Two vagabonds on a lottery ticket. Part IIX – Lago Gandolfo

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One week equals 7 days which equals 168 hours. Taking in consideration that we sleep for about 8 hours a night, that means we’ve been in Rome 112 waking hours. 100800 minutes later and over 1292 kilometres away from Amsterdam, we decide it’s time to celebrate our first week of travelling and our first week of having left home. A trip to a place relatively close to Rome had been on my list and after hearing Giorgiana talk about Castel Gandolfo, I figured it would be a nice place to head down to and see the lake that accompanies it. Wikipedia informed me that it’s one of Italy’s most scenic towns and the palace of Castel Gandolfo is actually the pope’s summer residence.

Having been awake and alert in Rome for 112 hours now, I’ve begun to learn about the Italian way of life. Italians, or at least Romans, take their time with and for everything. Including trains. Since the train ride was considered short (only half an hour), we ended up taking a local train which, to be honest, looked more like a extra large tram rather than a train. Also, the interior design and the colours of the tram seemed to date back to the 1940s and I felt like I stepped into a World War Two movie. Deep, brownish, olive green coloured seats, caramel brown and faded floors and with old fashioned windows that need to be pushed down. Having been used to Rome’s outside by now, the lack of graffiti was unsettling.

I have plenty of time to take in the train as it left 10 minutes later than planned. It didn’t seem like anybody knew what was going on, yet at the same time it also appeared like nobody really cared. The few people in the cart behind me seemed to be perfectly comfortable with what was happening and the train conductors were laughing and talking to one another. No rush. This is Italy.

To add to my growing belief of Italians not caring about much – not even two minutes after departing one of the conductors stepped out of the driver’s area and spotted Mace. In broken English and with my little understanding of Italian, we managed to hold a conversation about his and my dog and after being fascinated with Mace’s eyes for several minutes, he called out to his colleagues. The other conductor seemed uninterested, but I could hear the train diver’s voice call out. Before I knew it, the conductor grabbed a hold of Mace’s lead and escorted him up to the driver’s area to show him. I took this opportunity to follow and take a peak myself!

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We are the only ones exiting the train when it reaches Castel Gandolfo. The train ride itself was magical, with views on green hill and small towns passing each other in different orders. The station is completely abandoned – there’s not even a ticket office to purchase your tickets and you can walk along and across the tracks as you please. It wasn’t that hard finding my way around as we were granted an immediate view over the lago and pretty soon the faint decline in the pavement carried us down. Homes were turned into massive villas with gardens equally as big and imposing.

As we made our way down silently, there often was the sound of a small animal hurriedly fleeing from open space. I tried to see if I could spot the lizards before I scared them away, but with Mace leading the way, already having picked up on the scent of water, I was only allowed to hear the rustle of leaves and sometimes catching a glimpse of something escaping my sight.

We are the only ones exiting the train when it reaches Castel Gandolfo. The train ride itself was magical, with views on green hill and small towns passing each other in different orders. The station is completely abandoned – there’s not even a ticket office to purchase your tickets and you can walk along and across the tracks as you please. It wasn’t that hard finding my way around as we were granted an immediate view over the lago and pretty soon the faint decline in the pavement carried us down. Homes were turned into massive villas with gardens equally as big and imposing.

As we made our way down silently, there often was the sound of a small animal hurriedly fleeing open space. I tried to see if I could spot the lizards before I scared them away, but with Mace leading the way, already having picked up on the scent of water, I was only allowed to hear the rustle of leaves and sometimes catching a glimpse of something escaping my sight.

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I didn’t notice the silence until we wandered down and came across one of the only three cars that would pass us by that day. For half an hour, we didn’t see a soul and the sound of the car seemed almost out of place – like it didn’t belong. With birds and crickets chirping, the sun high in the sky and shining down brightly and fiercely, we stopped only in the shelter of shadows the trees provided. It wasn’t too warm a day, but the sunshine was as strong as it had been since I arrived. Leaving houses left and right – and the occasional camping site or kayaking school – we soon came across abandoned sites and buildings that seemed odd considering we just passed villas.

