Sunday, November 28, 2021

Grotesque and Others


Yes, it's Sunday, so of course it was a big ol' geocaching day. And quite a nice one, all around. Today's incarnation of the No-Dead-Weight Irregulars consisted of Almost-But-Not-Quite-Old Cupdaisy (a.k.a. Debbie), Old Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Old Rob (a.k.a. Old Rob), and Old Rodan (as the Beaver). Today's destination: Durham, NC, mostly around the Duke University campus. Our primary target was an Adventure Lab cache called "Grotesque" (GC928YM), which led us to several locations featuring sculptures, friezes, and such art around the heart of the campus. These were fun, and the bonus cache container turned out to be cute (see the thoughtful chap at left).

One neat little cache took us to the edge of a marsh, where we also found a wooden walkway leading a hundred feet or so into it. Sadly, the walkway had seen better days and appeared on the verge of collapse. Still, I made my way out to the far end, figuring that if it gave way, the worst that would happen is that I would get wet (unless there were piranha fish in the marsh, and I guess that would have been worse than getting wet). But the planks held, I took a few pics, and Cupdaisy found the cache. Interestingly, from there, we found another cache not too far away, and on our way back, we saw that the walkway had now been chained off. I rather suspect someone at the little preserve saw me exploring and decided to play things safe (liability issues, perhaps). Anyway, glad I managed to see the sights from there when I did.
Lean just a little farther, Cupdaisy!
Just a little farther....

If I counted properly, we snagged a total of 18 caches today. Well, I did personally, at least. We stopped for a handful I had already found but that the other members of the team still needed. For lunch, we checked out a little joint called Dain's Place on Ninth St., not too far from the University. Good eats, though it reminded me of why sports bars are intolerable places to be on game days. My god, the volume of shrieking madness around us damn near shattered my eardrums. Still, it was all great fun — at least until we hit the road for home. Traffic was a monster, far worse than I've seen after a Thanksgiving weekend... well... ever, I'm pretty sure. Just fits in with my motto: There are too many motherfucking people. Lord have mercy, they make me tired. Fortunately, I know some back roads. Unfortunately, they fuckers had choked the back roads too. Fortunately, I know some back BACK roads. Those, at least, were passable.

And good lord... what happened to the long weekend? We just got off work a few minutes ago, and now it's four freaking days later. Time flies, I reckon, whether you're having fun or not. Fortunately, this go-round, it was mostly fun. Well, tolerable, anyway.

I managed to fit in some much-needed writing yesterday, although it wasn't quite as much as I'd hoped. This week looks good for making forward progress on that count, at least.

Stop fucking around, all right? Thx.
Grotesque! Old Rodan, Old Rob, Almost-But-Not-Quite-Old Cupdaisy, Old Diefenbaker
Out on the ricketty walkway over the marsh
Looking back from the end of the walkway
A few minutes later: well, dang if it hasn't been closed off!

Friday, November 26, 2021

Angel’s Envy, Turkey Day, Christmas Trees, and Cinderella

I don't always drink Angel’s Envy, but when I do, it’s
because some awesome friends are awesome.

For Ms. B. and me, the Thanksgiving weekend kicked off on Wednesday afternoon, as work let out at lunchtime. This worked out great for us because we had company — friends Stephen & Samire Provost — coming over for drinks and dinner early in the evening. We ended up having a lovely visit, with Marco’s Pizza and some excellent Italian wine on the menu. To top things off, they brought over a bottle of Angel’s Envy bourbon, which turned out to be delightful. A fine spirit, it is, with silky undertones and a long finish that gets mellower and mellower. I loved it. And a thousand thanks to Stephen & Samaire. Awesome friends indeed!

On Thursday — Thanksgiving Day — morning, Brugger and I rose pretty early and headed out to Browns Summit, the headquarters of friends Tom (a.k.a. Skyhawk63) & Linda (a.k.a. Punkins19) for a geocaching breakfast event. Tom served homemade biscuits with lots of fixings, not to mention coffee aplenty. A decent-size crowd showed up, and that really got the day off to a perfect start.

From there, Ms. B. and I headed back home and started prepping the feast. I had gotten us a big ol’ turkey breast, which I seasoned and got cooking straightaway. We smashed some potatoes, cooked up some gravy, Brugger made a batch of savory mushroom & gruyere tarts, and we topped that off with large green salads. I was a little afeared I might have overcooked the dead bird when I checked the meat thermometer, but no... it was delicious and done just right — as was everything. As far as Thanksgiving Day dinners go, this one could hardly have been better (although, at the end of it, I was too full to partake of the cheesecake we had for afters; I’ll enjoy that later).

