• Jack Evans

Backpacking With My Mother - Como's Cauldron of Charm

I was rudely awakened in the early hours of a Swiss Sunday morning by a cataclysmic clash of thunder. Our room was like a mid-90’s rave with the strobed lightning oozing through the venetian blinds the room equipped. I was feeling rather tense at this moment. Growing up I had – and still have to some extent – a self-diagnosed phobia called astraphobia, and no it is not a fear of a 2005 Vauxhall hatchback! It is in fact the fear of thunder and lightning and consequently whenever a storm occurs it seems to randomly strike unequivocal fear into the deep bowels of my being. When at home my main defence against the storm is to place my house into unprecedented lockdown; shut all the curtains, lock all the doors and turn up the music to drown out the threatening rumbles. In a shanty hostel in the centre of Lucerne you feel a little bit more wary. I placed my freshly charged headphones over my ears and the sound of music reverberated around my head. It was pleasantly relaxing – there is something somewhat surreal in the way you can get lost in the music if you sit silently alone in a darkened room. I’ve always adored the power of music. It can act as a distraction in all circumstances in life – whether happy or sad, stressful or stress-free, solemn or joyous, it always seems to work faultlessly. It certainly distracted me enough to ignore the raging storm above and to my surprise, the next time I checked the time on my phone it was almost 6 o’clock – I must have drifted into a shallow sleep. I gently went back to sleep, waking up one hour later to the alarm I set the night before. Opening the blinds, we were greeted by a hazy, serene and blue-skied morning thus making the nights weather seem like nothing but a nightmare. We packed the backpacks and left the simple hostel for the last time – I think I can speak on mum’s behalf and say that we weren’t devastated to leave. We walked down the hill and turned right on to the lakeside promenade. We gently walked to the station taking in our final glimpses of one of the prettiest places in the entirety of Europe. Once we had stocked up on food for the day from a local coop supermarket – we embarked the train that would take us through the mountains and across the Italian border to the glistening azure waters of Lake Como.

As the train pulled away from the platform, Mum seemed to immediately close her eyes and plunged deep into a state of sleep – I wouldn’t say either of us slept like a log the night previous. I’ve always been unable to sleep on any form of transport, whether it’s a car, a boat, a train or a plane so therefore there was only one thing to do… Sit back, relax and embrace the sublime surroundings that Switzerland had to offer. We would only be on our current train for at most 35 minutes as it was only a short commute around the northern tip of Lake Lucerne to the small, unheard of village of Arth, which bathed on the sun kissed shore of Lake Zug – A 14km long sister lake to the imperious Lake Lucerne. We were only in Arth to wait for a 12-minute connection, but it still gave us the opportunity to appreciate the fabulous scenery. As the train shunted to a stop, Mum awoke and immediately asked “Where are we?”. I passed her the map and showcased how little distance we had traversed. After we had left the carriage and the train trundled off to its next destination, Mum reached into her bag and pulled out a slightly dank pack of playing cards – an action which would then proceed to the start of a ‘best of 17’ game of Rummy. It’s a game similar to Poker in which each player has 7 cards throughout the game, with each person trying their upmost hardest to outwit and beat the other persons final hand. My mother and I are extremely competitive – often with pastimes such as backgammon, scrabble, trivial pursuit and cards – so consequently the hour and 39 minute journey to the border town of Lugano was not as arduous as one would anticipate. Once on the train the game began to ramp up in tension. At the time of embarking the train the scores were tied at 1-1 and by the time we reached the mouth of the Gotthard Base Tunnel 40 minutes later, the very same piece of engineering exhibited the day before in the Swiss Transport Museum, Mum had gone on a miraculous winning run to put the score at 7-2 in her favour. The beginning of the tunnel signalled a break, Mum shut her eyes and I put on my headphones and listened to the Beatles. The tunnel seemed to go on for eternity – It is 57km long after all!

