Even tho we are in the situation which requires me to start this article with the Corona virus pandemic, this is a story about how a group of us, inspired by the virus, had a great vacation.
The pandemic we are going through made us question our lifestyle, habits, knowledge and common sense. To skip all the dilemmas, polemics and discussions because it is all irrelevant to this story, I will just point out one of the affected aspects in the whole situation: travel limitations.
Since the beginning of 2020 we were quite limited when it comes to going around. Here in Italy, at some point, we were not even allowed to leave the houses without justifiable reason. Therefore, thinking about summer vacations was a pretty much depressing waste of time. We accepted the fact that this year there will be no beaches, no hangouts, no celebrations… I even spent my birthday locked in the house, barely able to get ingredients for the birthday cake. As people started getting used to the new social norms and accepted the new reality, the strict pandemic rules got a bit less strict. With rules being easier to handle, we started thinking about how could we still save summer vacation.
If we wanted to go somewhere, it had to be away from people. That was the starting point and basically the only guideline to follow. Being overexcited, we came to a conclusion quite fast – mountains! The perfect way to relax during these awful times was to find a cabin in the woods and enjoy nature.
There were six of us: a journalist, an educator, a soldier, a sales assistant, a philologist and a nurse. In a Marvel universe, this is what Avengers look like. Over dinner, we looked for a perfect place to stay somewhere in the Dolomites. It did not take us long to score a perfect shot. We found a place called Alpe Cermis. In the middle of the mountain, there were some wooden cabins and we rented one. Our host was the nicest host ever and we were very happy with our choice. Until a certain point.
The first step was to find a place to stay. We found it and booked it without thinking about all the following steps. Such as renting a vehicle. One person from the group worked in a car rental company and decided to visit ex-colleagues and see what they have to offer. Long story short – nothing! We needed a big car or a van because there were 6 of us and the road to get up the mountain was very bad. Panicked to the point where I started thinking about how we will have to cancel the trip, an unexpected call happened. One of the colleagues had a friend who got an available van. The only problem is that the previous person who rented the van, broke a whole left side window and there was no time to fix it. The golden rule says: if a grey tape cannot fix it, it cannot be fixed. So we fixed it with grey tape. Now imagine a big black van, with a grey tape over a window going to the woods and parking in front of a cabin in the middle of nowhere.
Anyway, we had no choice. We rented a van and laughed at the circumstances.
Around the same time, our host contacted us with shocking news. Actually, with 2 shocking news. The first one was that the road to get to the cabin was closed due to maintenance. The alternative road was used instead, but that one is in quite a bad condition. Having no choice again, we just said ok. The other news was a bit sad. The host asked us if we know any place in Rome which can be rented for a reasonable price because his sisters` son felt from the 7th-floor window, which was 30m high, and the sister needed a place to stay to see her son in the hospital daily. Having an apartment in the Rome center, which we use for Airbnb, just 10 minutes walking from the hospital where the son was, we offered her to stay there for a minimum price just to cover basic expenses such as electricity and water. Our host, being immensely grateful, offered us to stay 4 more days for free. We could not stay but we appreciated the gesture.
We stayed in touch with the lady and we talk to her every few days so she could inform us of her sons` health. He is not in a life-threatening situation anymore. He got a few surgeries and there is a long recovery in front of him, but he will be able to continue where he stopped. We wish him and the family all the best!
Let`s get back to hiking! Not being experienced in hiking, I had a bit of trouble knowing what to pack. From a week in the mountain, I learned: comfortable hiking shoes, proper socks, leggings, t-shirt, hoodie, waterproof jacket, sporty winter jacket, water, granola bars, hat, gloves, backpack, BANDAGES. There are some other minor details, but this is what was mandatory for me. It may vary from person to person and place to place. Just make sure to get informed before departure.
Getting all the things took a few days. Putting it in a bag took 30 minutes. And I was ready to go.
We did not want to lose time traveling so we decided to leave Rome at midnight. That way we could arrive early in the morning and use the whole day instead of departing in the morning and lose the first day.
The Northern we went, the rain got heavier. Being quite lucky, the situation got better by the time we reached the cabin and we had a wonderful week of nice weather.
First, we arrived in a town called Cavalese. It is settled in the valley under the mountain top where our cabin was. After a short coffee and orientation check, we went to find a mountain road.
It was not hard to find and the beginning was steep but quite fine. The road was made of mud and sand which was terrifying to see after days of rain. There were holes, puddles and some very big curves. It was mandatory to have seat belts fastened. The higher we went, the narrower the road got. A few times, we found ourselves face to face with locals in pick-ups. It was impossible to pass each other so they (having a smaller car) had to go reverse until they reached a spot big enough for 2 vehicles to pass by. What looked like a fog, was actually a cloud so we could not see much of a road in front of us. Pine tree forest all around gave an extra to spooky. A few times, there was a random cow next to the road. The poor van had to go up in first gear for 30 minutes. Going down required overuse of the breaks. I have to admit that we were a bit scared. Once we got up, we were relieved but also worried because we figured out we will have to take that road daily. Only one person from the whole group dared to drive.
