July 20, 2012

Yodelayheehoo! We’re In Italy?

The Dolomites are a section of the Alps in Northern Italy and are considered some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. For this reason, and to see a completely different side to Italy, we stayed 4 nights. This is technically Italy, but it’s so close to Austria that it feels more like Germany.

People generally speak 3 languages – German first, Italian second, and English third. There are micro-breweries, sausages, dumplings, strudel, and the best pickles I’ve ever tasted. We immediately noticed that the overall level of efficiency had sky-rocketed, and as one local girl told us, “Things run sharp here.”

The moment we stepped off the train in Bolzano it was like BOOM! Mountain culture!

There were people walking around with backpacks, hiking poles, big dogs, and muddy shoes. We saw several people walking around with their arms full of maps. Normally we are embarrassed to be seen with a map in our hands. Maps are cool here.

Bolzano is the gateway to the Dolomites and a great town. It’s just big enough to be interesting. They have 4 different multi-level Sportler stores – the Alps’ version of REI – with an entire floor dedicated solely to hard-core hiking boots. We could have spent hours in there. 

Bolzano has nice shops, restaurants, playgrounds and wooded river paths for biking and running. They also have Otzi, the frozen mummy from 5300 BC, who was discovered along with his hiking gear in 1991. It was incredible to see the similarities between the mountain equipment of today versus 7,000 years ago. Otzi had a backpack, beanie cap, hatchet, knife, hiking boots, and first aid kit.

Just a gondola ride away from Bolzano in the towns of Oberbozen and Klobenstein were sets of glacial formations called Earth Pyramids...and views to the mountains we were set to hike a few days later.

After Bolzano we started to climb higher into the mountains to a small village called Castelrotto, where the townspeople wear traditional dress and live by the chimes of their overactive bell tower.

The people of Castelrotto seem high on life. Breakfast consists of a hard-boiled egg, yogurt, meat, cheese and weak coffee. I have a theory that their coffee is so weak because they only need the promise of a new day to get them going in the morning. Life’s simple pleasures seem enough here.

After dinner, we decided to take one last lap around the bell tower and we stumbled upon this…

Apparently every Tuesday night the town puts on a festival with music, dancers, children’s games, strudel, and witches. Castelrotto used to be the Salem of the Alps, and so witches are the town symbol.

The culmination to our time in the Dolomites was up on the Alpe di Siusi – Europe’s largest alpine meadow.

It's so rare to find a mountain region with so much green mixed with craggy gray peaks. The beauty is complimented by the charm of the cows, who use the Alpe as their summer home. Their cow bells are so loud so that it constantly sounds like a symphony of wind chimes.

In the Alpe de Siusi we based ourselves in the town of Compatsch with two big days of hiking to the nearby mountains.

Our first day in the Alpe was a travel day, so we and didn’t start our hike until 1:00pm. It was supposed to be an easy 6-hour walk through the meadow, but in an last-minute audible, we decided to hike a mountain called The Plattkofel (2,955 meters or 9,695 feet).

In hindsight, the day was a string of bad decision-making.

The first 4.5 hours of the hike were great…scenic, challenging, interesting and fun.

We knew we were going to be cutting it close to make it back by our hotel’s dinner call at 7:00pm, so we even did some trail running to make up time. 

Mistake #1 was earlier in the day when we wanted to ask the tourist information office about details for our hike, but we missed their closing time by 5 minutes. We had a map and a guide book, so we figured we could piece the information together.

Mistake #2 was when we misread our guide book and thought it said 2 hours to the TOP of The Plattkofel. In actuality, it estimated 2 hours to the BASE of The Plattkofel. The base is called Plattkofel Hutte…the slight variations in German names confused us. Dang…that was a big mistake.

Oblivious to Mistake #2, we made it all the way to the summit of The Plattkofel. Good times…we were happy!

Then things started going awry very quickly. The trail we were supposed to take down from the summit disappeared and we ended up navigating a cliff face of scree (loose rock) for 2 hours. 

It was 7:45 and the sun was setting by the time we got back to the base of the mountain. Mistake #3 was when we didn’t account for the buses and chairlifts closing at 7:00, which left us with a 3.5-hour hike back to our hotel. During that first 30 minutes of our walk home, our spirits were pretty low.

Then out of nowhere, a car appeared. Yodelayheehoo! A very nice young man named Daniel had just come from tending to his cows and offered to drive us back to our hotel. If we had kept walking, we would have gotten home at 11:00. Thanks to Daniel, we arrived at 8:30…just in time for a sympathy plate of food from our hotel.

The next morning we were sore and tired but we dragged ourselves outside for what was originally supposed to be our “big day” of hiking up The Schlern’s summit of Mount Pez (2,563 meters or 8,409 feet).

Right before the start of the big climb, we met a Norwegian named Krishna who was running up the trail. He liked the pace we were keeping, so we did the hill together…us hiking and Krishna running.

He was fantastic company, and the next thing we all knew, we were at the summit!

We took it easier this day with a mid-hike nap, the gorgeous Rosengarten mountain range in the distance, and the cow bells ding, ding, dinging.

From The Schlern it was a simple 1.5 hour hike to our lodging for the night…Tierser Alpl.

From another view, can you see it perched towards the top of the green?

Spending the night in a mountain hut is a wonderful experience. You don’t have to rush to get down off the mountain. You are free to take your time and enjoy the day.

It’s also a fun vibe in the hut at night. After about 6:00pm, the people who are there are staying for the evening. Everyone eats dinner together in a big dining room. After-dinner activities consist of board games and planning the next day’s hiking route with humongous maps spread out on the dinner tables.

We have technically been in Italy for the last four days, but it has certainly felt like we’ve been on the other side of the Alps. From a cultural perspective, these feather-in-their-caps, yogurt-loving outdoorsmen have been such an interesting compliment to the rest of Italy that we’ve seen.

From an adventure perspective, The Dolomites are breathtakingly beautiful. If you’re into hiking, we highly recommend coming here. And please invite us so that we have an excuse to come back!

1 comment:

  1. You are right, that looks nothing like Italy. It looks absolutely gorgeous and I can't wait to go there some day (you can come back with us!). I am glad your hiking adventure turned out okay in the end!