Sunday, May 22, 2005

Day 6: Rimini-Ravenna

After breakfast, we take one more walk along the beach. It is a quiet Sunday morning and there are joggers, walkers and shell collectors out as well as staff from the beach establishments cleaning and setting up chairs and umbrellas for the weekend trade. We sit on a bench for a while and watch the runners from a race go past and also watch the aftermath of a bike-car accident down the street....the police are taking pictures and measuring, the ambulance is there, a small crowd has gathered and the mangled bicycle just lies there in the middle of street.

We like Rimini more than we expected to. Although we might not chose it as our preferred beach destination, the beach area is clean and well organized, the beachfront boulevards are well cared for and not tacky, and there are many small hotels are located in narrow, tree lined streets stretching back from the line of big hotels on the waterfront. The "centro storico" is set about a half mile from the sea and seems to have an existence completely separate from the beach area (not unlike Como) is a well kept up, attractive city with churches and parks, a large market, a Roman arch from the days of Augustus and a Roman bridge that still carries the traffic of 21st century Rimini. And if you drive west from the city, the mountain areas and hill towns of Emilia-Romagna and Le Marche are within easy reach. In addition, there are good train connections on the main line that runs from Bologna to Ancona.

The drive to Ravenna takes about an hour....since it is Sunday, there is not too much truck traffic, but there are lots of people out for Sunday excursions. The drive takes us past signs for scores of beach resorts, two large amusement parks with roller coasters and ferris wheels, a large go-kart track with a parking lot full of RVs, canals lined with small shacks with large nets suspended over the water ready for eel season, and a couple of large shopping malls, which appear to be closed on Sunday.

As we approach the outskirts of Ravenna, we are on the lookout for the Via Ravegnana and the Onda Blu laundromat that I looked up the night before on the internet. As if by magic, we end up precisely on the right street and pass right by the laundromat, a very different result than our unsuccessful search in Rimini. We park in front (it is open) and do our accumulated laundry. Since we are accomplished Italian laundromat users by now, we also help one of the Italians figure out the system. In an hour, we are on our way to the centro, with clean clothes in our suitcase.

Finding the Hotel Sant'Andrea proves more difficult than locating the Onda Blu. Directional signs for the hotel are hard to find and when we call for directions from near the railway station, the directions are not that helpful. We lose the trail as we enter the center so I stop at the hotel where we stayed on our first visit to Ravenna 11 years ago and ask for help. The woman scratches her head and syas - you can't get there from here. She marks on a map how to get to the hotel on foot and advises that we park the car, walk over and have the Hotel Sant'Andrea give us the specific route to approach by car. Instead, we follow her map in the car, crossing two big pedestrian streets in the process and in minutes, we have pulled up in front of the hotel.

The Hotel Sant'Andrea is is only two years old, the lobby has beautiful olive-wood floors and there is a lovely garden in the rear. Our room is large, the bathroom is spacious and our windows overlook the garden. After we unload the luggage and check in, I move the car to the public parking lot two blocks away. We walk to the main square--the Piazza del Popolo--and have lunch in one of the cafes on the square.....piadine again. The Ravenna style piadina is thicker than those we had in Rimini.

The town is very quiet on this sunny Sunday afternoon. We stroll through a small craft market set up in one of the streets, have a gelato and then visit the small Arian Baptistery for a "coming attraction" of the amazing mosaics of Ravenna. This building dates from the 5th century and has a striking ceiling, picturing the apostles around an uncommonly nude Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River. According the books, this scene was also significant as part of a struggle between orthodox Christianity and the Arian "heresy" but we are a little vague on all the details of that controversy.

We head back to the hotel and sit in the garden to read and write while we wait for our friends, the Lewises to return to the hotel. (Jerry Lewis was in the Peace Corps with us in Thailand 40 years ago and we have kept in touch over the years. I have helped him and Gomon plan their Italy trip. Our itineraries overlap in Ravenna and Venice.) When they come back, we do some catching up and make plans to meet later for dinner.

I head out for a short walk around 6 pm and join the passeggiata down one of the main shopping streets, the via Cavour, which is only two blocks from the hotel. The stores are open and the streets are abuzz with families socializing and shopping. We have dinner at a place where the Lewises had eaten the day before, Babaleus. The people are very friendly and the meal is okay but our "reunion" is the main order of business. They tell us about their trip so far (Paris, Florence and southern Tuscany) and we talk about our lives inThailand and what has happened to us since. I have a very good salad of fresh mushrooms, arugula and cheese and Diana has another plate of flavorful melon and prosciutto. We both have a risotto dish (made with herbs and cheese); I like it better than Diana does. Our friends have a pizza, a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce and some beautiful asparagus. We all have a very good time.

The hotel is only a short walk away...and we say goodnight. They are off to Ferrara in the morning but we will get together again in Venice in two days.


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