March 20

Bondone to Casali and more

March 11

Roof timbers and changing a pay as you go telephone plan

During breakfast I could hear a massive amount of serious hammering coming from the roof. It appears that there is a hole in the felt and that water has been trickling in over the years and is starting to rot the roof timbers.

I have a pay as you go phone here in Italy. The coverage is very good and the cost is very good as well. Included in the deal is 50 hours of 3G internet per calendar month. Each month a sum is taken from my account to cover this internet access. As we are to be leaving Italy for a few months this plan is no longer of much use to me. For some reason the WIND.IT website doesn’t like any of my credit cards so I need to do all transactions in the phone shop. I went to said phone shop last week and, although the shop was open, the woman who does the work was not there and no one else felt confident about changing my payment plan. Like the idiot I am I completely forgot that today is Monday and strolled up the road to try again. Today, being Monday, the shop was closed. Perhaps I will have more success tomorrow.

After a really nice stroll in the sunny weather I spotted the wood man who failed to deliver the logs. He looked suitably abashed but his overly dramatic gestures of amazement at his poor memory did not mollify me or lessen my irritation.

March 10

Firewood and a really nice walk

Some time past I went to visit some friends and, in passing, went to order some firewood. After a lengthy chat with the man of wood, and a good look around his yard and pallets of wood plus a chat about price, we settled on a delivery date of last Sunday. In order to receive the load of logs we stayed in and mooched about, put the car out and waited. No log show!! I wondered if the logs might come today, today being a Sunday after all. Again, no logs. Ah well!! My mistake I gave him my number, I should have asked for his.

Instead of brooding on the log deficiency I went for a walk over the old Sentiero dei morti. Today was a solitary walk as Janet was feeling seedy and wanted to stay near to the safety of the house and its facilities.

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This part of Italy is real border country. We are on the old border with Austro-Hungary. A short journey to Lake Garda brings us to the Veneto too.

Echoes of the past are everywhere here.


Approaching the footpath one passes the old dogana, customs post, now a rather grand building with nice apartments. Where the battle of Ponte Caffaro was fought by the Garibaldini.


Flowers on the banks of the path give a real feeling of Spring.


To be honest I’m not too sure about the next two plants.


Nor this one, I must get a proper flora and study it.


The blighters are everywhere so I suppose that they are very common.

Having walked on this path quite a few times over the years it was a surprise to see the evidence of path widening.


This will obviously encourage more people to use the path,although the rumour is that it might be part of a cycle path. Some of my best chums are recreational cyclists and, although I am certain that none of them would silently come from nowhere at great speed to interrupt my tranquility as I contemplate the wonders of nature, I still feel somewhat apprehensive.


Blimey! It goes on for ever. They are serious about this, I think.

The path passes above the cemetery. As I passed I could see the grave of a friend and noticed that his flowers had blown over in the recent heavy rains. It was a pleasure to pop in and set them straight once again.

Passing the lakeend the kiosks selling wine were open today, not too many customers. It was a delight to have a chat to friends as they too enjoyed a Sunday afternoon stroll.

I have loads of lake photos but I don’t care, here’s another.


When out on a Sunday afternoon you can’t beat a good old gossip. The group in the distance are having a good look at the new bridge which will replace the rickety old one which was removed for the sake of safety, although I have seen the postman riding over it on his moped. The old bridge was not that old but it was made of wood which rotted very quickly. The new one is made of steel but not yet open.


Strolling up the river one passes the factories, not very beautiful but vitally important for the local economy. This is also where the wooden trailers rest after carnival.


An enjoyable Spring walk certainly generates a thirst. Perhaps a glass of pinot grigio before supper??

March 10

Following the Epiphany stars in Crone, Lembrato and Treviso Bresciano.

During Christmas week, as we were chatting about this and that with friends, the conversation turned towards Christmas traditions. Over the Christmas period there are Nativity scenes everywhere, some in private gardens and other, grander, scenes in churches and public places.  I needed some more electricity sockets for the house and went to the local builders’ supermarket to get them and noticed that there were kits for making these Nativity scenes on sale in the entrance area of the shop.

But, what about the Epiphany stars and singers? I don’t need to remind people that Epiphany is on January 6th and is when the church tells us that Jesus was shown to the Gentiles represented by the magi who followed a star. Among British Epiphany carols I suppose are the famous “We Three Kings” and “As With Gladness, Men of Old”

With no idea of what to expect we strolled round to our kindly neighbours and climbed into the car and set off for Crone, about 5 miles away from Ponte Caffaro at the other end of Lago d’Idro. In the wintery evening gloom we would never have found the groups of singers we were looking forward to hearing without the help of our two friends, Raffaella and Laura. Even with their help we went hither and thither until a group of traditionally dressed people were spotted carrying an enormous star. The group of singers wound its way up slippery, icy paths to various houses, on arrival at a house the singers made themselves known and started to sing.  The following sound clip is of the Crone group, recorded on a digital camera so the sound is not very good but it does give some idea of the song, but not the atmosphere.

stellacrone link

Walking down the steep icy paths back to the car needed some care but the evening was gloriously clear. We could see the lake below us and the reflections of the lights of houses on the lakeside.

Leaving Crone we crossed the bridge into Lemprato and could see the singers gathered by the road side outside a hairdresser’s shop. The road through Lemprato is the main artery between Brescia and Trentino and is narrow and very busy. As the singers moved onwards to the next spot they gave me a song sheet of their songs. The noise of passing traffic is a bit distracting but the clip gives an idea of what was happening.

stellalemprato link

Next stop was a drive upwards, out of Lemprato via Crone to Treviso Bresciano, a smallish hill town on the way to Lake Garda via the mountains. we could see a light in the distance as we parked in an impossiblt small parking space. As the light drew closer it became a small tractor and trailer with a Nativity scene and an enormous rotating star operated by a small boy pulling a string. The singers from Treviso Bresciano are all men, unlike the other groups. In their black traditional cloaks they appeared to be quite out of another time.

stellatreviso link

By now the evening was starting to feel cold and we were starting to feel cold. time for supper we thought so off home. I mentioned earlier that the road through Lemprato is a main artery for this area. Unfortunately for us, and more so for two other motorists who collided just outside one of the tunnels, the road home was blocked for an hour or so.
An enchanting evening nonetheless.

