taking on the dolomites

Moments. Moments of pure, serene freedom, that’s what I live for. In coming to Italy I knew I would trek the Dolomites, that was a must. This weekend that is exactly what I did. And, my trip, my experience was better than I could have ever dreamed. My dear friend Jacqueline and I set out from Florence on Thursday night at 5pm after our classes got out. We arrived in Puente Gardenia around 10pm. One small detail I forgot to mention.. We did not book any place to stay or really have many plans except to bus to Selva di Val Gardenia on Friday morning and hit the trails. We searched the small, empty village of Puente Gardenia for a hostel or albergue with no avail. We saw one open bar, entered and were greeted, not in Italian but in German. German, I learned, is a very common languages here, everything from signs to menus are written in both German and Italian. Most people here are also from Austrian decent and the vibe of this region is not an Italian one because until last century this region was actually apart of Austria. Back to my story, we explained our situation to a man in the bar to the best of our ability and the kind man who spoke Italian explained that there was a village nearby with a few hostels. After we searched for the hostels and returned with no success, he offered to drive us to the nearby village, we happily agreed. He dropped us off at a small building titled “Pizza e Pensione”. We walked in and asked if they had extra rooms and the server who knew English replied they had one room left. We were so excited! She led us to the room. It was adorable, little did we know at the time, we were staying in a ancient castle from 1482. I talked the price of our stay down from 30€ per person to 20€, which was such a blessing. The fact that we stayed in an ancient castle in a small mountain village in northern Italy, was unreal.
We headed out around 7:30am on Friday morning and caught the 8am bus to Selva di Gardenia. The one hour drive was remarkable, absolutely stunning. The dolomite area is one hour from the Austrian boarder, so the geography and architecture there are both Austrian style, not Italian at all. Once in Selva we headed to the tourist office where we got a map and were helped in finding the trail head towards our day one hike. The day was quite cloudy which added a mystical affect as we headed towards the UNESCO world heritage site. The hike was quite intense but I live for the challenge and racing to the top of the mountain was the best feeling In the world. We hiked all over, stopped by a small shop on the top of a mountain, frolicked in a field overlooking gorgeous snow covered mountains, and even stopped to journal on a beautiful mountain top. And, that is just to name a few of the precious moments we had on our first day of our Dolomite trip. Near the end of our hike we came upon a gorgeous clearing where people left messages with rocks, we placed a message there as well. We left a cross and the word “Peace” as our message to the future travelers. We stopped various times during the day and had deep conversations, enjoyed the glorious views, and took in the precious moments and crisp, cool, fresh air. We arrived back to Selva around 5pm and one of the adorable houses had a sign that said “Liberi, Frei” we thought that meant they were offering to house travelers for free yet in reality it means they had beds open. We knocked on the door and waited, nothing. We nocked again and a small figure opened the door, an adorable elderly woman. We asked if we could stay and she let us into her home. She led us upstairs to a double room and asked us to pay 15€ each for the night, which we happily agreed upon, this is when we realized the meaning of the “free” beds sign outside her door! Our host, Caterina was 90 years old and we soon realized had Alzheimer’s disease. She kept checking up on us, making sure our key worked, and she really wanted us to be comfortable, she was the sweetest, so dear. Around 7:30pm Jacqueline and I headed out for dinner. The town we realized was quite empty, most hotels and albergos were actually closed. We learned this was because we came when everything was out of season, from September 21 until the beginning of November most restaurants, shops, and hotels are closed. I was very excited to hear we were there in such a time when no tourists were also traveling! We found a great pizzeria where we literally watched our homemade pizzas being made and cooked. That pizza was the best I have had here in Italy! When we returned back to Caterina’s house we found out by Catrina’s daughter that the albergo was actually closed and Caterina had let us stay because she forgot it was closed! Caterina’s daughter did let us remain in the home, which was quite kind of her, it was quite a funny and strange situation!
We headed out on Saturday around 8am towards the mountain Sassolungo. The gorgeous rock-filled trail turned out to be a remarkably stunning but cold hike, filled with mountains, streams, waterfalls, green mossy woods, many evergreen trees and sunshine. We stopped at lunchtime and hammocked for around an hour. I took in these precious moments with such excitement and awe.
I could not and still cannot believe how beautiful and perfect my weekend has been. The Dolomites are definitely the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen and my eyes were so overcome by the powerful beauty that constantly surrounded me. We hiked down to the small, Austrian looking village called Santa Christina di Val Gardenia by around 3pm. Jacqueline and I shared an apple and rhubarb strudel which are famous here. That was probably one of the best foods I have ever had, I’m not sure if it was because I was hungry or because it was really that amazing! After walking through the enchanting, Austrian looking town we took a bus to another more lively town, Ortisei. When we arrived to Ortisei we learned that most hostels were closed since the ski season had not yet begun, just like the other towns! After searching for over 30 minutes we found a tourist stand that had numbers of open hostels. I called a few, yet all were closed. Right as we were about to give up, I called “Villa Emilia” which happened to be open! We got a room for 70€ which was wonderful given the situation! When we arrived we were shocked at how beautiful the quaint little building was. It was so lively many people, older of course, who were also staying in the hotel. When we arrived to our room we could not believe the beauty of our view and the quality of the hotel. The hotel had a terrace, bar, and a restaurant as well. After settling in and marveling at how blessed we were to have made it to such a perfect place, we headed out into the quaint, fairytale like city. Jacqueline and I were both overcome with joy as neither of us had been to such a place before. It did not look like Italy nor did people act or speak Italian, I felt like we were in Austria! We went to the gorgeous church at the center of the town and we also window shopped for a bit. I noticed there were many wood carving shops which we learned were famous in the Dolomites. I purchased a few locally hand-carved pieces for my family there which was exciting.
Walking through Ortisei was a dream, the beautiful bright colored homes with ornate designs, balconies, and windows with unique window shutters reminded me of my visits to Disney World’s Epcot. The difference between the amusement park and this is that this town was actually real, it was fantastic! We went to dinner at a small restaurant a local we had met recommended to us. We had a traditional meal there and had fresh, homemade rosemary crisp bread, it was nothing like I had ever had before. After dinner we headed back to our hotel where and sat in the restaurant area downstairs. A small party is sat near to us and all sang classical German songs and danced, while men dressed in traditional Austrian garb played the accordion for the cheerful party. Jacqueline and I joined in on the fun and danced for a bit as well! It was such a special moment. We then sat down, all bundled up after a very cold day and we drank homemade hot coco and ate perfectly roasted chestnuts.
My trip to the Dolomites was a dream. Every moment exceeded my expectations more than I could have ever imagined. I know that God guided and protected us this weekend and gave me one of the best weekends of my life. So, here’s to unplanned adventures, to meeting new people, to living in the moment, and most of all, here’s to this beautiful journey called life. I challenge each of you to step out of your comfort zone, be spontaneous, and be free. Let the wind guide you and take you where you are meant to be. I have learned that the best adventures in life are those that are unexpected and unplanned. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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