Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 7 July 2012

A Day Off in Levico Terme

A classic rest day...

•Big leisurely breakfast

•Wash clothes

•Walk around park, which is laid out according to a formula used by English spa towns in the late C19

•Essential coffee breaks

•Research on buses for tomorrow - sadly there are none, and a taxi will cost us €40 for the journey up to Vetriolo Terme. The jury's out! Shall we find a way of avoiding walking 1000 metres up to Vetriolo at the start of an already long day?

•Lunch with hordes of holidaymakers beside Lago di Levico, with goodies from a supermarket

•Quality time spent with Gino (Giovanni) the 86 year old owner of Hotel Ideal, and his wife. Gino's iron and steel sculptures, each with its touch of humour, have won many awards and characterise the whole premises. Gino (pictured with Sue) took us to his house to show us his display, which includes life size sculptures of him and his wife, his brother (with a mule's head) and Jesus, with carefully laced boots. Then he showed us his workshop - full of assorted bits of metal and a collection of well used metalwork machinery and equipment. Later, he told us we could stay in the apartment attached to his house if we came back. I think he's taken a shine to Sue, who is enjoying practising her Italian on him, as he speaks slowly

•A visit to the church (pictured), which although relatively new (1872-77) is the largest church in the Trentino area, and tomorrow's mass will apparently be televised

•Another audience with Gino - who this time told us they get lots of visitors from The Vatican and sometimes hold masses in the garden! Was he teasing us?...

•Dinner at the hotel. Our room is very cheap, and a lot of that cost will go to Booking.com, so the least we can do for these friendly folk is buy their food and drink

•An evening visit to the town centre, where today's 'concert' comprised a 'Gran ballo asburgico' ie a Hapsburg ball in fancy dress - very entertaining, but not as informative as the botanical display that we passed on the way

Comments:

Gayle - good to hear from you. Welcome home! I'm sure you'll be happy to slosh around in a bit of rain - surely you missed our temperate climate...

Anonymous (not a truck geek) - well done! Can you now explain why 'Benetti' was written on the back of the truck? What bit of it might they have made? That's it, I have no more hidden information. I do recall on a visit to Tuscany in the 1970s that the marble quarry lorries were right hand drive. At the time we thought it was to give the drivers a better view of the sheer drops on the mountain tracks, but I can't recall the logic behind that theory! I hope you found some good boots btw; the Asolo Fugitives and the very similar Scarpa Infinities have served me well, and I can at last report on a Hi-Tec product, the Rainer, being durable.

Patrick - when we came to the 'path 219 closed' sign we nearly took your route, but we were fed up of the road. Val di Centa turned out to be a splendid place. I've commented on Hotel Ideal above - it doesn't seem to have changed since you were here. Apart from Gino there's a friendly French manager who speaks fast Italian with a French accent, and the rest of the staff are delightful.

Jules - we'll miss your comments. Have a great time in Tuscany.

Data:
7 July 2012
Maybe 5km of wandering around Levico Terme
Other E5 walkers - none in evidence
Flower of the Day Off - Edelweiss, seen on Days 4 and 5, upstaged on both of those days but worthy of its status, and we may not see any more for a while.

Itinerary - http://www.topwalks.com/E5%20Route.html

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E5 in reverse - Day 7 - Rifugio Stua (1610m) to Levico Terme (505m)

We woke at 6am to a ferocious storm, with 1cm diameter hailstones. Sue thought I was in the shower, but it was the sound of the hail against the window. It was exactly one week since we had last seen any rain - as we were setting off from Manchester. The storm woke the entire small community of Passo Coe and continued in intense pulses as we enjoyed our breakfasts.

'Perhaps it will clear the air', we hoped, as whilst we have been passing through wonderful scenery, our distant views have so far been hazy.

Claudia and Andrea were our hosts at La Stua. We lingered over breakfast until the magic time of 8am, when an important phone call could be made. Meanwhile Sue found a fine guide to the region's many orchids (ISBN: 88-7024-476-8).

The important phone call turned out not to be possible until 9am, when the local bus company's office opens. We had wanted to find out the bus times from Carbonare to Luserna. The E5 route takes to the road here, and appears to be intended to be travelled by bus. Thus E5 should be considered a 'journey' with any form of transport permissible, rather than a 'trek'. Our E5 strip map even has a picture of a bus next to the highlighted red line of the route for this section.

The storm abated as we donned what amounted to 'full winter kit', and a few seconds after our 9am departure towards Carbonare through a wet meadow with surprised deer, it stopped completely. For an hour or so. The overtrousers stayed on for some time because of the soaking undergrowth, and before we reached the large labyrinthine structure of ex Forte Cherle light rain was falling again. Both today's pictures are taken from here. The fort was part of a series of seven such structures, linked by trenches and other fortifications, and supplied by mechanised cableways from the valleys. They date from 1907 to 1915 and were built by the Austrians in anticipation of the looming military conflict with Italy. The storm had partially flooded the interior, and our torches weren't handy, so our exploration of the structure was fairly limited. Most of the fort seemed to be underground, with gun emplacements on the surface.