February 9

Snow shoes at Gaver

As a result of a special offer at the local Coop we have some super ciaspole, snowshoes. After a highly calorific meal of puff pastry filled with ham, cheese, spinach and other delicious stuff we waddled to the start of the snowy mountains clutching our ciaspole and poles. Putting the snowshoes on took more effort than we had expected. Janet had particular difficulty in getting the things to tighten up enough to stop them falling off. In fact, the only solution was to sit down in the snow and do the job properly.
we set off ploughing through deep soft snow as, lower down, there are signs saying, keep off the piste if you have snowshoes.

What a relief it was to see a woman striding out in the the middle of the piste. We followed her example and found things much easier than struggling through drifts and trees. Obviously this strategy means that one must be aware of the distinctive swishing sound of a person on skis or snowboard hurtling downwards at the unprotected back of the slow moving snow shoe person.

The scenery was so different, covered in snow, that it took us quite a few moment to work out that we had been walking on the ‘main’ mountain road to Bergamo.

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December 13

Santa Lucia and a minor riddle solved

The 11th and 12th of December bring a delightful treat to the breakfast table, ‘colombine’. Colombine are buns similar in taste to a hot cross bun, having a sort of tear drop shape and covered with sugar drops.

IMG_0004 colomba

Fortified by a colonbina each we went out for a stroll. Since the weather has turned cooler we have been able to see a range of white hills from our early morning stroll. To be honest it isn’t really an ‘early’ stroll, more of a mid morning stroll really.

IMG_0001 distant hills

Seeing the hills in the distance has caused us to guess where these hills might be. It isn’t easy to estimate distance here as the hills could be low and near or high and far. As we strolled past the very nice Massey Ferguson 35 we decided to have a crack at gathering empirical evidence.

IMG_0029 mf35

We got into the car and headed up the valley, and found the first blighter opposite Lardaro. The range of hills in the distance was still in the distance so obviously high and far. Instead of carrying on, and missing lunch, we stopped at Bondo and looked at the hills and started a new raft of speculation. There is a WW1 cemetary at Bondo, with a large monument, giving a good vantage point to view the surrounding landscape.

IMG_0013 austrian soldier

Back at Ponte Caffaro we wandered about the flat doing stuff and waiting for the arrival of Santa Lucia. Santa Lucia doesn’t come to Gravels Bank so this was to be a new experience for us. We set out from home at 5:50 pm and made our way to the five a side football field at the back of the cinema, where people of all ages were starting to gather. The musicians were tuning up, the fire was lit and we waited.


Santa Lucia’s donkey was already present as was her cart, the expectation grew. The children were ringing cowbells to hasten her arrival. Santa Lucia’s arrival, when it camehigh up on the hill, was very dramatic.

IMG_0025 santa lucia

All the children gathered around Santa Lucia’s cart and received their presents, as the rest of us warmed ourselves by the fire. We all drifted towards the tent for some brule and a chat and home.

Santa Lucia has obviously turned up and one lucky person’s house.

IMG_0037 look what santa lucia has left

November 21

Council tax

As we went out for an evening stroll last night we spotted an innocuous envelope hiding in our letterbox. On getting back to the house we put it on the little glass table by the door and forgot about it.
After breakfast, as I was waiting for the plumber who didn’t turn up, I thought I should open the letter and have a look at its contents. I learned, from this letter, that the local tax has changed this year and that the amount we pay has increased. The old system was slightly tricky but the government has managed to surpass its bureaucratic tendencies with the new ‘simpler’ IMU.

After lunch the weather looked settled and we fancied a trip up to Maniva to see if could get to the top this time.

November 20

Central heating vocabulary

For some time, years if I am honest, we have suffered an intermittent leak from our gas central heating boiler here in Italy. We would put something down on the top of the washing machine and find that it was soaking wet. On the very few occasions when a competent plumber has been in the house the pesky thing has been completely dry. Finally we must face up to the inescapable fact that the leak is no longer intermittent, it is permanent. A plastic bowl sits underneath the boiler and catches about a litre of water during a period of 24 hrs. The hot water and heating work perfectly during the day and, as we have heating and hot water, you might take the view that we could ignore the leak.

Now to the point of this post, how does one describe, to an Italian plumber, the events of the past years and the current situation?

Central heating boiler – caldaia
Expansion vessel – Vaso d’espansione
Repressurise – caricamento
Water leak – perdita d’acqua
Loss of water pressure – perdita di pressione dell’acqua

I have left a message on the plumber’s answering machine so I shall find out if this vocabulary has worked.

November 13

The River Caffaro rushing to the lake on Sunday 11th November

Janet here.  I am writing this after a lovely supper and a game of Bananagrams listening to the Trout Quintet on Spotify.  At the weekend it rained.  And rained.  Torrentially.  After remembering the Armistice at eleven o’clock at home, wearing our poppies, along with the Remembrance Service at the Cenotaph, we lurked about in the house until the rain finally eased off at about three in the afternoon, and set off for our usual walk along the river to the lake to see how the river was.

And my word, it was worth going to see it.  We have never seen the river so high.  It was tearing through its course down to the lake.  All the boulders had disappeared beneath the turbulent waters, and the speed of the current was …… fast. Very fast.  Very fast indeed.

We walked down one side of the river to its confluence with the River Chiese to the lake where we could see the current with the brown waters of the two rivers rushing right across the head of the lake to the other side.  We gazed in awe and wonder for a while, and, despite the rain which had started falling again, strolled back along the other side of the river with our trusty umbrellas to shield us a little.  We crossed the metal road bridge to complete our stroll, and returned home where we lurked about for the rest of the day.

The photographs below follow that stroll.

River Caffaro
The River Caffaro, pouring down the valley from the mountains


The River Caffaro
We continue down the southern side of the Caffaro, admiring the cataract-type conditions.


trees in the river
The trees at the edge of the river certainly got wet feet.


River Caffaro in spate
The turbulent river


Confluence of the Caffaro with the Chiese
The Confluence of the Caffaro (on the left) with the Chiese, just before the waters enter the lake.


