Thursday, June 02, 2005

Day 17: Trento

Bressanone/Brixen is our first destination today, a small resort town not far from the Brenner Pass and the Austrian border. The ride north on the autostrada is very scenic, changing from the rugged, rocky mountains between Trento and Bolzano to more forested slopes with villages on the hillsides that have a decidely Alpine look. Today is an Italian holiday--Republic Day--and there is a lot of traffic; we guess that many people are out for a holiday excursion or making a long weekend out of the celebration.

Bressanone's center is a smaller version of Bolzano...typically Germanic architecture, a large piazza in front of the Duomo and mountains ringing the town. Most of the stores are closed for the holiday but there are quite a few tourists window shopping in the narrow pedestrian streets and having coffee at the outdoor cafes. We stop at one for a mid-morning coffee and pastry and read up on Bressanone in the guidebooks. The duomo, with its two imposing bell towers, dates back to the 13th century but the interior has been redone more recently (around 1600?) in a very Baroque style. But the adjoining cloister has not been updated and has an impressive series of frescoes of old and new testament scenes on its walls and ceilings....they are in very good condition and in the good outside light, easy to appreciate.

We don't linger too long in Bressanone/Brixen and are soon on the road to Merano/Meran. We have to head even closer to the Austrian border in order to get to the mountain pass that leads south and west to Merano; as we go further north, the high. snow-capped peaks in Austria appear on the horizon. The same mountains present very striking vistas as we climb higher toward the pass and we see a number of ski areas at the higher elevations. At the pass, we find the usual group of motorcyclists congegated at the bars resting up after their climb. I grab a quick speck sandwich at one of the shops and we begin our descent to the valley. This side of the pass is gentler and greener and we pass through a number of attractive resort towns on the road to Merano.

The entrance into Merano was uneventful....we even pass the hotel where we will be meeting one of my clients later in the afternoon. After a short loop around the "centro", we find a parking lot and walk into the town. There is a pleasant promenade along the river in the middle of town and we sit down in one of the cafes along the promenade to have a late lunch/snack. Again German predominates both in language and cuisine. Diana has a "toast"--ham and cheese on toast--but I order a "polpettone"--fully expecting some sort of meat loaf. Which I guess is what I get...except the "polpettone" in Merano is actually hot dog filling (wurstel) formed into a meatloaf and sliced; much of the large portion on my plate was left uneaten.

We get directions to my first work stop, the Residence Flora, which is two blocks down the riverfront promenade. I had just booked this place from the internet and want to see it first hand. It turns out to be fine--modern and attractive in a good location. I confirm the details of the reservation and we set off to find the Merano synagogue. The Merano Jewish community is predominantly Austrian and it is still quite active. We find the synagogue--which only dates from 1901--in an attractive residential neighborhood set in a pleasant garden. It is plainly identified as a synagogue and doesn't have the ever-present military guards we have seen in other Italian cities.

One of my clients is staying in the Grand Hotel Palace, a five star hotel in Merano....we had discussed getting together just to meet one another in person and say hello. I also want to tell him about the procedures for returning his rental car in Venice so he can take advantage of what we learned on our recent car dropoff experience. En route to the hotel, although we think we are following the correct route (based on the hotel directional signs), we realize that we must have missed a turn; we are suddenly climbing and driving on a road that offers great views over Merano and the valley. I had read that Merano was badly signed for driving, but this was ridiculous. Luckily it was a scenic ride and we had some time to spare.

We retrace our steps, find the same road that we came into Merano on and park in the hotel lot. My client is still out so we set up in the spacious and elegant lobby to wait. I find an wireless internet connection and use the waiting time to catch up on work and e-mail. Just as we are about to leave, the client drives up and we spend about twenty minutes getting acquainted and giving him information for his next several days. We also meet the guide who has taken him around today and we exhange contact information for possible work together in the future. The ride back to Trento is almost all autostrada and we are back at the hotel in about an hour--glad to be back in "Italy."

Dinner tonight is at a quietly elegant restaurant set on a pretty square on the far side of Trento...still only a very pleasant 10 minute walk from the hotel. A number of restaurants are closed today because of the holiday and all the outside seating at Il Cappello is taken. But the candle-lit inside room is very attractive, pleasant jazz is playing in the background and the dinner is very satisfying, especially my filet of orata. We enjoy the meal and appreciate how professionally the restaurant is run.

It is a very nice evening as we stroll back to the hotel....tomorrow we head south to see the Trentino part of Lago di Garda.


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