Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stage 13: Ferrara to Asolo

I've been so distracted with the Tour of California that I woke up this morning not realizing that today is the Asolo Stage! I have biked here, down from the town--not up a 7% grade to Monte Grappa, as the riders did today, but I've been here. And I've biked here just at this time of year.

A strange thing I remembered yesterday--climbing up the 2-mile hill that wound back and forth to Asolo and as I got slower I could see that wild strawberries were growing out of the stone walls on the right--and they looked ripe. Of course I was up on the pedals just trying to drag myself up the hill and worried that when we were done with this climb, Stoney was going to kill me. It had been our longest day--50 miles, and it was in the middle of a heat wave. But by the end of the day, following our directions on paper inside a plastic sleeve attached to our handlebars, we knew how long a kilometer was in the flats, just by feel.

Before we got to the climb up to Asolo we made our way towards the foothills of the Dolomites through fields, some ploughed, some green, some full of yellow and red wildflowers. On that day we noticed there are field planted with neat rows of young trees--they must be there to break the wind, but they looked surreal. We came across old men on bikes going to churches and weddings in suits. It was Sunday and it was May, and apparently there are many weddings in the Veneto in May.

We'd visited the Villa Emo, a villa designed by Palladio in the mid-1500s, and it's pretty much the first time in house archeticture where you see the modern house--no fortifications, no slits through which to pour hot oil and melted lead. Just a house--but it's based on ancient Roman architectural element, so the main part looks a bit like a temple, but inside the proportions are so comfortable. The frescoes inside are ridiculously beautiful, so it's not that this place isn't an extravagent country house, it's just that we could imagine hanging out there and having a great time. You can visit many Palladian villas in the Veneto. This area was the part of Italy most often ruled by Venice. I say most often because in times past, Venice, Florence and Milan would pass these towns back and forth during times of war.

During this time period the wealthy families of the Veneto built villas in the countryside so they could get out of Venice during the pestilent summer. Now tourists flock to Venice in the summer. So do the mosquitoes. It's much better in the early spring--after the big floods--and the late fall.

Today, have some prosecco. The Bortolomiol bottle above shows the traditional bell-shaped bottle for Prosecco, but you can almost never find that bottle here in the states. If you find a bottle like that, buy it. For the uninitiated, Prosecco is a naturally sparkling Italian wine. It's dry and delicious. Should not be too sweet. Get the Brut-style, which is like champagne, except, in my opinion, is much better!

Or have a spritz--a coctail made with one of 3 possible kinds of bitters, and prosecco, and maybe a splash of club soda, and a slice of orange--blood orange, if you can find it. The 3 bitters are, from sweetest to most bitter: Aperol, Campari, and Cynar. These are all kind of like the bitterness of orange peel, except Cynar is made with Artichokes! All are an acquired taste, but once you acquire it, that bitterness is very refreshing on a hot day. And we had lots of hot days in the Veneto.

Stoney and I did a wine tasting in the Valdobbiadene area, which is one of the two areas where real prosecco is made, and we were greatly surprised to be trying 6 varieties of prosecco that all tasted quite different. They had filled one of each bottle with earth from the region that the grapes were from, and even the color of the earth was different. Those fields of prosecco grapes climbing up cliffs, row upon row upon row.

At every breakfast in the Veneto they had meats and cheeses, and the best cured meat was the speck, which is the leanest and smokiest part of the prosciutto ham. It's called speck, a Germanic word, because it's basically an Austro-Hungarian style of cured ham. It's a great morning pick-me-up before a long day in the saddle.Once Venice lost its Mojo sometime in the 18th century, its territories were often conquered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and so in this area, the higher you get into the mountains, the more folks speak a kind of local German. There is also a small area around Cortina (fancy ski resort) where people speak a language called Ladin. Ladin is supposed to be the closest surviving language related to Latin. This area had a pass used by the Romans to get into Germania, and they left this language behind, and then this area was cut off from the rest of the world effectively for thousands of years. This kind of stuff just blows my mind. It's like a real Shangri-La or Brigadoon.

The Veneto is also studded with very moving monuments to the WWI and WWII battles and casualties. It was from the Dolomites that the Italians defended their land against their enemies, and many were lost, and people still live there with memories of battles and devastation we can barely imagine. The Alpini are mountain troops--local soldiers, and they wear hats that, I swear, look like Peter Pan's--with feathers. They are much honored still in annual parades, and Alpini fly into this area from all over the world to be part of it.

Truly a rich and fantastic part of Italy. Don't go there. We want it all to ourselves. ;)

Viva il Veneto!

Viva il Giro! Viva Italia!

A domani!

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