I’ll be honest: when my mom announced that she didn’t want to self-plan a trip and would only go if we did a tour, the only reason this one was chosen was because it got me to the Dolomites. Sure, it had a lot of other stuff to tick off too – Venice, Murano, and Burano (don’t count because we did self-plan those), Saronno, Verona, Sirmione, Lugano, Isola Bella, Limone, Malcesine, Bellagio, Bolzano, Bergamo and Milan (still to come). But really, deep down, I wanted the Dolomites. The rest I could work my way back to. The Dolomites were a bucket list item.
From Bolzano, we boarded the bus along with our tiny local guide and our usual guide who chattered away at the front. In a serpentine fashion, we rounded through up the hills until they became mountains dotted with Tyrollean-style chalets. The grass was verdant and coated ground in an effervescent shade that seemed almost unnatural in its brightness. Within the fields were scattered white and lavender alpine flowers. Spotted coffee and cream cows browsed unfettered save for the odd collie lounging in the sun.
We pulled into Collalbo. Its cottages were timber framed with white plaster carefully etched with pastel paints in traditional German motifs. Spilling out onto the gravel off-ramp, we dutifully followed our guide down a narrow path past homes and forest. Overhead was a witch made from branches and straw- a bit of good luck along the way.
In the clearing was a modest look out point. The Ritten Earth Pyramids stood up in the distance looking equal parts Martian and Mud Dauber. Their odd little earthen cones shot up from the ground, each topped with a grey boulder. These were formed by erosion despite appearing to exist by divine intervention. In the distance, the Rosengarten group of peaks sat stoic in the clear sky. A few small farmhouses and towns lay before it, the most prominent of which featured an onion-domed chapel.
As is stood watching a set of goats play in the grass below, one of the Malaysian ladies sauntered over and leaned on the wooden rail beside me. She sighed. “Booooriiing.” She looked about and flitted her hand across the landscape. “All this…stuff,” she sniffed. “Give me some shops. Nothing to do but stand around and just…look.” I did my best polite laugh, amused as I was with the outlook. “You know, I went to Iceland. Iceland! So far! Go to Iceland, everyone said. So much to see and do! You know what’s there? NOTHING! Just rocks and stupid ponds with big ice cubes. Best thing to do? Hot bath in the ground. NO. When I go on vacation, I want to shop. I want to bring back all the things no one else at home has. Different things. This- this I can’t bring back.”
We crowded into a trolley car that would take us half-way down the mountain. When I say crowded, I mean it. Standing room only. An unfortunate woman with an inconsolable baby (truly, we all tried to console him…and her). The former guidance counselor insisted on showing everyone in detail what appeared to be every photograph he owned of his grandsons, Chet and Brindley. I disliked them already. They were only four and six. But I was hungry, and hot, and there were so many pictures. Two from our group sat beside me. One politely looked on. The other rolled her eyes. Turns out eye-roller was his wife. I was instantly on Team Eye-Roller Janet.
Half-way down, we stopped for a surprise: apple strudel and Tyrollean white wine on the mountainside at Hotel Ansitz Kematen. I sat with the HR lady from Australia and listened as she talked about the struggles of getting generally distasteful people to come to diversity trainings. “They’re the ones who need to come! Everyone else is just patting each other on the back saying, ‘Good on ya, Jerry, you’re not a total prat!'” she complained. My mother chatted with a former school principle about school policy and the direction of the country, the direction of our patchwork educational system, and what to do with all these supposed kids who couldn’t sign their names anymore. HR leaned over: “Americans can’t sign their names anymore?”
I strolled over to a bench beside a large oak. Two women chased after a rogue toddler threatening to take a long tumble down an even longer hill. Some cows offered to play goalie in the distance. They scooped him up and carried him back laughing. I felt a wet nudge and a heavy snort against my fingertips. A whine and a groan followed. I looked down. A silvery, velvet haired Weimaraner flickered his doleful eyes at me. Another nudge. We chatted for a bit as a scratched his soft head and chest. He wandered around the tree to sit and lean against me. “This I can’t bring back,” I thought. His partner, a large Rottweiler, ambled over as well. Both sat beside me for a few minutes, demanding attention and looking excessively put out if the other got more. As their owners called them back, we gathered at the Rittner Seilbahn– a sky tram that would carry us over mountains and towns before dropping us back in Bolzano.
We loaded in (which is why I have no photos- imagine nose and fingerprint laden glass and 20 people). The horticulturist stood near his wife who covered her eyes. He snapped away as the tram lurched and rocked. A few times he would chuckle, pat her on the shoulder, and snap a photo of her covered face with a background of mountains and fields. We swooped over pines and brooks, grazing cows and goats, the occasional gathering of ducks, and little wooden homes before the city came into view. The quaint timbered painted homes faded into multi-story row homes. Their curlicued ornate exteriors and gilding glinted from the smudge window. “We made it!” the horticulturist cheered to his wife.
“Not until I touch ground,” she said.
Up next: Bergamo!