Tag Archives: adventure

Postcard from Gran Bosco di Salbertrand: a human landscape in the Alps

(Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)

I’d only been back in Turin a few days before I realized I needed to get out and walk… again. So last Saturday, a few of us took the train up to Parco Naturale del Gran Bosco di Salbertrand in Susa Valley.

This was the first time I’d organized a hike myself, and I’d been careful about choosing a nice route for the group: it featured a rifugio near the top, and several options so we could take the less steep path on the way down to save our knees and ankles. Unfortunately my map didn’t have full topographic information and it turns out that just because a path is twice as long, it doesn’t have to be half as steep a descent. It can be gently uphill for a substantial distance and then drop precipitously into the valley on a track covered in pine cones that act as rollers under your feet. (Sorry guys!!!)

When we weren’t slipping and sliding and cursing our way down the side of Susa Valley, we had a walk through a pine forest in the morning light, past old stone walls and ruins of buildings that we debated about (were they houses, or cow sheds, or..?). We picked lavender and mint that was growing beside the path. We saw cows — and a marmot, who was sadly uninterested in B’s offer of lifelong friendship. It was a very human landscape, with all its signs of human history — apparently, timber from these woods was used in the construction of the Superga Basilica in Turin. It was also a very modern human landscape, with the constant hum of the highway below us.

We got back to Turin that evening tired and hungry and coated with a fine layer of dust.

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Practical information for future reference: You can get to Gran Bosco di Salbertrand without a car — take the train from Turin to Salbertrand (altitude 1000m) on the Bardonecchia line, it runs hourly, takes about an hour and costs 5.75 euro each way. From there, there are all sorts of walks you can take. I used this map, be warned that although it gives altitudes of landmarks it doesn’t have contour lines. We took the GTA route up to Rifugio Daniel Arlaud (altitude 1770m) and then on to Le Selle (altitude 2000m), which is a cluster of agricultural buildings, but also a great viewpoint for the valley. We followed the (closed to cars) road down and then took route 2, which was very steep and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you enjoy that sort of thing.

It was quite dry in late August, and if I did this walk again I’d do it earlier in the summer with the hope of seeing green meadows rather than brown. (It was also quite warm, but much of the route is shaded.)

Cliffs in Cornwall

Lelant to Portreath on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is day 2 of the walk — go back to day 1 (St Ives to Lelant).

“I’m spending 5 and a half days walking from here to Padstow,” I told my dorm mate at the hostel in St Ives, on the west coast of Cornwall.
“For charity?”
“Nah, just for fun,” I replied.
“Yeah, it’s important to do these sorts of things because you want to, isn’t it?”

If I’m honest, I was also walking 110 km along the Cornish coast to see if I could. I’ve done some solo day walks over the years, but the last overnight trip I did was in high school in 1999. Last summer I didn’t walk at all, put off by the occasional dizzy spell I’d still get in the months after my accident. This summer I’ve been hiking again, but always with friends. Could I set my own pace? Could I stay motivated all day? Could I walk 20 km then get up the next day and do it again? Continue reading

Postcard from vallée Étroite: How is this even possible.

(Click on any photo to enlarge)

Earlier this week, a friend sent out a group message that she and her family were going on a hike on Saturday, anyone was welcome to join them, adding “it’s one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever seen”.

She wasn’t wrong.

“How is this even possible?” we asked ourselves, repeatedly, as we walked through alpine meadows with walls of dramatic jagged rock formations above us and a clear cold mountain stream running next to us. We saw a herd of cows, an enchanted lake with a million shades of green algae growing on the bottom, half a dozen marmots, a pond with tadpoles, wildflowers in pink and yellow and purple and orange, and new views opening out to us every time we climbed a hill.

At one of our many pauses for photos, I asked one of the guys if he wanted a photo “with that stuff over there.”

“Stuff?” he laughed.

“I’ve run out of words.”


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Practical information for future reference: vallée Étroite (valle Stretta in Italian) is just over the French-Italian border from Bardonecchia. We drove from Turin, which takes 1.5-2 hours on the highway; parking near our start point of Rifugio i Re Magi (website in Italian) was 2 euro for the day. We walked from 1780m  above sea level at Rifugio i Re Magi to 2500m above sea level at Refuge du Thabor (website in French), a distance of about 7km each way on well-marked trails — just make sure you follow the signs to Refuge du Thabor and not Mont Thabor itself. You can buy lunch at Refuge du Thabor or even sleep the night. I was glad of my waterproof shoes for the stream crossings but everyone else got on fine in running shoes.


Postcard from Monte Galero

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Went on another hike this weekend, this time in Tanaro Valley near the border between Piedmont and Liguria. A hot morning, followed by an afternoon of dramatic skies, rain showers, and thunderclaps in the distance (disconcerting when you’re on the top of a hill!), followed by an evening on the Mediterranean coast eating takeaway pizza while standing around a concrete block used as a makeshift table. In between all of this we also read the gospel of Matthew start-to-finish — I’ve been going to church all my life but somehow the Bible becomes new and unfamiliar when you read it in long sections while sitting on a picnic blanket in a beech forest rather than a paragraph at a time in a church service. Highly recommended.

