Sometimes there isn't an easier way...

Have you ever experienced something so amazing that your not even sure if it's real? That perhaps it's just a dream. After all, it was only a dream before this moment. Maybe you've gone barmy and your dream is so convincing you think its reality. So just to assure yourself haven't turned into a looney toon you pinch your arm...and... nothing happens, you don't wake up; you don't enter a different reality; there isn't a bright light and no one is trying to sedate you. You are just there with a little pain on your arm while your hanging off the side of the mountain... Wait, did I say hanging off the side of a mountain?  Oh yeah, yeah I did...

A couple weeks ago I was given by one of my bestfriends, Lucie, the opportunity to go spend a week in northern Italy with her and her family. Naturally, I accepted without hesitation. Number one, I would have the chance to spend time with her and number two I would be in Italy. Italy, the place almost everyone dreams of visiting. It's the home of Leonardo da Vinci, Antonio Vivaldi, Marco Polo, and of course, pizza and gelato. 

Lucie used to tell me about how crazy active her father is. I kind of pictured a Czech Hercules or something like that. He ran the highest mountain in Czech Republic (I think it was in Czech), he was a professional tennis player, and apparently he used to eat whole chickens in order to get enough protein or something. So when I met him and saw a man who looked completely normal, with glasses, average height and in everyday clothes (not armor) I was a little surprised. Also, she told me that every family vacation they are always partaking in some sports rather than relaxing like most families. If they go to a beach they go to one with mountains so they can climb and they generally don't go to cities for sightseeing. So I think I was lucky they took me to one.

So I knew we would be active, obviously. However, I wasn't sure what active meant. We didn't have a specific plan, it was just a go with the flow kind of deal. I always told Lucie that I wanted to go mountain climbing. She mentioned to me that maybe we would but she wasn't sure. So when I arrived and found out we were I was stoked. 

We left that night and Lucie, Matej and I slept the whole way. We ended up stopping at some rest area for further sleep and the next morning we brushed our teeth and ate breakfast in a park in Lecco, Italy. It was almost like camping. The first thing we did after breakfast was play some game afterwards I was informed that we would be climbing. As I looked around me I grew I little nervous, not scared, but nervous. These mountains were quite big. However, I wasn't going to let it get to me because I knew I could do it.

What we did technically wasn't climbing it's called via ferrata. It means something like via path in Italian.  So what you is you use a climbing harness with two ropes and karabiners attached and you put them on steel cables, in the rock. These are your safety net. The rest is on you. Little factoid for ya, Via Ferratas were built during the second world war as means of traveling through the mountains; now it's a sport of its own. 

There are six levels of Via Ferrata and the first time I did it I did a level four! I was pretty proud. So we hiked up to the area where the ferrata began (getting lost a few times before, naturally) and we began. The beginning was quite easy. I was never really scared of the height; however I really didn't want to put my karabiners and rope to use. To fall would 1. be terrifying and 2. really hurt. I knew if I fell I would probably go into total freak out mode and think that I wouldn't be able to do it. Which is something you should avoid at all costs because once you go up for awhile you can't go back down. 

Sometimes the climbing was quite easy, there were ample places to put your hands and feet so all you had to do was climb and enjoy the wonderful view. However sometimes there was absolutely no where to put your hands or feet so you must grab hold of a chain built in the rock and basically walk up the mountain.Which is a lot more difficult than it looks! I didn't really trust myself so I was scared and so my hands were sweating and so they didn't grip the chain very well and I had to use much more upper body strength than I ever had to before. I think the only thing that really made me do it was the fact that I had no choice and the adrenaline rush. There were many times when Lucie had to assure me that I could, in fact, do it. 

