We recently witnessed the destructive power of the 2016 earthquake(s) in and around Norcia. We can all also remember the devastating effect of the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami, the recent Australian bush fires or perhaps more locally living through the awful weather the UK and elsewhere has experienced this winter. These all provide clear reminders of how limited our control is over the power and forces of nature.
We arrived late in the day at the motorhome parking at Marmore Falls to find it busy with other vans. This wasn’t surprising as it was Friday and the weekend is the time when the water is diverted over the falls for a couple of hours to show off the splendour of the falls to dozens of increasingly moist visitors.
The Romans built the Cascata delle Marmore, the world’s tallest artificial waterfall in 271 BC. The falls are an impressive sight. Water from the hills above the city of Rieti flows along the Velino River then it’s channelled to top of the green 165-metre-high cliffs, before plummeting into the valley below.
Generally, the water from the Velino River is directed to feed the Terni hydro-electric complex, with the full flow of water only released at certain times to show off nature’s tremendous power that man first tamed 2,291 years ago.
Missing the sign for the ticket office we had to backtrack and join a very slow-moving queue along with several dozen others. After the water had been released, we were too and we made our way up an assortment of paths that were easy at first but as we climbed got harder, with the spray making it increasingly difficult to get close up photos and staying dry just wasn’t an option. Stopping off to get our breath back at various vantage points when we neared the top we were able to witness a spectacular sight of a rainbow appearing to originate from the bottom of the highest cliff.
If you zoom in you’ll see Charlie waiting patiently in the car park below.
Our reward on reaching the feed channel at the top was a much-deserved ice cream and a short rest before the walk down. Going down is definitely easier than coming up.
Chronicles of Narni
The next morning, we made our way to Narni. A popular place at the weekends judging by the very tightly packed parking spot, with six vans already occupying most of the available space. Charlie breathed in and we managed to fit him in on the end. Extracting the bikes from the garage we found my bike had a puncture on the front tyre, but with tools at hand we changed the tube faster than a F1 pit stop.
We started with a quick wheel around the town before dropping steeply down through the narrow streets, we found our way onto the old railway track that we followed under a Roman bridge and along a busy road.
Leaving the the road, signs indicated a track that followed the river which flowed into a beautiful shallow pool with crystal clear water, where people were enjoying the sunshine and chilling on the decking around the river bank.
Our route back was on the disused railway track, where lots of families were enjoying the level walking and sometimes oblivious to our friendly bell tinkling. The uphill road section back into Narni was a little steep but the thought of ice cream at the top kept us going.
With all the other motorhomes now gone (I must have a talk with our Charlie), we decided to do the same and headed for San Gemini, where we found a free spot and spent a quiet night parked up with some ambulances.
With a course set for Orvieto we stopped off for a brief look around the small hilltop town of Todi. Parking was at the foot of the town, but next to a free funicular that whisked us up to the town and its attractive main square. It was very pleasant to wander around in the sunshine, but with no obvious places open for lunch and not much else to detain us, we continued on our way to Orvieto.
The MoHo parking area at Orvieto was a few hundred yards away from a busy motorway and between two railway lines one of which carried the Frecciarossa (red arrow) the Italian equivalent to France’s TGV, so it seems we were in for a noisy night.
After ordering bread and croissants for the morning from the site manager, we settled in resigning ourselves to a night spent listening out to see if we could detect the the difference between trans regional and the high-speed trains.. Such fun!
Somewhat sleep deprived, the next day (after our compensatory jam filled croissants) we took the conveniently located funicular railway up to the town and bought a multiple ticket for various attractions including the first, at the Pozzo di San Patrizio, or St. Patrick’s Well.
The central well shaft with two helical ramps in a double helix, accessed by two doors, which allowed mules to carry empty and full water vessels separately in downward and upward directions without obstruction.
The well has 427 steps, which was no problem at all going down, but “I can tell thee, it were lung bustlingly tough coming backup”.
