Thursday, July 14, 2011

Seafood and Sun in Ancona

Bungee jumping, base jumping and sky diving constituted a few ideas swirling through my mind with my last weekend in Italy fast approaching. The end of first semester is in sight and I'll be on my way home working towards my necessary internship hours after exams finish. None of these ideas came to fruition due to limited funds and an equally lacking amount of accomplices willing to join me for a casual jump. A trip to Napoli for to visit Pizzeria da Michele was an option, and we sought out the cheapest flights south to Puglia or Sicily. In the end, due to the relative ease of access, I found myself booked for a trip to Ancona with two of my friends.

I've already taught one lesson on the sciopero, mainly its prevalence in Tuscany. The next lesson in Italian transportation is to beware of the regional trains along the coast come summer. The route from Bologna heads directly east to Rimini before turning down the Adriatic coast south to Ancona. Bologna to Rimini is an hour long ride that took us two hours and thirty minutes. Time was only a small portion of the inconvenience served up to us. We boarded a full train. The breezeway was our seating area, and a bag of luggage was my seat; meanwhile, this meant surviving the sweltering heat with no AC and barely an inch to move amid the pack of people. As usual, I made use of this miserable time in the best way possible. A few bodies over was a Basque girl from Bilbao equally suffering in sweat but so stunning at the same time. She had gorgeous, long dark hair and piercing green eyes that instantly seized my attention they made contact with mine. Despite the mass of bodies between us, we spent a good portion of the trip catching each other's glances. Knowing that I would probably never see this girl again, I semi-jokingly wrote her a note, which was encouraged by the two girls traveling with me. I arranged it in half Italian and half Spanish but I refused to disclose the contents to my friends, although it was probably the most romantic few lines that I've ever written or said . As my crush left the train, I quickly slipped the note into her hand. She gazed at me quickly, but with such a striking confidence. With a smile she replied, "grazie," as she exited the train with her friends. Knowing how childish this all was, I laughed with my friends knowing that she probably did the same, but that I'd never see her again.

The train began to clear out past Rimini so we found some seats and some comfort. The train made a little better time but we never imagined that it would take us nearly five hours to arrive. We made our way straight to the hostel where our inviting host set us up with everything we needed, and presented us with information on where to go. Our first stop was one of the first restaurants we encountered, and where I tasted rabbit wrapped in porchetta for the first time. Finally, we did what we came for and made way for the closest beach.

It wasn't the most picturesque of the bunch, but we wanted to soak up as much sun as possible before seeking out better scenery the next day. As I lie on the beach, I requested my phone from my friends bag. The sun became even brighter when I discovered a message had already be sent from my morning crush. My Italian is still inadequate, and I haven't used Spanish in years which made this encounter even more exciting in my eyes. The girls with me tried to pry into my conversation as it was made into even more of a childish joke. Only one thing was important though; that we wanted to meet and would do so back in Bologna after the weekend.

I'll leave the love story behind there rather than write a romantic novel. Or maybe I'm just beginning a new love story with a new antagonist called food. I had already hesitantly endured my initiation in the form of rabbit. Up at plate next was fresh seafood at a restaurant recommended to us by the locals. It was right on the water but we were skeptical of the decor, then more so when we were presented with a menu in English. Once the waiter was addressed in Italian the Italian menu appeared, and it was more than welcome. The poor typical tourist would have had nearly a third of the choice with the tourist menu. This is also the case for train destinations when purchasing tickets using the English option at the kiosk, and it is so typically Italian. Our seafood dishes arrived and they were fish, like, real fish. It was the first time I'd prepared to eat something that was looking me in the eye. As a matter of fact, I had another type of mixed seafood dish, so I had dozens of fish looking me in the eye. I began picking at the fish to dispose of the bones until the waiter returned and advised me that the bones were edible, and that the proper way to eat this dish was to leave nothing behind. Only one year ago, seafood was not a part of my diet. A summer in Martha's Vineyard initiated my seafood renaissance but it was a miniature one. I was a fish out of water when it came to seafood, but this night I found myself devouring them whole. One might argue that it wasn't a big deal because they were fried, but I''ll have you know that some were so lightly fried that the breading wasn't noticeable. It was a battle of land vs. sea and the home team took all the points in this encounter.

After the savory seafood experience, we wandered up through the hilly town of Ancona. First stop was ancient Roman ruins and the remaining pieces of a preserved Roman amphitheater. From there we found a roundabout way into the center of Ancona despite not having any definite idea where we were headed. Ancona was a ghost town when we arrived but it transformed by night as everyone gravitated inland from the beach. The definition of dichotomy presented itself in Piazza del Papa where the streets were filled with people drinking and partying. Women were scantily dressed as debauchery ensued, all under the watchful eyes of the former Holy Father. There's a strange phenomenon in Italy. It seems like religious sites are centers for drinking. Two of the biggest outdoor drinking spots in Bologna are on the doorsteps of churches, but this was even more strange with a statue of Pope Clement XII literally looking down on the people as they partied below.

This particular evening I avoided joining the debauchery because I was tired, and Clement XII told me to. Plus, I couldn't possibly encounter any young ladies when I had already discovered my love earlier that afternoon; it just wouldn't be right. Instead, it was early to bed and early to rise for our trip to Parco del Conero in the morning. The park is a 40 minute bus ride from Ancona through small towns and a sunflower filled countryside. The beach at Sirolo is a magnificent rocky beach on the Adriatic. The rocks were smoothed out by the sea to the point that they were perfectly comfortable to lie on. Cliffs surrounded the beach with a small town crowning each separate cliff. The sea was clear and enticing, inviting us to take breaks from obtaining the perfect tan in the sun, to refresh ourselves in the water.

The train ride back to Bologna passed in a similar manner to the one in the opposite direction. It often occurred to me that trains were meant to move; obviously, this hadn't occurred to those running the train. Although I didn't have the same pleasure as on my ride down, an eighty five minute delay wasn't nearly enough to ruin a great weekend of sun and relaxation.

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