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September 29th 2018

Scuol, Livigno and Sent

Monday September 24th I left Küblis and arrived close to half past eleven in Scuol in Hotel Altana, which has recently changed its name into Typically Swiss Hotel Altana. There the atmosphere was as cosy and charming as always, with the marvellous flowers and the good food.

Generaly all guests are nice, but this time a Dutch couple was sitting at the table next to mine in the restaurant. With Els and Paul we had a cheerful time!

Tuesday September 25th was a wonderful day with bright blue skies, but as to the temperature it was something quite different as what I was used to in the Valais or even in the Prättigau: it was chilly! There had been night-frost and the grass was completely frosted. That quickly passed: when I walked back to the hotel after a morning splashing around in the Bogn Engiadina I could take my coat off. On the top of the Piz Pisoc however I still spotted some patches of snow.

On Wednesday September 26th I made a trip to Livigno, just across in Italy, a tax-free shopping centre. I have made this trip several times before, also for travelling on to the valley between Pontresina and the Val Poschiavo Valley: the trip continues over the pass way of the Forcola di Livigno into the direction of the Bernina Pass. I didn’t exactly go there for the shopping, but for the nice journey to Livigno via Zernez and then into the direction of the Ofen Pass. A bus, owned by an Italian company, leaves from Zernez every hour and goes halfway the Ofen Pass through a single-lane (turnpike) tunnel to Livigno, along the Livigno Reservoir. In the 1960s the tunnel has been built for the construction traffic for the reservoir and the dam, but now it has changed into one of the three access roads to the valley. This road is also open in winter – therefore avalanches galleries are built.

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Livigno: avalanche gallery along the reservoir

The trip along the lake was diverse: the affluvial fans of debris are clearly visible.

 

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Livigno: Alluvial fans are mirroring in the reservoir

Livigno is situated to the southern part of the elongated lake. A part of the former village has vanished under water after the reservoir have vanished under water. In the 18th and 19th century Livigno was cut off from the outside world for at least five months per year because of the winterly circumstances Napoleon declared in 1805 the valley as a tax-free area in order to allow the local people to live all year round in this area. Since the 1950s Livigno is also a well-known and appreciated winter sport resort.

The posh main street with the exclusive and expensive shops was quite crowded. Suddenly my eye was caught by a plaque on the wall of a house with a text in Italian about an event during the Second World War. Livigno didn’t suffer much during the First World War. In the 1930s Mussolini has ordered that a road was built over the Forcola di Livigno for a connection with the Bernina Pass. The Fascists had a lot of followers in this part of Northern Italy (unlike to South-Tyrol!). During the Second World War the German and Italian troops had a firm grip on the village with a small group of the Italian Alpini, the mountain infantries. Several partisan groups were active, supported by the Allies. The text on the plaque reads, translated: “The commanding officer of the Allied mission ‘Spokane’ of the American OSS in support of the partisan group ‘Guistizia et Libertà’ stayed here, March – May 1945”. The OSS stands for “Office of Strategic Services” and has been created in the United States in the Second World War to gather and coordinate information needed for warfare. This “Spokane” mission aimed to obstruct the Germans, to gather information, to train partisan groups etc. Their field of operation was the part of Lombardy up to the Stilfserjoch Pass, which is not far from Livigno as the crow flies. This was really a moment of reflection…

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Livigno: plaque on a house serving as a headquarters for the American OSS “Spokane” during the last months of WW II

As I had read that there are also nice hiking routes in Livigno, I would like to explore it. That’s why I went with a large detour through te city to the cable car, running to the eastern slopes: the “Mottolino”. It turned out to be the gateway to a kind of “Bikers’ Paradise” and that showed in many ways: the multiple tire marks on the inside of the windows of the gondolas, the bikers’ cool equipment ( enormous integral helmets, suits with shoulder pads etc.) and a “landing cushion” at the bottom of the slope! I chose a gondola with the least mud on the window panes and made it to the top.

The view over Livigno was nice, as was the view to the south, into the direction of the Forcola di Livigno: the snow-capped mountain tops of the Piz Palü and of the Bernina mountain range were visible!

When I arrived I had a look around, but to go for a walk amidst the bikers gone wild wasn’t very appealing… However, sitting in the sun on the terrace with an espresso and a nice slice of cake certainly was!

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Livigno: an espresso and Granny’s cake, a torta della nonna, on the terrace of Mottolino”

The trip back showed other views, not quite for hikers, but again for the bikers! Once more the views were nice !

Back in Livigno I took the bus to Zernez, leaving a few minutes after 2 o’clock. The trip back was wonderful as to the incidence of the light: now the vastness of the reservoir was quite visible! On the entrance wall of the tunnel all things not allowed are indicated.

On Friday September 28th, my last day in the Engadin, I went for something cultural: a visit to Sent, a village downstream of Scuol and situated higher on the northern slope, and a tour through a private park, owned by the artist Not Vital, who originally is from Sent. In Sent the houses are not only built in the Engadin style, but also in a more Italian style. These houses were owned by rich “Zuckerbäcker“, Engadin pasty cooks who over the centuries have made their fortune in Italy, but who returned to Sent every summer, the so-called “randolins” (the “swallows”).

