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Archive for August, 2010

Part Sei – Roadrunner

August 26, 2010 5 comments

I recall a trip to the seaside with a young lady some time ago, when it was suggested that we take a stroll to the end of the beach and back. This seemed a capital idea, having driven all the way there, it would have been churlish not to have enjoyed its full extent. With this in mind, I set off at a brisk pace, only to turn around after a couple of hundred meters and find I was unaccompanied. Apparently, my company found it confusing that I had set off on a concrete track into a car park from which one couldn’t see the sea, when one could have walked on the sand on the beach. From my perspective, I was equally confused by her attitude – if ones goal was to walk from A to B and back again, it made perfect sense to me to use the most direct route, rather than trudging along sand banks which make for slower walking. Apparently, I was missing the point.

I was reminded of that this morning, while wandering happily through a 2km tunnel connecting La Spezia with the mountains around it. I’m afraid one of my numerous defects as a pilgrim is that I enjoy going places in a straight line, which means that while I could not honestly recommend the trip from Genoa to La Spezia to a normal person – seeing as it involves wandering along extremely busy roads with no hard shoulder, no shade and nothing of note to look at except the remnants of last years hill fires, I have rather enjoyed it. Rapallo was great, the ambiance of the place was so at ease with itself, that it made for very pleasant ambling, although I paid for it with some truly terrifying walking in the days that followed, including some unlit single file tunnels along the coast, which alternated with walking trails in the mountains better suited to mountaineers. Mountaineers who had either a death wish or a helicopter – as the bloody things were damn near impassable.

I am also pleased to note that I have done my bit for European harmony. Arriving fatigued after 45kms in the sun at a coastal resort whose name I forget, I rather innocently paid my fee and started pitching my (now broken) tent at the end of a row. At this point a blonde woman appeared and started hectoring in foreign. Despite language difficulties, enough practice enables one to tell when a woman is being unreasonable and hysterical in any language. ‘No, no, no’ I tell her, shooing her away. Soon afterwards, her boyfriend rocks up in a black BMW. He would have been quite physically intimidating, being built like a bear, were it not for the fact that he opened his mouth and produced a sound so shrill with self righteousness that it recalled a German accented child whose toy has been confiscated. The problem appeared to be that they had seen the place an hour or so earlier, but in a bout of admirable efficiency, had gone off to measure up every other space in the campsite to be sure of securing the best available – “I mean, ve saw it furst. I could haf left ze girlfriend here, but iz a risk I could not haf taken”. Despite explaining that the first thing I would do with her is leave her somewhere, I am unable to convince him of the merits of another spot, at which point they flounce off declaring I have ruined their holiday. At this point it occurs to me that it simply is not worth causing these people such misery, and I let them have their space, and drag myself 5km up the road to the next space – not a big thing, but I doubt I would have had the grace to do so a couple of months ago. I can well understand, though, given how quick the German sense of grievance is to rouse itself, how Chamberlain gave them the Sudetenland, “But is ours, ve saw it first and it is right next to Bohemia, and ve just had to measure up Alsace-Lorraine first…” (Joke, joke – sorry Julian, I must disappoint you terribly!)

Finally, I commend to you the Affittacamere Cotorelle B&B on the Via Aurellia, north of La Spezia. Absolutely lovely people, who went miles out of their way to house, feed and water me, and a beautiful, relaxing place to rest your bones. If you’re in the area, drop in…

Now, to Lucca, where I have fond memories of a shop which sells yellow belts and pink jumpers. Perhaps if I stock up on some of those, I shall smell of Italian, rather than putrefying salt, which is my current parfumme de jour.

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Part Cinque – Frattelli d’Italia

August 22, 2010 2 comments

The Alps proved a phenomenal experience. The walk is unrelenting for two days from Montreaux to the summit, with sheer passes up mud and shale paths, the obligatory field of cows and a summit which never seems to arrive. We walked above snow, damns and gaggles of French pensioners who had taken a coach up to do some sitting. Bloody hard, but worth it for the stunning view of the Alps from the monastery at the top.

