INTER-RAIL FOR IDIOTS

by Frankie Fraser

6. Mountains of Madness

Some Italian bus drivers will sell you tickets and make change on the bus, while others require you to go to a kiosk. By the time I figure that out it’s too late to go to Argegno that night and this throws the whole rhythm of my trip out of whack in ways that I don’t yet fully appreciate at the time.
    I’m 31 years old, I want to see something weird and potentially life-enhancing (other than the French girls in the hotel jacuzzi). I want to do all the things I couldn’t do if I had someone with me here keen to see all the usual tourist guff.
    I’ve heard there are strange pre-Roman ruins up in the hills around Pigra, but I’ve got a feeling the cable car up there wouldn’t even have been running if I’d gone the previous evening. The Italian cable car operators take two-and-a-half hours off for lunch, although things round here do seem to knock off a bit later than their English equivalent. In any case, there’s time to look round the little church at the foot of the mountain and have dinner before you go up there. When I do get there nobody knows anything about ruins, and I climb to the top of the rustic little village without seeing anything older than a couple of hundred years – except for perhaps some ancient Italian grandmothers sitting around enjoying the time of day. Nowadays the place seems to be a retreat for artists and eccentrics, one of whom insists on talking to me for half an hour even though she doesn’t understand a word of English, and I have no Italian. She’s on some kind of holiday here from Milan, and she’s been painting. What does she paint pictures of? She shows me on a table cloth she’s inexplicably carrying up the mountain with her – cats. ‘Catto. Si.’ I tell her I have to go and as I do so I realise that I haven’t had a meaningful conversation with another human being in four days.
    Some of the houses here don’t seem to be inhabited. Most are probably part-time residences. One could probably rock up and camp out here in the hills, if one wanted to. For what it’s worth, this is reckoned to be one of the best places from which to look down on Lake Como.
    I’m supposed to go on to Alatri, where the real old stuff is, but I decide it’s too much of a rush this time with my itinerary being to head home on Sunday (it’s Thursday), and besides the Italian heat is too oppressive. I don’t fancy being stuck on a train if it gets much warmer than this. So it’s back to Zurich I’ll go.
    Lunch is served at the cavern restaurant behind the main drag in Argegno, which is amusingly named La Posteria. Ravioli with fish from the lake in is quite good, although a plate of local cheese with honey and jam for a main course sounds even better. Make sure you have a coffee from the fancy machine in the restaurant and not at the local lakeside swimming pool, as it actually is possible to get a bad cup of coffee in Italy – if you try hard enough.

 

 

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