Last night we found another accordion! As we were heading back to our tent from the internet point in the hotel, we spotted him – a not so lively yet live accordion player under the hotel restaurant’s outdoor seating. While he wasn’t too energetic, the rest of the 60+ crowd was (we always seem to find ourselves in places where we are the youngest by 3-5 decades). They were clapping and singing along and even taking turns getting up and dancing! Instead of heading back to the tent, we planted ourselves at a table, and ordered some cioccolatos. Ever since Bree fell in love with the cioccolato at the Salty Dog Cafe in Levanto, we have been on a quest, so far in vain, to find a hot chocolate equally good.
As the sun finally set, there was all of a sudden a commotion as all of the people got up and rushed outside the pavilion to look at the cliffs that surrounded us. When we finally gave up our seats to go take a look, we saw several bonfires lining the edges of the cliffs around us; one was even shaped like a heart. After a brief fireworks show in the distance, we learned that it was Herz Jesu Fest, a holiday that we still know nothing about! At least we got some fireworks, since Independence Day is obviously not celebrated here.
We planned for the heat today after yesterday’s late arrival by getting out the door quickly. We made another early departure at just around 7:30, after a breakfast of a plumb – finishing off our entire food supply aside from our emergency stash of dry pasta. We headed out into town, keeping an eye out for any source of food that we could. Luckily, a bakery presented itself early, with a legitimate grocery not too far behind.
Our first twenty or so kilometers followed the Adige river on the famous bicycle path that seems really popular with bicycle tours. It was nice and flat with big rock faced mountains on either side. It was still early enough that the sun hadn’t even come over the tops of all the mountains so the ride was nice and cool.
The region around here is known to have heavy Germanic influence due to the proximity to the Austrian border. As we wound our way through the maze of cliff-lined canyons, though, the influence disappeared and the multi-lingual signage and confusion as to whether to say grazie or danke faded sharply. We are clearly back in true Italy. We have warmer temperatures, loud and animated people, and the lizards that are everywhere here.
Once we departed from the Adige river, we followed a fairly busy highway for most of the morning. Soon though, we were grateful to see a sign that pointed toward a bike trail – which we suspiciously followed. In my opinion, there is nothing more agitating than riding along a busy Italian highway, and Bree could apparently see the traffic induced frustration bubbling out of me. We knew it would be a little climb to take the alternate route, but though we would risk it just in case the path turned out to be a good option.
The sign was the last evidence of a bike lane that we saw. Actually, let me correct myself – the sign was the last evidence of the bike lane for 15 ridiculously hilly kilometers. Instead, we ground our way up freaking steep hills that wound their way up the mountainside which was blanketed with golden delicious apple orchards. We spotted an occasional vineyard as well, and the grapes have certainly come a long way since we were in Italy last!
Without the bike lane, we were still subject to a slightly subdued version of crazy Italian traffic, steep hills, and high temperatures. At least the scenery was nice, though as we overlooked the wide valley, lined with orchards and vineyards and cute little towns dotting impossibly steep hills. We could see the highway that we should have followed as it clung along the easiest, flattest ground available as it wound up over a pass. We, on the other hand, climbed up the side of the mountain and were winding up and down something like 14 switchbacks and through the Trentino equivalent of hill towns.
We stopped for lunch under a shady tree in a town with 20 km to go. We find that food often has a really soothing effect on our moods and can help us get us feeling cheerful again when things seem trying. My spirits improved significantly as we rounded the canyon, still amidst the traffic and heat, but also with stunning canyon views, and headed toward our campground.
It might be a little bit confusing as to why we are taking a very long trans-alp route back toward Milan. First, we are going to pick up a car in Italy for our last few days in Europe. This way we can freely play and explore anything that we didn’t seem to reach on our bikes (namely the Swiss Alps and possibly more of Germany?). Time does not permit us to explore these areas by bike, so we intend to take a wild swing at seeing at least a little bit of these two regions by a slightly faster method of transportation. It will also make life infinitely easier to have a car to round up packing supplies and boxes for our bikes and ultimately drive ourselves to the airport, eliminating a lot of hassle on both fronts.
We need to pick up our car in Italy – hence the cross alp adventure. We could have taken a more direct route and avoided riding over quite so many mountains, but we really wanted to go out with a bang. We discussed taking the less interesting Po river valley for some easy miles into Milan, but between the heat and dull scenery this didn’t seem like a good way to use what little time we have left on our tour. Instead, as we ride through the Dolomites, we are enjoying nice mountains, challenging terrain, and significantly cooler temperatures – all good things if you ask me!