We were supposed to be going to Pescasseroli today, the headquarters of the Abruzzo national park. It's only a small town, but the scenery is said to be beautiful, and it would have been an interesting place to explore. Unfortunately, the public transport in this part of Italy isn't the best, and so in order to have got to Pescasseroli (50 miles away) on time for lunch, we would have had to get an 08.26 train from Sulmona to the town of Avezzano and hung about there for the best part of 90 minutes, waiting for a bus which was due around 11am. Coming back, the train and bus times would have been equally uncoordinated, with the result that it would have been after 9pm by the time we were back in our apartment in Sulmona.
Completely worn out after our adventures in Scanno and Villalago the previous day, we decided that the chances of getting up on time for an 08.26 train were somewhat minimal and that it would be better to have an easy day instead. We wanted to go somewhere though, and the (lack of) public transport meant that we only really had two options: Avezzano or L'Aquila. We would probably have gone to Avezzano, except that our friendly host Stefano from Pescara had explicitly told us that there was nothing there and that it would be a waste of time to visit it. We might not have taken his word for it, had he not said something similar about Vasto and been correct. Additionally, our normally extremly detailed guidebook to Italy didn't so much as contain a paragraph on Avezzano, which didn't seem like a good omen.
L'Aquila, the regional capital, seemed like the better choice then. There was only one small problem - it was all but destroyed in a serious earthquake which struck the area during April 2009. Our guidebook, which was published in 2011, made some promising noises about reconstruction, however, and implied that some of the sights were reopening. A further two years on, I presumed that the town would be more or less back to normal.
There was a convenient train leaving Sulmona at 10.55 and getting us to L'Aquila just on time for lunch. Upon arrival at the station, everything looked fairly normal. There was no indication of where the town centre might be, but that has been par for the course on this holiday, so we struck off in the most likely direction, which unfortunately happened to be uphill. En route we passed a few crumbling walls and some pavements in a dubious state of repair, but nothing worse than we have seen elsewhere in Italy, so it was rather a shock when we eventually chanced upon the town centre.
It was a ghost town. As we walked along what appeared to be the main street, almost every building seemed to be held upright by a complicated system of steel supports. There were no open shops, no bars, no restaurants and no people. Many of the side streets were completely fenced off, with signs declaring them a danger zone. We accidentally strayed onto another street which wasn't explicitly closed off, only to be turned back by a soldier. It was difficult to know where you could walk and where you couldn't. There was some construction work ongoing on a handful of the buildings, but it was limited. It was hard to see what progress had been made in the past four years.
We did come across a sign for one restaurant which seemed to be open despite everything, and although there was no menu or no price list, we went inside. We were greeted by a teenage boy who didn't look like he had been expecting any customers. He rattled through the menu in incomprehensible Italian, of which all we really understood was that there was spinach ravioli. Luckily Tim managed to negotiate for us to have spaghetti with ragu, which was cooked from scratch and absolutely delicious. They were generous with the free bread and the house wine was cheap, so we managed to have a nice time. We had originally been planning to get a train back to Sulmona at 16.48, but it would have been almost impossible to spend any longer in L'Aquila, so we caught the 14.48 instead and had an unexpectedly lazy afternoon back at the apartment.
I later found this interesting article about the slow progress of reconstruction work since the earthquake in L'Aquila on the BBC.