The weir by the lake
This is where the River Chiese, which has been joined by the River Caffaro at this point, enters Lake Idro. There is a sort of wall which can usually be seen that the water tumbles over. Well it was certainly tumbling on Sunday.


The river running into the lake
Lake Idro with Rocca d’Anfo in the distance. The brown waters in the foreground are from the rivers, rushing  (from the left of the photograph to the right) across the northern end of the lake where we are standing.


Mike with camera & umbrella by the river
Making our way back on the northern side of the Caffaro.


The Caffaro in full spate
The Caffaro in full spate, while we are making our way back up the river towards the metal bridge.


dramatic turbulence of the river
The river was just so turbulent and dramatic. A friend we had met on the footpath on our walk said it hadn’t been so full for a few years.


Caffaro by Palazzo Lodrone
The view looking north from the metal bridge, where the river has just tumbled down the Caffaro Valley from Valle Dorizzo, Gaver and above. The pink building is the Palazzo di Lodrone in Trentino. This bridge is where the old Italian/Austrian frontier was up until 1918. It is now the boundary between Lombardy and Trentino.


Mike on the bridge, camera in hand
Mike standing on the bridge, trying to capture the majesty of the river in spate.

There are also one or two short videos which we will upload tomorrow.


October 31

A visit from the Ponte Caffaro frighteners

The weather today was supposed to be horrible, windy and rainy. When I opened the shutters and had a squint outside all seemed fairly quiet. After a breakfast of muesli and All Bran we felt strong enough to go out for a stroll by the river. The sun came out and defied the meteorologists making the stroll much nicer than we had anticipated that would be. The river level looks lower today, probably because the recent rain has fallen as snow on the upper valleys.

I don’t know if you are familiar with Scottish homemade candy but, if you are not, it is the sort of stuff that you eat until long past the time you should have stopped, and then feel a bit queezy. As it is Halloween Janet made some of this candy today in case we had some visitors from the Ponte Caffaro frightening fraternity. We obviously had to do some quality control and did so with considerable, and intemperate, zeal.

P1030952- Halloween

We heard the fearsome sound of the doorbell at about 8:00pm and let in 10 foul fiends who trussed me up in lavatory paper after singing a song in English. I was released from my lavatory paper chain when candy was offered around and the fiends departed. I think that I shall need a glass or two of home brew to settle me down after such an event.

October 29

Failed trip to Passo Maniva

Autumn is very pretty at the moment.

281020122860 trees

We have had quite a few days of heavy rain lately. Last night we went for a pizza with some friends and could see that the rain had fallen as snow on the mountains surrounding Ponte Caffaro. The near full moon and clear skies shining on the snow suggested that we were in top of a massive cake which had been iced by a heavy handed baker.

301020122862 snow on the hills

After mopping the floors and other tedious stuff we quite liked the idea of looking at the snow in a more intimate setting. To satisfy this need we set off for Passo Maniva. Having crossed the pass in full sun last August, seeing it in snow today seemed like a wizard wheeze.

The road from Ponte Caffaro to Bagolino was clear of snow so we felt that we might pull it off. The sign to Passo Croci Domini suggested that that pass was closed but no mention of Passo Maniva. As we climbed upwards we were delighted to see the snow on the trees and on the mountain tops. Yes, there was a little snow on the road but nothing to bother intrepid souls like us.

The road to Passo Maniva is quite narrow and has hairpin bends and some hairy drops. The snow plough had been quite effective up to a point but, rather foolishly, we didn’t stop where the snow plough had stopped. In fact we arrived at the conclusion that turning back was not an option any more, things were not looking too good really. Just below the pass we did find a place where we could turn around, admittedly by turning the steering wheel to full lock and flooring the throttle to rotate. Even so the snow did look fabulous.

301020122866 snowy

When collecting the logs from the cantina to light the fire one of our neighbours told me that we were mentioned on prime time national TV last night. There is a  quiz programme called L’eredita which has a true/false round in it, the contestant thought that the idea of walking to Italy from the UK was so bonkers that it must be false.


October 21

A fungal adventure between Bondone and Storo

Our tea maker and alarm clock woke us up at 6:30 am this morning. This unusually early hour was not a mistake as our friends Raffaella and Lorenzo were to arrive at 8:00 am so that we could go for a stroll between two of our local towns. At first sight this might appear to be to be rather commonplace, except that Bondone is half way up a significant hill and there is no road from Bondone to Storo, just a mountain path.


Every time we climb up here I try to remember the names of the peaks when they are described to me, total failure so far.

We have strolled to the refuge at Alpo quite a few times, once in deep snow, although I need to confess that we didn’t make it that time. We arrived at Alpo by a different route today and the place looked very different to previous visits, just because of path change.


There is a mountain path from Alpo to Lago di Garda, which we might have a crack at next year, if we are here.

Going for a stroll in the mountains with an Italian family is a real treat. A treat not only for good company but also to learn about the plants, animals and geology of the area. We would be in deep conversation about something when someone would spot an interesting plant, some leaves or, more importantly, an edible fungus. At that point conversation ceased as something really important had to be done.

P1030752 Lorenzo with porcini

I am tempted to say that the magnificent fungus in the photo above is called Lorenzo. In truth it is an enormous porcini, tomorrow’s supper.

All of this diving into the undergrowth for fungi started to fill me with a feeling of inadequacy and I could feel the need to dive into the undergrowth as well. My ignorance of the edible varieties made me feel diffident about making a collection as I wanted to wake up tomorrow morning at home not in casualty or the mortuary.

Little by little with lots of encouragement from my chums, I started to be able to distinguish “Lactarius deliciosus” and, after a few successful identifications, started to collect these delightful blighters. This fungus has a peculiarity which helps even the newest fungus collector to be successful, the thing leaves yellow stain on one’s fingers. Janet joined in and we soon had gathered enough for a trial run at least.


We arrived home after a beer and I cleaned the fungi and bunged them in the frying pan with some salt and olive oil. Instructions were to let them cook for between 20 to 30 minutes. As the mushrooms were cooking the juice became redder and redder and the huge pan full of fungi shrank down to manageable proportions


We ate our fungi, washed down with some home brew, which I thought had failed but is actually quite tasty. The fungi were delicious with a very particular taste. What a way to finish a fabulous day.

