It is rare in life that you meet individuals that in only a few days can have such a wonderful and positive effect on your life. After our time in Croatia we set Alice (our GPS) to the small town of Zandobbio in the Bergamo Province of Italy and pointed the Goose west. Our destination was the home of Stefano Codazzi and his girlfriend Laura Gugolati.
The notorious Tommy G had put us in contact with Stefano after having met him on the sunny shores of Railay Thailand some years ago. We did not know what to expect and thought we would spend no more than two days in their company before we set out again on our way north.
Upon our arrival Stefano greeted us with a big grin and open arms. We realized we had briefly met him a few years ago when he and his friend Paolo had visited Thomas in San Francisco. Stefano ushered us into his home and we met Laura for the first time. We spent a quiet evening chatting and planned to climb the next day. In the morning we had the pleasure of meeting Giulia, their adorable nine month old daughter. A bubbly, inquisitive ball of joy, Giulia accepted us with no hesitation.
After breakfast we set out for Valgua; a crag that Stefano has assisted in developing over the past twenty years. He continues to develop new crags in the area, always making sure that there are lines for people of all levels. His newest crag even contains a board where climbers can give their input about the new routes, grades, stars, info, etc. We picked up Paolo (no, a different one) on our way. We spent the day climbing wonderful moderate routes on the tricky limestone.
Thumbs up to a day of crushing limestone!
After dropping off Paolo and meeting his beautiful twins we went to Stefano's home and enjoyed the first of Laura's many delicious home cooked meals.
Sunday morning, we were invited to join the family for an excursion into the historic city of Bergamo. We spent the day winding our way through the cobblestone streets and vast array of stunning Catholic churches.
The wall surrounding the upper city.
Lunch break - Delizioso!
That evening we enjoyed another fantastic Milanese meal, made by none other than Laura the master chef. Laughter and conversation continued until late despite the fact that Stefano needed to wake up at 6am for work. He works as the production manager for Climbing Technology, creators of the Click Up and Alpine Up. Unfortunately, Stefano woke up late...something he has never done. Sorry for keeping you up so late!
Our next day consisted mainly of admin tasks. Changing the oil, organizing and cleaning the van, which included a trip to one of the many autolavaggio in Italy; they are everywhere, and trying to get flights to South Africa with our United miles (what?! South Africa? More later....). We spent the latter half of the day with Laura and Giulia; eating, playing, napping and practicing English. Stefano returned home later that evening and we all enjoyed another night of chef Laura's amazing cooking.
For our last day in Zandobbio, we went to Milan to meet with the consulate general for South Africa; there was this little fine that Steve had to pay for overstaying his visa last summer (a whole 14 hours!). We had a a bit of a late late start due to never ending rain, but headed to Milan and paid the fine. We then decided to spend a couple of hours actually enjoying Milan and seeing what the city has to offer. After doing a little research, we decided to go and view The Last Supper, as it is housed in the abbey of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the ZA consulate was quite close to the church. We found parking right next to the church but unfortunately, to view one of the most important and famous paintings in the world you need to book tickets three months in advance. Lucky for us, there was an exhibit of Da Vinci's sketches that was available for viewing in another area of the church.
We viewed twenty sketches and notes in the Great Masters crazy backwards writing. The twenty sketches consisted of diagrams and notes on water irrigation systems but also included one or two sketches on flight and geometry, much to Steve and my delight. The water stuff was cool, but flight and Geometry was way cooler.
Next we decided to head over to the Duomo, Milan's most impressive Cathedral. We walked through the crowded streets of Milan and suddenly arrived at a large open square packed with tourists, in addition to masses of Senegalese men hocking their wares. As we walked up, one looks at us and says "my african friends, come, let me talk to you." Knowing that he was going to either try to sell us something or attempt to have us give him money, I attempted to veer off, but he walked quickly and grinning from ear to ear, he spoke again "look at how dark you are, you must be African". He held his arm next to my white but slightly tanned arm. We laughed and decided that it wouldn't hurt us to talk with him for a few moments. We told him that though we weren't African, we had indeed been to Africa and that we were going back again next month. He put bracelets on our wrists (string friendship bracelets) and we, in turn, gave him a couple of euros. He was so sweet that we just didn't mind being swindled at the time...
The Duomo of Milan is an amazing sight. Stretching up high above the piazza del Duomo, it's the third largest church in Christendom. A staggering 3,500 statues and 135 spires adorn the marble structure, which has a Baroque and neo-Gothic façade, as well as five bronze doors carved by different artists. It's no wonder that it took 500 years to complete and building work continues today.
Stefano says that it is very common to say that you are like the Duomo, if you take far too long to get ready...I guess 500 years is quite a bit of time...
That evening we went back to Zandobbio to spend another lovely evening with our newfound Italian "family"; we enjoyed laughter, great food and conversation for yet another glorious night. Stefano and Laura are two of the most caring and generous people we have met on our travels and we will cherish the time we spent with them in the small valley town of Zandobbio.