Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The hills are calling

Not sure what it is about the mountains, but they do call us. Maybe it is because we choose to live on one of the flattest continents - in a city without a single hill let alone a mountain. Today we are heading north into the Italian Alps. I want to try to find the little, well actually it was huge, church that we first saw as we made a very brief foray into Italy (so Mum could say she had been to Italy) in 2006. At that time, we had just come down the Brenner Pass from Innsbruck in Austria and found ourselves looking for the church whose bell tower we could see from high up the mountains.

There is no reason for us to hurry so Kate is taking through those back roads that Helen loved to hate! Ah yes, off the motorways. Up and over the hills and far far away. Round and round the mountain. And up it. And down them too. In this part of the world it is so easy to see how that borders are nothing more than administrative lines on a map. The landscape crosses them, the architecture crosses them and the cuisine just ignores them. We could just as easily be in Switzerland, Austria, or France that all abut this mountain range.

So we head away from Silea driving towards the north. The day is as hazy as any we have encountered to date. In fact, this is one of the things we will most remember about Italy. Our journey takes us through the outskirts of Treviso, passing through residential and commercial areas. It seems that there are quite a few historic sites here as well if the brown tourist signs are any indication. But we won't stop as it will take us 4 and a half hours to get to Brennero. Just outside town though we pass one of those 'what the?' sights! There is one of those large restaurants with an even larger carpark. It is called Gargantua and features this unusual statue encompassing the entry. Michael is delighted - he knows the story of this giant well. In fact until recently had a copy of the book of five stories written about the legendary giants Gargantua and Pantagruel! Strange what you see. And where you see it!!

And Treviso and its surrounding towns seem to be the home of the outlet malls. There are advertising hoardings littering the road that tout for business for all sorts of goods - many are for sporting goods. Turns out, this part of the world is crazy for winter and summer mountain sports. We push on behind heavy traffic until we turn off onto those smaller country roads and head up into the mountains.

This is a stunning part of the world. Just as breath-taking as the alps of France or even Switzerland. This is the land of the Dolomites and their adjacent mountains. The roads twist and turn often almost back on themselves as you weave your way higher and higher. We are again using the low gears, something we have not needed to do for the last couple of weeks. In fact, we are travelling for about an hour without getting past 3rd gear! At Feltre, there is a stunning memorial. We are not sure what to, the inscription is not very clear. It appears that it could be a memorial to a war battle and the local lives lost. And blow me down, less than a kilometre further on, there is another one - huge! This one flies the French flag.

And still we climb. We are back in the rural belt of Italy, where life is lived at a much slower pace. Its not long before the stunning vistas of the high mountains and the Dolomite ranges begin to tease us from behind the lower mountains. We are back in the Alps, although this is very definitely the sunny side - with some snow (permanent ice) only visible on the very highest of the peaks high above us. And yes, this is the stuff of postcards and National Geographic specials!

And eventually as we turn away from Brennero to return to our accommodation, we pass through the edge of Vipiteno. I am drawn to get off the road and edge into town - "Just let me check this out", I say to Michael. "Oh my God, it's it!" I exclaim. Yes, I had found the church!! Parrocchiale 'Nostra Signora della Palude' - the Parish church of Our Lady of the Swamp (Shrek anyone?) And even though it is literally just before 5 pm, the church still stands open and people are arriving to tend to the gardens in the adjacent cemetery - just like when we were here last time.

We enter the cool and now quite shaded church to have a look. I knew that it would not be the same as the sun filled sanctum that we found last time, but it was lovely just the same. In fact, it was more than lovely. Where last time we found a tired but loved place of worship, this time it is nothing short of majestic. The cracks in the masonary and the peeling plaster have been repaired. The huge pillars that support the roof that soars high in the heavens above have been given a coat of paint. And those beautiful ceiling frescoes that took our breathes away last time have been restored to their full colourful glory. Michael is particularly taken with the carved pew doors that seem to have been given a new lease of life as well. And the timber flooring at the front of the church has been replaced, as have the cracked marble flagstones that form most of the traffic areas. As we take a walk through the lovingly attended cemetery with gardens contained within every grave, we notice that the Chapel of Repose (complete today with a recently deceased) and the cloister chapel have all been restored as well. Their frescoes rival those in the church for their beauty.

And so, my aim for the day is finally met just as we are about to turn south for the trip home! I'm ecstatic! And Michael is impressed, so the long day through the beautiful country was well worth it. So now, I turn for the Autostrada del Brennero to get back to Silea in the shortest possible time. Yep, the dreaded motorway. Like the road we travelled on in the mountains across Umbria the other day, much of this motorway is raised on long bridges as it traverses across valleys through the mountains. This road however is in much better condition - as well it should be, it is the main connection Italy has with Austria and Germany.

As we travel south following the Brenner highway, we see castle after castle on almost every available ridge. Gee, this part of Italy rivals the Upper Middle Rhine in Germany with its 40+ castles. And just like in the Rhine, this is a big grape growing area. In the dtill afternnon air, we can hear this farmer ploughing long before we see him. In the dying light of the day, we pass Castel Beseno near Besenello. Sitting high on the hills above the town it is an impressive site as the last bit of sunshine hits it. Time and time again we see the clouds developing on the horizon and at this time, we can't be sure where the mountains end, and the clouds begin. And there are more castles to see as well, but the fast disappearing light and a moving car are no match even for the Nikon D70 and we can't get clear photos. (There is no way I am stopping at this point of the trip!)

As we are nearing Ca' Serena we can hardly see the beautiful big waning moon for the dirty brown haze that veils it from us. So, the haze that we left here in the Italian lowlands this morning does not have appeared to have lifted all day. Thank goodness we were 'up where the air is clean' for most of the day!

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