After two weeks in Italy we have eaten our weight in Margherita Pizza, climbed to insane heights on Via Ferrata and foiled the first serious attempt to steal our stuff. The food has been fantastic and we were treated to a delicious meal at a local restaurant by my old host family in Bergamo. An hour north of Milan, Bergamo was away from the tourists but central to Lake Como, Verona and its own beautiful Citta Alta - the fortified old city. I lived here for three bizarre months when I was seventeen. My initial host family kicked me out for not being a French speaking boy but the family I ended up with were fantastic and we had a great night catching up with them over ravioli and wine. From Bergamo we took the train to Lecco on the shores of Lake Como where we climbed our first decent hill since the Great Wall. The views were incredible but we were really hanging out for some Via Ferrata (hiking/climbing with a metal cable to clip into). After a brief detour out to Venice which is still sinking under the weight of tourists and their rodent-like dogs, we ended up in Arco. This is a little outdoor mecca at the northern end of Lake Garda and the foot of the formidable Dolomites. We were able to hire the gear we didn't have at one of the dozen climbing stores in the village and set out to try the Attrezzato del Colodri (2A) an easy little climb up behind the castle. While most of the route didn't require being clipped into anything it gave us a chance to get used to the gear. In the afternoon we jumped on a bus up the valley towards Drena and the Rio Sallagoni (4A). I say towards as we had to jump off the bus and set out cross country through the vineyards after realising it wasn't going where we wanted. The canyon had only a small stream flowing through it but the ferrata heads quickly up the cliff to a reasonable height as it winds along the smooth rock. We had read that this was an easy route and couldn't work out why the grading was so high until I got about five minutes in. Obviously the person who placed the steps was a lot closer to six foot in height than I am. I had to stretch a precariously long way in places and the overhanging section got the heart racing. When we finally popped out at the top of the canyon (at another castle) I felt pretty deserving of a cold beer at the impeccably placed cafe. We had a quick chat to a nice German couple also climbing and were lucky enough to have them pick us up on the road back to Arco. The following day we got more adventurous and bused to Riva del Garda to attempt some epically long vertical ladders on the side of a mountain. Dell'amicizia winds up a rather steep cliff face with steep hiking sections and metal ladders that run uninterrupted for up to 70m in places. The sense of exposure is pretty awesome and the only real technical section was coming down from the summit where some snow was yet to melt. We had such an awesome couple of days we are going to come back through Italy in April to do some more ferratas in another area. From Arco we made our way south to Florence and plunged back into sight seeing mode. A little shopping trip resulted in a seriously good looking finger adornment. The only low point of the city was 3am one morning while we both considered suffocating the guy in the bunk next to us who was snoring loud enough to wake the dead. Rome was a short train trip away but we had some issues getting to the hostel when some idiot ripped my bag open and took my wallet as we were getting off a crowded bus with all our gear. Luckily being very loud and threatening is effective in any language and J had my wallet back in minutes. After the initial drama we settled into three days of long lunches, gelato and very old, very famous buildings/fountains/monuments/steps/frescoes/gladiator arenas. Quite stoked with Raphael for sneaking himself into some of his most famous commissions - the guy must have had a sense of humour painting himself next to the Pope on a wall in the Vatican.
Rachael and Jeremy