Monday, May 30, 2005

Day 14: Trento

We sleep well and somewhat late (until 8 am) in our air-conditioned room with the windows and shutters closed. In addition to the air-conditioning, our room at the Accademia is spacious and the bathroom is the best we have had yet, well lit and roomy, lots of water pressure and hot water. We enjoy our breakfast in the outdoor encourages you to linger after finishing eating.

We get in the car and head north through the commercial and industrial section of Trento, which is typical for a bustling small Italian city--shopping centers, car dealerships, and factories line the road. At Lavis, we take a small road that heads east through the very scenic Val di Cembra. The road climbs gradually and the hillsides are covered with vineyards. There is a quite a bit of construction along the road which slows us up but we are in no hurry. We also notice that many of the towns have one or more traffic lights, even when there doesn't appear to be any real need; we are not used to seeing stop lights in most small towns in other parts of Italy. We continue to climb as we enter ski country and we begin to get glimpses of very high peaks around some of the turns. We stop for coffee in the town of Moena, a bustling ski resort which is pretty quiet in this period before the summer tourist season really gets underway. Although it is warm, the air is crisper than it is in Trento and the Avisio River that runs through town is clear and sparkling in the sun.

We now begin to climb in earnest towards the Passo di Sella at over 6,000 feet. The road is a continuous series of hairpin turns as it moves up the side of the mountain. Many motorcyclists pass us as we move up the mountainside but we pass many intrepid bicyclists struggling to keep moving up the steep grade. We are now face to face with the sheer rock cliffs of the rugged Dolomite peaks; as we make each turn, new and more stunning mountain scenery is revealed. Finally we are at the top, the more austere Val di Fassa behind us and the greener, gentler Val di Gardena in front of us. At the hotel and gift shop at the Pass, buses have stopped to let the riders take pictures and a herd of motorcyclists have grouped together before they head down the other side. (No matter how high one goes in Italy or how deep in the countryside one gets, you will almost always find a bar and a souvenir stand.).

The other side of the mountain is Alto Adige or Sud Tirol...the German dominated part of the region. Signs are now in Italian, German and Ladin, a local dialect dating back to Roman times. The trip down is less precipitous than the climb up and we are soon driving through a number of pretty but very built up ski resorts--Selva and Ortisei (or St. Ulrich in German.) We stop for a sandwich at the Elvis Bar in Ortisei before heading on to see the very pretty town of Castelrotto/Kastelruhe on the way back to Trento. Castelrotto is picture perfect.....the valley is a soft shade of green and there are farms dotting the landscape as well as many guest houses. The village is very attractive with a nice square and an old castle.

As we leave Castelrotto, we notice signs that say something about a road being closed somewhere near the A22 autostrada, but we don't think it applies to the road that we are on. We descend into the valley to get on the autostrada (which runs along the Isarco River in the valley between two ranges of mountains) just north of Bolzano. As we enter the town where the autostrada entrance is, we see another of the signs we had seen in Castelrotto and a barrier across our lane. We notice other cars who seem to be confused as we are. I look at the map to find an alternate route to the autostrada or to Bolzano but the next entrance to the north is about 20 miles away. We stop at the office of the local carabinieri to ask....the policeman confirms that the road (the main highway between Bolzano and the Brenner Pass) is indeed closed. I ask him how to get south to Bolzano and he shows me on the map that I have to take a small road up into the hills for about 10 kilometers which then connects with one of the main roads that goes back west to Bolzano....approximately 25 kilometers of narrow, curvy roads to get just beyond the closed section of highway where the autostrada entrance is. And there is no explanation anywhere of a detour or encouragement to take an alternate route.....just signs saying the road is closed.

It turns out the detour we have to take has the best views of the mountains that we have seen today.....broad vistas across green fields to a long row of rocky peaks, some covered with snow, other just bare rock at the top. As we climb, each turn of the road gives us a different angle on the various mountain ranges. And the road down to the valley is part of the old route called the Strada dei Dolomiti (Dolomite Road) that stretches from near Bolzano to the large ski resort in the Veneto, Cortina d'Ampezzo. This section goes through a narrow gorge and the swiftly flowing river constantly switches sides of the road as we descend to the valley floor. It is quite a ride and completely unplanned.

Once we reach the autostrada, the trip back to Trento is very quick and, once in town, I discover a short cut to reach the hotel from the autostrada exit by using (inadvertently) a road reserved for buses. It deposits us right at the entrance to the "centro storico" and two blocks from our hotel.

After a short rest, we decide to do a laundry at the Onda Blu laundromat in Trento. This laundromat--located just on the far side of the Duomo--is dingy and poorly equipped compared to the ones we had used in Ravenna and Venice, but we load up one machine and settle in to wait. There are five other people in the laundromat, two Italian couples doing their bedding and--in the small world department--an American from Washington DC. His wife--a professor from American University--has run a program at the University of Trento and they have spent part of the last few years in Trento. Now they are here for two weeks trying to finish up shipping their belongings home.

Our washing machine seems to be malfunctioning....but with the help of Randy, the American....we nurse it through its cycle. Meanwhile, a conversation has started with the Italians; one of the women (Rosanna) is very outgoing and she begins talking to Diana about laundry, Italy and other things. She has no English but her husband, whose parents lived in Colorado early in the 1900s, does speak English very well, if reluctantly. The other Italian woman seems very surprised at all this discussion. She says that most Trentinesi are very reserved but when she learns that Rosanna is originally from Abruzzo, she says that explains it - people from there are more at ease talking to strangers.

Rosanna ends up inviting us to call her and arrange a time for us to get together. We exchange names and phone numbers and everyone shakes hands as the Italians leave the laundromat. We've had interactions with patrons in other laundromats but those had more to do with the mechanics of doing laundry. This was more personal and more friendly.

After the laundry is finished, we have a discussion with the very engaging afternoon desk clerk at the hotel, Fernando, who is originally from Paraguay and has now settled in Trento. He reviews some of the restaurants that I have written down and makes a number of additional suggestions. We finally decide on Trattoria Orso Grigio (Gray Bear), which is actually just around the corner from where we had done the laundry. The restaurant has a large garden which is under a modernistic tent-like covering. Dinner is quite successful......we split an plate of local salami to start; Diana follows with a nice plate of lamb chops and I have a local variety of meat filled ravioli in a buttery sauce.

We make a short stop in the main square before heading back to the hotel. Tomorrow we will visit the main city of the Alto Adige, Bolzano.


Anonymous said...

The traffic lights in the middle of mountain villages may seem to have no reason, as they are not at crossroads or even pedestrian crossings, but the actual reason is to stop drivers from speeding. If drivers travel below the speed limit (usually 30 miles/hour approaching villages), the lights will remain on green. If the limit is not observed, a red light will stop the driver, thus creating an incentive to stay under the speed limit.

4:53 PM  

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