On the other side of the pass a change had occurred. Architecture had shifted. Faces had shifted. Nations can blend together and borders often make little difference when compared to the effect nature – an ocean, a mountain, a desert – has on evolution and culture. A mile high divide, a wall of rock and ice separated the last valley from this one and when the canyon opened up the red-tiled roofs of Mediterranean villas could be seen across the valley fields. In my opinion, the people had became more beautiful. Skin was more tanned, smoother. Hair was much thicker, darker. I was in Italy.
The day was hot. It was barely nine and already I had descended a mountain and crossed a border. I cycled along the motorway for a while before an Ambulance told me to get off. This is only made the journey to Verbania more interesting. Through green, grassy villages I cycled. Parts of the countryside, the wild parts, still felt Swiss; the smell of cattle hung in the air and the fields were scattered with buttercups, but the towns were very Italian. Beige walled, paint cracked buildings. Old men hobbling along, walking sticks in hand. Verbania was the start of one of the most breathtaking areas of Europe I have ever seen. There’s no other way of putting it; the lakelands of the Italian Alps are incredible. Winding coastal roads. Emerald blue waters. Still. Tranquil. Always backdropped by snow capped peaks. The sky pink, blue, white. It’s an expensive part of the world. A lavish, luxurious place. So rich, in landscape and in wealth, but so beautiful. Racing cyclists shot up and down the snaking roads, raising their hands or nodding back at me as I passed. Dressed head to toe in racing gear, arched over, heads down. They looked uncomfortable. There was no wind. Only sun. The ground felt fast, soaring through narrow towns, italian streets at high speed. I had so much adrenaline coursing through my body from the descent earlier on. The sun was on my face. I felt like I a pro with the kinds of distances and speeds I’d covered and reached that day. I just didn’t look like one in my t-shirt and shorts.
I passed through quaint little town squares, cobbled and full of old tourists. Stopped to enjoy the views on the lakeside and, in the early afternoon, when the sun was at it highest and hottest, I found an empty stone beach, pulled my bike down onto a jetty, took off my clothes and had a bath in the lake. Diving off the peer, brushing my teeth and washing my hair in the waters. The world was mine to do as I pleased. A few hours earlier I had slept on a mountain, walked on crunchy, frosty grass, surrounded by white peaks, my breath had been on the air and now I was sunbathing on the jetty. I closed my eyes for a while before cycling on to the northern end of Lake and Locano. In fact, Locano epitomized this region, nestled amongst forests at the base of an overhanging mountain peak. I felt cheeky, like this place, the lakes, the cafes and restaurants were only for the rich. I thought of all the people who had paid for expensive flights to reach here, had booked into hotels, were dining in restaurants up and down the coast. I had simply crossed a mountain using my own means and stumbled into this holiday destination for free, in expectant.
All the campsites along the lake boasted five stars, pools and golf courses. I waited till the sun had almost set before accepting the fact that I‘d never find a cheap place to stay in this part of the world. The campsite I eventually road into was ridiculous; bird of prey shows, kayaking, boating, restaurant, games room, cinema. All of these I’d never use and so I actively avoided the reception by turning off my lights and cycling alongside a car as it entered the campsite. I road to the back of the huge, forest park. Little bridges, lit by ground lamps crossed over brooks and streams that ran down to the shoreline. Neat avenues split off into the trees, filled with camper vans and static homes. I set up tent where the were no lights, stared up past the silhouetted treetops towards the stars, towards the mountain top and drank a beer I’d bought from the supermarket, with each day the trip was growing more interesting, more intense, more visual. I also suppose the beer money could have paid for the camping. Nevermind.