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Mountains, Mongrels and Motorhomes Part Three: Hilda

Update 5: Hello Italy

ITALY | Sunday, 13 November 2016 | Views [381]

23.   Pisogne by Lake Iseo, Italy (6th September – 26th September):

The drive from St. Anton to Lake Iseo seemed longer than the four hours that it took but with each mile the temperature crept up until we had moved from a daytime temperature of fourteen degrees back in St. Anton to thirty degrees. We had expected the campsites to be somewhat empty on the grounds that it was the end of the season in the hills but the first ones that we came to along the lake were completely rammed so we carried on up by the side of the lake until we got to the town of Pisogne and found Camping Eden. In truth, the name Camping Eden did seem like somewhat of an oversell but we had a plot by the lakefront with fantastic views and, on our first day in the town, we discovered the most perfect chocolate ice cream and in the evening found Pisogne to have a lively and friendly atmosphere. We were not sure how long we were going to stay but in the end we stayed for nearly three weeks...

After the exertion of the mountains, I think that we both needed a rest but, whether we needed it or not, we definitely did a lot of resting. A typical day in the first week consisted of breakfast al fresco, some sitting by the lake in a reclining chair playing Sudoku or reading, sleeping a bit, lunch al fresco, a walk into town for chocolate ice cream, more reading, Rachel and Hilda would go for a swim together (which did look rather sweet), an evening meal then bed. The net effect was, that in the space of one week, I became somewhat of a Sudoku ninja, managed to add one inch to my waistline (which had taken three months to shrink by three inches in the mountains) and read a great book called Children of Time (which was mercifully short on the children part).

It always strikes me just how different Italy is to Austria and you don’t have to be that far from the border to sense things changing. For a start, in Italy, the supermarkets are noisy places where people spend more time chatting than shopping which makes the Germanic supermarkets seem like libraries in comparison. Outside there is a constant background noise of church bells, motor scooters and sirens and even the air seems thicker somehow with frequent wafts of cigarette smoke and drains; both of which smell strangely appealing in the hot climate. Austria is a place to do stuff but Italy is place to be on holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I do love Italy (well, at least the northern bit) but the downside is that nothing is ever simple here. I have mentioned before that doing even the most basic of tasks can be hard work when everything is unfamiliar but it is harder in Italy than anywhere else. I have many, many examples of being completely and utterly exasperated but my attempt to travel from the town of Arco to Milan to meet some friends sums everything up. Initially, I thought that I would get the train but when I went to Tourist Information and asked for train times, I was simply told that they couldn’t help me. I was not offered an explanation as to why Tourist Information could not give information to a tourist, it was just the way it was. I went to the train station but it was closed. I asked at the campsite reception and they looked on the internet for me but couldn’t understand what they saw. I gave up on the trains and I decided to drive but wanted to check that the campsite in Milan had availability. I tried to call the phone number shown on the campsite website but it was dead. I sent an e-mail to the address on the website but it was rejected. I tried the automated booking system but it didn’t work. In the end, I had spent nearly ten hours trying to find out how to get to Milan and had got nowhere. As it turned out, I took a chance and just drove anyway and it all worked out but, to this day, I am still struggling to accept that doing anything in Italy can - actually, not can, will - turn into an epic.

Anyway, the choice of Lake Iseo was partly because we had never been there before and partly because there was a Burstner dealership and, if you were thinking that the van was starting to behave, then please let me disenfranchise you of that opinion. Instead of peppering this update with the various failures, I’ll get it all over with in one go (oh, and whilst I am at it; fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking van!). As it stands today:

