If getting lost is the essential Venetian tourist experience, I nailed it today. Unfortunately, getting lost led to more frustration than charming off-the-beaten-tourist-path moments. After finally finding the Frari we listened to our tired feet and hopped a vaporetto headed to San Marco and got to at least see the glories of the Grand Canal. Even better, we got onto a Lido-bound vaporetto with seats in the front so we could catch the breeze as we watched the traffic in the Laguna. Back in Venice proper, this picture is one I noticed someone else taking and decided it was a good one. If I had to find the spot again, I might be able to do it, or I might not. I can see it’s going to take some time before I love the reality of this place as much as I’ve loved the idea of it.
We visited the ruins of the astonishingly large Roman villa in its spectacular setting at the tip of a peninsula at the southern end of Lake Garda. Because many of its stones were re-used to build later buildings, not many decorative artifacts have survived, but there are some very fine plaster fresco fragments on view in the museum at the site. This one is of the boats that must have been a frequent sight from the villa, as the lake was an important transportation artery toward the mountainous region to the north. I was touched to see that the one sculptural fragment recovered from the site was a head of a Dioscuri (Castor and/or Pollux), a god who protected mariners, and the subject of Schubert’s lovely song “Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren”.
The site is called Il grotte di Catulle because it is traditionally associated with the family of the Roman poet Catullus, who mentions visiting “Sirmio” in a poem. The large villa dates from a later time than the poet, but there is evidence that this structure replaced an earlier villa, so it is possible that Catullus did indeed view Lake Garda from this wonderful vantage point.
Information on the site is most plentiful in Italian, but the wiki entry includes some photos of the villa itself http://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grotte_di_Catullo
This building, known as a limonaia, is an active relic of the technology used to grow lemon trees along the western shore of Lake Garda. Apparently the Franciscans began this work several centuries back, and it continued into the 19th century, when a variety of factors (depending upon which source you read) brought it to a close, leaving these prominent and distinctive structures to gradually deteriorate, or to be renovated and reused as houses (with lots of tall pillars in the gardens). An elaborate process of covering the front and sides of the structure with boards (and if necessary lighting fires inside) protected the citrus trees during cold spells in the winter. This industry supplied central Europe with citrus fruit for centuries. A more complete description is available at http://www.lagodigardamagazine.com/lago-di-garda-limonaie.aspx (this comes up in Italian, links to translate to German or English are at the upper left hand corner of the page.)
Yesterday’s 20 km walk from Sermerio to Gagnaro was a challenge for us, not least because the treads were coming off my boots and, despite mitigating efforts with the Trail First Aid Kit, I was feeling the blisters I had developed on the previous long hike. Part of the hike involved an hour-long “steep and vertiginous at times” climb of Monte Cas, high above Lake Garda. Since I can become very anxious on narrow ledges with long drops, I heeded their advice to shorten the walk by skipping that section, meeting up with Jim at the Sanctuary of Monte Castello (which I could reach by a shorter, steep hike through the woods on the side away from the lake). I spent a relaxing portion of an hour eating my lunch and exploring the sanctuary, which the tourist information says features frescoes from the School of Giotto (although nowhere in the signage at the sanctuary does it say this–perhaps because the lower part of the church is closed off and so only one of its frescoes may be seen from the gated entrance). This fresco, of the Virgin Mary being crowned by Jesus, occupies the prominent position behind the altar (and a wooden soasa, or pillared structure). The wall on which it is painted curves it at the top, so the photograph has a somewhat strange perspective at the top. I did not find this image in a quick search of Montecastello fresco images online, so I am posting it as the image for yesterday’s hike.
Passo Nota, which we crossed on our hike from Pieve di Ledro to Vesio, Tremosine, was once the border between Italy and Austria. It saw heavy fighting during World War I, and there are reminders there today–an artillery gun and shells in front of the Rifugio dei Alpini, a cemetery, a number of caves and bunkers (one of which sheltered us when the thunder got too close for comfort while hiking with metal poles), and this ruin of a hospital. These golden-flowered trees grow wild all around that mountain area, and I was particularly touched by this view of one in full bloom in the middle of the ruined hospital. I wondered what kind of tree it was and hadn’t had a chance to search when I originally posted the picture, but I am pretty sure it is a Laburnum alpinum.
For today, a scenery picture. I could have continued the archaeological theme with an image of one of the fascinating bronze age stele in the museum at Riva del Garda, but it seemed like time to show the scenery. Because thunderstorms were predicted, we avoided the higher elevation Cima d’Oro hike in favor of the “gentle and exhilharating descent” from Lake Ledro along the Sentiero del Ponale to Riva del Garda, which sits at the northern end of the largest lake in Italy. We shared this route with quite a few mountain bikers, who had to exercise caution since an error in judgement could result in a spectacular fall hundreds of feet down to the lake.
Keeping the archeological theme going, today’s picture, from the southern shore of Lake Ledro in Trentino, Italy, was taken at the Museo de le Palefitte. When the level of the lake fell in the 1930’s, wooden pilings were discovered sticking up from the shore of the lake. It has been verified that these pilings supported a settlement that lasted from the neolithic age into the bronze age. The little museum (the goal of our hour-long hike from the opposite shore of the lake) has many interesting artifiacts, including some rare wooden pieces that would have rotted but were preserved for milennia by the boggy water. They have also reconstructed some dwellings, admittedly somewhat speculative since there was not a lot of evidence to go on, but they could draw from knowledge of similar settlements around Europe. I like this picture becuase if you look underneath the walkway to the modern hut, you can see some of the original pilings in the lake.