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.