Pal Piccolo, Or Hiking Part II

With the slower pace of life, coffee shops and cheap wine, Brett fully committed to the Italian lifestyle during his visit. I decided to test this newfound love of Italy with an early morning hike. I’ll be clear – I’ve already documented the single other time that I’ve hiked. I’ve come a long way, but you can’t accuse any of the Musnicki’s of being particularly outdoorsy. Nevertheless, I forced Brett to lace up an old pair of Chris’s tennis shoes (no, he was not allowed to hike in sandals), and joined a guided tour to Pal Piccolo.

Brett and I joined our little group of 6 – our Italian tour guide, two kids fresh out of high school, and another girl. (We were initially fooled by her – she had walking sticks and a super legit looking backpack). It took a little over 1.5 hours to reach our spot, and you better believe we napped then entire time. Our guide parked the van right on the line between the Austrian and Italian border. Brett was pleased that technically he could cross another country off his list. Now, up in the mountains, it was predictably freezing in the shade. It was still early, and the sun hadn’t melted the lingering frost yet. Our two young Spider Monkey friends, as the group affectionately named them, were in shorts and had no jackets. Our guide stopped for a caffe and a cigarette before the journey, and the rest of us patiently waited. Brett was silent – likely reflecting upon his imminent demise – and we continued to size up the group, wondering what the hell we’d gotten ourselves into.

Finally – we set off on the trail. I was cheerful – proud of myself for getting physical activity, being outdoorsy and exploring a new, historical place. This initial cheer immediately abated on the initial 10-minute climb. We climbed straight up a narrow, shaded path, and I instantly thought I might die. The crisp air filled my gaping lungs, and I started breathing heavier – actually, I started gasping. I thought, “Great – the whole group can hear me dying, and I’m not actually fit like I pretend to be.” The soul-crushing ascent continued – our guide and the Spider Monkeys pranced ahead, while Brett, the girl and I pushed towards certain cardiac arrest.

“This is it,” I thought. “If I’m actually dying, Brett might collapse any second. I’ve killed my brother. “ (It should be noted that this is a pattern – every time my siblings visit I seem to force them into physical activity. This included forcing Maddie to do a 10K Mud Run in June. Mom is still mad at me.) Eventually, we reached a clearing, and as my heart beat out of my chest, I was pleased to see that Brett was still alive, though barely. The clearing contained the first grouping of trenches – a network of above-ground, stone trenches built by the Italians during WWI. I can’t imagine having to haul equipment and weapons up to this initial trench, which is another reminder that I would not thrive in the military.

Mercifully, we lingered here for a bit while we mortals regained our composure. The Spider Monkeys, on the other hand, literally sprinted ahead, and did not seem even remotely winded. Luckily for us, the next stretch was much less steep. We spent the next hour or so crisscrossing up the muddy mountainside. I understood why the guide and the other girl had walking sticks, and I lamented that I didn’t have cool hiking shoes. (Though my Nike’s did not fail me!) It was a crystal clear day, and when I wasn’t concentrating on my feet, the views were absolutely breathtaking. (Get it – I had no breath…) At the top of the peak was an Open Air Museum dedicated to the Italian and Austrian troops stationed up here during “La Grande Guerra.” We looked over into Austria, and a small marble plaque marked the border. 100 years later, several networks of trenches and fortifications still remain. Barbed wire and rusted metal fragments still mark the peak.  Our guide told us that his grandfather actually fought up here during the battles of 1915-1917 (Italy v. The Austro-Hungarian Empire). The surroundings were so fascinating.

After a pit stop for lunch (PBJ has never tasted so good!) we descended down the backside of the peak. This side was sunny, and much tamer – thankfully! Again, the Spider Monkeys ran ahead of us, promising to meet the group back at the van. The return journey was thankfully so much easier, and we had a lot more time (and energy!) to enjoy the beautiful sights. (Italy is just such a beautiful, varied country. Between the mountains, rolling hills, sparkling lakes and dazzling sea, I can never get enough. Sorry Midwest, but you just don’t compare!)

As we descended – we learned a little more about the other girl on the trip. It seems that her backpack and walking sticks came from our guide – turns out she arrived horribly unprepared for a day’s hike. She apparently thought that hiking meant walking a trail…. Brett and I were pleased to realize that we were not the least prepared, or experienced people there. She then continued to complain the rest of the way about being tired…

We eventually reached the bottom, crossed the border, and hopped back into the van. Our guide drove us down the road to a small restaurant in the mountain valley. We ate outside and enjoyed the most fantastic beer and pasta I’ve ever eaten. It could have been the utter exhaustion, but I truly believe the food was lifesaving. Our guide invited several of his friends to join us, and we spent the afternoon chatting with the group. Finally, we stumbled back into the van and began the return journey. I passed out immediately – incredibly thankful that I didn’t have to drive!

I’m proud that the two of us survived – nature is certainly the great equalizer. Experiencing the beauty and history of Pal Piccolo is an experience I won’t soon forget. I’m so thankful for these incredible experiences – and I’m glad I was able to force Brett into joining me!

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