Our host welcomed us and showed us the cabin. It is a typical mountain cabin. Small, 3 floors, fireplace, very steep roof, an amazing view. Occasionally, we were in the clouds. Literally! We settled and went on planning the rest of the week.
DAY ONE: WHAT DOES THE COW SAY?
After we settled, we started exploring the surrounding. Near our cabin, there was a chairlift. It took people from Cavalese to the mountain top and back. So we had lunch in a restaurant at the top and went down to the town. The ride was 30 minutes long and the view was just amazing. We took a short walk around the town to see what there is and we bought some food. The chairlift worked only until 17:30 so we had to get back soon. Concerning the fact we had a lot of time left until the end of the day, we decided to take a walk a bit higher because, prepare to laugh, we saw a lot of cows and we wanted to play with them. So we did! There were around 30 cows in the field and we got close. They were friendly and cuddly. I do not think I have to point out that the higher we got, the view was better.
After that, we had dinner and decided to go to Lago Di Braies the next day.
DAY TWO: COFFEE ON THE SHORE OF THE LAKE
We sat in our broken van and went down the mountain. A bit scared again.
It was two and a half hour ride to get to the lake. About 30 minutes from the lake, we had to leave our van and take a bus. The road to the lake is open for everyone until 10:00 and after that, the road is open only to the locals and people who already got in. We got there around 13:00. The bus takes you to the entrance where you can find a hotel, parking, some bar and souvenir shop. We got off the bus and started the walk.
Lago Di Braies is about 1500m above sea level and it is the largest natural lake in the Dolomites. The view around is beautiful. You can rent a boat to row. We took a walk around the lake because we were quite slow and had no time to take any longer routes.
Speaking of the impression, I admit that it is very beautiful and relaxing. But! Coming from a town settled on 16 lakes, seeing just one was a bit plain. I can understand that the place is overwhelming for people who are not used to see such a natural beauty, but I grew up to that kind of sight. It reminded me of home and it was nice. Not amazing, just nice.
The walk is easy. There are a bit ups and downs but barely any. The walk took 4 hours, but you can do it in much less. There was no rush and we wanted to enjoy the day. We had to stop to eat, drink coffee, sit by the lake and take a thousand photos. A soldier in the group was much more equipped than the rest of us so we got to enjoy his great moka coffee during every hike.
The air was cold and the sun was strong. In the evening got quite cold as the sun disappeared. Therefore, you have to prepare clothes for both situations.
Speaking of Covid restrictions, masks and distancing were „obligatory“. It was pointed out that the mask should be worn but many people, including us, removed it when we were not close to anyone. Once we got close to a group of people or just passing someone on a tight path, the masks were on. Nobody created any problems, people were respectful.
In the evening we had a big traditional dinner in the restaurant which was amazing. We ate a lot of cheese, prosciutto, pickles, wild animal goulash with polenta and apple strudel. There were so many more traditional dishes that I did not have an opportunity to try but that is the reason to go back.
During the dinner, we decided to wake up for sunrise the next morning. Because we were high in the mountain, the sunrise could be possibly the best we had ever seen. Oh, how right we were!
DAY 3: JINGLE BELLS
There was a bell at the entrance door of our cabin. I said I will wake up at 06:00 and ring the bell to wake up everyone else. The bell rang and we sat in our van again. We could have taken a walk but the point from where we wanted to see the sunrise was 40 minutes walking uphill which we did not want to do that early. Also, there is a chairlift but it opened a bit later in the morning.
Our van barely made it to the top. The first impression was breathtaking. As we got out of the van, we got approached by 2 horses and a donkey. The donkey was very friendly and very interested in our snacks. Horses gave us a bit of fright. They were huge and we did not know if we could interact. They seemed very curious but cautious. So, at 06:00 I called my mum. She had horses when she was younger so she knows what to do. Concerning the fact I am useless in the morning, I accidentally made a group call and woke up my brother too.
My mums` reaction was: „You are calling me at 06:00 to ask me how to pet a horse?“.
So I showed them the horses, and the donkey and the sunrise and the view to the mountains. They were amazed even if I woke them up so early.
Horses were not friendly but the donkey stayed with us while we had moka coffee. Some minutes later, a worker came to the top and we figured out that there were more animals. So we followed him and found goats, sheep, rabbits, geese and more donkeys. Also, there was a restaurant and a viewpoint. While roaming around, we made a deal about the rest of the day.
We decided to climb the 2671m mountain. So we got back to the van and went down the mountain once again. Equally scared as the previous two days. We got to the place called Latemar where we left the van and took a chairlift. The chairlift led to the beginning of the road to the mountain top. The climb was listed as hard but I expected harder. I thought I would be devastated by the time I get to the top or even the next day. Besides some muscle pain, I was just fine.
It was really hot that day. Surprisingly, the temperature went over 30 Celsius degrees. The start was ok, not so steep or rocky. As we were getting higher, the climb was getting harder. The important thing here was knowing your equipment. I had new hiking shoes, wrong socks and no bandages. It almost cost me the climb. I put bandages a bit too late and I was in a pain the following days. Nothing extreme, but it was something that could have been avoided if I had more experience. So, my advice is to try the shoes and climb something easier before the big climb.