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Postcard from Valle Varaita

I’ve come down with a rather tedious and inconvenient head cold, so no writing from me this week — I started trying to write this post and got bogged down in Uggggh what even are words. But enjoy some photos from a day spent in Valle Varaita recently with friends from church.

(Not to make you jealous or anything, but it was basically a perfect summer’s day.)

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Brain MRI

That time I got hit by a car: injury, uncertainty and stories

Here’s a dramatic opening line for you: A year ago this weekend, I was hit by a car while crossing the street.

This is the story per the police report and my hospital notes: I was hit by a green Fiat at 3:15 pm; I arrived in hospital fully conscious; I had fractured my skull in two places and suffered some bruising and minor bleeding on my brain; no surgery was required; CT scans and ultrasounds confirmed I had no other injuries; I spent 9 days in hospital for observation; a subsequent MRI 6 weeks later indicated satisfactory progress towards recovery and no need for further intervention.

That story sits comfortably in a folder of forms and papers with official letterheads, but it feels rather incomplete.

Continue reading

Beach near Oslo

Sun and sea… in Oslo, Norway

One of the first things H. said to me when I arrived in Oslo yesterday was “This is a perfect summer day, the kind we’re lucky to have here.” Oslo’s been having a mild, wet summer this year, but there was no sign of that when I got there yesterday morning. Blue skies, 20 degrees C (about 70 Fahrenheit), a slight breeze off the harbour. After a grey week in Helsinki, it was a welcome change. Continue reading

Old men on plastic chairs in Lecce, Puglia

A chat on a train ride across Italy.

An overnight train ride to Lecce, down in the heel of the boot of Italy, the diagonally opposite corner of Italy to Turin. Going to sleep in the south of Piemonte after watching the sun set over cornfields and rolling hills, waking up in Puglia. Red dirt, dry grass, ancient olive trees. “The light really is different here, isn’t it?” says the Pugliese woman we’re sharing a couchette with. She’s right. The sky is blue, blue like it is in Australia, and the light is clear.

Her husband, also in the couchette, is a gentleman, not letting me put my bag up in the rack myself even when I insist it’s not heavy. He tells us about how his whole family has been up in Turin for his son’s wedding. His nephew and the nephew’s wife are in the next carriage and they pop in for a chat. “What’s going on?” asks the conductor as he walks past this little gathering hanging around the door of the couchette. The nephew grins. “Oh, just a family reunion!”

As we roll through Puglia in the morning, we chat about the usual Italian things — food (we should definitely eat orecchiette), and history. The gentleman has studied archeology, and he tells us about all the influences that have gone into this corner of the world, not just the Romans and the Greeks but also the Carthaginians and the Normans and even some Germans. Later that week we’ll see in a museum some of the artifacts found from these powers but for now I can feel the sense of history rolling as invaders come and go.

At last we can see the sea, deep blue behind the rows of olives. We’re getting close to Lecce. “The sea so close makes the weather much nicer here than in Torino,” says the woman.
“Ugh, yes, it always stays hot in Torino, even at night…” I reply. “We’re from the coast, too, in Australia.”
“Australia! That’s a long way to travel.”
“I’d love to go to Australia,” adds her husband.
“Yes dear,” she says to him. She adds to us, laughing, “Listen to him, he wants to go to Australia. He won’t even take me to Venice!”

PS: It’s almost exactly a year ago I wrote a little blurb about cyclists in Turin and decided to stick it on a blog since it was a bit long for facebook. A post (roughly) per week later, and now my friends introduce me as, “This is Zoe, she has a blog” (?!) Thanks for reading, commenting, and generally encouraging this little project!

PPS: I love the guys in the photo for this post, clearly if the piazza doesn’t have enough seating the correct solution is to byo plastic chairs!

Valley in Slovenia

How to get to Lake Bled, Slovenia, from Italy, by train.

The long version of the title of this post ends with “if you are cheap and/or stubborn and/or enjoy travelling by train.”

I own up to being a bit of all 3, so last summer when I read on the inimitable seat61.com that there are train options from Trieste/Venice to Lake Bled despite there being no direct trains from Italy to Slovenia, I knew I had to give it a try on my summer vacation. Seat61 calls the route “cunning, cheap and scenic” which I’m pretty sure is just a more eloquent way of saying “budget/stubborn/train-y”. I’m also pretty sure there are simpler options that involve buses, but I don’t care. Here is my experience: Continue reading


Well that was an experience: my week in an Italian hospital

“Maybe if I fall asleep in this dream, I’ll wake up in my own bed,” I thought, as I tried to get comfortable on the stretcher I was lying on, somewhere in a corridor in the emergency department. Around me, nurses distributed drugs, chatting with patients in rapid Italian. “I can’t believe I’m dreaming in Italian!” I thought, as I drifted into a doze.

I woke up. I was still in hospital.

Continue reading