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Week 10 – COVID-19 Tests and the Beauties of Majella National Park

Week 10: Monday 31/08 – Sun 06/09

Fonte Cerreto under the rain – Monday

Yesterday it has been raining since 6pm. At around 8pm the rainstorm reached its peak and water started dripping through the lateral and back doors of the van. We realized that both the doors weren’t well closed… This fixed the night was calm and quiet.

After breakfast we leave the place and head to Fonte Cerreto. Rain will be falling all day.

On Mondays in Italy, especially in small villages, shops and cafes are closed. We decide to drink a coffee in the bar of a deserted hotel. We can sit outside, covered by a roof, watching the rain hitting the road and the trees. We spend the rest of the time working on our computers, reading, calling our families and waiting for the rain to stop. Two people spending the whole day in 4.5 squared metres -standing space 1.2 squared metres, and G cannot even stand because he is too tall- does not sound nice and it isn’t, we can guarantee. During the morning we receive a call from Abruzzo’s health authority. They have received the online form we have filed on Friday. They ask for our temperatures -they are going to monitor our health condition everyday until the test gives its result- and assure us that we will soon receive an appointment for getting tested in l’Aquila.

Finally, around 6pm the rain stops and the clouds open. Quickly we are in the forest for a walk. The air smells clean and chilly, the yellows and the greens of the wood are shiny and everything looks like it has just reborn. G also spots a roe deer while running down the path. Our view can finally space all around, we can see the villages all along the valley, the high peaks around us and the cable-car running towards Campo Imperatore. We are starting to really like Abruzzo.

Climbing and reaching L’Aquila to be tested for Covid-19 – Tuesday

We received an e-mail fixing our test-day on Wednesday, the 2nd of September 2020. We decide to head to L’Aquila where we can sleep in a parking for motorhomes put in place by the city council. However, before to reach the city, we stop by Madonna d’Appari where about 20 pitches have been equipped right on the road, just next to an old church that is also a tunnel. Well you can see what we mean in the picture below.

The rock is a bit consumed by the time and the passage of many climbers. However, the pitches are fun and varied. After a while a group of kids arrive and start climbing some very hard routes that we didn’t even consider… Eventually, after enjoying it for a few hours, we decide to leave to l’Aquila.

Once parked the van, in 15min we reach the city centre to realize that in more than 10 years the city has not been rebuilt yet. You have to know that this area was severely hit by an earthquake which destroyed almost all the old town and some villages in the surroundings. This was back in 2009, that year a lot of people died, and many more lost their homes: around 80.000 people. Since then, funds were created and invested in order to rebuild the old town, monuments as well as public buildings and mostly houses for those who lost theirs. On the one hand the slowness of the public intervention, on the other, the misuse of a lot of money, left a lot of people without a real home for years, living first in military tents, then in temporary buildings, that still exist and are partially inhabited. Well, today the situation it’s still critical: only 60% of the city centre has been rebuilt. The buildings that didn’t fall are secured with scaffolds, the ones that felt are surrounded by red tape -except those that were rebuilt-, many roads are still closed and inaccessible… It seems to be in a post-war city.

Despite this, l’Aquila is a lively city with a historically rich old town. More than 100 churches, a castle, ancient buildings, squares and fountains all on a beautiful hill surrounded by the Apennines. Two are the symbols of this town: the ‘basilica di Collemaggio’ and the fountain of ‘novantanove cannelle’. Yes they have 86 ‘cannelle’ more than in Ancona. The fountain was quickly rebuilt thanks to private offers. The main characteristic of the ‘basilica’ is that it’s squared and it’s the only other church -apart Basilica di San Pietro in Rome- in which a pope was made, Celestino V.

Wednesday-Test-Day – Wednesday

The test facility has been set up in the old hospital of Collemaggio, a stone throw from the ‘basilica’. We enter the partially-abandoned hospital with our masks and plastic gloves -they are mandatory-, and follow the signs “TAMPONE COVID”. We end up in front of a white tent with two spacemen inside. All dressed in white, with their masks and visor, changing gloves for every tested person. There are just two people before us, when they are done, the two nurses ask us our names and then insert two sticks in our mouths and noses. They close the sticks in the test tubes, close them and tell us that we can go. The results will be available in a couple of days. It took less then 10 minutes in total. We leave the half-abandoned hospital walk back to the parking lot where we slept and leave for another national park where we are planning to spend the next days in partial isolation.