After the seeming eternity of darkness, our eyes were blinded by the sudden brightness of sunlight as we shot out of the tunnel. This initiated the second half of our tense game of rummy- which Mum would eventually go on to win 9-6. I strongly believe that the train journey from Arth down to Lugano was simply outstanding. It felt as the tracks cascaded through the mountains, memories of stunning landscapes that would stay with me for eternity were formed. The scenery just got better and better as the tracks went on. Towering mountain after towering mountain went by until we reached the Swiss-Italian border. We were destined for the Swiss town of Lugano, a seemingly Italian lakeside town with an industrialised skin but a core of winding, adventurous streets that play host to the rich and famous of the world. Lake Lugano is often ignored on the tourist scene due to the prominence of its local neighbours Como, Garda and Maggiore. We had a 15 minute wait in Lugano for the national train that would eventually take us to the scintillating Lake Como.

Unsurprisingly, the train arrived dead on time and quickly proceeded to whisk us down to the attractive, prosperous town of Como. Lake Lugano is a fascinating place – it acts almost as a battlefield in which the ragged and Franco Germanic culture of Switzerland clashes with the charming allure of the Italian lakes. On the eastern shore of the lake lies Campione d'Italia – A detached exclave half a mile away from the Italian border which has historically played home to the rich swiss who aim to dodge taxes. Swiss currency, Swiss banks, Swiss phone networks – All this and more is present in this small nugget of Italy. In the centre of the town, home to 1955 inhabitants, stands the towering casino which officially closed last year. The Casino di Campione once held itself as Europe’s oldest and largest casino; something which contributed incredible financial stability to the town until Friday 27th July 2018, when the institution was deemed bankrupt. This wasn’t just a casino shutting its doors, this was the entire economic infrastructure of a once prosperous town collapsing. Locals have started to become increasingly concerned due to the casino’s closure, fearing that Campione d’Italia will transform into a desolate ghost town. This really bodes the question – Is Campione’s future brighter under Italian or Swiss sovereignty?

Soon the national train arrived, the first train operated by Trenitalia throughout the entire 10-day trip. There was something rather unusual on this train however – there were hardly any seats. Scattered around the edges of the carriages were these cushioned ledges where the passenger could simply perch amid dozens of mountain bikes and their respective owners – It was as if this train was made for bikes rather than people! As the morning sun shone down through the cloudy swiss sky, the train slowly obeyed the western coast of the lake as we headed south to the Ponte Diga bridge at Melide – a town of Italian origin gifted to the swiss during the roman era. Crossing the bridge seemed to allow us to observe the south of the lake without obstruction as the sun graced the cloudless sky to the south and the seemingly dominant Lugano lying on the lakeside in the far distance to the north. The landscape of Lake Lugano is just like the rest of Switzerland – Complex and unprogrammed. The thing I love about travelling the Alps by train is that around every corner is a new surprising guise of the mountains seasoned with unpredictability. Mountains and Switzerland seem to go together like salt and pepper. The sheer audacity of the Swiss Alps made the train journeys feel rather claustrophobic yet stunningly memorable! We were only in the country for 24 hours however it had absorbed us – and the money in the bank account! At 10:06 Am, accompanied by Switzerland’s misty-eyed goodbye, we started the Italian leg of our journey.

After approximately half an hour of further scintillating scenery, we disembarked onto platform 2 of Como St. Giovanni station. Despite Como only being a stones throw south of Lugano, the temperature felt dramatically higher in intensity. Mum and I agreed that our first port of call should be the information centre as we needed to find lockers for our bags, as the weight of your temporary life’s wardrobe over your shoulders for 10 days can cause you to buckle. Fortunately, we found a handy institution aptly named ‘Bag & Go’ – a short fifteen minute walk from our current location. This discovery wasn’t as straightforward as it may seem as Mum and I have no knowledge of the Italian dialect! Before long, a queue out of the door of the small information booth formed as we struggled to get our inquisition across to the young and incredibly bemused assistant.