I had decided a while back, with Ms. B.’s blessing, that I would spend Thanksgiving night as well as some extra time at Pleasant Hill, the old homestead. So, after dinner settled a bit, I hit the road and headed first to Oak Ridge, just northwest of Greensboro, to snag a newish geocache. Upon giving the map a look, I noticed there was another cache over in Walnut Cove, a few miles farther northwest. So, I decided to go check that one out as well. I was pleased to see it was located at a graveyard, since graveyard caches are typically among my favorite. It turned out to be a fun cache indeed. That little side trip done, I continued on to Martinsville.

Many of my readers no doubt know that, against every conceivable expectation, I am the last of the family I grew up with. I lost my dad to complications from diabetes two decades ago. Last year, I lost my mom to COVID-19. Earlier this year, my younger brother passed away of leukemia. Now and again, these losses still overwhelm me. While my family was alive, Christmas was a momentous holiday. Mom always loved having a Christmas tree, and she collected a prodigious number of ornaments over her lifetime, most having some special significance. For those several years that she was debilitated with dementia, I kept that tree going up every Christmas. And now that she is gone... that they’re all gone... I treasure putting up the tree. So, on this night, at the house where I grew up... the place my mom loved most... I put up the tree and decorated it. An emotionally tough yet heartwarming undertaking.  I did this to honor my family that was. I imagine I will do this for as long as I physically can.

Kimberly and I will spend our holidays celebrating the family that is. My daughter, Allison, is remote, but close in heart, I know. So this is how I’m starting my Christmas season. It does hurt, but there is also a wonderful refuge in so many memories of perfect times — particularly during the holiday season — with my old family.

That done — and you can roll your eyes all you want to — for some reason, I felt drawn to put on the 1965 Rodgers & Hammerstein production of Cinderella, starring Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon. I hadn’t seen it, or even really thought about it, since I was a kid. Something about last night’s onslaught of childhood memories, I suppose. Anyway, I went ahead and watched it on YouTube. Was it any good? Well, I dunno; it was pretty much Cinderella as we all know the story. Since I still have something of a soft spot for old musicals, I found a couple of the songs pretty good. A handful of lines made me crack a smile. So I guess you could say I enjoyed it. I am certain it is not going into the regular holiday video rotation.

This morning, I found breakfast at The Ground Floor, a relatively new coffee shop uptown, and then headed out on a geocache maintenance run, first to Philpott Dam, then to a couple around Martinsville. The hiking did me a world of good. On the way back, I grabbed a nice lunch at Hugo’s, also uptown. And this afternoon, now I’ve gotten this blog composed, I have a bunch of writing to do for upcoming projects. And thus I shall.

I’ll be back.
Philpott Dam

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Out of the Park and Others

This past Sunday’s geocaching outing of the No-Dead Weight Irregulars — consisting of Old Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), not-quite-so-old Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), and the Old Dude as the Beaver — took us back to Chapel Hill, where we sought one of our favorite varieties of geocache: one hidden in the deep, dark underground. This one is called "Out of the Park" (GC55DEF), located just off the UNC campus, in the Coker Pinetum, along Meeting of the Waters Creek. There are a couple of nice trails here, as well as what turned out to be a most colorful pathway into the depths of the earth.

The portal lies in a deep valley just off the nature trail, where a massive tree has fallen in the relatively recent past, all but obscuring the entrance from view. Getting down to it and back up from it are more difficult than negotiating the tunnel itself. To prevent tumbling into the chasm, Ms. Natalie made the mistake of grabbing a thorn-studded tree (which Scott informed us is called "The Devil's Walking Stick"), which resulted in considerable bleeding and swearing. Fortunately, no amputations were necessary. A rusty steel cable goes across the culvert, and I made the mistake of grabbing it on my way down. Unbeknownst to me, the section of cable was splintered sufficiently to bite my hand pretty deeply, which resulted in considerable bleeding and swearing. Fortunately, no amputations were necessary. A surprisingly large volume of water was gushing from the culvert's mouth, given there's been no rain to speak of in recent days. But we were all able to enter the darkness without mishap.

Apparently, this particular culvert has attracted graffiti artists of every stripe, and for almost the entire length of our journey into darkness — just under half a mile, by our calculations — the tunnel walls were decorated with intricate images, a variety of slogans, and the occasional dire warning that hell lay just ahead.

We hadn't gone but so far when Scott and I heard a holler, and we turned just in time to see Ms. Natalie take a quick seat in the chilly, rushing water. Yeah, it was pretty slick in there. Fortunately, her pride suffered more bruising than her butt, and from there, we proceeded without mishap — well, except for my flashlight going dead. I knew I should have brought that extra light along! Happily, Scott carried a spare, and he handed it over to me, if somewhat grudgingly. We pressed on and on, and — finally — our flashlight beams fell on an object that appeared slightly out of place in the deep, dark underground.

