Tuesday June 20: Merano - 9.15 am
I'm reclining in a lounger, one made out of steel and clothes line but incredibly comfortable, on my balcony. The tower of Merano's Duomo is only about 100 metres away, over trees and old rooftops. Immediately to the right a slope ascends to a few villas, hotels, and a rather plain-looking castle, but steep though it is it's only a slope. The mountains are everywhere else that you look. I can see white houses on the side of the nearest one, almost at the top, in open patches of grass - trees below and rocks above. Their gardens must have a gradient approaching 1:2.
The other mountains in that direction - west, I think - have a sparse covering of snow. Sprinkled, rather than covered. Behind them, above them, the sky is quite cloudy but bright, with blue between the clouds. It's not warm yet, but my balcony is in the shade still. The shadows on the mountains are fading as the sun fills out the last empty places.
Swallows are sporting over the rooftops, often swooping right past my balcony. Last night at twilight I was out here, resting after a heavy meal - the tiles were still pleasantly warm from the heat of the day - and there must have been over a hundred of them, wheeling and diving. Only their urgent squeals indicated that it might not all be play, but maybe it was - maybe they were just going "Wheee!", like children on a swing.
Yesterday ... the drive.
Some time after passing Munich you notice mountains off to the right, but they still seem quite low. Then at some point you turn towards them and they're awesome. (Ed: pre-American teenage usage.) All the way through Austria they line the road, barring any attempt to wander from the direct way, firmly ushering you through to Italy.
Before Italy, of course, is the Brenner Pass. It's an impressive climb, but all the most spectacular bridges are skirted with sightscreens so you can't look down, thus preventing rubber-necking drivers like me from plunging to their death while admiring the view. I couldn't resist attempting a few travelling snapshots from behind the wheel - foolish, really, and probably doomed to aesthetic failure by the windscreen smeared with insect carnage.
The descent from the Brenner - Brennero now - is also impressive. The road from Vipiteno to Merano is even more so, over Jaufenpass or Passi di Giova, all hairpin turns down the other side. An extraordinary number of German cars. Maybe it's unreasonable of me, but meeting more German cars than Italian put me in a bad temper. This is supposed to be Italy.
It's the Südtirol, that's the thing. It's bi-lingual all the way down to Bolzano - Bozen. Sitting outside at a cafe on Corso Libertà, though, it seemed to me more and more of an Italian town, smart and chic. Good looking people, fashionably casual. Yet the restaurant where I ate, and the hotel I'm in now, are both identifiably German. Maybe that's the way things are shared here - the Italians have the display, the Germans have the commerce.
Coming into Merano by car beside the Passiria river, then crossing the ponte della Posta to a first view of the Duomo, is one of those revelatory experiences - "I didn't expect this!"
I was really lucky with the hotel - attractive room, this balcony, that view. It just occurred to me before - this is a room with a view! I wish V was here.
That's what I was thinking last night as well. Just last year I was perfectly happy to potter round by myself in the evening, in any strange town, probably because there wasn't anyone else I could think of who would have made me enjoy the place more. Ah well, things change. Last night I had another heavy German meal with two large glasses of beer, after which I could only go back to the hotel. A typical Northern choice - oblivion in preference to ennui.
Back at the hotel, out on the balcony with the swallows and the twilight, things looked better, and this morning they don't look bad at all. Time for my first foray in shorts, I think, and a climb to Castel Tirolo.