After an early start from Abbey Wood at Lisa’s parents, we found ourselves stood at the station, reading alerts for delays on our route. They didn’t transpire and despite initial concerns we had a smooth run through to London Bridge, an easy change and straight to Gatwick. Before checking in we went to get our rucksacks shrink wrapped to protect them. It was almost amusing. Our wrapped sacks were smaller than many folks carry-on luggage and they seemed half empty. We had nothing to carry on unlike most, and were content that we were carrying only the minimum we needed, knowing that over the coming days we would be carrying them many miles over steep mountain passes. The wrapping service provided smiley face stickers to identify our bags and we were asked to deliver them to ‘oversize baggage’, surely they must have been joking with us.
The flight was quick but turbulence hit over the Alps as we began to descend and a clear air pocket meant that the plane dropped suddenly with several people’s drinks hitting the ceiling. We landed safely, were quickly through baggage reclaim and almost straight onto the bus into Turin. The sky was dark with cloud, raining and ominous as we drove through the industrial outskirts of town. Soon however we were into the centre and the lights softly lit the arches and swirls of the old architecture. The hotel Genova in the center of the city welcomed us and enabled an amusing first attempt at speaking Italian, then after a shower and change we were off to Restaurante Marcello for dinner.
We got in at just the right time. It was popular, touted as one of the best in Turin, and the many walk-ins were turned away. Simple local food cooked beautifully was something we would come to appreciate on the days ahead. This was followed by a walk to the piazzas, the rain had cleared, the temperature rose and it had become a lovely warm evening, clear and fresh after the rain.
The following morning we had a chaotic start. A power cut left our phones uncharged, we were late into Porto Nuovo station and thought we’d missed our train. It seemed fate was smiling on us as we discovered our delayed train was still in the platform but we should have seen it as an omen as it not only started late but crawled and stopped, getting later most of the way. We were late into Ceva and missed the planned bus but after a short wait in this sleepy town, a later bus appeared around the corner and Lisa tackled the issue of purchasing tickets and communicating our destination of Ormea to the bemused driver. We clambered on and were whisked through windy roads higher toward the mountains.
Ormea provided a fabulous lunch and gelato at the Bar Nazionale, but getting out of it in the direction of Viozene proved more difficult. There were no buses that ran to Viozene and it would be a 17km walk if we couldn’t find someone to drive us. We waited until 4pm for the small tourist office to open as the sign outside it had indicated, but 4pm came and went without any sign of life therein. We’d begun to wonder whether we might be searching soon for accommodation instead of transport. After several circuits of the small town looking for any information on a taxi service we resorted to stopping passers by to find a potential translator. When we did find someone she kindly enquired for us at the Bar and the name of a potential driver, Luciano was identified. Unfortunately his phone was out of connection and a further attempt to contact his wife revealed she had no idea where he was and didn’t sound happy about it! Our good samaritan was keen to get on and had to leave so we were faced with accepting that we might be stuck in Ormea for the night. Then just as she was about to drive away, our new friend leapt back out of her car, phone in hand, it was Luciano, he had returned the call. We could try to find Signore Colombo, and if we had no luck then Luciano himself would take us about 7pm. It seemed appropriate that this detective work should conclude with a hunt for a Colombo, we were giggling as we walked down the road, picturing the detective Colombo, cigar in hand, turning back in a doorway; “before I go, one more thing”.
We honestly did not expect to find Signore Colombo and probably looked more surprised than he was when we met outside his small garage, just locking up for the day. Of course he spoke only Italian so we did our best to make our request clear and he immediately smiled, “Si, Si, Viozene, taxi..” well, that was the bit I understood at least. We almost couldn’t believe it. He had us wait while he changed, then we loaded our packs into his car and attempted futile conversation as we wound our way up the steep mountain road to Viozene. After much thanks and hand shaking he departed and we were left at the foot of the track at the official start of the Grande Traversata Delle Alpi, which then climbed up through the beautiful little village, directly to the Rifugio Mongioie which was our first nights accommodation and the start if the real walking!