Indeed, it was the cache.

Once we had signed the log, taken a few pics, and re-secured the container, we made our about-face and hoofed it back toward the portal. To my chagrin, Scott's spare light also began to fade, so we made haste for those last few hundred feet. By the time we again emerged into daylight, this second light had also bitten the dust. But we had our smiley, and — happily — there were a couple of more caches along the nature trail, which proved a lot of fun to hunt. The woods here are gorgeous, and just enough fall color remaine to make the trip visually memorable.
We found lunch at a lovely little place called Four Corners on Franklin Street, where I availed myself to what was surely the largest half rack of ribs I've ever been served. And they were freakin' delicious.

On our way back to Greensboro, we stopped off in Hillsborough to grab a trio of hides, one along the old Occoneechee Speedway Trail, where we've hunted caches several times in the past. It's a lovely place, the oval racetrack having long ago been swallowed by forest but converted to a hiking trail.

All in all, it proved a wonderful day to add to our caching totals. Definitely a day for quality over quantity, which, for me, is always more than fine.

Cache on.
Along the Coker Pinetum Trails: A good place not to lose one's footing
So far, so good.
Oh, shit, Scott's got a camera. "No, dear, I didn't do anything foolish. Why do you ask?"

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Foliage at Last


Fall color took its sweet time arriving this year, but since it finally has, the colors have actually been gorgeous. We're pretty much past the prime here, but some pockets of lush, brilliant hues remain out there. Yesterday after work, I left for the old homestead in Martinsville, but I decided to stop off at a nearby trail to scope it out for a possible geocache hide. It was nice to discover the little pond back there surrounded by colorful trees. It was well on its way to getting dark while I was back there, so I brightened up the color a little in Google Photos — but the hues themselves are very true to what my eyes actually saw.

Once ensconced at Pleasant Hill, I made some dinner — brisket burgers, which were delicious — and set to work on some editing for my upcoming short fiction collection. I ended up getting sidetracked in something resembling a debate on Facebook about Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse being acquitted on murder charges, but fortunately, it didn't devolve into a shouting match. Still, my brief post expressing frustration with the outcome of the trial was not intended to be an invitation for dissent. But, Facebook being Facebook, I reckon that was inevitable, and while it occupied some time, it could have been worse. I know I should know better, but sometimes, one needs to vent.

Anyway, on the way home this afternoon, I stopped and found a newish cache and maintained one of my own. And now it is time for a Campari spritz.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

From Mountaintop Experience to Locked Up

It was a tad chilly this weekend but otherwise perfect for geocaching. Friday, as is my custom, I spent a pleasant evening at the old homestead in Martinsville, where I had some Carolina Reaper wings from Coach's Neighborhood Grill, which were passable; not as hot as all that, but fairly tasty. I spent some time digging through the old vaults trying to find a copy of Japanese Giants #1, which took some work, but mission finally acomplished. Thus, for the evening's entertainment, I made popcorn and watched Destroy All Monsters, since it was the feature movie covered in that issue of JG.

Saturday morning, after some grocery shopping, I headed out on the back roads, bound for the northern reaches of Danville. There was a cache at the site of a music festival from a couple of months ago — “Mountaintop Experience” (GC9G0TX) — which took me through some of the most brilliant fall foliage I’ve seen this season. The cache itself proved fun enough (though it wasn’t really on a mountaintop), and I went after another one nearby in Danville proper, which put me close to Tokyo Grill. I always enjoy their sushi, and I hadn’t visited since before the beginning of the pandemic, so I stopped there for lunch. I was not at all disappointed.
Odd folk hanging out at the library
in Chapel Hill

Danville mission complete, I hit the highway, bound for home in Greensboro. After some compiling and editing for a new short fiction collection (details on this will eventually follow), Brugger and I headed over to Kernersville, to Casa di Nelson, where we dined and wined with friends Terry & Beth and Joe & Suzy. A lovely evening that ran quite late.

This morning — after a not very restful night, due to freaking old man physical issues — I joined forces with the No-Dead-Weight Irregulars (Rob and Scott) and hauled us over to Chapel Hill for Sunday geocaching. Our primary targets were a trio of Adventure Lab caches: “Explore More at Pritchard Park,” “Carolina Walking Tour,” and “Chapel Hill Art Walk”; the first took us around the nice nature trails at the library, while the latter two offered scenic tours of the UNC campus. Again, the fall colors here were pretty much at their peak, so it was really quite a lovely time of it. After the lab caches, we picked up a nice little hide called “Locked Up” (GC8G3G6) at the nearby arboretum.

