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Tag Archives: Abruzzo

Year in Review

1 Jan

The older we get the faster time seems to move. (It’s an actual phenomenon that has been scientifically proven: the older you are the faster time seems to pass.) Only yesterday it seems we were dying of the heat in Rome, taking refuge in the mighty Dolomites enjoying brisk mountain air and alpine meadows. But that was July. Looking back over our time in Rome – now 19 months and counting – we have experienced so much, and yet my list of to-dos in Rome (not to mention all of Italy)  has more things on it that we have not accomplished than ones we have managed to check off. There’s a wonder around every corner and we shall never get to all of them. Roma: Una vita non basta!

New Year's Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

New Year’s Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

We managed to see a bit more of Italy this year, visiting some old favorites as well as new territory.

  • March saw us in Sicily for our 28th anniversary, where we were constantly cold, but where we ate magnificent food and saw our first-ever Greek ruins. Stunning! Must go back in warmer weather.
  • In May we ventured to the heel of the boot, Puglia, with my brother and sister-in-law. More great food, a fantastically different Italy, and lots of kilometers covered. Can’t count the bottles of wine consumed. Rick & Jane, we had so much fun with you those 10 days in Rome and Puglia! And we “discovered” Abruzzo on our way back to Rome. Wow!
  • In fact we were so enchanted with Abruzzo we went back for a weekend in July. Not many North Americans (or non-Italians) go to Abruzzo as it is not chock-a-block with must-sees, but it is an amazing place to escape the city, practice one’s Italian, and relax.
  • Later in July was our week in the Val Gardena. If only we could figure out a way to live there all summer.
  • Like most Italians, we got away for Ferragosto but only as far as Orvieto for a couple of nights.  It’s always nice to get on a train, and only an hour away is this charming Etruscan hill town.
  • Our youngest son came to visit in September and we made our 4th trip to Venice in less than three years. Three days there flew by and in wonderment Derek observed we still had not seen everything we intended to. Venice has a lot to offer and so many people try to “do” it in 2 nights and one day. We’re going back for the 5th time in April with friends who have never been.
  • The Cinque Terre calls to us each autumn and we made our third trip there in October. Hoping we can squeeze in a weekend there again in 2014.
  • After the Marine Corps 238th Birthday Ball in early November, we made a trek to Ravello just as the town was closing for the season. This is a must-go-back location sometime during the concert season.
Kids, don't try this at home. Our neighbor across the street shot off Roman Candles from his oh-so-tiny balcony on NYE. Note the Santa figure climbing a ladder hanging from the balcony. And this goes on all over the city!

Kids, don’t try this at home. Our neighbor across the street shot off Roman Candles from his oh-so-tiny balcony on NYE. Note the Santa figure climbing a ladder hanging from the balcony. And this goes on all over the city!

Other highlights in 2013:

  • I turned sixty. Can’t believe it, but my mother is there in the mirror every morning, so I guess it’s true.
  • We had a blind date with Nigel and Carol, new friends from England that we met through the Rick Steves’ Helpline and this blog. Hoping to see them again in February!
  • Made Thanksgiving dinner for 11 Italians. We had so much fun doing this! I only hope they will let us do it again next year.
  • Seeing our youngest son (not very young anymore, but still il mio bambino al cuore) after 16 months away.
  • Getting fit(ter) in the gym. I’ve lost about 45 pounds since moving to Rome and had to buy a whole new wardrobe last summer and again this winter.
  • Becoming more comfortable speaking Italian. I am “advanced intermediate” (B2/C1 for those that understand the scale) according to my teacher. I should be fluent by the time I am 85.
  • Seeing Tom and Karen, our in-laws, when they visited Rome after their cruise.
  • Visits by Michael Horne for gastronomic exploration of Rome. (Thanks for the intro to Vino Roma!)
  • New Years’ Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica with Papa Francesco. He was right there, not 2 meters from me during the processional and recessional. The energy in St. Peter’s was palpable, the love for this man overwhelming.

As I wrap up this post, we are aboard a train that departed at 07:20 New Year’s Day, leaving

St. Peter's, NYE 2013. I read today that shortly after we left Papa Francesco came out in his Popemobile to see the Nativity in the square. Purtroppo we had left the scene!

St. Peter’s, NYE 2013. I read today that shortly after we left Papa Francesco came out in his Popemobile to see the Nativity in the square. Purtroppo we had left the scene!

Italy for the first time in 19+ months. The sun is just coming up, outlining the Apennine Mountains in gold. We are headed to Switzerland where, magari, we will do Winterwandern (alpine snow hiking) to wear off the cheese fondue we plan to eat. We have many trips planned this year including a return to Venice, the Dolomites, Florence, Lake Como, and Abruzzo. We have guests coming, too: Kim, John and Aubrey in April; John, Susan, William and Elizabeth (aka JSWE) in July; the Omaha Bartons in August; a return by Derek in September; Rick and Jane in November; and hopefully Helen, Eddie and Debbie will make it over too. Anyone else? Would love to see you!

Buon Anno 2014! 

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Even further away…

13 Jul
Another cute Italian village, nestled in the Gran Sasso.

Another cute Italian village, Castelli nestled in the Gran Sasso.

Santo Stefano was only the beginning of our long weekend in Abruzzo.

Do you ever yearn for deserted roads? How about hiking trails with no oncoming foot traffic, nor any foot traffic at all for that matter? Have you encountered ponies in the woods? Or restaurants where you pay half of what you’d pay in the big city? Plus lovely people delighted to help you practice your Italian and artisans of magnificent pottery? Welcome to Abruzzo, in particular, welcome to Castelli.