However, there was one time when even Lucie had trouble. When Lucie has trouble climbing I get worried. But with time she eventually figured it out and explained to me how and I thought to myself "oh sure, I can do that." I could not have been more wrong. It was a really strange place in the mountain where there wasn't really anything the grab hold of and where a chunk of the mountain was overlapping the other part so all you can do is pull yourself. This was a moment where there wasn't an easier way. The whole time I climbed the mountain I was looking for easier routes and such. This time I had no easy way out. It was the hard way or the highway kind of situation. There was nowhere for my feet and no where for my hands and no matter what I did I could not take that awkward position and that chain and pull myself over the ledge. I began to panic a little. I was barely hanging on and a I couldn't move forward. My legs were visibly shaking and my hands were sweating so much I had to wipe it away on my shirt and quickly grab hold of the rock again. I began to tear up but I wouldn't let myself cry. Lucie told me to wait for her dad and he would help me. I wasn't really sure what he could do when he had to climb for himself and help his five year old son but what else could I do? So I waited. As soon as they arrived to the scene of terror Matej began to cry. Like I felt bad but in my head I was thinking "Really Matej? Really? Why now?! Why when I'm hanging off the side of a mountain." Anyways, when everything was ok again Lucie's father came and assured me that everything was ok and then told me where to put my foot and basically pushed me up the mountain. I would just like to take a moment to say that Lucie's father, Fero, may not be Hercules in this life but he definitely was in a past life. His ability to climb up a mountain with his son and help us if we need him is amazing. I can barely handle my karabiners and I couldn't imagine taking care of kid too. It was such a relief when I finally made it over the ledge. I had the most refreshing and deep breath of air you can ever imagine. Afterwards I was still quite shaken and sometimes I couldn't get my legs to stop. It was ok when I reached the top though! We climbed for four hours and it was great. Sometimes I was so tired and I just wanted to stop. Every time there was an easy climb I was quite grateful but it was frustrating when it was easy only to become difficult again. One good thing about climbing (when it's easy and you don't have to focus on your every step) is that it's a really great time to free your mind. I was able just to think and think clearly or to not think and just enjoy the moment.

We went climbing four times that week and each time was a blast. Sometimes I didn't want to but I'm glad I pushed forward because every time I was glad I did it in the end. The first two days we spent in Lecco after wards we spent a day in Milan and then the rest of the week was spent in Riva Del Garda. These are all places in northern Italy that are relatively close to Trento. 

The Duomo
Inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
When we were in Milan we were basically just sightseeing in the rain. We also met up with one of Lucie's friends who is living there. I really enjoyed the part of the day when we went to a coffee shop for a few reasons. One, we were out of the rain. Two, we were playing cards together and it was fun and three, the cute Italian waiter was totally flirting with the three of us. I got a hot chocolate there and it was so different from US hot chocolate! It was extremely thick (and delicious), like a soup or almost like a pudding.  We were mostly in The Piazza del Duomo or the town square with the Duomo. The Duomo is the most famous cathedral in Milan. It was really spectacular with more than three thousand statues total. It's one of the largest in the world and was actually only completed 50 years ago. We visited the most beautiful shopping center I have ever seen called,  Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It's an arcade style building and is named after Vittorio Emanuele II who was the first king of the Italy. It was designed and built by famous architect, Giuseppe Mengoni. It hosts extremely expensive shops, restaurants and heaps of tourists. Another really cool place I saw was the Teatro La Scalla. It hosted many of the world most famous opera stars from 1778 until now. In front of the building is a nice statue of Leonardo da Vinci and that's the photo you'll see because unfortunately I didn't get a photo of the physical La Scala
Leonardo da Vinci Statue

Teatro alla Scala poster

One day while in Riva del Garda we went inline skating. I was terrible because I was not able to stop. It was an embarrassing time of my life but I will post one photo for your viewing pleasure bloggers, I hope you get a good laugh from it. Oh funny story: not being able to stop is a real problem when going down hills. Well at one point Fero (Lucies dad) was like "just hang on to me it will be ok" so we are going down this hill and he starts yelling "right right!" Well, he was going a lot more right than I was and so we fell over each other and now I'm sporting a beautifully scabbed knee :D We actually fell together twice in the end.

So there you have it, a week in Italy! Here are photos (you can click all of the photos in this blog to make them larger)

LECCO, Italy!

Milan, Italy!

Riva del Garda, Italy!