Paul Schlarman Imagery

travel {to} live
italy

A Fonni Story

Fonni is the highest town in Sardinia.  Beautiful setting.  There is even skiing nearby.  And if you enjoy art – particularly Trompe l’Oeil murals, this is a mini-paradise.  Dozens of murals decorate a wall around every corner as you wander the steep streets.  I highly recommend this as an stop for this reason alone.

As I arrived during off-season, I had but one choice for hotel.  It was nice, but I might have to question the knowledge of the staff – explanation ensues….

I planned to depart for the East coast on a Sunday.  I carefully asked the concierge if buses ran on Sunday and which stop I needed.  I arrived at the stop dutifully and waited, and waited,  Hmmm, 15 minutes past scheduled arrival time and no bus.  No biggie, this kind of thing is common here, right?  I took it in stride and waited for the next schedule bus – and the next – for a total of about 4 hours.  I asked every passerby if this was the correct stop and if buses ran today.  “Si” accompanied by a reassuring nod was always the reply :\

It seems that even though this is a dinky little town, it is situated on a slope not very conducive to walking around apparently.  So, seemingly the entire town decided to hop in their cars and “cruise”.  All day.  Fortunately for me, my bus stop was at a key intersection, so I got to know just about every face in town intimately after viewing the quizzical look displayed by each about 50 times.  The steady stream of exhaust was quite a pleasure as well.

I eventually gave up and checked back into my hotel.  The staff was stumped as to why the bus didn’t arrive.  The next morning after checkout, I decided to find a different place to buy a bus ticket and ask them about the schedule – surely they would know.  “Oh no, the buses don’t run on Sunday this time of year”.  No kidding.  After triple-checking the stop and time, I eventually caught a bus out of town…

Share

Oristano

Oristano was my re-entry to city life after wandering the West coast of Sardinia for nearly a week.  While not anything to go out of your way for, Oristano was a nice place to stroll around for an afternoon and evening – particularly the city center (as is usually the case).

Medieval times saw the most action here as this city waged war with other Sardinian powers for control of the island.  The pictured statue next to city hall honors Eleanor of Arborea, known for her promulgation of the Carta di Logu – the legal code of the Arborea region that stood from 1392 until 1827.  Today, Oristano is a relatively sleepy town with some interesting shops that I’m not sure “Tigger” would be too fond of.

References:

Oristano

Share

The Dolomites: Castello Presule

Nestled among the rolling hills below the Sciliar Massif lies the historic Castello Presule.  The walk is fairly leisurely, winding through the farms and vineyards on the hillsides, affording great views of the surrounding mountains.

As peaceful as it seems, the castle itself was apparently the site of many a witch-burning in the early 1500’s – at least 9 women from Fie were burned here.  Now it offers guided tours and concerts.  I took the tour solo as no other tourists were there and my guide only spoke German and Italian.  However, she lent me a little document written in English pointing out the major attractions, so while we didn’t have much conversation, the tour was good :)

References:

Shorter Walks in the Dolomites

Share

The Dolomites: Latemar Massif

The Latemar group derives it’s name from an old Ladin (no, not Latin) description “cresta de Lac-te-mara” which roughly means “mountain ridge over the lake in a cirque”.  Ladin is an old romance language actually still spoken today by some 18,000 people as their first language.

The cirque is a lake that lies beneath Latemar is Lago di Carezza and comes with a story of it’s own (from the wooden sign by the lake):

THE MERMAID OF LAKE CAREZZA
Many years ago, the lake Carezza was the home of a beautiful mermaid. One day, the wizard of Masare listened to her singing and, immediately, fell in love with her. He used all his power to win the mermaid’s heart but she would not relent. Therefore, the wizard asked the witch Langwerda for help. Langwerda advised him to dress as a jeweler and to create a rainbow running from the Catinaccio to the Latemar.
Then, he should go back to Lake Carezza, entice the mermaid and kidnap her. The wizard followed the witch’s advice but forgot to disguise himself. The mermaid admired the colourful rainbow and the glittering gems but realized very quickly that the wizard was near and dived into Lake Carezza. Since then, she has never been seen again. Being lovesick, the wizard destroyed the rainbow, shattered it into pieces and threw all its parts into the lake, together with the gemstones. For this reason, Lake Carezza still shimmers to this day in all the wonderful colors of the rainbow.

