With unerring lack of timing we arrived in Fermo just as everything started to shut. We did manage to slide into the tourist office before the key was turned and ascertained that 3.30pm was re-opening time. Just 3 hours to wait then! Fortunately the winter sun was high in a blue sky, a food market was in evidence and stone benches leaned against the Piazza del Popolo's colonnaded sides.
Food from across Italy was on offer - award winning salami, oranges from Sicily, cheeses from Sardinia, olives from all over and fresh from the fryer a local food, olive and meat fried balls. I did not stop with the local delicacy but tried the mozzarella and cremini (cream) versions as well. A tad pricey at 5 euros a pop but very tasty, though you need a sweet tooth for the cream version.
In between olives and fried balls we slowly roamed the streets of Fermo. Situated on the top of a hill the old town of Fermo is similar to many of the hill-top towns of central Italy. Within the town's walls are narrow winding streets that open up into pretty piazzas. Dark doorways lead into atmospheric churches, a glance up and you see pretty balconies and weathered statues whilst a peek down an alleyway can award the viewer with a pleasing view across the countryside - and so we passed some of the time.
The stallholders congregated on the sunny side of the square as trade slowed to a barely perceptible pulse and regaled each other with tales of mad cousins, aging grandmothers and alcohol-induced happenings. We watched the street cleaner armed with his broom and spade carefully sweep up invisible detritus as the hands of the clock slowly turned.
At 3.30 we were at the Tourist Information office's door filled with pent up enthusiasm. 3 part tickets purchased - Roman Cisterns, Pinacoteca and the Villa Vitali - we hastened next door for a 25 minute dash around the Palazzo dei Priori. This was not enough time to do the palace justice as it houses not only the Archaeology Museum on the first floor but the Pinacoteca and the Sala de Mappamondo upstairs (the police station is housed in the ground floor).
We skipped through the archaeological artefacts as our preference lay in the art upstairs. It is an impressive display considering we had already been spoiled by the Pinacoteca in Ascoli Piceno. The minatures telling the life-story of Saint Lucy are exquisite but when we walked into one of the rooms there was one picture that was head and shoulders above the rest, and we thought that before we realised it was a Rubens; but for me the best was yet to come...
When the attendant unlocked the heavy dark doors I was not ready for the assault on my senses - tears pricked my eyes. The scent of aging manuscripts and books filled my nostrils and I looked around a room that was filled from floor to ceiling with books. To one side stood a large globe made in 1713 by the Abbot Amanzio Moroncelli from strips of paper - a similar one stands in the Vatican and has been somewhat botched by previous years' attempts at restoration. I could quite happily have sat in the middle of the small roped area that we were confined to and inhaled the scent of centuries of writing for the remainder of the day. My enthusiasm must have been noticed by the attendant as she smiled for the first time as I gabbled away questions that Stefano translated into sensible Italian. I would have given anything to hold one of the manuscripts in my hands but instead made do with the digitalised copies that can be viewed on a large screen outside the room. As we looked at the rich colours and ornate decorations of an 11th century prayerbook we were called away to our next appointment.
According to Catholicism, Santiago de Compostela is the place where the remains of the Apostle Saint James are buried. According to legend, the burial place was found by a shepherd in the 9th Century and since then Santiago became, together with Rome and Jerusalem, a popular destination for pilgrims. The building of the Cathedral, where the remains were eventually re-buried, began in 1075 but was not wholly completed until 1211.
Nowadays, people make the pilgrimage to Santiago for different reasons. There are those that do it out of faith, and why not say it, maybe a bit of self-interest, since if they walk a minimum of 100 kilometres they receive full or partial remission of the punishment for their sins. Others make the pilgrimage as a challenge, to get away from it all or as a cultural trip. The different routes are known as The Way of Saint James, which pilgrims, or at least those that wish to obtain indulgence, have to do on foot. Along the way, you can stay at special hostels reserved for pilgrims for which there is a nominal charge of 5 Euros per night.
When you arrive to Santiago it may well be raining, but this is to be expected and many people would be disappointed if it were not. The Plaza del Obradoiro is the heart of the city and in this square you will find the Cathedral and the office that attends the pilgrims arriving to the city. Here you can also find the Parador of Santiago, housed in what used to be a hospital for pilgrims founded in 1499.
Santiago and the whole region of Galicia have a well earned reputation for good food. Amongst the local specialties, there is a wide variety of seafood, including the typical pulpo a la gallega (octopus), empanada (a large filled pastry) or caldo gallego (stew). All of which taste much better if accompanied by the local wines, Albariño or Ribeiro. For dessert, the tarta de Santiago (almond cake) and filloas (pancakes). At the end of the meal you may be offered an orujo, but careful this is liquor with high alcohol content.