Monday, August 9, 2010
Getting high in Italy
Early on Saturday morning, Giorgio met me at my hotel and we did a 15K or so scenic run through the centre of Turin, across a bridge over the Po River built by Napoleon and up to a castle (or was it a monastery?) that overlooks the city. My month-long break from regular running doesn’t seem to have done me much harm.
Giorgio picked me up again an hour later and we drove up to Cesana via La Venaria Reale, the restored 17th-century Royal Palace museum and gardens on the outskirts of Turin that was built “to celebrate beauty, hunting and leisure”. It’s a fabulous complex of buildings and the museum aspect is really well done. We had a bite to eat there in a café in what had been the old kitchen area.
I’m staying at the Hotel Ginestra in Cesana, which lies at the foot of Mt Chaberton in the Italian/French Alps. Cesana is a resort town for skiers in winter and walkers/mountain bikers in summer. It looks gorgeous at the moment, with vividly bright flower boxes everywhere, cobbled streets, a fast-flowing icy stream running through the centre of the village, and quaint houses and shops with balconies and shutters. The block near me, right beside the stream, is closed to traffic, and people promenade and walk their dogs there. Yesterday a folk band was playing on the other bank of the river. The instruments were Alpine equivalents of what you might find in a zydeco band, and holidaymakers were doing folk dances. It was fun watching them while I ate my coconut, baci and stracciatelli gelato.
Giorgio and Amy have a holiday apartment in Sansicario, about 6K further up, that looks back across to Chaberton. Amy, who works as a freelance translator (Italian to English), keeps her horse nearby and does a lot of riding. She’s also a really talented runner, with a recent marathon PB of 3:15.
My first day here, Giorgio drove down to Cesana to pick me up for dinner with Amy and two of their three daughters, Jenny and Olivia. Valentina is away in Sardinia at the moment. The girls are gorgeous, and speak English as well as Italian. It was a delicious dinner (bruschetta, gnocchi with tomato and beans, chicken with prosciutto and salad, and berries). Giorgio and Amy are really into wines. I’ve noticed that a lot of Italian dishes are based around the colours of the Italian flag: white (pasta/bread/gnocchi/mozzarella and other cheeses), green (basil and other leaves/beans/peppers) and red (tomatoes/peppers)!
Olivia is really sweet and did my washing for me :-)
Giorgio is very funny. He’s also very knowledgeable and a total history nut, with an endless supply of stories that he shares in a really entertaining way. He cracks himself up all the time. He hosted the Dead Runners World Conference in Turin a few years ago. I gather everyone had a ball, and I can see why!
Yesterday, he and Amy came for a quick breakfast here at the Ginestra after dropping G’s car in a spot where we would end our walk to the summit of Mt Chaberton. Amy then drove us over to the start of the trail in France. G and I then walked for seven hours. The ascent is challenging, with fantastic views of the Alps from the top where there are ruins of a fortress that was destroyed in the Second World War (www.exploguide.com/site/mount-chaberton-fortress-briancon). I found the descent a bit precarious; it’s steep with loose stones and gravel. Giorgio and Amy know the woman who won the marathon here last weekend. G said she just spreads her arms out and flies down, barely touching the ground. Giorgio has run it himself, and I think yesterday was his 55th ascent.
My new trekking shoes are too small, which caused me some grief on the descent. I switched to my running shoes when we stopped for lunch at a very rickety picnic table down in the foothills. Giorgio had brought baguettes with prosciutto, chocolate with hazelnuts, and a bottle of a light red wine, which he opened with his Swiss Army knife. It was good fun.
Back in Cesana we had an espresso with grappa at a little restaurant/bar to toast our successful climb. Giorgio and Amy came back down from Sansicario for dinner at the hotel. I had onion soup, trout, some of Amy’s salad, and crème caramel: delicious. Amy had spent the day riding her horse.
I’m totally blown away by Giorgio and Amy’s kindness to me at a time when they have great sadness in their own lives. (Amy’s sister died recently after a horse-riding accident in the States.)
Today, Monday, I’m going to knuckle down to work at the bibliotèque, which is just up the road. But first, breakfast at a café…