I cannot think of anything I have done which has given quite the same feeling of achievement. Although intellectual pursuits are imagined to have greater value than the physical act of walking up something, there is something to be said for having to face up to and conquer your own softness. So much of what gets us into trouble comes from an inability of the mind to control the body. This climb was something which at many points on this journey, you would have received long odds against me managing, so I feel a mixture of pride and gratitude that I managed it. Most of all, one feels humbled in the mountains, both by the enormity of the scale of ones surroundings in comparison to ones self and moreover the tinniness of ones place in time, given the marks of the many thousands who have trekked over the pass since pre-Roman times.

How Dad did it, I shall never know, given that he was fresh of the plane and then route marched vertically upwards for four days from Lausanne. In any event, his aptitude for finding and befriending the village drunk was soon to the fore, with an impressive opening day performance involving a man with a glass eye, an enormous stomach, a string vest and most of the gold jewellery in Switzerland who spoke neither French or Italian with any consistency, but instead a form of gibberish that only Dad, well versed in such things, understood. On finding out that I was walking from England, he produced a rousing series of “Bravissimo! Bravissimo!”, slapping the waitress at the cafe firmly on the behind for emphasis, after which he confided that he himself cycled six kilometers a week – which presumably accounted for his thirst – which had the pleasing effect of not only shrinking his stomach but producing a great extension in a neighbouring organ – demonstrated with engagingly lurid sign language. Dad managed to find someone like that most days for the fortnight he was here – a phenomenal achievement, as I have seen almost no public drunkenness since leaving England. A fine achievement, and it was great to have him out, excellent company.

I am now in Genoa, owing to a disagreement with the Via Francigenia, which thought it would be fun to spend a week or so visiting the mosquito colonies of northern Italy, whereas I thought it would be fun to visit the sea side. Genoa is remarkably like home – decorated with used syringes, condoms and drunk South East Asian gentlemen. The rest of Italy is uncompromisingly lovely, a wonderful place, beautiful people, beautiful scenery, beautiful towns.

To Rapallo, to try and look old money in a sweat stained lycra shirt and crotchless rugby shorts – challenging, but not impossible… Salve!

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Part Quatre – Credit Suisse

August 6, 2010 5 comments

Switzerland has been rather suprising. It is beautiful, naturally beautiful beyond conception, and I have been fortunate to walk mountains, valleys and lakes, all pristine, fresh and offering exhilarating views. I have also met with great kindness, notably from Mnsr and Mme Jaccard in St Croix who fed and housed me for the night, after I accosted Mme Jaccard looking for a campsite. The Jaccards have lived in St Croix since 1350, as apparently have around 100 of the 1,000 families in the village. One can see why, given the view, but it is an incredible record. I wonder how many British families could claim the same thing.

I am camping on the shore of Lake Leman waiting for the arrival of my father who is coming to walk the Alpes, next to some German teenagers, obviously away for a summer of unabashed teutonic hedonism. As far as I can tell, this involves sitting outside their tent around a loudspeaker having das partyfuntimes with der teknomuzik until 10:30PM, when in strict compliance with the appropriate subsection of the rules and regulations for campers (2010), they turn it off and go to bed. All of which got me thinking about the low birthrates in Europe. Italy and France have birthrates hovering around replacement rate, northern Europe is only a little better, and if first generation migrants are stripped out, practically every western European nation is failing to replace itself.

While a lot of the blame for this sits squarely on the shoulders of modern women, who seem to prefer – perhaps understandably – becoming middle managers in the civil service to childbirth, I’m afraid the majority of the blame must sit with European males.  If a French male wishes to impress the object of his desire, he buys a very small bike, and then rides it up and down the street making it jump a small way in the air now and again. If this fails he must resort to humour, which in France consists of conversing in a slightly higher pitch than usual. As far as I can tell, in Germany, one demonstrates the `devil may care` bad boy look by buying a slightly different colour baseball hat to ones friends. I saw a girl earlier on this trip taken for a date by her beau (who must have been pushing 30) which consisted of sitting on a roundabout watching him eat pastries (something he clearly did a lot of) and listening to dance music on his mobile phone. He was playing it cool, and he could afford to, with a date like that up his sleeve, the he was clearly the village Lothario. There would, no doubt, be others.  Given the options available, I begin to understand why women prefer becoming Deputy Vice Executive Chair (Treasury Tags) to having families – the choice is not outstanding…

And on that bombshell, to the Alps. Wish me luck…

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