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October 20

Gaver and the opening of the new bank building Bagolino

Ponte Caffaro has two rivers which meet at Lago D’Idro. We checked that the Chiese was running earlier in the week at Val di Fumo. Today we thought that we should make sure that the Caffaro was in good shape. By doing this today we could kill two birds with one stone. Io hasten to add that killing birds with stones, or any other projectile for that matter, is not permitted without a properly signed permit here in Italy. Bird killing was just a figure of speech and not a new hobby. The second bird was to attend the opening of the fine new building which our bank has erected in Bagolino.

The Cassa Rurale is a cooperative bank which began when a group of local people in Darzo needed to buy a harvester. These enlightened people could not afford a harvester as individuals so joined together to buy the machine and the cooperative bank was born. The bank continues this enlightened pattern in which the depositors, borrowers and communities come first and last to this day.

After the tedious preamble above lets get on with it. We drove past Bagolino and towards Gaver, a small local ski resort, and parked in an empty car park. My camera has given up the ghost after the daily abuse on the trail and so I am reduced to the camera in my telephone to photograph our tour of inspection.

The signposts were a little confusing so we trotted off down the road.

The meadows between the road and the river looked soft and inviting. We drifted off the road and down towards the river on the meadows.


The snow on the mountains looked very inviting, something for another day I think. The soft inviting meadows became softer and softer as we walked on. The meadows became wetter and wetter as well.

At the valley’s end is a small hydro power station where we could retrace our steps or investigate a possible alternative return route, no choice then. We crossed the river and enjoyed a fabulous stroll down the other side of the valley. It was quite a relief when a footbridge turned up so that we could get back to the car without needing to paddle.

The middle of Bagolino was closed to traffic today so that marquees and open air bars could be enjoyed in a car free environment. As I said earlier the Cassa Rurale is a cooperative bank which returns stuff to the community. The festa was part of this return. After the blessing of the building and cutting of the tape anyone who wanted to do so could wander about the new building to look at it. After the ceremony a small drink, a chat and a stroll before the polenta and a glass of wine. As we ate our polenta we were serenaded by a musical duo. Can you imagine any of this from Barclays, HSBC or Lloyds?


October 19

Internet and the front page of the Giornale di Brescia

I had a phone call today from the people who are to supply our internet and fixed line telephone. They told me that the antenna was ready and to come into the office next week. I, very foolishly as it turns out, thought that the fitting of the antenna on our apartment roof was included in the deal. So, next week I shall collect the antenna and hope that it is small enough to go on the balcony as I have no harness for roof work. In addition I shall borrow a hammer drill with a very long masonry drill in order to get the cable through the wall. I need to ask better questions.

Who would have believed it? We have not only made the front page of the Shropshire Star but also the front page of the Giornale di Brescia today.


To add to this excitement there is a free lecture at the bank tonight about the Great Fire of Bagolino, followed by a late night DJ in the bar adjacent to our flat.

October 17

Festa della Transumanza Bagolino 14th October 2012

“An odd title for a blog post!” I can hear you exclaim. If you look transumanza up in an Italian / English dictionary it gives the helpful translation of transhumance. In case anyone could have forgotten, transhumance is the ancient, annual, migration in spring of cattle to graze on the high alpine meadows. In autumn the process is reversed and the cattle return to lower levels and their winter quarters. Our local centre, Bagolino, retains this tradition to this day. There are some 26 herds of cows still based in Bagolino all of whom, with their owners, continue this traditional way of life. Each herd is based at a malga, a cowshed and living place, and the milk produced by these cows is used to make the delicious traditional Bagoss cheese.

We needed to go to the council offices in Ponte Caffaro last week in order to correct the address the council has for us. Having spoken to the bloke who does the tax bills, with a bit of luck, we shall now receive our council tax bills on time and can avoid paying fines for non payment of said council tax. As we were idling away the time before being seen by the funzionario I spotted the following notice pinned on the noticeboard.

An impossible to resist advertisement

This notice was an invitation to look at some of the cows from the various malgas running through the main street of Bagolino. On the special day I rose early and made my solitary way up to Bagolino, taking at least 15 minutes for the journey. I parked the car outside Bagolino and made my way into the town at about 9:10 am in order not to miss the cows running through the main street, due to start at 9:30 am it said on the notice. The main square looked a bit short of eager spectators so I hung about for a bit as people gradually started to arrive. I had a chat with some people I know and waited. We all waited for quite a time really. At about 10:30 someone said that they thought that they could hear the sound of cowbells in the distance. I could hear the odd, doubting, mutter at this news but when the cows did turn up they looked really fantastic in the narrow streets. I forgot to take many photos, unfortunately, but did get a few poor quality videos which I will add to this thing. I asked one of the cowmen why they were a bit late. He said “They’re cows, they’re not machines you know! They didn’t want to go and we didn’t want to make them.” “Fair enough!” Was my feeble response.

After the excitement of loads of cows running around, the fire service turned up and hosed the excitement away leaving the streets completely free of the brown stuff. I have to say that the process was incredibly efficient.

Part of the cheese making process

The day finished at the local park for a small agricultural show with displays of cheese making and some people selling warm socks, vests, woolly hats, heavy saucepans and various traditional foods. It was at this point that the rain started. We all did what we do at British agricultural shows, we went to the bar and had a drink or two until the food was ready. My knowledge of the local dialect is a scanty but I did manage to learn a few new words at the bar.

The food and the bar was organised by the pro loco of Bagolino. The pro loco is something found in many communities where a group of volunteers organise events, put on amateur dramatics and musical evenings. I really enjoy watching the process of polenta making in quantity.

After a sturdy portion of polenta and a few drinks things began to develop into a very pleasant afternoon session.

I can’t wait for next year’s transumanza

October 6

Ponte Caffaro to Darzo via Castel Lodron

We have been feeling slightly seedy over the last day or two so have only had a few indolent strolls down to the lake. Today, the sun was shining, and so were we, so we got the urge to stretch our legs.

sunny balcony
A sunny morning in Ponte Caffaro

After lunch we pulled ourselves together and set out towards the ruins of Castel Lodron. According to the notice board on the way up to this ancient pile this castle was ruined by the French and then by the Garibaldini.

