For six years in a row back in the noughties a handful of girlfriends and I made our way every October to Phillip Island, not far from Melbourne in Australia. The drawcard was the Australian MotoGP – while I am emphatically not a petrol head, several of my friends are bike riders and enthusiasts (one even writing for and eventually editing a nation wide bike magazine) and I like anything that offers drinks and food on a stick. We camped every year, which had its own (admittedly fairly rough) flavour of fun and fireworks, and of course the race itself was always a blast, but in some ways the most exciting part was the drive to the island. To leave the mainland there was a long stretch of highway flanked by MotoGP flags and the closer we got to the island, the more bikes, campervans and GP-headed cars would appear. Horns would blast, radios blare and the enthusiasm was palpable. It felt like an annual pilgrimage and that camaraderie remains one of my favourite parts of the experience.
A similar feeling was awakened when we made the trek on Saturday to Lake Iseo in Northern Italy to see Christo’s Floating Piers installation. We headed down on Friday night to Bergamo and made our way to the Lake the next morning. We knew it was going to be popular, but that is something of an understatement: an estimated 100,000 people rocked up to view it. We got a park about 10 kilometres away from the actual exhibition, and got walking.As Tim pointed out en route, it was a glorious day and there was really nothing awful at all about hiking through the stunning Italian countryside. Summer blossoms scented the air, olive groves shimmered in the hazy light, and we thirstily looked out across lush vineyards as we – and thousands of other people – walked towards Sulzano and the start of the installation (happily with refreshments along the way).
The walk took us through Lake Iseo township and then up along a ridge on the hill, where we were able to view the upcoming attraction. Again, there was a feeling of excitement and camaraderie as folks from all over Europe – indeed the globe – made their way to the Floating Piers.
We were in a battle against time – storms were predicted for the afternoon, and if they loomed the exhibition would be closed. After a 10k walk in inappropriate footwear (poor Tim is still hobbling a little) were were committed and determined not to miss out.
After descending a steep hill, we finally arrived at the bridge – the start of the exhibition. Ads was keen to break free and follow the (well trodden and rather dirty) yellow brick road for a while.To our great disappointment as we arrived we were told that we weren’t able to go on the floating part of the installation as storm warnings were declared and as such kids weren’t allowed on. We were directed away from the three (!) hour (!!) queue (!!!) to get on and instead advised to get a ferry across to the island.
This gave us great views – but also the opportunity to immediately jump on the pier on the other side, where oddly there was no wait and no child related restrictions. We slipped off our shoes and felt the pier lumber beneath us; not as rough as being on a dinghy but certainly not as stable as a wharf. The water gently splashed over the sides of the pier and it did indeed feel like we were walking across the surface of the lake.The exhibition continued for three kilometres, bordering the village and then circling an island. We plodded along for a while, enjoying the sun and the hustle and bustle of our fellow pilgrims. Due to the kid restrictions, our poorly feet and the 34 degree heat we didn’t make it the entire way around, but we figured that some gelato compensated just fine.Given we had a few logistic issues (massive queues to get off the island and back to our car) and a few health ones (turns out being almost four months pregnant and walking for hours in the blistering sun may not be the best idea I have ever had) we called it a day in the late afternoon. As we left, the queues were still enormous (the exhibition is open for 24 hours; apparently night time is magical) but the feeling of general enthusiasm and goodwill remained, even on a sardine-packed bus back to the starting point.We’ll definitely return to Lake Iseo once the exhibition is over – we are keen to sample wine from afore mentioned vineyards, and the area itself was spectacular. However as much as we enjoyed our shared pilgrimage, next time we’d prefer to experience it without the other 99,997 people that were there last Saturday.