Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Best of Days, Part II

Rocca Calascio

"Traveling is the ruin of all happiness.
There's no looking a building here
after seeing Italy."
~ Fanny Burney

"Where are we going again?" Mike asked me as we got ready to go with Novelia and Peppe yesterday morning. (Yes, I know that sounds familiar. Someone who shall remain nameless hears a lot but doesn't listen.  There's a reason, according to him: "I remember the things I have to remember. I have you to remember the rest."  Thanks.)

"Rocca Calascio and Santo Stefano," i sighed and rolled my eyes. (Yes, I know that sounds familiar, too.  Now you know why I do it so much.)

As I mentioned yesterday, Novelia and Peppe took the day off to take us and two Austrailian friends to those two lovely towns. Peppe, who drove the car I rode in, works in the archives at an historic abbey, and he knows so much about the history of the area. 

"I thought it was supposed to be sunny today," Novelia worried as we headed out.  "What are these clouds?"

"I checked this morning, and there's only a 10% chance of rain," I reassured her.  "Don't worry. It will be fine."

"I hope you're right."  She's like I am, though, and I know she was worried.  "Photos will still be good if it's cloudy, right?"  She barely got those words out when huge raindrops plopped on the windshield of our car.  "Oh, no.  NO!"  

"It's fine, Novelia," I said, and at that point, the rain stopped. We had passed under one rogue cloud, I think.  "Look.  It's already stopped.  That was our 10%."

"I hope you're right," she repeated.  I was.  It was dry as we drove up the mountain, and as Peppe pulled into a parking space at Rocca Calascio, the sun peeped through.

The view from the parking lot at Rocca Calascio

Rocca Calascio is a 10th century rocca (fortress) in the Apennines, and located at 4750 feet, it is the highest one in that range.  While most of the fortresses in the Middle Ages were built to protect the people of the village, Rocca Calascio was for troops only, and as such, it is quite small.  The fortress was originally built with four towers (one on each corner), and a higher square tower was added in the center of the fortress sometime in the 13-14th century.  

An earthquke in the early 15th century destroyed the fortress, and it was never rebuilt.  In the 17th century, the town built Santa Maria della Pieta, and octagonal church that sits at an elevation a little lower than the fortress.  

Santa Maria della Pieta

Over the years, many of the villagers left Rocca Calascio and settled a little down the mountain in the town they named Calascio.  There are not many townspeople left on the mountain today, but tourists do find it.  While some of the old homes are in ruins, many have been restored.  There are places to stay, and tourists can hike, bike and ski. During the summer, the town hosts many outdoor concerts.

One of the ruins in Rocca Calascio

About 200 meters down the mountain from Rocca Calascio is Santo Stefano di Sessanio.  As I mentioned yesterday, we had a wonderful meal with Amalia, Enrico and Aida before heading out to walk around the town.

"Here is an umbrella for you," Amalia said to us as we left her house.  It was cloudy, but we didn't think it was going to rain.

"No, thanks," Mike replied.  "We'll be okay."  Right.  We were five minutes away when the drizzling started.

"You should have taken my other umbrella," Amalia chided.  Oops.

An arched walkway in Santo Stefano

The nine of us walked through the town, though, and at times the raindrops stopped.  I noticed immediately that while the old towns and villages tend to resemble each other in a lot of ways, there are things that set the apart.  The most noticeable thing to me about Santo Stefano was the fact that there are arches all over town.

Santo Stefano

Santo Stefano is another of those tiny villages that is trying to survive.  Currently, there are about 100 fulltime residents in town.  Because it's close to Rome though (about and hour and a half by car), there are somepart-time  residents and tourists.  There are three restaurants and a number of shops, and the production staff of The American stayed here during filiming.

The bedroom in one of the flats Amalia & Enrico renovated

Amalia and Enrico have bought a number of old properties in the town, and they have either renovated them or are in the process of doing so.  

"I cannot let this town die," Amalia told me.  "These homes are still alive."

They've done a wonderful job with the old homes, turning them into self-contained apartments that they rent to tourists.  Included in them are a kitchen, living area, bedroom and bath.  Some have more than one bedroom.  While updated to modern standards, they maintain some of the historic charm — nooks, shelves, fireplaces, even caves.

The view from one of Amalia's flats

The job is not easy because the buildings are so old.  One that has been in Amalia's family for years, dates to 1693 and was without a roof and floors.

"How long does it take you to complete one of these projects?" Mike asked Enrico.

"Up to four years," he replied.  Yikes.

"They do it right, though," Mike said.

Locanda Sotto Gli Archi

After we saw a number of their apartments, we walked through the rest of the town and found one of the restaurants and a few of the shops.  Locanda Sotto Gli Archi seems like a very warm and inviting medieval restaurant.  The ower let us look in the kitchen which, unlike the rest of the place, was quite modern and bright.

The cheese shop

The cheese shop of Paola Panone was abstolutely delightful.

"What cheese do you want to try?" the young worker asked us.

"I can't even look at cheese right now," Mike whispered to me. "I'm going to burst from lunch."

A few of the others tried and bought some of the handmade cheeses and cookies.  We bought a package of Ciambelle, a local cookie that we've yet to try.

"Do you want to try gelato?" the kid asked.  Most of us refused, but David took a spoonful of the saffron and licorice to taste.

"The saffrom was good," he decided, "but the licorice was way too strong.  I couldn't eat more than that tiny spoon of it."   The thought of both made me a little sick, to tell the truth.

Fresh cheese

One further note about Santo Stefano:  I appreciate the fact that the town is working to preserve itself. They are doing a lot to bring tourists to the area which will help them to survive.  I know it's a double-edged sword in that one wants to preserve the integrity of the area and not turn it into a mini-Tuscany 
that is overrun with crazy tourists.  However, in the long run, the tourism dollar is what will help the area to survive.

The door to nowhere in SS

I have a lot more to tell you about this area, so I hope you aren't too bored with me.

On the sad side, we leave for home in a week.  My gosh.  I don't know where the time has gone.

I'll see you tomorrow.

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