Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Italian Dolomites in snow

Defrosted from the trip yesterday over the Bernina Pass, we continued into Italy. The campground we had stayed at was run by an elderly couple. Clearly their retirement plan. In the morning their daughter arrived with her baby which caused granddad to yell out 'Bambini!' Last night we had already enjoyed his singing in the kitchen, complete with all the theatricals like only the Italians master. The ride south was fortunately down in altitude. Time to warm up the bones! The first 'sign' of Italy is pictured right... they couldn't have made it more complicated if they tried!

First stop in Italy was for food. An African man and his son were trying to sell their wares outside the shop. Their living accommodation was a small old stationwagen. Some sort of tarp was rolled up and attached to the roof, which also held several traps for hunting. Meanwhile Mike was trying to communicate with the lady at the checkout... in Italian! The lady quickly worked out that if Mike was from Australia then he must be riding around the world on his motorcycle... Mama Mia!

Mike's route through the Dolomites was as brilliant as it was simple: connect all the passes you can find on the map and voila there is your route! Luckily I had re-greased his steering head bearings :-) The route took us through an area with Apple orchards as far as we could look. Mostly, if not all, were Golden Delicious apple trees, covered in beautiful white blossom. The little tractors were hard at work in the steep orchards, sometimes seemingly defying the laws of gravity.

As we left Bolzano behind us and rode another mountain pass, gradually climbing to 1800 mtr, the cold set in once again. Close to the top we found a camping spot... Of course we were the only ones camping. We warmed up something that should have been soup and retreated to the tent. The night was cold. Very cold. This was one of those days where we wore our Rukka gear around the clock. We literally eat, rode and even slept in our Cosmic suit; that's how cold it was. The temperature dropped to minus 4 just after the sun went down, which was bad enough, but a strong icy wind made it much colder. Camping at 1800 mtr in these conditions had been a bad idea, no wonder we were the only ones there. I have no idea how we would have faired without our Rukka gear on as the sleeping bags alone wouldn't have cut it. Yet in the morning we were treated to a beautiful sunny day. Not quite what the forecast had said but we weren't complaining!

We decided to make a small detour from the original plan, which turned out to be one of the best routes so far. I don't know what it is about the Italian Dolomites but we like them even better than Switzerland. The Swiss Alps may be higher, some of them anyway, but the Italian Dolomites are somehow friendlier and at times even more impressive.

We made some unforgettable photos of snow covered landscapes. At times it felt like we were on the moon or something and yet it's all so close to 'civilisation'. Despite being right at the end of April, there was still skiing and cross-country skying to been seen. A retired German couple in a motorhome were clearly as impressed as we were, although being obviously considerable warmer than we were. It was still seriously cold in the morning!

Another beauty of the Dolomites is that while the passes are winter-white and very cold, the small towns just 1,000 mtr below are quite comfortable. Well, not when you look at the temperature gauge perhaps, which showed a miserable 15°C at best. Compared to a snow covered mountain pass in blistering wind, the 15° of a sheltered town feels more like 25° though.

The only thing that spoiled this beautiful ride somewhat are the, unfortunately many, Audi drivers... yes I know, we shouldn't generalise... The thing is though that what was once BMW drivers territory (i.e. antisocial behaviour, tail-gating, dangerous overtaking and driving at ridiculous speeds) has now been taken over by Audi drivers. Audi drivers seem to think they are above the law and better than the rest of us... If you have an Audi and feel offended by what we just wrote: buy another car.

At the end of the day we crossed the border into Austria. Immediately the feeling change again. We found ourselves literally on the other side of the mountains and yet in another world. Tired from the cold of last night, we decided to call it a day a bit earlier than normal. We found a campground operated by a young Dutch couple who charged reasonable rates and even had free wifi. A great spot, nestled deep in an Austrian farming community and totally quiet... We decided to stay an extra day, sort through our photos, do some writing and work on the blog. Our first rest after 9 days on the road.