Here in the Val di Fiemme, I had the best seafood risotto of my life. In fact, I’m now seeking out the risotto on every menu I can get my hands on. Funny how foreign travel can be a royal privilege or a royal pain in the rear. You depend on so many things, the kindness of local friends, or strangers, weather, trains — and how good the cook is.
In the case of food I’m pretty comfortable eating just about anything when in travel mode, but I’ve developed a complex about train travel after a few “epic” experiences involving ski bags and station bathrooms, so for the last few of my journeys on the rails I’ve managed to leave the ski bag behind. Night and day (it’s hard to fit a double ski bag in a bathroom stall).
With only my computer daypack and small roller, I got on a local bus in Austria at just after 8:00 am — here I am in Cavalese, Italy at just after noon. The Barthel family in Austria got me clear on which trains, and a friendly Italian bus driver speaking perfect English completed the connections. My trusty Garmin 60 played a part as well, when the bus driver asked me which of the five possible stops I needed for the hotel.
I probably could have done it with a paper map, but I find the Garmin to be way less stressful during these work trips. Time is limited for sleuthing out street names and asking for directions you get in a language you don’t understand, though that can be fun.
Only glitch was I almost didn’t get on the first train in Austria, fooled by the tendency in Europe to define travel by what villages the route encounters, rather than road numbers or train numbers. The numbers are there, but when you’re in a hurry and don’t know where to look, you tend to focus on the names — and the departure times. You don’t see the name of where you’re going, the train is slightly early, you hesitate, with a hissing sound the train doors close and it smoothly accelerates out of the station as you stand there on the platform, awed by your own stupidity. At least you now have time for a leisurely lunch at that cafe you spotted down the street.
So, today the missed train didn’t happen (it has) and here I am at Hotel Garni Laurino nestled next to the Dolomite Mountains, home range of La Sportiva.
After situating my bags in the room, I’m sitting in a small hotel 4-table bistro no bigger then our bedroom at home, having a nice Italian espresso, preparing to join the Sportiva folks for dinner. Which leads me to a thought. Do any of you European readers have a problem with the nearly endless presence of pop music, often 80s hair bands or such, that is piped into seemingly every corner of the universe over here? I find it strange, and can’t get used to it. Yes, we have some of that going on in the U.S., but not to this extent. For example, back home I can step into any of numerous coffee shops and not have a speaker pumping Thriller into my left lobe. And yes, I’ve found some locals that don’t like it either — unless it’s John Denver or perhaps “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Come to think of it, I’m noticing quite a few people walk around with headsets in, could they be tired of Kiss as well?
I enjoy the contrast in architecture between your average North American living space, and what you often find here in the alpine villages. I’m used to big rooms, with lots of windows. That’s how Lisa and I like to design our living spaces, acres of glass. The repeating theme here is small rooms, minimal windows set into incredibly thick walls (R-100, anyone?). I’ve come to like the cozy feel of such spaces, often enhanced by a tile stove radiating warmth. If I designed something myself I’d probably still go for the window wall, but perhaps include a few nooks where one could feel cozy.
Another thing I like, somewhat pervasive in the alpine regions, is interior woodwork done with “blond” unstained wood that appears to have a transparent sealer to prevent darkening by oxidation and make it easy to clean. This hotel also appears to have quite a bit of un-sealed wood that’s being allowed to darken. But I could be fooled. Making new construction look aged is an art around here. Overall effect is a cozy comfortable “warm wood” feeling to the rooms.
Overall impression in this part of Italy is that of contrasts. You see more run-down buildings than in prosperous countries to the north and west. Yet you also see beautiful architecture. The high faces of ancient buildings tower over narrow sidewalks and streets, which here in town are paved with bricks instead of asphalt, making one wonder if perhaps a some of those pavers date back to Roman times. The building colors are more interesting as well, instead of the common white it’s not uncommon to see entire stucco homes painted bright shades of yellow or pink, perhaps with green shutters. Some buildings are intentionally mutted or perhaps faded by the sun, resulting in pleasant pastels. If you wanted a color pallet for a web design project, for example, all you’d have to do is take a walk with a camera. Beyond the villages, you climb peaks where you find tunnels and other works from the World Wars, contrasting the dark side of humanity to grandeur above. And you notice that Italians use 35 hand gestures per spoken word, compared to our boring 1.5 when speaking English. The variety of cultures on this planet never ceases to fascinate.
More about that bus ride. I got off the train at Ora/Auer in the huge low-altitude valley that brings you down south from Brenner Pass. The bus heads easterly from Ora. It’s a one-hour journey to Cavalese, winding several thousand meters elevation, glimpses of the Dolomite tempting at nearly every turn on a classic European mountain road cut improbably into a thousand vertical feet of cliffs. You think any minute you’ll see an Aston Martin drifting the curves, a wrist out the window casually flicking a Morland cigarette. James Bond off to another ski day. I’ve heard he now uses an avalanche airbag.