Shortly before reaching the fort we passed down 185 stone steps from the site of an Austrian wartime hospital. This 'emperor's staircase' was reputedly built for the visit of the heir to the throne, but became known by soldiers as the Staircase of Death.

The 'Sentiero delle Pace' commended by Markus in an earlier comment passes through here and coincided with quite a bit of our route today.

Carbonare could be seen below, between layers of cloud into which we soon immersed ourselves on the walk down to this small town, which took us three hours from Passo Coe. We saw two people all morning - poncho clad hikers ascending from Carbonare. Albergo Cornetto provided lunch, an ATM was raided, and the sun came out.

We now knew the bus times to Luserna - 1.45pm - so we'd have to wait an hour, would not start walking again until 2.30, and would probably arrive in Levico after 6.30. Given the stormy weather and the cloud cover, we decided to by-pass the official E5 route and walk directly to Levico. The distance was about the same (15km), but we could set off at 1pm.

So that's what we did, and once we had got the first half hour along the road past Virti over with, we found it to be an excellent route, though we had to play it by ear a little as the path (219/218) on our map was closed by a landslide. We went down the river that was 219 anyway and, shortly before its junction with 218, we were faced with a third and fairly definitive sign indicating the paths in that direction were closed. However, to our left path 217, unmentioned by our map, was signposted 'Val di Centa', which seemed fine. So down we went winding steeply through dense woodland, with glimpses of bare rock on the opposite side of the deep valley. At 950 metres an old stone cross bore an inscription, ending with a skull and crossbones, that was so faded it will be difficult to decipher.

Occasional squeals from disturbed chamois broke the silence, but none revealed themselves to us.

Eventually we reached the bottom of the valley, where our path crossed the infant Torrent Centa. Today it really was a torrent, and care was needed to cross a bridge of sticks without falling in.

We soon found ourselves on a nature trail - 'Parco Fluviale - Torrente Centa' - and discovered some of the interesting history of this deep valley. We passed below a huge waterfall, Cascate di Vallampach, and the remains of a large mansion, Case More, that was abandoned in 1913, as well as much more of interest.

Although not marked on our map, the path was clearly signed (curiously in kilometres rather than in hours, the latter being the norm here) to Caldonazzo, near where we picked up a horse trail towards Posto Tappa Lochere, before which a final turn to the left took us into Levico Terme a little over four hours after leaving Carbonare.

I'm sure that the E5 route has its merits, but the bus timetable is not ideal. For us it would have meant a latish arrival in Levico (though our concern about ongoing stormy weather swayed our decision to descend from Carbonare), whilst those walking in the 'correct' direction from Levico would need a very early start to walk for nearly 5 hours to Luserna in time for the bus to Carbonare that leaves soon after noon. It may be better for those folk to take their time, catch
the later bus, and spend the evening at Carbonare rather than press on to Passo Coe.

Readers may have worked out that we are based in Levico for a short rest. Hotel Ideal is ... ideal, and we had time to enjoy a concert from an excellent Viennese ensemble last night. We were possibly the only native English speakers in the audience. We haven't seen anyone whose native language is English since we left Verona, although many of the information boards we have passed are printed in Italian, German and English.

Comments:

Jules - there are certain points in the Alps that are more 'on the map' than others. So far, this route passes through the latter. These are the 'Piccole Dolomiti', they have all the features, apart from the height, of the more familiar Brenta and the massifs near Cortina and Corvara. There's a huge network of paths and tracks, and lots of historical interest. Wonderful flora as well, as you may have gathered.

Alan R - unusually, Rif Lancia put each of the three couples into different dormitories, so we never did discover whether anyone snored. It was a spotless place, so very good of them to give themselves three rooms to clean rather than one, although it has to be said we left them very little work.

Nick - your comment came through just as we were drying out in Carbonare. However, we'll settle for two hours of rain a week! It's good to hear from you and it would be great to meet up towards the end of our trip if you have the time (dinner in Constance on 5 August?). You'll see that I've planned a little trip into the Lechtalalps, it'll bring back memories of our 1980 trip perhaps. Feel free to join us...

