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Report 508: Small Town Couple Takes Small Towns Trip, May 1-31

By B. Dupree from North Carolina, Spring 2004

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Page 4 of 7: May 11-14, Brisighella and Urbino

May 11, Tuesday

Long hard drive on the autostrada to Brisighella. We arrived at Il Palazzo around 3:30. I think we're going to like this place. It is a real working farm, environmentally sound. Ettore Materesi and Adriana Biancho produce their own organic wine, have a large garden and solar panels for heating water. Both speak English and are very helpful.

Our room was in an annex building to the main house and was unusual. Two floor-to-ceiling glass doors in the bedroom opened to the terrace. The bathroom and a loft bedroom were up a flight of stairs. Should be interesting for our old person forays to the john during the night.

After we settled in, we sat on the terrace, sipped their wine and enjoyed the changing late afternoon light over the hills. Dinner was very good, first an eggplant fritter with herbs, primo of spaghetti with tomatoes and parsley and saffron. Secondo was meat stuffed with cheese, kale and topped with pancetta. For dessert, we had a slice of fruit cake.

The only other guests of the agriturismo were an Italian couple who spoke even less English than I did Italian, a good chance for me to practice and learn. We managed to determine that they lived in Florence and came there for two weeks to take treatment at the "terme" a day spa specializing in respiratory treatment, massage and other treatments. This was the second year they've stayed at the Palazzo.

We told them the usual first meeting things, where we'd been and were going on this vacation, where we live, our family, etc. My Italian is not up to much more than that.

May 12, Wednesday We left fairly soon after our breakfast of toast, homemade jam and coffee. We drove to Ravenna to see the mosaics. I was rather frustrated because I've been unable to find an Internet Point since Reutte, but when I finallly found the only one in Ravenna it was closed for siesta. Then I realized that although Jim had gone back to the car to add more time at the parking space, he didn't have the car keys, so I practically ran back to the parking lot.

Finally all was well and frustrations forgotten because we saw the marvelous mosaics, hundreds and hundreds of years old looking, I'm sure, as impressive as when those who came to view them were living in the sixth century.

One unusual thing about Ravenna: there seem to be more cyclists than pedestrians and they are very comfortable darting around among the cars and the pedestrians often carrying flowers, or packages or talking on the phone while pedaling away.

The attractiveness of Ravenna is somewhat diminished by the grafitti appearing everywhere, even along the Via Cavour where Ravenna's exclusive shops are located. Since I had left my restaurant reviews at Brisighella, we grabbed a quick lunch at a bar near the basilica, nothing to speak of, an average pizza.

As we left Ravenna, it began to rain. We saw a number of people riding bicycles and holding brightly colored umbrellas. The rain continued when we returned to Il Palazzo, but we retired to the terrace with our bottle of wine. As the rain turned to drizzle, we noticed high on the hill of the neighboring farm a woman dressed in light clothing bending and straightening, bending and straightening as she moved along the rows of vines. After about half an hour a man in dark clothing joined her and they worked along together in side-by-side rows. In looking at the vines in our landlord's field, we noticed that they were severely pruned so that they had only one branch fastened securely to the wire that stretched between the poles.

Again, dinner was good. We had bruschetta with cheese, risotto with malva, the leaves of a plant that grows wild in the fields, and a delicious braised chicken with herbs. Jim was so impressed with the meal that he asked Adriana for her recipes which she seemed pleased to provide, orally of course, as all good cooks do.

May 13, Thursday Raining again, but not hard, and fortune was with us. The autostrada was not so filled with trucks as it was to the north. Our good fortune increased when, after entering the restricted traffic of Urbino's center we asked a man on the street about our hotel, Albergo Italia, and he directed us 200 meters down the street. So easy!

We checked in, then drove with only one turn down to the parking lot where we were able to take an elevator directly up to the street of our hotel, a real treat because this is one of the steepest towns in this area of Italy.

This time I was shocked at the really ugly graffiti written in English along the walls of our very attractive hotel. The young woman at the reception desk said it's useless to paint over it. It only encourages them. I remembered that this is a university town.

An Internet Point at last, and I'm delighted to have several emails from Paige and Michelle - interesting and humorous news from home. We used an hour returning various emails, then walked uphill to the Osteria degli Artisti. Good choice, charming room, good food and wine. What could be better? Jim had gnocchi alle Sorrentine and sautéed chicory. The tiny gnocchi were served in a fresh tomato and cheese sauce. I chose ravioli degli Artisti - small cheese ravioli with a very light fresh tomato and basil sauce.

After lunch, we walked around town. I should say up and down the town. I think Urbino may be the steepest hill town I remember although Jim reminds me that Todi and Gubbio were champions of the hills.

The town was lovely with its tiny, crooked, mysterious streets leading up to who knows where. And the piazza at the end of Corso Garibaldo was buzzing with students, filled with students chatting and gesturing so that cars have to creep along and pick their way through the throngs. I am enchanted as I so often am with busy Italian piazzas. We seem to be the only tourists.

In the evening, we walked down the steeply slanting streets to the Vecchio Urbino, but when we discovered upon looking at the menu that their prices were twice those of the degli Artisti, and we were confident the food would be no better, we trudged, zig-zagging up the streets to degli Artisti. This time Jim had spinach and rabbit with pancetta. I had caprese and grilled beef fillet with porcini. Jim enjoyed the hare and I wondered when I'm going to learn not to order steak outside the US.

May 14, Friday We slept so well that we got off to a slow start, but made it to the Palazzo Ducale by 11:00. The building itself was a gorgeous piece of architecture which I understood was designed by a number of different architects. The palace had an interesting collection of Renaissance art with the most famous being "Flagellation" by Piero della Francesca, a strange painting depicting a classical pavilion where three businessmen in contemporary clothing in the right foreground chat away unconcerned while in the center of the painting Jesus is being scourged with no sign of blood or pain.

Another well known painting was "The Ideal City", a marvel of perspective without a single human being in the picture. I found the tiny room of the most intricate inlaid wood to be of the most interest to me. The little room was the "studiolo" of Duke Fredrico and was designed by Bottocelli and others.

We lunched again at degli Artisti. They greeted us familiarly this time. Jim had caprese and the ravioli and I had insalata misto and strozzapreti with tomatoes, salmon, and cream sauce, a bit heavy for lunch, perhaps, but delicious nonetheless. Tired from two hours of walking in the Palazzo and a heavy lunch, we napped in the room.

Around five, we ventured out for a late afternoon stroll, walking to the walls in a couple of directions. Then we returned to the piazza where we had beer and interesting conversation with two law students at the university.

Still not hungry, so we struggled to the wall at the highest point of town where there was a nice park and a beautiful view of the valley and hills surrounding Urbino. Just outside the wall was a restaurant, so we decided to eat there. Not one of our best ideas. The pizza was unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.

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