Losing myself on the Collina

White-Wagtail600px-Regulus_regulus_60North_cropped 600px-Gold_Finch

Ballerina bianca (White Wagtail), regolo (Goldcrest), and cardellino (European Goldfinch)

Yesterday I took a long hike. Torino has a lot of trails on the Collina, the large hill across the Po, but I had never hiked any because I couldn’t find the trailheads. But this week I found a place that sells trail maps, got directions, and so I was determined to try one.  It was February and I just wanted to be outside for as long as possible. My goal was La Colle della Maddelena, a park at the top of the Collina.

The day wasn’t gorgeous. In fact, it was sort of typical Torino winter weather, 30s-40s and overcast, with a damp cold. I put on my layers, packed the map, binoculars and some lunch (and my documenti, of course), and took a bus just across the river to the trailhead.

The first part of the trail was along the Po.  There I saw a tree full of cormorants, a river full of gulls, a few ducks, and the usual people rowing.  As I looked more closely, I also saw little black and white birds that flew in scallops and pumped their tails up and down. I remembered them from a sign I’d seen in the park–ballerine bianche (white dancers, or in English, White Wagtails). Later I saw a flock of small birds feeding along the path. At first I thought they were just sparrows, but then noticed that they were more delicate flyers, with touches of bright color. Goldfinches!

The European goldfinch is more exotic-looking than its American cousin.  I recognized it from a coffee table book that I used to look at growing up, which had a copy of Rafael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch in it. Of course it was a local bird. In Italian, it’s called a cardellino, a little cardinal.

Soon the trail left the river and started to climb. The paved trail went past a ruined villa and then ran out.  My destination was about 3km of trails and 715m in altitude away, but that wasn’t the main challenge.  Soon I realized how much snow was still on the ground.  And mud from melted snow.  I briefly wondered if I was getting myself into something foolish, but then kept going.

I went by a church, through a park, and along some roads that were labeled “antica strada,” which means they are old (usually medieval) roads that have been superseded by modern ones. Often they’re just footpaths that join a paved road here and there. After the roads on the outskirts of town, I spent a long time walking through the woods. Some of the trails weren’t clearly marked. Sometimes the mud caked on my shoes and made the going slippery. I lost some time. But I kept going.

Two hours later, I saw the last switchbacks before the Colle. They were lined with the names of war dead. At about the same time, I heard a very tiny and familiar “seep.”  It sounded like kinglets!  (My favorite birds.) And that’s what they were–Goldcrests, the European cousins of the Golden-crowned Kinglet.  In Italian they’re called regoli, or rulers. These had a slightly more pronounced pattern on the backs of their wings than American kinglets do, but they were very similar. It was nice to see one again.

And then I heard an even stranger noise, and looked up to see a small black and white bird waving its long tail in the air and making a strange tsk. A codibugnolo. In English, Long-tailed Tit.

Finally I reached the top. The only other time I’d been up to the Colle, in a car, it had been bustling with dayhikers and cyclists. Now there was not a single other soul around. You couldn’t see the Alps across the valley because of the clouds. And the bar that serves the park was closed. The weather, in fact, was so inhospitable that I decided against my original idea of a picnic lunch. Instead I went across the street, drank my requisite afternoon macchiato, put all my warm wraps back on, and started downhill while munching my piadina.

Given that they way up was so muddy, I decided to try a different route down. This one was snowy and muddy, too, but at least I was going faster now. Occasionally I even descended in a controlled skid. This path was even more deserted than the other one, and the trails less marked, but with my map, I recognized enough landmarks to keep going.

Just when I had been alone and away from farmsteads for so long that I began to feel I was hiking in the wilderness of Oregon, I came to an intersection in the path, where I saw another woman my own age, walking along so calmly and in such civilized clothing that she seemed to be on her way to a city bus stop. We greeted one another, but at first she didn’t seem to want to talk, so I went on ahead. But as I got around the curve and hit another slippery downhill, she started calling out some instructions.  Then we started talking.

She was on her way home from work and said she often took the trails instead of the bus, because it was more relaxing. She preferred them in winter, when there weren’t so many people (I’ll say!).  And she had the right kind of shoes. (Here she pointed to her feet.)