Lago di Carezza was very full the day I arrived, with most of its surrounding path underwater.  I made my way around the lake and headed up towards the base of Latemar.  The path I took was through an area called “Labarinto” (labyrinth) that runs below the North face.  Agatha Christie once visited this area, and set the end of her thriller The Big Four on this route.  I found a great place to have a little picnic and admire the spires and rockslides.  This is a great place for a relatively easy day of hiking – not to be missed!

References:

The Latemar Massif
Shorter Walks in the Dolomites

Share

The Dolomites: Seiser Alm

There’s a chance that you may be thinking that each new place I visit in Italy is my new favorite. Be that as it may, now that I have actually left Italy, I have an official ruling. If I was allowed to only return to only one place in Italy for the rest of my life, it would no doubt be the Dolomites (followed extremely closely by Sardegna and the Northern Lakes, respectively). I have never seen such amazing mountains – and that’s saying a lot from a native Colorado boy who has spent a good chunk of his life wandering around the Rocky Mountains. Much of the draw for me is likely intangible – maybe it’s a certain combination of the rugged massiveness of the peaks and the way the light moves across the vast expanses of rock. Regardless, this place undoubtedly stirs something within me.

The Seiser Alm (Alpe di Siusi in Italian) is the largest alpine meadow in Europe. This amazing place has unlimited views of the Dolomites and Austrian Alps and is well-known for great hiking and skiing. I am finding that a piece of me is still there, stunned and hypnotized by that vast peacefulness and unexpected beauty. A return is inevitable.

Share

The Dolomites: Bolzano-Bozen

There’s a chance that you may be thinking that each new place I visit in Italy is my new favorite. Be that as it may, now that I have actually left Italy, I have an official ruling. If I was allowed to only return to only one place in Italy for the rest of my life, it would no doubt be the Dolomites (followed extremely closely by Sardegna and the Northern Lakes, respectively). I have never seen such amazing mountains – and that’s saying a lot from a native Colorado boy who has spent a good chunk of his life wandering around the Rocky Mountains. Much of the draw for me is likely intangible – maybe it’s a certain combination of the rugged massiveness of the peaks and the way the light moves across the vast expanses of rock. Regardless, this place undoubtedly stirs something within me.

The Seiser Alm (Alpe di Siusi in Italian) is the largest alpine meadow in Europe. This amazing place has unlimited views of the Dolomites and Austrian Alps and is well-known for great hiking and skiing. I am finding that a piece of me is still there, stunned and hypnotized by that vast peacefulness and unexpected beauty. A return is inevitable.

Share

Verbania Part III: Lago d’Orta

Lago d’Orta is about 40 minutes, as the bus rides, southwest of Lago Maggiore.  The primary attractions are the town of Orta itself and Isola di San Giulio nearby.  I arrived at the Northern end of the lake and took a boat down to Orta.  This port town has some beautiful old buildings and some interesting modern art on display, but I quickly grew tired of the shopping crowds and headed up the hill to the uncrowded Sacro Monte.  Here on the large, beautifully landscaped grounds was an interesting collection of churches, monuments, and other buildings.  One of the more interesting things to me was scenes from biblical stories depicted with life-size sculpted characters – very beautiful work.  Overall a very peaceful place to wander around and of course rich with photo opportunities!  I think I would spend a lot of time up here if I lived here.  It’s bit hard to describe, but I just had a certain subtle feeling of home or déjà vu here – a touch of familiarity and comfort that just washed over me at times.

Last, but not least, Isola di San Giulio is home to a monastery and Basilica di San Giulio, among other historical buildings.  I ended up not actually taking a boat out to the island as I found it more interesting viewed from Orta or from the water (my boat went by it on the way back).

Share

Verbania Part II: Valle Vigezzo

One of my favorite day trips from Verbania was a large loop via train.  Starting in Verbania, I headed to Domodossola where I switched to the oddly named Swiss “FART” train.  A new alternative fuel?  No, this Swiss transportation system acronym actually stands for Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi.  They must have a crack team in the acronym department there ;)   This train then runs through beautiful Valle Vigezzo to Locarno, Switzerland on the northern shores of Lago Maggiore.

Along the way, I got off the train at Druogno and spent 3 hours hiking up the closest mountain I could find, Alpe Cima.  The vegetation here is very dense, but I managed some pretty nice views when I reached the top.  The view from the train is also quite nice, but nothing like what can be attained via hiking, so I’m glad I went.  The towns of Druogno and Santa Maria Maggiore are also very nice little mountain towns to explore.