Eventually after a long (but probably not comprehendible!) haggle, we were given a map with a circle drawn from the faintly inked biro on the desktop pointing to the lockers – in hindsight this was probably the assistants attempt at getting rid of us as soon as physically possible! We started to wind through Como’s money-soaked designer streets passing by the likes Prada and L’octaine making us feel poorer and poorer as we continued. Eventually, after much navigational confusion, we reached the small office that branded itself as ‘Bag and Go’ in which we were greeted by three Italian men, whose English was far more impressive than the lady at Como station. On the left, mounted to the wall, was a really unique and fascinating map – a map which demonstrated all of the locations in which all their customers had travelled from. It showcased pins from all over the globe, from the deepest depths of Africa to the mountainous regions of Canada. In front was an immaculate desk with the Italian’s gleaming MacBook laptops perched upon them and to the right was a steep staircase down to their storage room. We left them with our luggage, paid their asking price of €10 for the service, and embarked on our exploration of the stunning Lake Como.

Once we had stumbled across the shoreline, Mum made a B line for one of Como’s plethora of coffee shops for a cup of tea. Mum explained that this was because she was extremely hot, which I really didn’t understand that principle. She explained that putting hot things into your body results in your external temperature feeling cooler. I guess you just have to fight fire with fire! During our time in the forecourt of the café we planned our days itinerary. We came to the unanimous decision that we wanted to see a more remote part of the lake so we could see the lake in all its glistening glory without the distraction of other tourists. After consulting the tourist map of the lake, we found a small village called Cernobbio – somewhere pleasantly detached from the commotion of Como whilst still possessing the certain prosperity of the local area. Once we had disembarked the local bus – a quick 500 metre walk to the ferry port was ahead where we would hopefully catch a ferry to an even more secluded part of the world-renowned lake.

We were in Como at an extremely sensitive time for the locals – just one week previous Florijana Ismaili, a leading figure in the swiss women’s football team, tragically lost her live to the peaceful yet deceiving tides of the Lake. It took an entire month of inquisition to debunk what had caused such a saddening event – It was found to be a swimming accident on a very close part of the lake to where we were. It was the first time I had ever experienced Lake Como, after meaning to go on multiple occasions, and it seemed that during this period the azure magic of the lake was partially tainted. Due to this, swimming in the lake in such close proximity to this dreadful event didn’t feel comfortable and throughout the day it was all my mind could focus on. Mum wasn’t even aware of what had happened on that fateful day and it was only the day after I told her – after all I didn’t want that spoiling her experience of the stunningly beautiful and sun-dripped water. Sorry for dampening the mood of this leg of our journey across Central Europe – The welter of awe and discomfort that day acts as a very vivid memory of the trip, and one that will stay for a very long time…

We headed down the hill towards Cernobbio ferry terminal – one of the dozens of stops on the famous Como ferry route. We arrived at the jetty to discover the next boat wasn’t for another hour and ten minutes, which meant we had a lot of time to kill. Therefore we decided to see what the local supermarket had to offer seen as our budget food stock of brioche and breadsticks needed replenishing. We proceeded to walk up the steep hill which we had traversed only 5 minutes before and headed down the winding streets to reach our destination. In comparison to the palpable bustle of Como – the town was as relaxed as the millpond lake it sat upon. Either side of Via V Giornate – one of the many interlinked streets in the town – lay open-plan residencies filled with Italian families greeting loved ones for lunch. It really was a sight to behold. It is one of my favourite aspects about analysing different and foreign cultures. The way people come together whether that’s through a full-blown lunch or a simple conversation in the town square can paint a truly evocative picture. For a brief moment I had completely forgotten that I wasn’t in my own country due to the feeling of inclusion we both witnessed down this street, all until we had to cross the disruptive dual-carriageway which separated us from the destined hypermarket. Once in the supermarket we were greeted by a large host of different snacks and sugar-coated pastries. It is one of my favourite experiences on a European trip. There is nothing better than a foreign supermarket – I put my obscure obsession down to having to go on endless shopping trips to the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s seeing the same meal-deals and products every time. I get this weird feeling of walking into a situation so familiar with a splash of the unknown. Anyway… I’m going seriously off-piste. Mum opted for one of the many flavoured croissants and I opted for another packet of Grissini breadsticks as well as a large packet of Italian white chocolate – a packet which was consumed very shortly after!

