A Detour up the Mountains

After visiting the archeological site at Pompeii, we travel on northwards until dusk settles. We come off the motorway aiming to find a place for the night just outside a little town and end up in a large cemetery car park. Despite the cold wind, we light a BBQ fire and grill some fresh Sardines for our dinner. Recently, a low hanging branch of a tree ‘stole’ the lid of our chimney, so now we have to guess every evening if it’s going to rain heavily in the night or not. If it’s cold but dry, we can light a fire in the stove. If however it looks like there might be a downpour, we have to forego the fire and instead climb up our extendable ladder and secure the top of the stove pipe with a closing lid, so the rain can’t get in, and warm ourselves with hot water bottles instead… I do hope we’ll soon find a new lid!

The next morning, Frank and I roll out our yoga mats in the car park, much to the amusement of the locals. We’re on a 30-day challenge… actually, the biggest challenge is to find suitable spots outside to do the Yoga!

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Our journey today takes us further into the interior of Italy. Almost every time we round a corner, we see another medieval village perched along the ridge of a hill or nestled into the flanks of a mountain. We stop off at one and by chance bump into a couple selling home-made cheese from a van. They invite us to make the journey 20km up the mountain to their village, offering us to stay on their land. Their talk of beautiful nature and hidden lakes persuade us to make a detour from our route, so after lunch, Emma is slowly but steadily chug-chugging her way up a small road winding its way through beautiful forests. We arrive in Letino and after a bit of searching we are directed to the farm down in the valley, and we meet Domenico, the son, who welcomes us heartily and shows us where to park within earshot of a babbling brook.

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After a cold and spectacularly starry night, we wake at dawn just in time to see the mist rolling into the valley, shrouding even the nearest hills in a dense sheet of grey.

We decide to have a slow morning, reading in bed, chatting and nodding off once again. When we wake for the second time around 11am, the sun has come back out and we pack a rucksack to go on a cycle ride and walk around the lake.

The path we choose, mistakenly believing it will lead us on a gentle stroll around the lake, goes up into the woods. It’s hard work climbing up, though exhilarating too, and full of wildflowers and beautiful vistas. We were aiming for a gap in the hills and instead we end up along the higher ridge of the mountain. The view is stunning all along into the valley below and far away.

 

 

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When we come back down to the lake, we find a deep gorge, a public attraction but now closed for the winter. However, we find a gap in the fence and start a long descent into the bowels of the mountain. After about 100 steps down, I decide I’ve had enough. Frank goes a little further to take photos before we resurface and complete our lovely walk by rounding the lake on the other side and reuniting with our bicycles to go back home.

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In the afternoon, we meet the cows of the farm where we are staying and visit Ettore and Pina’s prefab bungalow. From the outside, it looks ugly, corrugated iron of sorts. On the inside, it is nicely done, spacious, well finished. It has all you need, bedroom, living room, kitchen, bath room and even an open fire place. It was erected under the noses of the planners, arguing that is was a moveable building. In fact, Ettore can actually hook it up to a tractor and drag it along the field if he wanted to. It seems like one doesn’t need planning permission for a moveable house, so they are onto producing their next prefab building. Methinks two prefabs in a national park might be asking for trouble, but it seems like some kind of cat and mouse game that people play here with great relish. Ditto about evading tax. On the one hand, I can understand it as a lot of the Italian tax wanders into the wrong hands and does not pay for public amenities and services (even more so than in the UK!). We’ve seen enough to know that some of the basic things like rubbish removal can spectacularly fall short of the people’s and environmental needs. However, I think if a whole nation begins to think that taxes are something to be avoided, you have a real problem.

Having tasted wonderful Mozarella, including Buffalo Mozarella in Napoli, I am quite intrigued to find out how it’s made, how they make it so stretchy. Pina and Ettore invite us to stay a couple more days to watch the production, but we are drawn to continue our journey north, so early the next morning, we set off before the Easter Monday tourists arrive in the valley.

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There are more photographs to this chapter

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Pompeii 2 (by Frank)

Apart from a life-long fascination with the “mummified” bodies of those caught in the blast either fleeing or trapped, which I have harboured since school day history book pictures, I was very taken by an exhibition, under the arches of the Amphitheatre, charting the Pink Floyd concert, behind closed doors, in 1971. They had dubbed this as an anti-Woodstock concert in the sense that it was in a vast arena with no audience. The film crew, sound engineers and the band members themselves thought they were all alone, but in fact they were secretly spied on by a group of young boys who’d bunked off school to watch/listen to the concert, now known as I ragazzi degli scavi (the boys of the excavations). More than 40 years on, they were interviewed and photographed by those who put together the exhibition and it was only then that the whole crew learnt that they had not been alone!

Pompeii is huge and really deserves more than the three hours or so we spent there. It was a little overwhelming and in retrospect I would have enjoyed being taken round by an experienced guide – particularly when I heard one of them give detailed accounts of the life of the city through its buildings, artefacts, mosaics and incredibly well preserved murals.

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For our Pompeii photos, please check out this link


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Pompeii

One reason we usually avoid big tourist attractions is that it is a) very costly to park anywhere near and b) often not very safe. We circle around Pompeii a couple of times until we find a large Auchan shopping centre that has a parking spot for large vehicles. For the money we would have spent parking elsewhere, we go shopping for the next couple of days of food instead :-) Then we get on our bikes and cycle over to the archeological site of Pompeii.

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We human beings have a curious fascination for other people’s tragedy. So much so that scenes of great destruction like Pompeii become a huge tourist attraction. Of course in this case there is also the element that ancient historic monuments have been unearthed, with intact mosaics, wall paintings etc etc., What really attracts though is the sense of that sudden calamity hitting a town in one moment that one feels when walking through the streets, the shudder that goes down one’s spine when seeing the plaster casts of dead bodies in poses of flight or protection, and to imagine the terror that must have been released by the volcanic eruption, immediately buried in 8metres of volcanic material – ashes and lava, followed by a profound silence. This is the real attraction, I’m sure.

Not nice to admit it but there we go.

I wonder how people continue to live in such close vicinity to a volcano like Vesuvio – it seems like dicing with death, like making a bet. All is well until disaster hits. Apparently one of the greatest risks these days is the fact that a huge amount of toxic material has been buried in the flanks of Vesuvio, so that if there is an eruption, in addition to the Pompeii scenario one would also have to deal with a huge explosion of toxic material.

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We had a great day being tourists for a change. Check out our photos.


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