Monday, 30 September 2013

Contursi Terme...

Setting off from Diego's place on the side of Mount Etna was a difficult task.

I personally could have spent a long time there. I would sit and imagine what such a place would be like if I had all of my friends there around me. It all felt so free... liberal. But it was time to move on and we headed for the port of Messina to cross the short 20 minute ferry and land on Mainland Italy.

We drove up the A3 motorway, headed North, destined for Kerry's Grandfather's house. Kerry's family have deep seated roots in a small town called Contursi. Her Grandfather moved from Italy to Horsham just before Kerry's Mother and siblings were born, leaving behind an old farmhouse, nestled on the side of a small mountain.

The roadworks and tunnels on the motorway were both plentiful and suspect. Some tunnels lacked any lighting what so ever. Stalactites hung down from the top of the arch where water had managed to seep through. Most of the time the road was narrowed to one lane with small, 2 dimensional cones marking out the route. The seismic activity around the Dolomite range of mountains coupled with strong rains had caused tremendous damage to the infrastructure, washing away some of the road.

There are no road tolls in the Southern part of the country. The people live very much hand to mouth with little money. An agreement was made whereby the southern parts are helped out by the more affluent people of the North with regards to road tolls and other taxes. I found it quite incredible to learn that the Italian GDP had surpassed that of Great Britain in early 2012. Especially as I was driving through landscapes where people lived in basic accommodation and ran 25 - 30 year old Fiat Pandas down roads as potholed as some rally tracks.
Artisan checkers board! (might have enjoyed making it more than playing on it

The ironic thing is whenever I logged in to my Facebook I'd see huge threads of people complaining about how long a section of roadworks had been installed on a road near my hometown. If these people could experience these roads I'm sure their internet whinging would go through the roof! Sometimes people don't know when they have it good.

We enjoyed a pleasant lunch in a roadside cafe for under 5 Euros and set out on the last hundred miles to Contursi. Pulling off of the motorway and we were met with huge cracks in the road, causing steps of up to a foot deep. It was quite amazing to think the earth around here moved enough to cause these cracks.

We were met with alot of stares as we pulled in to town, immediately finding ourselves driving through the town square with, what seemed like, every resident sat around chatting or smoking. We headed up the main street and were met by a very old lady waving as she lept from a small Fiat Cinquecento with its horn blaring.

"Follow me... come come... you come my house!"

Kerry recognised the lady as her Great Auntie, sister of her Grandad, Zia (auntie) Maria. The driver of the car was her son, Kerry's second uncle, Mario.

The whole experience was very bizarre, to be driving through a quaint little Italian town and be instantly recognised and welcomed in to someones home. We followed the little green car for a few miles until we pulled in to the drive of a single story house belonging to Maria. We were showered in all sorts of foods and lovely fresh cafeteria style coffee only rural Italians know how to make.

It turns out Maria was expecting us. Kerry's Grandad, Vito, had telephoned to say we would be in Italy around this time and she took great pleasure in calling Vito in Horsham to let him know we arrived safe.

After a light lunch/dinner with Maria we drove across town to Vito's farmhouse to settle in for the week. The house itself is fairly basic. Of concrete construction, the interior was sparsely furnished with no plumbed gas and low grade electrics. It did, however, have running hot running water and a washing machine so we were in our element!

After our experience on the Vollo del Angelo (Flight of the Angel) the week was a very relaxed affair. The house is set on the side of a large hill and surrounded by arable land that Vito allows relatives and local farmers to use to heard their livestock and plant their crops. One lazy afternoon I was building a fire out near one of the fields and watched a shepherd at work. I didn't think there were such things as shepherds anymore. Not since baby Jesus graced his way on to the Earth. Yet here I was, watching a bloke watching sheep. For HOURS.

The abundance of wildlife was also quite incredible. Upon opening the front door to leave the house there was a disorientating amount of movement from and in every direction as loads of green lizards scurried for cover from their concrete sunbeds. They can stick to anything with their claws. Even scuttling along the ceiling upside down!

Kerry came face to face with a huge wasp type creature after hanging her PJs outside to dry in the sun. It was a strange flying beast about the size of a hornet but instead of having black and yellow marking was entirely black. Even it's wings were black instead of the usual translucent. It stung her 4 times in the leg before expiring on the floor. Luckily there was no adverse reaction!

Every evening brought a thunder storm and the rain would lash down. It was still very hot though. The storm would roll around the valley outside of the house, sometimes for hours, spitting out huge cracks of lightning and rumbling the windows. Storms are so much more massive and violent on the continent.

After a week of relaxing, reading, painting and soaking up the sun we were set to move North and in to the hustle and bustle of cities.

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