July 2, 2013 by Dan
I wanted to go to South Tirol so we could see the Dolomites. And so I could speak German. I have this thing about speaking German in countries that aren’t technically Germany or Austria – it’s a kick. I’ve also spoken German to people in Brazil, Argentina, Nepal, and Indonesia, and doing so in Italy seemed like it would be a kick.
South Tirol is an odd place – it was ceded to Italy by the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. (Another side note – are there two countries that are more different than Austria and Hungary? How did they make one thing out of that? It’s nuts) Italy was happy to take the region, as it controls the critical glacier and winter run-off from the Alps, giving Italy dibs on the water. The people were less happy, as they only spoke German, and it really made no sense for them to be nominally part of a country with which they shared little if any cultural commonality. The upshot of all of this is that the region is officially part of Trentino, Italy. In the town of Trento everyone speaks Italian. In Bolzano (Bozen), an hour north, German is all you’re going to get. To learn more, check Wikipedia.
On the train north of Trento you can see and feel the difference. The houses have crossed-wood architecture, the people suddenly become blonde and blue-eyed, and all of the newspapers have umlauts instead of accents.
Our plan was to take the train to Klausen, where we would pick up a bus to St. Pietro in the Val Lunes. I had obsessively researched the bus schedules and the timing looked good – we should have reached our destination at around four pm. All systems were go as we reached Klausen. The train dropped us off, we couldn’t find the bus station, but my German was good enough for me to figure out where it was in a no-English conversation with a store owner. I was stoked.
At the bus station, I asked a driver where the bus to St. Pietro was.
“Nummer acht,” he said, pointing at a numbered space on the pavement. Right. We hung out next to number eight. About twenty minutes later the same driver pulled in, and we joined a line of about twenty people getting on the bus. The sun was out, it was almost warm, and I was happy. Logistics won again.
Until the driver dropped us off in St. Pietro. It was a picturesque little mountain town with a fantastic view of the valley below. I called the number for our hotel.
“Hello,” I said in German. “We are here in town.”
“Excellent,” said the man. “You are at Pitzack?”
“Pitzack?” I asked. “No, we’re at…um…”
We were not at Pitzack. The owner and I talked for another few minutes, and it became pretty clear that, despite the driver’s assurances that we were in St. Pietro, we were not in the right place. Julie saved the day, noting that there was an open hotel/bar across the street, and perhaps it would be better to talk to them in person? Instead of trying to use my rusty German on the phone? It turns out that speaking on the phone is about sixty times harder.
The hotel was wonderful – a U-shaped bar with two patrons, huge window mountain views, and a friendly owner who spoke decent English and had a bus schedule. After another couple of minutes, it became very clear what our problem was.
Yep. Two towns of St. Peter. We were supposed to be in the top one. Instead, we were in an entirely different valley, where the busses only showed up once per hour. And if we got the next one back to town, there was no way we would get the last bus to our St. Peter. Fantastic. I was pretty irritated, especially with the bus driver.
“He didn’t ask you which St. Peter?” asked the bar owner. “That is odd.”
He sighed, then grinned, then allowed that his wife happened to be headed down into the valley anyway to pick up their son, and we could catch a ride with her and pick up a different bus, then transfer to another one, which was the last bus to our St. Peter, which would get us into town at seven pm, in time for dinner. Would that be OK?
Julie and I both broke into grins. Of course it would. His wife spoke little English, and was a little flustered by her sudden cargo of two American tourists. We made her leave us at the bus stop, even though rain clouds were gathering and we only had one little umbrella to guard us while it poured on us for five minutes as we waited for the bus. Then it dropped us off and we had to run across a busy road to the other side to catch the correct bus, only seeing the far-safer under-the-road tunnel after the fact.
But we got on the bus, and it made its way up the Val Lunes in a pouring, torrential rain. We made it to the Residenz Toglhof, where the owner is wonderful, friendly, and speaks not word one of English. My German was just good enough. And at eight o’clock that night we were settled in to the Pizzeria bar Café Dreimädelhaus, where they serve fantastic things.
And the pizza oven has a child’s play area below.
And in the fading evening light, the mountains were almost visible.
Tirol was going to be good.
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