Share

Verbania Part I: Lago Maggiore Shoreline

After visiting Stresa and Lago Maggiore earlier in my travels, I decided to return for an extended stay to explore the surrounding area.  Via friends-of-friends-of-friends-uncle’s-sister’s-dog’s-master kind of connection, I rented a room from a family in Verbania for a couple of weeks.  The family was wonderful and it was a nice break to stay in one place for a little while and get to know people a little better (and enjoy some home-cooked Italian meals!).  I even got to try climbing on an indoor climbing wall (lots of fun, I can see how one can get hooked on this).  Thanks for everything Elena, Giobi, Garcia, Giulia, Loretta and Daniello (sp?)!

I need to take a moment to brag a bit about these people I had the honor to get to know :) .  Garcia is quite the climber and built an indoor climbing wall with a group of other climbers.  He and his girlfriend Giulia are also very talented musicians and play cello/sing for weddings and other events.  Garcia not only plays cello, but hand-made the cello he plays!  He also makes and repairs violins.  Giobi is a self-taught web designer (giobi.com) and guitarist.  And of course Elena is moving to California this summer to earn her PhD in Chemistry.  Yeah, you guys rock :)

Ok, back to travel stuff (it almost seems boring now ;) ).  The Lago Maggiore shoreline is dotted with many intriguing little towns that can be reached by bus or boat.  Cannobio was a particularly nice place, decorated by a port with great views.  It is also a popular area for windsurfing and kitesurfing and conditions happened to be perfect the day I was there, so I got to watch all the extreme sports fanatics.

In Verbania Part II: Valle Vigezzo, I take a train from Domodossola,Italy to Locarno, Switzerland.  Due to some unusual transportation schedules and some poor assumptions on my part, I ended up stranded in Locarno (a beautiful place to be stranded) after a day of hiking and riding the train.  Fortunately, Daniello and Loretta were very kind to come and fetch me that evening!

Unusually late rain for the season has been a common theme in Italy this year, and Lago Maggiore was no exception.  It was a matter of making the best of the clear stretches of weather.  When the weather didn’t cooperate, Daniello tossed me in the car and took me driving to his favorite viewpoints.

Share

My Name is Not Lucca

Sorry for this title, but I can’t help but think about that Suzanne Vega song “Luka” from the 80’s ;)

My visit to Lucca was quite spontaneous.  It happened to be relatively close to where I was at the time and I had heard good things about it.  The old walled city is an easy walk right across from the train station.  The whole town is nestled in a nice little valley with surrounding Tuscan mountains.  I liked it instantly.  The city didn’t seem overly-touristy to me and it just had an air of good living.  There is a trail around the city – I’m guessing between 1 and 2 miles – that is always buzzing with joggers, walkers, and cyclists burning off all those Italian carbs ;)

I stayed at a nice affittacamera with a kitchen in the old city.  Kind of a whacky set-up, but nice.  The woman who ran the place lived half-way down the block and when you buzzed the front door, it rang at her house down the street.  Also when you wanted to use the Internet, she had some kind of switch to turn it off at her house and on at the apartment.  It worked for about 2 hours my first day but never again after that ;)

The main attraction for me in Lucca was the architecture.  Several beautiful church facades as well as many towers.  One tower there (Torre Guinigi) has trees growing on the top – quite unique – several of the photos in this article were taken from this tower.

Lucca is a good base camp for tours of the many surrounding Tuscan towns nearby.  I’m guessing it is also quieter and less expensive than nearby more famous towns as well.

Share

Quick Tour of Genova

Before leaving the Italian Riviera, I spent a little time in Genova to fill the gaps from a previous extremely short visit. .  I was once again very fortunate to meet up with my trusty tour guides Elena and Sylvia (& friends) for a couple of hours.  They even bought me a Granita (basically coarse-grained sorbet) to try – yum!  I also tried some delicious Focaccia al Formaggio (very thin bread with cheese in the center) and Tortino di Polenta (corn meal cakes).

Genova has a very large city center with beautiful architecture.  Some of the notable features of the city are Piazza De Ferrari and surrounding architecture (see photos in this article) as well as the house where Christopher Columbus was supposedly born.  The port is of course a very important part of the city and houses a large aquarium.  I didn’t find the port all that attractive because of so much commercialization, but there was some interesting architecture there as well.