We finished our caching day with a somewhat late lunch at Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery, which is something of an old Chapel Hill institution. It’s been ages since I’ve been there, mainly because the place is typically so crowded it’s the very devil to get inside. Today, though, the crowd wasn’t bad, and the wait wasn’t long. The food and brew hit the spot after four-plus miles of hoofing it today.

Back in Greensboro again, and tomorrow begins another standard work week. Thanksgiving is coming up, though, and I must say I’m looking forward to it.

Peace out.
Il Triello: Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo
Triceratops footprint in stone along the library's nature trail
Diefenbaker toots his own horn on the Chapel Hill art walk.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Our Shadowed Past and Other Dark Doodads


In the weeks prior to our leaving for Europe, I did some design and layout work on a book project for friend Bob Issel, who has overseen countless Dark Shadows fan gatherings for the past three-plus decades. Our Shadowed Past is a collection of essays and photographs — over 300 pages of them — from over a hundred longtime Dark Shadows fans, including me. A dozen or so fans who regularly hung out at the ABC studio in New York City where Dark Shadows was produced offer their entertaining recollections, and a few of the show's original cast members — including Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Sharon Smythe, James Storm, and Marie Wallace — provide unique perspectives on their Dark Shadows days as well. To receive ordering information, contact Bob Issel at Bobusbas59@gmail.com. The cost is $27.00 plus postage.

It's been a somewhat hectic week since our return from the continent. We had a new storage shed built to replace our ancient, damn-near-collapsed shed, though, for the moment, the original one is still out there. Thus, the epithet "Two Sheds," which friend and fellow Japanese Giants Guy Ed Godziszewki had bestowed upon me (a la Monty Python) a great many years ago does today hold true. Prior to the new shed's installation, friend Terry and I put in a couple of afternoons' work setting up stone columns to level the lot. Shed is now complete, and there are even a few things already concealed inside it. (Did I say bodies? I didn't mean to say bodies.)
I spent a portion of this weekend in Martinsville, and while trying to find some material for the interview I did for Brett Homenick (DOCUMENTING GIANTS FROM JAPAN! Stephen Mark Rainey on Creating the Celebrated Fanzine Japanese Giants!) I happened upon a couple of old reports I wrote in junior high school about Japan and World War II. I even illustrated them (not necessarily well.) Those were kind of fun to look back on.
Last night, Ms. B. and I went to No Time to Die, the latest 007 film. I generally liked it, though from Skyfall on, I've had a hard time getting on board with the direction the series has taken. I may give it the old review treatment at some point, if I can find the time. That won't be very soon. We also found a fantastic dinner at Lindley Park Filling Station, which we haven't visited in ages — mostly because the little place is usually too crowded to get in. We managed it last night, though, and the ghost pepper burger I had was heavenly.

Today was a regular Sunday geocaching day. Old Rob, Old Scott, and I headed down Salisbury way to go after a bunch of newer hides in nearby Dan Nicholas Park. We got in some serious hiking, found a dozen traditional caches as well as an Adventure Lab cache, and had lunch at The Smoke Pit, which is my favorite BBQ restaurant anywhere.

I don't know that the pace will slow this coming week. We shall see.
Something from Area 51 in the woods at Dan Nicholas Park?
National Cemetery in Salisbury, where we found a nice Adventure Lab cache

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Vantage Point Interviews Talks Monsters with the Old Dude


“I believe I was eight years old on the night that Godzilla - King of the Monsters came on TV while my parents were out for the evening...

...and just as Godzilla ended, I heard what sounded like thunder, and the house started shaking. It was the first earth tremor to hit Martinsville in something like 150 years.”

Brett Homenick’s Vantage Point Interviews blog features a conversation with me about my lifelong adventures with Godzilla, kith and kin. It was fun to do. Give it a look here:


Monday, November 1, 2021

The Old World or Bust! (Part 5)

Friday, October 29, 2021: Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen
The Swiss Alps view from 35,000 feet
Up at 'em early, it was. Our flight out of Venice wasn't until 2:40 in the afternoon, but we had a couple of hours' drive to get there, plus we needed plenty of time to get gas, return the rental car, and get through security at the airport. Things went along pretty much on schedule, and our flight out to Frankfort, where we'd make our connection to IAD (Dulles Washington), on Lufthansa, proceeded painlessly.

We flew business class all the way this time, and damn, was it ever worth it. No more numb behinds and legs cramped to the point of risking blood clots. Not cheap, to be sure, but from here on out, we're just going to have to drop the cash on any future international travel we might undertake.

