Thursday, July 16th:
I really had no set plans when I returned to Orta San Giulio. I checked out the main piazza...
and then wandered up a side street and discovered the beautiful Church of Santa Maria Assunta.
(view of the lake from the church)
This museum, which was nearby the church, peeked my interest with a special exhibit of photos by Gianni Berengo Gardin being advertised.
I had not heard of Gianni Berengo Gardin before and was torn whether or not to visit this museum realizing that I only had a short time to spend in Orta. I went inside to find out more information. There were a few of his photos displayed in the gift shop. Those photos convinced me to check out this special exhibit and I am really glad I did. The first room displayed some of his old cameras. The other two or three rooms displayed a large selection of his photos, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This link (an image google search) shows some of the photographs by Gianni Berengo Gardin.
Before leaving the museum, I used the bathroom. WOW! I was in shock. The bathroom was just like being in someone’s home. There was the toilet with a nice toilet seat and of course the bidet. There was also a bathtub, shower, a big shelf to place your bag, a real roll of toilet paper, a hair dryer and nice towels, and I vaguely remember that they were real hand towels that you used and then placed in a laundry basket when done. The hair dryer and the real towels may be my imagination though as it has been a while since I was there. It definitely was a memorable bathroom and what I would vote for as the BEST museum bathroom in all of Italy.
After leaving the museum, I wandered down a few more streets to check out more of this delightful little town. At one point, I stopped to check out the flavors of gelato in a little gelateria. As I was drooling over the gelati, this man who was walking quickly down this narrow street ran right into me. He was carrying a large wooden crate full of fresh peppers and other vegetable. The corner of the box dug right into my right upper arm. It really hurt. The man sort of apologized but seemed to be more irritated that I was an interruption in his sprint to wherever he was off to. He was dressed in some sort of waiter’s outfit, so I assume he was off to a restaurant. The box did not cut me, but it did leave a nasty looking bruise that lasted the rest of my trip.
By now, I was starving. I was surprised that Orta was not more crowded. There were many restaurant choices. I was not thinking clearly because I ended up going for a little place right in the main piazza. I ordered my favorite ravioli burro e salvia (ravioli with butter and sage). It was nothing to write home about. I was not even able to finish it (and not because I was full). The reason I chose it was because the tables enjoyed a wonderful view (well not the table literally, but you know what I mean). I should have known better.
While sitting at my table waiting for my meal to arrive, I noticed this little train pulling up. The first thing I thought of was the silly trains that ride around the mall at Christmas time. I later regretted not taking this train.
The train or trenino not only went through the town, but it also transported people up to Sacro Monte. The woman on the bus mentioned that I should visit Sacro Monte. I saw signs saying Sacro Monte. But for some reason, the way to Sacro Monte appeared to be a mystery, at least for someone like me who has no sense of direction. I asked the waitress if it was easy to walk to Sacro Monte. She told me it was an easy 10 minute walk but she was not very clear on how to get there.
It was 2 pm and I had a decision to make. Should I attempt to visit Sacro Monte or make sure to catch the 3pm bus? I decided to try to do both. Since I missed the little train and did not know when the next train was scheduled to arrive, I thought walking would be faster. I headed in the same direction that the train went, figuring I would find signs pointing to Sacro Monte. No luck. The only clue I had at that point was that it was up high. I saw a path that went up a large hill. I took a chance. I thought I was in pretty good shape but this path that led to stairs was a killer. There was a German couple with their dog ahead of me. The guy and the dog were way ahead. The girl was a few steps ahead of me. At one point we both stopped and let out a big huff in unison. This made us both laugh. It was indeed a tough climb, especially since it was a very hot day. When we reached the top, we realized we were all looking for the same place but could only communicate by using our hands and facial expressions.
We passed by this blue cross...
enjoyed this beautiful view...
and took a left turn (which later turned out to be our major mistake) as we ended up walking down a side path that led us back to the Church of Santa Maria Assunta.
Now what? I was determined to find this Sacro Monte and decided to take the 6 pm bus back to Stresa instead. This meant I could not mess up and miss that 6pm bus or I would be staying in Orta San Giulio for the night.
Somehow, I found this path that lead up another hill.
As many of you know, I am a tower climber. I was in very good shape by the time I reached Stresa. I did not even huff and puff at all a week earlier while climbing the tower in Bolgona and yet I huffed and puffed all the way up to Sacro Monte. My legs felt like jelly as I reached the top. I ending up arriving a very unique way (the wrong way/some sort of side or back entrance) instead of through the front entrance. Even so, I was thrilled that I found it.
Let me tell you, it was well worth the effort to hike that hill and find Sacro Monte. It was peaceful, nice and cool, and a place I could have spent hours visiting. I am going to do another blog post on my time in Sacro Monte, as I need an entire post to try to explain this magical place.
At 5:15, I still was not ready to leave but needed to catch that bus. I was already pushing it and should have left much earlier because I not only had to figure out how to get back down to the town but I also needed to get back to that bus stop before 6pm and I had no idea how to get back.
The sign near the correct entrance (where you see the red X) seemed to indicate that it was very easy to find the town of Orta by going that way. The arrow (that I drew on this photo) is the where I arrived. I was really nervous deciding which way to go since I always seem to choose the wrong path but decided to trust in the sign.
Amazingly, it was very easy to find the town. I passed by that blue cross I saw earlier in the afternoon while searching for Sacro Monte. If only we had turned right instead of left. We would have found Sacro Monte the first time. I wonder if the German couple ever found it. I did not see them up in Sacro Monte.
I was back down in the town in a flash (10 minutes)! Of course walking down hill is always faster than walking up hill. I stopped in the museum again to see if I could use their magnificent bathroom once again before heading up to the bus stop.
I am going to stop here as this post is much too long already. Next up, my bus ride back and the rest of my stay in Stresa.