On a completely unrelated note, I think I have seen some kind of shop or restaurant with “Colorado” in the name in nearly every city I’ve visited and Genova was no exception (see photo).  It is human nature to notice the things most familiar to you, but I think this is a bit more than that (I don’t recall seeing any signs with “Nebraska” (for e.g.) in the name after all ;) )

Share

A Return to Sarzana

I wrote previously about Sarzana in Liberation Day in Sarzana.  I had stopped here before beginning my Alta Via hike and really enjoyed the town.  While there, I had noticed they were having an acoustic guitar festival the third week of May – right up my alley, so I filed it away in the “like to do” file.  After some other plans fell through, this became my agenda.

Ever have a really bad travel day (like a bad hair day, but with trains)?  Well my trip from Bergamo to Sarzana would qualify.  Sarzana lies about 1.5 hours almost due South of Bergamo as the crow flies.  However, it lies about 5 hours, 3 changes, and a big “C”-shaped route as the train goes.  Miscalculation #1.  On the train, a “ticket-cop” was busy chasing down a woman who conveniently decided she had to go to the W.C. when she saw him walking through the car.  Lucky for me I happened to be sitting near the W.C. when this man was in grumpy “enforcement mode”.  As fate would have it, for some stupid reason, I totally spaced validating my ticket.  As a non-feminine person, I wasn’t getting out of this no-way, no-how and was offered two tantalizing options: pay 50 euro now or 200 euro later.  Hmmm – tough choice.  So, what I thought was going to be around a 10 euro ride to Sarzana was now nearly 80 euro.    Upon arrival in Sarzana, I found all accommodation near the city center full.  Miscalculation #2.  So I ended up paying 20 euro for a taxi ride to a rather dumpy hotel an hour walk outside of town (the bus didn’t run after 8p.m. and I didn’t ever get back before midnight).  Only 100 euro to get from point A to point B – good thing I’m rich!  I think the only thing that kept me sane was all the nice people I met along the way – a woman from New Mexico with whom I enjoyed witnessing a good 30 minute “heated discussion” between a couple and a ticket cop over an improperly booked ticket – a nice older gentleman from Santa Margherita on his way to listen to a friend give a lecture in La Spezia – and last, but not least, the taxi driver with whom I had to finish watching the last 10 minutes of “Braveheart” (in dubbed Italian of course – they don’t do subtitles here).

These kind of things often make me wonder if the something is trying to tell me I’m not on the right path.  I sucked it up and headed to the guitar festival to see if this was all worth it.  Was it ever.  Turns out I was on the right path – I guess sometimes you just have to be persistent (and maybe plan a little better :) )  I have never seen so many talented guitarists and gorgeous guitars in one place before.  Did I also mention the whole thing was set in a medieval fortress?    Somehow that 2 a.m. walk to the hotel was a piece of cake now.  There were 3 concerts with an amazing array of talented musicians from Europe and USA.  Among my favorites were Massimo Varini, Peppino D’Agostino, Alex De Grassi, Giua and Armando Corsi, John Gorka, Victoria Vox, Eileen Rose and Rich Gilbert, Massimo Bubola, and of course Jackson Browne!  There was also many new artists there – my favorite was Giulia Millanta.  Also check out my HD video of an open-mic performance by Giulia Millanta and Paolo Loppi.

An overall inspiring and amazing experience.  I must admit I was feeling some travel blues before this and the openness and kindness of the people I met here set me right again.  I miss my guitars..

Share

Bergamo

Situated at the base of several valleys, Bergamo is a great base for exploration.  The famous San Pellegrino terme is located one of these valleys.  The city is divided between a lower and upper (Citta Alta) town.  Citta Alta is walled and offers the most interesting architecture as well as some great views.

I was again fortunate to find a great B&B – B&B Amalfi ran by an extremely nice and fun couple.  They make a mean cappuccino – I had to have two every morning ;)   They also run an attached ristorante.  Pasquale is a great cook – everything from pizza to desserts.  He is originally from Ravello on the Amalfi coast, hence the name of the establishment.

I spent many hours just wandering around and shooting – especially in the Citta Alta.  I also took a couple of bus trips up the valleys – one to Lago d’Iseo and another to a town called Clusone.  The lake was pretty, but not especially noteworthy in my opinion.  Clusone had some interesting architecture and grand vistas.