My favorite part of our relatively short first hop was having a window seat and catching some fantastic views of the Alps. Seeing Innsbruck, Austria, from above was stunning, and Ms. B. and I have decided we might want to pay it a future visit. As it stands, my snow-skiing skills are rustier than my golf....

The long United Airlines flight from Frankfurt to IAD was the most comfortable I've ever experienced. I killed a couple of hours watching Shin Godzilla, which I enjoyed more than I had the couple of times I'd seen it previously. The food wasn't bad, and it was nice having drinks offered regularly. I didn't really sleep, but I was able to stretch out and relax for a decent spell.
That's Innsbruck, Austria down there.
Heading into Frankfurt
Things didn't go as well once we reached IAD. Once we finally disembarked, got through customs, and retrieved and re-checked our luggage (which Lufthansa had done for us on our trip over), we availed ourselves to the nice business-class lounge for a spot of refreshment. Our United flight to Charlotte wasn't anything to brag on, but at least the seats weren't bad. Once we left the gate, planes were stacked up for miles on the taxiways — even as late evening as it was. Eventually, though, we got airborne. There was quite a lot of turbulence on this side of the Atlantic, as the weather has been rough for several days over here. Then, once we landed, we were held up at the gate for quite a long while, as they did not have a crew to attend to the jetway. By the time our feet hit the ground again, we were exhausted and then some.

We had an hour and a half drive in Terry's truck back to Kernersville, where we finally transferred all our earthly belongings to Kim's car. Which. Promptly. Refused. To. Start.

Dead battery, at 3:00 a.m.

Oy vey.

Fortunately, Terry had jumper cables on hand, jumped the car, and Kim and I arrived at our doorstep at 3:45 EDT on Saturday morning.

And so concluded another wonderful, memorable excursion to the far side of the pond. Apart from suffering that spell of food poisoning (and constantly battling Il Zanzur at Ca' Driano), I have nothing but great memories of these past two and a half weeks. Our company was stellar — as we knew it would be — and our experiences ran the gamut from the most exciting to the most relaxing possible. Almost to the last, the individuals we dealt with in both France and Italy were kind and as accommodating as they could be to us foreigners whose grasp of their languages barely qualified as rudimentary. We all brought different experiences back home with us, and I hope my companions' memories of this event will be as exhilarating as mine.

And may we travel together again in the not-so-distant future.

Godspeed to you all.
A happy homecoming!

Sunday, October 31, 2021

The Old World or Bust! (Part 4)

Sunday, October 24, 2021: On to Lake Garda — From Rustic to Ultra Modern
For us, Ca' Driano had been comfortable (but for Il Zanzara), serene, and spectacular. Leaving the villa was the most bittersweet part of our trip — at least until boarding the plane to return home. Hostess Wilma saw us off with tears in her eyes, and invited us again and again to please return when we could. I do hope we can.

Now, I will tell you, as I mentioned in the previous entry of this blog... from the start, our hosts were so gracious, so accommodating, and so friendly, we could scarcely believe we were going to leave the place without being drugged, abducted, and likely booted into the next realm of existence in grisly fashion. At all times, Terry and I remained vigilant and usually slept with one eye open (kind of a necessity with Il Zanzara buzzing about). We had made it thus far, so by now our threat alarms were buzzing overtime. The road leading to and from from the villa is steep and winding, so before leaving, we did our best to make sure the car hadn't been tampered with. That we managed to vacate the place unscathed is surely a credit to our keen situational awareness (not to mention our ability to translate horror movie tropes to real-life experience). But leave we did, and before long, we were humming along on the highway toward Lake Garda, a couple of hours northwestward.
A particularly tall chap hanging out
on a wall in Modena

We had decided that, on the way to our new lodgings, we'd stop for a while in Modena, a fair-sized city known for its balsamic vinegar and tortellini. There were also geocaches.

Modena was kind of like Bologna-lite — mostly urban, with an ancient and well-preserved city center — but not as large and nowhere near as frenetic. We enjoyed our brief time there, and I snagged a couple of fun caches. A large bazaar was going on in the city center, so Brugger and Beth had plenty of opportunity to indulge themselves. It turned out to be a most pleasant stopover.