Data:
6 July 2012
25km in 8.5 hours with 400m ascent
(Cum: 117km with 6550m ascent)
Other E5 walkers - none in evidence
Flower of the Day - Sowbread (Cyclamen purpurascens)
Rain seen since leaving Timperley - one ferocious mountain storm

Itinerary - http://www.topwalks.com/E5%20Route.html

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Friday, 6 July 2012

Alpine Concerts

What a pleasure it is to be in a place such as Levico Terme. In my early days of Alpine trekking with Dave Scruby, he headed off to concerts whilst the rest of us flaked out after a hard day. But nowadays Sue and I have easier days and can afford to take a break during our trips, so from time to time we are able to attend these events.

Like many alpine towns during their short summer season, Levico hosts concerts on a small stage in the main square. Tonight it was the turn of 14 Trentino Young Musicians to perform a selection of Viennese waltzes for an audience of around 300. This sort of thing happens all over the Alps. It's great.

What a lovely way to conclude the first week of our holiday.

PS Thank you 'Anonymous' (aka 'truck geek'?!) for your ID (to be confirmed by Alan R! I didn't think Alfa Romeo made lorries). Coachwork by....?

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E5 in Reverse - The End of Phase One

We are now safely ensconced with the old ladies predicted by Gillian (they are delightful) in Levico Terme's Hotel Ideal, where we will enjoy a well earned rest tomorrow.

Today's entry will follow, but just to offer a clue, one of the old gents who is jealously watching me sup my Weissbeer is saying "I went to the park yesterday and the grass was brown; I went again today and it was green" (translation courtesy of Sue, our resident linguist).

The picture is one that I have saved as a challenge for Alan R to identify in between his peaty adventures...

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E5 in reverse - Day 6 - Rifugio Lancia (1825m) to Rifugio Stua at Passo Coe (1610m)

Another fine day's walking in a beautiful area. Until we reached the summit of Monte Maggio, an hour before we finished, we met nobody on the trail, encountering only Karina and Rabea at our lunch stop at Malga Borcola. Mother and daughter are walking E5 from Levico Terme to Verona, which is proving to be a great contrast to the more northerly sections they have walked in the past. We discovered that we had nearly met Rabea in June in the Kinlochewe Hotel, when she was walking the Cape Wrath Trail and we were staying at the Lodge. Small world!

Hello you two, we hope that by the time you read this you will have completed a very satisfying trek.

After a basic breakfast and little or no conversation with the other two couples staying at the rifugio, we set off to fill our water bottles from a nearby spring as Rif Lancia's water was allegedly undrinkable. The spring was dry. Never mind, today was a relatively temperate day - 17-24C temp range. We did have some water, and eventually came to a working spring (pictured) within three hours of setting off - at about 1740 metres as indicated in Gillian's book, overlooking an impressive limestone spire. Today's route had set off through meadows crammed full of Leopardsbane, Black Vanilla Orchids and Yellow Rattle, following what were probably military tracks, but were possibly never navigable by vehicle. At various points wartime buildings and trenches were encountered, and the terrain was sometimes vertiginous but at other times the path threaded a thin line through verdant meadows.

As usual there were some woodland phases of today's walk, and as usual these were a mixture of steep climbs and descents, and more amenably graded sections such as the final gentle descent to Passo Coe. The steep pull up from our long lunch at Malga Borcola provided the unlikely sight of an abandoned lorry on the path, next to an abandoned quarry and its offices. Alan R will no doubt be able to identify the lorry when I put up its picture.

Ravens cawed at us from heady rock spires and from the huge cross that marks the 'summit' of Monte Maggio by way of a War Memorial. Today's second picture is taken from the base of that cross, where war time trenches and gun emplacements litter the ground. There do appear to be higher parts of the mountain, but this is not a peak bagging trip, so hey!

We disturbed chamois a couple of times today. They make a noise like a scalded cat before scampering off up a precipice or away through the trees.

Some birds of prey were active on the slopes of Monte Maggio. Very angular, chestnut coloured birds a bit bigger than a cuckoo. We had no idea what these were, but the flurry of swifts over the summit a few minutes later was unmistakable.

Earlier we had come across the 'river of sheep' seen in the distance yesterday. They weren't all sheep. Goats and mules also roamed within the small temporary pen in which they had overnighted. Sue soon discovered that the pen was electrified, and we tried to rescue a lamb that had got trapped under the fence and had perhaps been receiving unwelcome pulses of power during the course of the night. When freed of the fence it perked up but remained unable or unwilling to move its legs. It was a lot healthier however than the mole or the shrew that we found at 1800 metres on the slopes of Monte Maggio!

As we left Monte Maggio's summit we encountered an elderly couple walking to the top, the only folk we'd seen on the paths all day. They didn't respond to our greeting. A few more people were on the path lower down, as was a posse of mountain bikers that tore past us on the approach to Passo Coe.

We are happily installed in Rifugio La Stua, bloated after another filling meal, and ready to flake out as soon as it goes dark. The two other residents are middle aged Italian ladies with sore muscles, and the workman engaged on constructing an extension has thankfully packed away his drill.

