2nd August 2020
Week One of My COVID-19 Italian Adventure
I felt a bit anxious about flying to Italy and my first COVID hotel experience but I was not going to miss an opportunity to spend some time with my friends in Madonna di Campiglio.
I had booked flights to Verona in Italy as soon as British Airways began operations in Europe. My first flight was cancelled but I was able to re-book free of charge. This was not the case regarding my return flight which was a separate booking and had not been cancelled. I paid the difference in the price of the original flight and a later flight. Then, the airport of departure was changed from Gatwick to Heathrow. I agreed the change even though it would increase the cost of travel to the airport. One more change, my inbound flight time was changed but that actually worked to my advantage. At least I was still able to travel to Italy and, as it was now on the quarantine-free list for arrivals into the UK I would not have to self-isolate on my return.
Friday 17 July 2020
Today is the day I venture out of my COVID-19 comfort zone and head for Italy. I had decided to travel in style for safety reasons – taxi to the airport and an upgrade to Club Class. Terminal 5 was ablaze with COVID-19 notices – wear masks, wash hands frequently, don’t sit here, queue 2 metres apart. As I was flying to Italy I had to have a temperature check and fill in and sign a health declaration. I do both at check-in. My temperature is checked with a hand-held device and I am given the form and told to fill it in and hand it in when boarding. I go through security and head straight for the British Airways Lounge in the South Gallery.
In the Business Class section of the lounge (the only one that is open) I have my first experience of ordering food using an app. Everything is contactless. I find a table and sit there looking and feeling helpless. A very kind waiter offers to bring me a coffee. Another waiter approaches and asks if I know what to do. I tell him I have no idea. He takes me through the stages. Log in to the WiFi. Point my phone at the bar code by my table. He assumes my iPhone is enable to read codes. It is not but I sort that out and a menu appears. I order food and drink and sent it. Ten minutes’ later my order appears, including a glass of champagne. I begin to relax. There is no priority boarding on my flight but this is understandable as everyone in the main cabin has to walk through Club Class. My flight was boarded by row numbers. Being in Club I was able to take two items of hand luggage on board so my SLR camera and laptop could travel with me. It also meant I could take some photos from the plane. Everyone on the flight is given a Personal Protection Pack but it is minimal – a sachet of sanitising gel and an antiseptic wipe. The included meal is a bun in a box but a glass of champagne makes up for that.
On arrival at Verona I go straight to the bus stop for the shuttle bus to Verona station. The buses are less frequent now and I have just missed one. So, I have plenty of time to go back into the terminal to buy my ticked from the machine there. It is clearly stated at the bus stop that tickets must be purchases before travel. Before COVID-19 they could be purchased on the bus. There were quite a few of us waiting for the bus, including a mother with two children. All three were very restless, moving from one place to another, sitting down, standing up. Everyone else was constantly moving out of the way as they were not wearing masks and oblivious of the need to keep a social distance. When the bus arrived the boy pushed his way through to the front of the bus. That was a waste of time as the door was securely shut. The driver’s area is cordoned off. But the driver was able to convey to the boy that he must have a ticket to board. They did not and the three of them raced back to the terminal building. The boy re-appeared just as the driver was closing the doors and preparing to leave. He ignored the boys please to wait for his mother and sister. I was relieved as I did not have much time to get my ticket at the station before my train left for Trento.
I get to Verona station in time to buy a ticket from the machine and catch the 12:06 to Trento. At Trento I will have just ten minutes to walk from the train station to the bus station, buy a ticket and board the bus. There is a warning on the board that trains are subject to delays due to works somewhere. I am relieved when we leave on time but then we are held at a station to let another train through and are running 12 minutes late. I start to worry that I might miss the bus to Madonna di Campiglio at 13:50 which means I will have a two-hour wait. However, the train makes up 3 minutes and I am just in time to buy my ticket and catch the bus. The bus driver is not too happy when I take my hand luggage on board. I tell him it has a camera inside and it is fragile. He says okay but it must go in the overhead locker. I agree and go right down the bus and put it on the floor beside me. The seats are not marked for social distancing and I want to keep the seat beside me empty. Although the bus is busy it is never full and there are always some empty rows so I am okay. I listen to music throughout the two-hour journey up the mountain. It is a big relief when the Hotel Lorenzetti is in sight.
