10th June 2002 Norcia, Ascol Piceno, Montefortino

Trip Start May 28, 2002
Trip End Jul 17, 2002

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Saturday, June 28, 2003

Monday 10th June

We had planned on getting away by 8.00, but didn't wake up till 8.10. We left at 9.10, and headed for Norcia. It was a much shorter trip than I had remembered, so we were parked outside the town walls by 10.40. The trip up the Nera and Como valleys was exactly as we remembered. Narrow valleys with villages perched on cliffs above the road. We plan on actually visiting some of them in the next two weeks. We parked outside the eastern gate this time (western last time), as a parking spot was available out the front of a pharmacy. It was a parking meter spot however, requiring a ticket to be displayed on the dashboard. There was a machine right in front of the car, and as I sat there, I tried to figure out the cost. I couldn't seem to find anything familiar in the Italian instructions on the machine, and when I asked Ches, she was bewildered. "What machine are you looking at?" I pointed. She pointed to the ticket machine 15 metres to my left. I looked back at the machine in front of the car, and registered that I had the choice of 5 different types of condoms.

Ches made a b-line for Brancaleone da Norcia. They used to have a large range of jars of truffle and olive pestos etc, but now have either sold out, or have reverted to their core business, which is pork products. A tree of 50 or more hams on the right hand side, strings of sausages (soft and hard), Salamis, everything. Given that the tourist buses from Rome, bringing Italians to buy from the most famous Norcherias in Italy, seem to come to Brancaleone first, they may have been stripped of their other produce. They still have a small range of aged cheeses as well, however we limited ourselves to sausages, a salami (cinghialina [boar] )and prosciutto (siena goccina).

Photographs in the piazza, and then back toward the gate for an espresso, sitting out on the sidewalk. We watched the locals, identified a pasticeria across the street, and left with custard filled pastries. As we drove off, looking for the road to Piano Grande, we skirted the walls of the town and came upon a woman doing the washing at a communal washing shed. A three trough structure of stone with tiled roof. I did a u-turn, drove back, stopped, drew her attention, pretended to photograph the Sibilini mountains, kept turning back to photograph her and she kept catching me. I din't get to photograph her, and left embarased.

Up into the Sibilini mountains to Piano Grande. We had sent David and Chris up here to see the wildflowers on Sunday, and they hadn't been particularly enthusiastic. I figured that europeans get to see wildflowers so often that they are hard to impress. As we crested the last corner and hill, we prepared ourselves. Up and over....and....nothing!!!!!!!!!!! Worse than last time, almost no flowers. The clouds were so low, we could barely see a couple of hundred metres down the Piano Grande. Very dissapointing.
Rather than retrace our steps back down the mountain to the tunnel that is 5km long and takes you through the mountains, we opted to the slow mountain road down the other side. Aren't we glad, as here were the wildflowers. The side of the road and slopes of the mountains had large pockets of beautiful blue, burgundy, yellow and purple wildflowers. Orta lept out of the car and insisted he be photographed frolicking in the fields of flowers.

We drove on down the mountains into Marche. The road doesn't get any wider, and what with roadworks, was quite slow to Ascoli Piceno. Beautiful scenery however, and Arquata del Tronto high on the left and Acquasanta Terme (where the legions used to rest after the mountain crossing), make the journey interesting. The sky on this side of the mountains was clearing and it was becoming quite warm, and by the time we reached Ascole Piceno (ass-colly pish-ino), we had our first clear sky.

We followed the signs to "centro". We had a map of the town, but had read that it is only the medieval center of town that is worth visiting, so decided to just find a parking spot and then locate ourselves on the map. As usual, I found a spot outside the gate that leads in to Piazza Arringo, right in front of the movie theatre and beside the police station. No indication that it was actually for parking, but with French tourist plates on the car, I figure that parking police don't see it being worth their while to book us.

