Last weekend saw Bolzano host the 85th meeting of the Alpini. An army of old mountain troops descended on the town bringing with them tents, camper vans, their families and of course their iconic green hats complete with feather. They also brought their memories, comradeship and in some cases they brought their mules too.
The town quickly transformed into a giant campsite on the Friday with Alpini marking a temporary home wherever they could find a patch of grass. Locals, tourists and green capped revellers thronged the streets while the park was encamped by the modern day Alpini together with their artillery and helicopters.
Attractions included a massive beer tent that would have pleased the eye of an Oktoberfest veteran. It was complete with a stage for live music that provided inspiration for drinkers throughout the day.
But although you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise, it wasn't all about drinking. Friday evening gave a taste of what was in store for the weekend as a parade of both serving and retired soldiers marched from the modern town, past the victory monument and over Talvera bridge. They were clearly proud of their heritage and service and the crowd seemed equally appreciative.
Saturday was a blisteringly hot day with the temperature on my home thermometer at one point reading 38 degrees, but the heat seemed to add to the festivities on the Saturday. As I weaved around the old town there wasn't a vacant, beerless table to be found. Bands played music, groups of Alpini wandered the town, every restaurant, enoteca and birraria overflowed into the streets. In the parks groups of Alpini banded together around their tents, barbequed the obligatory sausage and drank to old memories.
Meanwhile parades marched down the main streets, lined by flag waving family, friends and tourists. A crowd gathered in Piazza Walthar to watch the march on the big screen and the city overflowed with visitors. Later in the evening the heat that had become trapped in the cauldron of the valley exploded into a spectacular thunder storm, but not even that could dampen the spirits of the Alpini. They were soldiers afterall.
Sunday wasn't the usual quiet affair that Bolzano experiences. Infact it seemed to be a repeat of the Saturday albeit with a few more sore heads and to my surprise there seemed to be an even greater parade than the two previous days. Normally on a Sunday in Bolzano you can hear a leaf drop, but this particular Sunday reminded me of a music festival. Yet you could see that it was more than just any festival, it was a meeting of the Alpini and for them it was an emotional weekend as I saw many on local television reminiscing with tears in their eyes.
By midday on the Monday the city had returned to its more peaceful existence. Hopefully one day Bolzano can be a host of the Alpini once again.