Today started slowly in my chilly little bed with the clean white sheets. I’d kept warm by getting dressed in the night. Through the window I watched the sun rise over Gorano Sicoli, fluffy pinks and oranges lighting the sky behind the church tower on the hill. The hospitalier, her spirits brightened, came good with breakfast end of ‘bed & breakfast’, which Ben and I had agreed was improbable given our reception the night before. Coffees and croissants was a good start . . . .to a day that had little food forthcoming.
As we left the hotel, we thought we’d best grab a bite to eat at the local bar before heading into the mountains . . . much as I appreciated the generosity of aforementioned croissants, chocolate croissant in plastic wrapper wasn’t so appealing to me that I ate it. Not so Ben, to whom food is food in any clothing. We waded through the locals, which in this instance included a woman!, buzzing around the plastic threads dripping from the doorway of the only bar in town. No food. This was a town with no food. The only bar in town sold coffee and booze and lollies. I threw down a few Baci chocolates and a bottle of Gatorade and we hit the road.
It was a steep climb out of Gorano Sicoli. Not so straight up as the roads into Tivoli and Arsoli, but it was up up up nonetheless. On a clear day, getting going in our own good time puts us on the road beneath a risen sun. I panted and sweated and my feet, slightly recovered from yesterday, ached.
The good news is it wasn’t up up up for long. Within the hour we were atop the mountain looking out over another magnificent view; changing valleys like shuffling cards. I tiptoed down the other side, my feet now screaming! It was a long long hike down a newly laid ribbon of bitumen with curves that look a lot like a kids’ Scalectric set.
The mountainside was alive with the wildfire of autumn. Lower down, Raiano’s olive groves claimed the land. We strolled into town, our minds on breakfast, and downed packs in the little park outside the first place we saw, a gellataria, where there were benches and sunshine and somewhere for Ben to ask directions to the nearest pizzeria. He had a fine old chat with the bloke behind the bar and just as he was leaving turned around and walked back in. The guy didn’t sell pizza, but he had some for his own lunch and when he realised we’d walked from Gorano Sicoli he was happy to share it. We collapsed in the corner of his bar, unloaded computers and cameras, stuffed ourselves on his pizza and then a woman walked in and declared the place closed in 15 minutes. Ben and I looked at each other – ‘it’s Sunday!’, I said. As if this was news. Well it was, to us.
We loaded up and decided to try our luck down the road at Vittarito for food, before finding a place to camp in the mountains on this side of Popoli. I’ve decided to take the train from Popoli to Pescara, to give me a day to take Ben’s advice and trade my hiking boots for Gore-tex runners before we cross into Croatia.
The walk into Vittarito was magnificent, winding down a narrow mountain road, the fruits of fertile lands shining green from the valley below. This too was a Sunday-sweet town, locals sitting around staring at unlikely strangers. Ben saw a couple of blokes loading what looked like wine into a storehouse. He asked if he could buy a bottle. The older man nodded, crossed the road, entered a small door in a wall that was no higher than himself and returned with a bottle of magnificently named rose - Oppulentus. He gave it to Ben and shooed him on, unwilling to accept payment. Just as Ben received the gift the other man, my guess the old man’s son, grabbed it and checked the label to see what the old man had just given away. He handed it back to Ben with a grunt and we were on our way . . . food hunting.
An old woman pointed us down the road to the pasticcerio and there we met Nino, who regaled us with tales of Melbourne in the 1960s as we ate his pizza. Nino was our second Aussie Italian in one day; both shared the easy linguistic gait of Australians that is such a pleasure when one is away from the homeland. Nino was a stationmaster in Melbourne The other man, whose name we didn’t catch, had been a bus driver in Adelaide. Nino’s wallet was stitched with a furry leather kangaroo. Both said to ‘say hi to my friends in Australia’.
We leave Nino’s as the sun sighs, on the lookout for the first suitable camping place we can find. And here we are! In the corner of a field with dry-gold stalks laid flat by the harvesters. We pitch the tents and watch the last of the sunshine slide up the west-facing mountains, turning dusty browns and greens to hazy living pinks and purples. It’s good to feel the closing of the day, the evening breeze picking up, a pair of eagles floating high above.
Darkness descends and we sit on the Earth sharing a bottle of Vittarito’s best – which took two of us using all our tug-of-war strength to open! We talk politics with the urgency of Italians and the laughter of pilgrims at ease beneath a rising moon.
Life is good.