From San Vito de Cadore…

Today was a day of happiness – sheer, unadulterated happiness over some of the finest roads I have ridden and the most magnificent mountains I had the good forture to see. As I write and sip my martini, I am surrounded by them – gigantic, massive, craggy peaks encircling the little town of San Vito di Cadore, where I am stopped for the night. The Dolomites are truly a thing of beauty. To think that I came so close to never seeing them at all. That I might have left Europe without ever knowing them!

And yet, I agonized all evening, most of the night and this morning when I woke up in Padova, as to what my route was going to be. The easy, short route would have been to go east towards Trieste and Piran, by the water. It would have been a quick ride, and then another short ride the next day to Ljubljana, where I could stop riding, and rest and sleep and call this journey to a close. I was so tired that it was beyond tempting. The other reason at the back of my mind of course was that this was the *Dolomites*, some of the tallest mountains in Europe, and me with my severe vertigo would be a very bad combination. I kept recollecting the moments of blind terror on the Swiss Alps a couple of days ago, and the one moment on Furka Pass when I was quite sure that I was going to die.

In spite of the terrifying few minutes though, I had to force myself to remember that the rest of the ride had been fantastic and the sights I had seen will forever remain in my memory. I also recalled the heart-thumping thrill at the end of the ride, when I rode the last few kilometers to my lodging, with the thought that yes, this had truly been an adventure. It had been challenging to my mind and body, it had kicked me out of my comfort zone, it had forced me to develop riding skills that I’ve needed for the roads I had ridden before, it had been difficult, but I had made it. Out of all the days of the past month that I rode, this was the one day that had felt like a real riding adventure. I could have that again if I could only swallow my fears and head north to the Dolomites. “But I’m scared”, said a tiny voice at the back of my head. Would I rather be scared and take the easy path, or push through the pain and do what I really wanted to do? I chose to do the thing that spelt doom. After hours upon hours of agonizing, the relief that came with a decision made was tremendous.

As it turned out, all my fears were a little laughable. The roads through the Dolomites were fantastic and not in the least bit scary. A big part of this was because even though they climbed as high as the Swiss Alps, they had more tree coverage and there were no unprotected cliff views of how far you could fall if you slipped and went down. (Thinking about that one narrow road on Furka Pass with a drop of 2000+ metres makes me want to throw up.) I was also now a lot more used to riding the switchbacks. I wasn’t fast by any means, and I ran wide way more often than I wanted, but I did fine. The downhill parts were sheer pleasure and I wonder whether the riders that passed me could see the big grin splitting my face in two.


The route that I did today was roughly north from Padova to Bassano del Grappa, which was sheer riding hell going slow through small towns in hot, muggy weather. Thank heavens for lane splitting! Oh and whoever complains about how bad the driving in Italy is, I really wonder where they’ve been riding. Agreed that their roads are arranged in a somewhat crazy manner and I had many WTF moments, but the drivers themselves aren’t at all bad, either on the Autostrade or the little towns. At no point did I feel afraid or unsafe.

I felt my spirits reviving only after I started seeing mountains in the distance. Finally I was upon them. The road surface was not as nice as the ones in Switzerland, but it was every bit as twisty as I had hoped for. Traffic had sped up and I kept passing cars unabashedly even on the solid lines now, taking point from the Italian motorcyclists on the road. On a tangent, I love that European motorcyclists are almost always in full leathers, no matter what the weather. I contrast that with the squids on American roads and I wish we could be more like them.

Further north no towards Feltre and Fiera de Primiero. I stopped somewhere near Mezzano to get lunch (I’d had an awful breakfast the past couple of days) and stepped into a restaurant which had a little boy at the reception. There was not another soul in the place. He took my order of panini with proschiutto and cheese, which turned out to be a hamburger bun with some meat and cheese. *sigh* I asked him if he would at least heat it up, which he did. Communication in Italy has been the most difficult in West Europe so far. Most other countries, folks spoke rudimentary English, especially the younger people, but here it’s been rather non-existent. My fault for not knowing any Italian at all, of course.

After that extremely bizarre lunch, which seemed more of a waste of time, I got on the road again. I went over Passo di Rolle, my first pass of the day. :) Then north to Canazei and the big pass – Passo di Giau. What a fantastic, panoramic view!! The place was crawling with motorcycles and mountains for as far as the eye could see.

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From here, it was a short ride to Cortina D’Ampezzo, my final destination of the day. I wanted to find a place to stay at night, but I learned from the locals that it would very expensive and I should ride down 10km to San Vito di Cadore, which turned out to be good advice. I did get some tasty treats from a bakery in Cortino though. Mmmm… wish they made those in Seattle.

At San Vito, I stopped at Hotel Colli, the first one I saw, which looked the most appealing after I had ridden down the street to the end of town and back. The people who owned it were super-nice, the room was a mere 53 euros, they offered to let me park my bike in their garage, and I think they might have given me their best room, right at the top with a great view of the mountains. After days and days of living in hostels, the last few of which had been really crummy, I was delighted to have my own, private, luxurious room. Oh the small pleasures of life on the road. :)

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After I had unpacked and cleaned up, I walked down to the tourist center, where they gave me a login and password for the town’s free wifi. (Pretty soon we will have internet considered to be a basic utility, I’m sure.) I had dinner which was a tasty ravioli called “casunciei”, considered to be a specialty of the Marmolada and Arabba regions.


After dinner, I went for a walk around town, aiming for the river behind the hotel which I reached via a narrow, crumbling, slippery path. It smelt so good and clean. I really needed the mountain air after the past couple of days in mainland Italy. The views of the mountains once again made my jaw drop. I know I keep talking about them, but you really have to see them to know what I mean. I could spend all day looking at them, watching the colors change and the shadows deepen. The last mountain town that I was in that can even begin to compare was Seward up in Alaska.

