Cassino

Trip Start Apr 20, 2007
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Trip End May 28, 2007


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Friday, May 18, 2007

We went to Cassino because it was the site of a very famous battle in WWII. It comprises a town next to the railway station, with Montecassino monastery on a massive hill above the town. Basically everything was destroyed in the war so the abbey including church has all been rebuilt, and the town of Cassino is an average post war town in Italy - not too much to see architecturally speaking.

We took one of the very infrequent shuttle buses (the only buses we found in Italy were you buy the tickets on board) up the hill to the monastery. It was pretty amazing to think it had all been rebuilt from scratch. It is a shame it was bombed in the war (on orders of a NZer), and it's easy to criticise the loss of such buildings now but we watched a DVD at our B&B which summed up the context in which decision like that were made - it was at a time in the war when the Allied forces couldn't even spare a few planes from the fighting to go and bomb the train tracks which were enabling the Nazi's to take thousands of people everyday to the concentration camps, so moral decisions on whether to bomb buildings to try to win battles just didn't compete.

After we went to the monastery, we went to the Polish cemetery which is just down the hill. This was also amazing because the Polish men had of course lost their country at the start of the war and had been made to fight with the Nazis until they got captured and then had gone to Africa to train to fight for the Allies. So when they fought in Italy it had been years since they had seen their families or been in their country. Pretty amazing.

Due to the monastery closing for lunch, there was no shuttle back down for several hours so we ended up walking down the hill back to Cassino. This took well over two hours because the road is so winding that we ended up walking back and forth along this hill side numerous times to get back down. Excellent views though.

On the way back we stopped at this archaeological site - we were surprised to see how well preserved the Roman archaeological sites were, given the war. We attached picture of the Roman arena. As is typical of Italians the old woman who runs the snack kiosk in the car park was feeding all the local stray cats.

We then went to the Commonwealth cemetery. This was meticulously maintained. Every bit of grass was cut evenly and all the edging was perfect. Well done to the war graves commission who maintain it, it shows such a level of respect for all those resting there. We spent some time with the NZer's graves, and the Indians who fought with them in Cassino. Those graves are on the far right of the cemetery as you go in. Since it was May when we went, the poppies and wreaths from Anzac Day were still there. 

We stayed at B&B La Costa. It was a beautiful free standing house on the fringe of Cassino. The B&B part is the top storey, and the family occupy the floors below. There are only two bedrooms, but we happened to be the only guests when we were there. The host, Christina brings the breakfast up to the living room which adjoins the two bedrooms. The rooms have DVD players and there are books and DVD's on the wartime events in Cassino.

The B&B is a decent walk from the main station - we took a taxi which was 10 euros. Christina's husband drove us back when we left. We had tried to call them before we arrived to pick us up but we couldn't get a connection on the phone number. After we arrived, we realised that she speaks a lot more English than we speak Italian, but a telephone conversation probably would have been difficult anyhow. So if you want her to pick you up from the station, I would email her. 

It was a great place to stay because we could hear the family in the kitchen downstairs as we had our breakfast and this was somehow very atmospheric. She also gave us some of one of her children's birthday cakes and other home baking. So it was a very pleasant place to stay.

Transport was our biggest hestitation when planning a trip here given that once you get the train to the place, there is virtually no public transport because the bus is so infrequent. The place we stayed turned out to be manageable without a car - the walk to the closest shops in Cassino, along with the walk to the bus stop for getting to Montecassino, was only 10 to 15 minutes from the B&B. However the route of the walk had few footpaths and a couple of tricky corners with buildings built up to the road on corners so it was difficult to see ongoing traffic - so not so safe for walking at night. If you wanted to go to some of the other cemeterys you would need a car as these were further out. Also a car would be useful for going up Montecassino, it takes 2-3 hours to see the monastery and the Polish cemetery an by then the morning shuttle bus back down has already left.
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