Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Day 8: Campobasso

Another sunny and warm day.....how long can this last? Today we head to Isernia in western Molise. It is the "other" provincial capital in Molise...in fact, it has only been a province since 1970. In the Cadogan Guide, the town is characterized as "dismal" but we are going anyway. Isernia is about 60 kilometers from Campobasso (about 40 miles) on pretty good roads--two lane limited access highways for the most part. But we take a scenic route for part of the journey which gets us out into the country and gives us another series of wonderful views.

As we get off the main road, we first drive through modern Isernia---a neat and clean long shopping street. Signs keep pointing us to the "centro storico" but the modern town goes on for a long way. When we reach the "centro storico", it is closed to traffic so we make a complete loop around the town and park in a small lot just outside the center. We enter town at one of the main squares....which contains the duomo, the bishop's palace, a grand looking cafe and and one of the town's orginal gates.

We follow the sign for the tourist bureau information office which takes us up a gentle hill on the attractive main shopping street. This opens up into a large piazza at the top of the town--Piazza Celestine V. I leave Diana in a shop that sells lace--"merletti"--(Isernia has a lacemaking tradition) and I go to the information office to ask for a map and brochures. The young woman in the tourist office answers me in perfect English--she had studied in Glasgow and worked in Dublin--and when I tell her that I plan trips to Italy, she is very enthusiastic. It turns out that she also runs a tourist business specializing in trips to Molise and she gives me all her brochures and trip information. She is very interested in collaborating with me if I have any clients who want to visit Molise. When I tell her that Diana is in the lace shop, she tells me about her family's private lace museum--her mother still does lace work and it is a family tradition--and offers to take us there if we are interested.

Diana has bought a piece of lace and, in fact, is very interested in going to see the lace museum. But first, we go to the town museum which--in addition to a large and interesting collection of Roman statues and inscriptions--has a fascinating exhibit dealing with the recent (1979) discovery of the oldest neolithic community in Europe, found a few miles away while a new highway was being constructed. The encampment--no human remains were found but there is a large amount of evidence that humans were there based on the animal remains...including elephant, bison and hippopotamus....and the primitive tools that were found--is estimated to be about 730,000 years old -with a margin of error of 40,000 years :) We watch a film (with English narration) that tells about the discovery, the process of studying the find and what the evidence tells us. One section of the film recreates (very effectively) the way that tools were fashioned by primitive man and how they were used to cut food and crack bones and extract marrow. We wander through the exhibit...one of the best parts was a recreation of the field where the find was made that shows the position of all of the remains....and then spend some time in the Roman section. The Roman empire had a strong presence in ancient Aesernia and there are extensive displays with very good English translations of the descriptions.

When we are finished in the museum, it is time for lunch. The first restaurant that I had in mind--the Taverna Maresca--appears to be out of business. My second choice--the Osteria del Paradiso--is open but at 1:40 pm is still packed and can't seat us. The waiter tells that we can come back in 30 minutes. We sit in the square and read and at 2:15 we sit down to eat. The place is very good; the owner is friendly and even tries to speak to us in his limited English. They bring a complimentory antipasto plate with salami, a kind of cheese muffin, some foccacia and a fritter. For the first course, Diana has a pasta with an extremely fresh tomato sauce which she likes very much. My pasta with beans--the waiter smiles approvingly when I order it--is a bit bland. My secondo--grilled sausages--are very good but Diana's grilled lamb is a bit tough. We have a bottle of the house wine...a very sturdy red...and we finish it without difficulty.

By the time we finish, the restaurant is empty and they are ready to close up. We pay the bill--Euro 43.00--and we walk back up to the tourist office to see if Barbara can take us to see the lace museum. She immediately closes the office and leads us down the street to the museum. On the way down, she gives us an impromptu guided tour of the town--the market square that had been bombed in 1943 by American planes, the Duomo which is an ancient building constructed on the remains of Roman buildings with a modern classical Greek column and pediment front, the old town gate...the only monument left standing after the war, and the various Roman statues and stones that are built into the walls of the buildings along the street.

We stop along the way to pick up her mother.....under her window, we can hear the clicking of the wooden sticks that are used to produce the lace.....and continue on to the museum. The "museum" is a single room with displays showing the process and historical pictures of women making the lace. Barbara's mother demonstrates how it is done and then shows us examples of both her work and some pieces of antique lace. Barbara tells us that she is trying to get the government to give some support to the "museum" but so far unsuccessfully. We then head up to her aunt's grocery shop where Barbara's mother shows us some more lace that is for sale as well as examples of some lace lingerie that they are going to display at a fashion show in Dublin later this year. Diana does buy a few pieces as presents and then we head back to the car. The day has been interesting and fun and the town is attractive and worth seeing; we are not sure why the Cadogan guide author had such a negative reaction to Isernia.

We take the fast road back to Campobasso but it is after 6 pm by the time we get back to hotel room. Diana reads and I go down to the desk to see if the wireless broad band is now working. The desk clerk says it is....my computer recognized that there is a network but some setting is missing and no data can be received. We then proceed to spend about an hour fiddling with settings trying to make it work...but in the end, it still won't download any data. I go back upstairs to do some work and some writing.

We are not too interested in dinner tonight since we had such a large lunch that ended only a few hours ago but we do want to get out of the room, so we decide to drive downtown and get our first gelato of the trip instead of dinner. It is a very mild evening and there are still a lot of people strolling in the "centro". We eat our ice cream sitting on a wall in the park and then head back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we will head to northern Molise to see the bell factory in Agnone and the 3rd century BC Samnite theater in Pietrabbondante.


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