Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spelunking with a Russian bear

Tuesday, March 15
We take a break from trying to be Italian today to visit the Grotta del Vento in the Garfagnana hills. We ride in Steve and Patti’s van and speak English most of the day. The cave is like many things we have seen in Italy—spectacular and intricate columns that look like white marble—only without the added touch of man shaping them into buildings or statues. We take the shortest tour, one hour, of the three itineraries available.

We learn that no bats or animals have lived in the cave because it has two openings and would be very windy inside if it were not for a door that closes the top entrance now. A few bones of large bears have been found in the cave, but it is thought that water washed them inside. Still, we see the skeleton of a large cave bear that has been pieced together inside. We learn that this type of bear did live in this region at one time, but this skeleton has been imported from Russia. He has very low hips, and Lucy comments that he reminds her of teenage boys wearing sagging pants. 
The cave is still very active, with calcium-laden drops of water dripping from the alabaster draperies above onto stalagmites below, not to mention onto our heads. We learn that the limestone was formed by shells, coral formations, fish skeletons, sand and slime found on the bottom of the sea. Then strong thrusts of the earth’s crusts created the mountains, and heavy rainfall created underground rivers that carved out these caves.

While the tour is enjoyable, perhaps the most memorable part of the trip will be the full course dinner we enjoy at a bargain price at a trattoria near Gallicano, still high in the mountains. We and a Spanish couple who also toured the cave are the only diners, and the cook and waiter are gracious and friendly. For some reason, the best dinner prices are in out-of-the-way cities like this. It could go without saying that the food is delicious, because a restaurant in rural Italy would soon be out of business if it wasn’t.
We thought this kind of looks like an alien head peering out from a cavern.

Columns of calcium carbonate.

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