I will refresh your memory a little since it’s been approximately four centuries since I started my Italian blogs. In parts one and two, I spoke about the awesome couch-surfing hosts I’d met who made my trip what it was (in part one, I explored Treviso and Jesolo Beach; in part two, I went to Pordenone and visited the circus; I also took a side trip to Venice). Here in Part 3, I hiked the Dolomites and almost missed a bachelorette party.
To preface: the reason I went to Italy—aside from my obsession with food and questing for gelato—was to see my friend get married. Up until the day of the Dolomites, I had NO SCHEDULE. I was on my own, exploring and sight-seeing and eating. On this day, however, I would finally be convening with the wedding party. The first gathering was a “henna party,” which was a cross between a bachelorette party and a rehearsal dinner. It started at 5pm.
I REALLY wanted to hike, however, and the weather was supposed to be nice and this was to be my final opportunity, so it was decided: I WAS GOING. My hiking guide was Jacopo, and he was excited to host me because he wanted to practice his English. He offered to pick me up from the train station at Feltre, and from there we would explore the mountains!
Little did I know…
From where I was in Bassano del Grappa, there wasn’t an easy way to get to Feltre. I had to take the train south to Castelfranco, then back north to Feltre, totaling 1.5 hour, even though the actual destination was 30 minutes north of where I was staying. I won’t bore you with logistics, but in essence, most of my day was spent commuting, either by train or by car (to the trailhead). This left roughly three hours to hike. I needed to be back at the train station by 2:30pm, otherwise I wouldn’t arrive in Bessano del Grappa in time for the bachelorette party, so we needed to hustle.
I arrived at the Feltre train station at 8:30am where Jacopo was waiting to pick me up. He reminded me of a New Hampshire guy I’d met once who was small and spritely, who wore patchwork fabrics and was interested in cold weather, hiking poles, and being vegetarian. I’m not sure that Jacopo shared those characteristics, but he had the same look. In any event, he was kind and so was his friend Alesseo, who met us at the station because he also wanted to hike and practice his English.
They were both teachers, and for being so concerned about their English, they were so talented! They blew my German proficiency out of the water, and I learned that Alesseo also knew German, which came in handy during the hike. At one point the guys were quizzing themselves on the words for different fruits and vegetables in English, and there was one fruit they couldn’t remember the word for. They tried explaining it to me, but I wasn’t getting it. Finally, Alesseo said “Erdbeeren,” which is German for strawberries, thus solving the mystery! HOORAY FOR HIGH SCHOOL GERMAN.
We also started talking about Scotland because Alesseo had spent time there (BE STILL MY HEART), and I swooned over the country. I told him I was impressed he could understand the Scottish accent, and he said most of the time he could not. I took that as my cue to demonstrate all the accents I know, including my Scottish accent (“Iss jus a beeg red toylet seat”), as well as the Boston accent (“pahk the cah in Hahvad yahd”), the Valley Girl accent (“like, totally”) and added some y’alls to compensate for my accentless native tongue.
The hike itself was grand. Whenever we’d get a stunning view of the peaks, Jacopo would make a large sweeping gesture with his arms and say, “THESE are the Dolomites!” (He was poking fun at his American friend, whom he’d recently visited and who kept pointing things out, like mountains or the ocean or a McDonald’s and saying, “THIS is America!”) However, the Dolomites deserved a grand sweeping gesture because they were beautiful. Here are some highlights.
Also, for the record, those cows wore bells. In fact, they wore cowbells.
I’ve never seen– or heard –cow bells actually being worn by cows. It was like an epiphany. I was far too elated for what the event merited. I took a video, hoping to pick up the sound of cowbells being worn by cows (it didn’t work), and Jacopo and Alesseo were confused. “You have cowbells in America?”
“But this is exciting to you?”
“The only times I’ve experienced cowbells ringing were at the hands of people. They ring them at graduation and sporting events.”
“But you call them cow bells?”
“Yes, it’s the same bell.”
“But they’re not worn by cows?”
(THIS is America!)
Anyway, after 1.5 miles of steep ascent in which I acted tough but struggled to breathe, we made it to a resting point. It was lovely.
*In our pre-hike correspondence, I had emailed Jacopo that I was excited to have a “hiking buddy,” and I didn’t realize that was a term he didn’t understand. Out of the blue, during the hike, he asked me what a “boo-dee” was, and I thought he was saying “Booty.” I began with the obvious definition.
“Um, so, you know J-Lo…?”