“Let’s find an ice cream” I said (I’m not an addict), “good idea”, Lesley said. Temporarily sated, our next challenge was the Torre del Moro clocktower guess what yes with more steps and more steps, but I have to confess the view of the town and the surrounding countryside from the top was impressive and worth the effort.
Time to stop going up and go back down again, this time to the fascinating underground complex of the Pozzo Della Cava in the oldest part of the medieval quarter of Orvieto. We discovered later that almost all the houses in Orvieto have caves underneath.
I saw these modern day plastic pots for sale a few yards along from the Museum displaying ancient Etruscan pottery dating back from the 10th to the 1st century BC and couldn’t help but notice the incongruity.
We found a shop down one of the side streets selling some quite unique wood in all forms of art and some really imaginative furniture designs.
To finish off the day we concluded with a visit to the cathedral. Yes it’s an ABC (Another Bluming Castle/Church) but that apart, it was quite unusual on the outside and heavily decorated inside with some famous frescoes.
“Built in 1290, the cathedral is a masterpiece of Italian gothic architecture. The decoration of the Cappella Nuova, commenced by Fra Angelico in 1447 and magnificently completed by Luca Signorelli in 1499 and 1504, displays an awe-inspiring Last Judgement and Apocalypse and, below it, scenes from Dante…”.
Feeling a bit tired of all the sightseeing it was time to go back to Charlie and head on to pastures new. But before leaving we needed to service the van (get some fresh water and empty the waste water etc) but once again we discovered the handle on the waste water tank turned but didn’t open the valve….. “Oh flip, what again..!” I said or something similar.
There was nothing else for it but to make arrangements to drive back to Terni to the nearest authorised Carthago garage and get them to look at the problem in the morning. The next day the garage wasted no time in fixing the fault which is apparently a common problem in Italy where the roads are so bad they shake the poor motorhomes to bits and cause issues that Carthago don’t experience in Germany or anywhere else with smooth tarmac!
Maybe when we get to Tuscany the roads will improve (yeah right….!)
But before entering the next phase of our Italian tour we decided we must go back to Orvieto and see Orvieto Underground, that we’d wanted to see but missed off the day before. This time no expense was spared and we propelled Charlie along the smooth toll road to get back in double quick time. Aiming for an English-speaking guided tour we parked up on the top of the town, close to the centre. As we had arrived in good time, for completeness and for research purposes we thought we’d also sample more of the ice cream flavours we’d missed from the day before (have I mentioned how good Italian ice cream is).
We both agreed returning to go on the tour was worthwhile and were impressed with the knowledge and the enthusiasm of the guide but doubt that photos can really do an experience like this justice.
Returning to Orvieto’s magnificent Duomo for a moment. This is considered one of the must-see churches in Italy because of its stunning gold-and-mosaic Gothic facade and magnificent frescoes. BUT I can’t help thinking that if the Italians spent half the money they spend on churches on their roads, they could really improve the country’s road accident statistics (just a thought?).
Ok, so let’s set a new course for Tuscany. However we have been avidly following the news of the Coronavirus Covid-19 strain coming from Italy which has become increasingly worrying – particularly the increasing number of cases in Lombardy and Trento.
Deciding to overnight in Montepulciano, we talked about what to do. Tuscany has been the area we have been looking forward to exploring the most, with Florence, Siena, Pisa and so many other smaller places we have planned to visit. BUT as we have journeyed around we have been swithering more and more over the worsening situation with the Coronavirus outbreak in Italy. Should we make a mad 650km dash for the French border, are we panicking? In the end we decided rightly or wrongly, for now, to carry on with the next part of the trip but to take sensible precautions and keep a watchful eye on developments in Italy and elsewhere.
In the morning we woke and said. “Let’s go to France”, we’ll come back and see Tuscany another time.
Right better Toodle Pip then…
Dave and Lesley (safe and well in Provence)
PS Depending on your political point of view you may wish to ignore the linked article below by Will Hutton, that suggests that collectively perhaps we can influence if not control the power of nature?