An example of the “Zuckerbäckerstil” (gingerbread style) as this building style sometimes condescendingly is called, is a house in the centre of the village. In 1921 a large fire broke out in the village, after which several houses are not rebuilt in the original style. The white house has gotten off lightly: the flames only scorched the cornice on the right side!

On my way to the Parkin Not Vital I wasn’t quite sure where to go. So I asked a lady who standing in her garden. She showed me a spot somewhere towards the valley and said a bit disapprovingly that when I looked over the fence I would see all sorts of “Verrücktes”, crazy things. It started with a miniature mountain made of white gypsum, the Piz Palü, to the south of Pontresina and the Upper Engadin, and with something that looked rather like a pile of dead- and firewood, entitled “sleeping chalet”. The entrance gate had also been inspired by the mountains. There a small group of people had gathered, waiting for the guide, who would lead us with great enthusiasm for two hours through the complete, steep, but especially interesting park.

The guide explained in broad outlines Not Vital’s life and works. He was born in Sent in 1948, he became an artist – against his father’s wishes and he was supported by several important art critics. That is how he made a world-class reputation. Nevertheless he was loyal to the region where he was born – that loyal that he did not only buy the totally overgrown and dilapidated park just under Sent, but also the Tarasp Castle, dating from the 12th century, that originally belonged to the House of Habsburg and later to the inventor of the mouthwash, Odol, Karl August Lingner. In Parkin Not Vital many of his pieces of art are exposed – because of their size and material usage they very well fit in this rough, wild part of the Val da Muglins (the Valley of the Mills). There also were nice jokes, like a camel head as a gargoyle – after a while the water reached the swimming pool! This swimming pool had already been built by a rich “Zuckerbäcker”, who wanted to build a large villa on the plot as well, but that plan has not been executed. Now one of the (I think) 700 lotus flowers made of stainless steel stands by the pool that is surrounded by beautiful flower beds. Halfway the slope also a gigantic tongue made of stainless steel is displayed…

Continuing along narrow paths and over steps we passed a metal mirroring wall with an open door – the complete landscape was reflected in it. Underneath the rock face with high above us the road leading from Sent to Scuol we did not only see even more camel heads which arrogantly looked down upon us, but also a largely magnified “moustache”, inspired on Friedrich Nietzsche’s enormous moustache of which Not Vital had once seen a picture!

There also are two “donkey bridges”, made of a long row of metal donkey heads. This relates to the story about the nickname for the inhabitants of Sent: they are called “donkeys”. According the Engadin author Gaudench Barblan (1860-1916) this nickname stuck to them due to the following event. The people from Sent are fervent hunters and one day towards the end of the hunting season the would like to shoot a hare to celebrate that. But how much they tried, no hare… Until the end of the day they shot an enormous hare: that big, that it should be “the mother of all hares”… When it was served at the feast, the hunter broke some of his teeth on metal rivets: it turned out that the hare was wearing horseshoes and actually was a donkey! I knew this story, because we read it last summer during the Rhaeto-Romanic course (so I really did pay attention!). The first bridge was doable – the second wasn’t, because it was much higher to begin with, but the metal stakes were moving as well… The warning sign indicating that passing over the “Punt dals asens” as this bridge is called in Vallader, is at one’s own risks, was placed at the other side of the bridge. No one of our group ventured….

It would get even crazier: in the literal sense of the word. We arrived at a tower cladded with reddish horse(?) hair entitles “Tuor per ir pella bos-cha“, which doesn’t mean something like “to go through the forest”, but rather “to deviate” and according to the guide “to go mad”! First we crossed an access bridge to the “Tower of Madness” and later we stepped through a hatch, painted in red, into a steep winding stairway, also in red, leading to the exit many meters below!

When we had survived that, we arrived at a large floating stage made of Corten steel, to which a wide stairway without bannisters was leading, but with marvellous views, which could serve as “wings”. Not everyone dared to climb it…

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Sent: magnificent views from Not Vital’s Park

Not Vital has also created several “resting points” for meditation: such as his pond, fed by a mountain stream and where waterlilies grow and (extremely expensive) Koi swim.

When we were almost at the end of the tour still another surprise was waiting for us: a hidden holiday home. The guide had push the button of a remote control, making a joke as when one gets out of the Vereina tunnel into the Engadin, one pushes the button and upon your arrival in Sent your holiday home is waiting for you… It was a fascinating spectacle: slowly a white house with a window and a door appeared, which we could visit. It was sparsely decorated, but an authentic Le Corbusier lounge chair was included! What a fantastic show!

This morning however fun was over, because I was leaving for home.

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Tarasp: view on the Castle dating back to the 12th century, now owned by Not Vital

Still some nice impressions from the train leaving Scuol, with the Tarasp Castle, that I will pay a visit next time in order to see more of that eccentric Not Vital!

The journey back through the Prättigau was now a joy of recognition. How I have enjoyed this trip…