Three weeks in Switzerland are truly idyllic. My life is limited to cycling, hiking and good food in a good company. But the road is calling, there are plenty of things to see and plenty of adventures to experience. Finally there comes a day when I have to pack my bags, leave the base camp and start a real journey. Destination: a tiny Italian town in the Alps, Cogolo di Peio, where I am supposed to pick berries as a Workaway volunteer.
I am kind of looking forward to leave the beautiful, but deadly quiet Obergoms valley. But I am not looking forward to climb Nufenen pass – sure, I’ve managed to do it once already, but cycling this road again with my traps is a completely different story. Therefore, I don’t expect to do it all by bike, I rather assume that I will just push the White Arrow up most of the way.
The pretty numerous farewell committee makes me feel as if I were leaving home. It is quite early in the morning, so the temperature is rather refreshing, but the steep uphill with more than 20 kg of luggage makes me sweat like a dog. All the cyclists passing me by on their ultra light road bikes are quite annoying (I’m just jealous that my bike isn’t that light and fast), on the other hand they are showing me respect and motivating me with a thumb up. My source of energy is a glass of „milchmarmelade”, which I got as a farewell gift from Simona – an always smiling Italian girl working in a local dairy. The milk cream is awfully sweet but delicious and I eat almost the whole glass in one go. Most of the time I have to push my bike. But I am proud that I got there by myself with all my stuff, although I could accept Maya’s offer to give me a ride, and I feel ecstatic when I finally get to the top. Now it’s just downhill for the rest of the day!
On the other side of the pass the world is different: greener, more sunny and colorful. Italian speaking canton Ticino wins my heart from the first second. The lower I come, the more „southern” it gets: vineyards, stone houses and palm trees. I ride down and down, effortlessly covering more and more kilometers. My brakes start to have enough though – by the end of the day I notice that almost nothing is left of the pads. I am just hoping that they will not get totally worn out before I reach Italy – I don’t really feel like paying for bike service in Swiss francs. Exhausted by the heat I finally get to Bellinzona, and after three weeks spent in the mountains I experience a shock – there is life here, there are people, it is loud, something is going on! I spend the evening in a lovely company of Gianna from Couchsurfing. We instantly find common ground and, while eating an excellent pizza, we chat as if we’ve already been friends for years.
In the morning, after a „nutritious” breakfast I head to the Italian border. I have to climb Monte Ceneri – only 554 m, but billion degrees Celsius on the sun heated-asphalt where lizards run is not making my life easy. Sweat is running down like water in the alpine springs.
Behind the border the town of Como welcomes me with big traffic, heat and noise, and my head starts to ache because of dehydration. At a lake, much beloved by tourists, I find a perfect spot for siesta: under a tree, in the shadow, close to the water from where refreshing air is coming. I relax so well that only when I am about to hit the road again I notice that somebody took my powerbank. Well, better the powerbank than the phone – I try to look at the bright side, but the situation makes me angry for the rest of the evening. I climb a pretty big hill and get to a campsite between two lakes. I pay the ridiculous amount of 18 euros for a disgusting bathroom and no internet nor kitchen, but I am not in the mood to look for something more reasonable.
In the morning I wake up early and the first thing I plan to do is visit a bike service – my brake pads are practically nonexistent and on every downhill I am stressing more than during a dream job interview (on steeper hills I just get off the bike – I don’t need that much adrenaline). I find a bike workshop close to Bergamo. Looks like I’m really lucky – usually it is closed at this time, but not today. A young mechanic not only fixes my brakes but also makes all the adjustments and changes a spoke that is a little loose. For the whole job he charges me just the price of the pads.
– Just send me some pictures from your adventure – he says when I start to thank him for that and gives me a card with his phone number.
Now I can cycle again! I cannot complain about loneliness – there is always somebody talking to me on the bike road. Unfortunately my Italian skills are not enough to have a normal conversation, but a mixture of English, some Latin I remembered from high school and gestures makes it possible to make some conversation. I begin to adapt to the Italian heat – in the evening I have the impression that it is quite fresh already, while the thermometer still shows 30 degrees.
A sudden thunderstorm forces me to find a place to stay in the early evening and I end up on a campsite again. Luckily, this one is prettier and cheaper. However, I know that my budget doesn’t allow me such luxury every day, so I send some requests on Couchsurfing for the next night. In the morning I read a reply from Carlo – an Italian musician who is currently cat sitting in this brother’s apartment in the town of Breno and he can host me there. It is only 30 km from my camping but I take it as a good opportunity to have some rest and more time for sightseeing.
Carlo welcomes me in a medieval house in the city center. He feeds me a delicious spaghetti and offers to show me around. He has a degree in history of arts, so he tells me a lot of interesting facts about paintings in churches we visit and about local artists. Carlo is a very interesting person himself – his hobby is not only music and art, but also esotericism. He tells me some strange stories about places of white and black magic. Despite the slight eccentricity of my host we get along very well and in the evening we go to a jazz concert together.
I can’t sleep at night – I don’t know if it’s because of the uncomfortable couch, the big furry cat of Carlos’ brother starring at me from the window all the time, the odd stories told by my host earlier or just the stress that I have to wake up at five. I am trying to find a comfortable position and I don’t fall asleep until three. That’s why in the morning I feel as if a road roller has rolled over me and even an espresso doesn’t help much. It is going to be a hard day – over 1500 meters up to Passo Tonale awaits me. Halfway I realize that only a power nap can save me and I take a break on a meadow. After half an hour I feel like newborn and with a lot of energy I start to climb again. The last month of cycling in the Swiss Alps definitely helped me get fit and even with all the baggage it goes quite well. I arrive in Cogolo much earlier than expected. I meet Giuliano and Joy, the coupleI will work for and who will host me, and I have no idea yet how colorful the two weeks in the Italian countryside will be.