Saturday, May 28, 2011

Indulgence

I hope you are indulging me with my happy cheery posts about strawberries and oranges and anything colorful, pretty and simple. The truth of the matter is that I need them. I'd like to think that maybe you need them too. But in reality, I know it is because I need them.

I need to focus on the little things for exactly the reason that I stated: none of the big things make sense at the moment. So I am offering these posts of little reflections to the world to join me in a form of catharsis, a form of refocusing and going back to the basics.

I am a bit at a loss at the moment because my traditional forms of relieving stress and toning down the crazy, running and techno music, have stopped working. I blast the music. I put on the runnng shoes, but my body won't move. These days I have lead in my feet. Despite the increasing number of days between runs, my body feels like it has been through a marathon. This is why I know it isn't physical.

No, the only running I have done too much of is the mental kind on the mouse wheel in my head. I have been running on that one so fast that I drain all my energy for any other activity. I am exhausted. Actually, no. I am the french word, exténué or as one dictionary puts it, vider de ses forces, to be emptied of your force/energy. It makes sense that they are called "extenuating circumstances," circumstances beyond your control. Belonging to the same root, circumstances beyond your control then are exhausting circumstances.

Another French expression also describes this feeling, à terre, to be depleted, literally to be on the floor. A terre: when all you can handle is a cheek on the cold, hard, permanent floor because you know that at least, the pavement isn't going anywhere. Changes can rock everything else in your life, but a floor will always be there to lay flat against, and it seems the only thing to hold on to. It's a common instinct. In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert shares this experience of being physically on the bathroom floor while her marriage is collapsing. The writers of Grey's Anatomy put Izzy on the floor after Denny's death.

So for now, rather than writing about my experiences on the floor (which might be thoughts for another time), I offer instead my writing about food and sun and color because those are building blocks. I hope that by stacking them up like a layer cake, first a base of sunshine, then a layer of nutritious and comforting food, perhaps a level of creamy gelato and frothy and foamy drinks and then hopefully at the top an icing of happy thoughts, I will be adding sugar and cream to life's lemons. I might even get a cake out of it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I Piaceri d'Italia: Arance


Today we marvel at arance as part two of the series dedicated to the little joys of being in Rome!
Blood Oranges
(Picture: bottom left).
One of my favorite things about oranges in Italy is that they also come in the blood variety. Don't be horrified. These blood oranges, also known as moro oranges, are delicious! Take a bite into one of these juicy fruits and you'll look like Edward with red juice streaming from your lips... Who am I kidding though? I have never seen Twilight so I'll stick to talking about fruit and the like in my own type of series.
Spremuta
(Picture: bottom right)
Thick, pulpy goodness! Spremuta is one of the most wonderful drinks. If you are in the "No pulp" camp, this drink might not be for you as it is essentially a smoothie made entirely of oranges. But it is great for a vitamin C kick. If you feel like spending 5+ Euro on this, there is a lovely caffe right on the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere that specializes in spremute di arance. They are quite good and it is an ideal spot for people watching. However, I will just as happily through a oranges in a blender and call it a day.
Giardino degli Aranci
(Picture: top left)
Il Giardino degli Aranci is a beautiful spot on the Aventine Hill in Rome where you can get a great view of St. Peter's dome from one angle and Palazzo Vittorio Emmanuele from the other. My favorite part about this garden, aside from the orange tree-lined walkways, is that from the entrance of the park, St. Peter's dome is directly in front of you and appears so massive as to think that you were only a short stroll away. However, taking that short stroll to the other side of the park, the dome seems to recede with every step. Once at the look-out, the dome seems no closer that any of Rome's other monuments. Neat trick. I am convinced, however, that there must be some conspiracy theory out there about this phenomenon, much like my ideas about the key hole through which you can see St. Peter's... interestingly enough located just next to the Giardino degli Aranci.
More things to do with Oranges...
  • Fend of Scurvy! Ascorbic acid (also known as Vitamin C) means no scurvy. So eating oranges can help you keep your teeth, stop your gums from bleeding and even halt your flesh from decaying... The poor 18th century blokes bound for long sea journeys weren't so fortunate. 
  • Eat oranges at Thanksgiving! Christopher Columbus was the one who first brought orange seeds to the New World
  • Pick an Orange off a tree, and it will never be rotten! Sounds like a saying doesn't it? Nope. It is just a fact that oranges are one of the few fruits that will not over-ripen if left on the tree.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Listography Roma

I don't know how long I will be in Rome, but I thought I would dig up my list from the last time I was living here and share it with you all. As with my DC one, this list, for me, serves as a reminder to make the most of my time here. For everyone else, here are some ideas for wonderful things to do in la Citta Eterna! 
(N.B. This list is a work in progress. Send in your suggestions or thoughts!)


