From one tiny town, to another. I’m still not sure of the exact location of Valli Del Pasubio. It lies between Schio, a city of 30,000 inhabitants (not to brag, but my university has roughly the same population!) and the Pasubio mountain range, which I believe to be known as pre-Alps. That being, they are too small to be considered Alps, though they looked pretty damn mountainous to me. Valli (as I shall affectionately call the town) is mostly residential. Pastel shade apartment blocks dominate its architecture at those parts nearest to Schio, and on the ride through the valley and towards the taller mountains, they become fewer, more scattered, and of a more unique (and ginormous) character.
The town of Valli itself is charming. It is one of my regrets that I did not get the time to run amok with my purse full of euros through its narrow cobbled streets and outdoor market, or to linger for longer than a sniff outside the bakery, but I can rest assured in the knowledge that I am welcome back in that village. For the people are the kind that welcome not only with open arms, but open homes. I have been informed I have at least two beds waiting for me, should I ever require them. But enough bragging. The thing that struck me most about the gorgeous valley was, of course, its breath-taking panoramic views.
The weather was milder in Valli than in Tuscana or Padua, so I was able, each morning, to sit on the swing in my (host families) back garden and admire the great mass of mountain that faced the back of their home. And admire I did. Any which way I turned my head were these beautiful mountains, incredible for their imposition if not for their size, and making up for any lack of height with their sheer bulk. However, while I admired the mountains of Valli for their seemingly militancy, on a mountain hike I was struck by their silence, their wildlife, and their colour. Trivia time: the mountains in Valli produce the most beautiful spring water, which is carted all over Italy and sold in ginormous quantities due to its quality. So there you go.
My mountainy excursions did not stop at hikes, however. It was suggested to me by my host family that we go for dinner on top of one of the smaller mountains. I agreed enthusiastically. While we got into the car, my host-dad gestured for me to take note of the temperature. 28⁰. Nothing strange there. The drive up the mountain was something spectacular in itself, never mind the views that I glimpsed from behind the trees that lined the (very thin) gravel track along which my host-dad navigated with skill. Every now and then he gestured to the temperature gauge. It dropped steadily. By the time we reached the top, it was 12⁰. It was hard to imagine that 1600 ft below us it was feeling like a British day in late August. And so high were we, that the views, though no doubt beautiful, were completely obscured by cloud.
And dinner itself was something quite apart from what I had been led to expect. For I had been informed we were on our way to dinner. Imagine my surprise, when I discovered that we had parked in front of a farm house, which itself was in front of a pig sty, which was itself overlooking the edge of the mountain. I looked around, half expecting, half praying, that a restaurant would declare itself upon the horizon. But we were on the summit of a mountain. And the cloud obscured the horizon. After a mooch around the pig sty, my host-family led me into the (seemingly deserted) farmhouse. Inside were a few tables, all set up with place mats, and plastic knives and forks in little clear plastic wrappers (to prevent insect contamination as far as I can guess). Light bulb. So, taking a seat at the farmhouse/restaurant table, I eagerly awaiting dinner. And when it came it was delightful. While at first apprehensive of the setting for my meal, I now could not think up a more appropriate place to have enjoyed it. A homely helping of spaghetti Bolognese, followed by a selection of salami, cheeses, and fried polenta. Buon appetite indeed.
As if a farmhouse/restaurant/cheese factory combo wasn’t enough, the mountains had another little marvel hidden up their sleeves: a World War One monument. The monument takes the form of a tower complete with winding staircase and views looking out to the surrounding mountains and overlooking the valley. The monument is humbling for more than just its impressive structure and its situation among the historical battlefields, however. Work began on the monument in 1919, and as surveys of the surrounding areas were carried out, hundreds of bodies were found, lost to the tragic First World War. Determined to build the monument in such a prominent location, the authorities decided to build tombs within the structure, in order to rest the bodies of those soldiers found and to complete the monument to them. Work was completed in 1926, and today it is one of those harrowing, heart-wrenching places that words cannot describe. And while it brought a sense of reality to my week in Valli, it impressed upon me the fact that emotion is international, and powerfully uniting.
My time in Valli marked the end of the beginning of my journey in Italy. It marked my final teaching destination, as well as my final host family. To follow Valli, came a week exploring the beautiful cities of Roma, Firenze and Venezia at my own leisure. And, not that I was aware at the time, but also for your reading pleasure.