I spent almost three months in Villa Rosa, Abruzzo and I think the two most asked questions from my friends and family were:
- What do you do all day? and
- Aren’t you scared?
Here I will try and finally answer the question – What do you do all day???
I spent most of my time biking along the lungomare. The lungomare between Martinsicurro and Guilianova is a 17 km stretch of walking and bike path. The lido or beach front for tourism is a relatively recent development. It was made viable when a 10 km tunnel was built in the late 1970’s under the Gran Sasso massif linking Rome to the coast of Abruzzo. I was in Abruzzo off “fuori stagione” i.e. not at the peak summer beach season and so there were very few people anywhere but also there were very few stores open for business. The weather was unusually cold and rainy. My main objective every morning was to get to Da Mauro’s in Tortoreto for my morning caffe and merratozzo before it rained! I did get soaked more than once.
Here is a sort of stream of consciousness that I wrote up every day. Since I was there alone it was kind of like having someone to talk to.
Since I do not have a car I have to do all my grocery shopping by bike so it does take some time. But it did hit me that I do have all the time I need and there is no reason to rush to get anything done. So I am very much enjoying the bike rides and I stop and just stare at the Adriatic and at the mountains and think about how lucky I am to be able to enjoy this.
I love the ride cross-country to the river and then onto the lungomare. I see the artichoke field, the verdure, the olive trees and I love to stop and buy my verdure from the agroturismo store. I see someone working in the field all the time. I bought fennel today 5 minutes by bike and I am right there where the fennel and artichokes grow. I had no idea how fennel and artichokes grew. I will continue to buy my veggies at the agroturismo. There is always a different green, leafy vegetable and when I ask what it is the answer is always – bietola – it does not matter, delicious sautéed in olive oil with a bit of garlic.
I have found a bread that I like at the bakery. There is a place that makes porchetta – roast pork shoulder and it is very good. Only issue is that I forgot to ask if the oven was electric or gas so I can heat things up. There is a pasta store down the street that makes up lasagna and such and I would like to be able to bake some.
Today I received this e-mail from my host:
“Mi sono dimenticato di dirti di non usare contemporaneamente lavatrice e forno altrimenti salta l’automatico e ti ritrovi senza energia elettrica.” A little bit of reality about living in Italy. You are only allowed to “use” a preset amount of electricity at any one time. So you cannot bake a lasagna and do your laundry for example at the same time. Another one of the reasons why every-day things takes so much longer to do in Italy.
When I turn along the river, I hear roosters crowing and see chickens strutting around. Some fruit trees are flowering. They are cut right back and look bald but delicate pink blossoms are appearing. The mimosas are spectacular yellow and sunny even though the skies are grey. The olive trees are cut back in the centre to let the light in – they are really more dwarfy in size than I expected. And they are everywhere – a thin strip along the side of a roadway, in gardens, and of course on the hillsides. They are evergreen as are the citrus lemon and orange trees, the oleanders and the magnolias. And yes I see lemons growing on the trees.
The plane trees are not evergreen and are cut right back to their gnarly trunks making them quite eerie looking.
Oh and I feel like I am living in a coffee table book – the mountains and scenery are spectacular! Today it was a beautiful sunny day and biking to Guilianova, there was a stunning view of colorful wildflowers against the background of the snow-capped peaks of the Gran Sasso range. This was a picture perfect day – the azure blue waters of the Adriatic on my left and rolling hills, then white capped mountains as I looked to my right all the way to the horizon.
A sunny day and I felt like I could ride that bike lungomare forever! Just as I was getting to the harbour of Guilianova I noticed that there was a market happening. I got off the bike and walked in – two rows of trucks along the bike path. It went on and on and on with clothes and sheets and tablecloths flapping from the truck awnings. A couple of interesting trucks though – one with sewing notions of all kinds – buttons , ribbons, threads and boxes and boxes stacked with buttons in them. At the harbour itself there were a few small fruit stands, a fish truck, and some porchetta, and cheese trucks.
The weather was holding so I decided to head up to the paese.
As I climbed the stairs to the centro storico on the hilltop a nice elderly signora started to talk to me and asked – “where are you from? You are not Italian”. She thought I was “brava” for walking the bike up those stairs.
The land use here is so intense. First you see the Adriatic stretching to the horizon, then a straight line of beach front as far as the eye can see, then dense housing with red tiled rooves, then the autostrada rising high above the valley, then agricultural land in a valley with rolling green hills of grape vines and olive trees but still lots of housing and then on the other horizon the snow-capped mountains.
It is unbelievable to see so much happening in one sweep of the eye.