[insert awkward explanation]
“No, no…You said you were excited to have a boo-dee,” he explained.
Well, that’s definitely not true. It’s hard to find pants that fit unless they’re stretchy.
I thought maybe he meant pirate booty? But I couldn’t remember talking about plundering ships for gold. It wasn’t until he mentioned “Hiking boo-dee” that it occurred to me what I said in my email.
“BUH-DEE! It means FRIEND!”
When we reached the “chalet” (as I’m calling it), we took a break and ate a snack, and I learned some important ways that Italians differ from American whilst hiking.
1. Alesseo packed a thermos full of coffee…in the middle of summer.
2. Jacopo brought pastries.
3. They were both capable of tearing an apple in half with their bare hands.
More like this:
I’m still amazed.
After a twenty-minute break, we began the journey down the mountain. We made excellent time, and when we got to the car, we realized there was even time to get gelato on the way to the train station.**
**I maaaayyyy have mentioned gelato once or twice on the hike
We stopped at this cute little town somewhere in Trentino because Jacopo knew of a great gelato place. Even though we were in a hurry, I couldn’t resist taking some photos.
Although the gelato shop we visited wasn’t known to be “the best,” I was very pleased with our choice. (For the record: I approve of village-wide siestas except when it comes to gelaterias.)
A little too much savoring happened (GELATO CANNOT BE RUSHED) and before we knew it, we were very pressed for time. But Jacopo got me to the station without incurring a traffic violation, and as I boarded the train, I thought “Whew. That was close.”
As the train chugged along, I sighed a contented sigh, feeling happy that I’d gotten to hike the Dolomites, and excited to see Niusha and attend wedding shenanigans.
And then the train stopped.
The first time, we were at a stop, so it made sense even though we were there for a long time with no one boarding or exiting the train.
The second time we stopped, we were in the middle of a field. I was actually writing another blog at the time, and I’d interrupted it to say “I’m currently sitting in a train that’s not moving, I’m in a hurry to be somewhere, nothing is happening, and I’M TRYING NOT TO FREAK OUT.”***
***this was removed from the final draft
Thoughts of my parents’ honeymoon in Mexico came rushing to me, when my dad told me in the middle of the night they realized their half of the train had detached from the engine, and they were stuck in the middle of no where. I kept hearing him say, “I was just waiting for the banditos to come pillage the train.” I did not care about the banditos or pillaging–I was worried about being late to Niusha’s party. I was supposed to arrive in Bassano at 4pm, which would give me just enough time to walk to my B&B, shower and get ready, and catch a cab to the henna party. The minutes ticked away. 3:45. 3:55. 4:05. 4:15.
I waited for someone to tell us what was going on.
Finally, a voice came over the loudspeaker, but it was more like a “soft”speaker because I couldn’t hear what he was saying, and he spoke only in Italian, so it didn’t matter. The only other person in my train car who could have clarified the matter seemed just as confused as I was.
Not long before this, the girl across the isle from me asked if we were stopped Bassano del Grappa, and I told her not yet. I was surprised because she spoke to me in perfect English, and I wondered (sadly) if I looked like an American. But I immediately felt compassion for her because 1) she had a kind smile and 2) she seemed lost, which is a state I identify with quite readily. I had it in mind that when we arrived, I would ask her if she needed help finding where she was going…I would be like a mother hen guiding her chick. She would look up to me and thank me for all of my assistance, and we would become friends who exchanged numbers.
However, when the train started moving again, it was already 4:25, and we were so late by the time we landed that I pulled a George Costanza upon exiting the car, not stopping until I’d made it to the B&B.
The best part of this story is that I still made it to the henna party mostly on time. I was a few minutes late, but nothing notable. I’d even forgotten my wallet and had to ask the taxi driver in broken Italian to turn around so I could fetch it. (THAT went over well).
What a day.
I was so excited to tell Niusha about my harrowing train adventure, and as I walked up the stairs to where she was getting ready, I ran into none other than the girl from the train.
We both did a double take.
“Did you take the train…?”
It was totally her!! WHAT A SMALL WORLD. We swapped stories about the train ride and told Niusha about our crazy experience.
It’s a good thing I didn’t actually push her when exiting the train, but it made me think: sometimes my intuition to befriend people isn’t terrible. If I had taken a few extra seconds to talk to her, we would have figured out we were going to the same place, and we could have gone together.
The moral of the story: tis good to be kind.
And thus ends my couch-surfing, solo-traveling adventures in Italy.
What a ride. 🙂