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Wednesday 23 August 2000

Lunchtime, at the Gallo d'Oro, a restaurant in Ascoli Piceno, with the beginning of my bottle of Falerio dei Colli Ascolani, San Giovanni 1999, having just ordered a typical Ascolano meal.

Yesterday morning my calf still cramped — and indeed still now, if gradually less — so I decided to go to Ascoli, based on a whole bunch of things: (a) since I've been visiting a lot of the Marche this trip, I wanted to see someplace in the last of the four provinces remaining to see; (b) reasonable access; (c) good press in the guidebooks; (d) some Roman stuff; and weighing most heavily, the recommendation of the Father Superior in Tolentino.

Trains: DEP Fossato 0943, ARR Ancona 1055, DEP Ancona 1133, ARR S. Benedetto del Tronto 1238, DEP S. Ben 1243, ARR 1319. In fact, because a train from Milan was running late to Ancona, we waited for it about 15 minutes, and my change was at Porto d'Ascoli rather than S. Benedetto: I got to Ascoli more or less on time, under the usual sweltering heat of mad dogs, Englishmen and Boobies.

It's really very very odd but there is only one hotel in all of Ascoli, at least centro storico; three multi-stars in the suburb near the train station, but I walked past one, a 4‑star, and it looked nasty in spades, so I walked on to the Piazza dell' Arengo where the APT, open thru the lunch break (bravi!), were able to tell me where this zero-star pensione was: some rooms — quite clean, with a bathroom and a decent shower — attached to a rather busy restaurant, the Cantina dell' Arte.

I checked in, threw cold water on my head, and came down to lunch. It took them a full fifteen minutes to notice that I was there (despite me asking the waitress who eventually took my order, as I came in, where I should sit), and I was at 180 of a slow count to 300 before getting up and going somewhere else; but after that I had a fairly good meal, quickly served: no reason it shouldn't have been, mind you, since most of their customers were at the end of their meals and noone was ordering anything, plus the selection was quite limited. Still, the meal was good. Not very hungry, I had the pennette all' arrabbiata, a simple dish but the arrabbiata was well done; prosciutto melone; a beer: they brought me a bottle, maybe ¾ of a liter? anyway, reading me right. No secondo, no coffee, no dessert; off to do the town.

Actually, off to do a small piece of the town: on my way in, once again, I surprised myself, and reserved a seat on a group tour! (A program of the city to take you out to some outlying frazione: this one promised Via Salaria, so why not? 6000₤ and meet the bus at Piazza dell' Arengo at 4 P.M.)

Ascoli Piceno is one of the great secrets of central Italy: there is tons of stuff to see, and the city is a handsome one, and relatively convenient as well, except for the hotel situation. A closer prior reading of the DeAgostini would have alerted me, suggesting a stay of several days: I'll be leaving in a few hours and will not have seen everything, although what I will not have seen will be the Pinacoteca (not my bag, musea) and all the interiors of the many churches all closed; had they been open I would haveº stayed another night for sure.

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Il Ponte Solestà: the Roman bridge of Ascoli Piceno

So, from the outside, the attractive churches of S. Maria inter Vineas and SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio; the Roman bridge — and a fruitless attempt to get a good picture of it from river level or with the river figuring prominently. This is just a fraction of all the things to see in town, and I ran — cramp marginally OK — to meet my 4:00 bus; then waiting for nearly twenty minutes before we left: a regular city bus commandeered with a card "Fuori Servizio", and a guide, a young man with a beard, from Mozzano, the frazione we spent most of our time in, a volunteer from an association there, who was very knowledgeable: after the end of the tour, I learned his name was Giuliano.

The tour was very balanced — meaning that some of it bored me, but still, balanced is good! and I learned stuff; we saw: a tree (about which legends, and certainly just that); a Roman salt-extraction scheme, from a spring where the NaCl content is "20%", also other salts — this of course I found fascinating; the medieval fortress, or the fairly slight remains of it, of Tronzano above Mozzano; the church, Romanesque, of S. Emidio about 200m below the actual town of Tronzano, quite interesting; and a museum in Mozzano on the "briganti", not highway robbers as I'd thought, but a sort of Resistenza to preserve the Papal States against (a) the French in Napoleonic times; (b) the Republicans and Mazzini in 1848; (c) the "Piemontese", i.e., what we are now used to thinking of elsewhere as United Italy; but here a reminder that not all Italy thought this way: the priests all in collusion with this Résistance, and one of them, the parish priest of Mozzano, shot to death thru the front door of his manse; the door kept, and on display (still, this is the part I have to admit I found dull).

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Giuliano and most of my group, standing in the remains of the Roman salt decanting pool.

A little snack afterwards — bruschette, sausages, blessed water — but I wasn't hungry; the water was welcome, I must have had a liter or more already at the Saline, where I also tasted the salt boiled up for us from the spring water: stronger and better than our commercial salt, with lots of iron — wonder what that did to the heart attack rate locally — and other salts. This was a very good tour: every day, weekdays, a different volunteer, a different area; today's was less ancient and thus less interesting to me: I didn't go — had I gone, I'da stayed an extra day here, I think; or had the churches been open!

Returned at 8:45 P.M. — nice young couple, he Mauro from Fermo, she from Ascoli Claudia, quizzed me about my Italian experience — and I to bed at 9:10 and slept well.

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