Pfunds to Zoppe – 1,638km total
As time goes on it gets harder and harder to remember all the things that happen which is why writing these blogs every now and again is a great way for us to reflect and look back on what has happened. It’s hard to believe we are half way through our trip. Time has flown by. It is probably worth mentioning that this time none of us are injured. Apart from some aching muscles, we are fit as fiddles. Hurray!
Zoppe is by far the best place we have been. We are still pinching ourselves at our luck. Our new favourite saying fits this situation perfectly (from Andy in the last video). “You don’t know what you’ll find when you don’t know what you’re looking for”. We are the only tourists in this town and the vibe is great! It really is all about the vibe! The journey to get here though was by far the most challenging and greatest yet.
Pfunds seemed like a really long time ago and I think it was. We really have lost all sense of time which is nice. We were still in Austria and amongst the Austrian Alps enjoying nice weather on the whole and great riding. We climbed up from Innsbruck to Reschen Pass then down into Italy to Bolzano – Brunico – Toblach – Cortina and now to Zoppe. As much as I would like to recount things in order, it is almost impossible as each day blends into the next so this is going to be a mish mash jumping back and forth. One thing that is for sure though, since arriving in Italy, it feels like it has been Sunday every day. Things close or don’t open at all on a Saturday. Sunday, nothing is open except a few restaurants, Monday is closing day for places that are open on a Sunday maybe and everyday heaps of shops and places close from 12pm to 3:30pm. WHAAAAAT? We have been caught out so many times. I keep singing “Sunday, bloody Sunday” and that’s it cos that’s all the words I know.
We left Pfunds on a Saturday morning and everything was closed so we assumed it was Sunday. So, we had no food at all except for some highly processed salami meat and some dehydrated gherkin pickling mix, (we bought by accident thinking it was dehydrated veggies) I had just given myself 2 painful blood blisters from getting my finger jammed in the chain rings somehow when cleaning my chain and we had a huge (or thought we did) climb ahead of us to Reschen Pass. We were supposed to go back into Switzerland to avoid the Tunnels through Reschen Pass after some local man outside the supermarket told us that would be much better. But, we got lost and took a wrong turn and ended up being stopped by the tunnels anyway despite our best efforts to go back into Switzerland.
We did however stumble upon an awesome little river castle that had some local shindig with food (Bratwurst and potatoes) and full on Austrian yokel folk music. It was a great vibe so we happily ate their sausages for lunch (thinking we would go hungry cos nothing would be open) and listened to music with locals singing and clapping along to the squeeze box organ, giant double bass, harp and something else I didn’t recognise. We did feel a little out of place walking into a yokels Sunday festival but were made to feel welcome. After that with full bellies, we began our climb up to Reschen Pass. It was steep, we had to push all the way to the main road where we were confronted with a sign saying we couldn’t go any further due to the tunnels or else we might “die” or get “injured”. SHIT! What should we do?
There was a sign saying that there was a bus at some town we didn’t know the name of or in which direction from where we were. So we took a gamble, turned left after running full pelt across the busy road with our bikes and road down the hill to a town where we saw 2 bike riders standing on the side of the road. This looked promising and sure enough they took a wrong turn also and were waiting for the bus. We asked them if the bus would run on a Sunday and they said ‘Yes because it is Saturday”. Idiots! Haha. Thank goodness it wasn’t a Sunday or we would have to go back to almost the start of the day where we took the wrong turn or put on our bike lights and risk “dying or injury”. No thanks! We loaded out bikes onto the bus trailer and we took up the very last spot on the trailer and arrived in the town almost at the top of the pass and got the ride for free! Awesome. The driver told us to pay at the top but it was lunch time and he ended up driving off and never asked for the money. I love free stuff!
From there we had an awesome decent through the forest, small Italian villages and down down down. It felt weird covering so much distance so quickly after climbing up for so long. We did love it though. Our brakes, not so much, our discs were slightly gold and warped when we arrived at our campsite. Just as we had finished cooking an ordinary dinner due to lack of ingredients it started raining and has done ever since, every day without fail since arriving in Italy. It has also dropped at least 10 degrees during the day. I have now got proper use out of my pillow (down jacket) that I have been carrying around all this time. I do wish I kept those thermal pants which we threw away 4 weeks ago. There have been some occasions when we get a bit over being so homeless and brummy.