And so, we were off again. Lake Garda is Italy's largest lake — about 30 miles long, 1.5 miles wide at its northern end, and 10 miles wide at its southern end. Surrounded by craggy mountains on all sides, the lake is a major tourist center, with most visitors coming from nearby European countries, such as Germany and Austria (we encountered more German-speaking visitors than any other). We had chosen Lake Garda as a destination because of its proximity to the Valpolicella wine region, which we had briefly visited on our trip to Italy in 2019. Fortunately for us, the tourist season had ended recently, so the crowds we encountered were manageable. I dread to think about having to deal with the oppressive numbers of people that must flood the area during peak tourist season. The only downside of our timing was that a good many places we might have otherwise visited had closed for the season. Still, we managed to work in more incredible experiences here than we could have even considered prior to our arrival.
Malcesine by night

Our lodgings in Benzone sul Garda were virtually the opposite of Ca' Driano. Where the villa was rustic, our apartment here was ultra-modern. Where Ca' Driano was warm, liberally adorned with traditional art, and brimming with character, our Lake Garda place was angular, bright white, and minimally decorated. Mind you, this is not a complaint; merely an observation about the stark contrast. Our apartment here offered plenty of desirable amenities, including private garage parking, a hot tub (of which we took considerable advantage), and a magnificent view of the mountains above Lake Garda. I suppose, if compelled to complain, we could do so about the flakey WiFi. It was pretty flakey, requiring constant resets, and the damned signal zoomed at about the same speed as the dead snails we often saw scattered about the lake area.

We needed several days' worth of supplies, so we decided to hit a nearby grocery store. However, one significant difference between home and many European areas is that, on Sundays, most stores are open only for a few hours early in the day. So, we ended up bombing out on our shopping errand, though we did find a decent dinner at Ristorante al Ristoro in Malcesine, a few miles north of Benzone sul Garda. I had some lovely roasted octopus tentacles with potato, which made for one of my favorite dinners on this trip. (As an aside, while I mostly managed Italian pronunciations with reasonable aplomb, something about Malcesine — pronounced "Mal-cheh-zeen-eh" — refused to roll readily off my tongue. According to Brugger, I called it everything from "Mendocino" to "Malt-chesty-knee" to "Madmagazinee.")

We had considered ending the evening in the hot tub, but after our day of it, we were all pretty exhausted and decided we would avail ourselves to it the following day. That we did, and so much more.
Polipo e patate at Ristorante al Ristoro in Malcesine

Monday, October 25, 2021: Campo Borgo Medievale — The Lost Town
While there are a goodly number of geocaches around Lake Garda as a whole, there weren't very many in our immediate area. To my dismay, the two nearest were disabled, which generally means they are missing; one was a traditional micro, the other a multi-cache that (would have) offered a scenic walk along the lakefront. Happily, upon reading recent logs for the micro ("Campo Lost Town," GC4WCC8), I learned that the cache had been replaced but never re-enabled online. Given such hope that I might actually find it, I decided to go on the hunt first thing on Monday morning. I knew from the description and terrain rating that reaching the location involved a fair hike. I was anything but disappointed.
Up, up, and up we go.

I headed out bright and early from our apartment and hoofed it down the main road for half a kilometer or so, where I turned onto a winding lane, which led up the steep ridge that parallels the lake. When I say "steep," I mean "STEEP." The hike up was about a mile, but with the high elevation and sharp incline, I had to take several uncustomary pauses to catch my breath. As I hiked, I saw not one other living soul, though some distance up the ridge, I heard a chainsaw buzzing (someone taking down dead olive trees, from what I could discern). But as I walked past the area, a big German Shepherd came barreling down the hill boofing at me, and the chainsaw stopped. At that moment, I had the weird feeling I might end up fleeing down the mountain from some mad chainsaw murderer — one of Fred and Wilma's minions, perhaps! But as I progressed farther without apparent pursuit, I began to breathe a little easier.

Eventually, I came to a sign that indicated "Campo Borgo Medievale" lay just ahead. And when I rounded a curve, I saw the old town: a sprawling series of stone structures, clearly long abandoned, with a few in various stages of restoration. This is my favorite kind of discovery: an intriguing location I would never have discovered but for geocaching. Much like my solo caching experiences in Venice — and my trek through San Giorgio on our previous sojourn in Italy (see "Return to Italy," November 4, 2019) — this felt like a transcendent moment; a personal, sensual experience almost without equal. Obviously, other folks visit this ancient ruin, and during tourist season, countless visitors may make the same pilgrimage, so to speak. However, on this day, all alone on the high ridge, I had a keener, deeper sense of the sheer age and history of the ground on which I stood than I could have felt in the company of others. After a time, a chap on a motorcycle cruised past, but he didn't stop; clearly, the lane to the town continues onward to some other place of habitation. Happily, that little interruption didn't really fuck up my zen.

After taking in the grandeur of the old town, I commenced my hunt for the cache. I knew from the hint it was located within a stone wall. However, within reasonable proximity of ground zero, there were numerous stone walls, and coordinates bounced me around from place to place without a smidgen of mercy. On the cache page, someone had posted a photo of the hiding place, but I could not find anything that quite matched the image. In the end, I trusted in the sketchy coordinates and basic geosense, which finally led me to the cache. What a gratifying find! It would be nice for the cache owner to re-enable it on the geocaching website; for me, I'm just glad I took the time to read the recent log entries, which prompted me to proceed with the hunt.