Stocked up, we headed back towards the lakeshore with the ferry departing in only 25 minutes. It was only a short 10 minute walk back to the ferry port thus meaning we had a moment to sample one of Italy’s finest delicacies – Gelato! Perched on the one of the many roundabouts on the main street running through the town was Bar Geleteria Gei Sas – a quirky ice cream parlour which its exterior seemed to accommodate the circular shape of the roundabout. The shape of this institution is a really difficult one to describe. The exterior seemed to be rounded and unpredictable whereas the pink painted interior resembled an average square room – which could be found in any building anywhere on Earth. It strongly felt like we were entering some sort of new dimension with the brightly striped wall making us feel like we were travelling through some kind of fluorescent time-vortex. Once inside we were welcomed by an abundance of different flavours – from bubblegum to cherry liqueur, they had it all. Mum opted for the vanilla and so did I – why change perfection?

We gently sauntered back down to the ferry port we were one hour beforehand – with our objective being to reach a much more secluded region of the lake by the name of Faggeto, one of the many small villages that line the edge of Italy’s 3rd largest lake. After the pleasant 25 minute hop across the water the ship docked onto the small jetty, a jetty which looked worryingly vulnerable and unstable as it was rocked from side to side thanks to the vessel’s wash.

Once we left the confinement of the shed which called itself a ‘ferry terminal’, we decided to follow our noses around our unknown surroundings. That is one of the best traits of the way my mother and I travel. It leads to the funniest, most awe-inspiring and sometimes unnerving moments which have the capability of staying in our minds for eternity. Through this technique, we manged to find a quiet secluded corner of the hamlet which was studded in tranquillity. A tranquillity which was shattered as we turned the corner onto the waterfront. We were greeted by an artificial beach with an artificial tiki bar. Everything about this place was artificial – so basically my idea of hell! My whole idea and reasoning to cross to the other side of the lake was to find the quaint status Lake Como prides itself on so highly. We had nowhere else to go and, unawares to us, we had just missed the last boat back to Como – something which would cause a mild panic just an hour later. We thought we may aswell spend the hour we had to kill at what seemed to be the ‘fake Cancún’ and subsequently Mum went to brave the surprisingly chilling waters of the lake. Since there was no lockers on the beach, the responsibility lied with me to guard the bags which had our valuables – the most valuable of which being our train passes. Mum tried to convince me to leave the bags hidden and join her in the water but the paranoia would have probably dragged me under. I really wanted to go for a swim. We had been to two stunning lakes, yet I had not got in the water yet this trip. I was (and still am) a water baby! Any sight of water I would be in there like a flash – a common urge which was only accelerated by my diving trip to Croatia in the summer of 2014. Eventually, after observing the fellow holidaymakers around me I plucked up the courage to ask a German couple to look after our possessions for us. Very kindly, they obliged. After getting changed in the frankly disgusting toilets I walked down towards the water’s edge and straight past the sign which said ‘Attenzione! Scivoloso’ in a thick red font. Being the language connoisseur that I am, I had no clue what information the sign was meant to give off – until three seconds later...

As if an avalanche came from behind, as if swept off my feet. Before I knew it I was probably a foot off the concrete jeti suspended in mid-air. It felt like time had been winded down to nothing but slow-motion and all I could do was spectate the imminent pain rise to meet my body. After what seemed like an eternity, the rear of my pelvis shattered into the concrete. I wish I could say no one saw it but I would be lying… Every single person, apart from Mum, saw what happened. To say I was embarrassed would be an understatement. I received two types of reaction on vastly different ends of the sympathy spectrum. One of extreme concern and one of extreme humour. The aftermath was weird – there was the occasional sharp stabbing pain as I turned my torso however there was no real everlasting aches or pains thus prompting me to believe that I got off relatively scot-free. Looking back now only makes me realise how bad it could have been. Despite the embarrassment, I was counting my lucky stars. I did learn something from the fall however – ‘Scivoloso’ means slippery!

