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Written September 14-17 and Oct 6
Dear Family and Friends,
On Friday we left rainy Urbino, hoping for better weather. No chance. It was so rainy that we abandoned any idea of side roads and stuck to the autostrada as much as possible. It was Marianne's turn to drive and I have to say it was a tense three hours as visibility dropped to zero passing by trucks, the wind blew across the roads, the autostrada construction interrupted travel half the time and, naturally, most of the drivers were Italian.
We passed flooded fields before we headed up into the mountains and worried about washed-out roads higher up. In fact, the first exit to Ascoli was closed, so we needed to detour a few kilometers to find a way into town. Once inside, we found ourselves in a medieval rabbit warren of tiny streets, most of which allowed only authorized cars. No matter, we figured our hotel reservations authorized us and I guessed at which turns to send Marianne down. We did indeed end up in front of the hotel. (Reminds me of the old southern expression about "even a dumb hog finds an acorn once in awhile".)
After lunch we needed to walk, even if it was raining. We managed one church visit. St. Francis' church was very dark as well, although we tried all sorts of camera tricks to get some sort of images. It killed some time, a good thing. After an afternoon rest, we returned to the streets for overall exploration. As soon as the rain restarted, we noticed that we were lost and we spent 15 minutes wandering under one small umbrella, asking people directions, and getting a wide variety of answers. Friendly answers, but perhaps not all well-informed.
Saturday and Sunday (under construction!!)
I combined the days because rainy Saturday was pretty light in reportable activities. Each day started with a "standard routine": Breakfast, diaries, internet, and planning. And coffee. Italian coffee really is better.
Musei Civici (City Museums): We bought a combined ticket for all three city art museums, eight euros for each of us old-timers.
-- Museo dell'Arte Ceramica (Ceramics Museum)
The museum is only a few years old and it traces local "maiolica" ceramics from the 15th Century forward. The collection was relatively small, a good thing, and nicely displayed in an old palazzo, a chance to see inside the walls of such places.
-- Galleria D'Arte Contemporanea "O. Licini" (Contemporary Art -- O. Licini)
Another small (= good) display of contemporary art, mostly paintings and drawings from local artists, including Osvaldo Licini. On our rainy-day visit, we had the space to ourselves and enjoyed the time to look carefully. Some of the most interesting displays were artists notes and sketchbooks, inspiration for Marianne's sketching, I think, and for my photography. Composition inspiration is everywhere. (No photos allowed inside the Galleria however.)
-- Pinacoteca Civica (City Art Museum)
We saved the largest and oldest art museum for Sunday. The local travel brochure had promised it would be the best. Well, maybe. The Palazzo Arringo, where the collection is displayed, was spectacular, but the old art was not really my (our?) taste. The emphasis was on local artists and mostly pre-20th Century, more for art historians perhaps. (Again, no photos.)
Mostly, we walked. We walked to museums. We walked to look at old buildings and narrow streets. We walked to look at shops. We walked to look at the antique market that was set up in town for the weekend. We walked in drizzle and in cool sun. We walked morning, afternoon, and evening. By the end of our three-day stay, we could even walk without getting hopelessly lost, which had been our condition on the first evening.
It was nice, but somehow neither Marianne nor I became attached to Ascoli the way we had years ago to Tuscan towns or to our prior stop in Urbino. It's interesting how different places do or do not strike us. Maybe it will be different with you.
It's hard to not make eating and drinking a major part of the tourist day, especially when it is raining. We managed to limit ourselves to the generous hotel breakfast plus a late lunch. Snacks only in the evening.
The Ascoli lunches started with deep-fried stuffed olives (see above). Pastas were also local, I think. At least we have been led to believe each region has their own pasta forms and flavors. We ate at the three restaurants recommended by the hotel, and all were good. Sunday's meal at "Piccolo Teatro" was particularly good, but "Al Teatro" on Saturday was not so bad as well.
Wine was generally a red called "Rosso Piceno", a blend of Sangeovese and Montepulchiano, dark red and hearty enough for fried olives and pasta. We never managed to have a full four- or five-course Italian meal, because just two or three items was always more than enough to put us to sleep!
Buildings and building details, doors and such, became a focus of photography because "scenes" were hard to see in the crowded streets. There was a wide range of buildings, from nicely restored monumental structures, churches mostly, to small two- to four-story homes, built along narrow, narrow streets, paths really. Little could be seen of most homes since the ground levels were generally heavy stone walls with few if any openings; medieval mini-fortresses. Occasionally, we could peek inside the courtyards, however, and here is where the life of the buildings really showed. And there were a few "projects" left for ambitious buyers. Not us!
Conclusion on Ascoli Piceno: As noted early, we did not resonate with Ascoli. I don't think this is Ascoli's fault, more just a combination of weather, a certain lack of friendliness to strangers, something we DID find in Urbino for example, and a town that was laid out in the Middle Ages to isolate residents from marauding foreigners. Now we call them tourists.
Off to Rodi Garganico.
John and Marianne
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