Category Archives: Italy seen by foot

Italy on its feet (and Switzerland is not green at all)

A very rare photo taken in the middle of the Great St. Bernard tunnel

Hey, I’ve walked a thousand kilometres (did I actually believe I could walk this far? I don’t know, all I planned for was leaving).

We’ve actually all walked a lot more than that, it’s just that I’ve been lining them up for a month and a half. And now I’m in Switzerland. Perhaps a different journey starts now, truth be told so far I’ve been taking an extended walk around my country, sometimes in places I already knew. The language, the lifestyle, the geography, the food: I was quite familiar with it all. It’s not like I’m in Mongolia now, quite the contrary, however that bit of extra effort to translate (the language, the cuisine, the culture) will be necessary and will surely add some flavour to my journey.
What kind of Italy has it been? Hard to say; predictable and surprising at the same time, curious rather than mocking towards me, maternal and worried silly, almost. And in the end I found myself being interviewed on the regional tv news (wonderful people of the Val D’Aosta, there really mustn’t be a lot going on over there if they thought I merited air time). An Italy that knows what the Francigena is, where everyone can point you to the vicar’s house and the “bar sport” is used to accommodating bizarre individuals (that is, if someone actually manages to take their eyes off the slot machine and take a look at the skinny little man with the backpack and walking poles). From 18 to -9 degrees Celsius, smooth hillsides, the cool Italian Riviera, dull plains, rough mountains. Eels, ribollita, focaccia, parmesan, barbera wine, fontina and polenta. But also, and most of all, about a hundred ham sandwiches and an equal number of hot cups of tea. Just a few euros to get to know so much better the territories I pass through, the rivers and their valleys, the anecdotes, the pride and frustrations and confirm, as if there was any need to, that almost no one knows exactly where Terni is (in the south of Umbria, people, south of Umbria). I’m not trying to sound like an amateur anthropologist, it’s that I inspire a lot of curiosity and absolutely no fear, people ask me, at first perplexed, then they call their friends and tell them you won’t believe this… And often I’m the one that ends up doing the listening, because everyone has an extraordinary story to say and sometimes they don’t realise it, or have simply forgotten about it.

A bunch of hosts in their thirties – or almost, with a degree – or almost that on average live alone but in the apartment that used to belong to grandma and that is right next to their parents’ with a job they’re not very happy about and a great desire for change, lazily perusing facebook and with a strong feeling that the accounts don’t balance. Parish halls with the signs drawn by children, footballs, guitars and photographs of the old Pope. Hostels that cost as much as hotels, breakfast not included and dusty blankets that make me cough and are not warm enough (I’m starting to sound like Edmondo Berselli).
All in all, that is, nothing extraordinary, but composed of many little things that I was serenely obliged to get to know (that’s what walking does: it obliges you to get to know things, the eyes cannot but see, the ears cannot by hear all the things that slowly slide beside you). A specular image of my journey: many little days more or less ordinary but that put together make up an, etymologically, extraordinary journey.

Weather report: In Switzerland there is not a lot of snow and I’m starting to think the sun does not exist.
Spiritual guide: Barwomen.
Phrase of the day: I saw you on tv.
Things you don’t expect: the Swiss also complain about trains.

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the new legend of Val D’Aosta

Cavour who?

I finally understand the Piedmontese. If I were a Piedmontese, with that mish mash of little kingdoms and republics right next to me I would want to unite Italy as well. Because the Alps give precisely that impression. From far away they look like clouds, but when you get closer, well, when you get closer they become a golden gateway, a breathtaking hedge of pink granite. You can’t help thinking this must stand for something: I mean they look at you, authoritative, fatherly, they tell you: don’t worry about it, we’ll keep an eye on things over here while you soak your feet in Mediterranean waters. In short, you can’t imagine that with such a barrier there would be any other separation down south, the people down there should be living in peace (and instead, well.) I’ll stop here, or I’ll enter dangerous grounds and make a fool of myself and my mum will be mad at me (my mum used to teach history, when I was young she read Greek mythology to me instead of children’s stories- and then you wonder why I’m walking to England…). What I meant to say is that since a few days ago, and when the fog is kind enough to allow me to, I have these long face to face encounters with the Alps and I stay there, enchanted, looking at them and asking myself how the hell I’m going to cross them, how can anyone even think about crossing them. Oh, tomorrow I’ll walk along the Dora Baltea (yes, I’m learning the names of Italian rivers, it’s cool) and I’ll enter Val d’Aosta. I left from Terni, on foot, in case you didn’t know.