I do not think I should point out the obvious, which is the view. I have never seen anything like it before. All the directions, any direction, there was something to admire. Two and half hours later, we were on the top – Rifugio Torre Di Pisa. From the top, we saw all the surrounding peaks, some lakes and a town. Breathing was a bit harder because of the lower air pressure. Jokingly, I said that there is no way someone there had Covid because even if the person is healthy, it is hard to breathe. Covid would suffocate a person at that altitude.
We took one hour to rest, we had a meal and took a winning photo. Getting down was fun. I was partly walking, partly running. It took me an hour. The day was perfect from the beginning until the end.
DAY 4: MIDNIGHT BARBECUE
We got up in the morning with the idea of a previous day – going to Marmolada to see permafrost. The conclusion was that we got too tired a day before so another climb would be too much. So we did something easier. Once again, the van went down the mountain. Nothing less scared, we held our breath.
Half the day we spent in Cavalese. It is a very small town so there is nothing much to do. We separated and I found a museum. It takes a bit less than an hour to see it and there are many different artworks exposed. As an art lover, I visited many museums in many countries and one thing here blew my mind. The lights were perfected. The rooms were quite dark but the light was lightning the artwork without lightning the rest of the room. It made paintings more vivid and I was amazed by it. There were also prison cells with writings on the walls made by different inmates. It was interesting to see the thoughts of inmates from a few past centuries.
After seeing the city, we bought some meat for barbeque and decided to go to see a mill and another museum in a town nearby.
The mill was old and run by water. There was and elderly gentleman telling us about its function. It is not used anymore and the purpose of it right now is only touristic. The museum Ladin de Fascia showed the life and culture in the local area tens of thousands of years in the past.
And then things got complicated.
Just as we finished and it was getting dark, we decided that it was time to go home to have a nice barbecue. All of a sudden, we found ourselves stuck in the traffic. It can happen in towns with small roads and a lot of tourists. However, we got suspicious. Then a helicopter arrived and many firefighter vehicles passed us. So we concluded that there was a car accident. After 2 hours of being in one spot, finally, there was some movement. After a kilometer, we passed the crash. It was frontal between Range Rover and Porsche.
That was not all. While we were waiting in the traffic, our host called us saying that a huge lorry slid off the road down the cliff which we used to get to our cabin. We went from being scared to being petrified! Not only it is hard to take that road in general, but it is harder to take it in the dark. Especially while knowing that the lorry went down. The biggest concern was that we did not know did the accident made any damage to the road and was it safe for us to use it.
The following day, the road was closed because they were trying to pull up the lorry so we were literally stuck up. We used time in the car to figure out what to do and where to go the next day.
If you are wondering what was lorry doing on the road where our van barely passed, it was on its way to pick up the cut tree trunks. Why someone would send such a big vehicle instead of something more suitable, remains a mystery.
Let me just say that by the time we got back to our cabin, it was quite late and we had our barbecue almost at midnight.
DAY 5: STUCK IN THE MOUNTAIN
The road down was blocked so the only option was to go up. After a short research, we discovered that the upper in the mountain there are Lagi Di Bombasel.
I was not thrilled by the idea of the lakes again, but seeing them in the mountain is a bit different and the road to get there could be amazing. It was an easy walk with nobody besides us. The road was simple, inside the clouds and it took us less than an hour to reach the first lake. It was quite windy and very humid. After a coffee break, half of us wandered off to see what else could be found behind rocks. The more we walked, the more lakes we found.
Then we bumped into an old house. There were writings all over the walls and some metal dishes so it seemed to be a shelter for anyone who gets stuck in the snow or wants to be sheltered from rain or wind. Getting to the edge of the cliff, we did not see an amazing view because it was covered by a cloud which was even more amazing. After an hour and a half, we decided to go back. Only this time, we did not follow the road. We decided to go offroad just because it seemed more interesting. Although it is probably not recommended to do, it was not anything dangerous. Rocks were quite flat with some holes and bumps which were easy to go over or around. It resembled the road so we felt safe.
Instead of taking the chairlift, we walked back to our cabin where we had our last dinner and started packing.
DAY 6: MOUNTAINS OVER BEACHES
We did not want to depart but obligations made us leave. Thinking about all the problems we faced, the only thing that we will not miss is the mountain road. For the safety of us all, especially the lorry drivers, we hope that the other road will be fixed soon.
It sincerely was a nice vacation which made me think that the mountains in the summer are underrated. It turned out to be a great vacation solution during a pandemic because there were not many other people. Being alone was beneficial in many subjective ways. Now, when we have to avoid people in the street, it was very relaxing just going around without worrying and tension.
In the end, the conclusion was that the mountains are much better than the beaches. I never liked the beaches much and I never understood the joy of burning in the sun. This vacation just confirmed that I would choose mountains over any beach anytime. Hiking should be done more often so we continued the research looking for our next summer vacation location. We are hoping that this Corona virus situation will be solved as soon as possible so the travel limitations will be removed. That way, we will be able to include other countries
By Tamara Hodak