The rain was still doing its thing when we woke up, so for the last time, we packed up a wet tent and shoved it in the car along with all of our gear, still in various degrees of being airplane ready. We had a lot of driving to accomplish today and a lot of packing, both of bikes and of our gear to get done.
First stop was our last grocery run of the trip where we bought ridiculous amounts of the braided bread we like so much and a few other snacks to keep us going for the day. Then, we hit the road to drive toward the Dolomites and then on to Milan. Even though we had left Innsbruck on our bikes using this same route just a couple of weeks ago, it still took us a while to figure out how to get out of the city and headed up Brenner Pass. Usually, I get my bearings pretty fast in a city, but for whatever reason, Innsbruck had us really turned around.
The drive up Brenner went amazingly fast compared to our trip over the top on our bicycles, and in practically no time at all we were in Brenner, passing the shopping outlets. We had talked about doing a bit of shopping in Italy and as our last day in Europe was now ticking away, this seemed as good a time as any to stretch our legs and see what we could find. We’d bought almost nothing by way of souvenirs aside from crocs in Croatia and two spoons in Venice, and it seemed strange to be shopping for anything that we couldn’t eat!
Although the women’s clothing options were actually kind of limited and almost nothing good caught my eye, the men’s fashion was in full swing. Before we’d hardly been at it for 20 minutes, Ben was being sized for shirts and Italian silk ties and soon after, he discovered a beautiful pair of German leather shoes. We had only one last thing we really wanted to find: a pair of “man-pris” or capri length pants for guys. They are pretty darn popular over here, and we’ve been laughing about them for months. We looked in almost every store in the whole building, and at our last stop before returning to the car, we found the perfect pair of grey ones that are clearly made with adventuring in mind. Success!
Legs stretched, and shopping completed, we got back in the car to take a scenic detour through the Dolomites. We hopped on the Autostrada and soon learned that while getting on the freeway in Italy is pretty easy, getting off is a privilege that only shows up very occasionally. After missing our exit and being forced to drive another 25 kilometers to the next one, we had to make a minor revision to our scenic drive, but soon were headed down the Great Dolomite Road.
The Great Dolomite Road is apparently one of the more beautiful drives in the world, encompassing 3 of the most scenic passes in the Dolomites. Unfortunately for us, it was cloudy and raining, and just as was the case during our first run through Switzerland, we could see nothing more than a few trees and the road before us.
After about 30 minutes of driving, we encountered surprisingly clear, turquoise lake. We had seen others of these beautiful lakes in Austria and Germany, so we had to stop. While debating whether or not it would even be worth it to pay to park the car given the weather, a very “helpful” Italian boy, assuming that we didn’t understand how the parking system worked, came out to push the button to get a ticket to park. Annoyed at being roped into paying for parking at a lake that we could barely see, we drove onto the gravel parking lot and stopped the car.
The lake was absolutely beautiful, but after having seen the views of what it usually looks like in the adjoining gift shop, the entire experience was a bit disappointing. If you look up Lago di Carezza, you will see what I mean. With a striking backdrop of dark pine forest and pointed Dolomites, this lake had some serious aesthetic potential. Knowing that the views would not improve, though, I finally resigned my fate to not truly see the Dolomites, adding it to my list of future places to visit on another trip.
After leaving the parking lot and heading further up the Great Dolimite Road, hoping to rise above the clouds and get some good views, Bree had a great idea. Our plan had been to head back to Milan early so that we would have sufficient time to reconstruct boxes, pack bikes, and get all of our stuff airplane ready. Seeing a picnic area at the top of one of the passes, though, she suggested that we stop here to build our boxes. That way we could spend our last hours in Europe outdoors in the mountains instead of cooped up inside.
Stopping our little Fiat in the cloudy though no longer raining weather, we pulled out the large collapsed bike boxes and got to work. Using only an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper to attempt to measure, a lot of tape, and our trusty survival knife/potato peeler, we got to work.
As we built the boxes, the clouds would pass through, giving us at least some partial views of the surrounding mountains. It was good for my spirits to have a project, and aside from one instance in which we had to hide in our car from a brief rainstorm, the construction went smoothly. Given that we only had our 8.5 x 11 piece of paper to perform measurements, we could only hope that our boxes fit within the airline’s definition of “standard luggage”.
We finally got the boxes built and the bikes packed after 5 solid hours of construction on the picnic table. With the sunlight fading, we knew that we better get on the road so that we could get to our hotel in Milan before nightfall, when navigating is significantly more difficult.
We headed back on the Great Dolimite Road and joined back on to the Autostrada, where we cruised along toward Milan. We arrived within the city limits at sunset, and after paying the 17 Euros for the privilege of driving at high speeds (I don’t know how the Italians can afford to use their freeways. It makes Switzerland’s Vignette feel like pennies), we quickly navigated to the Doubletree hotel which we had scored using some of Bree’s Hilton points.
Upon arriving at the lovely hotel, we hauled all of our stuff in with the help of a bellboy, and set to work repacking our panniers in more airplane-friendly duffel bags, accompanied by our trip’s final Italian pizza ordered from the on-site restaurant.
After so much camping, we felt a little nervous to touch anything in such a nicely furnished room. By 2:30 AM, Bree called it a night while I finished some last minute preparations on our blog. We stayed up as late as was reasonable, hoping to help our bodies reset their clocks and get some sleep on tomorrows 10 hour flight. An hour later, I too collapsed into the bed. It was a strange experience to sleep in a bed which had a considerably larger footprint than our tent which has served as our home for the past three months.