One morning in particular, I was struggling a bit after having a crappy croppy caravan park experience in a town called Lana, it was pouring with rain non-stop for about 24 hours (cooking dinner in the rain, everything getting wet during the night, camped on a plot that was about 3 metres by 3 metres with neighbours very close by and noisy, packing up in the rain, going to the supermarket in the rain and getting held up by a car where I kind of chucked a “nanna in Lana” at the car in front of us. The thing I am blown away with over here, is that if a car has to stop for more than 3 seconds, they turn their car off. I think it is a good idea sometimes for sure and maybe we should do the same in Australia but on this occasion it was stupid and they turned their car off for about a 1.63 second wait as a car reversed out. This meant I had to slow down and then had to stop completely (I tried to do a track stand but couldn’t for the whole 1.63 seconds and had to put my foot on the ground). This is really not a big deal at all, but I chucked a nanna in Lana and swore at the driver. Oops. There has been very few nanna’s all together so I guess it can be forgiven.
After we got some food for the day we spent about an hour trying to find somewhere dry to make breakfast. We ended up in a bus stop with people staring at us thinking we were weird homeless bums which we kind of are. On days like that, we get really tired of standing out in the crowd, being started at, having nowhere dry to cook/eat/sleep/be. The day definitely improved after that. There is always something awesome about being on the road again that lifts your spirits no matter how down you are or how bad the weather is. That is another song we sing almost every morning. “On the Road again” and that’s about it cos that all the words we know! That day we ended up half way up a mountain just outside of Bolenzo looking over the city in a guest house and dry. We nearly stayed there for 2 days. It was expensive to stay anywhere in that town but we couldn’t ride any further and there was no camping ground that we knew of. But, we ended up finding the cheapest place in town. (Turns out it was out of town, half way up a mountain, if only the gondola stopped half way, but had awesome views and we loved it!)
Andy and I have found the perfect way to speak English and not be understood (we think and hope) by anyone else who speaks English around us. The trick is to speak in full on Aussie Occa slang. We have it down to a fine art now and can say surprisingly few words and know what the other in talking about. Our own secret code language. Ha.
The other thing is in Germany, Austria we made everything German by putting Berg, lingen etc on the end of each English word. Now that we are in Italy we have had to change this to outing an ‘o’ on the end of each word ‘anda speaking lika dis” (if you can hear my accent in words) of course only in private. Every day I hear Dad in the language with the emphasis on rolling of the r’s and arms. I am really looking forward to learning more Italian (not just English words with ‘o’ on the end) and hearing Dad speak Italian when we catch up with them.
We have had a great time enjoying the free produce along the way also. We started riding through orchards of apples and admiring how tasty and juicy they looked until one hangry moment we sneakily pinched a couple as we were riding along. From then on, we have been apple thieves. You can snatch them off the trees while riding past. The slugs are full on at times. When the place is a bit damp, the slugs are out in force. Often we run over them by accident and I cringe as they explode. I have been having fun with confusing people along the road. Sometimes I will predictably say ‘Buongiorno’ to people as we ride by and other times I will say ‘G’day mate, How ya garn?’ and pedal off leaving them to contemplate what I have said.
Life on a bike is all about the little things. Like the ‘vibe’ that I have already mentioned but also about the little things you come to appreciate so much when your home is on a bike. The other day, after staying in an awesome camp ground with our own private terraced spot with an awesome view of a castle and cheap beer it poured with rain, all of a sudden with no warning at all. We raced for the tent, picking up all our nearly dry washing and other items and throwing them and ourselves all drenched inside the tent. It was the day after that we spent 2 hours in a town going from 1 sport shop to the next trying to find a tarp. They all cost well over 100 euros which was too much for us but at the last shop we found a cheap 2 by 3 metre tarp for 10 euros. Small win but has made our lives so much better.