We made straight for Piazza del Popolo, as it was now 1.30 pm and time for lunch. The Cadogan Guide recommends Ristorante Tornasacco. The Crawfords absolutely recommend Tornasaco. One of the most memorable and extensive lunches we have ever had. The was only one table of three diners when we arrived, and non from half way through our meal. As with our lunch at San Michele, it kind of detracts from the atmosphere when you dine alone, however we had a very attentive waiter who insisted on explaining every course. We had little Italian, he absolutely no English, so we only gleaned bits and pieces.

We decided to have the degustatione menu. While it looked extensive, that wasn't the reason for ordering (After all, it didn't list any prices). We ordered it because the full menu was so full of regional specialties that we dind't comprehend, we decided to have "a little of everything". Wrong, it turned out to be a lot of everything.

We started with a prosecco and a small bowl of beans cooked in tomatoes with a slice of toast. (crostini?). We have since been told that throughout central Italy, most begin their meal with a very small bowl of beans. The waiter then wheeled over a trolly in which three haunches of prosciutto were mounted on carving cradles. He sliced off thin slices, also sliced salamis, around 8 differen't types of meats, 2 cheeses, 4 different breads (focacce, rye, rosetta and a whole grain) and a bowl of marinated/pickled vegetables. Ches couldn't handle the volume, however, I couldn't resist and therefore showed little restraint.

Prima: Home made taglionini with a lamb ragout. Ches maintaines that after this course, my tablecloth looked like an aboriginal hand art painting. At this point I was replete.

Secondi: Fritto Misto- lamb cutlet, zucchini, eggplant, artichoke, olives stuffed with tuna, breaded and fried, and a cube of cheese and a cube of what turned out to be flour, egg and sugar, both crumbed and fried. Ches kept insisting that there was another course to come, and I was alarmed. As we discovered late, what the waiter had been miming at the beginning, was that we should only have one antipasto between us, and one secondi. Thank God!

Formagio: Pecorino and honey with a chiolled liqueur of "an ancient wine". At this point, I was sure I could taste just a hint of fennel, and the waiter beamed and responded "si, si, Finnochio"

Dolce: Crema Pinoli tart, served with vino passito
and lemon delicious with vino particulare (Dulcis in Fundo '98, Marche Bianco tipica vino de "Muffe Nobile" Affide). Again we struggled with the waiter to determine the nature of this desert wine. We struggled with the language, but I picked up on "gorgonzola". Me thinks!!!! I think he meant that it is made with fruit that has turned mouldy. Could it be the "Muffe Nobile" is our "Noble Rot"? Kent's electronic translator has just confirmed "muffa" is mould. Where am I going to buy a bottle of this? My life depends upon it? It is made in Offida, the last town we will visit tomorrow, so I will get a bottle there.

I almost forgot our wine. We had a bottle of Catellano Roso, Piceno 1998, Pharus (10 euro). I think it was actually a Piceno Superior, which is a designation for wines produced at Ripertansone, not for it being a better wine that "Piceno". We will pass through Ripertansone tomorrow as well, so I will have to seek it out, as this was one of the most mellow and full bodied of reds we have had in Italy.

Cafe Ascolano.

I was absolutely stuffed to the gills.

At 3.00 pm we emerged into the piazza. Ches did some window shopping, I some photography, and then we set out for the scenic northern side of town. Down via Solestra to the Ponte Romano Augusteo. As it's name suggests, a roman bridge. Photographed it for Bill Thayer (and me). From tne far side of the bridge, you can also look back at the town and see the towers along via Soderini. The Cadogan guide maintains that there are as many as in San Gimignano, however, they just aren't as proiminent as in San Gimignano. Maybe we just missed the main vantage point.