Just as I started back down the ridge, marveling at my physical prowess for having made it all the way to the summit without croaking, an elderly couple — clearly quite a few years older than I — came jaunting happily up the incline. "Buon giorno!" they bid me cheerfully. "Ohhhhhhhh," I replied with somewhat less cheer.

Eventually, I staggered back to our apartment, where a wonderful, beautiful, steaming hot tub beckoned me. Our gang hopped in with brimming glasses of cold Prosecco, and this only added a sparkle to an already satisfying morning.
So much up...
Brugger was hoping we might take the ferry from Malcesine across the lake to the reputedly scenic town of Limone, so we piled into the gang-mobile and once again drove northward. Unfortunately, the only ferry of the day had already gone, so we entertained ourselves for the rest of the afternoon by exploring, shopping, and a little caching. Eventually, we procured vittles at Bar Gelateria Centrale, right on the lakefront. I enjoyed a rather light dinner of spaghetti with olive oil and red pepper. Once we returned to our lodgings, we decided we needed some entertainment fitting for Halloween, so we settled in and put on Doctor Sleep, which Kim and I had watched some time ago but that I had clearly slept through, for I remembered practically nothing of the film. This time around, I really enjoyed it; it felt like Stephen King writing what he writes best and Mike Flanagan doing his usual bang-up job of directing. Granted, it may be a far cry from true classic status, a la Kubrick's The Shining, but in general, I'd call it a worthy enough successor to both Kubrick's film and King's original The Shining, even if the visuals are clearly based on Kubrick's vision.

To date, our European trip had offered us nothing but wonderful days, and for me personally, this one ranked among the most wonderful.
What a view!

Tuesday, October 26, 2021: I'm at the Top of the World Looking Down on Creation
Tuesday's main event was one to challenge the acrophobic: take the cable car from Malcesine to the summit of Monte Baldo, which rises 7,277 feet above sea level and thus a good 7,000 feet above Lake Garda. Heights generally don't bother me much, although I sometimes feel a touch of vertigo when I'm standing close to the edge of a high place. To take the photo above, I stood at the end of a sheer precipice, so every muscle in my body was pretty well clenched up.
Our gang spent a fair time at the top of the mountain — exploring, having lunch, taking photos, and finding a cache (in this case, an EarthCache). We ate at a lovely spot on the mountaintop called Baita Monte Baldo, where they served me up a pork shank that must have come from a wild boar. Huge, it was. And delicious. This required a couple of Campari spritzes to wash down, I can tell you. (I had discovered the Campari spritz on our previous trip, and it became a staple both during the cruise and at our ports of call. On this trip, I frequently reacquainted myself with the joys of this refreshing if bitter-tasting drink.)

Once back down the mountain, we mounted up again and drove to Riva del Garda on the northernmost end of the lake, mainly to kick around and see what we might see. I saw a couple of caches on the map and enjoyed going after them. At this end of the lake, no doubt being so close to Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, almost everyone spoke German. We should have boned up on our German language skills as well as French and Italian for this trip.

We found drinks at a café near the lake, and dinner at a lovely little establishment whose name escapes me at the moment. Since I had eaten most of a pig for lunch, I went very light — grilled prawns on a bed of lettuce, which, at the time, suited me nicely. Unfortunately, I believe they damn near did me in. That would be a story for the morrow....
Ms. B. attempting a conversation in English with a pair of Italian ducks. It didn't go that well.
It seemed a good idea at the time. They were delicious.
Once back at our apartment, we availed ourselves to the hot tub again. Once suitably refreshed and relaxed, we decided to continue in the Halloween vein, and Terry selected The Purge for the rest of our evening's entertainment. I had heard a good bit about this one but hadn't seen it. In general, we all quite enjoyed it. Some aspects of the story ring almost too true for comfort. It had been a fine day for us, but about the time we retired for the evening, I began to notice something didn't feel quite right....

Wedneday, October 27, 2021: Disaster Strikes!
On Wednesday morning, I woke up early feeling pretty puny. After several trips to the head, I felt even punier. Then the nausea set in. Chills, body ache, total lack of energy. It became clear that I was suffering from either 1) food poisoning, which meant I might have a rough road ahead, or 2) a norovirus, à la Midland at Christmas 2017 (see "The Feel-Better Flight," December 2017, for the gory details; or better yet, don't), which meant the lot of us might have a rough road ahead. It won't spoil anything to say we were indeed fortunate it was the former. While I was a miserable for a full 24 hours and some change, no one else suffered any illness.