I mentioned that I was surprised the trails were so deserted, and that I’d asked some friends if they’d wanted to hike, but no one could.

“I know,” she commiserated, “They think you’re crazy.  They do that to me too.”

I told her where I was going and showed her my map. About this time, we came to an open field and she said we were supposed to walk through it. I decided she must have been my guardian angel, because there was no trail or sign anywhere. But walk we did, and then we came to a road, where she pointed out a lovely square, white manor house.  “The house of my dreams!” she confided. Her name was Anna.

We went along together for about thirty minutes before she turned off to where she needed to go, and by this time, we were back in the hilly outskirts of Torino, where there are lots of large homes surrounded by land and walls. I kept following the map, managed to get myself lost a couple more times and once found myself amidst donkeys and sheep. But eventually I made it down to the intersection where the bus stop back home was.  I plopped gratefully into a seat, vaguely aware the I was alarmingly dirty.  In fact, when I arrived home and Sarie saw my muddy jeans, she said, “You walked down Corso Vittorio like that?”

“Yeah, I know. I’m sure I looked pretty odd,” I admitted. Most women on Corso Vittorio wear elegant down coats and boots. I was wearing a Patagonia pile zip jacket, a hand knit  cap, and an ancient backpack with the straps hanging down. And a considerable amount of mud.  But I was satisfied.  I’d given myself a challenge and completed it.  I was tired enough to sleep. I’d seen some birds.  And I’d maintained my American independence, or something like that.

375px-SchwanzmeiseCodibugnolo (Long-tailed Tit)

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10 thoughts on “Losing myself on the Collina

  1. Sounds like a wonderfully refreshing hike. I’ve taken a few hikes of my own this winter and know how invigorating it feels! And how nice that you got to see some unique birds. they are so pretty! On some of the fairer days lately, I have heard some beautiful birdsong which stirs something within and reminds me of the importance of connecting with nature on a regular basis

    1. Yes, I know what you mean about the birdsong stirring something. For the past few days I’ve been hearing a bird singing for about an hour before dawn each morning, and I remember that it did the same thing last year as well. I think maybe it’s just a blackbird (I’m a little mixed up on those species here still), but just recognizing that for some reason it sings well insistently at the same time of day and year is comforting and interesting. Why does it pick that time? How does it know?

  2. Good for you, Laura! Your American rugged individualism is showing! Loved seeing the birds you described, and I felt like I was hiking right there beside you. I’ve missed the Central Park bird watching, but this is just as fun.

    1. Ha, that was sort of a joke, because I felt slightly foolish, but it is true that people think differently here. And it *is* fun discovering a whole new array of birds, most of which correspond to those I knew in the US.

  3. I’m wishing I had some of your bird knowledge–and a good pair of binoculars. Though there isn’t much vegetation in our arid city, we do have a line of very tall pines behind our front wall and when I walk outside my front door I am hearing various beautiful bird songs. We have some very average binoculars, but I’m not able to find any birds with them–either the birds are too small and too camouflaged, or I need better binoculars. I have to say, wildflower spotting is much easier, but since Jordan is on the migratory path between Europe and Africa, I’d love to see some of these migratory birds. I once saw a flock of pelican in Amman, if you can imagine!

    1. For what it’s worth, Melissa, my binoculars are Minox 8 x 42 and I’m very happy with them. We got them from B & H in Manhattan and we’ve had them for years.

      As for spotting the birds, that’s just practice.

      And as for identifying them, I have the comprehensive *Birds of Europe* by Svensson, Mullarney and Zetterstrom, and also *Birds of the Mediterranean* by Paul Sterry (which, though smaller, might be more helpful for you, since it seems to include Jordan). But I’m in such beginning stages here in Italy that I’m able to mostly use park signs and this site: http://www.birds.it/images/beccafico/572
      which happily has the bird names in both English and Italian. I bet you get some pretty spectacular concentrations of birds during migration! Let me know if you have any success this spring. And I’m totally jealous of the pelicans.

      But yes, you’re right–the wildflowers do at least tend to stand still. I really don’t know nearly as much about plants as I’d like!

  4. What an adventure!!! I have binoculars, zero bird knowledge, and a baby backpack. I’m in!….. As long as this baby will stay in the pack… We’ve never made it that far…. I would like to get out of the dining room and out the front door.

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