By 4.30 we were back in Piaza del Popolo, as were large numbers of locals engaging in "passegiata". Kids kicking a soccer ball around (what with the world cup in full swing, if a child is not already a soccer "freak", then he will be by the end of the tournament. An elderly gentleman (80's), dressed up in three piece suit and hat, stood under the portico and surveyed everyone coming and going for 20 minutes. He then did a stroll through the centre of the piazza in search of anyone he knew. We had a coffee and mineral water sitting under an ubrella out the front of Bar Meletti, a fantastic Art Nouveau bar . The entire piazza is paved in travertine. Cadogan uses the word "Shines". Not really, but it is an impressive. It is a large piazza and is enclosed by impressive building such as the Bar Meletti, the 13th.c Palazzo dei Capitani del Popolo (redone in 16th.c after the papal governor set it on fire) with a wonderful central courtyard, the side wall of the church of San Francesco (13th.c) across the bottom of the piazza, and the 16th.c, Loggia dei Mercanti up the other side.

By the time we had strolled through Piazza Arringo (which is basically a municipal car park), passing the two renaissance fountains of dragons and seahorses, entered the Catherdral to see the Carlo Crivelli polyptych, and the Palazzo Arringo courtyard ( a beautiful and tranquil garden that is in marked contrast to the largly grubby town), it was now close to 7.00 pm, and we still had to drive into uncharted mountains in search of Villa Rosi at Montefortino.

By pure fluke, I managed to get us jammed into the peak hour traffic, decided to take a left, followed cars into streets lined with warehouses and factories, down the hill, past the soccer stadium, and well I'll be, there was the main road on the far side of town that is the main road between the coast and Pescia. Talk about another luck fluke. We knew we had to double back toward Pescia for about 10 km, to the turn off into the mountains north of Ascoli Piceno. It was quite hot, we had eaten too much, and the roads were windy and up and down. We also had to negotiate many little villages and turnoffs to find our way to Montefortino, so it wasn't long beforee Ches was felling decidedly car sick. Stopped to let her have a stoll. Resumed. Took a shortcut. O.K., now we are here, it is time to confess that I have left the address back at Assis, but surely it can't be too difficult to find. We turned right and did a circuit of the village which spills down the ridge. Ches insists that I alone will have to go and ask for directions. I suggests a run out of town on the other side first. Just in case there is a sign. There is. There are. Several of them, which lead us directly to Judi and Richard Hill's door.

Judi lead us straight to their balcony. Nothing quite prepares you for this stunning view of Montefortino spilling down the ridge not 200 metres away, and the Monte Sibilini Mountains towering over the farmland to its left (west). Absolutely a million dollar view and Judi said that she hadn't been able to get anything done since she moved in last November. Every morning she goes out on the balcony, sits down to admire the view, and another day passes.

Danny Lo of internet fame was there, as was a friend from the U.K., Micki, in the process of buying a place. Danny could only stay for an hour as he had just that night to finish cramming for exams tomorrow. He is studying English and American culture, which is in large part, literature. He was a little stressed, but stayed for long enough to advise on some of the local culture and colour. He staggered me with the news that the bottle of Umani Ronchi we were given by the Grillo's in 2000, has escalated in price since it won the international wine award in 2000. It is now more than 100 euro a bottle.

We still feel guilty. Just because we had had a mamoth lunch and didn't need to eat again for several days, it didn't mean Judi and Richard had to go without. They were such generous hosts, they kept plying the wine all night, as we sat out on the balcony and watched the sun go down over the mountains, the stars come up, satelites pass overhead in a clear deep sky. They must have been starving, but kept me company till stumps at midnight. We talked about the village, Danny's passion for Marche, their trials and tribulations in moving to Italy, the problems in promoting tourism in Marche and numerous other topics.

Judi put out a bowl of pate and some salami etc, however I couldn't face more than a slice of salami. After the event, she told me that the pate includes "cooked wine". It is a bottle of wine reduced 50%. She didn't think it was just a case of simmering it to reduce it, but whartever the process, it has an intensity of flavour, and is used in many recipes. She didn't know how to make it, and gets her supply from Danny, who steals from his fathers supply. She said that her pate had always been sensational, but with the inclusion of "cooked wine", is just out of this world.

Danny worked in London for a year and has a passion for baked dinners and scones with jam and clotted cream. He often turns up for sunday lunch, and then has to return for his family lunch
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