The South Tyrol question.
In a bizarre twist of logic my school’s O level curriculum allowed me to study history, or Latin, but not both.
I did Latin (badly) and missed out on the subject that has fascinated me ever since.
Were that not the case I may not have asked my Tyrolian question at the end of the last blog. I’d have known the history.
The South Tyrol was annexed to Italy from Austria (actually the Austro-Hungarian empire) at the end of the first world war. Despite Mussolini’s efforts it holds strong to its Germanic heritage a century later.
It has a high degree of autonomy, including retaining 90% of its taxes. Now that Italy is in the mire that rankles with Rome, especially given that the South Tyrol is far more successful economically than the rest of the country.
You won’t be surprised that there are separatists wanting to peel it from Italy’s grip. Most people though seem happy to have a fantastic blend of two strong cultures. Most of them are bi-lingual too and that gives them economic strength across so much of Europe.
Three elements conspired to force a rest day.
The beautiful South Tirol scenery that can rival anything in the world for its autumn display.
The promise of two days of good sunshine before temperatures begin to plummet.
And that fact that we were knackered after two weeks on a tough schedule.
The Gloria Vallis camp site was the perfect place to rest up, scrub (bodies and every item of bedding and clothes) and absorb some sunshine.
The site has a strange system of basic and luxury camping.
The sosta is a small area of twelve camper bays with a toilet, cold water and nothing more. You can stay (supposedly for one night only) for 15 euros.
The campsite, to which the sosta is attached, has the best facilities we’ve seen anywhere to date. Few hotels offer better. But those facilities are not available to us cheapskates staying for a mere 15 euros.
Minty was having none of that and successfully petitioned the reception for a pass card to use the washing machines. That pass card didn’t make it back to reception quite as quickly as it might have done and that meant we could shower before moving on too.
Two days at Gloria Vallis was a rather special tonic. We now have the strength (and the perfume of Molton Brown) to see us on for a good stretch of the south bound drive.
The apple theme.
In Cornwall we started talking about growing apples. Perhaps just a few trees, perhaps a cider orchard. At the moment it’s just a dream.
At Pluckly, Kent, our last English stop, we were in the heart of apple country where the orchards stretched for miles of heavily laden trees.
On lake Constance we scrumped a basket full, for here too apples lined the hillsides in vine-like formations.
Now outside Glorenza serried ranks of apple and cherry fill the valley and climb the lower slopes of the Alps.
Perhaps we wouldn’t have noticed the fruit were it not for our thoughts of home.
The Veneto takes us through the best of the Tyrolean scenery including a flight to the high ground for a night alongside Lago de Cie at 900m.
The wide valley is heavily concentrated with fruit growing. Looking down you see the tight rows of vines and trees stretches for tens of miles. Upstairs the limestone cliffs climb to 2500m above us. Mixed forest surrounds most of the villages that cling to those hills.
Whether we’re descending or climbing in ArchieVan we cling to the ditch. A buzz of Fiat Pandas squeezes past, driven fearlessly by Italians in a hurry.
It’s a shame not to hole up for a few nights at one of the brilliant sostas. I’d love to explore properly. But it’s blinking cold at night already, and day time temperatures are expected to drop to just a couple of degrees later in the week.
Temperatures. House and van.
At home it used to feel cold if the waking temperature was under 15 degrees.
In the van we often rise to much cooler surrounds.
On waking, our tin house tends to be just a degree or two warmer than the outside. Through the winter it’s often down to four or five. On the inside.
That’s cold enough to give me an ice cream headache.
Snuggled under the duvet with Minty’s Indian blanket holding us down we’re OK, but it does make you think twice about getting up for a pee.
For once we’re on the motorway (not too expensive, about £10 for a hundred miles of fast easy driving). Suddenly the mountains disappear and we’re in the huge plain of the river Po. Stunning scenery is replaced by a less interesting mix of industry and even more fruit. For stimulation we swing into Modena.
It’s home to Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, and the lesser known but even more exotic Pagani.
This time we’re not here for the cars. We wanted to see real Italians. And to see how different they are to the Tyroleans up the hill.
Within minutes of starting our walk through town we’d seen drivers arguing with both hands, their mouths and even their hair. While supposedly in control of a car.
Elegant women waft by in clothes finer than most ever dream of. Young men are prohibited from wearing socks, and their skin tight trousers must end exactly eight centimetres from the top of their loafers. Older men tug their oh so soft tweed jackets over their oh so enormous bellies. Youngsters still manage to make smoking look cool.
Most glide about on their bicycles, even those beautifully dressed women, in their heels.
Unless they’re at lunch.
It was after three in the afternoon and those still at the table (there were many) had clearly settled in for an afternoon of hard corporate work, bottles a plenty, dolce, coffee, cigars.
Above all the elegance, the emotion, the gesticulation, and the expense, the most noticeable thing is the perfume. Italians in town smell damn wonderful!