This is my idea of an ideal day – great riding in fantastic weather during the day and an interesting place to spend the evening with a warm, comfortable bed waiting for you at the end of the night. I like this town. I see old people gathering in the cafes and families walking by shops and calling out to the owners. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else by name. The neighborhood bakery and supermarket have cheeful and inviting. They have community here, and they have the mountains. What more could one want?

Tomorrow I start heading back towards Slovenia. I purposefully want to delay it, stay here for longer, roam the mountains some more, but I know that I have to go. Very soon the dream will be over and life will be back to normal. I feel happy though, for the first time this month, or this year. Happy and content and joyous. I think I finally found myself again.

Padova, Italy

After Cologne, I had been hoping to say goodbye to my mindless motorway riding days. But the weather had other plans for me. There was a storm coming from the west which I needed to escape. And there weren’t very many cool small roads to ride through in the part of Italy surrounding the Milano area. So motorway it was. My destination for the day was Padova. It was far enough from Milan, close enough to to Venice to take a train there, and south of the Dolomites, should I decide to ride north through them to Slovenia.

I steeled myself against the long, boring journey and hoped that the horror stories I had heard about the Italian autostrade were just hearsay.

Once again I (illegally) took the motorway in Switzerland out of Bellinzona until I crossed the border into Italy. The motorways in Italy do not require a vignettes, rather they are a series of toll roads owned by different companies. I had vivid memories of the toll booths in Boston and New Jersey from last year, and how much I had loathed the stop-go traffic for miles to go through them. There was nothing to be done though and I had to suffer through it. The first couple of booths I encountered were confusing. I hadn’t gone through anything where I could get a ticket to show where I had started from, so I wasn’t sure how they would know how much to charge. Turns out it was a flat rate for that section of road, although I realized that only in hindsight. The toll collectors didn’t speak a word of English, so any attempt at communication was futile. The tickets were usually inexpensive, in the neighborhood of 1.80 euros each for motorcycles. The last couple of hundred kilometres did require me to pick up a ticket, which they ran through a machine at a later point to find the total amount I needed to pay. I think I overall spent less than 15 euros for the entire distance.

While I was aimed for Padova, I couldn’t resist getting off the road when I saw signs for Verona. Shakespeare-land! Memories of reading the Bard’s famous plays when I was little swept through my head and with a vicarious thrill, I pointed the bike towards the center of Verona. I didn’t stay for very long because I kept missing turns and got warmer and warmer. It was the kind of city best explored on foot anyway, not in full gear on a hot day. At first glance, it looked very old and dusty, with crumbling buildings lining crowded streets. I found a gas station to fuel up and took off.

Riding on the Autostrade was fine. Better than fine actually. Once again I admired how traffic flowed smoothly on the German and Italian freeways. People strictly adhered to the rule of “keep right except to pass”, unlike in the United States where people just camp in the left lane. In Europe, I also didn’t encounter any of the passive aggressiveness that I’m so used to at home. If you turn on your indicators to pass someone, they yield. Overall I felt really safe on the freeways here even at speeds as high as 140 kmph. That’s the highest that I think I went because that’s the most both my bike and I were able to handle. It was about on par with most of the other vehicles on the road, although occassionally you got people going 200 on the German autobahns.

The only downside to riding in this part of Italy was the air quality. I don’t know if this area is more industrial, but it felt extremely polluted, to the point where the humidity and pollution made me feel like I was back in Bombay again. Towards the end of the ride, I could feel my eyes stinging.

Padova came up around 2:00 in the afternoon. I rode through a series of cobblestone streets – these were different from the ones I had ridden over in other countries. I bet they got really slippery after it rained. I was unfortunate enough to be stuck behind a car going extremely slow. it was a lot easier to ride over this surface at a spirited pace, rather than 10 kmph.

I found the hostel easily enough. My heart sank when I saw that the checkin time was 4:00PM, but luckily they let me in and allowed me to put my stuff away in the storage room. I took off my gear, changed into walking shoes and packed my small backpack to head into town.

Walking through the streets of Padova felt like I was in an episode of Doctor Who. I had the strange feeling of having been transported into another time and era. The streets were deserted as I walked past a small river and crossed a bridge along more cobblestone paths. The buildings were like the ones in verona had been – old and crumbling, almost ancient.

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There was not a soul on the road – I realized later that it was siesta time. Everything shut down in the afternoons. Most shops were closed – completely unheard of back home! I was starving by now, so the charm of this phenomenon wasn’t completely endearing right at that moment. I went to a couple of cafes and managed to find some small sandwiches to eat. I realized more and more that communication was going to be a real problem, because unlike in Germany and Switzerland, nobody here spoke English. I was left with communicating purely in sign language. It was a little more isolating than I had thought it would be.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering and trying to keep cool. The head and humidity tired me out rapidly and I finally staggered back to the hostel to take a long nap. When I woke up, it was 9:00PM. I realized with a shock that once again I had to go hunt for food and be back soon. For some arcane reason, this hostel closed its gates at 11:30PM, but didn’t give me a key, so I had to be back by then. Fortunately, I found a good restaurant close by, where I got some pasta and a mojito. The cold drink was perfect for the weather and I felt considerably more refreshed afterwards.
When I returned to the hostel, I made plans for the next day. I would ride the train to venice. By the very nature of the city, no vehicles can go into the city, so it didn’t make sense to ride the motorcycle there. I would spend the day there and ride the train back in the evening. It seemed like a good plan.