Official Living like a Tourist- Rome Edition


Mamma mia! Sei a Roma! - Must-Dos in Rome
  1. Colosseo- Visit the inside only once/Outside is more impressive 
  2. Foro Romano- Best to have a tour of this 
  3. Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain to ensure your return to Rome
  4. Tour of St. Peter's Basilica 
  5. Sistine Chapel 
  6. Piazza Navona- at sunset the colors are amazing  
  7. Pantheon - stare up into the Occulus
  8. Top of Il Vittoriano for a great view 
  9. Climb the Spanish Stairs in Piazza di Spagna 
  10. Porta San Sebastiano & Aurelia Wall 
  11. Fontana del Tritone  
  12. Fontana dei Fiumi  
  13. Ara Pacis  
  14. Augustus Mausoleum 
  15. Museo Borghese 
  16. Trajan Markets 
  17. Column of Trajan  
  18. Terme/Baths of Caracalla  

  19. Porta Portese Market   
  20. Piazza Dei Cavallieri di Malta &amp- The key hole   
  21. Giardino degli Aranci
  22. Ponte Rotto   
  23. Bocca della Verita   
  24. Pie’ di Marmo   
  25. Monte Testaccio 
  26. Piramide   
  27. The Passetto
  28. The Scavi- excavations underneath the Vatican
  29. S.M. Concezione- Cappucin Church - decorated with the bones of Monks 
  30. Carabinieri Museum
  31. Globe Theater in Villa Borghese- Replica of Globe in London
  32. Area Sacra- temple remains  (cat sanctuary) 
  33. La Fraschetta- especially Pasta Fagioli- S. Francesco a Ripa-Trastevere 
  34. Renato e Luisa- another classic near Campo dei Fiori
  35. La Villetta- Roman Dishes- Viale Aventino- Ostiense 
  36. Osteria Pistoia- Porta Portese
  37. Mo Mo- Pizza & Pasta- Monteverde Nuovo 
  38. Per Bacco- Unconventional Pizza; also good for meat (I've heard)- Marconi 
  39. Al Fontanone- Great Zuppa di Ceci (Not great pizza)- Trastevere 
  40. Casa Coppelle- Pasta with modern twist; great ambiance, bit pricey but worth it- Pantheon 
  41. Angelina- Modern Restaurant - Testaccio 
  42. Il Tajut- Hearty Friulian food- San Giovanni 
  43. Gusto- Brunch- Centro 
  44. Met- Modern setting, Mainly traditional food- Ponte Milvio  
  45. Cul de Sac- Cheeses & Wine- Governo Vecchio  
  46. Antico Tevere- Unique view of the river- good food 
  47. Da Felice- A classic in Testaccio
  48. Osteria Palmira- Great neighborhood place
  49. SAID- Old Chocolate Factory turned restaurant- San Lorenzo  
  50. Osteria dei Pazzi- Garbatella  
  51. Baccano- Semi-French/Semi-Italian place to get French wine for a change- Trevi Fountain 

  52. Pan'Unto- great & cheap pizza- Trastevere  
  53. Da Ivo a Trastevere- S. Francesco a Ripa 
  54. Baffetto- famous
  55. Il Corallo- different types of pizza, nice atmosphere, outdoor seating- Navona 
  56. Cavecanem- Gorgonzola & Pear Pizza- Trastevere 
  57. La Gatta Mangiona- Great neighborhood pizza place that has become known beyond the neighborhood boundaries- Monteverde
  58. Al Grottino- best carrot cake in Rome! pretty great pizza too
  59. Novecento- Pizza & Pasta- Ostiense 
  60. Il Brillo Parlante- Good restaurant in town
  61. Cantina Lucifero
  62. The Mirror- "wild" (for Italy) pizza combinations - Trastevere 
  63. Thai Inn- Thai- Monteverde 
  64. Taste East- Thai/Asian
  65. Asmara- Ethiopian Restaurant - Termini
  66. Corno d'Africa- Ethiopian- Monteverde 
  67. La Cucaracha- Mexican Restaurant - Prati
  68. Riad Nour- Moroccan- Prati 
  69. Jaipur- Indian- Trastevere 
  70. Ouzeri - Greek- Trastevere
  71. Elleniko- Greek takeaway- Aventino
  72. Mandaloun Cafe- Lebanese
  73. Sushi & Noodles- Aventino 
  74. Haus Garten Bagel Bar- Prati 
  75. Mandaloun- Lebanese-  2 locationsVia Veneto/Piazza Navona
  76. Temakinho- Brazilian Sushi- Monti
  77. Wok- All you can eat sushi- Prati 
  78. Mekong- Vietnamese- Furio Camillo


