Castel Gandolfo 23/03/2016
Here we are parked up a few yards away from where Popey has his summer retreat just to the South of Rome. So if it is good enough for Il Papa then it is good enough for us. He might have a bit more gold in his crib than us but then he doesn’t have Tracy as a mate or a place that moves. Talking of moves before we got here we visited the war cemetery of Montecassino and we both had a little tear at the sadness. But more of that later. We parked in a car park with some fabulous views across Rome and all the way to the Med on this hilltop town of three streets. We had a walk around but it was too damn cold to have the planned gelato. We stuck our snouts into ‘The Rock’s’ Church and were seriously underwhelmed by the blandness of the place. It was if Her Majesty had lent him one of our dour church designers for a makeover. I had a salad for dinner and Tracy had a Sausage sandwich with a side of beer.
The Servant of the servants of God’s house
The view from our Parking Spot
We had planned to stay in Caserta for the night after visiting the Palace there but me being a bit of a tight wad refused to pay the €20 euros for the car park on offer and so decided to high tail it to Montecassino a day early for our overnighter. We took the motorway for most of the journey even though they are tolls but they are cheap and the better fuel consumption we achieve makes up for the cost. The other benefits include the motorways do actually have some tarmac to drive on and we are less likely to be hit by someone on the wrong side of the road. We did manage to go through the town of Frascati, a town known to women of a certain age the world over as a light summer wine to quaff with other ladies while at lunch. Coincidently it is twinned with the town of Windsor in the UK, a town also known worldwide for its links to Frascati. It is here you can see the ladies of a certain age behaving dreadfully after a few gallons of the stuff while attending Windsor Races on a Monday Night during the summer.
This depressing town to the North-East of Naples is famous for two things; the army had to use Bulldozers here a couple of years ago to clear the streets of rubbish and, it was Queen Amidala’s royal residence in Star Wars. Amidala’s house in a previous life was the Palazzo Reale di Caserta, a palace bigger than Versailles and reputed to be the world’s largest building in 18th century Europe. But as you know, size isn’t everything. We decided to stop in a soupy for some stores before exploring the Palace and were greeted by a chap with a wonderful New Jersey accent sporting a gun and an excitable arm-waving movement. He told us we were not allowed to park outside the Carrefour as it was too dangerous and we were given a Police Escort to a safer place with another armed guard to watch over the van while we shopped. We love service like that and that is why people we never ever go to Lidl. The prices may be cheaper in the crappy German place but you don’t get personal armed guards to look after you. Worth a few extra Euro I say.
Most of the Palace currently is covered in scaffolding and consequently does not look its best. Perhaps they are trying to blend it in with the dump that surrounds it?
For those of you who like numbers there are 1200 rooms, 1790 windows, 34 staircases, a 250m long façade and enough wooden models of the building to bore than pants off of any man under the age of 50.
The only bit not covered in scaffolding
There are some richly decorated rooms you can visit and some dubious modern art of no great value. However, the highlight of the place are the gardens, famous gardens according to our guidebook. They do stretch a long way, 3Km, and they do have fountains and waterfalls and from a distance they look quite spectacular. But as you can see from the picture above they do not bother to cut the grass or clear the rubbish or get rid of the moss from the waterfalls. Some of it could be as not to disturb the migrants that are to be found sleeping rough every few yards but that does explain why nearly everything is falling down.
The whole 3Km
View from Palace with gardens going up the mountain
Us at the End
Waterfall at the end
You can just see the Amalfi Coast on the right and Capri on the left
GoPro shot of the Waterfall
There is a famous, as always everything is in the Lonely Planet guide book, English Garden at the end. It might have been famous when they built it but now it is overgrown with half the Flora dead or dying and a sad looking statue of Diana overlooking a pool of some rather tasty Slavic Christmas dinners swimming about. We enjoyed the bike ride back as it was all downhill before we left Caserna and headed north for the town of Cassino.
The well-kept Diana
Your first sight of Montecassino Abbey perched on a mountain top does not convey the dread that occurred here 70 years ago where 55,000 Allied troops were killed or injured fighting Mrs Merkel’s relatives between January and May 1944 in one of the largest and bloodiest battles in WWII. A battle dreadfully overlooked in history presumably because the majority of allied combatants were either Commonwealth or Polish and not military units containing John Wayne or Audie Murphy.
The Abbey of Montecassino
As you climb up the 520m high mountain from the town of Cassino you start to understand why the battle took place and why it went on for so long. The Abbey has a commanding view in all directions and for an invading force it was essential to control the position. For those attacking soldiers it must have been absolute hell from their starting point in the flooded valley and up the sheer rock face to the heavily defended citadel at the top. A fight made a million times worse than it should have been after Uncle Sam had bombed the abbey to smithereens and thereby furnishing Gerry with excellent defensive positions. It took four major battles and hundreds of thousands of men 123 days of strife before Polish Paratroopers finally raised the flag of victory on the 18th May 1944 opening up the way for the fall of Rome.
We stayed right outside the Abbey entrance for the night. We were woken at first light by the ringing of the bells and the chanting of the monks as they rose for morning vespers. It was a very spiritual moment as we heard the frocked brethren moving about as they have done since St Benedict founded the place, with the aid of 3 Ravens in 529AD. They were quite cute ravens as they managed to pick a spot which previously had been a site for the Temple of Apollo.
We were first in the Abbey which I recommend to anyone as after 9 o’clock the busloads start appearing and this most wonderful sanctuary is woken by the noise of gabbing teenagers and over excited pensioners hoping a touch of brass here and a hail Mary there will bring them everlasting life. Built exactly as it was before its visit from the Flying Fortresses it is a very special site to visit. It is one of Christendom’s most sacred venues which alone makes you tingle, but it is view across to the Polish War Cemetery and the valley below that turns a tingle into a full-on electric shock. One of our favourites.
Entrance to Abbey
Polish War Cemetery
View across the Valley
This Survived the bombing
The Abbey after the bombing and a few bombs
To the Crypt of St Benedict
The rebuilt town of Cassino
Battle Museum – not yet open 72 years after the event
Obviously our final stop was to pay respect to the commonwealth troops who have been laid to rest here in the cemetery at the foot of the mountain and with a view upwards to where they died. There are over 4,200 men buried here from the UK, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa and every one of them is a hero in our book. We both shed a tear as we knelt and read some of the stories of the men and in some cases boys who fell here. It is a very moving place and was made a bit more so by the news coming from the developing tragedy in Brussels. What these brave lads would make of Europe now is any bodies guess. If you are ever down this way then pop-in and say thanks to these wonderful men.
Heroes looked over by the battlefield
Very sad to read
And on that very sad note.
Love to all