Day 5: Italy. Chaos. Now it’s easy to look back on this journey and see that it started going downhill once I crossed the Swiss-Italian border, but while I was in the midst of it, I remained hopeful that I would be able to continue walking along Wordsworth’s path all the way from Chamonix, France to Como, Italy. I had crossed the Alps the day before in walking over the Simplon Pass, so the remainder of the journey was literally downhill, but the cross-country walking portion of it would end abruptly, as I found out on this day. First of all, I had to catch a bus to get across the border, which was tightly patrolled with a barbed wire fence and a guardrail that dropped off steeply into an impassible gorge. I planned to get into Domodossola, Italy and then continue walking south to the shores of Lago Maggiore, where I hoped to spend the night.
The bus dropped me off in Domodossola, a stinky Italian city full of Italian city things, which came as a shock after the previous day’s pine needles and alpine flowers. The streets spiderwebbed out from its center, and I headed towards the hills (Domodossola, from direction of Calvario):
A wide stone footpath led me along a Sacro Monte, with the Stations of the Cross commemorated one by one in little buildings erected along the way. I peered into the windows of one of them to see life-sized statues depicting Jesus Christ being beaten down by his persecutors. This, I realized, is a normal thing to see in shrines built along mountain paths in Italy. Calvario ended up being a religious site built on top of a hill overlooking the city, and my footpath suddenly looked like this:
Right. There was no pedestrian path, per se, so whoever made my map had marked a road with a six-inch shoulder as the pedestrian path along which I was supposed to walk. I continued in this manner for a while and then figured out how to get on a bus to Mergozzo, the town where Wordsworth stayed on the shores of Lago Maggiore. Again, more scary walking on a road with no shoulder, and then I spotted the sign for a camping area:
Since I didn’t know where I was going to stay, I thought a “camping village” might give me some options. But I arrived at the reception area and was turned away. No space, they told me—even for someone by herself with a bivouac sac. Instead of leaving, I snuck into the camping area to see what everyone was doing, thinking that maybe I’d be able to find a space for myself.
This “camping village” ended up being one of the wackiest Euro campsites I’ve ever seen. People were surely enjoying the beautiful views of Lago Maggiore (above), but they were also camping in RVs and cottages and in tents larger than the size of my studio apartment. Thousands of people. Seriously. This place had organized family programs in the evenings, and kids were running around in their skivvies while parents cooked sausages on the grill.
After doing a quick walk through, I realized that this isn’t the kind of place where you poach a camping spot with a bivy sac. In a melancholy mood, I walked out to the lakeshore and watched big dark clouds roll in. These clouds were beautiful, but bad, very bad. Seeing no other option, I walked in the dark along the road with the six-inch shoulder to find the little hotel where I slept for the night.
Note: this post is one in a series of posts about my recent attempt to retrace William Wordsworth’s footsteps from Chamonix, France to Como, Italy on the walking holiday the poet took with his friend Robert Jones in 1790.