My view was often obscured by trees and it was hard to take a good, full look at the lake that called out us to come down. I could see more homes in the distance – sometimes clustered together, sometimes standing alone amongst the trees like a sore thumb standing out. I could spot the palace from across the lake, hovering high above anything else, demanding attention. Personally, I thought it was asking for too much attention as it didn’t look that imposing at all. Following the snake-like road down, not bothering at all to stay to the side of the road or having Mace close to me in case a car would drive by (partly because I would hear it early enough, but also because I doubted we would come across many), lago Gandolfo grew and grew as we got nearer.

When we finally made it down, I was disappointed to find that most paths leading to the lake were privately owned. Signs in Italian were clear enough for me to understand that we weren’t allowed to enter. A beautiful looking field right on the shores edge would have been the perfect spot for a picnic and a relaxing few hours at the lake, but again – we were barred entrance. With restaurants and bars on our left and deserted buildings on our right, we kept wandering around until we found a parking lot that seemed to lead towards the lake.

I remembered how Italians never really cared much about Mace walking around off lead, how I walked around in Rome’s city centre with him darting around me freely, or how I was supposed to put his muzzle on when on the metro or on the train (the conductor from this morning laughed at me when I held up the muzzle as if asking if I needed to put it on) and how no one on the train seemed to be bothered by the fact that the train was departing 10 minutes later, and I took a chance. I ignored the ‘no dogs allowed’ sign next to the sandy road and finally made it to Lago Gandolfo.

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We have lunch right at the water’s edge. The soft cobbling of the waves is soothing and matches the silence that is spread across the 3,5 km lake. In the far distance, a man is circling around like a duck on water in his kayak and on our right, a man is working on his small motor boat, his dog laying about lazily in the blistering sun.

It almost feels as if we’re the only people on the planet and the lake is spread around us like a warm blanket.

After two hours of soaking up in the sun, the sound of softly rippling waves and sheer and peaceful silence, Mace running around and swimming in the lake, we head back up. Now that my eye isn’t constantly being drawn to the lake, I have the time to take in our surroundings properly. The desolation of this town is, to my own surprise, visible in my pictures. We encounter a few locals and I wonder where all the tourists are. For one of the most popular tourist destinations, Lago Gandolfo is rather – quiet. The trees are tall and green, much greener for this time of year, and stretch out all the way to the sky. Closer to the lake, most homes aren’t as well looked after as some of the villas and they remind me of the city centre, with the same different levels of decay and damage, the fading colours, the window frames, the ruinous feel to it. It surprises me that Italians, these outdoor people, appear to invest so little time in the appearance of their houses. The sharp contrast with the villas, and with the tourist attractions in the city, is almost something I can touch and hold.

Glancing over my shoulder one last time, and we leave Lago Gandolfo behind us (mind you, we’re still overlooking the lake from the train station!). On our way down, I took the civilised road by following the pavement, but as I want to cross the tracks to walk back to the station, I think ‘What the heck’. There’s nobody around anyway. So we follow the tracks, dirt and gravel underneath our feet until it turns into stone, which in its own turn, turns into the platform. I feel rebelious and victorious when I hear ‘Excuse me’ from behind. Two Korean tourists appear and ask me if I know where to buy train tickets back to Roma Termini. I inform them that the ticket office is close (read: there’s nobody there), but that they should be able to buy their tickets on the train. The youngest of the two Koreans then asks me if I would be their witness, as proof that they wanted to buy tickets. I instantly realise that she’s not the type of person that would walk along unattended train tracks to get to the platform, but that’s alright –   neither was I until a few minutes ago. As we wait for the train, we exchange small talk and I ask them if they’ve been to the lake. They react surprised – there’s a way down to the lake? Before I can completely process the idea of what they’ve been doing around here if they haven’t been down to the lake, I find myself somewhat expertly explaining how to get down. The two Korean ladies happily take off and head down, smiling and thanking me several times. Shortly after they’ve left, I heard someone else calling out to me and I repeat the process; this time showing two Greek tourists on how to get down to the lake.

Satisfied, we wait for the train to take us back.

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To see the whole Italy series, please go here.

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