Thursday, November 08, 2007

Weekend Away: Greccio

I'm finally getting caught up on some of this travelling I've been doing, and I'm keeping my promise of one blog post a day! This trip was a couple of weekends back, when we headed down to Lazio.

Antonello and I didn't have a destination in mind for the weekend, we just knew we wanted to get out of town. I was right in the middle of a 2 week Intensive English course, and I was exhausted. Luckily, intensive English takes a backseat for weekends, so I had two free days to skedaddle. We took a map, packed some things into the car, and, with two guidebooks to Italy, a few ideas scribbled down, and some snacks for the car ride, we took off toward who-knows-where.

We decided pretty quickly that we wanted to head east. The idea of heading down to Puglia had passed through our thoughts, but it wasn't reasonable. We were getting a late start--it was already after lunch. North, to cities like Vicenza or Padova in the Veneto region, didn't make sense either--they were too far away as well. I mentioned Abruzzo, more specifically the small, traditional hill town of Scanno, a place that I had been wanting to visit for years, and Antonello mentioned the Lazio provincial capital, Rieti. Maybe we could do both?

We hadn't picked the best weekend for weather, with rain clouds threating all around, and driving through the beautiful Valnerina region of Umbria toward Terni, we could barely enjoy the scenery. Also, I felt car sick much of the way, and we had to stop often just to get air. It wasn't turning out to be the best road trip--cloudy skies and a queasy stomache. Halfway through the Valnerina we stopped at my favorite little sandwich shop (we had been this way before) to get a Pecorino truffle cheese sandwich. I couldn't wait. I dream about these sandwiches--they are so good! We got inside with just enough time to snap a few pictures as the customers before us headed out, and we were quickly told that the place was about to close.

"What time do you close?" my husband asked.

"Oh, around one. We close down for a couple of hours, then reopen," the guy said briskly. Glancing down at our watches, we noticed that two hours had already past since 1 o'clock. It was 3 in the afternoon. We must've looked a bit confused, as the guy waved his hand and said, "Fine, if you want a sandwich, I'll make one. But we really are closing."

Antonello, not one to deal with this kind of behaviour, politely said not to worry about it, and we left, grumbling all the way to the car about how my favorite little sandwich shop had been taken over by rude employees. And even though we might be taking the same road back the next day, who knew when the cheese shop was actually open? If it closes at 1 and reopens at 3, then closes at 3 and reopens at 5--I was starting to think that no truffle pecorino sandwiches were in our future for quite some time.

After more driving, getting lost in Terni, and finally making our way toward Rieti by means of a small road that headed through countryside and small villages, we passed a sign that said "Greccio." I did a double take when I saw the sign below it, which said, "Sister City: Bethlehem."

"Bethlehem?!" I announced, amazed. Antonello looked over and saw the sign too, and all of the sudden it was like something had clicked.

"That's what I was telling you about last week!" he said, slowing the car down, and turning onto the road toward Greccio. "That's the place?"


"Remember that conversation we had about Saint Francis?" Oddly enough, I did--he had told me about Saint Francis building the first nativity scene in a town in central Italy, though he didn't remember where. Antonello had visited the town years before with some of his family, but he couldn't for the life of him remember the name. And here we were, right in front of it. Greccio. Home of the first Presepio (nativity scene). It was too late to even make a decision, since Antonello had already started raging up the road toward Greccio.

All in all, Greccio was nice. We got to see the monastery where St. Francis lived for some time (and the uncomfortable-looking rock that he slept on--and I thought our mattress was firm!), the sanctuary and church, and a little museum filled with various nativity scenes from all around Italy and the world. We decided to head toward Greccio's city centre as well--a small crumbling hill town a few kilometres away (the sanctuary is separated from the hill town by winding roads and forest), as it was getting late, and we needed a place to stay. The hill town turned out to be just as charming from close-up as it had been from our view driving toward it: a medieval hamlet with an interesting lighthouse-like tower and plenty of narrow little alleyways, cobblestones, and quaint homes to make it an excellent place to relax away an evening.

And there was a hotel and a restaurant too. What more can you ask for? At dinner that night, the windows opening up on stars all above us and the valley below, we noticed that the weather had improved, and our spot, here on the crown of the valley of Rieti, was actually just right. Dinner was delicious--a whole spread of antipasti for each of us, pasta with truffles and mushrooms (to make up for missing my truffle sandwich, maybe?), and delicious litte lemon sorbetti and various fruit gelati to top things off--and the restaurant was rustic and inviting. Somehow, after starting out without a plan--just a map and a couple of guidebooks--we had discovered the right road. There were plenty of other places to go, and surely weekends in the future would mean daytrips to towns near and far away, but for now, this felt good. We listened to the Beatles singing away on the cd player as we picked through each other's antipasti plates and sipped wine. The fire was warm behind us, and the plans for what we'd do the next day were still just a little too far away to think about.


At 2:25 PM, Blogger Maryann@FindingLaDolceVita said...

Sometimes it's great to just get in the car with no plans and have fate take the wheel. I've had wonderful experiences that way. Nice post :)

At 9:47 AM, Blogger rowena said...

What a sourpuss at that sandwich shop...weird. But anyway, all of the other things you both got to see were great! (hint hint - take more impulsive trips like these) The description of your meal in Rieti is to die for! Truffles?!! arghghghg!

At 6:56 PM, Blogger Stelle in Italia said...

both of you are right: taking off without a place in mind is almost always great. rowena, dinner was good! i hope to post soon about dinner at the second place we went to (castel del tora) the next day--that was very interesting as well!


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