I took my battered body out of the chilling waters of Lake Como after a good 20 minute paddle and went to go and get changed ready for the journey south to the industrial town of Brescia. We would be heading down through the Italian region of Lombardy to Brescia with a change at the colossal Milano Centrale Station. It would take approximately 2 hours with the short 7 minute changeover in Milan being accounted for. But first we had to reach the station in Como where the only train leaving before nightfall was departing from. Once we picked up our bags from the German couple and said “auf wiedersehn”, we briskly walked back down to the jeti where the boat that would whisk us back to Como would depart from and we would theoretically be on the platform with plenty of time to spare. However, we were in for a very unpleasant surprise. The gates were locked and immersed in chains. The ticket office was empty. Tarpaulin as blue as the water it lay upon covered the gap were the vessel once docked. I sprinted over to the complex timetable and once I figured out the hieroglyphs representing the times, my eyes turned to mum and just said softly “Oh, bugger!”. After explaining the situation to mum I suggested we sat down on a nearby bench and recalibrated our bearings. By the time we reached the bench I had figured out how we were going to catch our train. We would take the number 23 bus back into the centre of Como, then briskly walk the 15 minute meander to Bag & Go, pick up our rucksacks and press on another 20 minute stroll to the station. However, time was our enemy. To put the issue of time into perspective, the train left Como St. Giovani at 17:14. The current time was 16:09. Due to us missing the 12 minute boat journey, we had to take a 23 minute bus journey around the twisting mountain roads that straddle the lakes cascading coast.

Eventually, I figured the way we reached our required bus stop was to walk up what the locals named ‘Como’s steepest hill’ – a traversal which Mum was understandably not keen on doing! I was reliably informed by the app Rome2Rio on my iPhone that the bus was not for another 13 minutes consequently meaning we could take our time as we climbed the lizard-scattered cobbles of the path. With tired legs and without breath, we eventually reached the summit where we were greeted by two Italian ladies in their mid-twenties. Gasping for air, I went over to see if we had got the right stop for the bus we required but all I got in response was muffled Italian with a smattering of irrelevant English words. I was confident that it was the right stop however a certain aura of worry hung over me. As time drew on, I distracted myself by pointing out some of Lake Como’s landmarks to mum by consulting my map - one of the most notable being the residence of global superstar and silver fox George Clooney!

Along with a huge sigh of relief, the bus had finally shown its presence. It was swamped with passengers to the point where my already painful back was being forced into the railings at the front. It was hot, humid and horribly uncomfortable yet the views of the lake were simply sensational. These unobstructed views continued as we arrived back in the centre of Como. Crisis Averted!

Once we disembarked, there was no rest for the wicked! We started to sprint through the winding streets of the town with Mum trying her upmost hardest to keep up. After our gruelling hill climb just half an hour before my legs were beginning to buckle, however if we stopped we would miss our train and we would arrive at our overnight halt at nearly midnight! We retraced the steps we took earlier that morning to find Bag & Go. Once we were within 100 metres, I told Mum to wait on the corner of the street so she could get her breath back while I collected the backpacks. I sprinted into the office and handed over my ticket with what felt like enough water to fill Lake Lugano coming out of my sweat glands. In exchange I picked up the bags, expressed my gratitude and pegged it back to the street corner I had left Mum to recover. The train was scheduled to leave in only 9 minutes time. Once she came into sight, I quickly hurled her bag at her and we continued the final part of our sprint around Como.

I shouted behind for mum to just follow my lead and she reluctantly obliged! It was only 36 hours beforehand that the exact same situation was occurring at Gatwick. After what seemed like forever, we arrived at the foot of the 130-strong steps which led to the forefront of the station. I looked over to Mum and breathlessly exclaimed “One last push then a cup of tea!”. She replied with a short and fatigued laugh and then we started to run… We turned the corner out onto platform 1 and immediately looked up at the electronic screen. To our utter disbelief, we saw that the 17:14 to Milano Centrale was delayed by 25 minutes. We looked at each other in a state of scepticism as we realised our frantic sprint could’ve been a saunter. Enervated and broken, we threw the backs on the floor and collapsed with our backs supported by the wall. I think it’s safe to say Mum deserved her cup of tea!

