Day 43: Pofi – Cassino

Distance: 45.09 km

Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Average speed: 20 kph

Cumulative distance: 2186.85 km

Cumulative time: 109 hours 29 minutes

Word of the day: ‘guerra’ (goo-air-ah) – war

We sat out on the little balcony of our apartment right at the top of Pofi’s historic centre, and watched the sun set while we had dinner.

Pofi definitely gave a lot of ‘bang for the buck’, in the sense that it wasn’t a massive climb, but the views in absolutely every direction were spectacular.

It seemed like a very real place, too – when we went down to the little bar in the piazza for breakfast this morning we attracted some ‘stranieri’ stares, but everyone was very smiley and welcoming.

We left on little roads, enjoying the lack of traffic, and feeling a little tension in the legs after a long day yesterday. It was very hot, but the roads were not too taxing, and we rolled along nicely in the heat.

Today’s route took us down into the valley and then along towards Cassino, our valley being one of the two which Monte Cassino’s high position commands, and which made it so difficult for the Allies to advance on the German position during the Second World War. We bowled along the valley floor, alongside spectacular ridges, stopping at a roadside cafe for lunch.

It had been a little busy, lots of checking on traffic, and yelling of “Cars behind” and “Clear” to assist the Captain in his navigation of the rutty road surface in places. After lunch we turned off onto a much quieter parallel road, through sleepy farms and at one point a field full of cows wearing bells. It was like a bovine orchestra, clanking away as they moved and munched.

As we got nearer to Cassino we were keeping an eye out for the Abbey right up on the top of the hill above the town. It only appeared at the very last minute – it’s not an attractive building, really, it looks a bit like a prison, but its history is quite something. The current building dates back to the 1960s, the previous incarnations having been destroyed by Saracens, earthquakes and the Allies.

Knowing that we couldn’t check into tonight’s lodgings until 4:30 we decided to do our sight-seeing on the bike. First we headed to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, where the casualties of the four month long battle of Monte Cassino are buried and commemorated. It was beautifully kept, as they all are, the rows of white headstones and the larger monuments inscribed with the names of those whose bodies couldn’t be found are very moving even all these years later. The Abbey is clearly visible from the cemetery.

After our visit to the cemetery we headed to the Archaeological Museum, in order to visit the amphitheatre. We bought our tickets, a bargain at 2€ each and headed down to the amphitheatre, through what one of the guides later told us was the city ‘gate’, where credentials would be checked.

It wasn’t a guided visit, but after we’d had a good look at the amphitheatre and climbed the steps to the next bit the lady was waiting for us at the top. She asked us about what we were doing on our tour, and made the usual surprised face at learning that our destination is Sicily! She pointed out some features in the landscape we could see, and we talked a little about the Museum, little visited she said, because “Rome is so close, and it’s like an open museum everywhere”. She told us about the amphitheatre and the nearby mausoleum of the lady who funded it, Ummidia Quadratilla. She spoke awfully quickly, but after all these weeks in constant earshot of Italians we have both found ourselves understanding more and more, and also being more able to engage in conversations.

All our planned sight-seeing completed, we headed back down and checked in to our apartment. Tonight’s menu is risotto with fennel sausages, purchased from an Italian butcher who spent six months working at St Andrews. They look delicious.

Here’s today’s track.