There's no phone signal here, so transmission may have to wait until tomorrow, when storms are forecast so the phone may be deeply stashed. And tomorrow's entry may be written later as Saturday is a rest day...

Comments:

Laura - good to hear from you - yes, it's proving to be a very amenable route, and for the moment we are missing the storms just as we did when passing through your area on our Italian Border Route.

Markus - greetings! This is a great route so far, with lots of variety. The 'Peace Route' sounds interesting. Bit I wonder whether it might get depressing at times, or would it just make us realise how fortunate we are to live in such relatively peaceful and affluent times. Today's l'Adige (our local paper) comments on how the wartime artifacts hereabouts are increasingly becoming tourist attractions.

NB It's good to receive a comment after sending a posting as I'm never quite sure whether or not the posting has 'taken'. I receive the comments as soon as I have a phone signal. I don't have internet access (until we find some WiFi - maybe Bolzano) so I can't check the postings. The Blackberry sometimes changes its mind about whether a posting has 'taken', which doesn't help, and my space on their server seems to be very limited, probably full of old stuff - but I have no idea as to how to view and delete it!

Data:
5 July 2012
16km in 7.5 hours with 1000m ascent
Other E5 walkers - Karina and Rabea
Flower of the Day - Black Vanilla Orchid - a star of the alpine limestone meadows
Rain seen since leaving Timperley - none

Itinerary - http://www.topwalks.com/E5%20Route.html

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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

E5 in reverse - Day 5 - Rifugio Campogrosso (1457m) to Rifugio Lancia (1825m)

Today's route followed military roads for some way. These were built during the First World War when the area formed the boundary between Italy and the Austrian Empire.

We started by skirting around Monte Cornetto, the traverse of which would have needed Via Ferrata kit. Our mesmerisingly beautiful path led through meadows of orchids and dragonmouth into lovely beech woods and more meadows before cutting up over a shoulder and descending an amiably winding path through sunlit woods to Pian delle Fugazze.

Stage 25 in reverse, in Gillian's book, would end here. But it was only 10.30 so we considered a pause for some caffe latte to be sufficient, before proceeding to stage 24 in reverse.

A military road built by Italian General Achille Papa runs from here all the way to the high summits and passes of the Pasubio area. Built in 1916 to help counter the attempts of the Austrians to occupy this area before moving south to the Po plain, the road was never properly navigable until Mussolini came along. In the 1930's his fascist regime finished off this and other roads and, declaring the area 'sacred to the fatherland' he had a mock Roman arch built in an area where many Austrian and Italian forces had perished in the conflict.

The E5 route climbs steeply out of Fugazze, ignoring the long loops of the military road and climbing for about 550 metres before rising above the tree line. We were going well. It was only around 20C, a much more acceptable temperature. Poor visibility and swirling cloud above about 2000 metres failed to dent our enjoyment. The final 250 metres of ascent to Rifugio Papa (pictured) was along the road, which sweeps around and through the mountainside in spectacular fashion.

This is superb mountain biking country - a couple rushed past - and we saw a few walkers taking advantage of the impressive footpath and Via Ferrata network around here.

By 1pm we had reached the rifugio and were tucking into our usual bowls of pasta, washed down with coke. It was a bit too cool to sit outside in a t-shirt so we stayed inside for lunch for the second day.

It's actually anything but cold - we've now spent five days walking in t-shirts and shorts.

Near the rifugio some large groups of children sat in circles receiving what may have been history lessons. They looked as if they may be equipped to venture into the nearby tunnels. These were built by the Italians during WW1 and include the impressive 'Strada delle Gallerie' - 6.5 km of roadway crafted through the mountain via 51 tunnels. We inspected the narrow entrance (it's where the picture of the rifugio was taken) but didn't explore any further.

[We've been in lots of these tunnels before, notably at Passo Falzarego.]

Alpine Choughs, noted by Gillian as 'the only form of life in the area', gave a notable aerobatic display here.

The old road then rose as gently as the lifting cloud, past Mussolini's arch (pictured) and a chapel of remembrance. E5 is well marked here and avoids a visit to Selletta Comando, which is signed as 20 minutes from the point at which path 142 turns to take the E5 walker over Selletta Domaggio. Here there are lots of WW1 tunnels, trenches and other artifacts. We explored them for a while before moving to the Austrian side of the conflict. They were within shouting distance of the Italians. Here the trenches have not been cleared of rubble and the whole mountain is disfigured by the consequences of high explosive. On one day in WW1, some 50,000kg of explosive was detonated from 200 ignition points - resulting in the largest explosion on the entire Italian front.
The Austrian flag flew forlornly over the debris of war, in remembrance of those lost in this deadlocked conflict.

