Cats at the Baths
(This post is from the evening of November 20th)
The cats had surrounded me and were becoming more and more insistent. At this new vicinity, I could see that most had some sort of defect. One was mangy and losing tufts of hair, and another was even missing an eye. I decided that it might be better to leave than to continue to entice them with my snack. It was probably for the best. I think my presence was beginning to annoy bathers at the thermal ponds.
On the road into Viterbo, I knew that I was going to pass by a set of thermal ponds, but I had no idea what it would look like when I got there. I sort of expected a bathhouse structure over the pools like they have in Bath, England, but these were just right out in the open. The only indication that I was coming up on something interesting was the group of camper vans parked out in the middle of the field through which I was walking. Beyond the campers was a modest, chain link fence surrounding some bushes. I could hear voices but didn’t see anyone until I entered the parking lot. There was a group of around a dozen people all squished into one circular pool, about 10 feet in diameter. Looking around, I saw several more pools, all without anyone in them. One was full of cold water, two were empty, and one was slowly being filled by water from a large PVC pipe whose source seemed to be the first, occupied pool. There was a weird smell in the air—a mixture between the kitchen of a Long John Silver’s and several-week-old Easter egg basket. This, coupled with the sight of the (mostly) old bodies of Italian men (thank goodness they were not nude), didn’t really entice me to try the waters myself. I walked around the first pool and found a stone bench to sit on and take a break. I took out some of the food I had been carrying with me and was soon set upon by a group of feral cats that seemed to reside around the ponds. Looking closer at the pool that was being filled, I could see the white mineral deposits that the water had made over the years. As I was eating, a new man came and stuck his feet in the water before being accosted by two women and another man. They complained to him about how dirty it was, and I sort of agreed. The water he was bathing his feet in seemed to be coming off the pool that was filled with people, and I wouldn’t have wanted to bathe in someone else’s run-off. One of the women brought a large broom and handed it to the man in the pool who began to sweep the floor with it. I’m not sure how this solved the problem of the water being dirty. At this point, the cats were jumping up next to me on the bench and pawing at my backpack. The man had also shot me several odd looks, so I decided it would be best to go.
I wasn’t far from Viterbo and was expecting to pass the rest of the day’s journey in as uneventful a manner as the first part. Aside from walking on more stretches of Roman roads, nothing terribly interesting had happened since leaving Montefiascone. I reached Viterbo and was reminded of a dirty Milan. There were lots of stores and the city seemed fairly alive for a Sunday afternoon. I didn’t want to run into the same problem of yesterday in finding a place to stay, so I tried not to waste too much time. I dialed several numbers in my guidebook, and found that they were disconnected. I was beginning to suspect that there was something wrong with my phone before I finally reached a sweet-sounding woman at a religious institute not far from where I was in the center of town. I made my way to the institute and was met by an old nun who, aside from showing me to a room, warned me that if I went out again I should not return very late because all the sisters go to bed early. It was already getting dark and I had enough food for a dinner, so I decided to make an early night of it myself. Tomorrow’s walk would not be very far, and looked to be all downhill, so I planned to wake up early in order to walk around Viterbo before departing.