Chris and I decided to take a little 2 day, 1 night vacation in the mountains of L’Aquila (little adventure before buckling down and forcing myself to studio slave for midterms). The trip out there is quite the sightseeing adventure. We took the metro to the bus station, then hopped on an hour and a half bus ride that took us through the lovely little mountain cities to L’Aquila. Once we arrived in L’Aquila we took a city bus about 50 minutes through the snow-capped mountains to Base Funivia, where the views were absolutely breath-taking.
After stepping off the bus we walked over to the counter to buy our tickets for the only way up to the hotel, a lift. This was my first time ever riding a lift, so I was pretty excited. It was a little scary at first, since the fog only allowed us to see so far, and the cables seemed to disappear in the mist. When we made it to the top we had to take a tunnel that lead to the Hotel Imperatore, because the snow had blocked the doors leading to the outdoor entry.
Checking into Hotel Campo Imperatore, was easy enough, Chris had stayed here before and the man behind the counter recognized him immediately. He set us up with a nice room on the third floor (this is what we would call the fourth floor, but they count the first as zero in Italy). Unfortunately the fog was pretty thick so the only view we got was of the ski lift just off to the left of the building. But regardless, they were very nice accommodations.
Dinner was at 7:30, and from our long journey out to the secluded hotel we were starving. They started with hors d’ouvres and cocktails in a small sitting room furnished by IKEA (I swear everything new in Italy is furnished by IKEA). At about 7:45 the dining room doors opened and the buffet style dinner was open for business. Of course we were the first ones in, loading our plates with a delicious smorgasbord of food. Vino was included with the meal, which was a plus. While scarfing down our food, the gentleman that checked us in that day came over to see how we were enjoying the meal.
“How is the food?”
“molto bene!” (me attempting to use my Italian speaking skills)
“Oklahoma (blank stare)…Texas”
“ah! Si, si”
“No, I’m studying architecture in Roma.”
Excited, he began to tell us the interesting history of Hotel Campo Imperatore. The hotel was developed by the Fascist party, in an attempt to bring more tourism into L’Aquila. It was constructed between 1931 and 1934, and easily identifiable as Fascist Architecture. One of the interesting things he pointed out in the dining hall was the “semi-circle” shape of the room. He explained that Mussolini intentionally design the shape to represent the letter “D” for “Duce”. So the columns and the beams do not exactly line up because the shape is not a complete semi-circle. The beautiful hardwood flooring mimicked this design in the dining hall, which is all original from the opening of the hotel.
What really made the hotel famous was when from August 28 to September 12, 1943, it served as a prison for Benito Mussolini. He was taken here after already being held captive on the island of Ponza e Maddalena. The Italian soldiers thought that Gran Sasso seemed like a better place to hold the prisoner since it is pretty inaccessible. But, unfortunately they were wrong, and on September 12, 1943 about a hundred German paratroopers landed on the plain in front of the hotel and freed Mussolini. This later became known as Operation Oak.
After the little history lesson, we managed to lift our very full bellies out of the seat and walked into the hotel lobby and began looking at the various photos of the hotel throughout the years. Another gentleman that worked at the hotel came over and started chatting with us. Turns out he used to practice architecture years ago and had heard that I was studying to become an architect. He told us about his various work in L’Aquila and his 18 years of practice. After our conversation Chris and I started toward the stairwell to head up to the room, when the barista stopped us.
“No, no you stay here! It is the Feste delle Donne (Festival of Women). Tonight, we dance.”
Well when you put it that way, of course, why not. Everyone slowly gathered into a small hall to partake in the night’s festivities. Chris and I sat down on a small leather couch, enjoying the music, when out of nowhere the chef comes bouncing into the room dressed up as a woman (see photo below for details) and began dancing. Everyone laughed hysterically and then joined in on the fun. Chris was able to get some pretty hilarious video footage of our dear friend, the chef (not appropriate for posting).
The next day the weather was still a little too foggy for skiing so we decided to head back home to Roma. But even without being able to ski, the trip was worth every penny. I think we might have to take another trip out there before we leave Italy. It was certainly quite a memorable experience.