Italy: Snow, Reunions and Grappa

Entering Italy. Back into the Euro zone.
Entering Italy. Back into the Euro zone.

The snow literally chased us out of Switzerland and into Italy. It was cold in Santa Maria the morning we left. Clouds clung low to the mountain sides as we kept descending from town to town. With the drop in altitude, the temperature began to rise a little as we rode south toward Merano.

This is apple country. For miles around, nothing but apple orchards spread across the valleys and up the hill sides. It’s harvest time and small tractors hauling long, skinny trailers loaded with crates full of beautiful, delicious apples are the bulk of the traffic we encountered as we rode on small roads through the Adige River valley.

Apple orchards on the way down to Merano.
Apple orchards on the way down to Merano.
Apple orchards as far as the eye can see.
Apple orchards as far as the eye can see.

Waaaah! But it was only short.Waaaah! But it was only short.

One of the restaurants catering to cyclists along the Via Santa Maria.
One of the restaurants catering to cyclists along the Via Santa Maria.

As we neared Merano, the skies opened up, just as the weather forecast had predicted. We rode the last hour and a half in a cold downpour and we were soaking wet in no time. The goretex, despite all its promises, just cannot deal with that much moisture.

Taking a break from the rain in a covered picnic spot and looking for the Merano Hostel on the GPS.
A soggy Paul programming the GPS for directions to the Merano Hostel.

We followed the GPS directions to the Merano Hostel as camping in this cold, wet weather did not appeal to either of us. We arrived dripping from everywhere in the lobby of the hostel and, thankfully, they had space available. We got a private room with bathroom and breakfast.

After a hot shower, with all the wet clothes hung up to dry, we ventured out on foot, as the rain had stopped. We wanted to find a recommended restaurant that serves typical South Tyrolean food and brews its own beer. Forsterbräu was not far from the hostel and they still had a table available. It filled up completely shortly after our arrival.

Ah! Italy. The coffee...
Ah! Italy. The coffee…

The menu paired various beers with their dishes and it did not take me long to find what I wanted. The dish was made up of a large pork hock, spare ribs and sausage served with sauerkraut and a dumpling. Just the thing after a cold, wet ride. Jan had goulash. Both were absolutely delicious.

Look at all that speck.
Look at all that speck.

As we were absorbed in devouring the fantastic local fare, we failed to notice that outside the weather, after a brief dry pause, had turned even more vicious than before. The wind was driving the rain in sheets and lightning flashed through the trees, punctuated by thunder. So, we got wet for a second time that day while running back to the hostel.

Merano with fresh snow on the mountains.
Merano with fresh snow on the mountains.

The storm blew most of the night, ripping branches from the trees but in the morning it was sunny, revealing the snow-clad mountains surrounding Merano. Looking back to where we had been the day before, snow clung to the mountain sides and we were happy to be lower in the valley and did not hesitate to continue to go even lower as we turned south to Bolzano.

Looking north from Merano to the pass we came through the day before.
Looking north from Merano to the pass we came through the day before.

We kept following the Adige River cycle route which was mostly on dedicated cycling paths and small roads through the continuous acres of apple orchards. It was cold and clear but the sun soon warmed us up and as we continued to drop in elevation, the temperature rose accordingly. It was easy cycling – all downhill – and by early afternoon we were in Bolzano at the train station awaiting the arrival of our friends Ivona and Gary.

Walking home from school.
Walking home from school.

Their train from Innsbruck was delayed because of snow in Brenner Pass. It turned out they actually did not take a train at all but were put on a bus to the top of Brenner Pass because the Austrian trains were not running up the pass. At Brenner Pass they transferred to an Italian train and arrived in Bolzano mid-afternoon.

A fixer-upper near Bolzano.
A fixer-upper near Bolzano.

It was a joyful reunion as we had not seen each other since leaving Vancouver on June 1. And so again, we were a foursome. It’s great to have the company of friends along this journey. We’ve had an open invitation to friends to come and join us and it’s great some of them have taken us up on it.

