Following the Veronese mini-adventure, I headed up into the mountains for some Fun with Topography. My few days in Arco were amazing, but they were also a lesson in facing isolation, something I don’t normally deal with very well.
Day 2: Verona to Arco
I caught the bus to Arco early-ish in the morning. My 2.5-hour ride cost only €5,80. Boom. I still get to eat lunch today.
Arco is at the northern end of Lago di Garda, so most of the drive from Verona features astonishing views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Or at least it would, I assume, if it weren’t misty as fuck out. I couldn’t see a dang thing out my window, but comforted myself with the vague awareness that some of those darker forms in the mist could in fact be mountains.
I checked into my AirBnB, an apartment all to myself (luxury!!), and stocked up on groceries before heading out for an afternoon walk. I hadn’t familiarised myself with the area at all, but my map book made it clear that there were hikes to be found in just about every direction. So I started walking toward an inviting little mountain, and told myself that I wouldn’t go back Down until I ran out of Up.
That was tiring. Mountains have a lot of Up, it turns out. Have I mentioned that I’m from the prairies?
The mist was darn near impenetrable near the top, which of course obviated any views but did lend a wonderful spookiness to the whole experience. On the way down, I picked up a walking stick named Stick Jagger and we became fast friends. We sang Moves Like Jagger to each other.
I was beginning to feel the lack of social contact, if you couldn’t tell from the singing-to-my-stick episode, though I wasn’t quite feeling lonely yet. There were nice people all around me, and I rediscovered the comforting rural friendliness that had existed in Dorset (except now I’d be saying ‘ciao’ to everyone I passed, instead of ‘hiya’). I was having a hard time working up the courage to go into more populated places where I would have to speak Italian, though, and opted to have supper at home rather than to suffer the embarrassment of trying to make myself understood at a restaurant. This couldn’t last, and as my first day in Arco ended, I resolved that the next day I would go to the town centre and see what happened.
Day 3: Arco (Monte Velo)
I had chosen Arco for its proximity to mountain hikes, so my social goals would have to wait until after I had dragged my already-exhausted haunches up and then back down another mountain.
My original plan for this day had been to tackle Monte Stivo, the tallest peak in my general area at 2059m. That was…ambitious. By the time I was halfway through my daylight, I had only made it to the top of nearby Monte Velo, almost a full kilometre shorter than its neighbour, and it kicked my ass oh my word. Beautiful, though.
The path mostly wound along the wooded slope, occasionally intersecting abruptly and unpleasantly with a highway. Stick Jagger gained a companion, Stick Astley, with whom I sang Never Gonna Give You Up while Jagger quietly indulged us.
This mountain doesn’t appear to be well-travelled in November. In fact, I didn’t encounter a single other walker. I found myself engaging in some frank conversations with my walking sticks, such was my loneliness (and tenuous grip on my sanity). They’re good listeners.
I was pretty thoroughly lost for almost the entire hike, top to bottom. The map only showed one path, but there were a whole lot of side-trails, and things weren’t always well-marked. It wasn’t too alarming, since Up would take me away from civilisation and Down would take me toward it, but I did occasionally find myself doubling back and blinking at my map while looking all around for a path marker. I was engaged in just such behaviour, near the top of the mountain, when I wandered near a rather incongruous house. There was an old Nonna busying herself in the garden, and after I’d passed her a few times, she called me over and started chatting to me. I couldn’t understand a word, of course, and apologised for my stupidity. She stared for a second.
NONNA: Italianitalianitalian –sola?
ME: Ah! Si! Sono sola!
NONNA: Oh! Italianitalianitalian –brava! Brava!!
ME: [explodes with pride]
So if nothing else in my life, I have earned the respect of a badass mountain granny and will cling to that comforting thought forevermore.
After many, many hours of being lost on a mountain, I emerged dirty and sweaty and exhausted from the woods just as the Arco Christmas market was starting up.
A Christmas market! Among the palm trees! Well, here was my chance to interact with other humans. I joined the lineup for some chocolaty treats, and a child immediately started vomiting behind me.
I fled to another booth, this one serving crêpes. There was no recognisable lineup here, just a crowd of people standing around asserting themselves. Each time the man would look up to take someone’s order, someone else would get in there before me.
I did eventually get a crêpe from a less populous stall. And the market was freaking enchanting. But I was not quite what I would call a functional human yet. As I curled up at home with some take-out pizza and a (delicious) bottle of wine, I promised myself I’d go to a restaurant tomorrow. And I would speak Italian, dammit, and I wouldn’t be afraid of sounding like an idiot.
Day 4: Arco rain day
Oh boy did it ever rain. I woke up with aching muscles to a grim sky, and immediately learned that the goddess Sharon Jones had died. This devastating news, combined with the weather and the soreness and the loneliness, and the recent election of That Awful Man, left me feeling quite thoroughly demoralised.
I thought maybe I’d take it easy that day. I thought about wandering into town for lunch, while I absentmindedly packed sandwiches into my bag. I thought maybe I could take a quick look around the shops, while I absentmindedly flipped through my map book and traced out a hiking route. I thought, “At least I can wear my civvies instead of my nasty adventuring clothes,” while I absentmindedly pulled on my smelly leggings and strapped on my knee brace. What I’m saying is, my brain wanted a day off but my body had other plans. So I hiked in the rain.
The trail I followed was just what I needed. It was quite a simple walk altitude-wise, but it led to such a spooky place!! All my accustomed lust for adventure came flooding back as soon as I found the mysterious labyrinth of 3-foot-tall walls on top of this hill (you know how I am with walls).
They went on forever! And I had no idea what they were! I’m still not sure, honestly, because what little information I can dig up is in Italian. I had thought it might be remnants from an old quarry, but am now pretty sure that it’s actually a network of WWI trenches built by the Austrians. Possibly. If so, that makes this place SO much spookier, and also very interesting. The only problem with this spontaneity lark is that you must often plough through a spectacular day in complete ignorance.
My walk was not too trying, despite the rain, and I had plenty of time after to freshen up and get psyched for the restaurant trip I’d promised myself. And it went fine, of course. I fumbled through my Italian coherently enough to get a delicious salad & pasta, and far more wine than I could possibly drink with composure over the course of a meal. I sat there by myself fostering a gentle buzz for about 2 hours and had a lovely time. Still lonely, but at least functional.
The people here seemed so friendly, and I was becoming painfully aware that my greatest limitation wasn’t so much my Italian as my fear of sounding like an idiot in Italian. I had to put myself out there, and I had to get myself interacting with people beyond ordering cappuccinos and apologising for being an idiot. After several days of this, I’d had enough, dammit. My goal for the rest of my trip, then, was to make friends with an Italian.