COVID-19 is still wreaking havoc all over the world. My oldest son, Filippo, was supposed to arrive from LA today, but when he went to take his Covid test to fly, he came up positive. I am so disappointed and understand that is the risk of traveling these days, and I am thankful that he is completely asymptomatic. He probably wouldn’t have known he had Covid if he hadn’t been scheduled to fly. I haven’t written in months, because there really hasn’t been much to write about. Our lives have been very low-key since Covid started. My husband is working, my youngest son, Emanuele, has started high school and I putter around at home, waiting to get back on the road with tours, and that is happening soon. My first tour with Rick Steves is scheduled to depart on February 14, happy Valentine’s Day! A tour of Venice, Florence, and Rome
…it’s the same tour that started and ended my tour season in February of 2020 as things were literally shutting down behind us. The tour as it stands now is quite small, only 10 people are signed up so there is room for more people if you are ready to take a last-minute trip. I am also scheduled to lead a Staycation in Venice in March which also has room for a few more people. I am looking forward to being back on the road, even with the challenges that come with Covid, and am quite confident we can do it safely as long as everyone respects the mask mandates and uses their common sense. I lead two similarly sized groups last year that went extremely well through Adventures with Sarah. One of them, The Pleasures of Piemonte, my own creation and a dream come true, will be running again in September. It was also scheduled to run this March, but unless 6 people magically sign up now, (unlikely) it will be canceled. Needless to say, this is also a disappointment as I honestly believe that March is going to be a wonderful month for traveling. As in other places, Omicron seems to be waning, and not too many people are going to be traveling which will be a pleasure if you are willing to accept the risk.
To kick the blues away these days, we often go for walks close to home where we don’t have to wear masks and last weekend was no different. Here in Piemonte, we are blessed with many interesting things to do off the beaten path. A friend of mine has been telling me for ages about a trail near her second home in San Giovenale, and we finally got around to it. A lovely walk in the woods up to what is believed to be an ancient pagan altar, this new trail was a delight in which we found whimsy in the woods.
San Giovenale is a “fraction” of the small village of Peveragno (pop. 5584). Parking in the village, we took off up the road out of town in search of the trailhead. We found it on the right and headed up the hill along a dirt road with beautifully kept chestnut groves. As we got to the top of the hill we found whoever owned it decided to build some simple sculptures out of scrap wood. Not masterpieces by any sense of the word, but delightfully whimsical. A human figure with a shield, a praying mantis made from an interestingly shaped piece of wood, and a deer were the first creations we came across. A bit further up the trail, we found a centaur and another deer. People’s creativity never ceases to amaze me! Along with these fanciful creations, the views on one side across the plain to Mount Viso, and on the other to the beautiful Bis Alta, Bismauda in the local dialect, one of the highest peaks closest to our home, or rather two peaks, hence the “bis,” were stunning.
Heading further up the trail we found a signpost pointing us towards our goal, the altar was just a little further ahead, and there was a sign telling us what we were about to see. At the top of Monte Calvino what is believed to be a pagan altar, has been a sacred place for the locals for thousands of years. Three ancient axes, two from the Palaeolithic era and another from the Neolithic era were found at the top of the mountain and it was known to be a cult site for people from Liguria before the Romans populated the area in the 2nd century BCE. The original altar is believed to have been for Druid sacrifices; a large slab of stone, that later had a Greek cross chiseled into it, as a sign of Christian dissolution. In 1951, a large Latin cross was placed next to the altarpiece, and today the altar is used as a shrine to the Virgin Mary, but there are also woven yarn stars studding the trail and the natural amphitheater, so some people clearly still recognize its pagan origin.
Another interesting part of our walk was enjoying a number of ruins in the woods. Old houses overtaken and crumbling under the tenacious hold of ivy. Stone constructions that housed numerous families not too far from the villages, were abandoned in the post-war years for more modern and convenient living. One of the houses we saw had one of the biggest holly bushes I have ever seen popping from its base, and another was being invaded by a laurel tree that is at least 200 years old. They all have wells and wood-fired ovens to bake bread too. My friend has found her dream house in these hills; one she yearns to restore to its original, rustic splendor and move off-grid. She might just make this happen!
My husband also enjoyed the beautifully cared for chestnut groves. What used to be the main source of income and food for many families has fallen out of fashion. It’s too much work for most people. He loved seeing that people are still caring for this land and dreams of buying his own little piece of forest.
So here we are still in the middle of a pandemic and on the one hand yearning to get back to life as we know it, and on the other hand, dreaming of returning to a past that physically was much harder for most people, but mentally much simpler. With luck and some hard work, we might be able to make both of these dreams come true.