On rags and things that fly

I’m not a big fan of things that fly: they freak me out. And yes, I do include planes in that list. I’m therefore planning an epic cross-Europe train journey home at the end of this month, to which I’m really looking forward. It’ll take me a good 24 hours, but I plan to reward myself by stopping off in Paris for a couple of days and wandering around, taking in the sights. I’m not quite sure why I’ve never been to Paris (I don’t count changing trains at Gare de Lyon as *going to* Paris. Or, indeed, driving around the périphérique, however long we spent on it, stuck in traffic.) but it’s about time that situation was remedied. So, 24 hours to travel up through Italy and France, before taking 48 hours to mooch around Paris and see if I can remember any French. What’s the betting that, after eight months of being unable to hold a meaningful conversation with anyone here, my brain will betray me and the only words I’ll be able to remember will be Italian ones? I can’t wait.

In the ‘things that fly and freak me out’ category are also, of course, birds. My kitchen is therefore currently off-limits, as there is a nest of baby birds hidden in the air vent behind our bin. All you can hear when you enter the kitchen is scritching and rustling and cheeping and I’m sure that, at any moment, they’re going to fall the wrong way and end up *in the kitchen*. The last time I had to deal with a baby bird in my house the bird was fine but I nearly died of fright, so I’m hoping they stay their side of the grille. I could do without my flatmates realising that I’m actually a great big wouss.


My parents came to visit at the weekend, so, to calm my shattered birdy nerves, we went to Zinzulusu cave. I can’t recommend this highly enough: it’s amazing. Arriving along the coast road, at the clifftop there’s a carpark and hundreds of different tat stalls, along with some very un-Italian-looking fast food places. It’s not an auspicious start. Climbing down winding steps to the sea, however, the tourist trappings are left behind and it starts to look much more promising. The path takes you in single-file along a narrow ledge just above sea-level. Just as you think you’re never going to see anything of interest, you round a corner and are faced with the most enormous cave entrance, from the roof of which hang hundreds of stalactites, looking for all the world like dripping rags hung out to dry. Suddenly the name becomes clear – zinzuli means rags in Salentino dialect. It’s an impressive sight, but there’s more to come. The path winds its way back upwards again, and through a smaller, but still quite substantial, entrance into the cliff.

Inside, the gloom is punctuated with low fluorescent lighting, which bounces off both stalactites and massive stalagmites, creating eerie shadows. All through the cave there is the damp drip of limestone-y water, and every corner you round reveals yet bigger formations. There are caves within caves within caves and it’s *beautiful*. It’s even worth fighting my claustrophobia for, although I don’t make it to the final cave, as that means walking, bent double, through a narrow corridor to which I couldn’t see an end. No thanks: I stop in the last grotto but one and marvel at the central stalagmite, which is bigger than me. It’s dark, shining maroon in colour, and has the most amazing textures. In places it’s pockmarked – presumably where the drips from the roof land and bounce – and in others it’s as smooth as marble where the water has run down its sides. Ahead of me a forbidden camera flash goes off. I don’t see the point of flash myself – it’s only going to bleach out the shadows, which are fantastic in themselves. I rest my camera on my knee in a vain attempt to hold it steady while I take a long exposure shot. All thoughts of f-stops and shutter speeds disappear, however, when the familiar leathery wings of a bat flitter at speed out of the darkness towards me. Aargh! I duck out of its way, but it’s been disturbed by the camera flash up ahead and zooms around again, once more only just clearing my head. I am trapped in the bowels of the earth with things that fly! Nightmare! I beat a hasty retreat, back to the safety of the open air and the sea. At least the birds there stay up in the air and out of my way.

Images: papalars on Flickr and Kate Bailward

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About Kate Bailward

Kate Bailward is a cat-loving, trifle-hating, maniac driver. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+
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10 Responses to On rags and things that fly

  1. LindyLouMac says:

    Oh my I bet your heart rate was faster than normal, but worth it to see those amazing caves!
    .-= LindyLouMac´s last blog ..Festa della Repubblica – Giugno – 2 – 2010 – Italia =-.

  2. We are going to go home by train too.

    Will you give us the details after the hourney. Espeically the changing stations bit.

    Bags and a nine years old being lugged around by a non french speaker is giving me the heebie geebies a bit.

    I’m hopeing for a night in Paris too, I just have to take the squirt to see the sights cos it would be a “home education” crime not to. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it.
    .-= Sarah in deepest, darkest Lomellina´s last blog ..Another abandoned teeny tiny kitten =-.

  3. You should take flying lessons, You don’t have to get a license (I didn’t) but you won’t be afraid any more. I happen to love flying things (and frying things) and go to a certain window every night to watch the bats swoop and dine. I will say this latest scarab beetle, having re-entered about 6 times so far is testing my affections.

    For a taste treat almost up to Salentino dishes, eat the lentil salad at L’Ambassade d’Auvergne nearish to Place Vendome. You won’t be sorry. I did not like their world famous mashed potatoes, however.
    .-= Judith in Umbria´s last blog ..What’s playing today =-.

  4. Katja says:

    I like flying things at a safe distance – watching the swifts swoop around the piazza in Otranto was fabulous – it’s when they come too close that I start to get antsy. Maybe it’s to do with having to share a house with bats as a child, but having anything flapping in close proximity gives me the heebie-jeebies. That’s not a bad idea about taking flying lessons, though. I have a friend who’s now a qualified (light aircraft) pilot and he absolutely loves it. Fun!

    Thanks for the Paris tip – I shall check it out.

  5. Katja says:

    Education! Yes! I’ll update you in due course about the changeover. I reckon tie Son of Thor to a suitcase, and tie the suitcase to yourself. That way nothing can get separated, and even if you do end up in the wrong station at least you’ll all be together. It can’t be any worse than changing planes at Rome, though, surely? (Magari …)

  6. Katja says:

    Yes, definitely worth it, LindyLou. :)

  7. Carrie says:

    Enjoy Paris! I’m happy to offer my favs! I highly, highly recommend the Musée d’Orsay…

    Enjoy the wrap up and the trip home, too!
    .-= Carrie´s last blog ..d’Lovely =-.

  8. Katja says:

    Thanks, Carrie! Musée d’Orsay duly added to the list of things to see and do …

  9. Mirella says:

    Oh goodness, I hate things that fly too. I remember being in Milano with my cousin years ago. He dropped birdseed on my head and within moments I was inundated and swarmed with pigeons, screaming redfaced and hysterically afraid in the Piazza Duomo.

    So the picture of the bird really struck a cord.

    I just discovered your blog and love it! I’ll definitely be back.
    Mirella´s last post ..Chopines – Platform Heels Renaissance Style

  10. Katja says:

    Aargh! So that picture was pretty true to life for you, then? Horrid cousin!

    Thanks for dropping by. :D

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