Wandering through the Italian hills
Crisp mornings. Warming fall colors in the mid-day sun. Afternoons rolling over mountain passes. Evenings setting up camp in solitude near quiet hamlets.
In many ways, each new day traveling solo followed a similar pattern. Slowly traversing the long axis of the Alps, avoiding highways like the plague, Kit was in no hurry to leave this idyllic setting.
Still, the shortening days and increasingly frigid nights echoed the advent of winter heralded by the piles of dead leaves lining the alpine lanes. The steady march East began waiver with more and more intention to head South soon as well.
One last alpine target remained before Kit could commit to lower and warmer climes: Stelvio Pass, the granddaddy of them all.
Climbing to the top of the Dolomites
Close to the intersection of the borders of Austria, Italy and Switzerland, Passo Stelvio is as much a modern touring destination as it is a testament to the historical interactions between these three European nations. Crumbling bunkers and a cornucopia of languages written on shop windows and street signs hinted at the fluid nature of who inhabited (and controlled) this area.
Even the existence of a road carved into such a remote and inhospitable route punctuated the historical importance of accessing and controlling this region. It utilizes countless hanging switchbacks, interspersed with narrow tunnels carved into the rock, to navigate its way up to 2700m and back down again.
The Eastern descent from the pass in particular was a tight snake of narrow switchbacks, obliviously placed with great pains along a massive cliff face.
There are no monolithic concrete overpasses here, no 4 lane rivers of asphalt. Just carefully worked stone walls supporting a single lane of well maintained tarmac.
It makes you wonder at the men who thought a reliable track could be willed into a place so obviously not receptive of one. Were they considered visionaries? ‘Maybe more like madmen’ Kit thought after descending the hundredth hairpin on his return toward Merano.
At the pass Kit had a nice conversation with a couple from India. After completing the holy ritual of discussing what motorcycle we were thinking of buying next they parted ways, blessing Kit with some recommendations of sights to see on his way down to Merano.
With Stelvio conquered, any remaining itch to motorcycle lonely, winding Alpine trails had been thoroughly scratched. Kit took their advice and headed for some cultural sights in the nearby valleys.
This included an evening visit to the posh Thermae in downtown Merano.
While Kit got surprisingly few sideways looks at his disheveled, unshaven, road-worn appearance, the experience was decidedly un-Rick compared to the natural beauty and solitude of the hot springs the Ricks had previously found in Africa or America.
Merano was also home to a network of funivia servicing the plethora of hamlets precariously perched on the steep sides of the valley walls encircling the city.
The orientation of some of these cable cars made perfect opportunities to utilize them as a vehicle in enabling the laziest of paragliding missions. Laziness being one of Kit’s primary interests, he set out to catch a quick flight on his way out of town.
The ease of it all was astounding.
5 minute ride in an otherwise empty cable car.
Quick espresso from a shop keeper / barista suprised to see anyone this early on a weekday.
Short, uneventful descent back to the base. 10 minuites to pack everything away. Back on the road heading East in less than 2 hours.
The ease of it all was astounding.
Skirting into Austria
Thinking to avoid the bigger cities and their interconnecting highways, Kit held out on a full retreat South for a few more days. Practically throwing darts at a map as far as route was concerned, most days navigation comprised of picking a reasonably close destination and then linking as many tiny lanes together to get there as possible.
Of course this meant rougher terrain and slower going. But the opportunities it afforded to see the countryside and meet its inhabitants made it worth the ‘hassles’.
As Southern Austria turned back into Italy and then finally into Slovenia there was little in the way of fanfare at remote border crossings. In fact, any expectation Kit had of gradual reduction in terrain as he headed South and East away from the Alps into Slovenia was shattered by the jagged peaks of Triglavski national park.
Even after the weeks spent riding through the heart of the Dolomites, the landscaes of Northern Slovenia were unexpectedly breathtaking.
Descending from this compact but sheerly beautiful region, it was with great relief that the terrain began to flatten and the climate temper. Passing the capitol of Ljubljana, Kit booked it for Croatia… and the coast!
It turned out there was one remaining hurdle to be passed before the warm relief of the Mediterranean. In his overconfidence that he could navigate any back road, any border crossing with little to no planning or research, Kit was unpleasantly surprised to find the border between Slovenia and Croatia heavily secured.
Maybe Slovenia still didn’t trust it’s Adriatic neighbor, despite Croatia’s successful acceptance into the EU almost 5 years ago? Looking for another place to cross into Croatia, Kit wondered if this would turn into his first real border ‘experience’ since Africa?