While walking around Clusone, a man stopped to talk with me a bit and I asked him if he knew of any trails close by.  He said he did and offered to show me the way.  So I followed him up a path to a locked gate.  The path continued, so I said goodbye and turned to be on my way.  But he stopped me, entered his code, and directed me through the gate to what..a short cut?  I didn’t see the harm, so I followed him into a little courtyard in front of some sort of retirement home or institution.  Here he said were lots of beautiful things to take pictures of, bid me farewell, and disappeared into the building.  I took a couple of shots to humor him and quickly made back for the gate. One small problem -  I don’t have the code and can’t get out.  Ok, there must be other exits – yes one…two…both locked.  Great.  I’m in the Twilight Zone.  Then I see a car pulling up to the main gate and quickly squeezed through as the car entered – whew!  I wasn’t too keen on having to go in and explain that I needed to get out :)

Share

A Day in Milano

Elisa was the main reason for visiting Milano and the concert was great!  The first time I saw her in concert was in Denver at the Soiled Dove and there were probably 50 people in the audience.  That was truly a pleasure.  This show was of course huge, complete with thousands of crazy Italian fans.  A completely different show as expected – very enjoyable, but I sure prefer the small venue.  Regardless, it was a great way to ring in another year for the Schlarmeister.  Special thanks to Steven, Massimo, Paolo, et. al. for  the opportunity to meet Elisa again – such an amazing person!  If you are not familiar with her music, visit Elisa’s official website at ElisaToffoli.com.

The next day was spent wandering around the city with local friends and tour guides extraordinaire, Elena and Sylvia.  Thank you so much!  Milano is no Rome, but it has some beautiful architecture (i.e. the Duomo was all sparkly-clean and scaffold-free!) and parks, not to mention some crazy looking birds and parades full of retired military guys dressed like birds (they are officially called Bersaglieri (grazie Elena :) )!  Apparently these heavy steel bikes (see photo below) were part of the standard issue for these fellows back when.  Everything reminiscent of military or law enforcement was out in full force.

(Click on a photo to enlarge and view descriptions)

Share

Stresa and Lago Maggiore

This has to be one of my favorite locations of this trip so far.  So much, in fact, that I’m planning on going back before I leave Italy.  Maggiore is my favorite of the Northern Italian lakes.  Somewhere between the extreme-sport heart of Garda and the luxury of Como, Maggiore seems to suit me best.  Beautiful lake, gorgeous mountains, great climate, outstanding architecture, and on top of it right on the border of Switzerland.  Yeah, this doesn’t suck.

The standout of the three islands on the lake to explore is Isola Bella, famous for its fabulous palazzo and gardens.  This is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Italy.  Always a kind of surreal experience to actually visit a place that you’ve previously only day-dreamed about from photographs.

Share

Italian Riviera Part II: Santa Margherita and Portofino

Santa Margherita Ligure was the base camp for the Riviera exploration and turned out to be my favorite town on the coast.  It just had a good feel – hard to put into words – not too small or large, a beautiful port – just right.  The weather was cooperative with only a few spotty showers here and there.

I know nearly nothing about sailing, but some of the boats here were really making me drool.  I see this in my future….:)

Hiking was great in the area.  There are plenty of nice trails to Portofino that offer great views.  The chosen path on this adventure had an unexpected surprise.  On the final descent into Portofino, another world emerged: it felt like a Costa Rican rainforest (although I’ve never been) rather than Italy.  There was also the ruins of an old milling settlement nestled in this area.  It was really transporting to be in such an isolated area and imagine how hard these people once worked here.

Portofino itself was smaller than I had envisioned for some reason.  For all its hype, I didn’t see that it was any more special than any other coastal town.  I’d say it’s the Aspen of the Riviera.  It was of course beautiful, but lessened somewhat by the ridiculously huge expensive yachts docked in its tiny port.

