When we left, the sky was grey and full of snow with nothing to see on the horizon but clouds and fine snowflakes falling at regular intervals. The tops of the mountains around us in Austria became whiter and whiter and the fir trees looked as if they had been dusted with icing sugar. Yet all that changed when we arrived in South Tirol, on the other side of the Brenner Pass. A place where autumn and winter don't seem to exist; there is only summer, followed by some cooler months. In the valley lined on both sides by sculpted mountains with dark green vegetation, you find fields upon fields of apple trees but not the kind you see in your typical garden. They look so fragile and small, weighed down by large quantities of beautiful pink apples. Vineyards for grappa stretch far into the distance next to silvery grey olive trees. The cold and the snow from just a couple of hours ago seemed so unreal. High up above, little villages, towers and castle are perched on the rocks overlooking the way that Hannibal once took.
We stopped at the lake of Toblino with it's beautiful little castle in the middle and the cyprus trees I've always loved so much. Families walked by the lakeside, talking animatedly and young couples embraced and took photos.
There was the first night in an abandoned hotel in Dro with its glacial rooms, green swimming pool and rows of pink balconies with plastic chairs which made you feel the loneliness of the end of season. In the morning, we breakfasted alone in the icy lounge on tiny white rolls with cheese, croissants, doughnuts filled with crème patisserie and scolding hot coffee which I tried to warm my hands with. Outside though, the sun was already shining with perhaps the most beautiful, clearest light I have ever seen. Often, I find the heat and humidity of summer oppressive but it felt so wonderful to have the golden rays on my skin. The famous castello of Arco on top of steep limestone cliffs rose up on the skyline and then we reached the lush shores of Riva del Garda in the nothern part of Lake Garda with its light coloured villas, exotic gardens and palm trees which reminded me of le Parfum d'Yvonne. The light danced on the water and in the afternoon, little waves disturbed its calm surface on which dozens of little white boats and windsurfers were sailing.
Strange looking apples on Lake Garda
In Verona, we strolled close to San Zeno and searched for Juliet's house and her balcony where she called down to Romeo. On the walls, hundreds of little notes had been stuck by lovers all over the world with romantic messages and it was impossible to move for huge numbers of tourists who had also come to see the meeting place of the starcrossed lovers. Around the corner, I discovered a charming square with a statue of Dante which made me long to read the Divine Comedy in Italian, an idea which I quickly abandoned when I saw the two enormous volumes on sale. On the way to Vicenza that evening, I watched the dying glow of the sun which seemed to stretch its long fingers across the countryside for miles and illuminate the stone houses of the tiny villages we passed through.
Most beautiful of all though was Venice. After some Mr. Hulot moments at the station, I boarded the train from Vicenza early the next day. Nothing prepared me though for the vast expanse of blue water as we were arriving, a view that somehow touched me as I thought one day how the city will sink back into it and disappear. Close to the train station, I bought an apple cake, or strudel as its called here and set off to explore this place I had dreamed of for so long.
Every little street is full of poetry with its countless bridges reflected in canals as clear and smooth as Murano glass. The houses with the lines of washing and closed shutters seem to contain so many secrets and I wandered back and forth for hours with only the distant chimes of a church tower bell to remind me of the passing of time. I had never felt so inspired by light and colours before.
After fresh gnocchi with tomatoes in a charming wine cellar and a hot chocolate in a trattoria, I took the boat across from Fondamente Nuove to Isola San Michele or the Island of the Dead. Here there are barely any tourists and most of the other passengers were taking flowers to the cemetary. Large cyprus trees on the island stand over you like candles and the only sounds are those of the gravel as you walk along the different alleys and the splashing of the water all around. There is such a feeling of peacefulness here which deeply moved me like never before. I thought of the wonderful painting by Böcklin and the final journey to this amazing place where eternity begins.
The musical cries on the shore announced the return to Fondamente Nuove. Close to Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, I savoured a perfect tiramisù ice cream and came across a wonderful French bookstore where I bought Venises by Paul Morand and Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi and immediately regretted leaving Dictionnaire amoureux de Venise . The light was becoming softer and even more luminous. At last, the tourists made their way home and I felt another side of the city come alive with its special charm reserved for those who linger in the shadows. Though I returned that evening exhausted, feeling a little ill and also sad to leave this place which captured my heart, I know that it was simply the most perfect day and that there is so much more to discover and return for.