Castel Lodron
Castel Lodron as seen from the footpath out of Lodrone

The path upwards has been improved over the years and much of it is ribbed concrete. A landslide destroyed the old path a few years ago but the local authority has established quite a few measures to prevent too much damage if this should happen again.

Footpath at rear of Castel Lodron
Footpath at rear of Castel Lodron towards Darzo

It is not very easy to walk right around the castle as the drops are a bit severe so, in order to find the path, it is necessary to take the path at the left side. I must confess at this point that we had no idea where the path went when we set off along it. I suppose that we have become compulsive footpath explorers.

Path to Darzo
The path was a bit steep in places

Next time we use this path we need to take some kit with us. Secateurs to cut back the thorns and nettles, poles to get past the steep slides, and a small backpack and gardening gloves to collect the wild walnuts and chestnuts.

The footpath into Darzo

The footpath is not easy to walk along for much of its length but it does become much easier as it approaches Darzo.

Ripe maize
Ripe maize everywhere

We had hoped to find an open bar in Darzo but must have turned the wrong way. We did see a bar but it was shut. In the bar’s window was a sign demanding that clients should use the lavatories provided and not the outside walls. We would have been delighted to use the facilities but could not get in.
We crossed the main road and spotted a track which we hoped would lead us home. It has been quite exciting to stroll about in a, more or less, haphazard manner.
The fields along the valley are full of ripe maize awaiting the attentions of the maize cooperative’s combine. This all promises another good year of farina gialla di Storo and many plates of delicious polenta with bagoss.

I nearly trod on a huge caterpillar, black, no hairs, about three inches long and half an inch thick. I hope that if anyone reads this nonsense then a name might be forthcoming for this giant among caterpillars.

a large black caterpillar

A glass of pirlo and a beer on the balcony has finished off a perfect day. Although I am still trying to find flip top bottles for my fermenting brew.

River Caffaro
Crossing the Caffaro on the way home to a cool beer.
October 4

Beer and car check

Our delightful FIAT Punto has developed an irritating habit. Just before we set out from Shropshire, to travel to Italy, an engine management light became visible. On looking this light up in the car handbook the message was more or less “go directly to the dealers and do not collect £200”.

To cut a long and boring story short I went to see the FIAT dealer in Shrewsbury to get the thing cleared. It turned itself on again in Guildford two days later and  the Guildford dealer told us that we would wreck the engine if we didn’t get it fixed and that we would have to wait for at least five days before this could happen. The friendly bloke in Shrewsbury said “rubbish, carry on it can’t harm the engine” and, blow me, the light turned itself off in Italy. We visited the local FIAT bloke here in Italy today and according to this fine fellow the thing had probably cleared itself going over the St Gotthard Pass. So, if you get a problem with a FIAT car, drive it back to Italy.

salo from waterfront
Lake Garda at Salo

As the car did not need any attention after all, we had an hour or two to kill so we went a few miles down the road to Lake Garda and Salo for a stroll around and some home made ice cream.

Salo boats on Lake garda
Boats on Lake Garda at Salo

The beer here in Italy is quite nice but I fancied a pint or two of warm flat British style beer so started a brew a couple of days ago. I am a bit worried at the moment as the fermentation appears to have stopped. The beer fermenting bin is sitting in the sunshine by the patio doors at the moment soaking up some sunshine. I hope that if it relaxes in the late afternoon sunshine it will get going again.

October 3

Gravels Bank to Ponte Caffaro by car 28/09/2012 – 30/09/2012

After a frantic two weeks in the UK we returned to italy taking a route which brushed against the line of the stroll. We set off from the UK, via the shuttle, much later than intended as a result of some poor advice from a FIAT dealer in the South East of England. Luckily, our Shropshire chap told us to press on and ignore the irritating engine shaped light on the instrument panel, which went out after a few hundred miles. I am off to see the FIAT bloke here in Italy tomorrow so, fingers crossed that my Italian is up to the job.

Good old GPS technology meant that we had a line on our map which represented the original stroll and also our actual position on the road so we could gasp in pleasure when the two lines coincided. The two lines coincided incredibly frequently in Arras as we drove, by accident and poor navigation, into the town centre and its one way system.

Frequent visitors to France will already have discovered the wonderful network of traffic free roads away from motorways. Following our stroll route we also discovered the network of lesser roads which criss cross the countryside. How we chuckled when one of these roads turned into a cart track. It reminded us of the delight we had felt when encountering one of these tracks on the stroll, knowing that we should be very unlucky to be run down by a fast moving vehicle from behind. Travelling along the ‘N’ and larger ‘D’ class roads we saw lots of signs for chambres d’hotes. This frequency of accommodation caused us to modify our view of France which grew from the perspective of a stroller using paths and minor roads.

Our first place of rest was in beautiful Peronne where we ate very well indeed. readers of previous posts will recall that a good dinner was not always to be found when we strolled. Having spent most of the day oohing and ahhing we feel that we must spend more time in this bit of France. We decided to travel slowly and to stay the next night at Altkirch. If anyone has any experience of Altkirch as a good place to stay I should be grateful to hear of it. We wandered about for ages and couldn’t spot any likely places to rest our, by now, weary heads. Altkirch looked very beautiful in a Swiss sort of way but didn’t seem to have any hotels, restaurants, bars, cinemas etc. After a fruitless half hour we carried on towards Basel, finding a bed on the outskirts of Altkirch.

The following morning we set off missing Mulhouse out of the trip in order to save time and made straight for the Swiss border and Altdorf. Approaching Altdorf, via the motorway, the weather started to deteriorate. A heavy mist made itself known to us which was a shame as we had been looking forward to going over the St Gotthard Pass via the old cobbled road we had crossed on our pedestrian way upwards. It took us about 10 seconds to decide that the mist was probably low level stuff and would disappear as we drove upwards. We stopped for a comfort break, a coffee and a stroll around Altdorf before following the trail to Erstfeld and the St Gotthard Pass via the old road. The mist became fog as we made our way upwards but did not prevent us from enjoying this trip up and down memory lane. The conditions were a bit like driving over Plynlimon as the fog turned inevitably to rain and better visibility. The rain stopped for us at the summit so we could wander about without coats, although the temperature was definitely cooler than when we were there a few weeks ago.

