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Day 14: Campobasso

We were due to leave Sulmona today and travel further south to our final destination for this holiday: Campobasso. Although in terms of distance the two towns don't look too far away from one another on the map, consultation of the Trenitalia website indicated that the journey would be rather an adventure, involving travelling by two buses and a train.

Taking it in turns to drag my suitcase, one of the wheels of which has now completely disintegrated, we made our final trek to the station in Sulmona. The ticket-buying process was fraught with frustration, as the ticket machine jammed and refused to work, then two separate women cut in front of us in the queue for the ticket desk, but eventually we managed to purchase our tickets and even had spare time to pick up a doughnut and some crisps in the station cafe. If this sounds rather greedy at 10am in the morning, you have to bear in mind that the breakfast we had at our hotel consisted of one glass of juice, a cup of coffee and a pastry, which seemed designed more to awaken our appetites than to sate them. It turned out to be a very good idea indeed to pick up a snack, as we weren't destined to eat again until much later in the day.

Our first bus journey lasted an hour and took us as far as the town of Castel di Sangro. The bus climbed upwards from Sulmona, along a narrow wooded valley, surrounded on both sides by high mountains. The road was increasingly windy and we travelled for long stretches at a time without seeing any sign of human habitation. We imagined that when we got to Castel di Sangro it would be a little hamlet of a place, but it actually turned out to be a bit of a metropolis (although inexplicably, without any visible castle) and the terminus for our bus.

Half an hour's wait and then we were off again, this time on a different bus bound for a place called Carpinone. The route was torturous. As we travelled further into the mountains, the countryside became increasingly wild and it was easy to imagine it being populated with the wolves and bears which the guidebook had warned us about. At one point, as we wound our way through some densely wooded slopes, I caught sight of two wild boar!

The condition of the roads left something to be desired, it seeming to be a long time since any of them had last been resurfaced. We bumped and bounced so much that I spent the majority of the journey holding onto the handle on the back of the seat in front of me in an attempt to brace myself. I don't think I have been on such a bumpy journey since I had the dreadful idea that we would be able to get a good night's sleep on a night bus from Prague to Warsaw.

It was an adventure though, the excitement heightened somewhat by the fact that throughout the entire hour of travelling, we didn't see a single sign indicating the existence of Carpinone, so we weren't even 100% sure that we were on the correct bus. We were fortunate that the bus driver was a helpful sort, who called out to us when we ultimately arrived and even pointed out the direction of the train station for us. Without him, we would certainly have missed it and goodness knows where we would have ended up.

Carpinone really did look like a hamlet, the station being so small that it was permitted to walk across the tracks. There were three bells on the wall of the station building, one of which would start ringing five minutes before a train was approaching (which bell depended on the direction it was approaching from) to give you advance warning. There was also a station master, who seemed to have the easiest job in the world, of simply making an annoucement every time the bell started ringing. The timetable hanging on the wall indicated that there were a maximum of two trains per hour, with one to Campobasso every second hour.

Given the sparsity of the timetable, I began to feel concerned that there might be a real crush to fit onto our train when it arrived. Luckily, when after five minutes of intense bell-ringing the tiny two-carriage train did pull into the station, it proved to be almost empty. For some reason, Campobasso didn't seem to be a popular destination. We settled down to read and enjoy the final stage of our journey.

It was 15.30 when we finally arrived in Campobasso. We were booked in the Centrum Palace Hotel at the shocking price of €100 per night, because booking.com had only indicated three hotels existing in the entire town and this had actually proved to be the cheapest. It did have the advantage of being extremely close to the station, and so we were able to simply stroll off the train and into the back yard of the hotel. It was somewhat of a posher establishment than we normally stay in, but beautifully air-conditioned, and when we checked into our room we found that it was surprisingly big.

By this time we were absolutely starving hungry on account of not having had any lunch, so we unpacked the bare minimum and set out straight away to see what Campobasso had to offer in the food department. First impressions were that Campobasso didn't seem to have a lot to offer in any department at all. There was no indication of where the town centre might be, so we struck out from the hotel in a direction which seemed vaguely plausible and found ourselves walking along crumbling pavements and graffitied streets. The first major building which we came to was a prison, which didn't bode particularly well, as it sported a sign warning about the risk of objects being thrown down from on top of the walls. We followed a couple of people who gave the impression of knowing where they were going, and soon found ourselves in a slightly more pleasant area with a park and some official looking buildings.

We strolled around for a bit, trying and failing to identify where the main street or square was. We passed a few restaurants, but they were all closed. Some gave the impression that they might reopen at some point later that evening, others had the windows smashed in and didn't look like they had been open for quite some time. We stumbled across a notice board displaying a map of the old town, which seemed to be dotted with promising-looking eating establishments. We succeeded in finding the old town, but trying to follow the directions indicated by the map resulted in an exhausting and futile 10 minutes wasted climbing a series of staircases which seemed only to lead to an old church and a fortress.

Back down in the newer town, we wandered down any street which we thought stood a chance of housing a restaurant but to no avail. Eventually we went into a cafe, where Tim asked the girl behind the counter for advice. She clearly thought we were mad, and said that there wouldn't be any restaurants open until 19.30!! That was over two and a half hours away, and we were ravenous NOW. The lady added that all she could offer us was some dubious fish pasta, but if we were lucky we might be able to find somewhere where we could get a panini.

Off we went again, and eventually came across a bar with a couple of slices of pizza on display. They weren't the most appetising slices of pizza which we had ever seen in our lives, but by this point we were past caring. Tim bought us two pieces each and we gobbled them down. Still hungry, but no longer on the verge of collapsing with starvation, we decided to go back to the hotel and count the minutes until 19.30.

When we ultimately ventured out once more, the town seemed significantly busier than it had been first time around. People were beginning to congregate in the main squares and dance music was blaring out from somewhere. We began another circuit of the town, eyes peeled for anything resembling a restaurant. They really were few and far between. There were a good number of cafes and geleteria, a handful of bars and a take-away pizza place, but nothing resembling a sit-down restaurant which was open. If I had had my camera handy, I could have taken photographs for a slideshow of closed-down restaurants in Campobasso.

Just when we were beginning to give up hope, we chanced across a restaurant which had a light on inside. Crossing the road to inspect it more closely, we noticed that there was a sign on the door explaining that it was indeed open and to ring the bell to be let in. This seemed rather a strange set up, but in desperation we rang the bell and waited to see what happened.

Initially, nothing happened at all, then someone peered at us and disappeared and a couple of minutes later, a waitress came to the door and led us into a pleasant conservatory, kitted out with beautifully laid tables but completely devoid of other diners. We had had no idea of either the menu or the prices when we rang the bell, but luckily there was a 4-cheese gnocchi dish on offer for the bargain price of €6. One of the cheeses in it was a bit too strong for my liking, but I managed to eat about half of it as well as devouring the free bread and stealing some of Tim's side order of potatoes which, somewhat inexplicably, were served after he had finished his main course.

The whole meal, including wine, came to exactly €20 which was extremely good value, and the chances are that we will be returning to the same restaurant the following night.

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