Friday, 18 April 2014

to the north of italy

Last Summer I took another trip to Italy with Brycey, this time we were backpacking through the North. We had fallen desperately in love with the lake we visited whilst in Rome, so we decided that a tour of the Lombardy region was in order. We packed our rucksacks, a modest amount of cash and our sense of humor (Brycey's words, made me giggle) and flew to Milan Malpensa Airport. Oh. Among the marbled floors, glitzy cafes and neatly dressed people, it seems we had somewhat misjudged the ease in which we would be able to backpack around Northern Italy. Nevertheless we persevered and journeyed to Lake Como, specifically a small town called Mennagio. We found a lovely little youth hostel where we drank wine, played music with some fellow backpackers, discovered a small private beach where we skinny dipped in the evenings, and used it as our base to take the public ferry to some of the beautiful little towns across the lake. Although we found Mennagio to be, for the most part, quite tame and far too touristy, we did however find a charming little town across the lake; Varenna. It was one of my favourite places that we visited and was not far from what I believe paradise to be.
All my photographs are shot on film unless stated otherwise, and usually on my trusted 1970s Fujica 901. I have a large collection of film cameras, however when I am travelling I take my Fujica as it has always served me well!

We swam for hours in the crystal water, soaking in the sun, jumping off the jetty (enjoying a brief encounter with an outrageously large fish) and exploring the winding cobbled streets of the town.

Feeling that we had experienced all we could of Lake Como, we travelled to the smaller and fairly unknown Lago d'Iseo (stopping first for a night of total debauchery in the small city of Bergamo, where we truly embraced being Brits abroad, but without nearly as much grace or glamour as we had hoped. Okay, so with absolutely no grace or glamour. The rest of that story is left better untold I think!)
Lago d'Iseo is a perfectly charming lake with stunning scenery, although it has a very strange feeling to it, as though perhaps you have entered a microcosm, and even sometimes a completely alternate universe (ghost towns consisting of only one supermarket, in which a very lovely, very old woman pushes herself around in your shopping trolley, collecting you things from shelves which are predominantly stacked with 1970s tins of ham.) After our first day and night being spent at a busy campsite where we recouped and snacked on our stash of old rice crackers and pesto (the only food we ate until we reached Verona a week and a half later), we then decided we would try to find a beach where we could sleep under the stars, which as well as being a perfectly romantic idea, also fitted well with our 'saving money' idea. This however proved somewhat more troublesome than anticipated, and after travelling to the island in the center of the lake on the guarantee of finding a plethora of beaches to choose from (thank you kind lady at the tourist office), some five hours later after hiking in the blistering heat...not a beach in sight. However by this time the boats leaving the island had stopped running hours before, and we were down to one solitary bottle of water, so we had to power on. Eventually we saw a sign which alluded to a beach, so trustingly followed it. Vertically downwards.

The beach was, however, completely stunning. We nestled ourselves under some trees and spent the evening swimming in the silver water, eating bruschetta which we toasted in the sun and watching the glorious sunset.

However once we had bedded down for the night, our experience on this little beach became anything but magical. Darling James unwittingly stored his jar of manuka honey under the jumper that he was using as a pillow and we both settled in for the night (bearing in mind that the beach was not so much a beach, but more a pile of sharp, devilish rocks - as seen in the above photographs). A mere thirty minutes later and James was complaining about ants in his sleeping bag to which I wasn't really paying much attention, that was until he put on his torch and there was in fact a vicious army of giant ants swarming from under every rock and collecting triumphantly in his sleeping bag, rucksack and on his person. We then moved all our things up the beach in hope of getting rid of them all, but they were determined to make sure we had not the tiniest wink of sleep and sneakily followed us, now not satisfied with just James' belongings, they decided that I should join the party. After packing everything up and being chased by a rabid dog, we then resolved to get the hell off of that island.

We hiked through the small hours of the morning, eventually finding a sleepy little village where by some freak miracle there was a small supermarket which was partially open, and after begging the nice man to let us in we feasted on our makeshift breakfast like we had never seen food before.

Not at all sad to leave Lago d'Iseo, we headed to the station and boarded the first train to Verona.

Clever Brycey had read about a campsite enclosed in the ancient walls of Castel San Pietro and as soon as we arrived in Verona we staggered up the thousands of steps to reach it (well worth the hike). It was even more amazing that we had imagined, a whole community of travellers hidden under a canopy of trees and grape vines, with the most darling little outdoor kitchen area where you could purchase fresh eggs and bread in the mornings. Needless to say we cooked a hot meal every day after weeks of our somewhat 'limited' diet!

By day we explored the city, ate gelato, took photos and truly embraced being tourists (in the most stylish way possible, naturally).

And by night we drank in bars, ate large quantities of pizza and one evening even attended the Opera in the Amphitheater for free. It was a surreal experience in which we were outside the venue, joking with each other about how incredible it would be if we could sneak in, and at that very moment a man waved us over. He told us that two people hadn't turned up and that we could go in their place. So we climbed the steps, opened the heavy velvet curtains, and were suddenly hit with a cacophony of cheers from the vast audience, the bright stage lights and the awe inspiring roar of Italian Opera. We sat high up on one of the ancient steps, soaking in the dream-like experience (despite not knowing what the heck the Opera was about). Below is the only photograph that came out.

So despite the fatigue, the torrential rain storm that flooded our £5 tent, the almighty ant attack and the gut wrenching bout of Campylobactor (serious food poisoning) that we both got on our return home, leaving us both in hospital attached to morphine drips for a week, would I change a thing?

Nope, not a chance.