Mulini magic

Just a short walk from the bridge to Piero is a turn to the famous Mills of Piero, the Mulini. Built of local stone in the 18th century to use the strong flow of the Giona torrent to turn the timber wheels that would turn the stone wheels to grind the local produce like wheat and chestnuts, it was the reason for small villages like Piero, to house the workers.

People would bring their grain and nuts from both sides of the slopes, when a stone bridge, now gone, connected the sides of the river. You can see here that they diverted the flow of the river to the mill wheels. It is overwhelming to see the sheer amount of stones carried, for buildings, paths and walls, and the skill of the dry stone laying.

So even before the British were invading Australia, the mills of Piero were at work.

Holding weirs were also built of stone.

I found I could not see enough of the intense green of the mossy roofs and walls and the soft light-filled green forest. I went up there three times to bathe in its magic. Sole abandoned stone huts kept appearing further up the hill; what were their stories?

The rushing of the river meant it was never silent, but one time we heard an ongoing tinkling approaching.

Crossing from two sides of the creek, a flow of small goats kept daintily picking their war past us. Most wore goat bells, most had horns, most were brown, some were cream. We counted about 50, and later we would eat the wonderful cheese Alessandro makes from their milk.

One goat stood as if on guard until the whole flock had passed, then stepped off his rock to join them in the enchanted forest beyond.

Like some of our rainforests, this is a mossed and lichened green world. Even the light through the trees is green.

So many mosses of every shape and shade of green…

We walk up beside the stream as far as our friendly guide Gigi decides is safe; while the ancient bridge is further up, the way past this first canyon in the river is too dangerous, ‘pericoloso’, for us, says Gigi, demonstrating how narrow and steep and broken the path gets. Gigi has good English so could translate what his friend Ambrogio said as he identified wild plants; often it was clear, as the Latin names are the same.

My images of this green valley and my imaginings of the lives lived here until less than my lifetime ago will stay with me and enrich my world forever.

I had loved the Heidi story as a child — still do — and now I have seen the goats, and later even a goatherd, I can see her on these meadows below the Alps. Although somehow Julie Andrews keeps intruding…

Milano metropolis

The Milan Duomo is justifiably famous, with soaring spires, and statues adorning every possible face. But it is so famous that hundreds of people were queueing to see inside it, so  I chose not to join them.

I  had been told about the Golden Madonnina statue atop the Cathedral, and indeed my friend Paola and her mother had sung the Milanese song about her to me!

There were more than enough people milling about in the grand square it fronts, where Victor Emmanuel II is celebrated in that very grand arcade.

There is an imposing statue of him on his horse, but yellow paint had been thrown at his horse’s rear in some sort of protest, I assume, by folk less impressed… or more oppressed.

Instead I chose to visit the more humble and quite ancient Church of San Stefano Maggiore, originally of the 5th century, and later the 11th. It has become the church for migrants, and I noted that, unlike the grander churches, much of its paint inside was worn away.

It was also notable because of its black Madonna.

Milan is the centre of design, so I did go to the Museum of Design…think Alessi, Ferrari… which was an eye-opener.

It is also famous for fashion; sadly all beyond my budget.

Street style is something else, as I saw when I watched this lady sashay with supreme nonchalance to the Metro.

Thanks to my friend Trish, we did master the Metro, once we got used to ‘M’ not standing for Maccas. It was very handy to where we stayed, but incredibly crowded at non peak 

For those who chose to drive into the city, there was ample parking, especially for motorbikes. I loved that these tiny cars could fit into a motorbike spot. There were also pushbike lanes and bikes for hire.

All in all, Milan was too big a city for me to feel comfortable, albeit a gracious and interesting one. Too many people!

Cremona the Grand

A day trip to Cremona has been my first solo excursion, catching an early bus from Salsomaggiore, which did arrive at the right time, offering the right money, that we’d been told by the bus company was essential. Except my right money was not what was required, so I was left scrabbling through my coins, to be rescued by the bus driver.

‘Head for the Duomo’, I’d been told.  Fearful of getting lost, I made sure I kept that tall Tower in sight from wherever I went. There were people queuing to take the ‘vertical tour’ to the top of the Torrazzo or Bell Tower, c.1300, the highest made of bricks in Europe. Good luck to them; my friend’s mother had told me how as a child, she had been taken to the top and seen the cars down below like ants. The stuff of nightmares for me.

