For a number of years now my grandson Josh has been an avid rower with the St. Louis Rowing Club. When the family would come up for Christmas vacation, he would bring his ERG machine with him so he didn’t miss a day of workout. This summer, 2022, his hard work began to pay off: he was invited to attend the US Rowing under 19 National Team Selection Camp in Chula Vista, CA. In early July he texted me that he had qualified for the national team in the U19 four man boat!! This meant that he would be flying to Varese, Italy with the team to represent the USA in the World Rowing Regatta from July 27-31, 2022. Of course I quickly decided to join Eric, Jodi and grandson Michael to watch the regatta in Italy. It’s not everyday that you get a chance to watch your grandson compete for the National team against many other countries.
The venue for the regatta was in northern Italy, very close to the Swiss border. Since Europe was experiencing an historic heat wave this summer, we decided to hide out in the Swiss Alps until Josh’s races began. So we spent 3 nights in a small historic town of Ernen on the Italian side of the Swiss Alps before moving to Varese.
World Rowing Regatta, Varese, Italy
The venue for the regatta was on Lake Varese which is nestled against the Italian Alps. This year’s regatta combined the under 23 and under 19 competitions. The U19 races were all held in the morning which was good because it was very hot the whole week. On several days the high temperatures were greater than 40 deg C, so well over 100 deg F. They adjusted some of the races to avoid the afternoon heat. One casualty was the opening ceremony, which we had planned to attend, until it was suddenly advanced a day so we actually missed it. Josh said that most teams didn’t attend and the event was very anticlimactic. There were over 400 rowers from 29 countries competing. The U19 JM4- category that Josh competed in had 19 entrants, the most of all the categories.
In their opening race, the USA finished third with only the top two teams advancing automatically to the semifinals. So they had to row in the repechage which turned out to be the most exciting race of the whole regatta.
Lago di Varese, site of the 2022 World Rowing Regatta in the shadow of Campo dei Fiori mountain range.
The US under 19 four man boat (front) racing against the Australians. Josh is the second from the left.
Jack Skinner, New Trier High School, Winnetka, IL
Oscar Patton, Deerfield Academy, Lincoln, MA
Joshua Yin, St. Louis Rowing Club, Creve Couer, MO
Davis Schroeder, Pine View School, Miami, FL
To advance to the semifinals, they had to finish in the top two of the repechage. When they passed us with about 50 m to go, Serbia was clearly ahead with the US and Croatia virtually tied, but the US was gaining. My photo showed the US boat a seat and a half behind Serbia. In the sprint to the finish from this point, there is less than 10 seconds left in the race. With everyone sprinting all out, it’s difficult to make up this deficit but at the finish the US and Serbian boats were clocked in a tie 6:13:59. However, if you squint hard at high magnification at the official photo finish, you can see that the Serbian’s bow ball was inches ahead of the US boat.
50 m from the finish, Serbia led the USA and Croatia by about a seat and a half.
The official photo of the finish shows a virtual tie. (Official photo from World Rowing)
In the end after two more races, the USA finished exactly in the middle of the 19 entrants. Of course they were hoping to medal but I think everyone had a good, but exhausting, time. It was fun to watch and hear the spectators from all of the different countries rooting for their teams in their own way, a micro-Olympics. The Irish had a large drum, the Swiss brought a gigantic cow bell, the South Africans had a vuvuzela, and all countries had people waving their flags.
This video shows the atmosphere at the finish line from the spectators from the 29 different countries
And it’s the swan by a neck…
This is my only photo in which you can see the faces of all four rowers.
Before Josh had any races, we hid out in the Swiss Alps to avoid the heat wave gripping most of Europe. We stayed for 3 nights in the charming little town of Ernen on the Italian side of the Alps. Ernen, and its neighboring town of Mühlebach are well-known for their ancient and well-preserved Swiss chalets, many dating back to the 1400s. In many ways it is like many other Swiss mountain villages: tidy and fairy-tale clean chalets, neatly groomed yards, bright flowers in every window, and neatly stacked firewood for the winter.
St. George’s tavern in Ernen.with the critical event portrayed on the wall.
