THE WAY OF SILENCE AND A SURREAL SURPRISE – NORTHERN LAKES OF ITALY PART SIX

 

IMG_4628

LAKE ORTA/ SAN GIULIO

Once again we are hiking up narrow cobblestone streets, up through mountain villages to our next destination.  To refresh your memory the Northern Lakes region of Italy covers the areas of Lombard, Piedmont, Trentino and Veneto, nestled beneath the southern foothills of the Alps near the border of Switzerland (for a deeper refresher course – reread the first blog of this series). We have ventured all around the “running man” lake area of Bellagio and Como, trekked west to  Lake Maggiore  and across the border to Switzerland and Lake Lugano and now have continued our westerly path to another sliver lake, Lake Orta  – see F-H, 1-2 on the bigger map below:

IMG_1707

IMG_4643

Lake Orta is actually separated from Lake Maggiore by the  Mottarone peak (Monte Mottarone is 4,892 ft high) and is the smallest of the lakes we have visited. It is not its diminutive size that makes it so captivating, however, but rather the medieval cast and palpable spiritual aura that hits us as soon as we reach our hotel, the Hotel San Rocco – which happens to be a former 17th century convent – we can almost the Franciscan chants:

IMG_1142 IMG_1145

Not only is the hotel lovely – it directly overlooks Isola di San Giulio, a picturesque island of tranquility (see pic at top of post and below) and one of our next stops, and one of the few that require motorized transportation in the guise of a motor launch that departs from a quaint jetty:

IMG_1167

IMG_1179 IMG_1180

Upon our early morning arrival on the island we are immediately aware of a hushed ambiance – no doubt created by the Romanesque Basilica di Giulio that is directly in front of us. Going inside this feeling persists as we are told the history of the area. The Basilica was built on the remains of an earlier 9th century construction. The frescoes covering the walls were painted between the 14th and the 19th centuries, and are almost all images of saints. The sacristy houses a large fossilized vertebra hung from the centre of the vault, which according to legend belonged to one of the terrible dragons which, along with assorted serpents supposedly inhabited  the island before being driven out by San Giulio. A crypt below the high altar has a glass casket of  the remains of San Giulio. The most valuable work of art in the Basilica is this medieval pulpit made of black marble:

2i2_1102

Now just because we are on a small island doesn’t mean we get a break from hiking up hills as we next trek up to visit the 1000 year-old monastery. The nuns here are sequestered in the convent, but we do have access to a series of paths between the high walls of the monastery created to encourage pilgrims to seek enlightenment.  There are two ways to go:  The Way of Meditation and The Way of Silence:

IMG_1185

We chose the Way of Silence and at intervals we see signs set to help us navigate our thoughts:

DSC02519 dsc_0206

It is not hard to keep silent – as the spiritual beauty surrounding us all but commands quiet contemplation:

IMG_1194

IMG_1199

IMG_1207

IMG_1206

IMG_1201

IMG_1204

And yes,  steep stone steps make their present known constantly – and again seemingly always uphill:

IMG_1205

Ah, but our day is just beginning – we return to the motor coach for our return trip to the mainland  – and even this short excursion offered more excellent views to encourage our contemplative thoughts:

 IMG_1182

IMG_1181

Next on the docket is another hike UP through the woods and in keeping with the spiritual theme of the day our destination is Sacro Monte – a group of  21 chapels built between the end of the 16th and the end of the 18th centuries dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. The park is hushed and sombre – as if knowing, the sun slipped behind clouds so no beams brightened the paths – it was a perfect setting:

IMG_1232 IMG_1230IMG_1239

Actually found some STEPS GOING DOWN! (initially).

IMG_1227

Even the buildings and statues  proclaimed this a special place from another time:

IMG_1241IMG_1228

IMG_1231 IMG_1234

IMG_1233IMG_1229

So all was peaceful and quiet and contemplative – and then we came to the last chapel – I will let you see the interior first before commenting – so you can have an unbiased first reaction:

IMG_1237

IMG_1236

IMG_1235

These are NOT paintings – they are life-size terra-cotta figures sculpted to depict Pope Gregory IX giving the Franciscan Father General a Papal Bull of canonization while cardinals, bishops and ambassadors of kings and princes look on.

The entranceway to the chapel was dark and so it was initially hard to see but when I focussed I almost backed out thinking I was interrupting an actual religious service – that’s my shadow in the foreground of the last picture.  These figures were so lifelike, so well-formed that at any moment I expected them to start moving and speaking – and that frankly creeped me out.

By this time the weather has gotten very inclement and we still had a number of miles to go before reaching the restaurant for lunch.   A few very stalwart members of our party decided to hike on down, but considering the steepness of the incline and the slippery nature of the wet leaves and stones – I was happy to be offered any type of alternative.  I never expected this to be my transportation salvation:

We got to the Ristorante Olina Orta San Giulio within minutes  and relatively dry.  The hiking group arrived somewhat later, bedraggled and wet – but was cheered immediately by copious amounts of wine and this setting:

IMG_4002 IMG_4003

To cap off a very full day and to continue with the much more festive mood we were now in – our guide Giampiero had us laughing and gasping at his “lecture” on the important hand and facial gestures needed to converse properly with an Italian.  Unfortunately my video of this didn’t make the transition to the states – so I will leave you to imagine what was said and done

IMG_1244IMG_1243

I did find this online that may help you imagine our fun – Francesco on the right was doubled over at one point. Giampiero was much more animated than the figures below (NB:  there are some vulgarities):

aph___popular_italian_gestures_by_mezzochan-d4v0ngh

 Giampiero was so MUCH better in person – did I mention that he is an actor and has been in many movies?  A matinée idol for sure!!

More adventures to come.   Stay Tuned!  CIAO!

#

6 thoughts on “THE WAY OF SILENCE AND A SURREAL SURPRISE – NORTHERN LAKES OF ITALY PART SIX

    • Giampiero- grazie! I so wanted to show a video of your Italina gestures lecture – so that people who weren’t on the tour could see how funny and wonderful you are!

      Avere una buona notte!

      Cindy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s