The shabby tourists are utterly ignored, not that we minded. After an hour of awestruck wandering through the soft hues of their majestic buildings, we ended at the duomo with its tower that leans just as much as that other leaning tower down the road.
We shuffled off to sleep in the entirely more humble town of Montale a few kms down the road, yet even here the little general store was like a Harrods Food Hall in miniature. We would be enormous after a month in Italy.
For the love of Seth.
Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of the blogger, thinker and marketing man Seth Godin. Today he wrote….
Get what you want without compromise.
That’s the call of our times.
Run a marathon without getting tired.
Lose weight without dieting.
Get ahead without working hard.
Earn big money without risk…
When you expose it this clearly, it’s obviously nonsense. Compromise is precisely what’s called for.
You can’t have everything you want. But, if you care enough and trade enough and work hard enough, you might be able to get some things that matter.
The real question might not be, “what do you want,” it might be, “what do you care enough to compromise for?”
How can we remind our country of this, or, teach it for the first time?
In The Clouds.
The plains of Italy south of the Alps can offer a pretty boring motorway drive. You have to get off. Explore the margins.
The big towns are definitely worth visiting. Bologna. Modena. Milan. Turin even. Go to every one if you can.
West of the coast are the hill towns that deliver a drama we don’t experience in England. Fortified towns from the middle ages are cling to precarious outcrops. Built by the rich of old to show off, and to keep the neighbours out. These towns are navigable only in the smallest wasp like Fiats. Their old folk remain fit climbing the hills to their café each morning.
The scale of ambition of the city builders impresses even today.
Verucchio, in land from Rimini, offered evening views out to the coast 20kms away and to the towers of San Marino just a few hills in the distance.
In a bar we drank strong red, and Martini. We were brought so much pizza and focaccia that we no longer needed dinner.
We watched Tarzan in the Valley of The Kings with the old men. Who knows what the film was actually called, but it certainly had an Italian Tarzan character and a lot of nubile Egyptians worshiping him. The old men were suitably excited.
The ferry is booked. There’s a deadline. But it’s an easy one. In a week we’ll sail to Greece. That leaves me feeling considerably more cheerful than listening the Today programme this morning.
How ironic that we’re fleeing the depressing situation at home and going to Greece, the ultimate basket case! Despite their situation the Greeks seem a happy, if rebellious, people. We look forward to mingling with them. To struggling with the language again. In February I had more than 400 words in my Greek vocabulary, it feels now as if I’m starting again, but that’s OK, it’ll be fun.
Back on the coast.
In February we visited glorious Loreto. Tonight we’re in sight of the town, but on the coast. Dark clouds presaged a storm at the beach of Numana, but the sea was too tempting. I swam until the heavy rain drops started falling. I was already wet – why get out? Because my still body warm clothes on the beach were getting wet too.
Grappa before dinner to reward the foolishness.
It’ll upset the Italians, but it has to be said. The coast, for all its golden coarse sand, is pretty tedious. Few people live in the towns out of season and it’s a continuous stretch of sand, hotels and restaurants for mile after mile.
On the other hand…
Just twenty minutes in land from the motorway Ascoli Piceno is one of the most elegant towns you’re likely to find.
Even in light rain and chilly air we could see its potential, and had the sun shone I’m sure we would have stayed.
Its Piazza del Popolo is a masterpiece of travertine and soft toned brick. The colonnades, the church of Saint Francis and the Meletti café with its own brand of orange liqueur, all ooze finery.
The bigger Piazza Arringo is bigger, more functional, and is headed by the Duomo di Saint Emido. Here the weight of God sits heavily on your shoulders, even as a non believer. No wonder such places impact the faithful so.
Wine, oil and eggs.
Up the hill at Vinirasicci, San Guiseppe our stop at a vineyard was super friendly. Gio Senior brought us eggs, Pietro, the architect son brought us a bottle of young rosé, and later Gio brought cloudy olive oil that they’d pressed that morning. I look forward to offering such generosity back in St Just when we get our next enterprise going.
It’s harvest time and in the morning both the adult sons were wrapped as if for winter as they climb onto the tractor.
Shorts are my uniform for this far south and I didn’t feel the need for a coat.
A different Italy.
Earlier in the year when we arrived at Brindisi and headed north we were shocked at the poor state of the roads both in terms of surface and litter. This time heading south from the immaculate Tirol we have felt very different. We’ve made good speed without doing too many miles each day, and each of these days has brought new sights, new joy.
That said, we look daily at the weather forecast for Lefkada and can’t wait to get back to visit last winter’s Ionian home.
Saturday morning and at 7.30am the sun is already warming the van.
You remember what I said about the beach, one long boring stretch of sand, hotels and bars? Well today it’s the most beautiful thing. By 9am Polly had scampered for nearly an hour through the sand and sea, then it was my turn for a swim.
Back in the van strong coffee and a champion’s breakfast of meaty field mushrooms in garlic and butter (oh that smell) on an open ciabatta like toast topped with a fried egg. God we live well!
Rugby is about to start. Catch you next week.