Lago Ripasottile

We drive on northwards past Rieti to the nature reserve Laghi Lungo e Ripasottile, turning off left down a gravelly road to the Reserve’s visitor centre, housed in an old electricity station. It is closed (due to earthquake damage, we are told the following morning), and the lakeside car park is almost empty, except for one curious couple who would love to take a look at the inside of Emma, so we invite them in for a chat and a drink. We share a few stories and they recommend us to go on a walk around the lake, apparently it’s teeming with wild life. The weather has turned from being just windy to actual rain, so after they leave, we fill our hot water bottles and settle in for the night.

This is another lovely spot to stay overnight (although the next morning we are told off for doing so by the park warden), so quiet and star-studded once the rain clouds have lifted, with the sounds of a nightingale drifting across the water. At dawn I wake to a chorus of a magnitude and variety I haven’t heard in a long time. I also hear a quiet sploshing and as I go out to take dawn photos, I see some water creature swimming by – might have been an otter or a beaver…


It rained heavily during the night and everything feels fresh this morning. The sun sparkles at us, so we start out anticlockwise around the lake. It is much larger than we anticipate… 90 minutes later we have reached the half way mark by the heron colonies. Frank experiments with taking pictures through the binoculars, resulting in photos that look like we’ve discovered a new planet!


Three hours later, we arrive back at Emma, tired and sodden from walking three hours through high grass and fields, but full of good spirits. What a beautiful morning this was!


For more photos of this chapter, click here.

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Another Terme…?

Whenever we read the word ‘Terme’ on a sign post, we are tempted to look for a wild hot spring, especially when we also pick up the scent of rotten eggs – a tell-tale sign of sulfuric content in the water. Somewhere along the route towards Rieti, we stop off to see if we can go swimming. The water looks a bit strange and we can’t find an entrance, only a sign that warns us to not even think of jumping the fence.


We don’t know what ‘dangerous exhalations’ may mean, but looking more closely at the water, we see that bubbles rise to the top at intervals. Maybe we’ll give this one a miss… I wouldn’t fancy suddenly dropping to the bottom of a lake into a fountain of sulfuric bubbles.


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The next city along the route is L’Aquila, so we decide to stop there to buy things for lunch and get stamps for post cards. Just as we climb out of Emma, two men pass by and when we ask them where the post office is, they offer to take us there. They are both retired and out on their daily constitutional, so we stroll on down town with them, all the while getting the low-down on L’Aquila. We weren’t aware that this city was badly hit by an earthquake in 2009, killing over 300 people and ruining many houses. We pass a quarter where uninhabitable houses, waiting to be pulled down and rebuilt from scratch, mingle with brand new ones, built to top safety standards. At the time, 60 000 people lost their homes. To this day, 30 000 still live in temporary housing on the outskirts of L’Aquila, waiting to ‘return’ to a new house.

In the historic part of the city centre, it’s a different story. Here, each house is painstakingly being restored – the whole city centre is one great building site! A few houses are finished but most are surrounded by scaffolding, and those awaiting their turn have large wooden braces all around the outside and across the windows.


Business is closed for the most part, save a few cafes and a hotel, which seems to miraculously have survived the earthquake (maybe it was already built to safety specs).

The whole place looks like I imagine a city to look after a war. We speak to an architect involved in restoring historic facades. He reckons it will be at least another ten years before the town centre is back to business as before.

Here’s a photo that was taken just after the earth quake 8 years ago, and below is our photo of the same square now



Of course it’s a terrible disaster for a city to be struck by an earthquake like this. We’ve seen a number of places in Sicily, where in Baroque times, the whole population of a city moved, leaving the ruins behind and starting from scratch a few kilometers away, rather than going through the effort of rebuilding – resulting in a  series of beautiful baroque cities in the Southern part of Sicily. I wonder who, in those times, carried the people’s loss, who paid for the work… because as we hear from the architect in Aquila, all the rebuilding is paid for by the state; the apartment blocks in the suburbs as well as the meticulous restoration of the historic buildings in the city centre. The cost must be astronomical!

However, not all is doom and gloom. The city hums with work – I don’t think anyone would be jobless here if they are willing to work in the construction industry. There is a spirit of optimism – we don’t see groups of men standing around smoking and looking depressed, like in so many other places in Italy. Despite all the scaffolding, it is clear that this city has an incredible wealth of historic buildings, and no doubt it will look absolutely spectacular once they are all restored.

Outside the ancient city walls, near the castle, which largely escaped damage, stands a square-ish, colourful building. It is a theatre called Teatro Stabilo, gifted to the city after the earthquake, presumably to keep up the spirit in a time of great hardship. As we drive out of the city, we pass graffiti slogans about not giving up, about loving this piece of earth – ‘my place is here, I will not leave’.

Humans have an incredible ability to rise out of the ashes, to start anew, to come out of such a disaster even stronger than before.

Here is the link to the photos of this chapter

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