The trip downwards to rejoin the motorway near Bellinzona was a real treat as the sun came out giving us a small taste of the experience we had had when we had followed the route on foot, although a few metres to the left, without a pack and in a sitting position.

When we have driven from Gravels Bank to Ponte Caffaro in the past one of us is usually fast asleep in the passenger seat as the other drives. This time neither of us slept at all during the journey. Even when on the motorway from Bellinzona to Brescia we were still chattering. I think that perhaps we should do the trip again.

September 8

The Path of Peace to the Doss of Death

After a poor night’s sleep induced by our neighbours’ noisy cat we were looking forward very much to a stroll in the mountains with our Italian friends. We had arranged to meet them at 8:30 at a place called Pieve di Bono. Pieve di Bono is an idea not a place, unfortunately. It is a group of villages and we drove way past the car park and carried on, unaware of our error, for some miles. After this minor problem we met them and drove together to the start of our stroll.

Today’s stroll is not well marked and none of us had any experience of this particular path so we visited the mayor (sindaco) of the area first, in order to get advice about where  to start and where we might make mistakes. He was on the scaffolding of his house supervising some major rebuilding but came down to pass on his wisdom.

Stroll start
Stroll start

The sentiero della pace marks the front held by the Austro-Hungarians in WW1.  When we strolled along the Sentiero at Rio Caino the other day we could see the enemy trenches along the hill opposite. Today we were on the other side of the valley.

Austro_Hungarian fort
Forte Corno a rebuilt Austro Hungarian fort, where the path begins

At the end of the forest road there is a very austere building. This was the old fortress commanding this part of the front for the Austrians. There is a small car park from which to set off upwards.

hanging about before we start
Hanging about before we start

The views from the fort are fabulous and we hung about looking over the edges for quite a long time before setting forth.

gentiana germanicus everywhere
Small blue flowers everywhere, an alpine garden.

After wandering about in woods for the first part of the stroll we got into clear air at about 1800 metres. This is about as high as trees can grow here so we are always pleased to leave them behind. The open ground was filled with fabulous blue flowers which my friends assure me are Gentiana Germanicus.

Remains of WW1 trenches
Remains of WW1 trenches

The trenches are still very much in evidence but are losing definition as the sides become less steep and the bottoms less profound. This ground has obviously had quite a lot of disturbance as there are nettles and brambles everywhere where there are the remains of fortifications. The meadows around the trenches have all been mown in order to keep the fine grass in check. The down side of this attention to the terrain is to provide a layer of incredibly slippery hay. I was treated to a surprising slide on my backside by these unforgiving dry leaves.

intrepid exploreres still going upwards
Intrepid explorers, still going upwards.

The real footpath is quite serpentine in nature but we went straight upwards once the top came into view. One of our companions said that the footpaths here are not well marked as this discourages the casual visitor who might disturb the delicate balance of plants and animals in this beautiful and fragile place.

picnic at the top

Picnic at the top

Having enjoyed a picnic and explored the top of the mountain we thought that a group photo would be a good thing. After a few dismal attempts we came up with the perfect solution. One of our number, an electronics person called Lorenzo, found the perfect place for the camera. Lorenzo is not the tallest man but, by giving him a boost to place the camera on top of a communications box, we may have a group photo. We may not have a group photo as the thing may have gone off before we got back to the group. Only time will tell.

Setting up the group photo on Dosso dei Morti
Lorenzo and Mike setting up the group photo on Dosso dei Morti

We should have attempted this move before lunch.

Dos dei Morc
Six on the Dos dei Morc or Dosso dei Morti.

It was so pleasant for us to be guided. To have no responsibility for our route or whether we were on a proper path. It was also very odd to retrace our footsteps. For so long we have only moved in one direction and have lost the instinct to remember how to get back home.

the next stroll is over there
The next stroll is over there

Our fellow strollers did not know this particular path but all have a deep knowledge of all of the mountains around us. Paulo, in the photo above, is pointing out some of the peaks, I do wish that my memory was better for this sort of thing.

Wandering about on the top
Wandering about on the top

The summit of Dosso dei Morti is, more or less, a ridge. This topography gives stunning views down to the valleys on either side. Apparently there is a huge lake down there somewhere although we couldn’t see it today.

trees barked by goats shining in the sun on the way down
Trees barked by goats, shining in the sun on the way down.

The hill is home to various large mammals, a type of small goat and boar among them. The evidence of these mammals was to be found everywhere. The ground was like a ploughed field in places as a resut of the attentions of the boar and loads of trees were missing bark as a result of close encounters with the goats. Seeing the trees so short of bark one wonders how they survive.

Arriving back in Ponte Caffaro we had enough time to get a shower and so on before setting out for some delicious gnocchi at a small village festival. I am just getting used to driving again and so it has been odd today driving our right hand drive car to Pieve di Bono and a friend’s left hand drive car home from Roncone.

Tasty gnocchi
Tasty gnocchi in Roncone later on.

A great day out in all respects.

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September 6

Stroll around Rio Caino and a photographic failure

My attempts at integrating externally hosted photographs into this blog met with little success last night. For techy types amongst you I have the wrong version of the API so must abandon that tack and try something new.

In order to get some reasonable photographs of the recent trip we bought new cameras. The poor little beggars had to put up with being used every day and kept in trouser pockets. Janet’s camera had had enough in Switzerland and mine seems to be struggling as well now, either that or my hand has developed an imperceptible tremor at the point of pressing the shutter button.

The weather forecast for today was very promising so we decided to have a trip down memory lane and follow the Sentiero Rio Caino. This footpath starts about 6 or 7 miles from Ponte Caffaro and could be described as an open air museum I suppose.

The path begins by crossing the Rio Caino

IMG_0007 rio caino

There is a notice board at the start which describes the route as being about 3Km in length this is misleading, as anyone who has walked this path will tell you.

