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Five Nights in Vetralla (Lazio), Italy
Sunday, September 22
Overcast with rain, brightening in the afternoon, then overcast again in the evening.
We made record time on the Autostrada going north to Vetralla from Sperlonga. We decided against a visit to Tivoli to see the Roman villa because we had our computers in the trunk and did not want to risk them in this highly touristed spot. Next time we will see this area. Instead we drove onto the GRA, the ring road around Rome, and got off on SS2, the Via Cassia that goes to Vetralla.
We stopped in Sutri for Sunday lunch arriving just before 2pm, the unofficial restaurant closing time. We found a restaurant right on the main piazza and had an excellent lunch of noodles with porcini, then fresh grilled porcini and greens.
We always feel odd ordering only the vegetarian items when everyone else around us is getting course after course of meat, but this time we noticed the Italian couple beside us ordered the exact same meal as us (except they had a bottle of wine with the meal and glasses of grappa to finish). Between courses they got talking with Steve (I speak no Italian) and told us they were mushroom experts and the porcini here were fresh and good. They said many places serve frozen porcini. (And they have a son studying computer science in North Carolina.) They were a charming couple and poured us glasses of wine from their bottle.
This restaurant was great, but you may have problems if you don't speak Italian. When we arrived, the outside area was full and some people were seated inside. We walked around a bit, then came back and an outside table was empty. The waiters were running back and forth and we finally got someone's attention and asked if we could sit outside for lunch. They said to wait. We waited and finally it was cleared and we were seated. We ordered our water (a bottle, naturale). There was no menu. The waiter came up with his order pad and Steve explained we were vegetarians. He listed three different primi - porcini mushroom soup, ravioli with sage and butter, noodles with porcini. We both chose the latter.
The noodles came and they were the best we have had on the trip. We finished and had no idea if any more food would come. Finally after at least 30 minutes, they came and asked about a second course. Steve explained once again that we were vegetarians and the waiter said we should have grilled porcini and cooked greens - that we could share this. So we did. The porcini was perfect. Then we had coffee. By now it was after 4pm. Two hours for a simple lunch.
Sutri - a beautiful town in Lazio, north of Rome
It was lovely sitting outside on the piazza. I read all about Sutri in that book Pasquale's Nose, however I read it over a year ago and I gave my copy away, so had nothing to refer to before the trip. An e-friend, Judy, owns a second home in Sutri (she lives in Rome) which she rents out, and we have a listing for it on SlowTrav, so Sutri is a town I always wanted to visit. (It turned out that Tally from the message board and her husband had rented Judy's tower when we were there. We did not find the tower, but we met Tally later in the week.)
Sutri is a lovely town. It is close to Rome and has a prosperous feel to it, like a Tuscany town, but is full of Italian visitors, not regular tourists. The main piazza is closed off to cars and is surrounded by well maintained and colorful buildings. It has two or three caffes and the one restaurant on the piazza, but several others in town. The main road, the SS2, goes outside the town. The historic center is up on a hill above the road.
At the end of our meal, they closed the restaurant doors. My first thought was, but I want to use the restroom before we leave! In a few seconds a funeral procession appeared in the piazza. They had closed the restaurant doors out of respect. The cook came out and stood in front of the doors. Everyone dining outside stood up and crossed themselves. The hearse drove through the piazza followed by about 50 people walking.
When they passed, the restaurant doors were opened and we all resumed eating. We saw a similar thing in Sorrento last year. When the funeral went down the main street, they turned out the lights in the caffe where we were sitting.
We left Sutri and returned to the Vetralla apartment for a night at home - a simple meal of rice and broccoli. What a joy to have a meal with no oil at all and to have broccoli, usually hard to find in Italy, but I got some in Gaeta on Saturday night.
A t-shirt we saw on a woman in Sutri said: "SAIGON Thank God I wosn't there you lucky sod."
Monday, September 23
Overcast part of the day, some rain, wind, colder. Needed our jackets. Today Fall began.
We slept late and had breakfast in the caffe across the piazza. They had good coffee and pastry but it took 15 minutes to pay and leave because a large crowd came in just as we were finishing. Maybe city workers from the Municipal building on the piazza. We walked around Vetralla to find the shops and get ourselves "located". Walking in Vetralla is not easy. The main street is open to cars (one way in the older part of town) and is busy and narrow for walking. The shops are all along this street and it is hard to tell where things are. There is no nice main piazza with caffes and outdoor tables. The apartment we rented is on a piazza, but it is filled with parked cars.
We had lunch at home and some rest time. We headed out around 5pm to find the train station. It took a few tries because there are no signs, but we found it. It is unmanned and doesn't look like a good way to get to Rome. Later we spoke to Mary Jane who said you buy your ticket in town for both the train and the bus. The bus stops at the traffic lights on the main street and is 45 minutes to Rome. This sounds like the better plan for us. You get tickets and the schedule at the caffe across the piazza.