A joyful reunion: Jan and Ivona at the Bolzano train station.
A joyful reunion: Jan and Ivona at the Bolzano train station.

We bummed around Bolzano for the rest of the afternoon and then cycled to the Moosbauer Campsite on the edge of town, a typical Euro camp site complete with store, restaurant, pool and lots of services for caravans and RVs but only a bare dirt patch without any tables or chairs for people actually camping. I guess we should just be sitting on the muddy pitch. But we’re so used to that by now that it didn’t take us long to find an abandoned table which we immediately appropriated so we had a platform to cook on. With food in hand, we wandered over to the restaurant where a large table and benches served as our dining room.

Nordic nun in Bolzano.
Nordic nun in Bolzano.

We spent the next day in and around Bolzano and visited the Messner Mountain Museum. It is located in Sigmundskron Castle on a hill overlooking Bolzano. For more details on the castle and the museum: http://www.messner-mountain-museum.it/

The Messner Mountain Museum.
The Messner Mountain Museum.

Reinhold Messner is one of the world’s premier climbers. The first to reach the top of Mount Everest without oxygen, and the first person to climb all of the world’s peaks above 8,000 metres. He was born in South Tyrol and grew up in the Dolomites, attending the Unviersity of Padua.

Reflection in a glass case of one of the towers at the Messner Mountain Museum.
Reflection in a glass case of one of the towers at the Messner Mountain Museum.

The museum is dedicated to man’s encounter with the mountains. It’s one of the better museums I’ve attended and brings together mountain culture from all over the globe. The setting in the 12th century castle is spectacular and it was easy to spend a few hours in there without getting bored, which, I’m afraid, is what happens often in museums.

Messner Mountain Museum.
Messner Mountain Museum.
Having a beer at the Messner Mountain Museum.
Having a beer at the Messner Mountain Museum café.

The weather was nice in Bolzano but still cold. Snow in the Dolomites around us told of the approaching winter so we packed up and headed south along the Adige River towards Trento. We were still on a downhill slope as we rode out of the south Tyrolean mountains towards the plains. Easy cycling along a nice bike route entitled Via Claudia Augusta.

Riding south from Bolzano along the Adige River.
Riding south from Bolzano along the Adige River.
The market in Bolzano.
The market in Bolzano.
Bolzano with the snowy backdrop of the Dolomiti.
Bolzano with the snowy backdrop of the Dolomiti.

In Trento we found the hostel right away and there was space, so we happily took it as there was no camping nearby. After packing away the gear and nice hot showers we headed out into the centre nearby to have a look around and find a place to eat. We had a drink on the square by the Duomo and pondered our dining options for this was Thanksgiving Sunday. We settled on a place that brewed beer and served local fare. Great food in a cavernous restaurant with more than 100 other patrons. The south Tyrolean pork hock made a second appearance for yours truly.

Paul and his pork hock.
Paul and his pork hock.
Trento Duomo.
Trento Duomo square.
Ivona and Jan in a café in Trento.
Ivona and Jan in a café in Trento. Note the down jackets!

We had not really figured out where we would go but a cyclist we had met outside a supermarket in Bolzano had suggested a valley east of Trento, Valsugana, so we looked at the maps and found the route through the hills towards Bassano Del Grappa – yes, home of the liquor bearing the same name. How could we not go there?

Ivona and Gary gaining the top of a climb out of Trento on the Via Santa Maria.
Ivona and Gary gaining the top of a climb out of Trento on the Via Santa Maria.
Ivona of the Apple Liberation Front.
Ivona of the Apple Liberation Front.

From Trento, we began to climb immediately. It was steep but not too long. Some of the little streets were up to 12 % as we left town with the aim of dropping into the next valley which would be a nice easy ride out of the mountains on to the plains that stretch out to the Adriatic coast.

