Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Italian Irritations

We have been in Italy for a little over two months in all. The day after tomorrow we fly back home for a three week break. It would be overstating matters to say the break will be welcome, but there are aspects of being in Italy that I will not miss.

Driving is stressful, not only because of the erratic nature of fellow road users, but away from toll roads, potholes and unexpected hazards abound. As a pedestrian, outside of 'areas pedonale' often there is no pavements and you weave your way up the street dodging picturesquely parked cars and passing traffic, often driven by people more interest in their mobile phones than the road ahead. Then there are the unexpected complication of everyday life. For example, we stopped for fuel yesterday, a simple enough task you might think, until you came to choose the pump. There were three rows of them, each with a diesel pump selling the same fuel for a different price. The deluxe experience could be purchased at 1.42 per litre in row A, where orange-overalled Erg elves would fill-the vehicle at a premium. In row B, it was self service, but you handed your cash to an attendant. Here you got a discount and the diesel cost 1.30 per litre. Row C was the bargain basement of fuel retailing where the pump was self service and you used a card machine to pay - 1.22 per litre - that's the one for impoverished retirees like us! Except the pump could only be accessed from the left hand side, and the position of our fuel cap requires we use the other side. Crestfallen, we stumped up the mid-range price. I realise these are all minor irritations, but they stack up, especially when the weather is more Pennine than Apennine, blustery and cold.

We have no choice but to head north towards Pisa, our flight is on Wednesday and though we might bewail the grey, distinctly Blighty weather, in truth the whole of Italy, top to toe seems to be suffering a cold snap. Travellers in Sicily were posting on Facebook about cold rain and thunderstorms. Enough moaning! What about where we are now. We left Rome mid-morning in order to avoid the worst of the traffic so escaped more easily than we arrived. Rome seems to sprawl to the south more than to the north, so soon we were heading through the broad fields of lower Tiber valley with views across towards the snow-dusted Apennines. We were not planning to travel far.

Originally we had considered stopping by Lake Bolsena, but opted instead to stay at the Cantina Sociale of the wine DOC with the unlikely name of 'Est! Est! Est!' The place has a free camper park with EHU next to the Cantina's shop selling wine and other local produce. Even on a dull Sunday in early March both the Camperstop and the retail outlet were surprisingly busy.

The Camperstop is situated on the outskirts of the small Etruscan town of Montefiascone. It sits on a bluff overlooking the broad expanse of Lake Bolsena about 6kms to the north. We sat in the van for a while, but in the end donned scarves, gloves and wooly hat and set off to have a look at the town. Lake Bolsena formed in the caldera of a long extinct volcano. Consequently, Montefiascone is built of a dark lava stone. It's a typical ancient Italian hill town, but the slate-grey stone give it a particularly severe aspect. I had seen on Google maps that the place had a small museum dedicated to the work of Sangello the Younger who happens to be my favourite Italian Renaissance architect. We never found the musuem, and in fact the Sangello connection seems to be distinctly tenuous. He is reputed to have advised on the town's Cathedral ground plan, but as the monument was not completed until 100 years after the original plan, so really the building is Baroque-lite, and has little in common with Sangello's work which displays a wonderful geometric purity and had great finesse. Gill described the Montefiascone cathedral as a 'grim lump'.

The town itself is part of the pilgrim route of St Francis and the marked pathway leads to a pleasant public garden on the hilltop with views north over the lake, and south across the Etruscan countryside towards Viterbo. On a clear day it would have been spectacular.

We bought a couple of bottles from the Cantina and retired for the night. The wine was distinctly average, but Gill's ragu delicious as ever. Then it was an episode of Borgen and bed.


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