I preferred to look in the Cathedral, consecrated in 1190.  It is breathtakingly high and solid, arched and full of gold and frescoes, impossible to see them all in the gloom and so far up. There are several galleries, with special dedications and candles to be lit for special prayer requests.

I sit for a while in the main nave, savouring the peace and coolness, while in a smaller area a Mass in Latin is being sung, with five priests officiating, and quite a few attendees. I could have sat there all morning…

When it is empty I take a photograph of this gold-bedecked ‘chapel’ and wonder how it must be to have such grandeur as your local church.

Even the rear of the Duomo complex is impressively lofty. The left hand octagonal building is the Baptistry, not open at the time of my visit.

Feeling I have had enough of religious subjects, I think I will like the Commune or Town Hall (mainly 13th century) as the approach frescoes appeal here, and am assured by the Tourist Office that is open for me to see inside.

Silly, gullible me…

Living history

The walk along the ridge and down to the valleys from my friend Paola’s family home offers seductive views of ancient castles, towers and churches.  We head for the closest.

All three …castle, church and cemetery … have been recommended to me to see.

The sign seems to send us to the right place.

But not one of the three is open. Like so much of Italy’s  built history, the upkeep is too great; some are being repaired by current owners, hopefully to become income earners.

We can hear peacocks, and the dog of which the sign warns.

We pass the totally closed-up church; we can see nothing of the inside.

We could have prayed by the ivy-draped shrine to the Virgin, set in a small garden nearby.

To Paola’s bemusement I am fascinated by any evidence of older ways of building and this barn by the road is both sad and beautiful as its timber lintel rots and the bricks follow its trajectory.

Any walk in this country means chances for foraging. Not as many as in Paola’s youth, but enough to warrant always carrying a bag, just in case some still exist and are ripe.

Wild plums, red and yellow, wild cherries, alpine strawberries, walnuts, wild oregano…

Even if no finds, the intense green of the roadside trees stuns me; it is hard to imagine their winter bareness, with perhaps only the ubiquitous ivy not leafless or snow-covered.

We walk down to Tabbiano Terme, another spa town, full of apartments, some hotels; no shop but a pharmacy… and this one big farmhouse in empty fields. I think of all the food that this farm could grow now, for all the people living here, who include refugees housed by the government. I am told many hotels are only still open due to this funding, but  surely some refugees must be from the country and could grow food?

No; it is all about the money, says my friend.

So what’s new?

On Monday we will be taken to a castle that is open…or so it says… so I hope to share that next.

Trees first

It is said that, like the Art Nouveau style, the town of Salsomaggiore Terme drew its inspiration from Nature. It certainly favours trees; many parks and broad avenues like this offer more dappled green shade than I am used to in a town or city.

Once-grand hotels like this, now a conference and event centre, are suitably graced and softened with trees and gardens.

Old trees are revered, their arching and bending limbs propped up. As I walk under such trees, or over cracked and lurching pavements that accommodate their roots, I have observed that our fear of litigation, our O H & S paranoia, does not rule here.

Even the cars in car parks must fit around the trees, rather than the whole area cleared for maximum cars. This is not a street, but a dedicated parking block, absolutely full on a Sunday, when it seems most shops and cafés are open and most people are out and enjoying the summer day. Our friend drives round and round seeking a spot. No wonder most cars here are small; the turning spaces would not suit the large SUVs more usual in Australia.

One Sunday event is a very long street market, where used goods like clothes and bric-a-brac are offered for sale for charities. This is a rare chance, as op shops… my usual retail choice… don’t exist in Italy. I buy a good coffee maker for using here, hover over a few unsuitable shoes and clothes, wish to be younger to wear them, wish for more space in my bag to take larger and heavier items home… but refrain. 

Because of all the trees, the stallholders and patrons are not in the baking sun as is more usual here, with such markets held in open parks or sports fields.

The cafés lining one side of the street are full of people eating al fresco, sipping coffee or wine. Sundays seem devoted to very civilised leisure.

And of course there are  much narrower paved streets, with no room for trees. Their shops are tiny and varied, with apartments above, the outdoor café spaces are small.

In an incongruously pretty building I spot a cow and horse meat vendor. Now that is a shock for any Australian, let alone a vegetarian one…