Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The mountains of Italy are AMAZING

I woke up early (I thought) but Anson was up over an hour before me enjoying the sunrise. It was fully light by the time I woke up and we walked down to the beach again to stretch our legs. It was sunny, but chilly and pretty windy. However, I had wanted to swim in the Mediterranean and I knew this was going to be my last chance on this trip so I went back to the car and changed into my swimsuit. On the way back to the beach Anson advised me to just run straight in so, once we made it there, I sprinted straight in. It was cold but shallow. I swam out about 10' but it didn't get any deeper so I just waded around a little. 

Our campground had showers on the way back in and I started to use one of them before I realized they actually had hot showers too. So I went and tried to use one of those but unfortunately they weren't free. Thus, I trudged back out into the wind and stood under the shower head. I took a deep breath before turning it on full blast. It was as cold as I expected so I scrubbed off quickly and headed back to the car. We cranked up the heat and headed off. 

This day of driving was characterized much less on navigating by map and much more on which mountains we thought we could make it to by taking which roads in our immediate vicinity. By heading towards the steep cliffs, we made finally arrived at Castel Mezzano. The castle part had been built onto/into the rock itself and probably would have been a pretty good fortification. A modern addition that Anson and I were much more interested in was the zip line. It stretched from the top of the highest peak at Castel Mezzano, all the way across the valley, to a mountain on the other side (www.volodellangelo.com). It was, unfortunately, closed. Anson and I looked for food, an occupation that was beginning to become quite tiresome, and, not finding any, moved on. 

Since coming to Southern Italy I had been reminded more than once of Taiwan and now, as Anson and I navigated down the mountain on steep, debris ridden, and frequently one lane (due to landslides) roads the resemblance was overwhelming. In Naples moped use was almost as high as Asia, and I had even seen a family of 5 riding on one moped, something I had thought was distinctly Taiwanese. Squatter toilets and toilets without seats were also in regular use and, furthermore, families that owned restaurants seemed to also use them as their home. The food was even cheaper too. Now, driving along these roads with Anson, I was reminded of driving along Taroko Gorge with my dad the previous year. It was more surprising than anything else. 
Either Taiwan is advanced or Southern Italy is behind. Possibly both.

After more driving and many split-second navigational decisions we ended up in Tricario. We were still looking for food but we couldn't see anything open so we kept driving. It had started to rain but the scenery was still spectacular. We were in a type of deciduous forest and we began to see stock animals.
 When coming down from Castel Mezzano we had driven through some sheep in the road. Now we saw large grey cows that, at first glance, looked a little like elephants. Only at first glance though. We continued driving when we suddenly saw a restaurant sign on our left. Anson swung the wheel and we pulled up short in a parking space.

Our fist impression on entering the restaurant was that it was probably nicer than what we were looking for but we were seated quickly so it didn't seem like we had much choice. The restaurant was bustling with people, I guessed they were the after church crowd. After a moment the waiter came up to take our order and we quickly found out that he spoke English. And his name was Alfonzo. They didn't use a menu for lunch, instead they just had some things that they recommended. Anson chose lasagna and then it was my turn. Anson told him I was vegetarian (better to get that out early) and his response was not heartening. "Oooh, that is not good, we only work with meat at lunch." Because I had had a good experience yesterday with spinach I decided just to ask for that, or perhaps mushrooms. "I aint got not spinach, I got mushrooms, but I aint got no spinach." I asked for a small pizza but that request was also denied. Apparently they don't do pizza at lunch. Alfonzo then suggested a plate with mushrooms, peppers, and cheese. It sounded good to me so I agreed. 

After he left we observed the decor of the restaurant. It turned out that there was a picture on the wall next to our table, of a whole pig being roasted. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by the "we only work with meat at lunch" thing. Alfonzo turned out to be very nice and he frequently stopped by our table to talk. He turned out to be a very interesting guy, having lived in Liverpool and London for 6-8 years all told. No wonder his English was good.

Before too long he came out again, this time bringing our food. Anson's lasagna was pretty straightforward and apparently, very delicious. My plate was a bit of a surprise but ... I guess that should have been expected. There were two large (3-4" x 1" x 2 ") pieces of cheese, one mozzarella, which was tied in a knot, and the other was provolone (I think). I also had peppers, and eggplant. The best though, was the mushrooms. I think it is common to cut bell peppers in half, then pack the halves with something and bake them. I had not thought that this could be done to mushrooms but indeed, although they weren't cut in half first, the tops were stuffed and they turned out very delicious. Alfonzo had also talked us into getting some bruschetta (baked bread with tomatoes, olive oil, and spices). Jeannie and I had made it once in Bologna but this was vastly superior, I think because of more oil and more salt. Although eating the two pieces of cheese was sort of intense (it was just a lot of cheese) the meal overall was fantastic. Anson got coffee afterwards and it too was delicious. The best was yet to come, however.

While talking with Alfonzo before, it had come out that Anson and I were driving around and camping where we could. As we were paying, Alfonzo asked if we had a specific camping destination for the night and, when we said we had none, began advising us on camping in the area. After some discussion he said we could camp there if we wanted to. There would be live music at the restaurant and that they served pizza (among other things, they just assumed, correctly, that we would want pizza) at dinner. Suddenly, there were two short and squat (not fat, you could just tell that they enjoyed their cooking) old people wearing aprons appeared. I assume that they were the proprietors of the restaurant and the ones behind the idea to let us camp at their restaurant. 

This whole situation again illustrated how helpful, possibly overly so, the Italians were. We hadn't even asked for directions, let alone any advice on where to camp. However, we had gotten camping advice and more, we had gotten a free place to sleep, with the side offer of more good reasonably priced food and some live local Italian music. The chefs were still by the table, looking friendly and concerned. They spoke swiftly to Alfonzo. Turns out they offered to let us sleep inside the restaurant. We would, of course, have to wait until everyone left, at midnight or so, but then we could make ourselves at home. Sort of. 

The offer was tantalizing, especially since it had just started to rain and, although we would probably sleep fine in a wet  tent, it does kind of suck. We discussed our options and decided to keep moving. It wasn't that we didn't want to sleep there, it was that we were in the mountains and we were pretty sure that if we went out of the mountains it wouldn't be raining.

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