  79. Art Cafe- Discotecca- Nicer in summer with outdoor dance floor 
  80. La Maison- Discotecca 
  81. Alpheus - Discotecca- Great Techno music- Ostiense 
  82. Caffe Letterario- Poetry readings & Alternative Music- Ostiense 
  83. Big Mama- Blues House in Trastevere 
  84. Hookah at Sciam- Campo dei Fiori 
  85. Micca Club- Burlesque Night on Fridays



  86. St. Peter's Basilica
  87. San Giovanni in Laterano
  88. Santa Maria in Trastevere- gorgeous mosaics
  89. Sant Andrea del Quirinale 
  90. San Carlo alle Quattro fontane
  91. San Bernardo delle Terme
  92. San Paolo fuori le Mure
  93. San Lorenzo fuori le Mure
  94. San Teodoro
  95. Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte- church dedicated to death 
  96. Santa Maria in Campinelli 
  97. San Giovanni dei Fiorentini
  98. Santa Maria in Aracoeli- Pza Venezia
  99. Santi Giovanni e Paolo 
  100. San Gregorio Magno
  101. Santi Nereo e Achilleo- marytyred Apostle pics on wall
  102. Santa Maria Maggiore
  103. San Pietro In Vincoli- Michaelangelo statue of Moses
  104. Il Basilico San Pauolo Pietro - EUR
  105. Scala Santa
  106. Santa Croce in Gerusalemme- full-sized replica of Shroud of Turin 
  107. Santi Quattro Coronati- Cloister
  108. San Clemente
  109. S.M. Della Pace
  110. Sant Agnese in Agone
  111. San Luigi dei Francesi- Caravaggio painting
  112. San Ivo
  113. San Adrea della Valle 
  114. La chiesa Americana- Santa Susanna- tour
  115. Saint Ignazio di Loyola
  116. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva 
  117. Gesu Church
  118. Trinita dei Monti church- views of rome 
  119. Sant’ Andrea delle fratte 
  120. San Francesco a Ripa- Bernini’s Beate Ecstasy
  121. Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
  122. Scavi- St. Peter's Tomb
  123. Santa Maria della Vittoria- Bernini’s Teresa in Ecstasy
  124. Santa Maria del Popolo- Caravaggio paintings



  125. Cheer for Roma at a Partita di Calcio 
  126. See the Squadra Nazionale play
  127. Run in a Marathon: La Maratona di Roma  
  128. Run in Half Marathon: Mezza maratona Ostia-Roma 
  129. Bike rentals in Villa Borghese



  130. Della Palma Gelateria for the Ciocolatto Fondente- Pantheon  
  131. Giolitti for amazing fresh fruit granita (Granita di Frutta)- Pantheon  
  132. Tony's Gelateria- Monteverde Nuovo  
  133. Pompi, Il Re del Tiramisu- Pistacchio Tiramisu is amazing!- San Giovanni  
  134. Grom-gelato- Piazza Navona & Pantheon; Campo dei Fiori
  135. La Romana- best of the best- Via Ostiense


  136. Ombre Rosse- Wine or Beer with a nice outdoor terrace- Trastevere  
  137. Vin Allegro- Wine with a nice outdoor terrace- Trastevere  
  138. .075 - Wine bar- Cool setting, good wine and beer list- Circo Massimo  
  139. Enoteca Il Piccolo- Wine Bar- One of my favorites; good caponata as a snack- Governo Vecchio 
  140. Mercat- Wine bar
  141. Oasi Della Birra- Beer & great aperitivo- Testaccio  
  142. Etabli
  143. Le Bon Bock Cafe- Whiskey/Beer- Monte Verde  
  144. Donegal Pub- Irish Pub- San Saba
  145. Antica Birreria Peroni- Center
  146. Roma Beer Company- Aventino



  147. Caffe Sant'Eustachio- renowned for their coffee- they have their own roast   
  148. Caffe Tazza d'Oro- for a Granita di Caffe  
  149. Cafffe Camerino- "Il caffe con tre effe"- Largo Argentina  
  150. Really most "bars" outside the tourist areas



  151. AquaMadre Hammam- Trastevere
  152. Terme dei Papi- Hot Springs Outside of Rome
  153. Terme di Rapolano- 2.5 hours outside of Rome, but I had to list it...