Castelli is known for its ceramics, but is less famous – and less touristed – than the Tuscan destination of Deruta. We learned of Castelli quite by accident. In May, on our way home from Puglia we decided to spend a night in the mountains. On that trip, we selected a hotel in the tiny hamlet of Ornano Grande, right beneath the highest peak on the Italian peninsula, the Corno Grande.  Il padrone of the hotel told us we had to go to Castelli before we left the area. “Bellissima” he said, and he was right. It is rated as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.  That brief taste convinced Ric and I we had to return to Abruzzo and to Castelli. Then, in what can only be described as a happy coincidence, when we mentioned this lovely place to an Italian friend he said, “That’s my mother’s home!” So with an insider’s knowledge we were directed first to Santo Stefano and then to Castelli and environs for continued rest and relaxation.

Castelli is tiny: really tiny. A couple of restaurants, minimal lodging choices, a generous number of

Abruzzo is not the pizza capital of Italy, but this salmon, mozzarella and pistachio pizza was to die for.

Abruzzo is not the pizza capital of Italy, but this salmon, mozzarella and pistachio pizza was to die for.

ceramicists. The views are amazing and the town has a great “hang out” factor, but lodging is not abundant. There are a few agriturismos in the area, and the Parco Nazionale Gran Sasso has a resort hotel nearby, but we wanted to be more in town. Luckily we found B&B Vecchio Mulino (Old Mill). There Luciana made us welcome at her modest but pristine home. Originally a mill, 13 years ago it was remodeled into a five room B&B. A quieter place does not exist. Only the babble of the nearby stream and the occasional crow of her rooster provided background noise.  Old Buc, her dog, quit barking once he knew we were guests, and the new kitten kept us entertained.  Goats, horses, chickens, and bees round out the livestock, and Luciana puts her homemade acacia honey on the breakfast table each morning.  As it was in a jar equipped with a pump, I almost had to restrain Ric from squirting it directly into his mouth.  Once again, we slept for 9 hours each night.

Castelli ceramics institute: gigantic nativity figures. Absolutely stunning in person.

Castelli ceramics institute: gigantic nativity figures. Absolutely stunning in person.

We hiked, we shopped for ceramics, and we ate too much: A perfect getaway! The residents were only too happy to help us find our way and enjoy the treasures of the area. One man, a ceramicist, encouraged us to go to the Istituto D’Arte “F.A.Grue” Castelli  (Institute of Ceramics) just up the road. This is a 107-year-old institution that attracts students and artists from all over. When we saw him later in the day, he we very disappointed we had not seen it – yet.  In fact, when we tried to go there it seemed closed.  By now it was almost 7:00PM, but he phoned his sister, who works at the school and arranged a private tour for us. It was truly a highlight!

Only 2 hours from Rome, we’ll go back for fresh, cool mountain air. Forest hiking, beautiful views, and the welcoming Abruzzese people again when we get a chance.  Following are a few pictures from the region.

There are two Castel del Montes in Italy: a true castle in Puglia and this charming town in Abruzzo. It suffered damage in the L'Aquila earthquake.

There are two Castel del Montes in Italy: a true castle in Puglia and this charming town in Abruzzo. It suffered damage in the L’Aquila earthquake.

Lovely fresco in Castle del Monte.

Lovely fresco in Castle del Monte.

Mosaic inlaid in a wall in Castel del Monte.

Mosaic inlaid in a wall in Castel del Monte.

Roadside picnic stop in Abruzzo, on our way to Castelli. A herd of cattle relaxed, unencumbered by a fence, just around the corner.

Roadside picnic stop in Abruzzo, on our way to Castelli. A herd of cattle relaxed, unencumbered by a fence, just around the corner.

This little guy was looking for apples or carrots.... Acted more like a puppy than a pony.

This little guy was looking for apples or carrots…. Acted more like a puppy than a pony.

I didn't get a great shop of this work in progress. The pony kept getting in the way. Momma horse was hauling firewood out of the woods.

I didn’t get a great shop of this work in progress. The pony kept getting in the way. Mamma horse was hauling firewood out of the woods.

One night stand

26 May
Ric on the trail. Bellissimo!

Ric on the trail. Bellissimo!

Like a beautiful dream, one night in the mountains of Abruzzo left us wishing for more: One night was simply not enough to satisfy. On our way back to Rome from Puglia, we decided to spend a night in Ornano Grande, in the shadow of the tallest peak, the Corno Grande. We sped our way north from Polignano a Mare arriving in time for lunch and an afternoon hike. Not a soul was in sight in the high meadows, only a little horse to greet us looking for apples or carrots.  Once again the food was amazing, the wine abundant, and we spent a peaceful, restful night. There are myriad little towns and hamlets, and many mountain trails to explore. We’ll go back for the 4th-of-July weekend as it is only 2 hours from Rome.

I’ll leave you with additional photos of this magnificent place. In fact, it is much like Oregon, but the food is better.

Forca di Valle

Cute trattoria in Forca di Valle where we feasted before the hike.

Trail

The trail we hiked across a mountain meadow near the Corno Grande.

Horse in meadow

The only soul we encountered while hiking was this little horse, who was certain we had an apple for him. Next time!

This is the view from our room that greeted me upon rising: Sunrise on the Corno Grande.

This is the view from our room that greeted me upon rising: Sunrise on the Corno Grande.

Castelli, Abruzzo

The little town of Castelli, ranks as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy. (Yes, there’s an official list.)

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