Posted by Jason Chan (Politecnico di Torino-Turin, Italy)
For millions of years, the African continent has been drifting towards Europe. The result of this gradual friction – the Alps, rising as high as 15,000 feet above sea level. One of the workers at our lab, Pietro, says he much prefers hiking in the mountains over going to the beach. Kristen (a fellow MIT student interning here in Torino) and I thought he was a little crazy at first, until we tried it out ourselves. While a day on the beach can be relaxing (though more often than not the crowds get uncomfortable), we learned that nothing, and I mean nothing beats a day in the mountains.
Our journey starts from the town of Bardonecchia, which is a somewhat small city at the very northwest of Italy, and is popular as a hiking and skiing resort. While the 2006 Olympics were “held” in Torino, it was actually in Bardonecchia that a good amount of the alpine events took place, since the town is almost completely surrounded by mountains.
As soon as we got out of the train station, we were already in awe. The Alps rise thousands of feet above the city, forming a kind of wall that indicates the Italian-French border. Here at the train station, you can get a good view of the mountain that Kristen and I were to tackle – the Punta Melmise.
The walk to the foot of the mountain took us through the heart of town, which has a cool atmosphere of its own. The main street of Bardonecchia is both lively and peaceful at the same time. There are a lot of people, but it definitely has that medium-sized town feeling to it. On this “large” avenue, most people just walk on the street. This is for two main reasons: first, there are not that many cars that pass through, and the ones that do go slowly; second, the sidewalks are so badly designed that it’s too much of a hassle to try to walk on them. The sidewalks themselves are actually quite nice, but it looked like each building decided to make its own individual portion of the sidewalk, which resulted in sidewalks of all shapes, sizes, and positions. To follow the sidewalk, you have to zigzag, go up and down stairs, and really use a lot of effort – so you just walk on the flat street instead.
A cute small river flows right by the town, but more importantly for us, this river indicated the bottom of our climb.
After attempts at decoding our map and asking help from locals, we found the beginning of the trail for the mountain we were set on climing – the Punta Melmise. The city itself is already at 4300 feet above sea level, and our climb took us up another 3300 feet. Needless to say, this was tiring, but it was well worth it! The beginning of the climb was really steep, so it seemed like the mountain may have been trying to send us a message.
Fortunately about halfway up the mountain, the path changed from a straight one to a serpentine one that made the climb much less steep… and better for our tiring legs. Soon enough, though, we got above the tree line and were offered spectacular views of the city and surrounding mountains.
The highlight photo of the trip – a 360º panorama from the peak! You should be able to zoom in on it by clicking.
The trip back down the mountain was much less fun than the trip up. Here, I am hanging for dear life (well, at least trying to avoid injury) while taking a really unnecessary shortcut. You definitely don’t want to slide down and land your butt on one of those sharp rocks! It seemed like a good idea to me at the time, until I realized that the descent was much longer than my depth perception had told me, and much more technical as well. I should say that I blame this adrenaline-filled experience on Kristen, as she had drifted off onto a different path from the one we came from and I needed to rejoin her.
Actually, most of the paths down the mountain are tame, but that doesn’t mean we can always stay on our feet. Let’s just say my shoes are not the best for hiking – how was I supposed to expect before coming here that this was what I’d be doing on the weekends? Anyway, Kristen – who is much more adept at walking downhill than I am – had a feeling that I would hit the deck right about here.
After we got down, we had some gelato. An old man was able to basically cut everyone in line by kind of drifting off in front of people and then politely asking “Excuse me, I’m sorry, but did you get here before I did? I don’t really remember.” It’s hard not to let him ahead after that, and that’s basically what everyone did! Still, over here in Italy, we should be thankful that there was a line for gelato in the first place – the concept of the queue has not really worked its way into common use here.
Anyway, it was easy falling asleep on the train ride home, and it was easy falling asleep early that night. The trip was exhausting but well worth it!
It’s been awesome here in Italy, but I’m also excited to return to the US. Hope everyone’s summer has been great!