1.   The ski locker door is so warped you can see daylight between it and the frame.

2.   The main locker also leaks.

3.   The alarm system on both lockers is knackered due to water damage.

4.   The bathroom door handle keeps falling off.

5.   The fridge has stopped automatically switching from electricity to gas.

6.   The cruise control has decided to become intermittent.

7.   The glass bathroom cabinet doors keep falling off their hinges and it is only a matter of time before they smash.

8.   The main window won’t close properly so you have to go outside and perform the closing spell.

9.   Something has gone wrong with the bed and it is now like sleeping on moving platform.

10. The interior lights are fading for a reason that defies scientific explanation.

11. The oven light doesn’t work.

It may surprise you to hear that the last point is the one that irks the most. They say that small things please small minds and I was thrilled with the oven light – I don’t know why, it was just cool and something the last van didn’t have – and now the fucking thing doesn’t work. I think it has become the embodiment of the injustice that I feel at having paid so much money for something that doesn’t work and nobody wants to fix. Anyway, you may remember that we had made a four-hour round trip to a Burstner service centre in Switzerland to have the leaking lockers assessed. They had promised to discuss the issue with Burstner and then agree a date for us to return to get the repairs done. Following our visit, they didn’t reply to our e-mails and, when I called them after two weeks, they hadn’t spoken to Burstner. When we got an e-mail to say that we needed to drive all the way back (now an eight-hour round trip) just so that the same person could look at the same problem again we got the hint that they were not inclined to help us so we tried Iseo. As it stands today, we have driven to the dealership twice and they have made some positive noises but the current state of play is that they claim that Burstner have not responded to their request so they cannot help us. So now we have a pattern of problems with the van, a lack of interest from the service centres in fixing it and a lack of interest from Burstner. Fucking van, fucking Burstner dealers, fucking Burstner.

OK, that out of my system, life in Pisogne continued. We discovered the local market, ate more ice cream, realised that Tourist Information was completely useless (compared to Austria this was a real shock – the girl who worked there didn’t know, and was unable to find out, whether or not a bus ran to the next village), ate more ice cream and I missed out on a firework display whilst trying to calm an extremely anxious Hilda. On 12th September we did something vaguely constructive and caught the ferry to Monte Isola (a large island in the middle of the lake) and walked around it. It was meant to be traffic free but nobody seemed to be taking any notice which made the stroll somewhat unrelaxing and, after a short walk of just nine kilometres, I slept all the way on the ferry back home. A few days later we took the train to the town of Iseo which was nice enough but didn’t have the cosy feel of Pisogne although we did meet a couple of Brits. at a bar who also had a Burstner motorhome and hated it with the same fevour as us so we spent a good hour or so comparing stories. It is interesting to note that, on our previous trips, you could often tell the nationality of a complete stranger most of the time by the way they looked and dressed but, now that the fashions have become much more widespread (rather disappointingly beards, tattoos and overweight kids are everywhere), it is harder to tell from just looking who is from where. There is one exception; you can spot Brits. from a mile away.

Back at the campsite we got chatting to a young German couple and spent a few evenings with them either having a drink outside the van (the view over the lake at night with the lights of the various small towns reflected in it made for real 'on holiday' evenings) or going into town for pizza. This was all good fun but, by now, we had been lounging around for nearly a fortnight and I was getting restless. We did a walk to the next village which was our first real exercise and was pleasant enough although pretty stressy at times due to the Italian penchant to keep guard dogs that go berserk as soon as they sense man or beast approaching so every time we passed one of the many small houses en route we were praying that the gates would be shut. Indeed, the further up the hill we went the more aggressive the "Beware of the dog" signs became until they evolved to say "Beware of the dog and the owner" and then started to show pictures of guns. It taught me one thing – if I ever want to break into a house in Italy, I need to be armed. Strangely enough, on the return leg we came across a heard of llamas but that is Italy for you. That weekend turned out to be the Gruppo Alpini Festival in Pisogne so there was a parade on the Friday evening and another larger one the following day. For a small town this was obviously a big thing and there were even a few TV cameras around but the whole event was uniquely Italian with dignitaries dressed in some very fancy regalia giving long speeches and the parade itself being made up of people who seemed to adhere to no standard dress code. Occasionally, the whole parade would have to stop when a delivery lorry would block the road and folk would get split off and then have to run to catch up with the others.

