To arrive in Bologna by train (45 minutes from Faenza, our home for now) was a piece of cake. To get off the train in Bologna was like cramming a whole cake into a flask. It was a bottleneck of epic proportions as a horde of Italian lemmings attempted to squeeze themselves in past my bike and I. We were at a standstill — me, frustrated by their immobile state and them pissed because I was smacking them one by one in the face with the bike I carried on my shoulder. I managed to throw one bike on the tarmac and fight my way back on board for the other as Tyler waited anxiously with his bionic peg leg and all our panniers. All the while, the pre-departure whistle of the train sounded repeatedly.
Waiting for those on the train to disembark before climbing aboard seems elementary, dear Watson. But dear Watson was English, and the English seem to agree some semblance of order is required. The English have queues where English folks stand to buy a sandwich. The Italians — on the other mano — stand in one “line” (a loose jumble of yelling individuals all hoping for the same result) to see which sandwich they might want, another to pay for the sandwich and a third to present their receipt to a harried server in order to receive their sandwich.
Yet, we calmed down and successfully boarded our next (crowded) train to Bressanone-Brixen, even with a little break to sit in the sun and devour a crisp, green apple off one of the trees behind the Farm. And then there were four more hours to sit and watch fields turn into orchards and flat ground turn to steep, dramatic mountains. We traded villas for whitewashed, flower boxed buildings in Bressanone-Brixen (“Bressanone” the Italian name for the town and “Brixen” the Austrian one, as this area, the Tirol region, presents an amalgam of both cultures). Our bikes we left at our die Jungendherberge (youth hostel) and our hunger at a quiet pizzeria just down the cobbled road.
The down comforters on our twin beds (yay, youth hostels) were necessary that night (as I burrowed in and wondered why on Earth we — from 9000 foot/3000 meter already snowing Dillon — decided to trade warm air for cold). But coffee and hot milk, juice, bread and words like haselnuss (hazelnut… giggle, giggle) helped us defrost in the morning. With its strong Austrian influence, the sud-Tirol (or southern Tirol) enjoys a bit more organization than would otherwise exist in any part of Italy. So, coats on — but under an already warming sun — we headed out (and up) for Passo Brennero (Brenner Pass) on a very well-signed bike path that would be our guide for the day.
Just outside Brennero, the bike path turns bafflingly in the exact opposite direction of the Passo. I jokingly said it may be the longest switchback known to man; turns out, it was. Way up valley past pig sties and pastoral fields it connected to an old railroad grade, several old tunnels, some wind and more rain. Passo Brennero and the Austrian border were anti-climactic, marked only by the point when the little stream beside us began flowing down. The bike path dumped us off in a nondescript parking lot in an industrial zone that rapidly transformed into a highly trafficked shopping area. Large signs with impeccably groomed, exuberant, slender women holding up bags of designer goodies guided us across the pass.
The bike path disappeared like a black Audi R8 in the fast lane, so we bombed down the only soaked, busy road that was not the Autostrada. By then, I had burned through all my energy stores, the s un had departed and I was a Sylv-cicle. Of course, I forgot my warm layers (leg warmers, headband, toe covers, etc) and so began to experience a classic Sylva meltdown: starving, freezing, cussing and wishing for a warm, dry train full of pizza.
I put my frozen foot down in Steinach and we hopped on the train for the last 25 km (15 miles) — an Austrian train, which was not only dry and warm but clean and spacious. Bikes — typically maneuvered carefully up four steep, narrow steps into a crowded, dirty bike car that may or may not have bike hooks — roll easily on the street level train, tied via rubber straps to the side of the car. The train was largely empty and for once, we didn’t crane around for a sign as the train slowed, wondering if our stop had arrived. Instead, a clear voice and numerous signs announced well ahead of time — in German and English — the name of the next stop.
Once we’d cruised easily into the Innsbruck station and emerged to the street, the rain burst into action. First, a noticeable pitter-patter, next as if someone turned on a shower head and then a torrent as if all the Gods’ bathtubs emptied at once. We waited it out, watching throngs of university students, elderly folks, properly dressed bikers, buses, cars and trams sloshing by. Then we pedaled into mist, through city traffic and across the river to our hotel where our buddy Dean (fellow Coloradoan and bike tourer) awaited.
Haven’t had enough of Innsbruck? Lucky for you, neither have I… Until next time, Auf Wiedersehen!