It was ugly. I haven't felt so horrible since that spell in Midland four years ago. When I wasn't in the bathroom, I mostly slept, for I didn't have the energy even to sit at the computer and work on this blog.

No day is a good day to suffer from food poisoning, but I found this spell particularly galling because we had appointments at a couple of wineries not far away — one called Spada and the other being Coali, which we had visited on our previous trip to the region. I had really, really wanted to return to Coali, as it was — and still is — the best winery I have ever visited. The gang enjoyed both wineries, and at least they brought back a healthy sampling of bottles from both.

That evening, I managed to sit up and watch The Purge: Anarchy, sequel to the previous night's movie, with the other folks. It too was enjoyable, if somewhat less gripping than the original.

I was not the only one hoping I would be feeling better the next day, since anyone else falling ill would mean a very, very bad situation, for we were due to travel back home in two days' time.

Some of us, at least, held our breath.

Thursday, October 28, 2021: Hallelujah, It Was Only Food Poisoning!
I woke up on Thursday morning feeling almost brand new. No nausea, no ominous internal rumblings, no lingering malaise. This was as much a relief to everyone else as it was to me. Granted, during the morning, I felt a little sketchy from time to time, but I figured that was to be expected after the severity of the previous day's affliction. Over the course of the day, my condition improved nicely.

Once again, we needed COVID-19 tests (negative, of course) in order to return to the US the following day. There was a pharmacy in Malcesine that could do them for us at 11:30 a.m., so we decided to get those done and then take the ferry to Limone on the far side of the lake. Once we had completed the tests (negative, thankfully), we boarded the ferry and churned across the water. There really isn't a place on Lake Garda where the view sucks, but the boat offered us impressive, panoramic views of both side of the lake.
Malcesine castle, viewed from the ferry to Limone
Approaching Limone
Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?
Lunch was our first priority. We found an appealing little establishment on the waterfront that specialized in burgers, and we all craved something less pasta-, cheese-, and sauce-ish (not to mention I was starving after such a long spell without eating). There was a cache very nearby, so after we ordered, I rushed to the old church where it was hidden. It was up a stairway in a secluded courtyard, and I had just begun hunting when a pair of young German women arrived and asked if I was geocaching. Indeed! So, we hunted together, and they turned up the hide in short order. I had run into several cachers over the course of the trip, so this made for yet another fun encounter. I hurried back to the restaurant just in time for lunch to arrive. The burgers were just okay, but still satisfying (the one other burger I'd had in Europe, early on in Malcesine, rivaled any I've ever had in the States).
Looking down from the top
of the castle stairs

Afterward, each of us being drawn to follow our individual callings, we split up to shop, drink, or, in my case (as if you couldn't have guessed), hunt a geocache. This one lay about half a mile down the shore, and I had a lovely walk down to it. Once I found it, I headed back to join the others. We decided it was time to seek and find gelato. Now, gelato is a treat that, at least for us in North Carolina, is simply not to be found. In Europe — Italy in particular — gelato shops are everywhere, and it goes without saying we had availed ourselves to them frequently. We did so again in Limone. And it was good.

At 3:00 p.m., the ferry took us back to Malcesine, where I hunted one more cache ("First Malcesine," GC1Z4MY). This one offered a decent physical challenge (well, two, if you consider the difficulty of navigating the maze of streets to ground zero), which was climbing a set of 114 steep, well-worn stone stairs up the side of Malcesine castle. (It was from this vantage point that I took the photo you see at the top of this section). A fun cache, and a spectacular setting. After this, we had cappuccinos at a little place down an alley. I noticed they had a plaque that indicated the poet Goethe had "lived" in that building for two days in September of 1786. Okay, pretty cool. At last, we headed back to the apartment and decided we would find dinner there in Benzone sul Garda, which we really hadn't done since we'd arrived. Ms. B. had looked up some possibilities and settled on one not too far southward that was tucked away in a "secret" courtyard and reputedly quite good. So off we went.

Dammit! The place was closed, no doubt due to the tourist season having passed. It really did look wonderful, so we were sorry we couldn't avail ourselves to it. However, we did discover another place nearby that turned out to be excellent. Here, I had my last dinner of Bolognese (or Ragu, as it's more commonly called in this region), and it really hit the spot. Happily, I make a fair Bolognese myself when I have the craving, and friend Beth makes Bolognese to rival the best of any I've had on the continent.

After that, we spent much of the rest of the evening, most pleasurably, in the hot tub. Then we set ourselves to packing for the return trip, for we knew the morrow meant another long, long day of traveling.

Indeed it did.