Once Sella del Piccolo Roite was reached, we could divert our eyes from a huge Austrian encampment with numerous 'windows' in the rock, and enjoy the wonderful path that leads all the way to Rifugio Lancia. It's a belvedere of pure delight at around 2000 metres. Brilliant - reminiscent of the western section of the Ivano Dibona Via Ferrata near Cortina, one of my favourite walks.

Here we met two men with a nice looking border collie. Unfortunately the dog was frightened of us and refused to pass until we had scrambled some way up the steep hillside!

Later, a distant 'baa' revealed a river of sheep being herded down a distant pasture.

The rifugio has a familiar name. It was built in 1938/39 under the patronage of one Vincenzo Lancia, who also put his name to a marque of motor car.

It's a very tidy, clean place. We are installed in a large dormitory. There appear to be two other couples staying. We hope they don't snore...

The rifugio apparently has a high standard of culinary excellence to maintain, and it has done just that tonight - gnocchi with bacon and cheese, then veal cutlets with a lemon sauce, rosemary fried egg, a selection of onion and peppers, and polenta, followed by an almond slice.

Comments:

Jules - you do have a vivid imagination!

Jacqueline - I'm afraid this site doesn't support advertising of the nature you suggest.

Data:
4 July 2012
20km in 7.75 hours with 1300m ascent
Other E5 walkers - hard to identify, we think none, and certainly there are none going in our direction other than Adam and Jane, who passed through Rif Lancia on 28 June
Flower of the Day - Bluish Paederota, which dripped copiously from the limestone walls of today's military roads

Itinerary - http://www.topwalks.com/E5%20Route.html

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Tuesday, 3 July 2012

E5 in reverse - Day 4 - Giazza to Rifugio Campogrosso (1467m)

After another hearty breakfast we paid up, said our goodbyes to Gabriello (to whom I apologise for mis-spelling his name yesterday) and set off up the quiet road outside the hotel. It was cooler than of late, a pleasant 20C or so for most of today, but fairly humid and with the high summits bathed in cloud.

Quiet tarmac apart from a few cyclists made for an easy ascent, as did the concreted nature trail lined with cyclamen that followed. That soon gave way to more entertaining and indeed more sporting upward progress. Rifugio Scalorbi finally came into view, at around the cloud base, after a steep and occasionally exposed section, above which cows grazed and Ring Ouzels clucked.

The rifugio offered a lunch of pasta and coke, most welcome after our 1000 metre ascent, and by the time we'd finished the cloud was fast dispersing. This must be the boundary of Franco's E5 waymarking territory, as we couldn't find the next sign! So we took path 109 up to Bocchetta dei Fondi - at 2040m our highest point so far. A wonderful old track, lined with Edelweiss, with expanding views thanks to both the added height and the clearing clouds.

Small tunnels beside the path belied the troubled history of this area, of which more tomorrow. We are well into Italy these days, but that wasn't always the case.

Following Jules's comment we tried to liken the view from Bocchetta dei Fondi (pictured) to some area of the UK. We failed.

Care was needed on the descent over loose rubble and along thin paths across steep scree. This abrupt side of the Carega mountains was in deep contrast to the gentler southern side up which we had ascended. Gillian's guide book refers to 'a hands-on clamber' when climbing what we were descending. In descent, that route was exposed and loose - we found it much easier to run down the excellent scree instead. Great, for once we beat Gillian's time!

After the scree run, during which our noise had disturbed some nearby chamois, we strolled along more level ground, past banks of Butterwort and Yellow Wood Violets, before arriving beside a rock wall. Looking up, I spotted an excellent array of Giant Knapweed. Admiring the knapweed, Sue spotted, in a rock crevice, our flower of the day (pictured). It's always a thrill to find a good specimen of Devil's Claw.

From above, it had looked like another uphill slog to reach Rifugio Campogrosso. That was an optical illusion; by the time we had passed through some delightfully sunlit woodland to reach the pass, the Rifugio was nowhere to be seen! We turned right and soon found it.

Beers on the terrace at 4pm.

We were shortly afterwards joined by nine Germans coming along E5 in the other direction, and there are at least half a dozen others staying here as well.

Almost unnoticed, a middle aged gent arrived from the Monte Cornetto (the mountain directly to our north) direction with a large rucksack which he proceeded to empty. First out was a large coil of rope and various chunks of climbing gear. Then he produced four large fire extinguishers and handed them to the rifugio's guardian. Perhaps he had just taken them for some exercise. He was sporting an 'alpine guide' t-shirt.

A mountain meal of spag bol, meltinthemouth veal with polenta and greens, and apfelstrudel has accompanied more beer.

It may be early but it seems like time for bed. Or will that be more beer?

