconic doorway is a favourite of local photographers - Courtesy Alessandra Finiti

Courtesy of Alessandra Finiti

Richard has this photo as the Wallpaper for his computer!

Courtesy of Alessandra Finiti

In this house even the cat is nervous!

Poggio Mirteto and Monte Soratte courtesy of Alessandra Finiti

Alessandra drove us to the bus stop at Poggio Mirteto Scalo. On the way out of Poggio Mirteto we stopped to look at an apartment block Alessandra's partner is building. There are a number of suites, all facing the Tiber Valley with a stunning view of Mount Sorrate, sacred to Dis Pater, the Italic god of the underworld, and also Apollo.


The apartments will be beautiful when they are finished. I believe Alessandra and her partner will move into one which has a large brick pizza oven... Hmmm... Perhaps we can get an invitation to the house-warming party?

Olive groves below Alessandra's apartment

We got home to Il Sogno, had dinner and settled in for the night. 
Richard has music playing on his IPad. We have been listiening to our favourite, Paolo Conte, but just now Tiziano Ferro's "L'ultima Notte al Mondo" has come on... This is, without a doubt, the theme song of our trip here... This is the song that when we listen to it years from now will bring back all the memories of this incredible sojourn here in the Sabina and will remind us of the many people we have met and will meet, old friends and new, in this amazing country. Vi ringrazio di cuore... I will be doing an in depth interview with Alessandra for a future post.

Paolo Conte has come back on with "Max", another of our favourites... Paolo Conte's music will always bring back memories of our first trip here three years ago... I better sign off... I am getting too sentimental... An early night tonight. Tomorrow we head out to Roma to pick up our rent-a-car.