Germany : beer, internet and cars!

140km seperate lovely Innsbrook from Munich, and so it only took us two days to get here. With the recommendation of our WS host, we took a nice road that went along these two HUGE lakes framed by mountains. Which of course meant another 400m climb. But it was lovely nonetheless. After the climb, we were greeted by a wall of wind and a path that followed the Achensee with its dark turquoise waters and lovely summer houses of Austrian architecture. We pushed on after a quick grocery-supper of local cheese and salted herring and half a watermelon.

We crossed the Austrian-German border with barely even a sign to mark the change and then found a quiet flat spot near a goat farm to make our camp. So that’s what we’ve been doing… Wild camping. We’ve been in Europe two weeks and have only once paid for a night and it was frankly because we were 6 days without a shower. It was in Brunico, a campground with a small animal farm and very friendly people. So between my friends, my family’s place in the mountains where we camped, our Warm Shower host in Innsbrook and a few nights of wild camping, we’ve been pretty spendthrift so far.

I gotta say, its not that glorious. As you can well imagine. But I am a very lucky person. Usually, I don’t get rain, and this trip has been no exception. Thank the old gods and the new. We only had a few moments of rain in Innsbrook, but we were staying indoors that night, and it passed really quickly. So our skins are already starting to tan and we haven’t yet had to wake up with drenched equipment.

Days so far

May

12 – Casale and Treviso
13 – Venice
14 – Venice and Casale
15 – bike to Longarone (110 km)
16 – bike to Auronzo (50 km uphill)
17 – Auronzo
18 – Auronzo (hiking)
19 – bike to Cortina (55km)
20 – bike to Brunico (60km)
21 – bike to Vipiteno (50km)
22 – bike to Innsbruck
23 – Innsbruck!!
24 – bike to German border (75km)
25 – bike to Munich (75km)
26 – Munich!!

Innsbruck, Austria and the last of the mountains

Don’t worry, we’ve been busy. We’ve moved our butts, gotten sunburns and passed passes. We biked through snow and slept in fields.

So we crossed the Alps. In terms of altitude, it was no small matter, but not half as bad as any of the endless climbs in South America. The first pass in Italy was Cimebanche. At 1530, it was the highest, and the wildest, as we came to it by an old railway converted into a cycling path. Those are the best! Hundred year-old stone tunnels, fantastic mountain views, meeting other cyclists and spring water. But the best part of course is there aren’t any cars. Say what you will, even if fast traffic moving a meter from your bike doesn’t bother you, or if you’ve gotten used to the smell of petrol, no one can deny the dreadful ambiance of a well-travelled roadway as compared to a quiet country road or, better yet, a bike path. And the bike paths here in northern Italy are made to get to the pass with a steady climb, which suited the railways best. Sometimes you go through fields and farmers’ terrain, I even chased a half-dozen chicken going up a hill once. So we were really greatful for the bike path, even if the highest parts were still covered in snow!

There was a path we followed from Calalzo to Brunico and then it kept going th way we were, which was nice, all the way up to Brenners’ pass, the second pass on our way and also the border into Austria.

We knew we’d been close because a few days before the border, Italian was giving way to German and things were announced in two languages. So we learned that Sud-Tirol used to be an Austrian province before the first world war. So the food became more germanic, internet more readily available and people were drinking beer rather than coffee on the terrasses. The architecture was cuter too. People had painted wreathes and other ornamentation around their windows. And also, the towns and villages we passed were no longer as sad as they were in Italy: there were more people, more activity… Austria was around the corner!

When we actually did get to the border, we were happy to have crossed Brenners’ pass, another 1400m, and so we started a 30km pure descent into Innsbrooke, at 600m high. What a race down! If only it wasn’t so windy… But we had a great view on a secondary road passing by each little village, bustling with life and promising of all kinds of new yummy treats each as unpronouncable as the others.

Innsbrook was the real discovery of the journey though, and we had a prime chance to get an insiders’ view because we were lucky enough to stay with a warm showers’ host, and he and his roomate and friends gave us an awesome welcome. Good internet, a place to plug in our devices! A hot shower! A real bed! After 7 nights of camping, we were exctatic.

So we had our first day off since Auronzo, we visited Innsbrook, which is a town of 120 000 people. And we had a great time.

Melancolic Auronzo di Cadore

I’ve always been a fan of Sunday mornings. So here we are in a pastuccheria pastry shop on a sunday morning. Bustling with peole all in to get their morning fill, and we are no different. I have a cappucino and a warm fresh chocolate filled pastry. The servers here are awesome, I didn’t need a big dose of charm to get to plug in my telephone to get s full charge. All the locals know each other and are actually very warm regardless of their look of aprehension. The usual chorus of “ciao!” “ciao!” resounds throughout, almost as though transported by the servers’ platters as they bring beautiful pastries and fancy coffees to the patrons. They are reading the pink-papered italian newspaper or discussing the latest gossip, just like you’d imagine any coffee shop in the world.

The real question though is what are we doing here? Well, we’ve taken two days off to have a nice time in Auronzo, where I have so many memories with the family in 2008. Mostly, I wanted to revisit the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the natural wonder of three naked rock-faced peaks on the border of Italy and Austria. But something rather unexpected happenned: there is still snow. As in 2 meters of it. On the road up. So… It would be quite difficult to go around in so much snow, canadian or not.

