Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You!) had special significance for us this year.
It was the day that the coronavirus lockdown in Italy was relaxed to the extent that we are allowed to go Out-Out. As in Out Properly. On a jaunt. We can now walk and exercise outside and drive together in the car, so long as we stay within our own region. The sun even had the grace to shine upon our first day of freedom.
After being in lockdown since 8th March and unable to leave the house since 20th March, I had to resist the urge to drive all the way to Mont Blanc for no other reason than because we can!
We opted for a more modest excursion to Gressoney St Jean, the next-but-one village down the mountain. Our main objective was to stock up on fresh produce at the newly re-opened Crai minimarket and visit the pharmacy. On the face of it, the pharmacy trip was to score tick medication for the dogs. However, the ulterior motive was to make use of their language skills.
The entire period of my Lockdown Life has incorporated a cavity in my upper right molar from the filling which, with exquisite timing, fell out the day after we went into quarantine. Since the pharmacists speak excellent English, I wanted them to phone a dentist on my behalf.
It’s not that my Italian language skills are not up to the task of arranging a dental appointment. They are simply inadequate for dealing with the quick-fire, machine-gun barrage of wordage that inevitably comes in reply. “Più lentamente – more slowly” has no effect whatsoever, while phrases such as, “Sono inglese – I am English” or worse, “Parla inglese? – Do you speak English?” telegraph the potential for a hassle factor so great that they inevitably result in the receiver slamming straight down.
My emails to dental practitioners throughout the Aosta Valley have gone unanswered. In hindsight, perhaps it was a mistake to preface them with “Sono una donna Inglese – I am an English woman…” So Plan C was to go undercover, via the pharmacist.
Stocked with groceries and on a promise at 5pm for collection of tick medication, we set off on one of our favourite walks. La Passegiata Della Regina – The Queen’s Walk.
If you have read my latest book, Pups on Piste, you will know all about The Queen’s Walk. It was the route taken by Margherita, Queen of Savoy, from her fairytale Castle Savoia into the village of St Jean. It is one of our favourite walks too; a pathway high above the valley floor, that winds through a secret woodland of larch, pine and giant, mossy boulders.
It was strange to encounter no roadblock at the roundabout at Gressoney la Trinité, where the road peels off to St Jean. No forms to justify our movements required – this was unprecedented freedom! After doing our errands, we set out to walk along the banks of the chattering River Lys towards the village of Tschemenoal. There, we could cross the main road, the SR44, to pick up the Passegiata, which runs along the other side of the valley.
For the first time ever, after crossing the road, we found and followed the proper footpath route. The sign was never very clear and we had always avoided it, because it looks like it leads into someone’s back yard. We snaked through Tschemenoal’s maze of narrow, cobbled streets, between the ancient, blackened timbers of the traditional Walser houses, known as Stadels. This cobbled revelation was not only more scenic than the field that we normally cross, but also tidily avoided the lake of farm slurry that lurks malevolently in the corner. Now that it is not frozen solid, the muck midden is delightfully viscous, clinging and malodorous; Paradise Found for our poodle-based pups!
Once we joined the Passegiata, we were intrigued to find a viewing bench overlooking the slurry lake. Perhaps it was designed for dogs!
The avalanche chutes that we had crossed in winter were much reduced, although the debris of large boulders and tree trunks which remained after the melt once again confirmed that the best way to survive an avalanche is not to get caught in one. We inhaled deeply as we trudged through the woods; the warm scent of pine in our nostrils and the trill of spring birdsong in our ears.
While we were picking up supplies at Crai, we had noticed that Café Pinter next door was open for takeaway. Since we were Out-Out, we decided to really go wild. We set our minds on stopping for a coffee!
We dropped down to Lake Gover in the public park beneath the Via Ferrata Jòsé Angster, a protected rock climb along the valley side. (If you want to know more about Vie Ferrate, check out my blog A Life Lesson Learned on a 3000ft Cliff.) The pups do love a swim, so with no-one around, we found a stick and they had a welcome, cooling game of fetch in the crystalline waters of the lake.
At Café Pinter, we had a cappucino each. To honour the spirit of ‘takeaway’, we sat on a bench in the sun, a few yards away from the café and were joined at a safe distance by another British couple. We had a conversation. With actual people. For the first time in months. It was amazing!
And so we returned to Staffal up the hairpins replete with supplies, tick medication and human contact. The only thing missing was the dental appointment. Understandably in the circumstances, the message came back that it was emergencies only.
Since I couldn’t possibly fib or feign agony, it looks like me and my cavity are set to enjoy a few more Lockdown adventures together yet!
Join us next time for a STUPENDOUS wildlife encounter, GUARANTEED to put a smile on your face!
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