Tuesday, April 04, 2017

3/21/17- The majesty of the Dolomites

How's that for rugged beauty?

We've come a long way humanity
We have covered a lot of incredible ground on this trip but for some reason both of us were extra excited for the opportunity to drive up into the rugged Dolomites.  For me it was the chance to explore an underappreciated part of Italy that is often overlooked by Americans.  For my dad it was the thrill of clean mountain air and a scenic drive.

Our journey first took us through Bolzano.  We wanted to soak in the essence of a town that is more closely aligned with Austria/Germany and visit Otzi, the world's most famous ice man.

Here's a few thoughts from the area.

Wait, is this Austria or Italy

  • There was a general sense of order here that doesn't necessarily exist in the rest of Italy.  
  • It is a thrill to drive on the Autobahn, or at least the Italian/Austrian equivalent.  The speeds are relatively intense but the system works.  Didn't catch any major traffic and saw no major accidents. 
  • For an 'alpine' town the city is at a surprisingly low altitude at approximately 800 feet above sea level.  As a result is a very mild climate.
  • It seems like there is more German spoken here than Italian.  Also the architecture seems very Bavarian.
  • The museum was fine but I'm not sure Otzi is a big enough draw to merit a visit.  As an alternative go find an old issue of National Geographic with the story of his discovery and consider yourself educated.

After a quick schnitzel we were on the road to Pordoi Pass.  The drive would only cover around 40 miles each way but we would be ascending to about 7,300 feet.  The switchbacks and climb would test the engineering prowess of our little Audi wagon.  We picked up some snacks, polished off the camera lenses, and braced ourselves for some scenery that would as magnificent as anywhere else in the alps.

We drove through a number of verdant and rugged villages as we made our ascent up the mountain.  We had to get to about 5,000 feet before we saw any snow.  These like towns with their bucolic beauty and quaint chalets were as charming as anything we saw in Tuscany.

We encountered our first ski resort once we started to see consistent snow. In fact for the next hour we would consistently drive by upwards of 20 ski resorts.  They were all located pretty conveniently off the road and many seemed to be closely integrated with whatever town we were driving through.  The towns became more sparse, terrain more rugged, and resorts more intense as we continued to climb.

At about 5,500 feet we were finally able to shake the incessant fog/overcast skies that had been dogging our last couple of days.  We were loving what we were seeing and wanted more.

We reached Pordoi in the late afternoon.  We were tempted to drive on to Cortina but we didn't feel comfortable with the weather or the possibility of driving on these roads after dark.  Instead we decided to make the most of the stay and walk around the area.  It was still pretty mild at this altitude.  These seemed like ideal conditions and an excellent location for a long ski trip.  You could literally spend two weeks up here conveniently bouncing between resorts.

We left very satisfied with the drive and grateful to experience this region.  Our only regret was that we didn't start the drive at an earlier hour so that we could have made it to Cortina.  I would love to return to this region some day with a set of skies, some hiking boots, and a mountain bike.

We made it back to Garda for dinner.  We logged a lot of miles in the car today so I was grateful for a chance to meander down the side streets of Sirmione.  We dined at the Trattoria La Fiasca.  The meal was good but the service kind of stiff.  Between the service and the looks we were getting from the locals it felt like we were witnessing the Italian dynamic of the 'bella figura' (them) and the 'bruta figura'(us) being played out.  I'll have to devote a whole separate entry on my thoughts regarding the Italian need to always maintain the bella figura.

We spent the evening with a cup of gelato and the opportunity to take in some more of the town.  I also was able to gawk at some more Italian men's clothes store windows.  Half the the stuff seemed down right offensive, the other half were works of beautiful art.  Don't even ask about the prices.

Other notes and highlights:
  • Italian Tip of the Day-  Do you really want to understand Italian culture?  Read Bella Figura by Beppe Severgnini. Think of it as a more accessible version of Octavio Paz's Labyrinth of Solitude but with Italians instead of Mexicans as the subject matter.
  • Interesting tidbit- The city of Bolzano and state of South Tyrol is given a huge amount of autonomy and freedom from Italy. It was annexed by Italy after WWI and its inhabitants have never really felt part of the country.
One more photo from the mountains
Bookmark this for a ski trip down the road

1 comment:

Jeffers said...

I didn't realize the drive gained so much elevation. Gorgeous pictures. If I ever make it to Italy, this will be a must on my agenda. Thank you for all your write-ups, I look forward to the rest.

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