After a needed relaxation on the platform, the national train of identical qualities to the one before arrived to whisk us down to Milan – where we would undergo the short horizontal dash to the heavily industrialised town of Brescia. Looking south, we could do nothing but foreshadow the aggravated symphony of thunder and lightning coming towards the pure tranquillity of the stunning lake. As the town of Como braced for the vexed and deep purple clouds, the carriage shunted into motion prompting our journey into the sky’s darkness. In the days leading up to the trip, I kept a close eye on the forecasts begging for it to change as every single day stated ‘strong winds and intense thunderstorms – weather we were becoming quite accustomed to from being in Lucerne just one day beforehand. Miraculously, the days weather had been very generous, consistently offering both Mum and I large cloudless skies filled beautifully by the blinding and boiling sun. However, this was all about to change, as signalled by the increasing pattering sound on the outside of the trains metal exoskeleton. Reminiscent of the abnormal events in Lucerne the day before, the deep purple clouds seemed to spill on to the blank blue canvas observing the lake. The oozing clouds soon prompted a sudden discharge of precipitation – not as volatile as Lucerne’s offering but still notably powerful. By just missing the ravaging storm, we had the comforting ability of observing the storm engulfing the region within the safe, warm and dry confinement of the carriage.

Our short journey through Milan’s heavily populated suburbs would only take 43 minutes, stopping in small towns which have been divulged by the so-called fashion capital’s huge sprawl. Unlike many cities in highly governed regions, Milan doesn’t have a man-made ‘greenbelt’ to stop the increasing pressures of urban sprawl, yet it is unintentionally controlled by its natural neighbours. Directly north are the steep foothills of the Alps along with Italy’s lake district, If you were to head southwest one would stumble across the luscious green fields of the ‘Parco Agricolo Sud Milano’ and to the southeast you would find many small, detached hamlets and towns which scatter Lombardy’s southern border with Emilia-Romagna. We were approaching the final tunnel before we entered the outer metropolis of Milan, approximately halfway through this stint of our commute to our overnight stop In Brescia when we said a temporary farewell to the mountains. We were heading into what is Lombardy’s contrasting side, it is flat and agricultural lowlands. The train descended into pitch darkness. We were in the final tunnel of the Alps.

Surprisingly, we were blinded by the bright warm sunlight which we experienced earlier in the day. The sky was of a rose gold tint as the lights of buildings started to shine in the distance, preparing for the opaque night ahead. Surrounding the city in all directions lay the dark purple clouds we were introduced to back in the lakes. However, as our commute into the fashion capital continued, the train seemed to bask in the stunning designer sky. Due to it being a Sunday evening, it was relatively quiet, thus the carriage was almost deserted as it trundled into Milan Central station. If you have ever been to Milano Centrale, you will know how colossal that grand piece of architecture is. Granted it is not as goliath as the imperious Grand Central in New York, but it does sit pretty as the 8th busiest station in Europe with a whopping 120 million passengers passing through its gates every year! The last time we were in this station we were sprinting for a connecting train to take us to Centrale’s sister station Lambrate which would then allow us to travel down to the Tyrrhenian elegance of Naples. Due to the frantic nature of last year’s visit, it was rather satisfying to be able to saunter peacefully through the hordes of rushed passengers with no real concern of time. Fortunately, we did not have far to walk. The train pulled into platform 6 of the 24 that Milan Centrale boasts with our connection being on platform 8. We took our time as we walked the 50 metres or so between our 2 trains, as a peaceful stroll seemed to be an exceedingly rare occurrence so far on this trip!