I have been wearing a face mask throughout my journey (obligatory) so I do not need to follow the instruction at the entrance to the hotel to cover my face. But, I do use the hand sanitiser gel as directed. Ivan, the receptionist, checks me in from behind a Perspex screen. As I am hungry after the long journey my next stop is the afternoon snacks buffet. My first introduction to a COVID19 buffet. Slices of cake in individual plastic containers, small packets of biscuits and little bottles of fruit juices and water. I help myself and go to my room with my little picnic.
I remember to put my mask on when I go downstairs for dinner. I decide to hang it on the door handle so I don’t forget. All guests have to wear a mask in the hotel – except when sitting at a table in the restaurant and eating. They are required when going to the buffet at breakfast. The tables in the restaurant have been spaced out to accommodate social distancing. It is all very well organised. Nothing much has changed except for the absence of the salad buffet. Salads now have to be ordered individually. Antonio is still the maître d’ and Pasquale, a waiter is also back, bouncing around and conversing intelligibly as usual. The food is just as good as usual. I have the tortellini stuffed with prawns and sea bass followed by the traditional stinco (slow cooked knuckle of pork). Accompanied by a glass of Marzemino, a local red wine.
Saturday 18 July 2020
Breakfast is served buffet-style but everything is in separate containers. Even the rolls and croissants are individually wrapped in little brown paper bags. The fruit salad is in small glass containers and the cereals are in individual bowls with a little container of milk for each bowl. The hard-boiled eggs are also self-contained pots with a small sachet of salt. It takes a while to gather everything together. As it is a lovely sunny morning I decide to go for a walk along the Giro di Campiglio into Madonna di Campiglio. It is a lovely walk through the woods. So peaceful I could be miles away from civilisation and not just 100 metres above the main road. The centre of town is busy – it could be a normal summer’s day in the resort. But it will always be dated in my photos as some people are wearing face masks. I walk back to hotel by past the Laghetto, a small natural lake in the centre of Madonna di Campiglio.
I walk back to the hotel in time for lunch. Lunch is my favourite meal at the hotel as they sometimes serve dishes that do not suit the very busy evening meal. I have grilled salmon followed by the most popular traditional dessert, apple strudel with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The best vanilla ice cream I have ever tasted. After the compulsory Italian siesta, I spend the afternoon at my friend’s house. I will do this every day of my stay here. I have known her three children since they were born and have always spoken English to them. The two older children now speak English so well they could work in any English speaking country. The nine-year old, Emanuele, has all my attention now. I am delighted to find that after a seven-month gap thanks to the coronavirus pandemic his English I still very good. I tell him and his response is immediate and succinct “I know”. We learn through games and I soon discover Emanuele is well on the way to becoming a champion at Connect Four. He learnt a few new words as I struggled to keep the game going for more than a few minutes’. Walking back to the hotel I pause to enjoy the view of the Brenta Dolomites. A constantly changing landscape.
Sunday 19 July 2020
I decide I will go out after breakfast every morning to do a different walk. Today, I am going to the top of the Grosté mountain on the cabin lift. I have a Dolomeet Card which is super value as it includes unlimited use of the four cabin lifts in Madonna di Campiglio. This card is an app and I am not very good with apps. The liftman has to show me how to use it. He also ensures that people only travel in the cabin lifts in their personal bubbles so go up on my own. A stunning landscape greets me at the top. The sun is shining and the sky is blue. Tiny Alpine flowers are sprinkles of colour against the grey scree. I walk up the slope to a cross dedicated to the local emergency services. I wanted to take a photograph of it but two people arrive at the same time and settled down on top of it. They take photos, drink water and then the man gets a book out and starts reading. I have waited patiently but this is the last straw. I ask them, politely, if I could take a photo of the cross without them setting on the block. They move – the man says something like are you Russian. I take this as an insult as the Russians are famous for their bad manners. Then I wonder if maybe he is Russian. I take my photo and move on.
