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11 June 2020 - Day 61 – Avezzano and Pescara

Concerned about finding the correct platform for my train at 9:03, I was up at 7:30, downstairs for another light breakfast 20 minutes later, and checking out of the hotel at 8:15. In the massive train station by half past, it took me about 10 minutes of staring at flipping digital screens to find the right train and start heading to the platform. A fairly long train, I walked a good way forward to a second-class carriage before boarding. With my baggage in the storage area and in a seat facing forward by the window, I was set for the100km, 2-hour ride to #Avezzano. The train climbed more than 900m into the mountains and made 14 stops.

While the train cleared Roma, mainly underground, I was reading on my phone about the city I was heading to. In the #Abruzzo region and in the L’Aquila province, this city sitting about midway across the Italian peninsula has been rebuilt twice in the twentieth century. An earthquake in 1915 about leveled the city, and then allied bombing in the world war triggered much urban renewal. About the only historic structures are the castle of the Orsini-Colonna ruling families, and the tunnels dug by Emperor Claudius to drain Lake Fucino. The now (re)drained lake is agricultural, focused on root vegetables; and manufacturing and technology fabrication are the current industries of note.

My visit was for five hours, mainly because the first train to Pescara after I arrived left at 16:01. Getting off the train and into the station was uneventful, albeit the temperature was about 10-degrees (°F) cooler than Rome. I had the usual partly cloudy skies, with little chance of rain. My first task was dropping off my suitcase, and I’d managed to get the Residenza Duomo, a B&B, to agree to hold my roller. So with my scarf wrapped around my throat and tucked into the heavy sports coat, I rolled through town a half kilometer. My route took me through the commercial district, with wonderfully established trees down both sides of one-way streets, many with wide bike lanes.

I’d found the B&B through Facebook at the end of January. Emanuele, who had replied, happened to be on hand, and welcomed me to Avezzano and stashed my bag in a closet. She Asked after my plans for the afternoon (it was nearing 11:30) and handed me a few flyers for things I might do in town.

Six blocks and I was at the #Cattedrale di S. Bartolomeo Apostolo. Consecrated in 1930, it is on the site of prior churches damaged by earthquakes. With the entry to the north off the Piazza Risorgimento, there is an octagonal dome at the crossing. Up at least a dozen steps from the rather empty plaza, and there is a separate campanile off to the southwest.

St Bartholomew the Apostle’s Cathedral has three portals, all in Romanesque arches with frescoes above the double wooden doors. The nave has large blocky columns supporting a clerestory, with many small chapels off the side aisles and both transepts. The sanctuary floor is four steps up from the crossing floor, with the main altar one step above the presbytery. A baldachin of marble is raised over the high altar, two steps up. The wooden cathedra has been placed in the center between the altars, and is at the height of the high altar. The walls and columns are in a warm cream color stone, with polished white marble tiles in the floor and white plaster in the vault. Organ pipes are on the wall of the presbytery, over the wooden seats for the choir, behind the main altar.

Less than a kilometer south was the Orsini-Colonna Castle. Built in the late fifteenth century for the Orsini family, when the Colonna family took over, it was expanded to a fortress. Some of the 1915 earthquake damage has repaired, and the facility is now used for exhibitions and events. The moat still exists, as do the four circular corner towers. In the room open to the public, here are explanations on the walls of the building’s history. A large model of the city shows how it may have looked in the early eighteenth century, including the old cathedral. I think it would be quite interesting if tourist and townspeople were able to explore more of the grounds.

With about 2½ hours still in Avezzano, there really were two options: the tunnels of Claudius, and the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Pietraquaria. The former was a 60-minute 5km walk through industrial manufacturing sites, while the latter involved a longer length hike, but up a hill through a natural reserve, rising 250m. To get a taxi, I had to return to the station, a 20-minute walk in the opposite direction.

Returning towards the town center by a different route, I came upon Il Padrino, a pizzeria. All I wanted was a small, personal pizza with something to drink. (And a WC) They fixed me up with a simple tomato gravy and cheese pie, with three slices of some local ham. And a glass of house red. The waitress had some English, so commiserated with me about the lack of things to see without a vehicle. Her impressions of the two places I’d considered were that I shouldn’t bother. She sent me further up the block to the Museo della civiltà contadina e pastorale. On the large same block is a public garden and a former palace, Palazzo Torlonia.

After spending some time walking through one park, I crossed over XXIV Maggio to walk through another to get to the museum. Farmer culture was the theme, and so I looked at historic implements and took a picture of a curious mural. Nothing in English, I coped. After a bit, I was back out in the fresh air, and decided to go retrieve my bag and then headed to the station. There was a post office outside the train station, so I opened my bag and pulled out the packet I’d put together. Purchasing a medium box, I stuffed it full of my memorabilia, and mailed it off to myself in Florida. With 3½ weeks before I get home, there’s no telling which would get there first.

