Tag Archives: Lazio

Out in the country

2 Jun
Rome is a wonderful city but it is, after all, a noisy, busy, annoying place. Motorini buzz up our street at all hours, buses discharging their air brakes echo in the night, and even the church across the street hums with activity as late as 11:00 PM. Seagulls sometimes screech as early as 3:30 AM, and compete with a songbird whose otherwise beautiful song is not quite so lovely at that dark hour.  So we seek to leave the city, walk without worry of careening motorini, and give our ears a rest.  Even a single day out of Rome can leave one refreshed. So it was with delight that we accepted the invitation of friends to join them at their home in a tiny town almost too small for the map.
Whenever I need to leave it all behind
Or feel the need to get away
I find a quiet place, far from the human race
Out in the country
 “Out in the Country” by Three Dog Night
As we leave Vico, heading up a rural road.

As we leave Vico, heading up a rural road.

The official town site says Vico Nel Lazio has a population of 2258. That might be true on a day that everyone who owns a home there shows up and brings the extended family. Our friend Gigi, whose family has had a house in Vico for 5 generations, says there are maybe 1000 people year-round. There are two bars, a tabaccheria, and a bakery. Everything else is down the hill a few kilometers away, except for the 8-or-so churches. Vico sits at over 700 meters above sea level. This medieval village dates back to at least the 13th century. The ancient gates are still in use and many of the original 24 towers still visible. It is not a tourist destination.
Tiny Vico Nel Lazio as seen on our ascent.

Tiny Vico Nel Lazio as seen on our ascent.

Driving about an hour and 45 minutes from Rome, we arrived late one Sunday morning to be greeted by Emanuela in the town piazza. Shortly, our group of 7 set out on a two-hour mountain hike, high above Vico. Gigi has been hiking these hills all of his life and took us meandering through grazing cows and horses with foals alongside. We could never have done this on our own. We’d be wandering there still today without his expert guiding. Along the way we shared stories with the accompanying Italian friends, picking up new vocabulary words as they willingly helped us with their language. As storm clouds threatened across the valley, we found a trough high in the hills. It must have been there for a very long time, fed by a spring. Luckily the rain arrived only as due gocce (a few drops).
Heading back to Vico we enjoyed il pranzo della Domenica (Sunday lunch) in the picture-perfect setting of Gigi and Emanuela’s garden. Following antipasti of salumi and cheese, there was homemade fettucine by the talented Maria, roasted suckling lamb and potatoes, salad, fruit, pastries and wine. It’s no wonder some of the group took to napping in the grass. Click on any photo below for a slide show.
Driving back to Rome the reality of urban life struck all too quickly as we encountered intense traffic and logistical problems in navigating our way home. But we had a lovely day in the country free from noise and traffic. Lovely. 

Day 4: Trains & Etruscans

17 Feb

I am a day late posting this update. Just too tired last night, and today I had to do my Italian grammar homework or suffer the consequences when my tutor shows up tomorrow. Every day here is a test, but I am bound-and-determined that I will speak more-or-less grammatically correct one day. 

Classic Italian piazza": City Hall, a fountain, people enjoying a stroll.

Classic Italian piazza: City Hall, a fountain, people enjoying a stroll.

After an exhausting but interesting tour by car on Saturday, on Sunday we took a train north along the coast to Tarquinia, another ancient Etruscan city. The Etruscans are very mysterious as there is no literature, no historical record nor religious texts. We have only the knowledge derived from their tombs, which contained “grave goods” and art.

The old wall surrounding Tarquinia.

The old wall surrounding Tarquinia.

The train was a Regionale Veloce meaning it runs a bit faster than the serviceable Regionale found along many rural lines. On the train, one passes the port of Civitavecchia with enormous cruise ships docked to disperse passengers for a day in Rome, as well as other more charming seaside towns that perhaps serve as retreats for city-weary Romans. Tarquinia is more than 2500 years old, but today it may serve as a bedroom community to Rome as one can commute by train in a little over an hour. (We know people at the Embassy that make an hour-and-a-half trip to work, living various places on the coast or in the hills and commuting by train.)

Etruscan sarcophagus.  Note the detail in the carving. About 2500 years old.

Etruscan sarcophagus. Note the detail in the carving. About 2500 years old.

With its remoteness from Rome, few tourists venture to Tarquinia, especially in February. It was serene and uncrowded this sunny Sunday. We enjoyed the National Museum and its treasures without interference, then meandered up the street, through a classic piazza in search of Sunday lunch. We stumbled – luckily – into Ristorante Ambaradam and were soon followed by group after group seeking lunch. What a find! We feasted on insalata di polpo & cicoria ripassata (salad of warm octopus and greens) served on a bed of creamed chickpeas, followed by cacio e pepe (think Italian mac & cheese, but classy and “zippy”) for me, and pasta with a ragu of octopus, tomato, and guanciale with flakes of pecorino for Ric. Alongside was THE BEST puntarelle ever.    Puntarelle is a seasonal favorite, and while I like it the “normal” way (see link), the one at Ambaradam was extra nice featuring olives and little bits of sweet orange, with the anchovy taste played down. Yum! Washed down with a Chardonnay from Lazio, this lunch demanded exercise. As the walk to visit the necropolis was ahead, we were able to shake off the postprandial doziness in the cool fresh air.

The necropolis of Tarquinia features more than 6,000 tombs. Once at ground level, after 2,500 years they are subterranean. One climbs down

Another beautiful fresco from 2500 years ago.

Another beautiful fresco from 2500 years ago.

steep stairs to view the chambers, decorated with sometimes lively frescoes. The dioramas and renderings reminded me of the Indian burial mounds found in Minnesota. Although I am unaware of any place you can actually enter one in America, the concept seems similar: bury the person with “grave goods” to take them into the next life. We almost missed the entrance to the park (signage is not terrific), but a tour group of French students attracted our attention and we made for the gate ahead of them.

This Etruscan fresco depicts a false door designed to keep the Devil away from the tomb of the departed.

This Etruscan fresco depicts a false door designed to keep the Devil away from the tomb of the departed.

The treasures found in the National Museum came from these tombs: elaborate tombstones and sarcophagi, as well as jewelry, weapons, urns, and other household goods one might need in the afterlife.

We walked a lot in part because the bus service on a Sunday is limited. Here’s a conundrum for you to consider:

  • The museum and necropolis are closed on Monday (very common in Italy) and open Tuesday-Sunday. The two sites are 1.5 km apart.
  • The Tourist Information office is closed on Sunday but open Monday-Saturday
  • The shuttle bus to the tombs does not run on Sunday but does Monday-Saturday

    Fabulous detail of a tombstone.

    Fabulous detail of a tombstone.

Why does the shuttle bus run on Monday when the tombs are closed? Why is the TI closed on Sunday when the museum and tombs are open, but open Monday when the necropolis and museum are closed? Like so many things here, it makes no sense from a service and commerce point-of-view.

Chiesa di San Francesco Bell Tower, Tarquinia.

Chiesa di San Francesco Bell Tower, Tarquinia.

If you go to Tarquinia on Sunday, be prepared to walk…or take a car. But if you eat cacio e pepe or other Italian specialties, you may want to walk anyway. The train back to Rome offered a chance to nap a bit, far better than driving in my book. 

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