Friday, September 4, 2015

Venice: The Breathtaking Dolomites

I was using words such as "spectacular," "amazing," "moving," "unbelievable," "breathtakingly beautiful." 

We were 7700 feet above sea level, standing in a small parking lot at the end of the road that snakes its way up the ascent to a group of three mountain peaks in the Dolomite mountains known as Tre Cime de Lavaredo. I have seen the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and British Columbia. I seen the Cascades in Washington. I have been in the French Alps. Though I have seen beauty in those places, I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like what we saw yesterday.

This map shows the location of where we were in relation to Venice. 

We were on a small-group tour out of Venice. Mark cycled in the Dolomites in 2009, and I have heard him speak many times of how much he had enjoyed that trip and how beautiful the mountains are. We had originally planned to spend several days cycling up there on this trip. When it became apparent in early July that Mark couldn't cycle anymore and we cancelled our cycling tour, I looked around to see if it might be possible to take a day trip out of Venice while we are here.

We weren't disappointed in the tour we had chosen. Even the weather yesterday seemed to want to help make it a wonderful day for us. The forecast was for rain, so we had lowered our expectations of how the day might work out. As it happened, we set out from Venice yesterday morning under a beautiful, almost cloudless, blue sky.

View from Pieve di Cadore

Our first stop was at the village of Pieve di Cadore, a quaint little place that was the birthplace of the Venetian artist, Titian. Here, we had coffee and a pastry, then walked around a bit taking pictures.

Pieve di Cadore's main square with a statue of Titian.


Village church with an original Titian altar piece.

Next, we drove to lake Santa Caterina. Imagine living there in the town of Auronzo. We next stopped at a wide spot in the road where I took the two following pictures.

There were eight passengers in our van plus our driver/guide, Giovanni: three women from Iowa who appeared to be a mother and daughters; us; a couple from Los Angeles; and an older woman who was traveling by herself. It seems like there's "one" in every tour group, and she was it in ours. A bit of a sour puss who had no filters on her mouth. 

Fortunately for us, she was in the front passenger seat and we were in the middle row of the van. The advantage of our location became clearer through the day as she moved from talking to Giovanni to the Los Angeles couple behind her. It would have been fine if she was a sparkling conversationalist. She wasn't, and like I said, she didn't have a filter. We learned about her love of bull riding - not doing it, watching it; how she had already booked tickets for Tuscon for her and her sister-in-law, how both it and the train tickets were already paid for. We learned about how high the waves were on her trip to Antarctica and were provided details of who lost their lunch and where they lost it. 

We learned about how she climbed the rigging on her tall-masted cruise ship that she had taken out of Rome around Italy and up to Venice, and I groaned inside when I realized it was the same ship we will be on for our Croatian cruise coming up. When she told Giovanni he should play some Italian music on the radio, he demurred. Without any hesitation at all, she whipped out her iPhone and played a performance of O Sole Mio that she had recorded in a restaurant in Naples. She then moved on to showing videos she had recorded, then - of course - pictures of grandchildren. I had to admire Giovanni's patience.

For lunch, we stopped at Misurina, also on a lake (see below). The skies had darkened considerably by then and it started raining while we were indoors eating pizzas. It stopped, however, as soon as we left Misurina, and as we gazed at the Tre Cime de Lavaredo in the distance, we saw lots of blue sky.

View of Tre Cime de Lavaredo from Misurina. (The third peak is hidden.)

From Misurina, it was climb, climb, climb - the same road that Mark had climbed on his bicycle six years ago this month. As we approached the end of the road, the van was full of gasps and exclamations. The views truly were extraordinary. It was almost a spiritual experience to be there and see that we saw as the clouds constantly shifted, wreathing peaks at times, then floating away. Giovanni - who has made this trip literally hundreds of times over the years - even commented at how extraordinarily lucky we were to be able to see so much so clearly. Two days before, he said, a colleague had taken another group up, and visibility was zero: they were completely enveloped in clouds. We felt truly fortunate.

From the Tre Cime, we descended into the town of Cortina, which is a renowned ski area and was the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics - the first time they were held in Italy.

It was a very, very good day. It was yet another one of those experiences that, afterward, I said if we had to return home the day after it, the trip to Italy would have been worth it.


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