11th Adventure: Grotte di Oliero

1 Jan

You leave for war on 29 June.  The goodbyes are sad and sudden, but as expected.  Nicole spends the day in shock.  You spend the day on a bus and grounded plane, then bus again.  Before midnight you are home with the family for a God-given, completely unexpected 4-day weekend.  You choose to go on just one adventure – to some local caves you had heard about when you visited the wind caves in Lucca.

The Grotte di Oliero are less than an hour from Vicenza, the perfect length of time for the children to be in the car since they all get anxious and wiggly after that.  You park alongside a small church and walk just a short distance to the park entrance.  Once inside the park, you walk a short nature trail up past a river to explore a small cave in the hill.  It is shallow overall, but it goes far enough back to be very dark.  Nicole and Kirby venture into the darkest part armed with only the light from the camera, but upon discovering no ancient treasures, they head back out.  The boys spend a few minutes climbing around the walls and then you head back down the trail toward the river.

The pièce de résistance of this park is a short tow-rope boat ride through an underground river into the larger cavern.  The boys can hardly wait their turn on the dock.  Kirby eagerly puts on a helmet (including hair net) and life vest, but after deciding that the helmet and hair net just don’t quite suit him, Frankie insists on being fashionably unsafe.  When it is your turn for the ride, Nicole and the bundled-up baby get in first to the back of the rowboat, and the boys and you follow.  About 15 people total are loaded, then two men pull it along the towline slowly, but steadily, until you reach a stone dock for the chilly caves a few minutes later.  Neither of the two boys complain once about the cool temperature, and since both are all-time champion complainers, you are quite proud.  The ceiling is low in some places, and the floor is slippery, but there is not too much walking.  The actual cave tour is about 15 minutes, and the guides speak both Italian and English for the group, so you are all able to understand the stories and jokes.  The cave formations are fascinating, and they have a couple anecdotes about unusually-shaped ones – such as a skull-looking piratey formation, and some upside-down stair looking stalactites that a cave witch was said to walk on.  A few words don’t quite translate, though.  When your guide explains why it is so dark, he notes that the bright lights would cause “sea grass” on the surfaces.  It is not until long after the visit that you realize he meant “algae”.   You are advised to not touch the formations or the oil from your hands can prevent further deposits, so naturally your boys both try to touch whenever they get an opportunity.  You are mostly able to stop them in the short visit.

When you get back in the boat, the guides encourage you to touch the freezing cold water.  The guide claims to get lost at one point, but since the river part of the cave is about 40 feet wide, it’s fairly apparent that he is teasing.  During the ride, the boys marvel at the darkness, then get thrilled at returning to the sunlight.  Frankie doesn’t want to leave the boat, but you convince him that he can stay by the water.  Right near the dock, there is a picnic area and a rocky beach where you choose to spend some time skipping rocks.  Kirby gets a couple skips in, and Frankie does some awesome tossing.  Even little Daisy (with help from you) throws a rock or two.  Before you leave the cave park, you stop at a small playground in a field just up from the river.  It is nice to sit and rest in the sunlight, but Frankie returns from the slide with a very serious face, and upon sitting in your lap, it’s clear he has had quite the accident that is spilling out of his diaper onto you.  Nicole and Kirby laugh, and you take Frankie to go get cleaned up at the car, while she takes the other kids to the main building to buy some ice cream.  Unfortunately, Daisy decides to get even with Nicole for making fun of you, and also overflows onto her shirt and jeans.  You choose not to be annoyed when you see that your darling daughter has gotten even for you.

Aside from the dirty clothing, the drive home is pleasant and you still have one day left before actually leaving.  The final goodbyes are bittersweet, but you know you will have plenty of adventures left when you return home in 9 months.  So keep reading every month or so as you await what you’ll choose next (and be sure to subscribe to get automatic updates)!

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