On the Divide: The Cities of Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol (Bolzano/Bozen & Merano/Meran)

Days 22 – 24  (15 – 17 June 2015)

Monday 15 June – From Rovereto to Bolzano

I wake to the sound of the nearby church bells striking seven and pedal away at 8:15 only to stop at the first café I see.

I take my cappuccino and Germanic pastry (apples, nuts, some sort of cheese) at a table on a cobblestone square with a view of Neptune’s ass – the café is behind a statue/fountain. A couple seated nearby are switching between German and Italian through out their conversation and, as I’m getting ready to go, they ask about my journey. They have a friend in Berlin who they think I’ll have lots in common with. I give them my card and hope to hear from them. It feels like a good start with German speakers.

It is another long day of riding on an almost entirely separated cycleway. The scenery is beautiful and the climb almost indiscernible. I ride through vineyards and apple orchards and greet my fellow cyclists with “ciao”. I miss Australia’s public toilets.

 

 

Nearing the 90 kilometre mark for the day I realise it will be 100 km plus if I ride all the way into Bolzano. There are dark clouds gathered in the valley in the direction I am going and the trail-side maps show I am nearing the last of the convenient train stations. And like that I am, again, dragging my bicycle onto a helpful European train.

Bolzano, or Bozen in the German, is the town from which my then-husband and I set off for our long walk in the Dolomites in 2011. I had loved it then and it is still very charming. It has been raining heavily but is tapering off as I find my way to the tourist office by memory. There, I am directed to the street where I’ll find my host, Martin.

Bolzano is in the semi-autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol and it lies on the dividing line between Italian-speaking Italy and German-speaking Italy. From here, going north, Italian will diminish and German will come to dominate well before the Austrian border. This was the southwest of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I. Martin will tell me that in school (at least the German speaking ones) they teach that it was President Woodrow Wilson’s fault this area isn’t in Austria.

The old town is Germanic in its architecture and offerings. In the new town – on the other side of the river – there is much grand fascist architecture, triumphant heavy marble edifices.

Bolzano/Bozen is a popular tourist destination with German and Italian speakers alike – as Martin will say later – the Germans like it because they are in Italy but can speak German and the Italians like it because it’s like going to Germany without leaving Italy.

Between old and new – two gushing mountain rivers meet. Green hills dotted with homes and churches fill the eyeline but then, when the sky is clear, your eye is pulled higher than the green hills to the enormous grey-white and spired Dolomites. It’s a stunning place.

Tuesday 16 June – Bolzano

This town is as fabulous as I remember it – beautiful, compact, vibrant, and intriguing.

It’s been raining and I spend the morning getting practical stuff done at Martin’s and the afternoon running errands: I’ve recharged the phone and finally been able to buy the right sort of gas canister for my camp stove; I got a bicycle map for the coming few days, posted some more excess items to Cornelia to hold on to for me until I get to Ireland, and purchased a one-cup stove-top espresso maker.

With my errands complete I’m back at Martin’s and plugging away at some computer work when I hear a sound. I ignore it at first but it’s a familiar yet unexpected sound – an aluminium bat striking a baseball. I remember from my last visit that Bolzano is home to a lovely baseball field and that it was in the nearby parklands but hadn’t given it much thought.

I wander out to the street and follow the sound to the field. There are a bunch of Under 13s on the field being put through their paces by coaches in Team Italia gear. I ask a few of the parents if they speak English but have no luck. As the kids are wearing uniforms from all over the country I presume it is their U-13s National Selection Trials or some such.

So unexpected but lovely. And so nice for it to not be work (before I left Australia I worked for Major League Baseball and would, on occasion, attend such events in a professional capacity).

Wednesday 17 June: Bolzano to Merano

It’s nearly noon when I pedal away from Martin’s place and then I get terribly confused trying to find my way out of town. Martin has set me up with Orux off-line maps and these will serve me very well in coming days but today I just can’t figure out where I am on them. The problem, I realise is I am on one river when I want to be on the other. A special young woman, who likes my colourful helmet, is the person who recognises my confusion and offers assistance by showing me where on the map we are. It took an hour for me to get out of town. An hour. Embarrassing.

On the right path at last I am joyful at the loveliness of it all – to begin with there is a fully separated cycleway along the river with flowering shrubs lining the route. The river, greeny-white and rapidly falling toward the sea is beautiful but cold and dangerous looking.

The day is sunny with a bit of breeze – very warm but not quite out and out hot. The path is busy but not crowded. The steady stream of Italian-speaking cyclists offering “ciao” as they pass have given way to German-speakers who sometimes (but not nearly as frequent as the Italian-speakers) offer a “hallo”.

It’s mid-afternoon and a sign offering a Bike Break Station stops me mid-pedal. A kiosk (closed), picnic tables, couch, vending machine (drinks and snacks) and e-bike recharging station beckon. This cycleway – the Via Claudia Augusta as it now most definitely is – is a cycle tourist’s dream come true. Nearly fully separated cycleways for several hundred kilometres slowly ascending into the Alps – rushing river, beautiful mountains, vineyards and orchards – then on top of all that Bici Grills and Bike Break Stations.

I take off my shoes and socks, letting my feet cool in the grass while I have lunch and make a little coffee – the first with my new espresso maker. Perfect. Couldn’t be happier. By the time the wee machine cools and I can pack it away it’s nearly 4 pm and I know I’ll be having a short riding day.

Meran (in the German or Merano in Italian) is a small graceful city once famous for its spa. The Orux Maps Martin has loaded onto my phone lead me right to the gate of the busy but welcoming municipal campground.

I pitch my tent with the help of a stake mallet offered by a neighbour. Once it’s up I see there are wee aphids swarming on the tent, my bicycle, anything sitting on the ground. But I can’t be bothered to move it – the tent area is crowded and there are no guarantees of aphid-free camping elsewhere. If I can just keep them out of the tent and food I should be right.

I find a gorgeous little fruit and veg shop nearby and get a few things to have for dinner – garlic, zucchini, carrots and a punnet of the most beautiful strawberries. Down the road at Eurospar I get pasta, cheese and 250 mls of French red wine in a little box which is selling for €0.49 (or AUD 0.75).

Back at the campground I make my dinner, drink my wine and feel pretty good about the way the trip is going right now – staying with hosts or camping, cooking for myself, making my own coffee and riding through a great landscape with good cyclists’ infrastructure. If only there weren’t all these damn aphids.

As the sun is setting I go for a walk around Meran. The area near the campground is all pretty modern but the city centre is a older – shopping streets with cobblestones, a few dramatically lit statues, people wrapping up their nights at restaurants and bars. In a town the same size further south in Italy – where people speak Italian – even on a Wednesday night the town would have still been going strong. I’ve crossed not just a linguistic line but a cultural one too.

The tent hasn’t been infiltrated by the aphids and I sleep pretty well despite being near enough to my fellow tented neighbours as to hear some snoring.

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