Friday, June 03, 2005

Day 18: Trento

The drive south from Trento on the autostrada is still quite dramatic, with high mountains on either side of the road. The approach to Lago di Garda is striking....the lake appears suddenly as you round a curve. The lake is more dramatic at its north end which is in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige. Sheer cliffs line the lake shore and the villages are set into indentations in the cliff face. The lake is filled with what appear to be small sailboats but as you get closer you see that the sails are windsurfers. The mountain passes from the north act as a wind tunnel and make this area the best in Italy for such activities.

Riva del Garda is an older, established resort at the end of the lake. The lake front is nicely developed with parks and beaches and the centro storico ends right at the pretty small harbor. We stroll around the beach area for a while and then stop for a coffee. The waiter, who had told us about his cousin who lives in Chicago, tries to shortchange us but we catch him; he tries to give change for Euro 5 instead of the Euro 20 bill I gave him. Continuing on, we come to the much larger and very picturesque main harbor with a broad piazza and more cafes.

The centro storico of Riva is a normal small town center with the usual shops, cafes, and services....once you are away from the waterfront, it is hard to tell that you are in a resort town. We buy some local cherries at a "frutta verdura"...and they are pretty good; we finish our tour of the town while finishing the cherries. We make a quick stop at one of the four star hotels on the lake to look up a friend of a friend named Davide, but it turns out that he no longer works there. But we take a break as we explore the nice (and very nicely air-conditioned) lobby.

We plan to take the cable car that goes from the lakefront town of Malcesine (about 15 km south, across the Veneto border) to the top of the mountain that dominates the town. The ride down the east side of the lake takes us past many more windsurfers....very colorful as they zip up and down at fast speeds. We stop for lunch in town before making the ascent. The restaurant at the Hotel Malcesine has a great terrace right on the water and we have a pleasant lunch--a large salad for Diana and grilled trout and spinach for me--while watching the ferries land and depart and enjoying the lake breeze on this hot day.

The cable car (funivia) that takes people (tourists, hikers, paragliders, skiiers in the winter and strollers like us) to the top of Monte Baldo (about 3300 feet) in 15 minutes does it in two sections; you have to change cars in the middle. The car never gets too far above the ground but the views as you ascend and the lake gets further and further away are quite grand. Today is a bit overcast, but on a clear day, the Alps and Dolomites can be seen during the ascent. We see paragliders hovering above us and I am concerned that they will get too close to the cable car. At the top, we stroll to one of the restaurants that is set on a ridge with great views in both directions. The outdoor area of the restaurant has long lawn chairs as well as regular tables and many of the patrons are sunning themselves as they enjoy their snacks and drinks. This is also the area where the paragliders take off from and we watch one person jump off the edge and begin to float upwards. This is not a sport I am likely to try but it does look beautiful.

The ride down is less interesting than the ride up......the cars are much more crowded and it is harder to see anything, so we are happy to get off and get back on the ground. On the way back to Trento, we make a short stop at a 325 foot high waterfall that falls through a narrow gorge inside a grotto....lots of spray and interesting rock formations. We have some difficulty getting out of town...the road we need is closed for construction and we have to make a wide detour to reach the road back to Trento. We stop at a farm stand and buy some local cherries which are very good.

Before our last dinner in Trento, we do one more load of laundry and then go out to dinner. We eat at Al Vo', which claims to have been in business since 1325. The dinner is very good...I establish my "credibility" by ordering the tripe soup and the house speciality of polenta, grilled cheese and mushrooms....and Diana's fillet is nicely cooked, flavorful and tender. We started asking about local wines and the waiter immediately begins describing the various options available and pushing us into price ranges higher than we are interested in. We finally select a red wine made from a local grape called Teroldego. The wine that he brings us is terrific....easily the best wine we have had on the trip--smooth, rich, a nice nose, etc. We finish the bottle easily and only after the check arrives do we find out that he had given us the most expensive of the Teroldegos on the list (Euro 25.00). No wonder it was so good.

During dinner, our mobile phone rings. I ignore it the first few times (not wanting to interrupt our dinner) but after the third call Diana answers it. We had called Rosanna (the woman we had met at the laundromat earlier in the week) and left a message on her answering machine. She had just gotten home and immediately called us. She invites us to come to her house after dinner for dessert. We find her apartment building very easily and have a lovely time with her and her husband Luigi. She is as outgoing and friendly as she had been in the laundromat. It is interesting to be in their very nice apartment sitting on the balcony, eating ice cream, drinking coffee and discussing family, travel and restaurants. She tells us about her favorite restaurant in Venice--Anice Stellato--and is amazed when we tell her we had eaten there the week before. From what we understand, Gigi's father had gone to America to work in a silver mine in Silverton, CO and married an American girl. They then returned to Trento where their son was born. During his early years, his mother spoke English to him and though it's been many years that he's had occasion to speak it, he still understands quite a bit. He's now retired after a career as a school principal - Rosanna was a high school teacher. It is a very special evening for us and we exchange e-mail addresses and promise to keep in touch.

I have finally mastered the traffic patterns in Trento so the trip home is uneventful. Tomorrow we are off to Lerici.


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