The National Park of Majella hosts 2.100 species of plants, which represents almost a third of the whole Italian flora. Which is impressive, knowing that the park is not so large. The park’s logo depicts a wolf with behind a high peak that might represent ‘Monte Amaro’, the highest peak, 2.793m. Wolves and bears are often seen in the park and are monitored by the rangers. More than 150 animal species have been catalogued in the park, despite the large carnivorous, a relevant position is occupied by the Piviere Tortolino. This small bird nests only in a few places in Italy, always above 2.000m, one of this is the Majella.

Our destination is a hermitage a few kilometres after the village of Roccamorice: ‘Eremo di Santo Spirito a Majella’. When we reach it it’s closing and there is almost nobody. We ask the site keeper if it’s okay sleeping in the parking in order to visit the chapel the next day. She answers us that there is no problem as long as we do not leave any trash or light any fire. The sky it’s full of stars and the night cold.

Eremo di Santo Spirito a Majella – Thursday

This place has a rich and varied history: it’s a work of art carved in the rock. It is thought that it all started back in the XI century when a few monks of the company of San Benedetto di Montecassino built a chapel. The first evidence of the existence of the place dates 1055, when the monk Desiderio -future Pope Vittore III- had this chapel built. Later, in 1246 was the time of Pietro da Morrone -elected pope in 1294 under the name of Celestino V- the real protagonist of this place. In 1263 he asked the pope to recognise the monks that followed him in the hermitage under the order of San Benedetto. In this time, the Benedettini renewed the chapel, built a praying space and a few rooms where they used to sleep on the bare stone. They also built a system of small channels collecting rain water for all their needs, including irrigation for the vegetable gardens on which their lives depended. Indeed, one of the principles of hermitages was to be separated by the external world and completely self-sufficient. These monks managed to exploit the natural curves of the limestone in order to build everything they needed, even green houses and refrigerators.

However, the hermitage reached its golden age later, in 1586. This was the year in which it was recognised as Abbey. The most impressive staircase was built in the rock, the rooms were extended and about 50 monks started living there. A vegetable garden in Roccamorice was managed by other monks to sustain the life in the hermitage. Even a prince decided to move in. Principe Caracciolo had a three floor house built on site where he used to live in summer. This was also the period in which frescos were drown all over the internal walls of the main buildings. In 1807, due to Napoleon’s invasion and the suppression of the monks’ orders, the monastery was completely abandoned.

In the 70s the whole site was renewed, and most of the frescos were unfortunately covered. We learnt all this during a guided visit that is definitely worth it. The guide was prepared, attentive and clear; the place breathtaking.

We then spend the afternoon climbing. A huge climbing spot -more than 200 routes- dominates the road bringing to the hermitage. After a few ascents we shower and sleep in the parking on the road, next to a fountain.

Friday-results-day and M gets her shoes stolen – Friday

The phone didn’t get any signal during the past two days. Today we are supposed to receive the results of our Covid test. Therefore, we descend to Roccamorice where finally our phones start working and we can call the green number of the Abruzzo health authority. I’s only at 12am that we finally reach the office and speak with a bored girl that tells us that we are both negative. It’s official, we didn’t get COVID-19. In the end, since the moment we managed to file our online form, excluding the weekend -apparently in this office they do not work on weekends-, it only took three days to get tested and know the results. Everything was covered by Abruzzo health system, we didn’t have to spend a cent.

Relieved we decide to spend the afternoon climbing, we speak with some other climbers -there are not many-, we stop only when we are too hot to go on. We move to another parking owned by Roccamorice city hall. It’s spacious, shady, and there is only another van. We can shower nicely and enjoy the evening in the van. Outside it’s cold and the sky full of stars.

Suddenly, we hear a noise outside the van. M takes a front lamp and we open the sliding door lighting the outside. M’s shoes have disappeared. We start looking around when we spot a young fox, sitting in the grass some five metres from us, looking towards the van and at the two of us. We start looking for the shoes, the fox runs away, then come back. We spot a second fox, behind the van, looking interested at us. We decide to get some dry biscuits to feed the foxes. It seems like they were only waiting for this. They start getting closer and searching all around. After a few of biscuits we decide to stop feeding them and keep looking for the shoes. Nothing. We understand that the foxes stole the shoes, however, we cannot find them back… After a good hour playing with the foxes and looking for the shoes we decide to go to bed. We feel bad to have lost a pair of shoes in a national park.

