The Dolomites: Cream of mountain soup
Ted, his parents and I stayed in the Italian Alps for a week in a tiny town called Cassana. The entire area felt like a summer camp for Italians, full of playgrounds and apple orchards and ski stuff. The roads were terrifying narrow, cliff-edged nightmares, but the weather was refreshingly cool and the dairy products were top-notch.
Ted’s dad Rob kept us posted throughout on the local WWI history (moral of the story: it sucked). But Ted and I were mostly interested in sampling the local cuisine, with its Austro/Italian/Germanic influences. So we feasted on spaetzle, strangalopreti (a local specialty that means “priest-strangler” and has something to do with the Council of Trent), buttery gnocchi, lots and lots of venison, grilled sausage, and enough raspberries that even I had my fill of them. Eating out was surprisingly difficult. Every place required a prenotazione (reservation), even if it were only accessible by hiking up a mountain. One place we ate at even needed a reservation specifically for ordering potato pancakes!
Daniella, Ted’s mom, was an enthusiastic tourism office visitor, and amassed quite a collection of pamphlets on the region’s attractions. We took some short hikes in Rabbi Valley (no Jews though!), went up a mountain in Peio in a huge bus-like gondola to walk on some glaciers, and took a bike ride along the river by Cassana. We also heard tell of a hot spring with mythical healing powers, though we were somewhat disappointed to find that a spa had built itself around it and the water was just a tepid swimming pool attended by dictatorial women in nurses’ uniforms.
All the hillsides were very charming, full of chalets with candy-bright geraniums in every window box. We visited many castles, which were everywhere, including Castel Ossana and Castel Caldes. The latter was home to a princess who eloped with the local doctor’s son, and was later brought back and imprisoned in the attic, which she spent the rest of her short life decorating with maudlin frescoes. We hiked up a very steep mountain to another castle which we found abandoned and fenced-off, but Rob and I invaded it anyway like a couple of Vandal barbarians while Ted and Daniella lurked outside the fence in a cowardly fashion. We also walked to all the nearby “malgas” (alpine dairies), and chowed down on bowls of whipped cream and berries.
Finally, we made our way back to Milan for Rob’s flight. On the way we stopped in Bergamo, a town notable for two massive cathedrals right next to each other in the central piazza, each encrusted with elaborate wood carvings and gold leaf decor. Rob and I were both of the same opinion - “time for the Reformation” - but Pope Ted defended the Church as a bankroller of the Renaissance and bastion of learning. Then he burned us at the stake.