However, I was now really keen to do something climbing related so the next day we went to check out a local crag which involved a ferry to the next village and was not at all easy to find. When we did find it, Hilda was attacked by a cat and the Feng Shui of the climbing crag wasn’t right for Rachel so we went home and I planned to do the local via ferrata instead. As usual, information was very limited and I was basing my attempt on a map given to me by the campsite owner. The map was clearly ancient and looked like the sort of thing that you would use to find buried treasure. The type face was straight out of the Bayeux Tapestry and, if I could read Italian, I think some places were labelled "here there be dragons". When the free Wi-Fi breezed in for an hour, I found an Italian climbing website and used Google Translate in the hope of getting some better directions but the English version was almost impossible to understand (although "lethal meadows" and "extreme caution" were oft used phrases) aside from it being clear that the route was poorly way-marked. I also discovered a link to a You Tube video of the route taken from someone’s head camera which all looked pretty scary. That evening, I tried to talk my German pal into giving it a go but he was having none of it so the next day I caught the train to the next village (the mystery of whether a bus ran or not was never solved) and set off...

After about thirty minutes I was still in the village. It must have been comprised of less than a hundred houses but, as is the Italian way, there were no signs and my prehistoric map turned out to be as useless as it looked. I made numerous attempts to find the path but all failed. I was getting extremely frustrated running the gauntlet of barking dogs whilst seeking for clues as to where the path might be when I bumped into an old lady (the full-on Italian Grandma type complete with grey hair in a bun, black clothes and a moustache) and she ended up walking me to the start of the track. I was grateful but you kind of know that you are not having the best of mountain days when you need an old woman to point out the start. Anyway, I got going and was soon very much alone in the hills. I knew this for two reasons. Firstly there was only a very distant sound of strimming. Strimming is a national sport in Italy and you can never be more than one kilometre from a man strimming wherever you are in the country. Secondly, there was a distinct absence of human excrement and toilet paper. For a reason that I cannot explain the Italians have a conditioned reflex to shit whenever they get to a mountain path. Anyway, the walk did start to feel somewhat spooky as the path ran through woods and, despite being a long way from the next person, I began to imagine that I was being followed. This all stopped however when I came across the "lethal meadows". The path which had been in the trees throughout opened onto a grassy hillside which was at around ten to twenty degrees off vertical and fell to cliffs above the lake. I am not sure that I have ever been on grass so steep and I would definitely describe the terrain 'easy dangerous'. In climbing terms you can have easy (e.g. walking) or hard (e.g. rock climbing on an overhang) but you can also have safe (e.g. bolted rock climbing where you don’t hit the ground if you fall off) and dangerous (e.g. solo climbing where you die if you fall off). People often assume that hard is dangerous but this is often not the case and, what I was on, was the epitome of easy but dangerous. Anyway, the answer was to take care with each step and in just under three hours I reached the cabled section of the route. It was well worth it, the via ferrata part was easy and the cable (or, in this case, the chain) was hardly necessary (indeed it would have been far more helpful on the "lethal meadows") and, although the route was short, it offered fantastic views and a very satisfying route to the summit. I managed to get lost again on the summit - which was no easy feat when you are stood on a pinnacle – as typically the way off was not way-marked so I had to explore several false paths leading to oblivion before I found the route proper. Shortly afterwards I arrived on the summit of Corna Trentapassi (1,248m) to the surprise of the twenty or so people who had walked up from the other side and, with more luck than judgement, found my way back down again to Pisogne where I met Rachel for ice cream. I learned two things that day. One was that it is impossible not to get lost in Italy so it is better to accept it than to get wound up and the second was that Go Pro footage makes things look far worse than they are in reality which, having seen some horrifying videos of a certain mountain that one day I might consider climbing, made me feel a lot better.