We found a large Coop just outside the old part of town (would have been nice to know about this on the day we arrived - all the small shops in town were closed for Thursday early closing). The Coop even had vegetarian cutlets - this is a first in Italy on this trip. Also a frozen, vegetarian, organic minestrone mix. We got some groceries for the week.
We walked out again during the passeggiata time, but could not really find one going on. There is usually one in most Tuscany and Umbria small towns. Perhaps many of the people living here commute to Rome, so there is no real passeggiata like in other small towns. Dinner at home (the vegetarian things we got at the Coop were great).
Tuesday, September 24
Rained in the night. Woke up to overcast, but it cleared by midday.
We drove to Bracciano for the afternoon. The drive was long (probably an hour) and pretty uninteresting. No views of the lake until you were in Bracciano at the castle. The town was very busy with traffic. We managed to find a parking area and walked around the old part of town. Found an excellent Tuscan restaurant for lunch.
Lazio - Bracciano: Un'Altra, Via Arazzaria, 27, tel:06-99804520
Bobo said the best olive oil comes from Liguria, Tuscany or Umbria. Usually people recommend only the olive oil of the region they are from, so it was unusual to hear someone in Lazio recommend oil from another region.
After lunch we walked up to the Orsini castle. We got there at 4pm just as a tour was starting. I think you can only see the castle with a tour group. The guide spoke in Italian, but Steve translated for me and she gave us a summary at the end in English. The castle was built in the 13th century and was well preserved. There were huge rooms with frescoes.
We met another American on the castle tour and had coffee with him after (Sean from Santa Cruz). He travels to Italy regularly and is currently in an apartment in Rome.
We left Bracciano in the late afternoon. It was just getting dark at 7pm as we arrived in Vetralla. The season has definitely changed. Up until the last couple of days we have been wearing short sleeves - now we are in long sleeves and with a jacket.
Today was the day when I stopped having a good time. I could not even imagine spending the rest of the week in Vetralla. There was the lunch the next day, which I was looking forward to, but after that I just wanted to go home. Five weeks away was feeling like a long time.
I was not liking Vetralla and although our apartment was beautifully equipped and furnished, it was very dark. No sun ever comes in the windows. I think perhaps since it was built in the 1400s, no sun has every come in those windows. Something to do with how it is situated in the piazza. The apartment has windows in the main living area only on one side, looking out to the piazza.
We didn't see much of Mary Jane or Fulvio (her boyfriend who owns the apartment). They both seemed to be pretty busy. There was no phone in the apartment so we could not call her and we had no internet access. My cell phone did not get reception anywhere in Vetralla. We felt really cut off from everything there and with the dark apartment and the changing weather, everything felt dreary.
The next day was our Slow Travelers lunch that Mary Jane and Fulvio gave for us, so we had to stay for that (and it was great fun), but we decided to leave on Thursday and spend our last two nights in Rome. We had to spend Thursday in Rome anyway, meeting Tom and Rob from CA for lunch and then Jim and Pam from Santa Fe later in the day. If we took the bus, it was going to be a long ride in and we could not stay late.
Plus we were getting tired at the end of a long trip and everything was getting to me. The driving around Vetralla is busy and fast - not pleasant. The town is not that interesting. We could have explored more in Lazio, but just didn't feel like. We wanted to be in Rome - to have a last few days of excitement before going home. So I started calling hotels (using Colleen's cell phone which did get some reception - she had loaned it to Paula and we kept it because Paula thought it was broken and we had to find a store to get it fixed, but it turned out it just needed charging). Everything was booked. So much for the reduced tourism in Italy! Finally we found a room in the very expensive Hotel Lord Byron - we took it.
Wednesday, September 25
Overcast, cooler, some rain
We explored Vetralla some more in the morning. Tried two caffes, both good. Found the Internet Point!! It was in an office set back from the main street. It was closed when we got there, but we went back later and the guys who runs it was there. We spent 30 minutes checking our email. We walked around the town and through the gardens at the end of town.
Today was the Slow Travelers lunch. Mary Jane held it in her beautiful apartment. It is in an old palazzo on the main street, up one level from the street. Very high ceiling, huge rooms, and a big, beautiful terrace with views over Vetralla to the countryside. We had a good turnout for the lunch. Mary Jane and Fulvio prepared the meal. I think some of us brought some dishes.
Maria from the message board who had just moved to Italy was there with Judy, an American expat whose house Maria was renting in a small Umbrian town. Peggy (Casa dei Sogni on the message board) and John, Americans who recently moved to Paciano, drove down for the lunch. A few of Mary Jane's friends came, including Assuntina who runs an agriturismo nearby. Tally from the message board and her husband were staying in Sutri, so they came up for the lunch.
The food and company was excellent. It was great meeting everyone. We spent the whole afternoon eating and chatting. Mary Jane and Fulvio were very nice to have arranged this for us.
After the social afternoon, Steve and I had a quiet dinner at home and packed up to leave for Rome.
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