  154. Doppio Zero- Wine/cocktails, not the nicest service- Ostiense  
  155. Freni e Frizioni - Casual- Not my favorite but popular  
  156. Oasi della Birra (see above)
  157. Momo-
  158. Baylon Cafe
  159. Rosso- Aventino


  160. December- Christmas Tree & Nativity Scene at Vatican  
  161. January 6- Festa della Befana- Piazza Navona  
  162. Roasted chestnuts on most street corners in the center
  163. Panettone from Roscioli or really any supermarket



  164. Villa Borghese park 
  165. Pincio Gardens- panoramic view of rome  
  166. Villa Doria Pamphilj park
  167. Villa Schiarra park
  168. Parco Appio Claudio  
  169. Circo Massimo  
  170. Tiber Island  
  171. Market at Campo dei Fiori  
  172. Villa Celimontana Park
  173. Vatican gardens 
  174. Gianicolo Hill  
  175. Appia Antica 
  176. EUR lake

  177. Arricia- where porchetta comes from- Castelli Romani  
  178. Nemi - known for fragoline- Castelli Romani  
  179. Bracciano  
  180. Trevignano

  181. Ristorante- The Library 
  182. Rooftop of the Minerva Hotel- Pantheon     
  183. Put a lock on Ponte Milvio

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I Piaceri d'Italia: Fragole

There are some times in life when you are waiting for the big things to sort themselves out. So in the meantime, it is important, even necessary, to focus on the little things, the small pleasures in life. Here is a series dedicated to the little joys of being in Rome.

Le Fragole: Strawberries



It is strawberry season. So that means indulging on a bounty of wonderful recipes involving fragole, or just on the strawberries themselves! Here are some ways to enjoy them:

Pizza di Fragole 
Photo top right... if you couldn't figure it out.
Obsessed with pizza? Substitute nutella for tomato sauce and strawberries for cheese and you have a new classic!

Crostata Fragolina
Photo bottom left
This is the piccolissima version of the Crostata or Torta di Fragoline. Essentially, small pies filled with cream made in part with mascarpone cheese and topped with fragoline, wild mini strawberries that taste more like berries than the large versions do.

Fragolino
Photo bottom right
An alcoholic aperitif made of the fragola grape. Fragoline, mentioned above, have the pleasure of being submerged in this sweet, almost syrupy, delicious liqueur. Watch out when eating the fragoline at the end though. They are potent!

Lastly, more things you can do with strawberries:
  • Count seeds instead of sheep to make you drowsy. The average strawberry has 200 seeds. 
  • Give a dozen strawberries instead of a dozen roses next Valentine's Day. Strawberries and roses are in the same family.
  • Eat and Be Merry: The ancient Romans believed that strawberries alleviated symptoms of melancholy. They also believed that strawberries could help with fainting, inflammations, fevers, throat infections, kidney stones, bad breath, attacks of gout, and diseases of the blood, liver and spleen.
  • Take a step toward world peace: In medieval times, leaders served strawberries at important functions to bring peace and prosperity.
  • Most importantly, FALL IN LOVE: one folk lore claims that if you split a double strawberry in half and share it with the opposite sex, you’ll fall in love. If only it were that easy...
  • More fun facts courtesy of the London Strawberry Festival.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Food and Wine all' Abruzzese



Pescara
Before diving into how food and wine made up for the pouring rain and unseasonable cold in Italy, a short note about Pescara. This big, seaside city, destroyed in the WWII with what’s left looking fascist or modern, had little to offer non-beach-goers. So on a damp, gloomy day in April, as you might imagine, it was less than inspiring. Sadly, the one traditional-looking restaurant we found was the same, less than inspiring, an even bigger disappointment to me as I had yet to have a proper Italian meal in the week I had been back. To make up for it, we went in search of something pacifying: wine!

Tollo

Tollo
I also reprimand Lonely Planet for not making mention of Tollo or the wines of this region… Tollo could rival any Tuscan town set amid vast stretches of vineyards in every direction. With the sunshine, this would have been a heavenly site. In the torrential rain, it was still breathtaking but heartbreaking to know that we would not see the view in its full potential.




Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is one of my favorite wines and upon learning that this is actually a type of grape and not just a reference to the city in Tuscany called Montepucliano (one of my favorite Italian cities), I took a liking to the Abruzzo region, just out of thanksgiving for this magnificent wine. 

Days before, I had indiscriminately bought a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo at the grocery store and liked it immediately. Coincidentally, this specific wine turned up on most of the menus we glanced at in the towns we visited and realized the vineyard must be nearby. So we tracked down a bottle at a local grocery store, found the address for Cantina Tollo on its label and traced down the web site from a handy little blackberry. 


The web site did not give us much detail except for a general area and an address, so we took a chance and went to Tollo, the city where it’s from, despite the pouring rain. However, despite knowing nothing about Tollo, despite most Italian vineyards not having a public showroom and despite it being past 1700h on a Saturday, we made it, they had one and it was open. 

Once inside, we had very generous tastings of a couple different wines including Cagiolo and I bought two bottles without hesitation. Between this and the wine we had already purchased, we had 1 bottle short of 2 cases of wine in the car. Jack pot!


Pacentro: Il piu bello borgo d'Italia

Pacentro
The other gem of the trip was Pacentro. We had no intention of going there. In fact, we would not have gone there had we stuck with our first instinct of backtracking to the highway. Instead, we decided to use the smaller, theoretically more direct, but certainly not faster roads. These roads redefined windy and after an hour of exceptionally undulating roads, my stomach was in knots, my face was green and I was ready for some club soda and time out of the car. Pacentro was the first town we hit and its medieval, castle-like towers convinced us right away that it was worth a visit. 


On a holiday Sunday, our first two attempts at getting lunch were in vain; both restaurants were completely reserved. We were told about a third under the arch in the main piazza, but as we walked in and noticed that only one table in the two rooms of the restaurant was occupied, we were not convinced. Yet, we didn’t know if we had any other options, so we accepted the offer to come in. Despite sitting alone in the back room of the restaurant, we were slowly won over by the cook and her husband serving us off the menu in their head rather than one handed to us. We asked for the antipasto and promptly had a spread of food covering every available spot on the table. 


Solo L'Antipasto
I had mentioned to them that I am a vegetarian and, seemingly to make up the for the fact that I must be starving, they brought us three plates full of cheese, two baskets of bread, two plates of funghi in olio, sundried tomatoes, a sauerkraut-type marinade of vegetables, all in addition to the traditional antipasto of sliced prosciutto, salami and other various meats.



My stomach’s previous motion sickness was soon lulled by the savory vegetables and the creamy, salty cheeses. The vino rosso also did wonders and by the time the primi piatti were supposed to arrive we stared at the table incredulous at how much food we had already eaten. Yet, we didn’t turn away the tagliatelle ai funghi, and good thing we didn’t. The homemade pasta with the mushrooms that melted on my tongue reminded me of why Italy is praised for its food. With the pasta digesting, however, we did ask them to cut off the elaborate meal there without bringing a secondo, which would have been meat anyway. Yet, there was still a caffe and a limoncello fatto a casa (homemade) to top off the meal.


For whatever the reason that this restaurant was empty while the two others were booked to capacity, it certainly wasn’t a reflection on the quality of the food. Pacentro was a great idea and a lovely end to un weekend abruzzese.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nel Cuore d'Abruzzo (In the Heart of Abruzzo)

Representation of the Cuore d'Abruzzo by local artist

Friday evening, we hopped into the shiny red, Fiat Cinquecento (500) that we had rented and fled from the casino (chaos) of Pope John Paul II’s beatification weekend in Rome. We were off to Abruzzo, a much neglected part of Italy in my opinion, and a region from which my favorite wine originates. Those two reasons were enough for a visit. 

Meet our Shiny Red Cinquecento
Our choice to leave Friday night, however, meant that we would be arriving at our remote agriturismo within the mountainous valleys of Abruzzo two and a half hours into the darkness of the night. It was indeed as difficult as it sounds, and without any signage whatsoever, we resorted to having the owner pick us up in the nearby town. He didn’t seem to mind at all, however, and in his fast Italian and hyper and happy demeanor, he led us to our room in the Country House Antiche Dimore, a cozy stone cottage amid a clearing in the forest with an incredible view of the nearby city, a view that we didn’t actually see until the next morning however. 

Our Agriturismo. Roccamorice in the background.
The result of our 45 minute climb up serpentine streets and rocky roads was a view from the top of a mighty looking valley, Italy’s Grand Canyon we joked. But my stomach, remembering the windy path to get here, was not as amused when realizing that the way back down would offer no repose. 

