Whatever Happened to that Petrol Cap?

17/02/18

It was a mystery. We were on our way to the mountains and stopped at a fuel station to fill up with Diesel only to find that we had no petrol (or should it be diesel) cap.

Paul swears that he didn’t forget to replace it when we last filled up. So has someone taken it? We have never had the key, so it would have been possible for someone to filch it, but why would they? There didn’t appear to be any fuel missing so we hadn’t been siphoned.

Anyway, to avoid any conflict I’ve given Paul the benefit of the doubt. We picked up a universal spare so that we at least have something over the hole, but a search for a proper replacement would have to wait until we get somewhere with some auto or camper spares shops.

In the mean time we made it up into the mountains, stopping at a free sosta near Civitella Alfedena (we couldn’t work out how to dispose of our toilet waste here but there was water). We had intended to investigate the ski resort nearby but the area was incredibly busy and we couldn’t find a reasonable parking spot near to the skiing. We later found out that it was the Italian Under 16s ski championships, typically we only found this out as we left the area.

Bertie looking over Lago di Barrea

The sosta here is on the shore of a lake and we decided to take a quick trip around the lake on our mountain bikes before heading off again. This was our first ever cycle over snow, a much more strenuous experience than I’d expected with the tyres skidding over the snow and ice and requiring a lot more effort and careful handling to gain any traction. Where the snow had started to melt the ground was very slushy and the mud was deep. Thankfully it was an easy route so it gave us an opportunity to practise, I had even more respect for the guys who had cycled up Vesuvius over snow.

A little hill, but still tough over the snow
The view across the lake
The village of Barrea at one end of the lake

Without the option of skiing there wasn’t much to keep us here – the walking trails were deep with snow and we don’t have snowshoes (maybe something for the future). More snow was forecast for the coming days, so we made our way back down from the mountains before we got stuck. We’ve seen how beautiful the area is and will be back again. 

Yet Another Amphitheatre

16/02/18

After Vesuvius we migrated north east through Caserta, a town strung along a main road lined with relatively affluent showrooms and stores. Our parking spot was towards the western end of the urbanisation; a free sosta in a large car park. We had been warned in reviews that there would be boy racers turning donuts, but really it seemed quite tame. Maybe it was the wrong day of the week, but just a handful of the ‘white car club’ turned out to park alongside each other and occasionally rev their engines.

We weren’t complaining, we were well rested by the time our alarm went off the following morning. We had only chosen this parking spot because it was free and in the right direction, but the bonus was it’s proximity to the second largest Roman amphitheatre after the Coliseum – a fact we only found out after visiting. We’ve seen a few amphitheatres now, but at €2.50 each we thought it was worth a look.

This amphitheatre has shot to number one in our favourite amphitheatres of all time. Was it better than the Coliseum? We spent some time discussing this as we wandered around and decided that yes, we thought it was. Now the Coliseum is spectacular and huge and incredibly intact, but it is thronged with tourists, sanitised and large areas are off limits unless you book a tour. In contrast we were walking through an unkempt site where grass and weeds grew with abandon in the late winter sunshine. There were large sections of stonework piled in a ring around the site awaiting archaeological inspection, and many of the decorative elements have been plundered to enhance later buildings in the area. The walls of the amphitheatre don’t stand as high as the Coliseum, but what you get is an ancient monument that is quiet and allows you to wander at will, especially in the area underneath the main arena. As you explore this virtually deserted building you feel as though you are the first person to find the many corridors and stairways. It is incredible that a country can be so full of ancient monuments that a site like this is virtually unknown and it’s restoration underfunded. For the freedom of exploration, the sense of adventure, the peace and tranquillity, the friendliness of the staff and the price it cannot be beaten.

We moved on after seeing the amphitheatre, but there is a lot more to see in the area, making it one of the places we would like to return to. In particular the Reggia de Caserta – know as the ‘Versailles of Campania’.

         

The Hollow Ways of the Etruscans

30/01/18

As we drove south through Tuscany the land slowly flattened out. From the steep sided closely packed hills of the north we ventured through lower hills and wider shallower valleys until it seemed almost flat. But appearances can be deceiving, we were still a couple of hundred meters above sea level, and as we approached Sorano we rounded a bend in the road to see a town perched on a clifftop above a dark forested river valley cutting through the land.

Hilltop towns had been very much a feature of Tuscany, and here in the province of Grosseto the tradition of fortified defensible towns continued with the clifftop ‘Tufa Towns’  of Sorano, Pitigliano and Sovano. Tufa (although it should properly be called tuff) is the volcanic rock that underpins the landscape here – a soft rock that is easy to excavate, which gives rise to some of the archeologic features.

Of the three towns we randomly chose to visit Sorano, like the other towns it had been established by the Etruscans and although their legacy isn’t visible in the town it can be found in the surrounding area. We parked up by the Orsini fortress which dominates the top part of the town. It wasn’t open to visitors but we were still able to walk through it’s courtyard and see the view down towards the medieval buildings of the town below. We wandered down through the narrow streets, down mossy steps and cobbled slopes. It felt like walking through a ghost town, doors and shutters were pinned closed and we could only hear our footsteps. When we tried to get to the viewpoint of Masso Leopoldino the gate was firmly padlocked, it didn’t matter though as there were plenty of other viewpoints through the town.

After a few wrong turns we found the Porta di Rocco on the lower eastern side of the town and we could escape the buildings and descend to the river below. This was what we had really come to the area to see. Down here are ancient pathways deeply carved into the rock – the Vie Cave – it’s thought they are Etruscan in origin, but no one knows why they were cut so deeply into the rock. They link together the towns of Sorano, Sovana and Pitigliano – we didn’t go that far but allowed ourselves to get lost and turned around exploring the three main pathways that spread out from Sorano. There was something eerie about being between the confines of the pathway walls, the ghostly feeling enhanced by the rock cut caves and burial chambers that could be found in the surroundings.

We found a porcupine quill in the vie cave – we had no idea that there are porcupines in Italy

Emerging from the Vie Cave we could then head in the opposite direction to the troglodyte town of Vitozza, an archeological area of many cave dwellings from different periods. Spread out through the forest it was not well signposted, or at least we didn’t find any informative signs, but we had not approached from the usual direction. We felt that we were probably missing some interesting sights and should have given the area more time, but it was starting to get a bit dimpsy so we needed to get back.

Approaching Sorano from below you can see how precariously the houses perch on top of each other, on top of the ancient walls and all on top of a cave riddled cliff. We wandered back up and through the more modern part of the town where we found evidence that there was a local population and a few shops and bars. Our parking near the fortress was the school bus drop off/pick up point so we investigated, and later moved to, a different parking spot as we didn’t fancy being woken up too early.

From our parking spot we could watch the setting sun shine on the town.

We put this on our list of places to come back to and explore further. Pitigliano is a bit bigger and looks like it has some interesting buildings as well as it’s historic Jewish quarter, Sovana has an archeological park with more Etruscan heritage, there is a mountain bike trail around the area taking in some of the sights which looks like it could be interesting and of course many more miles of Vie Cave to explore. You could easily spend a week in the area exploring these three towns.