In 2002 I cycled to Urbino all the way from Pisa, and back, with a work colleague, Jim. I recollect it was a windy and hilly ride but I can’t remember it being as demanding as it seemed in the car. With Anna urging caution I threw our little, under powered, French car up and down these precipitous hilly hairpin climbs. As always I had another car behind and it turned into a bit of a competition as I drove to drop him and he drove to hang on! Soon we’d left the Tuscany region and were in Marche.
Urbino doesn’t allow many cars in the city walls and we parked in an underground car park outside the city. (A great solution to the large number of cars and little space on these hilltops.) With some huffing and puffing we lugged our cases up to the hotel. Pleasingly, despite our early arrival, there’s no problem checking in. We unpacked and then strolled around the small city in the sunshine. The streets are narrow and seemingly untouched by modern redesign or construction over the centuries.
It must take a lot of money to maintain these buildings. The facades are so tall and their maintenance must be specialist. We look around the cathedral and also observe the many students who attend the university. Their smart dress is remarkable. Stylish and tasteful every one of them; such a contrast to York’s throngs. After a salad we take a siesta. This isn’t typical but after the walking and gardening of the previous days it was overdue!
Eventually grumbling stomachs lure us outside again. We’re out too early for dining and have 45 minutes to spare before our reservation. We find a bar and ask the barman for a glass of red and white. What does he recommend? He selects and they’re memorable. As is the way the drinks are served with snacks and forgetting our imminent meal we heartily get stuck in. We sat there like teenagers and perused our phones but soon it was time to dine.
Our small restaurant (Taverna degli Artisti), seemingly in a basement, is soon packed. As we take our seat a procession of American students file past to take their seats in an adjacent room; it’s surprising to hear English spoken. Like their Italian counterparts they’re smartly dressed and complement the neat, tidy and elegant walled city. We order our food, the waitress noting our earlier visit and booking has translated the menu into English, how thoughtful.
Our food is delicious and the portions are so appropriate that we have space for three courses.
In fact I thought I had ordered two courses but didn’t argue when it turned out to be three! Anna has a beer as she’s thirsty and I have a glass of red wine. There was no choice if you ordered a glass and my drink is a little sweet and cheap. On a close table there’s two smartly dressed businessmen.
The waitress approaches with menus but they have no interest in the detail and after much dialogue the waitress departs. A minute later the restaurant’s chef appears to greet both men warmly and no doubt resolve their demands. We look on and make a contribution to their evening – Anna passed across a city map for them to use. They solve a wobbling table by placing it beneath the offending leg and tell her “grazie mille”.
A short stroll back to the hotel helps the food settle and I take some more snaps of this beautiful place.
At breakfast we discover that Covid has meant self service is forbidden and we queue and wait to visit the buffet to then point (we don’t know the Italian for the food) and obtain our coffee, cereal etc. Close by at an adjacent table in Bill. He’s 72 and from Vancouver. He travels widely and has Italian heritage. He’s not religious but likes visiting churches. Italy is over endowed with sumptuous temples and he’s working his way around many of them. However there’s a hint of sadness about this solo traveller. He grumbles about the buses, trains and getting around. The vicissitudes of weekend timetables make his movement difficult and he complains of finding it physically hard going. He says he’s ‘a little down’ about it all and comments that talking to us is a lift. I think we can all agree that talking to Anna was the tonic and not me.
I pop out for some groceries and a couple of postcards to write and post. With this complete we pack and descend to the car park and steer our pocket rocket south. We pass Saturday lycra clad cyclists out for a spin; I know a man who would have liked to have joined them. Common throughout Italy is the national flag adorning many buildings; they’re very proud. In Britain many people, including the BBC, sneer if you fly the Union Jack or the Cross of St George: they need to get across here.
Anyway next we’re headed for Gubbio.