Cascate delle Marmore

In Italy, the Monday after Easter is a holiday—Easter Monday, or Pasquetta. What an unexpected Peep in my basket! During our Umbria year, we took advantage of the day off to take a day trip.

We set our sights on Cascate delle Marmore, one of the largest waterfalls in Europe, and the largest manmade waterfall in the world. Long ago, the city of Reiti was surrounded by wetlands, which encouraged the growth of a mosquito population that brought malaria. To dry out the land around Reiti, ancient Romans (in the 2nd century BC) diverted the course of the river away from the town, and over the cliff, hence the waterfall. It created some amount of discord between Reiti and Terni, as Terni was now susceptible to flooding from the river. Nowadays, the waterfall is diverted for part of each day to provide electricity for Terni's steel mills.

Thus, though the waterfall looks at home in the position it has carved over thousands of years, the flow goes on and off throughout the day as the water changes course between the falls and the hydroelectric power plant.

We decided to start at the top of the falls, then walk down, and then take the shuttle back. We hit a minor spot of luck, when we approached the ticket office and were asked if we wanted to help a group of travelers reach enough people to get the group rate. Yeah! Easter Monday savings! The drawback to going on a holiday was that it might have led to the park being more crowded. It didn't impact us too much, though. Just in the bottlenecks at turns and platforms, and dodging people taking pictures. Some people take a really long time to focus.

But the falls—they were amazing. I asked Nicolas what made them so astounding and he said he thought it was because you rarely see something that is both enormous and dynamic. I think he's right. It's nice that he was able to truly think about the question, considering he was irritable after getting drenched. There's a spot where you can stand right where the falls crash, and smart people bring umbrellas and raincoats. We are not smart people, and brought neither. Nicolas borrowed the hood from Siena's coat (a great look, by the way), darted out from the cave into what seemed a howling gale of adrenaline inducing crashing water, and then darted back. It took him some time to find his cheer again. But he is still recovering from being sick, so he gets a pass.

I found the falls most extraordinary at the bottom. With the water racing around bends, I got a deeper feeling for how fast that water was moving. And I loved how the area around and between the falls was a green that belonged in Ireland. Sheer and vivid. We followed pathways from one fall to another. We said, "Wow." A lot.

Falls turning off at Cascate delle Marmore, Umbria

At 1:00, as we were at the bottom of the falls, admiring the sheer drops and reveling in the mists that rise from the crashing water, and the rivulets and rocks, and foam and crash—the water turned off. All of a sudden, it was easier to hear each other talk. The mists stopped shrouding the top of the falls. And the stripes of water became thinner. They never went away, but it was a trickle rather than a glorious dive.

As it was lunchtime, we walked across the street to a restaurant. A restaurant that boasted both a tourist menu and panoramic views. Both very bad signs, but we were starving. Trattoria Trappacchiella didn't get everything right, but their view was fabulous, their wine was fun and spritzy, and the food that we ordered that was the specialty of the house was divine. The house antipasti platter was wonderful with pieces of salumi, various kinds of bruschette, a smattering of porcini mushrooms, and other tasty bites. I was going to order a platter of roasted meats, as my toes were still wet from the gale force water platform. But I noticed trout listed as a specialty of the house. And I've realized that in Umbria, getting the specialty of the house is usually a good bet.

I'm glad I did, it was unbelievable. Just trout (but in Umbria, the trout comes from the very river rushing alongside us, fast and cold, which apparently makes for delicious trout), filled with lemon, rosemary, and garlic and then thrown on the grill—but it was obviously very fresh, and perfectly cooked. The skin was salty and lemony, and it was so excellent that when I suggested we get dessert, Nicolas said that was a great idea, he'd like a trout. We ended up not staying for dessert, because the restaurant got so packed, we couldn't flag anyone. We asked for the dessert menu, and the harried waiter assured us he'd be right back, and ten minutes later, he hadn't returned. And our children had moved from their lunchtime state of euphoria where everything was wonderful and everything was funny to their post-prandial bickering, which is considerably less charming. It's amazing how fast that happens.

So we left, took the shuttle bus back up the hill (insert groan of nausea here, as we had to stand sideways and hold on tight to keep our balance, and the twisty road was not conducive to digestion), hopped in our car and drove home. Once home, we remembered that Tullia has gelato now! Dessert would triumph after all. The cold had resettled, but undaunted, we bundled back up and trotted down the hill for a perfect cap on our day.

No foolin'.