Da Mauro’s is a pasticerria on the Via Archimedes in Tortoretto – l could see the ladies in the kitchen filling the zeppoli – a kind of puff pastry filled with custard or Chantilly and topped with a sour cherry. Apparently it is traditional for Father ‘s Day – San Guiseppe – Saint Joseph and lots of signs in the shops saying “Prenotare per la festa di papa”. I ordered a capuccino with latte di soia because I saw the sign that says they have soya milk and took it outside. There are a few small green plastic tables and chairs with table clothes and I saw an empty cappuccino cup so I knew I could order a cappuccino (because cappuccino is only consumed in the morning) and I knew it was ok to sit at a table (as opposed to paying extra for the privilege). People order caffe normale – which is a tiny cup of espresso -or macchiato which is that same tiny cup but stained with a touch of milk. I tried the merratozze and asked the young woman working there to write it down for me – sweet yeast dough cut in half and spread with Nutella. There are newspapers available and they are covered in clear plastic.
Today I found a panificio in Tortoretto. I followed a set of signs that read “forno a legno”. I saw people asking for half a loaf and so I asked for half a loaf and the signora gave me half a loaf of bread. I just had some for lunch and it was good crusty bread at last. They are only open until13:00 – have to remember that. A noticeable quieteness comes over the area at 13:00. All the stores close and people head home for lunch.
It is a siberian spring in Europe! There was snow in the forecast here for areas above 600 meters which is about a 10 minute drive from the coast. Nights are fresh – about 4C and mornings around 7C, by mid- morning about 10 C and then again the temperature drops around 4 o’clock. I do have to have the heat on after supper. This week has been cloudy and cold all week with drizzle. The forecast is for the coldest Easter in 50 years.
Today March 28, more than two weeks after I arrived, I walked on the beach, with my umbrella at the ready and with my four layers of tops. I was walking along the street where there is really nothing to see and then I thought, I could walk on the beach. The morning was very drizzly and so I could not go out on the bike. As I walked along the beach all alone a ray of late afternoon sun came out and lit up the waves and the breakwater. I looked down and the beach was strewn with small seashells. These are EU blue flag beaches – they have to meet certain environmental criteria and health standards to receive this designation. The bull dozers have been out to cleanup the winter filth so the beach was looking pretty good. I found some shells that I would like to collect to be part of my Adriatic shell and rock collection. All of a sudden I thought of that camp song –“mother, father kindly disregard this letter”.
Now that the sun is out things are looking good and I am feeling much better!
Today it feels like a nice warm spring day. All along the lungomare, the palm trees are being trimmed – quite the job to do over a 10 km or so stretch. The sky is clouding over but I think I will go for a walk on the beach – the first day that I am thinking about the beach!
I went to the Martinsicurro port by bike and then I realized how beautiful the big waves were and I got off the bike and walked. For the first time I was looking at the water as beach water and not just this angry grey green mass. It was mild, I took off my jacket and it really felt for the first time like I was al mare. The waves were so high that in one place here in Villa Rosa the waves had gone over the bike bath and onto the road.
I had street food at the market in Martinsicurro. The guy in the porchetta truck offered me a slice to taste and it was good. Then two women with kids in strollers came up and ordered four pannini. I watched as he expertly sliced the meat, put it in the buns, and wrapped them in wax lined paper. And so I ordered one too and thoroughly enjoyed the taste of the porchetta, the extra piece of crackling he put on top and the bun. Real street food!
Martinsicurro, Alba Adriatica, Tortoretto and Guilianova each have a market day and each one is a different day of the week. Today Saturday is the market in Tortoretto. The street was lined on both sides with all manner of trucks – a lot of tacky clothes and sheets, tables with all kinds of fruit and vegetables, flowers, trucks with porchetta, whole small pigs stuffed and roasted – the smell was wonderful, fish trucks, fried fish, cheese trucks – it was a lovely assault on the olfactory senses.
It started out sunny but the clouds are rolling in again. I did have lunch on the balcony and then headed out on the bike around noon towards Guilianova. There was a lot more activity along lungomare – a few more restaurants open and people were headed to eat out. As well as the people headed for their Pasqua lunch (the Pasquetta lunch menus are also posted), the vendors were also out. North Africans with their wares on display on sheets on the sidewalk – knock-off purses, sunglasses and t-shirts and kids toys. I don’t know if they ever sell anything. It is now thundering and lightning – the weather is constantly changing – thank goodness I decided to turn back from Giulianova when I did!
The clocks moved forward last night so I think the sun will set later but I always get that wrong! Maybe it will be stay nice enough for a walk after dinner.
April 5th and it is 20C at 1:30 – I had lunch on the balcony – short sleeves only! A perfect day in Villa Rosa.