The road to Rome

311 nights : 10,945 miles travelled :  countries visited: 15

A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome     Alain de Lille

Travelling north through Calabria is a mixed bag of experiences. The first miles on the Autostrada del Sole (A3) mirror the last journey in north east Sicily and have you alternately flying on viaducts across steep inlets to the sea then diving into dim tunnels through rocky hills. We then joined the S18 and hugged the coast where dark volcanic sand was fringed by white foam and cobalt blue sea. The wind was strong and exchanged bright warm sunshine for grey chilling clouds and then back again. Kipper enjoyed the freedom of a series of nights on Tyrrhenian beaches and we breathed in the views.

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Praia a Mare

The beauty of this coastline is often marred by modern holiday flats and characterless towns. Diamante has attempted to stand out from the crowd by allowing artists to paint murals on external walls. We liked the place anyway.

The scenery through northern Calabria and Basilicata was a delightful blend of sea with mountainous backdrops . We had hoped to continue the coastal route through Cilento National Park but time is becoming a precious commodity now that our crossing to the UK is booked so we decided to hit the A3 once again.

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Glimpses of hill towns revealed what we were missing

Pompeii was on our Italy wishlist and it exceeded any expectations we had. While we couldn’t forget the horrific fate that people met when Vesuvius exploded in AD79 , we left the extensive site with a much clearer sense of the city before it’s sudden death.

It is the spaces between the buildings rather than the ruins themselves that make Pompeii seem alive. In the forum it was easy to imagine the administrative and commercial activity that gave the city it’s wealth. Walking around the amphitheatre evoked the excitement of going to see a show with thousands of others.

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20,000 spectators could watch gladiators fighting

Much restoration work is ongoing and details in wealthy homes are preserved for us to enjoy as they would have been more than two thousand years ago. Here, frescoes depict stories from the Trojan Wars while birds and animals decorate a mosaic floor.

The centuries fall away on seeing details in the streets like stepping stones for pedestrians, ruts left by cart wheels and the many water troughs placed around the city. (The taps are probably a recent feature!)

About one third of Pompeii has never been excavated and much of the archaeological site that is open to visitors is fenced off waiting for repairs or preservation. There was a lot of  work ongoing, the most interesting of which was the restoration of market gardens and a vineyard, with the eerie profile of Mount Vesuvius behind.

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Our campsite was near to the archaeological site so the volcano was often in sight and we couldn’t resist going to see it up close. We shared a taxi with some German and American visitors who were happy to share the drive with Kipper. The 600m walk to the summit was quite steep and we were also happy to share holding his lead as he made the climb much easier! It was worth it, for the view into the crater with (thankfully) wisps of vapour escaping and the view out over the Bay of Naples towards the island of Capri.  Anton, our driver, assured us that modern monitoring techniques should give two weeks notice of an eruption and explained that local towns are paired with other Italian cities for evacuation. Still, we were happy to leave after a short while. There was a cold wind and you can’t get away from the feeling that Vesuvius is snoozing lightly.

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It was chilly up top…we wished we had packed Mr Kips his coat too!
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Evidence of lava flow from the most recent eruption in 1944 is clear to see.

One of the real joys of the trail is to visit these iconic locations to convert them from pictures in our imagination into real places in our memory. Another name that jumped out of our map of Italy is Cassino. As a teenager I read about the terrible WWII battles that took place around the Abbazia di Montecassino during the Allies push towards Rome. This monastery was among the most important Christian sites in the world since it was founded by St Benedict in 529 and it was destroyed in 1944. Descriptions of the bloody scenes in and around it left such a vivid imprint in my mind that I felt I was revisiting the area and I had goosebumps as we parked at the camperstop.

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The Abbey of Montecassino has been completely rebuilt
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A sense of serenity has also been restored

Traditional artwork decorates the Church  and starlit stairways lead to modern mosaics in the crypt.

Often the best memories of views we have enjoyed on the trip are those glimpsed as we drive along. On the morning of our visit to the Abbey, we devised a plan to travel east further into the mountains of the Abruzzo National Park but the weather closed in around us and there seemed little point. Over lunch we found an alternative stop just off the main road to Rome.

We had planned to avoid the capital as we felt it might be too busy. However the owner of the camperstop persuaded us to consider sharing a ride with some other travellers who also had a dog. The next morning, Marco drove us and our new Swedish friends into the centre of Rome.

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Our first open view of the city

Kipper found the Trevi fountain very confusing as he wasn’t allowed in to retrieve the coins being thrown. A favourite game with different rules!

The Pantheon is a 2ooo year old temple now used as a church. The hole in it’s incredible dome connects the temple to the gods but more importantly spreads the tension and holds it up.

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Restoration work to the Spanish Steps means that it is best seen from afar at present!

We had a wonderful time orientating ourselves around this amazing place, making a long list of sights to discover or come back to another time. We’re not fans of shopping but we could have spent hours gazing at the beautiful displays in the windows. However, most enjoyable was getting to know Peter and Lisa and Panna the pup and meeting their friends over a long lunch. So often,the unexpected roads lead to the warmest memories.

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M & G xx

Treat of the week: We followed the Lonely Planet’s recommendation for an espresso in Rome so experienced what is possibly the best, but probably the most expensive coffee available in the city. But the real treat was imagining that we had followed Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn to the table after they’d gossiped about Gregory Peck and their favourite lipstick colours over espresso and Gauloises!

 

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