IMG_0008 footpath starts by crossing a suspension bridge

Having crossed the suspension bridge the route passes by a working water mill and ancient blacksmith shop. One of the early incumbents of the blacksmith’s shop was one Alberto of Cimego, around 1300 he met a preacher called Dolcino and followed him with his wife. Things turned sour for Alberto and his wife as  he was sentenced to “penitentia de crucibus”, while his wife ended up at the stake. Alberto returned to Dolcino and followed him until Dolcino was defeated. Things then got even worse for poor old Alberto as he was burned alive in 1307.

IMG_0019 water mill wheels

The next treat for the stroller is the poisoner’s garden. It looks a bit bare at this time of year but must be fabulous when all of the herbs are in full and fearsome growth. The Witch Brigida, known as “the Poisoner” lived in the valley around about 1470. This indomitable woman, an expert in the use of healing herbs and velenous plants and funghi, killed off her husband and the wives of several men she fancied. She managed to defend herself so well during her trial that she avoided being burnt as a witch, though one of her accomplices met a nasty end.

This part of Italy was the Italian front line in WW1. The path has some well preserved WW1 trenches and a gun on show.

IMG_0032 entrance to fortified walkway

The slits face towards the opposite hill, where the Austro – Hungarian army would have been sitting in similar concrete shelters. Most of the trenches are open to the stroller and very easily accessible.

IMG_0036 disused bird trap

Food has never been easy to find in this part of Italy and many years ago small birds were trapped as a source of food. The huge wooden cage is still part of the landscape.

IMG_0037 hill from the path

Although a footpath through the trees, for the greater part, views to mountains opposite pop up from time to time. I must really try to work out which mountain is which.

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September 5

Photographs are very large and difficult

Being a cheapskate I try to use as much free stuff as I can. This is really good for the newly impoverished person’s pocket but not good for time. It is really true, one has time or money or one has wealthy antecedents.

I have been trying to use free photo hosting sites in order to publish the remaining photos of the stroll. I am battering my head against an electronic brick wall at the moment and so today’s activities will remain forever unrecorded. Today’s activities were fairly dull in truth so humanity has lost nothing by this omission. Indeed one could argue that it has gained by not losing valuable life units in reading that which I have been unable to write.

I hope that by tomorrow evening the remaining photos will be shining forth and the task will be complete.

September 4

A stroll to Bondone and brown trousers

I’m not sure whether the prospect of having several unpaid council tax bills or a faulty central heating system made me feel unduly nervous this morning because the pair of brown trousers hanging in the wardrobe seemed the only things to wear today. Could this be the first stages of fading towards the age of beige?

When we first saw Bondone, some 18 years ago, it was after dark and it appeared to be suspended in the air above Ponte Caffaro. In the daylight it looked as though it would be impossible to get there, perched so precariously on the edge of a cliff.

The stroll from Ponte Caffaro to Bondone is now one of our favourites. I believe that we have followed the footpath upwards in every season over the years, each one being very special.

Setting out from our house we stroll down the side of River Caffaro and cross over by means of an oldish wooden bridge. This bridge has become increasingly decrepit over the years and was finally blocked off last year as a safety hazard. Obviously people still had a need to cross from one side to the other so the barriers were moved slightly in order to permit pedestrians to continue using the bridge. As we  approached the bridge today it was plainly even less solid than before. Any doubts we might have had about crossing were removed when we saw the postman, on his motorbike, riding over without any hesitation

.Wooden bridge to Refino

The wooden bridge over the river Caffaro. It is now decrepit.

The stroll towards the lake is slightly downhill and takes no time at all. It is an enjoyable stroll by itself, particularly on a warm Sunday afternoon to get a cooling drink at one of the two bars on the lake shore.

Confluence of the rivers Caffaro and Chiese
Confluence of the rivers Caffaro and Chiese

After having crossed the Caffaro one then approaches the Chiese. a few years ago we nearly strolled to the source of the Chiese but were obliged to turn back, a few hundred yards short, by the approach of darkness and by the daunting prospect of climbing over scree, boulders and other bad stuff in the dark to return to the car.

Rotten bridge
Another rotten bridge

A few years ago there was a period of bridge building here. It appears that either the designs were not very good or that the materials were not able to stand the test of time as one by one they have decayed, been blocked to pedestrians or, in one case, removed entirely. In order to cross the Chiese another of these decayed bridges needs to be crossed.

Baitone approaching the footpath

The footpath starts to toil upward in Baitone, a town on the same end of the lake as Ponte Caffaro, but in a different province.

The first time we strolled up to Bondone we were quite surprised to find that it was possible and not as difficult as we  thought that it might be. We didn’t need special skills or equipment and although the path was steep it was not too bad.

Site of a landslide
Site of a landslide

A slope at the path side, overlooking Baitone the village at the bottom, has fallen away since we were here last but the edge is protected by a steel rope. Anyone careering down the path would be stopped from going over the edge by the thoughtful provision of this safety device.

Bondone car parked at an angle
Bondone car parked at an angle

Bondone is a wonderful mediaeval hilltop village with steep narrow streets. We wondered if the person who parked his car at such an angle would have rolled out of his door.

A corner of Bondone
A corner of Bondone

Bondone’s past has a very strong commercial connection to the woods which cover the hillsides all around. Charcoal burning is one of the ancient local industries celebrated by a sculpture in the main piazza, just a memory now.

Sculpture of charcoal burners
Sculpture of charcoal burners

The stroll to Bondone is a fabulous way to spend the afternoon. Almost like strolling to Italy again.

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September 3

Council tax, central heating and translation

We have been grappling with the minutiae of daily life today. We have visited the estate agent who has responsibilities for our building and after a nice chat about this and that he handed over a surprising, and unwelcome, bunch of documents. These documents refer to our apparent, and, as so nicely put in the letter, obviously inadvertent failure to pay our council tax in 2008 and 2009.  As I was reading the letter I reflected on the likelihood that, if this were to have happened in the UK, we should be threatened with a court appearance a visit from the bailiffs and a stiff fine.

