Le Grotte di Frasassi

Trip Start Jun 21, 2011
Trip End Jul 13, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , The Marches,
Thursday, June 30, 2011

“Clime of the unforgotten brave! Whose land from plain to mountain-cave. Was Freedom's home or Glory's grave!"

- Lord Byron, Poet, Ravenna, Italy Resident  

As great as is it to just chill at the villa, I need activities too. Tuesday was a day without family obligations, so the group split up - shopping in Senigallia with Ercole, or visiting some of the greatest caves in the world about 45 minutes away. As much as I wanted to see Ercole in action on his home turf, among friends like Lalo at Cafe Mode, I was a cave person. 

I joined my brother, Ashely and the kids, and my aunt Lisa and Walt and we headed west towards the Sibillini mountains and to Le Grotte di Frasassi. I'm told I visited these caves when we came in high school, but I remember nothing. These are supposedly some of the best in all of Europe, if not the world. 

In 1948, Mario Marchetti and Paul Charles Beer discovered one entrance through a Cave River, but because of the war, exploration slowed. In July 1971, a new discovery. This time some young men were hiking around and felt an incredible draft from a narrow opening. They eventually worked their way through and discovered a gynormous cavern at least 200 feet below full of five kilometers of new cavities, tunnels, wells and traces of animals preserved over the millennia. 

To call it a cave is to insult it. This is a vast maze of caverns that's been created over the last million years, is dripping in stalactites from above and massive stalagmites from below. You enter through a manmade tunnel that takes you through three electronic doors and the temp drops a good 40 degrees. It finally opens up into a HUGE cavity - the largest in Europe at 180 feet long, 120 feet wide and 200 feet high - that makes grown adults tip their heads back, hang their mouths open, and say "woooooow" along with the kids. Our English-speaking guide told us a few times not to take pictures, but....I did. 

The hour-tour takes you from one room to the next, each named after their obvious physical traits - Grand Canyon, Polar Bear Hall, the Candle Room, and each with special features like a castle, Santa Claus and a crystal pond. One group of stalagmites are called The Giants, as they are at least 35 feet high, and you can pay 8 Euro for them to take a picture of you in front of them.

The whole thing was gorgeous and little Leo was the one who loved it the most.  I have not heard that little boy talk so much in his life!  I think he liked the booming echo of his voice - we may have an opera star in the making.

After the caves we walked back to the ticket area and chowed on some serious prosciutto and flatbread piadine and had my first gelato of the trip, mente and cioccolata. To work it off, we went in search of the Grotta del Santuario, a church built above into the mountainside.

We drove through what looked just like Glenwood Canyon back home and hiked up a straight, hot path. But, all was good as the Stations of the Cross were along the way to push us along. We actually had just a guess of how many station there were, we were just praying for a few because that meant the hike would be shorter.  

At the top, a huge circular white church is built into a natural cave in the stone walls, and a smaller stone chapel. We were the only three up there and we had it to ourselves. The cavern created a natural air conditioning which whizzed through and cooled us off after that boiling hot hike. Every December 26 there is a festival where people recreate the time of Jesus along the path and in the caverns behind the church. This may have been my favorite thing I had seen in Italy so far this trip.

When we got to the bottom we were super hot and found some leftover water bottles in the car that we filled at the fountain. Dreamy.  However, serenity was soon broken after I screwed my lid on and moments later when I went to take another sip, pretty much the most disgusting thing that could happen to me, happened to me.  My lid was full of masticated pink gum and had taken over the lip of my bottle. Wanted. To. Die.  Lisa thought it was hilarious. 

Pics: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150306274370715.384202.633950714&l=4604583467
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