Grand Canyon d'Italia
Roccamorice
The nearby town was Roccamorice, a town with which we apparently shared a kinship. Out of the approximately one thousand residents, a large proportion had emigrated from this particular town to Canada. By the plaques all over the city, in the church and on prominent buildings, it was obvious that these residents kept close ties with their mother country and sent money back home for the renovation of their village. 

Sign thanking the Roccolani Canadesi
A town the size of Roccamorice needs no more than 15 minutes to see its entirety. However, it was adorable, and aside from its magnificent view and its Canadian-ness, my favorite aspect of this town was the Hard Rocc bar. Clever. 

Roccamorice's Hard Rocc Cafe
San Valentino in Abruzzo Citeriore
Another nearby town was San Valentino, and it was charming just upon entrance. A combination of its layout on a hill, its large stone buildings and, perhaps even its name, gave it a sense of beauty. It was also from here that I bought the Cuore d’Abruzzo featured above from a local artisan shop, Majarte, displaying all types of abruzzesi crafts.

San Valentino
Eremo San Bartolomeo- Hermitage San Bartolomeo
Being low profile generally speaking but also unbeknownst to us on a personal level, exploration of Abruzzo was our only plan for the weekend.  In Lonely Planet’s 924 page guide on Italy, Abruzzo receives a measly 10 page mention and could well have read, “Not worth your time”; the author(s) very obviously did not favor this region. 

Therefore, we pruned ideas of sites to visit from our Agriturismo host and not the book. Aside from nearby towns like Roccamorice and San Valentino, the area was also known for spiritual hermitages situated within the obliging national park. Eremo San Bartolomeo, for one, sounded like an interesting adventure. A place for spiritual retreat, this hermitage was built into a rocky cave that can only be reached by a fairly lengthy walk through the vastness of the Majella National Park. So we took Cinquecento as far as shiny red could go and then parked him on the side of a field to await us. Then we began our trek. Without any map, and of course, with no real guidance from Italian signs, we periodically wondered whether or not these less-than-frequently traversed paths would in fact take us to our destination. Debating whether to turn around, we at last saw a lonely and faded sign giving us enough reassurance to continue the hike. 

Barely legible sign to the hermitage
As the path got narrower and more overgrown, we wondered when the last pilgrims/visitors had been. To amuse himself on the otherwise plain and somewhat dreary hike, my mischievous ragazzo began inventing tales of various wild animals stalking us as we walked. Perhaps as punishment for this hubris, we came to a part of the path where visible animal tracks could be seen and then we heard noises in the very nearby bushes. We froze. “There’s something in the bushes,” he says. “I know. I saw it,” I reply, my own eyes being proof that this time, he wasn’t just teasing. I didn’t see much, but what I did see was not comforting: a glimpse of a four-legged, darkish gray/black furry animal, definitely on all fours and somewhat low to the ground. Abruzzo is known for two animals: wolves and bears. My brief glimpse of this animal didn’t rule out either one. His glimpse of this unknown creature was the same with the exception that he saw two of them. Cubs perhaps? We stayed frozen, worried that our previous jokes had masked the fact that we really knew nothing of what to do or how to act when faced with any of Abruzzo’s animals: Run? Scream? Play dead? Stay perfectly quiet? With nothing on us but a phone out of reception, we had no choice but to stay still hoping not to invoke the interest of whatever it was. 

When nothing charged or pounced at us after 5 minutes, we started walking slowly back the way we came, ditching the idea of the hermitage. We crept forward carefully, picking up sharp rocks as we went as the only possible tools for defense. After another five minutes of retreat, we started walking much faster back toward our cherry Cinquecento. Twenty tense minutes later, and safely back in the car, we kind of laughed and kind of cursed ourselves for walking along the path so naively. It was a wild region after all and even if Lonely Planet claims, “Abruzzo and Molise boast three national parks encompassing 3350 sq km of mountainous terrain. Here a small number of wolves and bears roam free, and although you’re unlikely to meet one, it adds an edge to know you might.” For us that “unlikely” comment seemed far less reassuring now. Whether it was a bear, wolf or wild boar (we also learned these are inhabitants of the park), it had not been worth hanging around to see how our fate might befall us in each of these three scenarios. So in the end, we did experience a retreat… just not San Bartolomeo’s

As for the rest of the trip, it focused more on wine and food rather than mysterious animals, but those tales are to come!

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