MERANO, ITALY.MAY 2015
Getting Lost. And finding your way again……
Before we left Munich, I bought myself a natty little pair of 5.99 plimsolls to drive in. I was a bit apprehensive about the journey – I broke my little toe earlier in the week, the foot was swollen and I was not sure how long it would hold out at the pedals. I needn’t have worried. We left school in good time and all went well until we hit the Brenner Pass where we came to a complete stand still. Un-phased, as we picked up speed, we turned up the music and sang, sang, sang, losing ourselves to the sound of Lou Reed. As it began to get dark, I realized we’d missed our exit and were now headed towards Southern Italy….
I got off the Autostrada and Charlotte fiddled with English Emily (the sat nav) who, as I looped back and forth and went round in circles, was having a hissy fit. I used instinct and my legendary sense of direction to get us on some kind of route heading towards Bolzano, only to be instructed, “Turn right, turn sharp right now”.
“You’re really pissing her off” said Charlotte sardonically, as I resisted the temptation to obey English Emily and drive us, eyes smarting, into a sheer rock face.
We continued, in the dark on a very bendy road for several kilometres a road liberally punctuated with several castles, beautifully lit. Eventually we arrived at Merano and, even as we unpacked the car in the rain, could still feel the warmth from this mild, humid climate at 10pm at night. Peanuts and red wine for dinner that night…..
The next morning (after a stonking buffet breakfast) we went in search of the river and the Trautmansdorf Gardens, working on the theory that the river would be downhill from where we were staying.
We had a town map of sorts but, as we strolled through the stunning residential area we got completely carried away talking architecture, history and plant species. Soon, we realised we were off the map and had gone beyond the turn off point that our hotel concierge had recommended. Lost again……
Still optimistic however, even in the pissing down rain, we felt confident that the river, “Is over there Sarah. Let’s cross the road.” Unfortunately, my American buddy’s instinct took us instead to a very nice camp-site, nowhere near a river. With several helicopters flying over head, very close to us (“Some shit’s going down somewhere”) we re-calculated but alas! This time we hit a dual carriageway.
Eventually, after a lot of walking (and the realisation that Merano is quite a big place and the map completely not to scale), we hit the centre of activity.
Here, Merano was beautiful, really pretty with a medieval Aldstadt, flowers everywhere and home to a bevvy of artists – their installations frequently among the lovely plants. We went to the town museum which fascinated us – the history of the Sud Tirol was not familiar and we were keen to learn.
The afternoon saw us variously relaxing and e mailing people all over the world to ‘sort our affairs’ and ‘get our lives in order’. Ah! International living! You can’t beat it! Thus, after I had communicated with estate agents and solicitors in the UK and Charlotte had communicated with the FBI about her new identity, we dressed up for dinner. Sort of.
I had been looking forward to dinner, having foregone real sustenance for some time (my stomach was telling me). With some difficulty, I squeezed my swollen foot into my boots, ugly sister style, and attempted to look glam. Charlotte sauntered and I hobbled along the cobbled streets. We headed towards a nice looking restaurant. I had spotted this place on the drive in the night before. It looked Italian and ‘chi-chi’ and very welcoming, with fig trees in the courtyard and candles in jars on the tables. Since we had no reservation, we waited as the waitress disappeared to check if there was a space available for us (although there was no one else in the restaurant at that time). Whilst she was gone, we checked the menu. Starters from 30 euro prompted Charlotte to say,
“Let’s get out of here now”
“We can’t just leave without saying something”, I said, pathetically.
“Sure we can. Why would we spend our hard earned money here? This is the kind of place you get a guy to bring you to.”
And before I could say “Pizza” she had pushed me out of the door and down the road towards the cheap place. Here, we had a soggy salad and a mixed grill with chips (some of you may have experienced something similar at The Adriatic in Haimhausen) but, since this was our first food since breakfast, I have to confess, it hit my stomach without even touching the sides. Mind you, what this restaurant lacked in sophistication, it made up for in the sheer number of beautiful men…….. I have never seen so many gathered together in one place…….
But I digress.