I take the cabin lift down to the mid-station and get out there. I am amused to see the restaurant there, Boch, is going upmarket and has planted a lawn at the front which is in the process of being fenced in. I take the path to Spinale. There are a lot of people on this path so I keep making short detours to keep out of their way. I am crossing an Alpine Meadow carpeted with wild flowers and grazed by herds of the pretty Val Rendena cows. The path around Lago Spinale is very narrow and there is a steady stream of walkers coming towards me. I turn off the path and go straight down the slope to the far end of the lake. This is a bit tricky – avoiding soft patches of grass the give way under your feet and cow dung. The weather has been dry and the water has receded so it is not as boggy as is usually the case. When I climb up the slope on the far side of the lake I find some edelweiss. In days gone by, before cabin lifts, young men would climb to the top of a mountain to pick en edelweiss to prove their devotion to their loved one.
As I walk I enjoy the scenery and the sounds of the mountain. Cow bells chime, marmot watchmen shrill warnings of people approaching and birds chirrup in the blossoming ground cover. When I reach the top of the Spinale mountain I take the cabin lift down to the town and walk back to the hotel around the laghetto. The laghetto is a small natural lake in the middle of the town. It is stocked with trout during the summer and used as an ice rink when it freezes in the winter. Back at the hotel I express my surprise at the number of people on the mountain today. Michela, the receptionist tells me they are getting a lot of Italian visitors in Trentino as this region was not badly affected by the coronavirus. There have not been any new cases or deaths for several weeks now.
Monday 20 July 2020
This morning, after an early breakfast, I get the hotel shuttle bus to the Pradalago cabin lift. There is no-one around so I can skirt around the queueing lanes and get straight onto the lift. Trentino has worked hard to ensure all the COVID-19 safeguards are in place and markers have been put on the ground to ensure people maintain a social distance. At the top of Pradalago I take some photos of the town below me. And the lake for which this peak is named. There are very few people around when I set off to walk back down the mountain. I pass some goats grazing by the lake. It is another lovely day and I have a clear view across the valley to Grosté and Spinale where I walked yesterday.
I take some short cuts across the slopes rather than walking down a gravel road. In doing so I nearly tread on a frog that jumps in front of me and disturb two birds that were snuggled in the undergrowth. I navigate through my knowledge of the ski runs here as I don’t carry a map. I am surprised to see a new chair lift is being built here given the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. But the economy of Madonna di Campiglio is based on its success as a ski resort and constant improvements are being made to the ski lifts and ski runs. My walk ends at the bottom of the Grosté cabin lift, about two kilometres from the town centre. I don’t have time to walk all the way back to the hotel in time for lunch. I call them and they send the shuttle bus to collect me.
Tuesday 21 July 2020
My walk today started at the top of the Cinque Laghi cabin lift. I path to Lago Ritorto, my intended destination, is very narrow with a steep drop on one side. I made an early start in order to avoid the crowds as this is one of the most popular walks in Madonna di Campiglio. There was no-one around when I set off so I was able to stop and take photos. The path hugs some rocky outcrops but lengths of steel cable have been attached to the rock face for walkers to hang on to. These are relatively new. They were not in place the first time I walked along this path. I smile as I remember the first time I walked this path. I was petrified. It was my first time walking in mountains and I was not used to heights. I actually got down on my hands and knees to shuffle around the protruding rocks, muttering to myself not to look down. I am a lot more confident now.
While taking some photos of Lago Ritorto I notice a path I have not seen before. I had not intended to go beyond the lake but curiosity always gets the better of me. I cross the bridge over the stream that takes water out of the lake take the path signposted … and Malga Valchestria. I know Valcehstria and but not the other place. The path skirts the lake and then goes straight up a slope. It is steep and rocky and not easy while carrying a large camera in one hand. I persevere as I am sure I will get a good view of the lake from the top of this section. I am not high enough to get a good view of the lake so I carry on a bit further and finally get a good view. As this path is taking me away from the cabin lift I re-trace my steps back to the cabin lift. There are a lot of people on the path now and all coming towards me. I resign myself to getting out of their way by scrambling up the bank at the side of the narrow path. I start wearing my mask when passing people as the path is too narrow in places to keep at least one metre between us. Back in the town I walk back to the hotel via the local Tuesday market.