Comments:

Jules - your point is well made, and does apply to the Lessini plateau. I was wondering whether today's transition could be likened to moving from the White Peak to some other part of Britain. But it can't. We've moved into the world beating scenery of the Dolomites.

Alan S - we are impressed that you have looked at our itinerary. You'll maybe have noticed that we are having a few days off, and you are cordially invited to join us for a couple of days in either Bolzano or Solden. We would be very impressed! (You only live once!)

Route Note:
We were tempted to take a more sporting route this morning, but with a fairly rigid timetable and no camping gear we (in retrospect correctly) considered that unwise. The E5 route runs through the countryside much in the style of the Pennine Way. It's surrounded by lesser paths. But less may be more, and a visit to any of the areas we pass through will be rich with choices for adventure. Not that there's anything wrong with E5, it seems (like the PW) to be a fine route. We are savouring every minute of it.

Data:
16km in 7 hours with 1300m ascent
Other E5 walkers - none en route, but there's a German group of 9, from Obersdorf in Bavaria, travelling south at the Rifugio - from Passo Coe to Verona, a six day trek
Flower of the Day - Devil's Claw (pictured)
Itinerary - http://www.topwalks.com/E5%20Route.html

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E5 in reverse - Day 3 - Erbezzo to Giazza

We thought we may be given a shock this morning when Bruno presented his bill. A note in the apartment (you could hardly call it a room) indicated 2012 B&B tariffs from €70 to €140 for the room.

Bruno is a 'dry' character, but he clearly spotted that we had arrived from E5 rather than in a BMW, and he wants more E5 custom. €111 for B&B, dinner and beer was very reasonable. Cash only is the rule around here, so with the ATM having been confirmed this morning as a cashless resource, we are on a budget for the next few days.

A hot descent down a rough, overgrown path took us from Erbezzo into 'the gloomy Vaio dell' Anguilla'. Despite some intermittent cloud today, and lower temperatures in the 25-30C range, we were really quite 'drippy' by the time we 'bottomed out' in this very humid 'Valley of the Eels'.

No eels were found. The closest we got to that was later on when we found a couple of small grey snakes (25 cm long, 4-5mm diameter). They were 'morti'. Tonight's host, Gabrielle, thinks that they probably found nice basking rocks, went to sleep, and fried! It rather looked that way. Sue also found a mole, in perfect condition, but also 'morti'. Perhaps it died of boredom, waiting for a snake to move?

By the time we reached the small hamlet of Lesi we had given up our search for dock leaves, so enjoyed some long glugs from our water bottles, together with KitKats carried from Timperley, on a shady bench outside a weekend retreat. The water was still cool from our fridge in the B&B, and we managed to consume the chocolate shortly before it would have melted for the third day running. The bars had adopted very strange shapes!

After that break we set off with renewed purpose, only to encounter - a few minutes later - the slightly larger hamlet of Croce. Sadly, our legs failed to carry us past Albergo Croce, where cappucinos were downed whilst chatting to the elderly residents and waiting for our water bottles to be refilled.

Suitably refreshed, we enjoyed the ever changing miscellany of paths and tracks that led over to Maregge past various features described in Gillian's book. Today's terrain bore more than a little similarity to that of the White Peak back at home. At one spot the Nutcrackers we disturbed flew back to their pine woods, but the Pied Flycatchers ignored us and continued to collect food for their nearby family.

Locanda Maregge was conveniently reached at 1pm. Cokes and tagliatelle ai funghi provided a satisfying lunch under an umbrella.

No, it wasn't raining, it's just a tactic to avoid frying.

Half the afternoon was spent meandering on quiet lanes and empty footpaths to the edge of the Lessini plateau, across which the day had seen us walk almost entirely in an easterly direction from the highest village on the undulating plateau.

Sue is pictured in front of an old church that must have once been on the finely constructed main road that is now the domain of walkers and mountain bikers, not to mention cross country skiers judging by the 'MagnaLoppet' signs.

Before a final ascent, we spotted what looked like a small deer ahead of us. It bounded away as we grabbed our binoculars. They told us that it wasn't a deer at all - just the biggest hare we'd ever seen. Seconds later, the high pitched whistles of the first marmots we have seen on this trip confirmed that we weren't in the White Peak after all, though the scenery could have misled us into thinking that.

We had risen to over 1400 metres by the time we reached a sign indicating 1 hour 45 mins to Giazza. It didn't look like it at the time, but this signified the edge of the plateau, from which we descended through trees for 700 metres or so on a perfectly graded old track that reminded us of the hunting tracks in the Maritime Alps.

We paused to down our last dregs of water, before our final descent to Giazza (pictured), where we hauled ourselves up through the pretty village to Albergo Belvedere.