As we bolted east through yet more of Lombardy’s scintillating surroundings, the heavily-industrialised city of Brescia hoved into view. With a population of just over 200,000, Brescia has been a staple in the illustrious region’s history. Industry and Brescia have been heavily related throughout modern history; however, the city does hold some cultural gems. Similar to most European cities, Brescia’s renaissance architecture sadly doesn’t resemble its rather depressed and grey outskirts. Do not let this distract you however of Brescia’s unique charisma. Sitting on the incredibly essential transport network linking the two tourist powerhouses of Venice and Milan, the city is often ignored. This is rather sad. Despite Brescia’s seemingly uninviting suburbs, it does hold the potential to be a memorable part of your trip round Northern Italy. I have been twice now, the first of which being on an all-Italian mega trip the summer previous. One word describes Brescia exquisitely… Convenient! Just 30km and a mere 15 minute dash on the train from Lake Garda, the industrial city can offer a great diversity of accommodation for just a slither of Garda’s alternative price tags. But you should not just use Brescia as a convenience hub – it should be celebrated as a spontaneous and quirky stop on your trans-European voyage. Scattered museums of local history and the world-renowned Mille Miglia, a stupendous 1000 mile rally through all the delights Italy has to offer, gift you a mesmerising insight into the workings of a traditional city. Classical restaurants and celebrated music halls line the snaking and stirring streets offering you peace away from Europe’s most visited lake. But best of all, it even has its own Metro system.

After a quick underground sprint to the northern quarter of Brescia, on what is the world’s 19th smallest Metro system, we arrived at our accommodation. Well I say accommodation, it was a ginormous, locked wooden gate to the compound where our cheap apartment was located. The owner had left a key code but there was nowhere to input it. Therefore, I did the natural thing, left Mum with the rucksacks and went on my own little adventure – however, instead of gold, a keypad was my treasure.

Half a block down I inched closer to getting into our place for the night. Bemused, I walked into a courtyard with our block of apartments to the left, as well as 3 smaller houses reaching round to trap me from 3 of the 4 possible sides. I saw the gate we had to get through but no keypad. In desperate need of assistance, I walked up to the coral coloured house closest to the gate and went to knock on the door. I reached what seemed to be a porch and walked through on my own accord. The next thing I knew was the intrigued family, halfway through their fish supper, staring at the stranger who had just walked into their dining room. You may believe that things couldn’t get any worse, but they did. They could not speak a single word of English. The bewildered family probably believed I was either a very intrusive cold caller or a terrible thief. After some extravagant miming, I managed to convince an older lady to show me the route to our beds. We slowly walked up to the gates as she muttered inaudible Italian under her disgruntled breath, probably due to me accidently intruding their house. What happened next was truly embarrassing. The elderly lady confidently walked up to a large black box slap bang in the middle of the towering gates. Humiliated, I hung my head and exclaimed “grazie mille”, to which she responded with a deafening silence. It felt as if she wasn’t angered, just incredibly disappointed. I had never laid eyes on this lady before, but her sense of disappointment stung just as hard as if she was my own mother – who was still waiting patiently on the street corner. How did I miss that box? It was the size of my hand!

I briskly walked through the orthodox courtyard and opened the lofty yet light wooden door. A very bored Mum walked through whilst asking me where I had been. “Just don’t ask, ok?” I replied humorously. We opened the 2nd key box, which was notably far easier to locate than the first, and got the key for the apartment. After what seemed to be an eternity of stairs, we reached the quaint rooms that would hold us for the next 2 nights whilst we discovered the beauties Lake Garda has to offer. I collapsed on to my bed and my mother cannoned straight to the tea-making facilities. The all-white rooms were bland, but they did the job. After all, if it has a roof it’s adequate. It had been an incredibly productive day. We had witnessed the stupefying peaks of Southern Switzerland, the admiring cerulean waters of Lake Como, and had experienced yet more dramatic weather. All this and so much more within just over 200 jaw-dropping miles. Despite it only being the early embers of another rose tinted European night, I was in desperate need of sleep. Therefore, I brushed my teeth and unpacked the backpack, then fell backwards into a deep canyon of much-deserved respite.

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