I had about 15 minutes to wait before the train to Pescara Centrale at 16:01. Once the train was announced, I headed through the tunnel to the mid-yard platform, and hoped I’d be near the right type of carriage. Six carriages pulled in, and I headed to the second, which had looked least occupied. There was room in the luggage rack, and I found a solo seat with a table, sharing with a forward riding twenty-something at the window staring at his phone. I pulled out my journal and documented Avezzano.

In retrospect, I might skip Avezzano if I were to plan this again. Lightly interesting, I probably could have used the time better in Pescara, a port city. My only inland city in Abruzzo, though, did allow me to say I’d been in the Apennines. At almost 2 hours, it was only 3 stops for another 100km ride. We travelled over the former lake bed, then climbed to nearly 1000m. There was a lot of forest out the windows once we started descending.

From the #Pescara Centrale station, a very modern and up-to-date operation, to the B&B Jolie Center that would be my lodgings for the night, it was easy after crossing the commuter parking lot to walk the 6½ blocks. With three levels above the street, I’d followed the instructions from the email to gain access.

Two tries with the street door code, and then up two flights of stairs. A keybox, similar to what real estate agents use, hung on the door and I got that code the first try. I removed both keys and got into the flat. A comfortable space, the bag was open and out flat with the parka and light jacket getting hung. A door opened to a balcony where breakfast could be enjoyed.

The #cathedral would be open until 19:30, but it is the feast of Corpus Christi, a major Catholic feast, so I was concerned about access with the camera. Taking off within 10 minutes, I headed to the church. The Cattedrale di San Cetteo Vescovo e Martire was down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, a block closer to the train tracks, and about a kilometer, crossing the Fiume Pescara.

The entry façade faces southwest, with a campanile on the north corner and a square baptistry on the south. Built during the 1930s when Pescara was becoming a city, and the cathedral replaced a decaying older church, the façade hones to tradition. Flanked by the tower and baptistry, two sets of 3 steps raise from the sidewalk to the 3 doorways set in rounded arches. Small rose windows are set above the double wooden doors into the side aisles, while statues of 3 saints and a larger rose window are above the mural and central double doors into the nave. The whole façade is rectangular, with two bands with niches for statues (2 are filled) delineating the positions for the interior columns. White marble is used uniformly.

Five pairs of columns frame the nave and define the aisles. An organ loft (with “the best organ in Abruzzo” is above the entry doors. Of the five aisle side bays, two are used as chapels, two are used for confessionals on each side. Side doors occupy the last. Nine steps raise the chancel above the nave floor, with the altar table on a platform a step higher. The apse wall behind this altar is lined with carved wooden choir seats below 7 stained-glass lights. In the north transept, an altar dedicated to the bishop and martyr St Cetteus is raised 6 steps off the floor. Opposite, behind a wrought iron gate, is the tomb of Luisa De Benedictus, mother of the primary benefactor writer Gabriele D’Annunzio. The nave vault is coffered wood, while the walls and presbytery ceiling are a warm white plaster. Clear clerestory windows provide ample natural light.

Evening Mass was starting to fill up the church, so I decided I should stay. Finding a seat in a pew in a back corner, I observed the celebration. After the dismissal, the organist treated those of us who stayed to a brilliant rendition of Frescobaldi, the Toccata Quarta. Exiting the church, I crossed the river, then turned right towards the sea.

After the next bridge there was a greenway for a good stretch, and soon I began to see, hear and smell the water. Turning onto the Lungomare G. Matteotti, I crossed when I had a chance and they went out onto the lido. With less than an hour of sun left, the cabanas were vacated, chairs were stacked.

Turning inland. I began scoping out restaurants. Most everything was new, glass and stainless steel, with bright lights. While I don’t mind the lighting, there’s not much character in these new fronts. Finally as I was getting closer to the flat, I fell upon Braceria delle rose, which was more bar than restaurant. Still, I could probably keep it simple and get fresh seafood. After all, it’s a port!

Thus i started with melon and prosciutto, and followed with canneroni tossed with garlic and oil, dusted with grated cheese. And for my main, grilled snapper. Call me a heretic, but I wanted a wine with dinner, and they had a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Torre Zambra: yup a white wine meal and I drank red. No desserts to offer, since they’re a bar, their drinks are dessert. So I had a froufrou coffee (decaf) that did the trick.

Back to the room, a nice late evening stroll of about 4 blocks. No issues getting in with the keys. I’d updated the journal for Avezzano on the train, and half of Pescara over dinner. Finishing didn’t take long, and there weren’t a lot of photos to download. Once the blog is ready to post, I’ll push it up and then head to bed. Similar mid-journey stop tomorrow.

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