We now also have a ground sheet which is nice. Our Expeds and sleeping bags still get damp each night but it is a huge improvement. Now when we get to camp, our tarp is the first thing we set up (enjoying the challenges of getting it just right and scavenging materials to make it work) and so far we have needed it each evening usually as we are half way through cooking dinner. Thanks to Andy’s resourcefulness, McIverness and Swiss Army knife we now have a new way to carry my handlebar bag. In the beginning it was on my handlebars but it interfered with the brake cables and gears, now it is mounted behind Andy’s seat with an additional piece of wood that Andy carved and some imagination. No longer do we need 3 carabineers and an occy strap to mount it securely (which means it took forever to put it on and off). Winner!
We have had some amazing sneaky camp sites along the way. Our favourite was the day we bought the tarp, it was pouring with rain all day, we got a flat tyre, went the wrong way up a hill and had to back track. We were meant to go another 30kms uphill but it was too late and we were buggered. It was a really nice spot next to a little mountain stream and there was no danger of being seen. Had a great tarp set up, the sun was shining in the morning so we could dry everything. We didn’t leave camp until midday after too many coffees enjoying the forest.
As we have been climbing up higher into the Dolomites we have been amazed by the scenery and awesome tall mountains surrounding us on all sides (some of them reaching up to 3200 metres) although it is a bit busy in the cities and some of the towns, they are all still amazing and as soon as you are just outside the main square, it is much quieter. We are definitely travelling much slower again. Partially due to the terrain but also because we are loving the place.
In Brunico we enjoyed going to the Mountain Museum, which was set up by a local mountaineer and has 5 or 6 different museums scattered around the Dolomite region. It focused on all the different mountains in the world and the mountain culture. It also discussed about tourism taking over the mountains and destroying the mountain culture and how it is all so assessable now with the Gondolas, chair lifts, road access etc. It made me feel a bit guilty being a tourist really. Although, we have avoided the touristy stuff. The only really touristy thing we have done so far is the Mountain Museum and the 2 Gondolas up the mountain. The rest is all about traveling by bike like a gypsy.
A few words of wisdom from the mountain museum:
“It’s better to stumble upon new paths than to walk on the spot. And when your feet will no longer carry you, you climb with your head. Isn’t that so? That is not perhaps the natural order of things; but is it not better to walk with your head than think with your feet, as is so often the case?” (Rene Daumal).
“When one is very young and knows little the mountains are mountains, water is water and trees are trees. When one has studied and become sophisticated mountain are no longer mountains, water is no long water and trees are no longer trees. When one thoroughly understands, mountains are again mountains, water is water and trees are trees. The wisdom of this lesson seems to have been learnt above all by those mountain people who have never left their homes.”
We stayed in Cortina in the camp ground for 2 nights and had the best set up yet. We even had a seat to sit on that we made (it’s the small things). It was busy in the town and didn’t have an awesome vibe but we were a bit buggered from all the climbing and it poured with rain all day (a good day to not ride we thought). We did have the craziest narliest decent into Cortina though. We decided to ride on the road to get to the top and down the other side after using the terrible bike track that was really a washed out mountain bike track with really loose gravel rock so we couldn’t get any grip and our tyres would sink down in it. We were traveling at about 6.5kms an hour. Once we got on the road we were climbing the mountain at 15kms an hour and way less hard. On the other side going down the mountain there were massive tyre sized cracks all over the road that would swallow your tyre if you weren’t careful, with cars and trucks whizzing by. We made it though. Phew. The bike tracks and roads so far aren’t as good as in German, Switzerland and Austria. Could be though because we are in the mountains?!
Before we left, Mum mentioned something about the Gypsies in Italy. Now that we are in Italy we have maybe seen a few. One we gave a bread roll to when she said she was hungry, the other gave me her Cranberry juice from her drink bottle when I asked if she knew where any drinking water was. But they probably weren’t even Gypsies just some slightly rough looking people (we are probably the most gypsy/rough looking people around though really ha). Ever since we have been in Italy we have been blaming the Gypsies when things go wrong or if we do something dumb. (A bit of a joke between us). Andy’s latest was blaming the Gypsies for loosing stuff. So far he has lost/left behind 1 pair of sunnies, 1 plug adaptor and body wash. Each of these has been blamed on the gypsies. Poor gypsies.
