Friday, 7 October 2011

Italy 2011, Albano Laziale and a Bandit Hold-Up



Located in the Castelli Romani region of Lazio, Albano is a busy commercial centre, a virtual suburb of Rome and one of the most important municipalities of the area. For a Saturday afternoon however the town was curiously quiet as we wandered along the main shopping street looking for somewhere to eat and then drifting into the side streets full of ancient buildings that betrayed the town’s almost secret Roman heritage.

Because of its close proximity to Rome it inevitably has a history that is closely linked to the famous city and everywhere there was evidence of a varied and interesting past. Albano is located in the area in which, according to the legend, the son of Aeneas, Ascanius, founded the city of Alba Longa, which was one of the main cities of the Latin tribes and, again according to the legend, the birthplace of Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. As we wandered through we could fully appreciate that the town has its fair share of ancient buildings with the remains of an amphitheatre, Roman baths, catacombs, tombs, towers and villas.

Pompey the Great had a villa here, the Albanum Pompeii, and a villa belonging to the writer Seneca was discovered within ancient ruins found on the south ridge of Lake Albano, bordering the town of Ariccia. All of these residences, at the time of Domitian, were appropriated and owned by the Emperor’s within which they erected a monumental imperial residence, with the ruins today mostly contained in the Villa Barberini at Castel Gandolfo and is now a part of the Papal Palace as we have seen previously. Around 202 the Emperor Septimius Severus had installed in place of the old town huge camps for Roman Legions that remained in operation until the end of third century. Albano developed from this settlement and the streets still follow the ancient infrastructure and design and remains of the large baths built by Septimus’ son, Caracalla, are still visible at one of the road intersections.

Micky and I identified a place to eat, the extravagantly named Pizzeria La Bufalina di Cristiano Erminia, but it was ruled out by the girls because behind the bar it had a microwave to heat up the self-service food selections which was considered unsuitable (Micky pointed out that if the microwave wasn’t in full view in the bar it would be in the kitchen anyway!) so then we continued on a fruitless trek around the streets to find something they might approve of. On the positive side we found the train station and I established where to buy tickets so on the way back we purchased some from a supermarket for only €1.80 each return for tomorrow’s intended train journey to Rome.

And so after a circuitous route we found ourselves back at the place Micky and I had found earlier and despite the microwave issue everyone reluctantly agreed to eat here. I’m not sure exactly what the problem was because the food turned out to be very good indeed, the place served large glasses of foaming cold beer and we had a nice seat in the garden outside with a canopy of trees to shade us from the seering hot sun.

Following the late lunch we went back to the hotel and I started to identify all of the things that were wrong with it. The rooms weren’t actually in the hotel, the air conditioning in our room didn’t work and it was stiflingly hot, we had been allocated the wrong rooms which upset the financial arrangements and Micky’s TV remote control didn’t work. I complained but was stonewalled by the man at the desk who explained that the hotel was full (it clearly wasn’t) and that he thought it was best for us to be in the annex because a party of students were staying in the hotel (they weren’t it turned out) and this irritated me because I like to make my own assessment of what is best for me or not. We eventually agreed a reduction on the room rate where Sue and Christine were staying, he promised to have the air conditioning promptly repaired and he found a TV remote controller that worked for Micky.

After we had sorted all of this out we went back out againand looked for a restaurant for later and having found somewhere promising off the main square and quite close to the hotel we returned to the Pizzeria La Bufalina di Cristiano Erminia and sat and enjoyed the warm late afternoon sunshine and the pleasant atmosphere of the little town.

Back at the hotel we found an outside table to sit and chat and play cards and then curiously a door opened and a man emerged and gave us a cold and unwelcoming glance as he walked past us and towards the hotel. It turned out that he lived in the annex, which seemed a rather odd arrangement to us (a bit like the major in Fawlty Towers) and this was his personal outside table and that we weren’t really supposed to be using it. We worked this out while he was away and when he returned we apologised for our mistake and he explained several times that this particular spot was ‘privado’.

Having upset our unexpected neighbour we returned to the town which was much busier now, the square and the town gardens were full of pedestrians, the roads were throbbing with impatient traffic and all the bars and caf├ęs were open so we joined the local people on a Saturday evening stroll along the streets to work up an appetite.

The trattoria that we had selected was called World Pizza, which didn’t sound very thrilling but it turned out to be a splendid choice. It was a traditional sort of place that reminded me of the restaurant where Michael Corleone assassinated the gangster Salazo and the Chief of Police in the Godfather film. It had two rows of tables, simple furniture, white tablecloths and pictures of old Albano on the walls. The food and the house wine was excellent and the highlight of the meal was the arrival of the town half-wit who came through the doors in cowboy outfit and mask and staged a theatrical hold-up with a toy pistol. Later he played harmonica in return for a couple or Euro payment and he stayed with us for a while because we gave him a glass of wine and indulged him in his fantasy game.


Christine however, didn’t find him all that amusing!



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