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Day 3 Rovinaglia—Aulla—Castello Malaspina

Today we drive to Aulla to meet Eros and Roberta, friends from Nottingham who have come home...

The drive is reasonably dull, enlivened by scores of motorcyclists intent on wiping themselves out by overtaking on every bend. Because there's so little flat land in this part of the world, all the bric-a-brac of industrialisation is concentrated along valley bottoms and flood plains, so the route is not a picturesque one.

Aulla, too, having been heavily bombed during WWII, is not a picturesque place, with only a couple of old corners remaining to show what it once was like. The rest being concrete of various vintages, all of it varyingly grey, bad and with rusty bits!

We arrived early and wandered about at random, witnessing at one point a society wedding that included at least one guest wearing a dress that left very little to the imagination and probably attracted a lot of attention away from the happy couple... There was a lot of rubbish in the streets, a general air of disinterest, a sort of non-place, though an impressive fort glowers over the town.

Roberta and ErosWe meet E&R and snatch some lunch. Then we head for Castello Malaspina, where we arrive too early for the guided tour and wander around the town before tasting the local wine.

It was strange to meet Eros and Roberta in an environment so different to Nottingham — the hot dry streets of Aulla and the medieval ones that surround the castle.

Eros drove us up to the castle in a car that had been mothballed for a couple of years and had apparently begun to revert to nature, but still seemed to drive OK, Eros ignoring the fact that its petrol gauge read empty the whole trip.

The Castello is an impressive monument, but difficult to get into — there are just five tours daily and they are given in Italian. It would be a good location for one of those audio guides that are increasingly common worldwide.

The first impression you get is of the custodian's washing — washing lines and airers and clothes pegs are everywhere. Ralph, not one for stately homes, grows fidgety in cold, unlived-in rooms and is too shy to really make the most of the tour's climax — the circular, sound-enhancing torture-cum-bedroom where one of the castle's previous more scandalous occupants would take lovers to her bed and then dispose of them to avoid scandal and any claim on her title. The Italians however are more assertive and do a lot of shouting to gauge the effect...

There are the usual suits of armour and displays of old guns and instruments designed to do nasty things to people, including a handsome head-squasher. Ralph cynically believes that these were manufactured and sold more as ways to entertain visitors than to inflict pain. The ceiling painting of the deer's bottom was amusing. The overall effect of the interior however is one of gloom; it is difficult to imagine living there in any comfort or cheer. It is good to be back in the sunshine.

When we get back to Rovinaglia we call Luigi and Virginia in Canada, and discover that the local family's tentative welcome is due to their conviction firstly that we had brought the SARS virus from Canada, and then on learning that we were from England instead, that we'd brought mad cow disease! Ho hum...

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