Ancient barn. Note the large flat rocks at the base of the structure which helped to keep rodents out of the grain thta was stored in the barn.
View across the church cemetery at sunset
The neighboring town of Mühlebach is the oldest village in Switzerland constructed in wood. Some of the old chalets date back over 600 years and are still in use. As there is little traffic in town, it is easy to imagine oneself back in the Middle Ages. There is even a gallows (or galgen) which has been preserved and, one gets the impression, celebrated. Our Airbnb hostess talked about how convicts were held in the prison and marched to the gallows with a band, and presumably a large crowd of onlookers. The construction of the buildings did not use nails; they were fit together like a jigsaw puzzle so they could be disassembled and moved when needed.
View of Mühlebach and church.
Ancient barn. Note the large flat stones supporting the foundation, apparently to keep rodents out of the barn.
Swiss chalet in Mühlebach, Switzerland
The long Goms suspension bridge across the Rhone River from Mühlebach to Fürgangen.
Eric to the rescue
One day we were wandering about in the famous and scenic village of Mühlebach near our Airbnb when we came upon a small group of older German tourists who were unexpectedly gazing down into a manhole cover instead of at the beautiful old (1400s) Swiss chalets in the village. One of the women had accidentally dropped her ring which fell through the holes of the cover into the sewer below. With a flashlight one could see the ring but the heavy cover would not budge. Eric tried to lift it, but it was immovable. Jodi went off to try to find a stick with a hook at the end to lift the ring. I made the observation that it didn’t look like there was any bolt holding the cover so likely it was raised by brute force. Thus challenged, Eric tried again and ‘voila’ the cover came up and the ring was rescued!! The woman was of course eternally grateful.
Upon further discussion the Germans were from Hannover. Had they been from the Frankfurt area, I would have offered that 58 years ago I spent a summer in Wetzlar working for Buderus’sche Eisenwerke. I was composing in my head how to say this in German “Einen Sommer habe ich in Wetzlar gearbeited”? but the topic changed. Ironically the main product of Buderus was manhole covers, which are found in many German cities. I wish I could claim that working at Buderus had helped raise this cover, but this was not the case.
All the principals in the drama: manhole, cover, ring, Eric and grateful German woman.
After an aborted attempt to find a hiking trail using the All Trails app (they put us on a road that was not meant for the public and a local woman told us that there was a ~$5000 fine for driving on the road!), we took a cable car from Morel to the top of the Riederalp lift. From there an easy hike took us to a view of the Aletsch glacier, the longest glacier in the Alps.
Taking the cable car from Morel to Riederalp
A nice spot for lunch
The Aletsch glacier, the longest one in the Alps
Panorama of the Aletsch Glacier.
Scout Jamboree that we passed on the train to Dicentis. Over 30,000 scouts were camped along several miles of the railway for the event.
Dinner in Dicentis.
Double rainbow at dinner!!
Wooly sheep seen at our lunch spot when driving back to Italy across the Alps
Once the competition began we returned to northern Italy to watch the races in the morning and sight-see in the area in the afternoon. Milan and the towns of the lake district in Italy were the obvious areas of interest for sight-seeing.
The major attraction in Milan is the world-famous gothic Duomo which occupies one end of the central square. The original cathedral dates to 1387 and its construction took over 4 centuries. The restoration of the many statues and gargoyles that decorate every square inch of the surface has been very complete so that there is very little sign of erosion: all the statues look brand new.
We visited the vast interior as well as climbing up the stairs to the rooftop where one gets a brilliant view of the flying buttresses and thousands of statues. We also took the archeological tour to the basement as well as the museum where many of the original statues are displayed.
Since Josh’s races were all in the morning, we had time to visit the surrounding towns in the afternoon and evenings though the heat limited our activities somewhat. We visited the city of Varese, drove to Como which is on the southern tip of Lake Como and also visited the Hermitage of St. Catharine on Lake Maggiore.
Lunch at Pizzium in Varese
Bell tower of Bernascone at San Vittore Church in Varese
Eremo Santa Caterina del Sasso (Hermitage of St. Catherine of Sasso)
Located on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Liggiuno near Varese is the Hermitage of St. Catherine.
Como Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
Lunch in Como