Share

Italian Riviera Part I: Cinque Terre

The day planned to explore Cinque Terre fortunately broke the previous days’ weather pattern and actually was warm and sunny.  However, upon arrival at Riomaggiore, the plan to hike the trail to the other 4 towns was quickly dashed as all but the first segment of the trail had been closed due to the recent rain.  So it turned out to be a day of spending an hour to catch a train that took 10 minutes to get to the next town.  The Cinque Terre have a way of making you forget trivialities, however.    See for yourself…

Share

After the Rain

It seems I exited the Alta Via trail just in time as my following 4 days in La Spezia were filled with constant rain.  However, there is always a silver lining to every cloud.  I was once again amazed how I am always taken care of.  I ended up the only guest staying in a little B&B ran by a very nice family who were also staying in one of the rooms because there home on the first level was being renovated.  They said they had never seen rain like this as late in the season and wondered if there were living in London now :)   I enjoyed my stay regardless because it was more like I was a guest in their home.  Lots of great little Englitalian discussions over beer and dinner.

The rain finally cleared and I took an all-day hike down to Portovenere.  The first section of my hike was to the top of a mountain above La Spezia littered with bunkers and artillery from WWII.  Along the way I saw a small group of wild hedgehogs – my first encounter with these odd creatures.  Unfortunately they did not stick around long enough for me to take a photo.  I’m probably lucky to have seen them at all given that they are regularly hunted here.  The remainder of the trail was beautiful, but quite difficult as it was on a very rocky and sometimes slick trail that required a lot of scrambling.  I passed a group of English women on the way who thought I was quite crazy to be enjoying the hike as they most decidedly were not.  Portovenere is mostly a shopping town, but very charming and complete with medieval fortresses.  A must-see in the Gulf of Poets.  La Spezia is quite nice, but lacked that certain something for me.  Maybe it’s because I spent more time there than I wanted to involuntarily.

Share

The Alta Via dei Monti Liguri Part II

Not knowing what to fully expect, I brought a tent along on my hike.  Even though I spent most nights in an albergo, hotel, or rifugio (there is not very much open camping along the trail (campeggio libero), but you can get creative if you watch the boundary signs), there were nights when there was no other option and the tent was critical.  Not only that, camping in this region is amazing.

Every place I stayed was great with friendly people (at times you had to get past the “chiuso” (closed) responses and explained that you were hiking the Alta Via (or they saw your backpack)).  Great Italian food after a day of serious calorie-burning was extremely welcome.  I think I ate every morsel of food that was put in front of me – even all the bread ;)   One of my favorite things about Italy is that is is virtually impossible to get a bad meal (unless you go to McDonald’s of course ;) ) – everything I had was great.

I had nice weather most of the way, with the exception of one rained-out day and another day filled with chilly wind.  The clouds move in fast here, but also move out quickly most of the time.  I learned my lesson the first time I got all bundled up for rain and was roasting 30 minutes later and had to peel it all off again :)

Despite the lodging challenges (not a big deal, really), I highly recommend April/May as prime time for hiking the AV (and most locals I talked to agree with me).  Everything is blooming and green and the only time I saw any other hikers on the trail was on a Saturday when I crossed paths with some local day-hikers.

On my final day, I planned to catch one of only two buses to the coast.  At 06:30, as I loaded my pack to walk outside to the bus stop to catch the 06:40 bus, I beheld a curious sight: the bus roaring past my window.  Hmmm.  Hopefully it’s going INTO town and will come back by the stop on the way OUT of town.  Problem: there IS no town.  The rifugio operator swore the bus was supposed to be there at 06:40 – guess the driver decided to be early that day.  Next bus: 16:10.  Now, I’m pretty good at going with the flow, but I admit I had to throw a little fit on this one ;)   But, as I reminded myself that there are no accidents, I decided to make the best of the day and enjoy some hiking without a huge pack.  Turns out to be one of the best photo days I had on the whole AV hike.  Lesson #27,873 hopefully retained :)   I made absolutely sure to be at the bus stop 15 minutes early in the afternoon, and sure enough the bus arrived about 4 minutes early this time and made no effort to wait until the scheduled departure time – at least I was on board and on my way to the coast – Cinque Terre – stay tuned :)

Share

The Alta Via dei Monti Liguri Part I

“The high way of the Ligurian Mountains” is what it means.  This 400+ km trail from Ventimiglia to Ceparana is designed to provide the means to explore the interior of the Ligurian mountains of the Italian Riviera.

I decided to start the trail from the “end” in Ceparana and work my way backwards towards Portofino.  When I arrived in Ceparana, I found a visitor center with two very friendly gentlemen who not only gave me free topo maps (if I had only known this beforehand, it would have saved me a lot of searching ;) ), but also shared a spot of focacchia and vino with me to send me on my way.  On top of that, I got a ride to the trailhead!  This was an unexpected surprise and certainly a great way to start my hike.

