I have never experienced a summer quite like the one we’ve been having in England. Growing up in the desert, I've lived through countless ones where it was so hot I thought I’d die —the kind that necessitate swimming pools, tank tops, and a truckload of popsicles. It was never exactly fun when the temperatures sat between 105 and 115 F for weeks on end, but heat was just part of the summer recipe. We expected it.
But this cold and the endless rain? Our England summer is an imposter that I'm completely incapable of dealing with. It’s more like fall, as if we skipped a season entirely; it just feels wrong. Summers are for playing outside and relaxing, letting our minds sleep a little in the hot sun so they can rejuvenate themselves. The sunshine and warmth brings such a balance, not only to the seasonal cycle, but to the spirit. Honestly, I have never felt so out of balance in my life.
We decided if the summer sunshine wasn’t going to come to us, we had to go find it… So we loaded up our backpacks and hopped on a plane to the nearest sunny place we could think of: Italy.
I am pleased to report that the Italian weather did not disappoint.
Our first stop was to visit one of Einstein's colleagues near Lago Maggiore, an Italian lake near the border of Switzerland. He lives with his family in a medieval village overlooking the lake. It was built in the late 10th century as a kind of fortress village on a high rocky outcrop-- a sheer granite cliff surrounded by forest. It boasts just a handful of privately-owned homes and a magnificent old church with well-preserved frescoes from the late middle ages to the renaissance.
It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought, too… but of course there was a catch. This village is really hard to get to. We had to take a long bus ride from the airport, then we were picked up by car and taken to buy groceries (because there isn’t a market anywhere near the village) before being dropped off on the main road. From there we had to hike on foot, up a winding, craggy hill carrying both our luggage and groceries.
The hike itself is all of perhaps 20 minutes, and fairly steep at times, with railing keeping you from sliding off into the abyss of the ravine. We were advised not to bring anything with wheels, so we stuffed half of what we'd normally take on holiday into backpacks. It was definitely an exercise in learning to pack light and purchase only the groceries you will absolutely need.
The village is so secluded, that passing by on the main road below, you would miss it if you blinked. From the main road, with my camera zoomed in, it looks something like this:
As we got closer, I started to really get a sense of the place. It was like nothing I had ever imagined, not even in my wildest dreams.
Once inside the village, we were treated to other views, including the old church, dedicated to San Gottardo. If I'm remembering correctly, it was built in the 1300s and then later expanded to hold about 70 parishioners in the village's heyday. Both the outside and inside are covered with frescoes which were covered in mortar or plaster when the plague hit the village in the 1600s. The frescoes were long forgotten, and they weren't discovered again until the 1930s, when the church fell into such disarray that the plaster began falling off. The church has since been restored, and it is such a wonder to behold-- both inside and out!
Though not comparable to the beauty of the church, the rest of the small village held its own kind of charm. There were only perhaps three skinny streets, or passageways, in the entire village. They were stone-tossed and old as old.
Inside was a different story. Some of the houses boasted modern conveniences-- flush toilets, sinks, stoves or hot plates-- while others looked vacant and in various stages of disrepair. The most remarkable part of the house we stayed in was perhaps the old servants' kitchen and the view from the uppermost floor.
Because it’s only reachable by foot, and the path is not for the feint of heart, you can imagine how safe this village felt. The kids ran barefoot in a wild pack-- sneaking around corners and having water fights, playing chess at midday in the shade of the church, and scaling the rickety ladder into the belfry. How many children can fit in belfry at the same time? All eleven of them, apparently.
All of the kids spoke German, and the girls were delighted to speak with them and so thankful that mom has been encouraging them to keep up with German lessons. It certainly paid off. We even picked up a few words of Italian while we were there, thanks to some remedial lessons from a gregarious, trilingual five-year-old.
In the late afternoon we made our way down the hill to the lake, and the children had so much fun splashing around in the cool water and canoeing with their new friends. They played until the sun set, and then we put our shoes on and hiked back up the hill to cook dinner.