20th September 2020
Life in a Coronavirus Pandemic: More Wonderful Walking in Italy
Every day this week during my stay in Madonna di Campiglio in Italy brings a new highlight from a boiled egg in an espresso cup to a walk under a waterfall.
On 7 September, during week 25 of lockdown in the UK, Italy was added to the amber list in the UK. It had just recorded its highest number of new cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of May. But this is the risk you take during the coronavirus pandemic and I am prepared to self-isolate on my return to the UK if necessary. During week 25 of lockdown, the UK is experiencing an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, especially in Northern England. Bolton is the worst hit and is begging the UK government to impose local restrictions to control the spread of the virus. I am pleased I am enjoying a respite from the problems in my own country. In Italy there is no questioning the safeguards in place - you don’t wear a mask then you can’t travel on public transport; social distancing is enforced and sanitisers are placed everywhere considered necessary.
Monday 07 September 2020
There is an English couple at breakfast this morning which the waiter, Pasquale, thinks merits an announcement. The husband is not wearing a face mask but the wife is complying with this rule. I don’t generally go out of my way to greet fellow countrymen staying in the same hotel. As I always converse with the staff in Italian they are usually not aware of my nationality. I am glad I am at the far end of the restaurant and I have already taken all I need from the COVID-19 buffet. The individual containers cover my tabletop. All I need is a cappuccino and I ask Pasquale for one as he scurries by. It is dull but dry this morning so I decide to walk to Clemp. This farm is a 2-hour walk from the hotel but it is next to the ruins of a First World War fort. I delay myself by forgetting my iPhone and returning to the hotel to get it. Already I am short of time. I have my walking poles and I walk briskly to Panorama where I join the path to Milegna and Clemp. My first distraction is a herd of goats grazing in an Alpine meadow. I chase them around for a while, trying to get a good photo.
I am running out of time to achieve my objective – a visit to the old fort and then a walk down to the main road to catch the bus back to my hotel, Hotel Lorenzetti in Madonna di Campiglio. As I dither at the junction of my path and a track down to the main road a large drop of rain splashes on to my bare arm. I look up at the sky. Rain-laden clouds have gathered above me. Clemp will have to wait for another day. After pulling on my waterproof jacket and wrapping my camera in a plastic carrier bag I set off down the track. I have never done this walk before but I can see the bottom of the valley below me and it looks a long way down. It is now raining steadily but the sight of fluffy white clouds hugging the slopes on the other side of the valley is irresistible. I stop and get my camera out again.
By this time, it is raining steadily and I have only twenty minutes to get down to the main road in time for my bus. If I miss it I will have nearly two hours to wait for the next one which will not get me back to the hotel in time for lunch. That would be a disaster. I start trotting down the track. This is not easy as it covered with loose gravel but by taking short steps and planting my poles firmly I manage to move quickly. The track seems endless as I round bend after bend. Then, all of a sudden, the glistening tarmac of the main road is at my feet. It has only taken ten minutes. I have time to put my whole rucksack in the large plastic carrier bag I had brought with me for just this purpose. I do have a rucksack with its own waterproof cover but it is in England. Now I have to find the bus stop. As I am between villages the bus stops here are well spaced out. I turn towards my hotel and walk as fast as I can – the large carrier bag thumps against my legs. My poles, now redundant, I clutch in my other hand. I have to find a stop in time for the bus. The driving rain makes it difficult to see far ahead. Just eight minutes until the bus is due. There is a viewpoint ahead of me with picnic table and benches and a bus stop cunningly concealed by trees just beyond it. There is no shelter at this stop so I have to stand there, rain dripping off me but at least my camera is dry. The bus is late and the rain has almost stopped by the time it arrives. There is just time to take some photos of the view with my iPhone before donning my face mask and jumping aboard.