Eremo di San Giovanni all’Orfento: The real hermitage – Saturday

The alarm rings early. At 8 we start walking towards San Giovanni hermitage. It’s supposed to be a three hours hike through Santo Spirito and Orfento valleys. These two valleys are covered by a stunning beech forest. On the ground a bed of beech leaves makes the hiking soft and comfortable. The canopy is thick, the trees tall, it’s cold and shady. The path first descends to the bottom of Santo Spirito valley, then goes up, overtake the saddle and descends in Orfento valley. It then goes up again and finally descends abruptly towards the ‘eremo’ with an exposed passage on the cliff. After half an hour of walk M hears some roars. She accelerates to reach G who’s a bit further. Another roar, she calls G and reach him. We realize that the animal traces we have seen close by the stream were bear footprints, and the roar was definitely a bear. We go on, another roar, closer, no doubt a bear. We keep talking and walking calmly, looking all around us. However, there are no visual signs of bears, only the roars. We finally overcome the saddle and descends towards the Orfento stream. The forest here is magnificent, the beech tall and distanced, our view can space all around. Two roe deers run away from us as we pass by, we can see them for a good minute, grazing and looking around. Finally, when the trail gets closer to them, they run away towards the bottom of the valley.

The ‘eremo’ is just amazing. All carved in the limestone, there is first a staircase excavated in the rock, then a few meters on a narrow path and then the “entrance” is hidden by a leaning rock. The passage? Some 50cm of space in between the leaning rock and a narrow catwalk. It is quiet impressive but we decide to go for it. We crawl for a few meters and we can feel the smooth rock, where thousands have already crawled to access this extraordinary place. Once back on our feet we discover the small hermitage with two cells hand-carved in the rock. We are only 10 meters above the ground but it is impressive. It was at first a small cave that has been extended and made “habitable”. Historically Pietro da Morrone, future Pope Celestino V, who was living in the ‘eremo’ di San Bartolomeo, had the desire to withdraw himself from the numerous followers that would come visit him in San Bartolomeo… He wanted a more peaceful and isolated place to spend time closer to god. Well, in this perspective this is the perfect place!

After a brief immersion in what could have been a life of isolation we are heading back. The walk is nice and we stop at some point to eat our lunch and then reach back the car without hearing any roar. It is still quite early so we decide to try climbing a bit before going away. However, it is so hot that we only do one pitch each and decide to stop for the day. G showers quickly on the side of the road, and after organising the van we are ready to leave.

We decide to drive until Chieti to visit the town and later go towards Pescara. Chieti is pretty even though it is a bit weird to be back in a city with noises and people around. It is one of the oldest city of Italy. Mythology has it, that the city was founded in 1181 BC by the Homeric Greek hero Achilles and was named in honour of his mother –Thetis.

After a traditional ‘aperitivo’ to relax and enjoy the advantages of cities, we decide to head towards Montesilvano to meet G’s aunt, tomorrow for lunch. We end up going to bed in a parking lot on the crowded seaside road. The night will be noisy and hot.

Long time no see – Sunday

Montesilvano is pretty big (almost 55.000 inhabitants), and it’s located right next to Pescara, the largest city in Abruzzo and capital of the homonymous province. Here lives the sister of G’s father, he didn’t see her for about 10 years. Two days before, he managed to reach her to ask if she wanted to meet and she invited us for lunch this Sunday. And here we are.

Once awaken, we enjoy a coffee and muffin in a bar. We reach our host place around 12 o’clock (not far from where we slept actually).

We are welcomed in the Italian way. G’s aunt is already making lunch, she has wine with an appetizer and everything is abundant, tastes good and is accompanied by a lot of talking. The conversation goes easy, M is getting better in Italian. We eat lunch also with her companion that lives here as well. We thought that we were invited just for lunch but we quickly realize that she already planned dinner and a day at the beach for tomorrow… the bed is already set, she doesn’t want us to sleep in the van. Her place, her rules. We will stay until Tuesday morning.

In the afternoon we go for a quick bath just the two of us, the beach is only 50m away! The water is clear and the beach almost empty. Back to G’s aunt place, we try to negotiate to sleep in our van instead of bothering her, but she doesn’t want to hear anything, the room is ready anyway. We end up sleeping in a very comfortable double bed, not bad!

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