We rode from village to village, through orchards and forest and farm land. Nice views of the valley occasionally appeared and eventually we gained the height of land and began the descent into the valley.

Camp sites are few and far between and many of them are closed for the season. By the time we were looking for a place to rest our weary bodies we looked for any possibility to spend a night.

Having espresso in a road-side café.
Having espresso in a road-side café.

One such opportunity was a sign by the side of the road advertising a room. After a quick check and a hesitant conversation in stunted Italian and broken English we had rented an apartment for the night, complete with a bedroom and two extra beds, bathroom, laundry, a kitchen and living-dining room for 80 euros. Very nice. The proprietress even gave us milk, pasta, sauce and coffee.

Nice quiet roads to cycle on.
Nice quiet roads to cycle on.

We had bought food and wine earlier in the day so we were set for the night. We cooked a delicious meal, did laundry, had showers and spent a nice evening in our little apartment.

The bike path was a bit narrow at times along the Brenta River.
The bike path was a bit narrow at times along the Brenta River.

The next day we continued along the Brenta River through Valsugana to Bassano Del Grappa. It’s a lovely town on the Brenta River where it leaves the mountains and enters the plains and forms part of the Po Delta. The mountains end quite abruptly and the land stretches flat to the east and the Adriatic coast.

Brenta River in Valstagna.
Brenta River in Valstagna.

We found the hostel and dumped our bikes, had showers and headed out into the town. We visited the Grappa Museum, complete with a tasting of several varieties. Then, to the bar across the street for a beer to toast our dear friend Trevor, who would have celebrated his 50th birthday on that day (see the first post of this blog). Afterwards, we went in search of a restaurant for dinner. Most of them were not yet open but after some searching we found a place that had an extensive menu with reasonable prices. Another lovely Italian meal.

Bassano del Grappa.
Bassano del Grappa.
This is the stuff they make in Bassano del Grappa. The name says it all.
This is the stuff they make in Bassano del Grappa. The name says it all.
Tasting the grappa in Bassano Del Grappa.
Tasting the grappa in Bassano Del Grappa.

Grappa tasting.Grappa tasting.

We continued south in search of warmer weather. It had remained quite cool in the mountains but now that we were on the plains and basically at sea level, the temperature had risen. Nice to be able to ride in shorts and a t-shirt again.

Rural scene south of Bassano del Grappa.
Rural scene south of Bassano del Grappa.

Our next stop was the big city of Padua. Busy and not easy to navigate without a map and only the tiny GPS screen to go by. We eventually found the hostel but it did not have space for us. They directed us to a nearby hotel that was within our budget and quite nice. Trying to save some money, instead of going out to eat, we went to the local market for some food and we ate in the room. Not very glamourous but delicious nonetheless. We were tired and didn’t even venture out on the town that night. We needed sleep.

Lunch.
Lunch.
Lunch break in the sun.
Lunch break in the sun.

From Padua we continued our journey east to the sea where the city of Venice floats across from the mouth of the Brenta River bicycle route. It was a long 75 KM and warm and humid. Eventually, we found our way onto the Ponte Della Libertà and crossed the Laguna Di Venezia to that strange, sinking, floating fish of a city.

Paul, Ivona and Gary on Ponte della Libertà going into Venice.
Paul, Ivona and Gary on Ponte della Libertà going into Venice.

8 thoughts on “Italy: Snow, Reunions and Grappa

  1. Pork hock? Doesn’t sound Kosher… My best to Ivona if she’s still with you. What a trip!!! Love Italy and looking forward to seeing more about your travels there. Stay warm.

    1. Okay, everyone, I’m eating as much as I can. Really, I am. Probably more calories per day than you eat in two days. It’s the camera. Didn’t you know it makes you look skinnier than your really are.

  2. A nice part of your trip again,specially for me to look at it from my hospital bed,eat more Paul,every one is concerned.Love you both,Mam

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s