So I’ve just returned from a whirlwind of a weekend. Two of my great friends, Jessica and Tracey, and I caught the hiking bug and decided it was time: we had to find us some real live mountains. I’m talking mountains, not the puny hills that make up Perugia. My hiking boots needed some wear.
All three of us had been around the central part of Italy in Lazio, Tuscany, and Umbria. We’d all gone on the optional Umbra trip to the south of Italy. Logically, our next place of exploration would be the north of Italy. Also, it was very convenient that the Dolomites, aka the biggest mountains in Italy, were located in that area, specifically in Trentino-Alto Adige.
We had some serious difficulties with transportation from our little town of Perugia to the northernmost parts of the country. After arriving in Bologna for our transfer, we boarded a Freccia (high-speed) train instead of the regional train on accident, and had to either pay an extra 30 euro or get off at the next stop. We opted for getting off at the next stop, which happened to be Verona. After spending a while waiting, we realized as our train was departing that we were on the wrong binario, or platform. We raced to the correct platform as the train went off into the distance. This meant another two hour wait for the next train to take us to Vipiteno-Sterzing, in Trentino-Alto Adige. Eventually we got there, and the lady renting us our apartment met us at the station and drove us to the little town of Ridnaun.
Let me just say that Vipiteno-Sterzing (we found out Vipiteno is the Italian name, and Sterzing is the German name), is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Tall green mountains, lone cottages at the top of them, yellow trees contrasting with dark forest green trees, tiny little villages, and bright blue rushing rivers. The train ride in this region and the ride to our apartment was so beautiful, I couldn’t wait to begin hiking those mountains.
We stayed at an apartment on the farm of a little family consisting of a husband, wife, daughter, and nonna (who was such a cute little old lady). The apartment itself was so clean and newly renovated, and had a ridiculous view of Ridnaun across the rushing river and the huge mountains that rose up behind it. After our long day of travel, it was nice to finally sit down and relax and make some dinner with the groceries we’d bought in Verona.
After a large breakfast of fresh eggs and milk from the farm, nutella hot chocolate, and aranciata rossa (red orange juice), we were ready to start a full day of hiking. We drew out a route on the trusty, trail-ridden map that we had gotten the day before, packed up some snacks and sandwiches, and headed out. We started off in Stange, by the cascate (aka waterfalls). Not just any waterfalls either, they were huge and powerful. Walking over the slippery bridges over top of them forced me to trust in Austrian/Italian architecture a little more than was comfortable.
I’m going to go off on a bunny trail for a little bit. The thing that threw me the most off-guard in Vipiteno-Sterzing was the fact that I felt like I could be in Austria. We were basically in Austria anyway. If we had taken the train 30 minutes longer, we would’ve been in the country of the Sound of Music. Which makes perfect sense since we were continually inspired to belt out the top hits from the musical. This is a city with a serious identity crisis. The buildings were definitely German/Austrian-looking architecturally. Every person we passed was speaking German. If we spoke Italian, people understood, but it was clearly the minority language. So basically in a little over two weeks, I’ve experienced Italian (obviously), French, and Austrian culture, which is pretty incredible. Only in Europe.
Ok, back to the hiking day. After our trek up the waterfalls, passing German-speaking families along the way, we headed on the path up to a peak we marked out on our map earlier that morning. This trail was supposed to be a fare passeggiata trail according to the legend, which meant an easy stroll. We quickly found out that the map wasn’t as reliable as we’d hoped. In reality, the trail was a paved road that headed straight up the mountainside, climbing meters upon meters of elevation in a relatively short amount of time. At least the trail was marked very well.
We finally, exhaustedly, reached what seemed to be a level part of the trail, near an vacant building used for mining. It also gave us a wonderful view of the valley and made our physically tasking climb very worthwile. We were so high up that there were some patches of snow as we headed up to the actual peak we had been searching for. There were a few “inns” at the top that looked like log cabins and smelled like farms. All we had to do now was to get down to the bottom of the mountain.
We had been somewhat worried about how much time it had taken us for this hike of ours, since we headed out a little later than we’d expected and it had been overcast all day anyway. Because of Daylight Savings Time, the sky started getting significantly darker by 5:30 as we were heading down the mountain, through the woods. With only some light from a headlamp and an iPhone to help us navigate the narrow path. Needless to say, we were going at what we called a “Jessica pace.” My roommate Jessica has a tendency to speed along a trail way ahead of Tracey and I, who liked to go at a more leisurely pace. And we were all speeding as fast as we could through the trees to get back to some civilization.
We eventually got to a town as the sky turned black, and got a little turned around on our way back to Ridnaun. But eventually, thankfully, we made it back to our little apartment in one piece. After some much needed shower, a fulfilling dinner, and some card games, we headed off to bed. The next day we took in the last views of the mountains on a much more leisurely hike to a beautiful little white church between our farm and Ridnaun. It was so nice to just unwind with much less physical challenges than the previous day.
Our travels home were much less stressful than our trip to the Dolomites (although there were some moments of crowded, claustrophobic trains, a last-minute switching of platforms, and an accidental 20-minutes-too-long bus ride). With sore muscles and aching joints, we trudged back to our apartments in Perugia. How great it feels to be home!
I’ve realized more and more how relevant my blog title is to this experience of being abroad. Everytime I go to a new place and have new adventures, there is always a different version of home that I refer to. When I’m talking about my house in Richmond with my family, I call that “home.” But when I’m adventuring on the weekends, I say “when we get home” meaning Perugia. Even when we were on the trails up in the Dolomites, I would say “as soon as I get home, I’m showering” meaning our apartment in the valley. I’ve found many “homes” during my time here, because that signifies something comfortable, secure, and constant. However, my one true home in my lovely city of Richmond that I know so well will always stay in my head and my heart.
I’m at the point in my abroad experience where I love being in Italy so much, and the people here are so wonderful, I couldn’t imagine leaving. But at the same time, I will always want to come back to the people that make Richmond what it is to me. Any homesickness I may have felt in the beginning of this semester has turned into an excitement to be with the people I love the most in this world in five weeks.