Tuesday 08 September 2020
It is the end of the summer season here and there was a mass exodus from the hotel yesterday so this morning nearly everything has to be ordered for breakfast. I take some fresh fruit from the buffet and order a boiled egg and one bread roll. Paolo is on duty this morning. As I am the only one at breakfast he has time to chat. I discover his sister is married to an Englishman and lives in Cambridge. He has ambitions to travel and in particular Japan and America. I recommend Japan as I grab my belongings and head for the bus stop across the road. I am getting the bus to Carisolo today. I have a Trentino Guest Card with which gives me free use of the local buses. It is a bit fiddly to use. When boarding the bus I have to take a photo of a bar code displayed inside the bus. I do that and go to my seat. A short distance down the road the bus stops and the driver comes back to check I have validated my journey. I assure him I have. But his query makes me uneasy. When I get off I show him the photo I have taken. But it seems this is not enough. He launches into a long explanation of the app and concludes by telling me I have just had a free ride which is no good to anyone. I thank him for ensuring I will know what to do next time. I wish him a good day and walk up the hill to the splendid parish church above the little village of Carisolo.
The church of San Nicola is open and I go inside to admire the elegant marble pillars and white statuary. I am still pondering over my recent exchange with the bus driver. I had been given to understand that all I had to do was open the Trentino Guest Card app and then take a photo of the bar code. The wonders of modern technology would do the rest. I open the app and investigate, soon discovering that taking the photo is stage one. Stage two is using the photo to validate the journey. I try and it validates the journey I have just done. I hope this will be recorded on the driver’s system as he makes his way down the mountain. Conscience clear, with a spring in my step and the sun on my face I set off to explore Carisolo and in particular the old church of San Stefano on the road above me.
As the church does not open until 10 am I have plenty of time to get there. As I wander along the road I a path leading into an ancient chestnut wood. I would love to see if I can get to the church of San Stefano via this path. But, I do not have time to get lost and find myself again – a favourite occupation – so I stick to the safety of the road. I am surprised how quickly I get to the church. As I make my way down the steep track from the main road I notice a footpath through the woods. I guess this will lead into the ancient chestnut wood and decide I will go back that way. The little church of San Stefano has some beautiful fifteenth-century frescoes on the outside attributed to the Bascheni brothers. After admiring this I walk to the top of the mound next to the church. There are three crosses on the top of the mound and a panoramic view of the valley below me. I see what looks like a little path back down through the woods. It is a scramble to get down to it but I persevere. I am mistaken and my path ends at a precipice. I circle the mound but there is no way out and I have to climb back up the way I came. Two cups of coffee at breakfast and I need a toilet. I take advantage of the fact no-one else is going to be around.
By the time I get back to the church it is about to open so I wait until they have unlocked the door and go inside. As well as the stunning frescoes by the Bascheni brothers there is also an exhibition of paintings featuring the church and the frescoes. It is an adorable little church and I take my time inside. After taking some photos and putting some money in a donation box I take my leave.
I walk back up the hill and then turn on to the footpath into the woods. It is flat at first and then very steep as is goes down beside the stream. I had noticed the stream earlier as there had been a landslip there. It looks as though a bridge has been washed away as well as the path because mounds of earth have been pushed up to make a crossing over the water. This leads on to a freshly ploughed track which brings me into the ancient chestnut wood. It is lovely. The sign at the entrance said wellness path and there is a selection of apparatus with instructions regarding their use. There is also a group amongst the trees – they seem to be paying homage to a set of large gongs. It is very pretty in the wood with the chestnut trees, some laden with chestnuts, and some interesting wood carvings. The path leads back up to the main road. I hear the church striking 11 o'clock. I am not sure what time the bus goes through Carisolo but work out I have time to get to the stop before the bus does. I am right.
Today the UK government introduces a different approach to quarantine with the separation of some islands from mainland countries. This means seven Greek islands are removed from the quarantine-free list while Greece remains on it. As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Northern England a new law makes mixing with other households illegal in Bolton which is experiencing the biggest increase in cases. Hospitality in Bolton has been restricted to take-aways only and a late-night restriction of operating hours is to be introduced, meaning that venues will have to close between 10 pm and 5 am.