After handing over Bruno's presents to Gabrielle, we sat on the balcony of the bar with some cold beers and a large bowl of cherries presented to us by Gabrielle, who was then challenged by Sue to identify in Italian the various dead animals she had photographed during the day. He was very patient.

Our room is fine. "There is no key" apologised Gabrielle, adding "but there is no crime here."

There is a minor flood though, as our shower cubicle is minus a door.

It's slightly cooler here, so we enjoyed our meal - less of an endurance test than last night's. Speciality lasagne, fried trout with chips, sprouts and lettuce, and a delicious slice of apfelstrudel.

I believe it's a 'proper' mountain day tomorrow!

Comments:
Alan S - you do seem to have a rough time in Scotland in May! I have yet to encounter a 'cleg' during the TGO Challenge, and have encountered very few midges. There was quite a bit of rain last year, I recall, and one really wet day this year, but I'm sure we'll get a few days like that on this trip as well...

Patrick - all our long Alpine trips have started with unseasonably hot weather. It's a good omen! Yes, the 'fountains' are great - much better than taking water from a peaty stream...

Data:
20km in 8 hours with 950m ascent
Other walkers - none
Dead snakes - 2
Flower of the Day - Red Helleborine
(from a very long shortlist, chosen because we can't recall having seen it before - flower varieties seem to increase exponentially every day)
Itinerary - http://www.topwalks.com/E5%20Route.html

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Monday, 2 July 2012

E5 in reverse - Day 2 - Montecchio to Erbezzo

Monica's idea of breakfast was to provide us with a feast that filled the table in our apartment.

Suitably refuelled we set off at 9.15 into the morning heat, retracing our steps to Montecchio for the last time. Franco was busy watering his vegetables as we passed, so we stopped to say hello. This became a feature of the day.

Rising to enjoy hazy but expansive views down to Verona and across to Lake Garda, we soon came across Tuglio, an elderly guy enjoying a Sunday stroll along E5 and the good network of public footpaths that grace this area. Stopping to chat with him was a good excuse to pause for a drink on the shady path, as today's temperatures of 30-35C in the shade made frequent drinks stops desirable, if not essential, and time pressures will be very much the exception on this trip - there were certainly none today nor will there be in the foreseeable future.

The path rose steadily, a feature of the day, in rising temperatures, another feature of the day, as we passed a small castle with lots of mewing peacocks.

The E5 route hereabouts is well waymarked with the traditional red and white Alpine markings, so the 1:50000 strip map that we have is very much just a comfort blanket and an indicator of which way to turn when the markings are obscure or unclear. However, some signs indicate that the route continues to reach the Adriatic, which was once the plan. But nowadays most folk seem content for the walk to finish (or in our case start) in Avesa.

Nestled into the hillside are numerous small communities within commuting distance of Verona. These people were out and about, as was a smattering of walkers and bikers. Our next encounter was with road bikers Lucia and Bruno, on a round from Verona, who stopped to chat in what should have been a quiet lane. It wasn't. So we accosted a man on a moped whose brother is a priest in London.

"There's a good mountain bike trail that starts from up there" he explained, before phutting off.

Eventually we dragged ourselves away, topped up our water from a nearby 'fountain' (spring water tap), and headed along a mixture of quiet tarmac lanes and stony paths towards our lunch stop at Ponte di Veja. The route featured a new town, not on our (newly purchased) map, by Ristorante Da Lara, and marble quarries of the Lessini hills lying cheek by jowl with the wealthy suburbs of Verona.

After a slight navigational mishap when we missed a sign and inadvertently transcribed a fifteen minute circle, we finally arrived at Ponte di Veja, where the large car park betrayed the presence of a huge natural arch (pictured above) to which people flock from far and wide. We lunched at a picnic bench outside the busy café, before visiting the arch and exploring its caves - used by bears in the past, then by man, now by a colony of bats.

After an hour's break for lunch, we immediately left the crowds as we spent the afternoon heading almost 600 metres in a vertical direction towards the large village of Erbezzo. The path was steep and sweaty. In the hamlet of Portello we said hello to a family group who invited us into the shade of their verandah and plied us with water for half an hour or so. Sue is pictured above with Silvano, Sonia and Elide. Thanks go to them for being so kind.

Suitably refreshed, and aided en route by a few scrumped cherries and hedgerow strawberries, both a feature of the entire day's walk, we completed the day on a pleasant, less acutely steep path to Erbezzo and the security of a comfortable room at La Stua B&B. It was 5.30 - we certainly took our time in the heat today.

After another nice meal (we are absolutely stuffed) at La Stua Ristorante (Bruno and his family seem to have quite a little empire) we sought out the ATM (empty) and wandered around the empty village before returning to our lodgings to watch the final of a European Football Contest, but we couldn't get the TV to work. Italy were in the final, but it was very quiet outside and unlike in the UK there are very few flags on display here.

