Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Day 15: Trento

After breakfast in our lovely courtyard, we get on the autostrada and head north to Bolzano/Bozen, the principal city of the German speaking Alto Adige. Once off the autostrada, the route to the center snakes around the industrial suburbs but in a few minutes, we are parked in an underground parking garage under the city's main square, the Piazza Walther (or Waltherplatz). Entering the piazza, we feel we are in a different world. The square is quite attractive, outdoor cafes on three sides with benches and flowers everywhere. But the architecture is not Italian...it looks like pictures of German or Austrian towns. The cathedral is very Germanic in appearance as are the buildings. It is elegant and sophisticated but not what we are used to.

After catching our breath and trying to get our bearings, we walk through the cathedral (inside it is more familiar than the outside) and stop for cup of coffee in one of the cafes, where we are startled when the waitress initially speaks to us in German.

In fact, Bolzano/Bozen is a gorgeous city....the pedestrian-only streets have graceful porticoes on either side, it is clean with virtually no graffiti or litter to be seen. The streets are lined with high-end shops and, in fact, it almost looks like a big themed shopping mall. We stop at a bakery and buy a "brezen" which resembles the New York City bagel pretzels of Diana's youth...unfortunately, it doesn't taste much like them. There is a food market in one of the streets....the fruits and vegetables are beautiful and we are amused to see the most common food stalls selling what look like long American hot dogs (wurstel) that are served as finger food, with the bread or roll on the side.

The big attraction in Bolzano is "Otzi, the Iceman", a 5,000 year old mummy that was found in the 1990s, high in the mountains, by a couple who were out for hike. They immediately reported this to the authorities who quickly realized that this was not the remains of a recent accident but something very remarkable. The archeology museum has constructed a refrigerated display area where Otzi (who was given this apparently homey name to make him more "accessible" to visitors) is viewed through a window, lying in the same position as when he was found. There are extensive exhibits, including videos documenting the recovery, subsequent medical examinations using all the modern diagnostic tools and a model that recreates what Otzi may have looked like as he hunted in the Dolomites 5,000 years ago. The exhibits also document much about his tools, weapons and clothing, reconstructing them as much as possible using the materials found near his body. It is a little eerie to see this body stretched out in the display case and to watch the videos of the doctors probing and prodding with all their modern medical tools, but it is also quite fascinating to see this actual person who lived so long ago. [NOTE: If you go to see Otzi and don't have a guide or the audio tour, make sure you go to the bookshop in the museum first and purchase the excellent English language book about Otzi and the exhibit. This is one of my "rules" when visiting museums, churches, etc. which we unfortunately forgot and didn't follow in Bolzano.]

For lunch we have mediocre salads on a lovely outdoor terrace of a bar that is set in a park that runs along the river and then walk back to town to get the car. We are heading for Cles, the main town in the Val di Non--a beautiful valley south and west of Bolzano; it is the main apple growing area in Italy and is back in the Italian speaking province of Trentino. Before reaching Cles, we have to go over the Passo di Mendola (4500 feet) but this route is more wooded and has fewer spectacular mountain vistas. Cles is set above a pretty artificial lake--Lago di Santa Giustina--which is an amazing shade of green in the leg we cross on the way into Cles. There is a large church in the center of the not particularly beautiful "centro" although the location in the green valley and on the slopes of the green hills is quite nice. There is a large castle on the shore of the lake, but when we drive down the dirt road--Via del Castello--we find a sign that tells us that "entrance is prohibited." We stop at the tourist information office to get directions to an older church--San Vigilio--that has frescoes done by a follower of Giotto; the lady in the office is very helpful with maps and directions and seems to enjoy practicing her English. She tells us that the castle is not open to the public (the owner has moved away) but gives us a brochure describing it. She also recommends that we drive to the park that overlooks the lake for "a beautiful view".

The park is indeed lovely with great views over the castle and the lake from its observation platform that also serves as the stage for the small amphitheater built into the hillside. It is very well kept up with several different themed "trails" describing the rocks, flowers and animals of the area. (Next to the park is a day care center.....if only Diana had made an inspection visit, she could have deducted part of the cost of our trip.) We stop at the church on the way down the hill. It is a small stone church set in a garden....inside, the walls are covered with the frescoes that are in very good condition, including a Last Judgment and a Last Supper. It is a special experience, standing alone in a small, out of the way but reasonably well lit church and being close enough to see the details in the frescoes.

Back in Trento, we say goodbye to Fernando (the Paraguayan desk clerk at the hotel); he is leaving his job so he can go to the University full time. We have dinner tonight at Trattoria Al Tino....we sit outside on the small deck and talk to the Irish couple at the next table. [Confession: writing this 6 days later, we can't remember what we ate.] I have a a gelato on the way back to the hotel (an unusual but delicious cinnamon flavor).

Tomorrow we will see the sights in Trento.


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