Wednesday, August 25, 2010

‘Take time to dream: it is the way to the stars’ – a trip to North Italy

These past two weeks of August, I have had the privilege of visiting the most beautiful cities in North Italy in the Alto Adige/South Tyrol region. Travelling daily on foot, bicycle, buses or trains, I visited cities and towns surrounded by mountains, rivers and the sea, full of history and charm - all thanks to my friend Lucia. During these two weeks, I became addicted to pistachio ice cream, without doubt Italian ice cream being the best and creamiest in the world! I also re-connected with the nature around me, in particular feeling on top of the world on the Dolomite Mountains.

Trento is the capital of the Province of Trento, or Trentino, an autonomous province of Italy. It lies in a wide valley called the Adige valley just south of the Alps foothill range, the Dolomite Mountains, surrounded by mountains all around (up to 2,200m), and it is the home of my lovely friend Lucia. In Trento, I tasted Spritz for the first time, an aperitif drunk by the locals. During my visit to the Castello del Buonconsiglio, I was inspired by the most beautiful examples of International Gothic art in Europe from the 15th Century (representing the Cycle of the Months). We took a funicular ride to the top of one of these mountains, and had an impressive panoramic view of the city of Trento.

From Trento, we took day trips to Venice, Verona, Bolzano, Cavalese, Merano, and stayed in a refuge in the mountains near Pozza Di Fassa. In Venice, we walked over picturesque bridges and through little passages, watched locals being transported and tourists serenaded on gondolas, and breathed in the panoramic view of Venice from the Campanile di San Marco, the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica, located in the Piazza San Marco, one of the most recognisable symbols of the city.

In Verona, the city where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette love story takes place, we visited Juliette’s balcony, and came across hundreds of tourists getting their pictures taken rubbing the right breast of her bronze statue, in the hope of bringing luck. In Merano, we took a stroll through Italy’s most beautiful botanical gardens, the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle, and we pampered ourselves by visiting the thermal baths, relaxing in warm water and saunas and enjoying the sun.

During our final days, we trekked in the Dolomite Mountains breathing in the fresh alpine air, we witnessed the wonders of the Dolomites turning red at dawn and dusk, tasted ‘Canederli’ a delicious traditional recipe from the region, and watched the stars at night at the Rifugio Monzoni, Torquato Tarameli (m. 2,046) near Pozza Di Fassa. The Val di Fassa is the only valley in Trentino with a ladin heart, an ethnic minority which continue to proudly defend its cultural, linguistic and gastronomic roots. The Dolomites are also one of the greatest cycling areas of the Alps, and one circuit which was recommended by a professional cyclist we met at the refugio (he ranked 5th in Italy) is the four passes of: Passo Pordoi, Passo Sella, Passo Gardena and Passo Campo Longo. I hope to return one day soon to experience the magic of the Dolomites by road bicycle.

I turned my head towards the window to watch the mountains... and, I knew right then that you had arrived. It was the morning. I was alone on the Earth. It was so early that the birds were still asleep ... and you, you tried to make the dawn. You were finding it hard but you insisted. The sky turned pale. You filled the air with white, gray, blue colours, you pushed away the night, you revived the world. You did not stop. That's how I understood the difference between you and us: you are the guy who never tires, always at work. And here is day! And here is night! And here is spring! And here is winter! And here are the most breathtaking mountains! Such beauty and spirit! I understood that you were there, and you were telling me your secret: look at the world every day as if it was your first time. Contemplate the light, the colours, the trees, the birds, the animals. Feel the air pass through your nostrils and make you breathe. Feel yourself alive. I shivered with pure joy, the happiness to exist. I was amazed. I had the impression that you were taking me by the hand, and were leading me to the heart of the world to contemplate its mystery. Thank you.’ Adapted from ‘Oscar et Mamie-Rose’ by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt.

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