Anyway, in the next few days we had a look at some more rock climbing which didn’t float Rachel’s boat either, ate more ice cream, went for a run between two villages on the lakeside, ate more ice cream, had a goodbye meal with our German friends and ate more ice cream. In the middle of all of this the campsite owner, knowing that I was interested in climbing, had called his friend who had told him that there was a newly constructed via ferrata starting from a relatively nearby village leading to the highest summit in the area so, on 24th September, Rachel and I set off in the van for the village of Zone. Having had some trouble parking, we typically couldn’t find the start of the route and then realised that we were actually in the wrong village altogether (apparently the Comune di Zone is not the same as the village of Zone). We eventually found the right starting place and set off along the "Path of Gnomes" which consisted of hundreds of carved wooden statues lining the path through the woods up the hillside. After around six hundred metres of ascent Rachel and Hilda turned back to the van and I continued up the hill. Remarkably the path was relatively well signed and after a further hour of uphill I got to the start of the via ferrata section. It was a direct route up a large cliff face and looked somewhat intimidating which, coupled with my lack of knowledge about the grade and the lack of a climbing partner to take the piss, did make me somewhat apprehensive but in the end it went OK. It was steep and exposed and had a number of slightly overhanging sections and it was most certainly something that I would have derived no pleasure from at the start of the season but the summer’s experience paid off and I quite enjoyed it in the end. Anyway, from there it was only an hour on to the summit of Monte Guglielmo (1,957m) where someone had built, not just a summit cross, but a full-on church (the congregation of which I can only assume is extremely fit). From there it was fourteen hundred metres back down and I got round to wondering how you can attempt a climb that is longer, higher and more technically difficult than Ben Nevis but consider it not much more than an afternoon stroll in Italy. I soon arrived at the obvious conclusion – the weather. In this country you can actually see where you are going. When I got back to Rachel, her day had been much more eventful, involving an encounter with a posse of motorcyclists, a man looking for a dog that we had both spotted earlier and another man with a gun.

Back in Pisogne, it was the first evening of the Mushroom and Chestnut Festival which was another huge event (for a small town these guys certainly knew how to throw a party) and the square was filled with stalls selling all sorts of local produce (albeit orientated towards the mushroom and chestnut side of things), fair rides and even a stage. We had a meal on the first evening and then spent the next day mooching around. Rather refreshingly, it was good to see that kids are actively encouraged to dick around on fair rides in Italy and, on the ride where the metal chairs hang down from chains and then rotate and swing out (you know the one) you actually got a prize if you could get your mate riding on the inside chair to push you out at a certain point on the circumference so that you could grab a feather hanging from a stand. This might all sound fairly benign but the feather was placed very high above the 'orbit' of the chairs so your mate needed to give you one hell of a swing and the return from the apex of that swing resulted in multiple chair collision mid-ride which everyone seemed to find great fun. 

Anyway, by now our campsite had officially closed and we were one of a handful of folks still allowed to stay so we had a final day of life admin. then went into town for a final meal and then sat outside the van with a beer for a final night looking at the great view across the lake. The following day we first went to the Burstner dealership in an attempt to find our whether they would fix our van and then drove back to Pisogne for our last ice cream - only to find that the shop was closed. I felt like a heroin addict outside the house of his dealer with the full knowledge that the goods were inside but there was no way of getting to them. I seriously considered breaking in, stealing my last ice cream and leaving the money for the damage. It was obvious that I had developed somewhat of an addiction and, when we looked back and realised that we had spent over one hundred Euros on ice cream, the seriousness of our habit was apparent. In desperation I tried another shop but that was a huge mistake and so it was that on 27th September we left the lovely Pisogne with literally, but not at all metaphorically, a bad taste in our mouths.

Tags: alps, climbing, dogs, hilda, motorhomes, mountaineering, mountains, rachel, simon, walking

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