The next day we knew we wanted to go for a hike. In Merano, there are many beautiful routes to choose from – either up in the mountains, along the river or around the town. Now. Anyone who has ever hiked with Charlotte will know that it is not uncommon to chase after an elusive camera shot. (“Pictures. I just want pictures”). She had seen a stunning picture of a castle in a brochure back at the hotel and wanted THAT shot. Once again, our concierge pointed us in the right direction. As we began our route, we saw another picture of the same castle on a sign by the wayside, this time with a name, Castel Tirol. Yippee! we now not only had a visual aid but a name and, apparently, a route too! But no map (“I don’t do maps Sarah”). Big mistake. Big. HUGE. And so we kept walking. Next to the river. Beautiful sunny day. In fact it became quite hot. Then it got hotter. My broken toe and crappy plimsolls began to protest. They were saying
“Stop Sarah – stop now. Don’t go round the next bend”,
but my mind was saying,
“Just a little further – around the next bend will be the castle, then Charlotte can take her bloody photo then we can go home for pasta”.
In this way, we covered several kilometres. Several miles in fact. No castle.
Of course we asked for directions – Charlotte asked in Italian, I asked in English we were spoken to in German….
(” You drive through 3 countries and you still can’t get away from the f***ing Größ Gott”).
We took several photographs of dogs. But no castles.
Eventually we met a sign to a Gasthaus (yes – a Gasthaus in Italy) and limped our way up the steps for a beer.
Not just any beer – it was Weinstephan don’t you know, brewed in our very own Freising. Never has a beer tasted so good. The Gasthaus was set amidst the most beautiful scenery. Surrounded by vineyards and apple orchards, these became lush green slopes covered in conifers which became snow topped mountains. Truly spectacular, Merano and its surroundings is a little oasis of Mediterranean meets the Alps. Post lunch, sleepy but content, we skipped/limped our way back to town and to our lovely hotel for an afternoon nap. Spoilt for choice for dinner that evening, I chose the cheap place again (for the food obviously) – and we had pizza. Pizza to die for…..
In Merano, this weekend Charlotte had a whole pile of stuff going down in the background. Earlier in the year she’d handed in her resignation. Then she got a job in Switzerland. Then she handed in notice on her apartment. Then she decided she didn’t want to leave Munich. Then she tried to get her job back. Over this weekend, she would find out if she had been successful. Earlier in the year, Charlotte came with me to England and supported me as I made some really important decisions about my life.
(“Sometimes Sarah, you gotta let go of what you really want…..”).
It seemed only right and proper that I should do the same for her. This support came in various forms – pouring prosecco (obviously); checking her e mails first
(“If it’s bad I don’t want to know”);
and helping her forgive herself for (what she thought were) stupid decisions – decisions taken at a time of grief and considerable stress.
And so, after our weekend combining nail biting tension and conscience cleansing we turned the car Northwards and headed towards an alternative route that would chop off the Brenner- ‘We only go slow’- Pass. This route, the SS44 was recommended to me by my dear friend and colleague Robin Greaves. He even gave me a map so that I knew it went over a mountain (but then he is a geography teacher!!) There was no way we could get lost here. …..
As we pulled out of Merano and paralleled the route we walked yesterday, it was clear that today’s weather was very different. I mentally prepared for hair-pin bends, impatient drivers up my rear and the possibility of thickening mist as we gained height. I didn’t prepare however, for Charlotte going flaky on me.
We went through some pretty villages. “That’s kinda cute – very Alpiney.” Passed some goats, “Are they goats or sheep?”……Next to a gorge, “Breath -taking, absolutely breath-taking..”…….Various hostelries and hotels, “I’m definitely coming back here again”.
And thus we climbed. Higher. And higher. “Sarah I’m right near the edge……watch out – there’s a turn!” Mist coming in thicker and thicker……. Becoming fog and sleet in fact..….. “Holy crap Sarah! you put the wind screen wipers on?” Getting higher, trees becoming more sparse…… “There aren’t that many shrines. I guess that’s a good sign”…..Slowing down because now I’m getting seriously scared, “Holy shit Sarah – if someone comes down the other side now we’re dead – mind you, that would solve the apartment problem”. Finally, as we approached a wall of snow (presumably at the top of the mountain) “Jesus Sarah, where’s the road gone – I can’t see a f***ing thing!”
Thanks Robin, for that recommendation.
As we paused for breath at the bottom of the mountain Charlotte finally received the email to confirm she could keep her job and stay in Munich. We will no doubt return to Merano and visit a few more of the places we missed this time. Still. One good thing about getting older is that you learn so many new skills! And it’s good to know that if you get yourself lost, you may twist and turn along some dark, unknown routes but eventually, you find your way again……