I have a kit 'failure' to report - just wear and tear actually. The metal tips of both my Pacerpoles have gone. Does anyone know whether they are a universal fit, or do I need specific Pacerpole spares? At least I'm now much quieter on any tarmac!

Comments:
Thanks for your latest comment, Alan S, but it didn't make us laugh as much as the previous one!

Dot - it'll take more than us taking a break to make you 'stagnate'.

Gillian, thanks for your inspiration and encouragement. To be honest we hope it does get cooler, as the heat makes it quite tiring, but more so to justify my carrying two down jackets. Enjoy the Stelvio Alps, it's bound to be cooler up there!

Alan R - 'Greece in September' - happy dreams, Alan - Sue and I enjoyed our honeymoon there ten years ago in September.

Data:
20km in 8 hours with 1100m ascent
Other E5 walkers - none
Clouds - none
Flower of the Day - Small Yellow Foxglove
Itinerary - http://www.topwalks.com/E5%20Route.html

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Sunday, 1 July 2012

E5 in reverse - Day 1 - Avesa to Montecchio

Alan S's comment arrived just as I was shouldering a 15kg rucksack, about to set off up a 500 metre climb with the thermometer reading 37C in the shade....

Does that make you any happier, Alan?

The day started with a late, leisurely breakfast. I think we may have overdone it a little, as the provisions we later bought for lunch are still languishing in my rucksack, despite the considerable motivation to lighten my load.

The number 96 bus delivered us to the centre of Verona, where we wandered from place to place for some time in search of the highly recommended Natural History Museum and its fossilised crocodiles and palm trees.

We were misled three times as to the location of the museum, which may or may not have been open, so after a grand tour of everything but the museum, we gave up. We had a pressing engagement with the E5 walking route.

Next time we'll get off the bus at the station and plan our moves from there. The NH Museum is only a few metres off the number 97 bus route to Avesa. Buses are every 30 minutes so we could easily have broken our journey to the start of the walk if we hadn't lost so much time wandering around looking for the place.

We made it to Avesa by 1pm and paused outside a bar next to the E5 start/finish line to down some cold drinks in the shade.

Stage 29 of Gillian's version of the E5 route is a short one, so it didn't worry us to be starting at 1.30. We soon found ourselves on cracked parched earth in the deep, narrow canyon of the Borago valley, trying fruitlessly to spot prehistoric-looking salamanders. It wasn't a good day for natural history - I may have glimpsed one, but it was more likely a frog.

It was, thankfully, cooler in the canyon. Just 30C. But we had to keep moving. Mozzies.

After some considerable time on a very rough path with an intermittent stream the canyon came to an end at a 30 metre head wall, down which there is no doubt a fine waterfall during less settled weather. Luckily some stairs, complete with banisters, provided an escape route into the upper section of the canyon (Sue is pictured here), where the sometimes vertiginous path took us eventually up to the small village of Montecchio, home of Franco and Helene Cuoghi, who whilst unable to accommodate us due to a family reunion had insisted on us calling by en route to Casetta Volpare, where they had kindly arranged tonight's B+B for us.

I understand that Franco was director/administrator of the E5 route from 1978 until his retirement in 2010. He is 'Mr E5'.
It was a privilege to meet him.

Water and wine were produced, and together with guests Willi and Renata we demolished a couple of bottles of Franco's "no need for the water" Rosato Garda 2012. Franco and Helene are pictured above on the left during the hour and a half we spent with them discussing the E5 and other Alpine routes. They seemed to think more English than Germans are walking E5 these days, but this wasn't borne out by their E5 visitors book, which showed about 50 people passing through last year, mostly on short sections. We duly signed the book - about the tenth to do so this year, a little below Adam Mills and Jane Heath, with whom we had been in touch before the walk. They are currently five days ahead of us, but will gain on us if they keep to their tighter schedule.

We shouldered our pack/bumbag and staggered off when F and H announced that they must change for a visit to the opera. They said it was 2km to Casetta Volpare ('small foxy house'), but within 15 minutes we were being greeted by foxy haired Monica and her troupe of dogs, and were shown to our luxury apartment in her not so little house.

A quick turnaround saw us strolling back along the well signposted alternative E5 (by-passing the equally well waymarked canyon and its ladders) to Montecchio's popular Trattoria for an alfresco meal in the relative 'cool' of a fine evening some 500 metres above the plains where the opera goers will have been sweating it out in Verona.

Data:
8km in 2.75 hours with 500m ascent
Plus 5km around Verona and 3km to and fro from Casetta Volpare
Other walkers - none
Flower of the Day - Herb Robert (in the canyon together with lots of Herb Bennet, Greater Celandine, and more)

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