Sadly, our 3 months of Schengen time was again all used up! We’d booked a ferry from Dunquerque to Dover on the 19th, and we’d left ourselves a week to get there from Padova.
So with some wistful thoughts, and looking forward to coming back to spend some time getting to know Andrea, Silvia and their friends better, we set off northward. As, it turned out, into something resembling the apocalypse. Dark, intimidating clouds loomed in front of us as we approached, with some excitement, the first foothills of the Dolomites (the Italian Alps). The sky reminded us of the skyscape one sees in tornado movies, writhing menacingly as they curled off the mountains.
It added a fantastic ambiance to the scene as we followed the road into a narrow river valley between two steep-sided mountains, and dusk closed in around us. Then, the rain started, and it meant business: We slowed to a crawl as the downpour reduced visibility to almost zero – “I… guess the road’s out there somewhere”. The hail threatened to crack the windscreen, it came down so hard. Wow!
It eventually abated and we sped up again, heading out into a suddenly lighter day, like winding back the clock a few hours. We got an SMS from Andrea – “What the…Are you ok?”; “I’ve just seen the end of the world from my bike, that was exciting and wet”. We just hope he only saw it, rather than actually experienced it on a bike — that sounds not so dissimilar to drowning!
We drove on through the mountains, following the autostrada, while Katherine read out a heartwarming email we’d just received from Andrea, which mirrored our own excitement and gratefulness at having met. Warm fuzzies well established, we grinned out at the beautiful world around us and marvelled at our blessings.
We drove past vast fields of vines, and found a convenient lay-by off a relatively quiet road to park for the night, beside a wide, slow river and overlooked by a high rocky cliff topped with dense green forest, a little steam hurling itself into the air above us.
The next day we set out on foot to explore this exciting new world, and followed the river while we admired the rocky mountains surrounding us, every remotely-horizontal surface festooned with rich green plant life. It was sunny and warm and we were feeling good!
We drove onward and upwards as the scenery changed further. Lots of bright green fields of vines and increasingly amazing mountains, topped with snow (I’ll never get tired of snow-capped mountains. That’s the stuff, right there.). Very quickly, we noticed that the road signs all had Germanic names, and soon after we were amazed to notice the marked difference in architecture. Suddenly the roofs of houses and other buildings were sharply angled, and the village churches had pointy, colourful steeples. Roofs were no longer orange-coloured, but a deep brown, and much more deep wooden hues were apparent.
We were in another country! But, a glance at the map showed us we were wrong — it was going to be two more days of driving before we were out of Italy. We mused to ourselves that whoever had been tasked to draw the country boundaries had probably been bumped or slipped, and the border skewed south accidentally. They probably just hoped no-one would notice. We noticed, imaginary map guy! I was baffled further when Nettle’s lunchtime came (she’s a thirsty girl sometimes!) and I filled up at a petrol station, and the attendant spoke German! Okay, that’s fine — I threw in a “Danke!” for good measure.
A long but enjoyable drive led us eventually into a little town climbing the side of a hill — not entirely deliberately, but one of Noia’s more quirky routes – she likes it scenic. (Noia is our anthropomorphised Navigon GPS navigator app, short for “paranoia” and named for her inordinately cautious disposition; “beware” every time I go a fraction over the speed limit, or when she thinks the limit is less than it really is; “In 500 metres, take the second exit from the roundabout; beware”, “beware: traffic control”). It got a tad narrow, but we made it through with no drama, and discovered to our delight a car park on the other side that seemed a reasonable place to stop for the day — we were certainly ready for it. There was even a great view of the surrounding hillside.
We wandered back on foot the way we’d come, with the hopes of visiting a little supermarket we’d passed. It turned out to be closed, but we walked around the town anyway, intrigued by its…Austrian-ness!
Back at Nettle, we were investigating the most level and out-of-the-way place to stop for the night, when we discovered a sign prohibiting overnight parking! Oh, how we wished we could’ve un-seen that sign, but the cat was out of the bag, and our hopes of settling in for the evening were temporarily dashed. Lesson learned: Don’t look around too much!
So, dusk rapidly approaching, we set off again, following the road that zig-zagged up a long, gentle sloping mountainside dotted with wind turbines and delightful little brooks lined with flowers. Before long, Katherine spotted a park labelled “Camper”, to our delight, and I executed a speedy across-road 6 point turn, and we pulled in — it was a roadside café car park, kind enough to offer a place for campers to stop for the night. We made sure the café folks were happy with us being there (and scored a couple of pairs of warm woolen slippers, which totally look like bear feet), and happily stopped for the night, with a view out over the long grassy downhill slope we’d climbed, and surrounding snowy and misty mountains.