On a more mundane level, the weather is still cloudy and rainy with this state of affairs being blamed on Poppea. Classicists among you will know that Poppea was the mistress and, later, wife of the Emperor Nero. In modern Italy Poppea is the first Mediterranean storm of autumn but, apparently, this is not really the end of summer and Bacchus will return. We have also, lately enjoyed the attentions of Nero, from the perspective of meteorologists that is, not a return to an earlier and more heavy handed form of government.

The poorer weather has prompted me to try out the central heating in order to get any maintenance done before the weather becomes much colder. Since moving in the central heating has been a source of many surprises for us. At first the only way to get the heat on in our bedroom was to turn on the thermostat in the spare bedroom. This resulted in an overly warm bedroom as the heat was either full on or full off. This thermostatic inexactitude was echoed in other parts of the house, but our infrequent visits meant that we have done little about it as we have a log burning stove as back up. The room thermostats are very flimsy devices each powered by three small batteries. These batteries seem to fail very quickly and none appear to be working now. So we shall grasp the nettle firmly and get a plumber in to provide adequate controls. We shall have heat in the correct room. It will be controlled by us and not by a mysterious force.

During a visit to the local coop for some provisions this morning the proprietor asked me if there was an Italian version of this blog. I really should put a machine translator onto the thing but am a bit bothered about the strange results that can emerge. Although, it might be an innocent amusement to see what comes out of the other end of a Google type translation.


September 2

Via dei Morti

After having a moderately long lie in and a leisurely breakfast we decided to repeat yesterday’s leisurely stroll to the lake.

I thought that I needed to become acquainted with my accordion again and had a crack at some familiar tunes. It appears that someone has rearranged the buttons on the blighter in the last five months as the tunes I tried to play sounded most peculiar. Janet took the trouble to put a load of music amongst the stuff we brought over in February.  I now have months of fun in front of me, and Janet and the neighbours, have months of pain in front of them, as I try to get to grips with these masterpieces.

As the sun shone through the clouds this afternoon we quite liked that idea of a stroll on part of the Via dei Morti. This was the footpath used by the inhabitants of Ponte Caffaro, in the dim and distant past, to carry the coffins of people who had died in Ponte Caffaro to the cemetary at Bagolino. It is a narrow path along an edge and I wouldn’t fancy carrying a coffin along it.

Happily, for modern undertakers and parish priests, there is a cemetery in Ponte Caffaro now so this hazardous trip is no longer necessary. Although, the cemetery was not built until there was an outbreak of cholera and a somewhat more convenient place of rest was needed.

A wooden seat handily placed before the climb up to the new cemetery
A wooden seat handily placed before the climb up to the new cemetery

The round trip we took today takes about 50 minute at a slow stroll, and this includes a bit of staring about at the scenery time. If you were to run along the route it would obviously be quicker but you would look silly in the main street of Ponte Caffaro. You would also miss the views straight down onto the roofs of the old houses and out towards the lake, the flat plane and the citadel at Anfo.

Looking down to the lake
Looking down to the lake

I hope that we have Dr Who to watch, rounding off a very enjoyable Sunday.

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September 1

Brown bread and beer

Before we set out on the long stroll to Italy we took the precaution of bringing 32Kgs of granary flour out to Italy in the car. Much of today has been spent breathing in the delightful aroma of either freshly cooking or freshly baked bread. Much of this evening has been spent sleeping off the effects of eating vast quantities of this delightful comestible, a delight denied to us for five months.

We have started to look at the statistics we have gathered over the last months and we have been delighted to see that we have spent far less money than we thought that we would. We are trying to get the August photos organised and onto the site plus, I have been looking at cleaning up the daily strolls and making them available for download as GPX.

The temperature has dropped like a stone here and snow has arrived on the mountains to the north, causing problems on the roads. We went out for a stroll this afternoon in the wind and rain and met an elderly friend who said that she had had to light a fire in order to keep warm. She had a good look at Janet’s thick fleece and felt the collar saying the Italian equivalent of  ‘That’s all right, you will be warm enough in that!’

TV in Italy is much the same as the UK, in fact you can watch Midsummer Murders if you like, or the American detective series plus lots of other familiar stuff, dubbed into Italian of course, so people sound a bit strange. The odd thing is that the actors’ body language appears to change as well so that they look Italian. Unfortunately, Dr Who is not on the RAI menu and the glorious BBC prevents downloads of  TV programmes to foreigners like us. I have had to resort to covert means to persuade the BBC that I live in London. If successful I can watch Dr Who tomorrow.

I have acquired a bottle of homemade grappa which tastes very nice indeed which will see me gently to sleep tonight.

An afternoon stroll around the lake

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August 31

Returning to domesticity

After a good sleep in our incredibly comfortable bed, in our cool and airy bedroom we drank a leisurely cup of tea in bed before starting this new, strangely sedentary, life. We are surrounded by familiar things and by familiar faces which we usually see in the context of a short holiday which has engendered in us the same feelings of a brief stay.

A cloudy and rainy view
A cloudy, rainy and very familiar view from our window

During the night there was a huge thunderstorm with buckets of rain blowing at the windows. The storm continued for much of the morning and, as we had expected that we should not arrive until today, we were incredibly grateful to be in the house and not on the open top of a mountain and having the pleasure of the thing at close quarters.

As we tucked into our bowls of breakfast AllBran this morning we were unable to believe that  the thing we had carelessly talked about for the last year or two was behind us and not a distant event in the future. If it were not for our friends and neighbours wanting to know about the various events I believe that we would think that we had imagined the whole thing.

For five months our daily life has been incredibly simple, just put one foot in front of the other and do the same thing the following day. We have eaten that which was put before us, washed our clothes in the bathroom basin, dressed ourselves in that which was cleanest and avidly read maps.

Lago d'Idro
Today’s stroll was a mere 2 miles to check that the lake was still there.

As we were getting some cheese and other delights in the deli’ this evening, after our stroll to check on the lake, the owner shook us by the hand and told everyone in the shop what we had done. One elderly lady was obviously unimpressed and thought that we must be bonkers.

So now we must learn how to cook again and to do all of the other domestic activities and responsibilities we have been able to shirk for these last five months.

A distant Dolomite
A distant Dolomite

Still, we have some fabulous mountains just down the road if we get fed up and need a good stroll.