I have found my perfect place, where the variety of food is actually existent, where Italian pizzazz meets Austrian order, where people don’t seem to speak English when I speak Italian or even Italian for that matter, where the setting doesn’t tell you exactly where you are. You may have to ask someone. Italy? Germany? Switzerland? Austria? Who knows, but no one seems to care.
On a quest to get out of 100-degree temperatures in Florence, I did what I think every traveler does at one point or another, picks a spot on a map and just goes. Sure some research followed about this magical city post point, but in the end it was a completely random find, not somewhere I intended, just an escape from the blazing Tuscan sun.
Two names scatter about the city, Bolzano and Bozen, one Italian and one German. Just shy of Italy and Austria’s meeting in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy, Bolzano sits as the gateway to the Dolomites. The culturally confused city left me scratching my head on several occasions. Biergartens and pizzerias? Cars are actually stopping as I cross the road? Is that German I hear? Italian teenage boys are polite when they hackle you? Feeling out of place yet not, Bolzano was technically Austrian up until 1919. Mussolini came in to “Italianize” the city, but I would say he failed. Bolzano is neither Italian nor Austrian.
Framed by the bizarre looking Dolomites, I can only say so much about Bolzano. If you are planning on visiting Italy, rather than that classic train trip from Florence to Cinque Terre or Venice, head north to Bolzano. Not convinced? Here are some reasons and photos to get you moving to Bolzano, or it is Bozen?
Castles, Castles and More Castles
Bolzano is home to three castles in the area. Two you can walk right up to, including Castel Mareccio, a 12th century structure and Castel Roncolo, built in 1237. Castel Roncolo even holds 14th century frescoes depicting scenes from secular literature.
Bolzano has three cable car routes, easily accessible from town. Apparently the world’s oldest and the world’s longest cable cars reside in the city. While I don’t believe that to be true, I did take Bolzano’s longest cable car, Funivia del Renon, stretching high above Bolzano for 4556 meters. The ride leaves you in a quiet little town where numerous hiking trails present. Images of Austria come to mind as the city is out of view and the rolling hills and mountains take center stage. The cable car in itself lends views that make stomachs jump as high as those Dolomite peaks.
A 5,000-year-old Iceman
It is no secret visiting Ötzi, a 5,000 year old man found in ice, in Bolzano left an indelible mark on me. Bolzano is home to the archaeological wonder at the Museo Archeologico dell’Alto Adige. While the admission may cost one of Ötzi’s arms and legs at 9 Euro, it was well worth it. The museum also holds various other archaeological finds, but the main act here is Ötzi and all of his belongings and gear.
Sunday Morning Italian Strolls and Friday Night Austrian Beers
On a Sunday morning, the shops of Bolzano are closed and the streets are silent. The wooden market stalls of Bolzano are empty, lacking the life they had during the rest of the week. The Gothic Cathedral makes its presence known as German mass is being said. Piazza Walther is scattered with a few people as the rest of Bolzano hasn’t had their morning espresso just yet. In contrast, on a Friday night, everyone is out in full force, walking and cycling through the arcaded streets of Bolzano. German and Italian fills the air, but not a word of English. Restaurant menus are only in Italian and German, making it hard to know if you should just say “Vorrei schnitzel”, (I want schnitzel) or use the complete Italian equivalent. Diners feast on boots of beer, leaving a new appreciation for Bolzano post weizen.
Natural Scenes Unseen
After taking the Funivia del Renon, I noticed there were various trails you could take. I selected the Earth Pyramid route, a geological peculiarity. Wandering through Austrian looking scenes, not a soul was around. The hike was not difficult, except when you start singing “the hills are alive, with the sound of music”. It is hard to twirl like Maria and keep on the right path. After less than an hour, you reach the Earth Pyramids, a formation of rock that dates back to the glacial era. More outer space than Dolomites of Italy, even the natural settings in and around Bolzano left me wondering just where I was.