(photo by Patrick Dominic)
On August 8, we got up insanely early and prepared to leave Rosenheim. The plan was to ride our bicycles to the nearby train station, and have our luggage sent over with a taxi van. There was a bit of panic when the van we ordered did not show up, but luckily there was one parked down the street waiting for clientele so it worked out fine.
It was not clear where we were supposed to meet our big tour bus and we were on the wrong side of the station when he came. Although the driver was very nice, he was surprised that we had come with our bicycles. I had organized this months in advance, so I was a bit annoyed. But there was plenty of room and after removing our front wheels and seatposts ten bicycles were nicely arranged. We got into the large, comfortable bus and headed out of Rosenheim. It was just after 6:30 a.m.
The bus we were using was actually a tour bus that takes people to Bolzano every Saturday for sightseeing and shopping, so all the other passengers were locals. Of course, this being Germany, the bus driver (who was actually very nice) had to apologize as he picked up passengers because he was five minutes late (thanks to us, of course). But soon enough everyone was picked up and we were soon on the autobahn heading south. Everyone settled in and half the group fell asleep.
This was unfortunate as our route was absolutely spectacular. Leaving Germany, we entered Austria at Kufstein and continued along the A13 highway, climbing steadily. Our driver, Ricci, gave a running commentary on the countryside. We passing Innsbruck, host to the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, and I was surprised how built up the Inn Valley looked here. The city has only 117, 000 inhabitants but looks quite urban, albeit surrounded by stunning alpine scenery. Another 30 kms along the highway and we came to the Brenner Pass, marking our entry into Italy. The pass crests at 1375 m ASL.
The drive then took us past Brixen, descending on the A22 and on into Bolzano which, surprisingly, is only at 262 m altitude. The bus took us into a large underground parking garage and we unpacked our bikes and prepared to discover Südtirol, or the Alto Aldige as it is known in Italian. The first trick was to get from the bus station, which was connected to the main train station, to our hostel. One of our group, Mariette, met us with a car and Dr. Chef and I drove over to the hostel with some of the baggage but due to construction and the fact we were not sure where we were going we ended up taking a major tour of Bolzano. In fact, the hostel was just further down the street the railway station was on so in the end everyone walked over. Five in our party had accommodations elsewhere in Bolzano but they were not far away.
The hostel, unlike those I remember from cyclingtouring in Europe in the 1970s, was a modern building with all kinds of useful facilities, including laundry. All of the rooms had ensuite showers and three in our group had single rooms. The large room for four that three of us shared was really nice, with a huge balcony and lots of space for our gear and even desks where we could write. The furniture was kind of IKEA-ish, simple but clean-looking. There was a breakfast room in the basement of the hostel and a large courtyard where we were able to keep the bikes. Internet access was available and there was even a vending machine that provided espresso. It was quite comfortable, conveniently situated and very reasonably-priced. Unfortunately, the single rooms faced out onto the main street and the railway, so there was noise since without airconditioning you really couldn’t close the windows. Our room was quite as it overlooked the courtyard and some apartment buildings beyond.
On this trip, we had been fortunate in having excellent weather but here in the valley surrounded by mountains we found that the climate was very changeable. It was hot when we arrived in Bolzano but soon after arriving in the hostel and sorting out our gear it began to rain. I had not planned to go cycling anyway but wanted to want around in the city, and we proceeded to do this.
Anyway, we reached the Waltherplatz after only a five minute walk from the hostel. The square is dominated by a massive cathedral, and ringed by the aforementioned cafés and restaurants. Walking further into the heart of the old town, we found ourselves in the Lauben, a medieval arcade section which now houses expensive shops. Of course, we had little choice but to stop for gelato, finding what our strongest rider, Zeezu, would name “the House of Infinite Choice,” a gelateria with flavours of ice cream I never knew existed. Some days we were to hit it several times, since cycling lets you eat anything you want.
I had contacted a fellow www.pezycyclingnews.com author, Corey, who lives in Bolzano about going for a ride and I called from the hostel and confirmed arrangements with him for the next day. I had discussed rides we could get to easily from the hostel and agreed that we would head out to the Passo di Mendola/Mendelpass.
The Sprocketboy and Dr. Chef excited by yet more food
(photo by Patrick Dominic)
Reaching the top of the pass, we quickly found the others who had arrived before us already digging into the strudel (a leitmotif of this trip!) and enjoying their cappucini. Everyone was in high spirits as the weather had cooperated, we had had an excellent climb, and in the busy restaurant we could stuff ourselves with giant pieces of cake. This is what holidays are about.
With everyone eventually together again, we posed in front of the pass sign for the obligatory col photo. I chatted with a group of German mountain bikers and we took a group photo of them after they had done one for us. Corey, who had been an invaluable guide as well as excellent company, turned back for Bolzano at this point and on we went.
The Passo della Palade/Gampenpass is also open all year and the grade from Fondo is a pretty easy 4.1 percent average. The pass is 13 kms (8.1 miles) long, reaching an altitude of 1518 m (4980 feet), giving an altitude gain of 538 m (1738 feet). The road is pretty straight, taking you through some dense forest and with views of impressive gorges.
At the top of the pass we assembled for our group photo and then began the long and exhilarating descent back to the Etsch Valley far below. The road was excellent and I enjoyed the views, stopping for more photos. The faster riders actually ran into a bit of rain on the descent but except for a few droplets I had no issues. Except for the fact that it was here that my camera batteries decided that they had done enough for me.
A Dirndl Girl with Weisswurst
(photo by Enrique)
We swiftly rolled back on the excellent bike path that parallels the Etsch and found our way back to Bolzano, getting lost on the outskirts of town (a theme to be repeated for the remainder of the week). Our first cycling day in Italy (nearly 84 kms/52.2 miles) had gone well and we celebrated at a rustic restaurant featuring local Südtirol specialities.