Monday, October 5, 2009

Over the mountains and far to the Coast

This morning we take our leave of Il Sarale and Sarah and Alessandro. Its amazing how quickly you can become attached to people and places and these guys will always have a little corner of our hearts. It was a great time to re-charge the batteries and do a little thinking about where we are going.

Breakfast was generous as usual - toasted Italian bread, cured meats, eggs, cake and tart - all served with Sarah's jam and Alessandro's honey on the side. Like many other farmers the world over, Alessandro is having trouble with his bees and can't be sure whether they will produce much honey this year. Sarah has her own idea on one of the problems (and quite logical too) that stems from the fact that in years when there is a warm or short winter that the bees do not hibernate for long enough to regenerate energy for the following spring and summer - maybe some of the scientests would do well to listen to the farmers! Anyway, we buy a small pot of honey and some mustard to take with us as we leave. A quick photo and we hit the road.

As we drive down the road, the sun is high and working hard to dry out the tobacco leaves that are still growing. We do pass a number of farms where the harvest has begun. I wonder whether the leaves are rolled into cigars on the thighs of buxom wenches here as well? Hehe, nah - its mechanised - takes the fun out of it wouldn't you say! Most of the soil has been tilled for new plantings where crops have been harvested and it looks dry and dead - as though the same sun that gives life to the crops has been busy sucking the life out of the bare earth.

For a change in pace and scenery, we are headed across to the coast near Rimini today. Now that we have a little time, we are off the blasted motorways and again travelling through interesting countryside. However, one of the roads that is available to travel through the Apennines in this part of Italy - the SS3bis, is certainly a significant road. It forms part of the 4920 km European E45 road that travels from Finalnd all the way to the tip of Italy. Now, on todays journey we follow this road down the mountains towards the coast through some pretty stunning scenery. Most of the road is built either in tunnels through the slopes of the mountains or on long curving viaducts that rise like the arched backs of some mystical creature from the floors of the valleys below. And due to the heavy traffic that this road carries, it is often partly closed for maintenance or even replacement - and today was no different. In fact we apss through two areas of work - one near Terni where miles of the bridged road is being replaced - and the crumbling concrete that carries us safely across the valley is actually pretty frightening to look at! The next major work was further on, coming through a series of tunnels that are normally one way but at the moment are being used to move traffic in both directions - thankfully one direction at at time, controlled by traffic lights.

The Apennines in this part of Italy are wild and for much of the area, untamed. These are a sedimentary chain of mountains that in this northern part demonstrate the affect of the folding and faulting forces at work over time as tectonic plate moves against tectonic plate and the earth was moulded anew primarily in the Mesozoic and Tertiary periods. Ha ha, at last my geographic knowledge is paying off!!!!

The farming scenery we are seeing changes as often as the view does at the moment. Gone are the large open plots of the Umbrian plains. Here the farming is in small lots and there is a lot of evidence of subsistence plots behind houses - where the produce is varied and seems to be for the consumption of the family and maybe a neighbour or two. Where the hills do flatten some there are some larger plots ploughed ready for the new crops - that is, once they are awakened to some semblence of life again - maybe with the application of some water!

After a couple of hours driving we are on the coastal plain to the east of the Apennines where the lower foothills cling on to their defensive forts and castles as though loathing to give them up for the more convivial life on the coast.

The city of Rimini is a busy coastal city of about 145,000 people. Traditionally fishing and servicing the fishing fleet have been the main industries here, and today the vibrant coastal navigation of cruise ships in the area continues this link between land and sea. Now, tourism is the largest industry by far and this is easily seen by the Gold Coast look of highrise apartments that have and continue to spring up along the coastline.

We are amazed at how quiet the streets are and when we get down to our accommodation at the Hotel Plaza, the receptionist explains that the main tourist season is well over and that many of the hotels are now closed. It certainly makes parking the car nice and easy. I can't understand why so many would be closed - there are still lots of tourists around and she adds that there are still direct cheap flights from the UK and Germany operating. Guess that makes the Hotel Plaza smart - they are almost full! Better to get some of your daily rate and maximise the investment you have made in infrastructure I guess - and there it is, my tourism background rearing its head! Gee, a great day for using my knowledge base!!!

Michael goes out for a fag and a stroll to sus out the dinner scene. The sun is setting on a deserted beach as he comes back. We head out to dinner at a restaurant around the corner that is also still open, La Terrazza Ristorante and Pizzeria. There are quite a few tables filled and more and more people continue to arrive while we are there. The menu is huge with a great selection of meats and seafoods as well as pizzas. It takes us a little time to wade through it all and make our choices:
Polipo e carciofi (Octopus and artichokes) Michael
Salmone marinato (Smoked salmon) Maria
Pizza Romana - pomodore,mozzarella, acciughe, capperi e oregani (Pizza Romana - tomato, mozzarella, anchovies, capers and oregano)
Scaloppine al limone (Escalope with lemon) Maria
Neither of us are hungry for dessert and so we finish with espressos and a complimentary Limoncello (so I get two!)
And as we return to the Hotel Plaza, you can see the almost deserted streets at the early time of 9 pm!

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