Coronavirus figures in the UK today revealed that the average number of daily cases has risen for the fourth day in a row for the first time since April. As it takes patients weeks to die from Covid-19, on average, government officials can’t rule out a blip in the figures or confirm the outbreak has worsened since ‘Super Saturday’ for at least another week. That was the day, July 4, when millions of people flocked to pubs to enjoy a new freedom. However, the figures are now under review following claims that officials are over-exaggerating the daily toll. An investigation has been ordered after academics revealed people are counted as victims if they die of any cause any time after testing positive for Covid-19 – even if they were hit by a bus months after recovering from the virus.
Wednesday 22 July 2020
I open my eyes to see the most glorious red sunrise through my bedroom window. This usually heralds bad weather. The forecast is not good for today but it is looking promising as the pink of dawn fades to blue.
I set off to walk to Cascata Mezza. At the beginning of the path to this waterfall I meet two workmen. They tell me they have just met a bear on this path. This stops me in my tracks. I ask him if I should keep going and he says yes. I proceed with caution – checking the road ahead and the sloping woods on either side. I would love to see a bear but I am not too keen on being eaten by one. There is no-one else around so it is a bit scary but also rather nice. I begin to relax and enjoy the beauty and the peace of the woods. When I get to Cascata Mezza I walk down to the waterfall to take some photos. This is my favourite waterfall. There was a thunderstorm yesterday and tons of water are crashing down its sheer face. I scramble back up to the restaurant above the waterfall intending to have a coffee. But the girl tells me the machine is not working – no coffee at all.
I carry on to the next rifugio, Rifugio Vallesinella. I ask the time of the next shuttle down to Campiglio. The girl tells me it is a green day and there are no shuttle buses until 4 pm. She suggests I walk back along the sentiero del’orso or hire an e-bike. I am familiar with the path she has suggested but I don’t have time to walk it today. I have a cappuccino while I decide what to do. Hotel shuttle buses are not allowed to drive up here to collect their guests. But other vehicles can drive up here provided they have pre-booked parking. There is a steady stream of cars coming up the road so, not a very green day. Despite the traffic I decide to walk briskly down the road to a place where I can meet the hotel shuttle bus. I am spurred on by the thought of getting back in time for anther lovely lunch.
Thursday 23 July 2020
Today, I need to catch up with some writing – an article about my first stay in a COVID-19 hotel. So, I just have time for a short walk after an early breakfast. I set off on the Giro di Campiglio. After a steep climb it crosses a road and I turned on to the road which I followed to a place called Panorama. It lives up to its name as there is a great view from there of the Brenta Dolomites and the valley below. From Panorama I take a path that leads into the woods. I like this walk as it is mostly in the shade. This takes me back to my starting point. I feel refreshed and ready for a morning’s work and an afternoon with Emanuele and his cousin, Emma. It has been a wonderful first week in Italy – away from the dramas of the UK.
This week in the UK there have been protests about wearing face coverings. These are being organised by the group Keep Britain Free who claim it is an infringement of civil liberties. But, what about my right not to be infected with COVID-19 by these selfish people? Face coverings were made compulsory on public transport on June 15 – in theory. In practice some bus companies have told their drivers not to enforce it. On July 24 face coverings will become mandatory in shops and supermarkets (but not pubs and restaurants). Anyone failing to wear a mask may face a fine of up to £100. But the police have already announced they cannot enforce this.
I feel a lot safer in Italy where people do not question the safeguards against COVID-19. The police and carabinieri are a regular presence here and will enforce the rules.
The good news is that an initial study of the coronavirus vaccine being developed by scientists at the University of Oxford is proving to be safe and producing an immune reaction. But it is still early days and a lot more work needs to be done.
By July 17 2020 the UK death toll had increased to 45,233, after a further 114 people died that day in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus. On July 23 2020 an additional 53 people who had tested COVID-19 died. This brought the total number of deaths to 45,554.
More next week