Andy just came back from the supermarket and said “I’m multi lingual I tells ya”. He explained his conversation with a local about why the supermarket was closed and if it would open today using a combination of Italian (that he has just learnt from an app while I’m typing this), German and English. Impressive I say! But the bad news is that the supermarket just over the road, placed so conveniently, is closed on a Wednesday. Whaaaat? Sunday on a Wednesday! “Sunday, bloody Sunday”!
We have just got back from the locals bar down the road, it was cranking. It sells booze and ice-cream, what more could you want? It is so nice that all these villages have a community hub where they can all get together young and old. It would be nice if Greta South had something like that, but I guess you need a village first and the property size back home is too big. Here, everyone seems to live in the village and own little farms on the outskirts that they drive their tractor to each day.
Last night we thought we would have the worst dinner. All we had was a can of tuna, pesto sauce and dehydrated mushrooms, rocket and penne pasta. Turns out it was our best pasta meal yet. YUM! We also turned on the TV for the first time ever and was surprised to see Mr Bean. Awesome.
We decide a few days ago that we would take a short cut/back road to a place called Zoppe which seemed like it would be a bit off the beaten track from the map. It was. We climbed about 900 vertical metres over about 8-10kms with no map just a photo from a map board. It took us 5 hours. I have never seen a steeper road in my life!!! It was bloody hard. I have never counted to 40 over and over again so many times in my life. I would do 40 steps then have to stop for a bit while my calves stopped burning and my lungs recovered. Our bikes weigh between about 65 – 85kgs each. My arms a certainly stronger after that climb. It was spectacular and worth it though.
When we were almost at the top 5 hours later, a man driving down stopped and told us we only had 1 more km to the top. He probably thought we were nuts having come up that road. That was the encouragement we needed though to get to the top. It was probably more like 2 kms though but at the time it was great encouragement. We finally got to the top and began the ride to Zoppe. At the top we asked for directions and a lady pointed us in the right direction and told us it was about 8kms away. We had a brief conversation with me speaking English and her speaking Italian lots of miming and hand gestures. We told her where we had come from and she said “Bravo Bravo” and I said I was buggered and we were crazy tourists. Ha. When we arrived in Zoppe at about 6pm it started raining. We asked some locals if there was any camping, hotel or restaurant. They said no we would have to go 10kms down the road. SHIT!!!! We both couldn’t have ridden down the mountain. If the road on the other side looked anything like on the way up, it would have been a death wish with the way we were feeling. We came across a place that kind of looked like a restaurant or hotel. I went over and asked and they said no hotel but it was a restaurant but didn’t open until 7pm. Shit!
Just as we were about to get on our bikes and ride down the mountain as it was our only option, a woman came over and asked us if we needed a place to stay. We said yes but we don’t have much money to spend for anywhere fancy. We thought she was going to give us directions to a place to stay at the bottom of the mountain, until we started talking about how many nights and money and had all of a sudden agreed on a price even though we didn’t know what it was like or where. Turns out she was offering us her apartment overlooking the dolomites with the best view in town a stone’s throw for where we were standing. With not just 1 room with a bathroom off the side but a kitchen, dining room, lounge room, kitchen, hallway, bedroom and bathroom. WOW! We couldn’t believe our luck. To be in the right place at the exact right time for the woman to be there and hear that we were looking for a place to stay. News travels fast in a small town. When we were settled in, the woman who had said ‘Bravo” and given us directions at the top of the mountain is living in the apartment above us. She seemed surprised to see us at her front door and we explained that we were staying in the apartment below with sign language. We slept really well that night. I have never been so buggered physically before.
We have enjoyed having a bath, using a real kitchen, having room to move, watching Mr Bean, eating ice cream at the bar and being in such a nice village with no other tourists, everyone on the street is super friendly and we were originally going to stay for 1 night but we are now staying for 3. It will be sad to leave this place. It is worth 4 times the amount that we are paying. The woman just came over and we said we would like to stay for 1 more night and gave her the money and she gave us a 20 Euro discount.
The mountain Passes we have coming up over the next few days are more gradual over a longer distance and on a paved road so we are ready! It took a whole day yesterday to wash and dry everything and get sorted, today is for eating, drinking and relaxing with a view. Our clothes are washed, muscles and minds are rested and tomorrow we will be “on the road again”.