Tag Archives: walking

A walk out of town

The other week, as I was popping down to the shops to buy some eggs, I noticed an odd sticker on a lamp post. It was a cartoon-ish figure of a pilgrim, and below it was an arrow labelled “Roma”.

“Odd choice of street art,” I thought. Except there, across the street, was another, placed exactly as if to show hikers that yes, they were right to cross the street and keep going.

Turns out, I live on a walking trail, the Via Francigena. Or rather, one of the Vie Francigene, since it turns out there’s several routes which diverge and converge as they make their way towards Rome. This clearly needed some exploring.

So after lunch I set out again towards the shops, and kept going. The trail headed for the river and more or less followed it exactly.  That day, I made it to San Mauro, about 10km from central Torino, before I turned back and walked down the other side of the river.

Trail sign! Rome seems and implausible goal.

Trail sign! Rome seems an implausible goal.

Going past the Jewish section of the cemetery on the way to the river.

Going past the Jewish section of the cemetery on the way to the river.

This lamp post will be warm in winter.

This lamp post will be warm in winter.

Under the bridge.

Under the bridge…

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And through the trees.

So obviously, having reached San Mauro, the obvious thing to do was set out the next Saturday, get the bus to where I’d left off and keep going. The first 10 minutes was through the suburbs, and I wondered if I’d misjudged and was about to spend the next few hours walking past peoples’ apartments. From one of them, I could hear someone practising the piano, and old tune I couldn’t quite place (and they couldn’t quite play). It was a hot afternoon, and I was tempted to bail or at least make a substaintial gelato break before I went any further. But once I reached the farmland it was good going:

Country style trail marker!

Country style trail marker!

Looking back on the Superga.

Looking back on the Superga.

Navigation was never difficult.

Navigation was never difficult.

On the banks of the Po.

On the banks of the Po.

Peaceful afternoon.

Peaceful afternoon.

It took me a bit longer than I’d planned and I developed a good sized blister¬† on the ball of my left foot, but I made it the 19 km to Chivasso which conveniently has a regular train service back to Torino. (I certainly wasn’t walking back!)

So. On to Rome??

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Velika Planina: a highlight of Slovenia

I’m back in Torino “summer” (I think there have been about 6 sunny days so far this year) so it’s time to relive some more vacation highlights.

“It’s good working here over summer, there’s plenty of tourists who I can practise English with,” said the barista at the cafe in Kamnik. I had to smile — I was just thinking how few other tourists I’d seen so far on my way out of Ljubljana and up to the mountains. I was heading for the ski lift at Velika Planina, which, according to a friend of a friend was a good spot to visit alpine meadows. The barista agreed. “It’s a really pretty place,” she said. “Great for hiking.”

“Really pretty” is an understatement. This was one of the highlights of my trip:

View at Velika Planina

Not bad eh?

Conveniently for lazy people like me, there’s a ski lift that they keep running in summer, so you can get to views like this without having to hike up yourself. (My totally legit excuses: it was already nearly lunchtime by the time I got to the bottom of the valley thanks to the not-great public transport schedule out of Ljubljana; it was a hot day and the sun was out in full force; I had already hiked strolled on flat ground the 2 days before; if the family with small children who arrived at the same time as me could get the lift, so could I.)

Once you get off the lift, there’s an easy walk of about 40 minutes to get to the traditional cow-herds huts:

Huts at Velika PlaninaApparently these are mostly (all?) reconstructions after a fire in the mid-20th century, but it took quite an effort to get them reconstructed as huts and not a state dairy farming collective. I think everyone’s pretty glad the effort was made — can you imagine a tourist campaign to come see the drab communist buildings on top of the mountain?

As I got closer to the village, the sound of cowbells, which had been faint near the ski lift, got louder and more constant. Although, as far as I can tell, many of the huts are now holiday homes, people still keep cows up in the meadows. They’re pretty chilled out cows, especially considering they have to share their space with hikers.

Cows at Velika Planina

mooooo!

I had brought some lunch but it turns out I didn’t need it, since you could buy delicious mountain food from one of the huts. Trust me, you will never feel more like Heidi than when you’re eating this, though I don’t think Heidi ate from an Ikea bowl…

Mountain lunch at Velika Planina

Left: sour milk, which is a bit like yoghurt. Right: meat and grits.

It was super tasty, and very filling. Almost enough to make me feel guilty about not hiking up from the valley. (No, not really.)

After lunch, I wandered around for a few hours, oohing and ahhing at the views of the mountains in one direction, and the plains in the other. I think I said to myself “this is so perfect!” about 75 times that day. I did consider hiking down just to work off the lunch, but in the end I took the lift, to make it pretty much the ultimate low-energy but still-satisfying walking day. Definitely recommended.

Practicalities for future reference: You can do this as a day trip by bus although car would be much more convenient. Different people said different things to me about how frequently the lift goes up — every half hour? every hour? At any rate, it runs until 6pm during the week and later on weekends. There’s a campsite at the bottom of the ski lift if you want to overnight. It also has ‘glamping huts’, which are more or less wooden garden sheds with beds (which I stayed in and liked just as much as any dorm room; if you want one in high season you should probably call and book — I got lucky there was 1 free when I rocked up).

Ten things you should know about hiking

A post about something recent! Some friends and I went hiking last weekend.

  1. Everything feels like more of an adventure if you get up early for it. Even if you’re only up early because you woke up an hour before your alarm, and you decided to get out of bed and clean your apartment.
  2. If your plans involve Italian trains running on time, they will be delayed, pushing everything back until your hike is an after-lunch hike.
  3. Which isn’t a problem, because a picnic lunch in a village in the Alps is pretty great in its own right. Especially with fresh bread and cheese and sausage and fruit.
  4. It turns out the haze you always thought was air pollution must be partly just humidity, because even in this valley, it’s there. You won’t get the crystal-clear mountain air you’d been daydreaming of during the week, but the haze does make the landscape rather painterly.
  5. When the trail mostly follows the road, you can go fast, even when the clouds come in and visibility is low. This will seem like a good idea at the time. Your stiff muscles and awkward-baby-giraffe gait 3 days after the hike will disagree.
  6. Cows and calves are almost as cute as sheep and lambs; cowbells are useful for warning you there are cows on the road when walking through clouds; it is impossible to resist mooing loudly as you pass a herd of cows, even if you’ve passed 4 already.
  7. A woman with grey hair and wellies will pass you as you pause for a drink, and wish you a pleasant hike. One minute later, she will be nowhere to be seen on the road, even though there are no side paths. Probably she is a farmer and has gone into a field. Maybe she is a witch.
  8. In the end, even going fast, you won’t reach the lake the signposts were vague about the location of. You will however witness the clouds lifting and the sun coming out over a meadow of wildflowers, complete with a mountain stream and views to higher hills beyond.
  9. Nettles are real, and they do look just like on the box of nettle tea you used to drink in Australia. You’re only going to realize this after you walk through a patch of them.
  10. Homemade fruit cake you weren’t convinced about while in the city will taste amazing when you’ve just walked from 1400 to 2000 metres above sea level. (You need to go hiking again – you’ve got nearly a quarter of the fruitcake still in your fridge.)