We’re off on a seven-day bike trip in the Dolomites, the northeastern Italian Alpine region, with Zephyr Adventures a great little U.S. based tour company. This is our fourth Zephyr adventure; we hiked the Inca Trail with them in 2009, and then did bike tours in Puglia, Italy, and Provence, France. Our first stop was in Cortina d’Ampezzo, a tiny town in the summer that all but explodes with skiers in the winter. Its claim to fame was as the host of the 1956 Winter Olympics.
This area of Italy is pretty unusual. For much of its history it was part of the Austrian Empire until it was ceded to Italy after the First World War. Even today, nearly a hundred years later, it feels more Austrian than Italian. Town names are typically given in both Italian and German, which may have what appears to be no relationship at all. For instance, we’ll be heading to San Candido, the Italian name, but it’s also known as Innichen, its German name. And the cuisine seems more Germanic than Italian. Strange.
After shuttling up from Venice the first day was a relatively simple eight-mile ride down to the town of San Vito di Cadore and back, mostly just to test out the bikes and get a little exercise. Even with that little ride, though, I was pretty impressed with the mountains. It’s supposed to be a relatively easy bike tour, so I wasn’t sure we’d really be in the mountains. Not to worry, it turns out; we’re surrounded by gorgeous snow-capped peaks. So good they were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. At the same time we’re only at about 4,000 feet altitude so thin air isn’t an issue at all.
On any trip like this meeting the other travelers is always interesting. Two of our trip mates, Marc and David, are old friends, while three of the others are people we’ve traveled with before on Zephyr tours: the bike guide Giacomo, and Ann and Pat, sisters from Liberty, Missouri. But in getting to know the rest of the crew we quickly found some crazy connections. Heather is from Minnesota, which isn’t that surprising. What’s crazy, though, is that she grew up in a tiny Iron Range town less than 20 miles from the tiny Iron Range town where I graduated from high school. Her second cousin was in the five-person German class I took in my senior year. Small world.
And then we were talking with Kerry, the other Zephyr guide. She’s originally from Minnesota too, but that’s not the freakish coincidence. Turns out she lived in Cambridge for a little while and worked at Rialto, a great Italian restaurant just a mile from our condo. On many nights when work was too intense we’d stop there and have dinner at the bar, chatting with the staff and getting to know the chef, Jody Adams, pretty well. While we didn’t remember Kerry there and she didn’t remember us, we knew lots of people in common. Crazy small world.
The next few days will be more adventurous as we head out on some longer rides. So far, though, we’re off to a good start.