Wednesday 09 September 2020
I spend the morning catching up with some writing and go walking with Emanuele this afternoon. This is subject to him choosing the path we will take. He nominates the same circuit we did a few days earlier. But when we got to a point where we have a choice of paths he chooses the one to Cascata Mezzo. I know it will be a long walk but Jenny (the nanny had said she would collect us if necessary). It is a lovely walk through the woods. I suggest Emanuele be careful on a gravelly stretch and he announces he is fine as he is abituato. A few seconds later he slips and falls flat on his back. Fortunately, he is okay and we both laugh as I introduce him to the concept of pride coming before a fall. I took the opportunity to explain the saying 'pride comes before a fall'. The waterfall is amazing as they have had so much rain recently. We walk right down to it. I ask Emanuele if he has ever walked under it. He says no. Then we both look at each other and chorus 'let's do it.' We are soon scrambling over wet rocks and through pools of water before we get right under the cascade. We manage to take some photos before we get soaked through and then we retreat to dry land. We ring Jenny and ask her to collect us. She does not think she is allowed to drive up to the meeting point I have suggested but I persuade her it is okay after 6 pm and she agrees. I am relieved as it is already 6.15 and would have taken at least 45 minutes to walk back. Plus, I have not mentioned to Emanuele that we still have 500m of a very steep hill to climb to reach the meeting point. It takes him a while and much moaning. I just walk ahead and hope he is following me. He is and half-way was greatly cheered by his Fitbit bleeping that he has achieved 10,000 steps. We arrive at the meeting point just as Jenny does and are back home at 7 pm. Emanuele had once again achieved his objective of keeping me out until dinner time.
Today the Prime Minister announced that from Monday 14 September the number of people who can legally gather in one house is to be reduced from 30 people to six, under new rules for England aimed at stopping a second coronavirus wave. Thereby ensuring people will be gathering in large groups as often as possible before birthday parties, dinner guests, and other social gatherings at home are off the agenda again. But the government is still encouraging people to go out and spend money in shops and restaurants. New cases of COVID-19 are now rising at a rate of nearly 3,000 a day, up from about 1,000 a day for most of August. This new measure coincides with schools across England reopening this week, which some experts fear may increase community transmission. But with education a priority the government's medical advisors have previously suggested other parts of the economy or society might have to close down to control the virus and allow learning to resume.
Thursday 10 September 2020
After a misadventure with a nearly hard-boiled egg at breakfast yesterday I order a soft-boiled egg which I will not be tempted to shell. When it arrives, it is raw. Pasquale does not see this as a problem and I try to explain that in England it is considered dangerous to eat raw eggs. He shrugs and takes it away. The second attempt is perfect. As I have to attend an online meeting this morning I only have time for a walk into town. I walk along the road below the main road. This little-used road is lined with some beautiful gardens and leads me directly into the centre of town and the Laghetto. This natural lake is popular for trout fishing in the summer. In the winter, when it is frozen it is used as a skating rink and a track for the annual veteran car race. Beyond the lake is the Conca Verde a green space dotted with trees. They all look lovely in the sunshine. I can’t believe it will rain, as forecast tomorrow.
This evening the government announces that travellers arriving from mainland Portugal to England will have to quarantine from 04:00 BST on Saturday. This is just a few weeks after the country was put on the safe list. Wales and Scotland had already imposed the mandatory two weeks of self-isolation earlier this month. Quarantine-free travel is still allowed from the Portuguese islands, the Azores and Madeira. Meanwhile, Sweden has been made exempt from quarantine for Wales, England and Scotland. This is an interesting addition as Sweden has been operating a herd immunity policy which has led many countries to impose restrictions on arrivals from this country regardless of COVID-19 statistics.
Friday 11 September 2020
My last full day in Campiglio dawns bright and clear despite a forecast for rain all day. As the sun is shining I decide to walk from the hotel to Grosté as I have not done that before although I have sent groups to Grosté that way while taking the shuttle bus myself. I join the Giro di Campiglio just beyond the hotel. I walk all the sections I missed last week when I walked the whole of this circular path.