This is without question the most well-marked European trail (maybe any trail) I have hiked.  Signs and painted red and white stripes on trees and rocks guide you every step of the way.  The topo maps even indicated food and lodging locations.  The map doesn’t provide names and phone numbers of lodging establishments, and even though this information is available on the AV web site (http://www.altaviadeimontiliguri.it/portale/), the map would obviously be the best place when in the backcountry. This is very critical because there is only a handful scattered throughout the trail that are guaranteed to be open – one per day’s hike – and this is the ONLY place you are going to find food and most of the time water as well (most streams were dry).  Naturally, the days when I packed lightest in regards to food and water, both were in scarce supply and long distances apart and when I loaded up with extra water I ended up crossing streams all day ;)   Gotta love Murphy.

First night camping along the trail was interesting.  There was no natural water supply near my campsite, so I walked to a nearby home to ask for some water only to be attacked (quite literally) by a pack of small dogs and pointed to some mysterious source I never found.  Lesson learned – next time pack extra water ;)   Then back at the campsite, four animals ran around a corner of forest by my campsite and we of course scared each other to death and they were gone in a flash.  Small deer?  No…  Small coyotes? No…  Holy gigantic jackrabbits Batman!  I had no idea rabbits could get that big – yikes!  Hope there’s no mosquitoes here :)

Share

Liberation Day in Sarzana

Being the nearest fairly large town near the Alta Via trailhead, I chose Sarzana as my preparation camp.  What a lucky choice!  Sarzana has quite a charm all its own – the medieval fortress on the hill overlooking the city, inviting and spacious piazzas, and of course the friendly gelateria owner who had just the right little size of yummy gelato for just 1 euro ;)

I happened to arrive on Liberation Day (Sunday, April 25th), so despite many business being closed, everyone was out full force for an extra-long evening passeggiata.  Quite a bit of interesting architecture around town, including more fortress structures, made for great walking (and apparently lots of great places for teenagers to mash ;) )

Only downside to the holiday is that the CAI (Club Alpino Italiano) office that sold the topo maps I needed was closed and didn’t open until 5pm the following day.  Darn – had to spend an extra day in Sarzana :)   By the way, I recommend 50/50 Cocco (coconut) & Nocciola (hazelnut) gelato – molto buono.

Share

A Reluctant Goodbye to Sardegna

I think Sardegna has just about spoiled me for everywhere else. These last two weeks have gone by in a blink. This island has shown me some of the most difficult travel I have faced and also some of the greatest rewards.

Sardegna is not as populated as mainland Italy – an aspect I love as there are lots of open spaces and vacant beaches to explore. However, this has its downside. I made the decision early on to visit without the aid of a rental car. Among my reasons were a more intimate experience with the culture, more photo opportunities, no restrictions as far as trekking and camping, eco-friendliness, and cost. The public transport system here is not the best in the world, but also perhaps not quite as bad as the average Sardegnian would have you believe. I can’t speak for the train system as it ended up being more convenient to travel by bus, but once you learn the quirks (closures/partial closures on Sundays even though there is absolutely no indication on the web site, expect buses to be 10-15 minutes late occasionally, etc.), the system is cheap and the buses new and clean.

A couple important notes (related to my “difficulties”): when visiting in the off-season (as I am, which is great in every other respect by the way: temperature, room rates, crowds, etc.), be sure to find out on your own: 1) which towns don’t have bus service in the off season (or be prepared to walk and hitch-hike) and 2) double-check bus schedules and stops (have a local call the bus service (A.R.S.T) for you) and do not rely on the word/memory of the locals (even hotel staff). Enough said :)

Now for more of the good stuff. I really loved every part of Sardegna visited. The mountains, the sea – all gorgeous. My last two days were spent at Cala Gonone on the East coast. This is the most spectacular beach area I have ever seen. I spent one day hiking a canyon and adjacent slot canyons. I decided to do a little trailblazing to get to the top of a ridge and just couldn’t make it due to the dense foliage. (As a bonus there are razor-sharp volcanic rocks and these wonderfully beautiful thorny rose vines running from tree to bush to tree everywhere. I have scratches from head to toe. ;) ) But really, this is fun for me :)

