Tuesday, November 3, 2015

travelogue: cortina, we go

Copenhagen allowed us to slow down. We tried to blend in with the impossibly tall, intuitively stylish Danes, and aside from being way shorter and a bit more earnest and goofy, we succeeded in melting into that hygge way of life.

So! Just enough time to relax and then off again to the next adventure.

Stop # 3: Cortina D'ampezzo, in northern Italy.

Having spent five weeks travelling in Italy with my family ten years ago, this version of an Italian town was wholly different. Being situated in the north, nestled in the nook of the Southern Alps, Cortina is a collision of Austrian and Italian influences. The juxtaposition between the quaint flower boxes of Heidi's alpine youth, and the passionate slurp of tagliatelle going down someone's gullet. We watched little bambinos stroll by with their families, clad in lederhosen and pigtails. We'd spy strudel and tiramisu on the same menu; schnitzel and gnocchi too.

Quick Facts/ FAQ's

We went from August 4th to August 8th (which we thought was the right amount of time)

Season: Summer. By which I mean, schweaty, melting forehead summer by day, and then coolish, cicada calling mountain town by night. If you do end up going to Cortina, know that the summers aren't as severe as the summers elsewhere (*cough* Venice). Despite it being hot, it was often a nice heat, accompanied later in the afternoon by a thundershower.

Accommodations: Cortina is a resort town not unlike Whistler. It is immensely crowded in the winter (and once hosted the Olympics!), and also popular in the summer for hiking and mountain biking. We chose to stay 20 minutes outside of town, which had its own pro's and con's. The first few pictures above, are of us crushing hard on the Dolomiti mountains from our balcony. Breakfast was served downstairs every morning, and we would venture elsewhere for lunch and dinner. It was a comfortable stay, and yet we know that had we stayed for any longer than four nights, we would have started to feel the impact of not having the autonomy to move around in our own kitchen.

Transportation: No car for us on this leg of the trip. A 2-3 hour pretty bus ride from the Marco Polo airport to Cortina. Then a 20 minute little coach ride up the hills to Piccol, where we stayed. We relied on that bus to get us everywhere, which was hard in the evenings because the last service up the hill is at 7pm. This forced our hand most nights, and we would elect to come home before dinner time.

Once, we stayed in town and tried our luck at hitchhiking back in the dark. It was my first time ever hitchhiking; I wasn't very happy about doing it. At least twenty cars passed us. Each one felt like a rejection (so sensitive, I am). At nine o'clock, we made a deal that we would try for one more vehicle, and if it was a no, we'd walk back onto the main part of the city and hail a cab.
A cute little Italian camper van zoomed past, and slowed down-- we cheered! Midway through our celebration, we realized they had pulled over for a mother, her au pair and some toddlers. Not for us at all. Awkwardly, we turned around and tried to pretend we hadn't been running up to the van. Smooth.
"Excuse me? Would you like a ride?" The mother beckoned to us. Soooooooo nice! What success! We happily accepted the bumpy ride up the hill, with about 6 other bodies in the van.

Moral: it will be easiest for you if you have a car while in Cortina, but rest assured that public transit and the kindness of strangers will also serve you well, if not.

Clothing: Hat. Sunscreen. Sunglasses. Shorts. Sturdy shoes. A cardigan and jeans for anytime after 8pm. Fashion on the back burner as how- to- not -have- your -shorts- stick- to- your-sweaty- bum was the main goal of the day.

Favourite meal: On this piece of farmland, on a super quiet road with some salt lickin' cows roaming around, was the best meal I had POSSIBLY THE WHOLE TRIP. It was certainly a contender. Ravioli with pureed beets inside, topped with parm and poppy seeds. I don't know man. It was so good, we went twice.

On adventures:

Bry and I are alike in lots of ways, but in so very many, we are not. Adventure for me is new restaurants and sights and trying out new countries like trying on new shoes, and for him, adventure is going down things really fast, preferably either with wheels or some sort of board. This part of the trip was planned so that in between the calm city-life of Copenhagen and the languid countryside of Southern France, B could go fall down, get dusty, and be endorphin happy.

The pictures above are from the day that we took the chairlift up to meet our new friends, the Cinque Torri (The Five Towers). One of our original dreams was to hike from rifugio to rifugio, sleeping in bunk beds along the way, carrying everything we needed in a simple backpack. It wasn't to be, as doing that would mean hauling some gear that we regrettably had to leave behind in a storage locker in Iceland. So, day trip it was. 

Next time, we'd love to hike the day away and then go to sleep in a rifugio, only to do it again the next day. For this moment, we were just thankful to be amidst fireweed, white chalky rock, and to be able to rest and look out the view at Rifugio Cinque Torri, sipping on beer and eating our wild mushrooms and gnocchi. Even if we couldn't stay the night, it was still worth it to clamber over ancient rock, and partake in a landscape that has seen peace and war, both. 

On another day, Bryan rented a mountain bike and went up a series of connecting gondolas and chairlifts in order to reach some seriously high peaks. My nutty mountain goat husband had scored some wheels to make him that much faster! I met him later in the afternoon, and we rode some trails that were a bit more mellow than his morning runs, although still scary for a wimp like me.

I was glad that we hadn't rented me a regular road bike. The trails are full of that loose, chalky rock we had hiked on previously, and bailing hard was a real option. I tried to stay calm, keep my head up and not psych myself out. And... I didn't fall! Maybe that will be my new thing. Try these things my husband does, one time, and then go back to the safety of my books and blankets.

On our last day, we waited for the bus into town while dining al fresco with pasta and a view of the mountains. Very civilized. Very Cortina-like. Indeed, when in a country that validates our very human need to rest in the middle of the day, everything makes so much more sense. Can we please implement siestas in Canada? Can we please slow down and walk around barefoot on grass and eat carbs for lunch and breathe in mountain air? 


Cortina d'Ampezzo, you are an undercover jewel. You will always be special to me for being the land of some firsts: first hitchhiking, first mountain biking, first beetroot ravioli. 

Your Dolomiti peaks rival the other iconic mountains I've seen in my relatively short life, and while I'm not ready yet to cede my St. Elias Yukon mountain range from its #1 position, I proclaim you to be a very, very top contender. 

Bonne sera, arrivederci, ciao ciao! Multo grazie, bella. 

(Cortina in action here.)


  1. My my. It looks better than I remember it. I'm so grateful you take the time to reflect, my love. I still can hardly believe I got you to hitch hike!

  2. great photography and always very entertaining story telling. keep them coming!

  3. good camera skillz!! let's go to NZ and hitch hike some more :D

  4. So beautiful! and you look so happy...