The sights are beautiful and I am totally loving being here, and we’re going to go for a hike a little bit later on the smaller mountains right behind the lake. Yet something is different : there is a feeling of nostalgia, of another epoch, better times for this touristic village. And it sort of makes me sad. I had thought the empty streets were due to the fact that right now its off-season. But apparently the town, its surrounding areas and even the wood and glassess industry are experiencing a slow-down since the 80s, but especially since the crisi. We were in the grocery shop for veggies to make a salad last night when I happenned to ask for help to a man who lived in Canada for 10 years. He started to unravel his tale with much enthusiasm right there in the fruit and vegetable aisle, so I invited his to come have a beer with us since it was that time of the day for apero.

Oswald told Ju and I his story, which was sad. He spent 10 years in Canada, as a strspping lad of 24, unafraid of anything at all. He lived in Montreal whoch he loved, and in Toronto, for which he didn’t have such kind words. He had been in BC and in Alberts. But he fell in love. He had moved back from Canada to the mountains of Auronzo to be with her. But he lost his wife very young to illness, they never had children. He is now retired in Auronzo, back in the village where he was born. The way he tells it is as if he is trapped here, with no family but a sister who lives 6 months a year in Thailand… He was eager to tell us his tale and reflect upon the life he lived and the context of the changing economy, between Canada and Italy, his phrases filled with melancholy but also with a proud endurance for the cards life had dealt him.

I was so happy about that chance encounter, because those are the types of things you remember. The people, the stories, their curiosity, their love of their country. We can only try to see it through their eyes. If the crisi seems to be a recurring theme in many conversations, this busy little coffee shop on a sunday morning is no indication of it.

Revisiting the mountains

After a wonderful time in Venice that was utterly too short, we left. We wanted to be on schedule to get into the rythm of our cycling trip quickly. Especially because we are starting with a straight climb into the Alps!

I had planned to do a few small days: 50km to Conegliano, which was all flat. 60km to Longarone, where the hills turned into what they call prealpi (pre-alps). Them 50km into Auronzo, even higher into the mountains.

So we left Casale sul Sile after dropping off the girls at school, and a last cappucino at the local bar with Cla et Gio. We recognized the was to Treviso, having done it the first day we arrived, and so we went along the Sile again, the lazy milky-green river with so many ducks and swans (and their little ones!). We followed the road proposed by Maps with Me to Conegliano and realized it was only 1pm. So we had our saussage and our gelato, and we decided to keep going. We stopped for peanuts and a bottle of vino and went further north.

The road we took was an alternative to a main road, so we passed by villages and there was a bike path sometimes. Other times there was more traffic, but nothing too hard-core. We passed by the wineries of Prosecco, which comes from Conegliano, so you can imagine fields of grape vines on hilly land, with old terra-cotta roofed houses and little rivers framed by bigger mountsins up ahead. We got to Vittorio Veneto, which I want to do more research on, but it seemed like a medieval village, all the houses were in stone of orange and burnt yellow, with canals along the middle, and from that point on, we started to sense the mountains looming over us. The climbing started, slowly but surely, Alps here we come.

It was Ju’s first real time in the mountains, but he did good. As usual, I trudged along my slow way, and we made our way on another secondary road, which hugged the mountain sides. There was a huge highway which was 100 feet higer than us, all shining and new, vibrating with the passing machines. Like putting a metal chopstick on a field of greens. But we were thankful for how much less traffic there was! We stopped in a little public park where there was drinking water and refilled our bottles.

We were going up a valley so of course there were bodies of water, but what was surprising was the color. The haunting milky-green of the Sile came obviously somewhere upstream from here because the lakes all share the same mystifyingly opalescent turquoise color. Hopefully it has always been this color… We stopped at the biggest lake (Lago di Santa Croce) to eat some peanuts and drink some wine, which was as epic as it sounds, before continuing our climb to Longarone, which we finally arrived at, exhausted, near 8pm. At this point we were so hungry, I requisitionned me a meat-plus pizza. There is a picture of it, but that was all i could do before scarfing it all down! We got in contact with Gio, to reassure the family, and our Warm Showers host, who gave us indications to get to his place.

Nearly comatose from the pizza (and 8+ hours of biking the mountains) we made our way to Provagna, 4km down the way we came, on the other side of the river and made our camp. Our hosts were very helpful: they’ve cycled a lot around their mountains, so they know the difficulties ahead, the snow the passes, which roads to avoid. We took note of everything we managed to understand, but unfortunately, they had to leave in the morning, and so did we.

Our first night of camping went by without a hitch and so, we were on our way to Auronzo. We had unfortunately underestimated one important factor: the wind. On some of the steep passes, we experienced headwinds like i have never seen before. Like enough to bring a fully-loaded touring bike going downhill to a halt! So we finally found a little place to have a cappucino and a croissant before continuing ever higher into the dolomites.

Revisiting i dolomiti was on my absolute to-do list ever since I came here in 2008. The naked mountains stretching out forever, the crazy italians with their impeccable mountain wear, the food! But mostly the mountains. We are not yet in the best part today, but already we are surrounded by awesome peaks, still snow-covered, here in Ospedale di Cadore.