Yesterday I took my first sea-kayak adventure along the coast. I am totally hooked on this sport! I spent almost 7 hours of almost constant paddling from cave to cave and beach to beach. The coastline is mostly high, sheer rock cliffs, so this is definitely the way to see it. You can paddle into the huge caves and see all the geologic formations. The water was crystal-clear and warm (relatively) and I could see the sandy bottom for most of the trip. I don’t remember being this tired or sore (hopefully I can lift my arms above my head soon ;) for a long time, but I couldn’t stop :)

The people of Sardegna I met were all fantastic – from the “gang” in Cagliari (awesome!), to the woman at the bus stop in Nuoro who ran across the street to buy me fruit juice (succo di frutta) because she wanted me to have a “good memory of Sardegna”, and all the people in between answering my stupid questions in “Englitalian”. And let’s not forget all of the horrible maps of the U.S. I’ve drawn to show people where Colorado is :)

Arrivaderci Sardegna, my memories are indeed great!

Tonight: an overnight ferry to Livorno and the next phase: the Apennines.

Share

Costa Verde

Costa Verde is everything I dreamed it would be. Mountain, sea, sand dunes, blooming foliage, and beautiful sunsets. I have totally lost track of time here.

I began my adventure when I arrived in Arbus by bus on Sunday afternoon. Everything was closed when I arrived, and I was anxious to begin hiking, so I set off not really sure what the night would hold in store for me. I ended up walking about 7 miles to the next town, Montevecchio where I found an agriturismo for the night.

Next day, I found my trail and headed for the coast. I arrived pretty exhausted about 8 hours and around 12 miles later to find that I now had to traverse the sand dunes I had been seeking (not so easy with a heavy pack). That complete, I thought surely the little resort here would have some food for me. I would be wrong. There were a couple of guys there getting ready for the upcoming season, but they weren’t open. Crackers and honey for dinner it is! I found a beautiful campsite, and although exhausted, was energized to take some photos of the beautiful surroundings.

Next morning I woke up feeling much better, but sure wasn’t looking forward to donning that pack. Loaded up and started heading North up the road to the next resort or town to get some food. I passed two more resort areas with the same results – nothing open. I finished the last of my food (luckily I still had water and had also filtered some for an emergency), and kept going. Luckily, the next town had one bar open. Scarfed one panini and ordered two more for the road. I think I walked a ridiculous 15-17 miles that day before I reached my goal.

I am writing tonight from a little town called Torre dei Corsini. I found a nice little apartment here overlooking the main piazza and the sea. The people are very nice and I even found an open supermercato! I managed to acquire a large blister after yesterday’s trek, so I’m hopeful to find transportation to the next city tomorrow (the buses don’t run here this time of year).

Despite the self-imposed hardships, I am absolutely loving this place – so beautiful and peaceful.

Whew, think I’m somewhat caught up on the blogs now – time for some shut-eye ;)

Buonanotte

Share

Cagliari

My experience in Cagliari was especially memorable – mainly because of all the wonderful people I met.

I stayed here with my couchsurfing host and friend, Francesca. I could not have asked for a friendlier, nicer experience. From the beginning, she went out of her way to make me feel at home.

First night – after I missed my bus stop and made Francesca walk several blocks out of her way ;) – we immediately went for some fabulous Napoli-style pizza at a local restaurant – yum! Next were a couple of Sardinian beers with friends.

Friday, I spent a good part of the day walking around Cagliari. Beautiful, busy city with a good bus system (lucky for me). That evening, Francesca hosted a party for me, another couchsurfing guest, and a great group of her friends. What a great bunch of people – lots of fun, great local food, Sardinian music, and highly entertaining conversation.

Saturday, we hit the beach for a while – doing the walking circuit in and out of the bars on the beach to see who was out. Not many people on the beach in swimwear – still a bit nippy – most everyone was wearing a jacket and sitting outside at a bar enjoying coffee or beer of some variety. Saturday night was some great local seafood and a bit of the nightlife in Cagliari. Many more laughs and great conversation. We decided to form a new language “Englitalian” ;)

I don’t think I went to sleep before 2 a.m. any night I was there, but I never felt tired. Such great people – I am very thankful for the experience! Anyone ever wants to visit Colorado, you know who to look up!

Sunday, it was goodbye to my new friends and off to the bus station and Costa Verde on the West coast of Sardinia…

Share