More than once, during our stay in the Dolomites, I joked that I felt I was back in Leavenworth. The alpine-style chalets, the dirndls, and the German-Austrian style food all felt oddly familiar.
That's not surprising, given that the Dolomites (or Dolomiti in Italian), were not part of Italy until after World War I. Even today, most people speak German as their first language, so the shopkeepers and wait staff seemed to want to communicate in English. Unlike other parts of Italy, they were not particularly flattered by my attempts to speak Italian, but alas, my German mostly begins and ends with bitte and danke schon.
Most towns in the area have two names--one in German, the other in Italian. But many also have a third, a Ladin name for the Ladin people, the original settlers, whose language was suppressed during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but which has been revived in recent years.
Beneath these jagged-tooth stone mountains, the alpine meadows whisper of Heidi country. That was why we decided to take the gondola up to Alpe di Siusi, the largest high-altitude meadow in Europe. Our plan, which we actually followed for once, was to take the gondola up, hike across the rolling plain dotted with small farms, an occasional hotel, and grazing cows and horses, and then walk back down to Ortesei (or St. Ulrich or Urtijëi), where we had left our car.
The walk was all we could have wished for. The day was warm, but not too hot, as a breeze occasionally whispered by, and the cowbells chimed in the distance as we walked the grass-lined paths.
We had packed a picnic lunch, so we stopped along the way to eat in the shade of a tree. A middle-aged couple from Colorado came by, who were obviously in better shape than we were. They pointed up to a nearby peak, where they had trekked the day before, and enthusiastically encouraged us to take the "coffin lift" up to the peak and walk down over the talus slope. "You have to do it," the man said. The coffin lift, he explained, consisted of a continuously running cable with small two-person-sized gondolas (click to view) that you had to run to catch and then jump in. However, there were attendants stationed at both ends who either pushed you in or pulled you off, almost before you had a chance to consider what to do!
After they left, Kevin and I agreed that with my knee issues and lacking hiking boots, that excursion was out for us, though we were slightly disappointed to miss the view. (We didn't know then that the elevator of our apartment in Florence would bear a remarkable resemblance to the coffin lift--although you don't have to jump to catch it!)
Hiking back down through a forest of evergreens felt a lot like a hike in the Cascades, though the meadows of the Alpe di Siusi are definitely much more tame.
Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that we also stopped at a restaurant on the meadow to have a beer. While I love the wildness of our own Washington mountains, there is something to be said for walking in the Dolomites too. We returned to our hotel tired and happy.
|A nice hotel, even if the wifi and view weren't quite as good as promised.|
That's typical of hotels everywhere!
We stopped along the way for photos. Take a look at the one below. Can you see the paraglider, the little white dot?
It was a treat to be in the midst of mountains again, but the Dolomites left me a little homesick for the mountains of Washington state. Tragically, thousands of acres of forest are burning in Washington this year, including some areas that I care deeply about. We can only hope that the fires are contained soon, and there will be no more losses of people, animals, homes, and woodlands.
Addendum: I forgot to include the photo below when I wrote about our stay in Tremosine above Lake Garda. I felt sorry for this little fellow. His owners left him sitting on the back of the motorcycle to gather coins from passers-by, while they sat in a cafe and had lunch. Yes, he had water, but I'll bet that hat, while cute, was hot. That's no way to treat the little guy!