Oh my, friends and neighbors, what a day.
It was one of those episodes you might read about in travel-gone-wrong books like "There's No Toilet Paper on the Road Less Traveled" or "No Touch Monkey." Or, in another reality, we might have been featured on that terrifying NatGeo series "Locked Up Abroad."
Fortunately, things worked out well enough that we're able to laugh about the whole incident. But it was a close call.
Part One: lunchtime FAIL
The day started out with a second attempt to get our grilled-slabs-of-meat fix at Taverna della Rocca. Though we'd been unsuccessful the prior evening, we'd noticed a sign stating that the restaurant would be closed "for holidays" the entire month of October. This is a pretty common thing in Italy, where merchants will often close up shop for weeks or months at a time, seemingly on a whim. We counted our blessings that we had one last day left in September, and carefully made sure that the Taverna would be serving lunch on September 30. One last chance to avenge our salumi mistake from the night before!
We drove to Frontone at breakneck speed, because we'd learned the hard way that lunch is rarely served beyond 2pm, and we didn't want to miss the narrow window. Arriving at the top of the mountain, we tore up the street only to find Taverna della Rocca completely closed up. No evidence it had been open at all that day. Ehm, excuse me? What gives??? Nothing. Not a salsiccia to spare.
(We learned later that the proprietors had decided to shut down a day early. I guess anyone who would close their restaurant for an entire month isn't too concerned with precision. Typical!)
Part Two: in and out of tight spaces
After a brief stop in the scenic town of Cagli, we continued on to Piobbico to check out Castello Brancaleoni. This 13th century castle was another spot that had peaked our interest after we'd read about it in the Tavola Marche blog. In an attempt to get as close to the castello entrance as possible, however, we found ourselves driving around Borghetto, the tiny medieval village that surrounds the castle grounds. Gradually the streets got narrower and narrower, until finally we reached a tight corner that it just didn't seem possible to fit the car through. Well, now what? Go for it, and risk getting completely wedged in? Or try to drive in reverse, uphill, with about two inches of clearance on either side of the car? The latter seemed the lesser of two evils. So, under the watchful gaze of two alley cats, and with Mark doing his best air traffic controller impression, I sl-l-l-l-o-w-w-w-w-ly backed the car out of the pinched lane, managing to neither knock down the several nearby motorcycles nor scrape any paint off the car.
Crisis averted. But the best was yet to come.
Part Three: (almost) locked up abroad
We finally made it to Castello Brancaleoni, perched on a hilltop overlooking Piobbico and Monte Nerone. It was no surprise that the castle museum was closed, it being the slow season. But the sign out front said the castle grounds were open until 6:15. So we wandered in, poked around a bit, admired the views, horsed around. I was in the middle of snapping scenic shot #3042, when Mark paused and said "I think they're closing up. We should get out of here." We both heard a clanging sound, like a heavy gate closing. Hm, guess it's time to leave.
At that point it seemed wisest to haul ass towards the main gate, which was now closed and locked with a huge iron padlock. Merda!!! Fortunately I noticed someone on the other side of the gate, just about to drive off. Mark and I both waggled our arms frantically through the bars, now in a mild panic, trying to get the attention of the person who'd just locked us in the castle for the night. How could she not know there were still visitors inside??? The place is not that big, and we'd been behaving like our typical rambunctious American selves. It didn't add up, but we had little time to ponder this and life's other mysteries, as our entire energy was spent flagging down the keymaster before she drove off.
Thankfully this woman spied our deranged wiggling appendages, and, looking somewhat surprised and just a tad chagrined, she came back up the hill and opened the gate. "Oh," says she, "I didn't know you were in there." Really. You don't say. Apparently there's some kind of motion-sensor alarm system in the castle, so we probably wouldn't have had to spend the entire night on the chilly stone floor. But how much fun would it have NOT been for the cops show up to bail out the stupid American turistas who got themselves stuck in Castello Brancaleoni?
So, in the end, we made it out alive and mostly unscathed. As you can see from the photos, it wasn't even 6pm yet. Which is a laughably rational and American thing to say, given that (a) who even knows if that clock has the right time on it? and (b) just because the sign says something is open until 6:15 has absolutely no basis in Italian reality. They open and close whenever they feel like it!
After that series of heart-pounding experiences, we decided to cut our losses and head back to the farmhouse for a nice mellow meal in our apartment. Yikes. All's well that ends well, but this was more excitement than even *we* had bargained for.