When I reach a large open area with multiple choices I walk up the ski piste known as Grotte (Caves). There is a fence across the entrance and a warning that men are at work. But as half the fence is on the ground I carry on regardless. In the summer a stream gushes down the side of this path but the stream bed is empty and the whole piste has been ploughed up. It is not so easy to get out the other end as the fence goes right across the piste. I manage to squeeze around the end. There is a lot of work going on here as they are building a new chair lift for the skiers. I know there is a path off the piste above me that will take me back into the town. I start walking straight up this red piste, the sensible route. Then I see what looks like a path through the trees that would join the path I want. It is not a path and soon peters out. Now I have to decide whether to walk back to the piste or struggle through the undergrowth. I struggle through the undergrowth up a steep slope and finally emerge onto another piste where I join the path I was seeking. I follow this path until it reaches the road back to the hotel. I walk briskly along the road eagerly anticipating a last gastronomic lunch for a while. I am not disappointed. I start with a small mixed salad followed by an excellent contrafilletto (steak) and then finish with some almond parfait and a coffee.
As it is my last day Emanuele and I have planned a picnic. Originally we were going to sit on the grass below the apartment where the family lives. But this will not involve many steps and will not keep us out until dinner time. He wants to walk somewhere for our picnic, down to the river on the giro below the hotel. Happily, I remind him there is nowhere to sit and have a picnic there. Finally, we decide on the walk to Panorama and then find a bench on the path above the road. When we get to the path by Panorama we find a table with benches and sit there to eat our picnic. When we set off again Emanuele decides it is too early to head for home so we extend our walk further along the Giro di Campiglio before turning for home. When I get back to the hotel I have time to do my packing before dinner. I have a very early start in the morning so I say my goodbyes after dinner and have an early night.
Saturday 12 September 2020
At 5.50 am this morning I am standing under a clear moonlit sky star gazing. I am waiting for the bus to Tione, the first leg of my journey home. As the bus approaches, I realise he has not seen me and is not slowing down. Panic surges through me. Miss this bus and I will surely miss my flight. I wave frantically and he lurches to a stop. There is no discussion regarding whether or not I should take my hand luggage inside the bus at this hour of the morning. There is only one other person on board and we pick up three more on the way to Tione. I have to change at Tione to get the bus to Trento. There are only 5 passengers on this route. I take photos on the journey down the mountain of dawn breaking, churches and vineyards.
At Trento, I have a half-hour wait for my train to Verona but it is very pleasant sitting on the platform in the sun eating my packed breakfast. The train arrives in Verona on time and 5 minutes after the airport shuttle left. Post COVID-19 they are less frequent and I have another wait but I have plenty of time so I can relax knowing that I will be in time for my flight at 11.55 am. It is not very busy considering it is a Saturday and generally September is a popular time for holidays in Italy. Only four of us get on the airport shuttle when it arrives. It takes 15 minutes to get to the airport. I go straight to security which is very quiet. No-one in passport control so I am through there very quickly. Onboard the plane I take advantage of the drinks trolley to indulge in a Gordon’s Gin, two tonics, ice and a slice. I request some champagne when we are served our meal in a box but safe both for later as I still have a long way to go after we land at Heathrow. Both are much appreciated when I finally flop onto my sofa in my sitting room.
Sunday 13 September 2020
I spend most of the day sleeping and catching up with my diary. By the afternoon I am longing for some fresh air so I go out into the back garden of the block of flats where I live in Hertfordshire. It is a far cry from the mountains I have just left and my seaside retreat in Dorset. But it is all I have for now. The sun warms my face as I gaze up at the trees above me. I spot a mountain ash, not as abundant in berries as the ones I have just left behind but a nice reminder of a great time in Italy.
As of 5 pm on Monday, September 7, there have been 350,100 positive tests (an increase of 2,948 today) and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 41,554 including a daily total of 3. By Sunday, September 13 a total number of 368,504 positive tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 41,628 including a daily total of 5.
More next week