Tonight I’m being hosted by the last couchsurfer (in the woods close to Ivrea), after that it’s hostels and friends of friends and polenta until I reach the borders. So, CouchSurfing. CouchSurfing will save the world. Whoever came up with it should get the Nobel Peace Prize. So far I’ve always slept in beautiful places, listened to interesting life stories and met lovely people. ALWAYS. I know I’ve already said this but I want to repeat it: photographers, teachers, organic farmers, Italian-Indian tourist operators, globetrotter musicians, crossbowmen, more globetrotters, sommeliers, people with the strangest obsessions – american cars, parrots or Belgian beer. Without a doubt the best thing about this journey, that which gives me confidence, is finding kindred spirits that offer me their couch in return for my story.

Someone, someone who met me before I begun my journey and who saw me again a few days ago, told me that I have a different gaze. One he’s seen in other crazy travelers. I can’t say anything to that, what I do seems quite normal to me, it has assumed a quotidian character, we shouldn’t be surprised at our desire to learn things (and meet people, people!), new things everyday and touch them with our hands. Getting closer to the Channel, 20 km at a time, is what I do now, I started doing it and every morning I instinctively go on my way. Could that be the symptom of my disease?

Health status: I’ve lost a couple of kilos, convinced my feet that blisters are pointless, got to know my tendons and their habits, am cultivating a goatee and washed my three items of clothing every single day. I’d say it’s not too bad, after 800 km.

Guiding animal: nutria and heron
Recurring phrase: aren’t you cold?

p.s.: I don’t have a fast internet connection so I’l have to wait a bit before uploading more videos and photos, I hope to be able to make up for that soon enough.

p.p.s.: if you’re in Milan, Genoa, or Turin, or thereabouts, or anywhere else, perhaps you’d like to take a look at this: GeMiTo. Also here.

Straight to Aosta

I wake up early in the morning. I don’t dream much. I carefully recompose my backpack, by now it all comes naturally to me, everything has its place. I grab a bite to eat. I tie my shoelaces, fill up my water bottle, zip up my jacket, quick look around and out I go. Never a doubt, never a change of mind. In the mornings I always start walking with a determination whose origin I am completely unaware of. I think it might be the result, the thousand daily results. Today I’ll arrive in Bolsena, today I’ll arrive in Lucca, today I’ll arrive in Aulla. I’ll get to that crossroads and I’ll take a break, I’ll go on till that turn and I’ll stop, over that bridge there’s a village. I gain one more metre of world with every step: it’s the most satisfying activity, the richest of realisations. 500 km are nothing, it’s getting to the end of that road that counts, reaching the next bar, the crossroads with the state road. If I asked myself every day how far I am from England I probably wouldn’t even get out of bed. Instead, it’s a different journey every day, a different host every day, a different dialect every week, different food, a different panorama. And every day you’ve done something, something that gives sense to that day and, more importantly, it gives sense to the next one.

I thought Tuscany would never end, Emilia is already almost gone, along with the Appenins. 550km means a fourth of the journey, it means a month’s walk. The days last long, but it still feels like I left home a couple of days ago.

In Sarzana I went to the supermarket: my ears were bursting eyes burning and balls busting after less than a minute. Good sign, it means I’ve gotten used to a different rhythm. My space is the road, the village bar, the parish, my hosts’ homes and their couches. Anything brighter and/or louder and/or full of people makes me dizzy.

I see my schedule go by slowly and the journey adapts to itself and to the new unpredictable necessities; it gives me a sense of freedom and even the tendons pick up on it, the many miles of asphalt notwithstanding.

Soon, a little stop.

Guiding animal: Turtle.

Holy Grail: Hot Shower.

Happy new year folks

Earning one’s pagnotta

p.s.: unfortunately you can’t see it in the video, but right after peeling that specific pear we took a break. Over a glass of Samos wine. It’s 10:30 in the morning:  things are taking an interesting turn.

Ungrateful Versilia

p.s.: by the way, if you think what I’m doing is in any way noteworthy, take a look at the incredible feat of my host’s neighbour in Sarzana. and you’ll have to rethink the concept: the autonauts.