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Living Slow in Italy - A Place to Call Home

Valerie Schneider

We have packed our duffel bags, bid farewell to friends, and informed a couple of baristas that they will be seeing a marked drop in profit. We've moved on, trading the beach for medieval streets.

After three months cocooned away in Anzio with the tireless care and devotion of friends, we have broken out on our own. We had not planned to spend so long in Anzio. When we first arrived we thought our paperwork would come through quickly and we'd easily locate a place that beckoned us. Bureaucracy threw us for a loop, and we discovered that each area we visited had a lot of charm and it would be impossible to decide if we continued on a quest. We could spend the entire year traveling about searching, always on the look-out, always exploring.

We'd just need to make a decision with the information we already had. We compared the pros and cons of several places and decided at last on Ascoli Piceno, the allure of the city's atmosphere, the proximity to beautiful mountains as well as the Adriatic Sea making it very attractive.

Porta Solesta with towers

Porta Solesta with towers

Our apartment in the centro storico is better equipped than we had anticipated. Our landlady was initially reluctant to rent to us as we requested the space for less than a year. "Non lo so, signora," she repeated during my phone conversation with her after I'd seen the Affittasi sign on the door. I just don't know. This was the case with other rentals we had called; most wanted a minimum of a year but several preferred two or more. Rental agencies didn't return our calls. We desperately wandered the streets looking for signs, and saw one on the door of the very building where we'd lodged for two weeks when we came to language school in July. As our conversation continued I explained our situation to Dorina and finally she agreed to let us view the place, and then said that if we wanted it, fine, but to be aware that she didn't plan to put much furniture into it as it would not be economically beneficial to her to do so for our short time period. We agreed and returned to Anzio from this house-hunting mission unsure of what our new home would contain.

We arrived to find some rather nice furniture and even a few kitchen items. We'll be shopping for more objects to finish it off but were happily surprised by the touches and the welcome, her husband even helping Bryan heft our heavy luggage down the street and up the two flights of stairs, in the rain. Our landlords are amazingly wonderful. They offered help when Bryan needed a mechanic, they have plied us with fruit and jam from their garden, have invited us to go along the next time they jaunt up to their mountain property, and offered a room in the apartment below us when family comes to visit. Maybe we should also lease that apartment and turn it into a Slow Travel rental. Hmmm.

Piazza del Popolo with Piazza dei Capitani

Piazza del Popolo with Piazza dei Capitani

We live in the historic Sant'Emidio sestiere, the name taken for the local, acclaimed saint who is said to protect the city from earthquakes. Quintessentially medieval, Ascoli Piceno is lively and quite lovely, boasting two main, distinct piazzas where the citizens gather. Beautifully lit at night, they each evoke a sense of drama and mystery. The architecture is typical for the medieval period but well-preserved, and it seems that every turn brings us to a pretty building to gaze upon or a new detail to notice. In its heyday the town had been built up with towers, boasting nearly 200 during her peak, before many had been torn down or deteriorated. Today there are about 50 towers remaining, some of which are incorporated into living spaces, many have found new life as bell towers, others jut upward defiantly. They are not all starkly obvious, so one comes upon them while strolling the streets making for surprising walks. With the artistic riches and beautiful atmosphere, we are amazed that Ascoli is so unknown; indeed, if it were in Tuscany it would be completely over-run by tourists. Because it is in Marche, the mountains provide a type of barrier and it remains a largely-undiscovered treasure for us to explore.

Encircling the town are tree-studded mountains - the Sibilline, Monte dei Fiori, Mount Ascensione - offering hill-towns and majestic beauty just minutes from Ascoli, which rests itself in the valley, making it easier to traverse on foot than the vertical streets of the hill towns but we have access to the green-covered slopes which makes us feel relaxed. Despite the beauty and calm of the sea, we are, it turns out, solidly "mountain people" and feel most relaxed amidst the imposing natural beauty of peaks and ridges and the way the clouds dance over them.

Valerie and Mount Ascensione

Valerie and Mount Ascensione

Though the inhabitants are constantly telling us that "Ascoli e piccola piccola," there are museums, churches, famous artwork, markets, shops - all the makings of a beautiful, typical Italian city. It is largely walkable and livable with a sense of community.

We already found a pasticceria in which to make ourselves fixtures, and we have connected with friends from our two-week language school adventure. We felt immediately welcome, immediately comfortable - like we belong here. While our kitchen is the smallest I've ever seen - truly the proverbial broom closet - we have a nice place in a three hundred year old building in the middle of a beautiful medieval city.

Ah, it's good to be home.

Valerie Schneider is a freelance writer, who lived in New Mexico for twenty years before trading the high desert for the medieval hill towns of Italy in May, 2006. She is a regular contributor to Slow Travel, pens travel agency newsletters, and has written for Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel. She and her husband, Bryan, currently reside in Ascoli Piceno where they conduct small-group tours called Panorama Italy. Read more on her blog, 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree. See Valerie's Slow Travel Member page.

© Valerie Schneider, 2006

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