The Italian Army Means Business!

Welcome back!

Strap your lederhosen and/or dirndls back into place and shout out Yodel-odel-ay-hee-hoo!

Let’s pick up right where we left off on the Europa TourAlong…

DAYS 5, 6 & 7
Just an hour’s drive south of Parrkirchen, is Liezen, Austria -- the small village from which Natalie’s relatives hale. There’s no blog that could adequately explain how Natalie and her Idaho family are intertwined with Austria, but they are, and Liezen is the epicenter. One way or another, Natalie is related to everyone in Liezen. Lacking an accurate record of affiliations, we refer to them all as “cousins.”

During our stay, we were hosted by cousins Brigitte and Gerold Haider, and senior cousin, Fritz, Brigitte’s father. At 97 years old, Fritz is spry and gets himself around remarkably well; Brigitte and Gerold visit every month to keep him in line.

Here are the highlights of our Liezen visit:
  • The hike to the family hut on the alm with cousins Guenther and Martina. The hike was nice and cool. The beer, schnapps, and stinky cheese were refreshing.

  • The hike up to the top of the Plannersee ski area… cool, cloudy, and with remnants of fresh snow.

Cousins Gerold and Brigitte with Natalie at the Burgruine Wolkenstein ruins.

Natalie's Grandma's cousin (really!), Fritz. Spry at 97 years old!

Along the hike to the family hut on the alm. Cattle, sheep, and goats eat really well in the Alps!

TourAlongWithToddBlogTravelTips strongly suggest a limit of one beer and a single shot of schnapps at a hut on an alm to achieve optimal pleasure. Significant deviation from this suggestion may result in an abdication of intelligence and dignity... as I was able to unequivocally demonstrate.

What can possibly go wrong with tiny little shots of schnapps?

We stopped for the day just an hour’s drive west of Liezen… another mountain tram was yodeling to us. Like the Zugspitze, the Dachstein doesn’t quite top 10,000 feet, but it’s an imposing massif. The ride up was super fun because we rode on top of the tram car in open air! After putting our hair back in place, we ventured out onto the well-marked glacier to hike to the Seethalerhütte (hut). Halfway along, the clouds rolled in and that was it for the day’s scenic views. The mountain hut was warm and served spicy good goulash! By the time we were back at the mountain top tram station, few people remained.

TourAlongWithToddBlogTravelTips suggest being at a mountain top tram station in the mist of clouds is actually a good idea because you get to walk on a skywalk and a bridge to nowhere all alone. And, you get to explore the Ice Palace (yes, it’s carved into the glacier) in total privacy as well! Natalie and I had these normally jam-packed attractions entirely to ourselves. It was really cool.

The top of the Dachstein tram station.

Shrouded in cloud and wind, the Seethalerhütte is cozy warm inside.

Natalie disappears into the cold mist on the Dachstein's Bridge to Nowhere. This would be packed with people on a sunny day.

Natalie, normally put off by heights, peers into mist on the Dachstein Skywalk, 800 ft. in air.

TourAlongWithToddBlogTravelTips suggest planning adventure by weather forecast is folly. Though our brief foray into the Italian Dolomites was scheduled to be rainy, cloudy, and a bit rainier, we stuck to our plan. The morning weather was looking pretty nice! And, as we drive from the Dachstein area toward the Dolomites, it stayed that way.

Our hotel room view in Ramsau, Austria, near the Dachstein massif.

Soon after crossing the Italian border, the Dolomites came into spectacular view. At San Candido, I hopped off the highway to snap a couple of photos of the peaks. It so happened that the Italian army was training 100 yards away… training in the line of my photography. OMG! Yes, Italian army was literally scoping and moving toward us as we drove further down the very narrow lane, toward them, hoping it would loop up and back to the main highway; it did not. With no easy way to turn around, I stopped and drove the car in reverse back up the lane. The Italian army kept advancing on us!… and we kept retreating! (I am not making this up -- they were not pleased with our presence). I was finally able to turn the car around and get back on the highway. My heart was pumping. We had escaped death… or a very awkward conversation… and lived to tell about it.

First view of the Dolomites... and the Italian Army (low in photograph). Note the one-lane road at lower left. We drove down it, nearer the troops, and then back up in reverse, making a hasty retreat!

An hour later, with the international incident nearly forgotten, we drove up a crazy-stupid-curvy-steep road and arrived at the Rifugio Auronzo, at the base of Tre Cime, or Drei Zinnen, depending on your choice of language. These peaks are synonymous with the Dolomites. We arrived just in time to check in and do a quick hike to catch the sunset on the famous peaks’ west faces.

The Tre Cime in sunset light.

Rifugio Auronzo is a quaint mountain “hut” offering sleeping accommodations for 104; the rooms are simple, and a quick shower is €5.00. Super good food is served cafeteria-line style, but don’t lollygag, because dinner is served only between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m.; breakfast between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. But at 8,000 ft. on the crest of the Dolomites, it’s easy to adhere to the routine -- the views are unreal.

The view from our room at the Rifugio Auronzo.

Starting our hiking tour around Tre Cime. The Rifugio Auronzo is on the right.

Our main hike was the tour around the Tre Cime with 1,000 of our best European hiking friends. Like Mad Ludwig’s castles, this area of the Dolomites is popular on any clear day in late September. We could only imagine the crush of humanity during the summer peak periods. The seven-mile hike took six hours due to side trips, such as the ridge we clamored up to place our hands on the walls of the Tre Cime, only to discover World War I gun placements tunneled into the rock. A century ago people fought and died up here. War, even in the past, is a fun sucker, isn’t it?

Natalie at one of the World War I era gun placements at Tre Cime.

An hour before arriving back at the Rifugio, we stopped at the Langalm hut for a beer.

War is bad. Beer at mountain huts is good. And the Italian Army is going to make damn sure it stays that way!

Coming up next?

Todd and Natalie get all metropolitan Milano Style!

Don’t worry, you’ll get to wear your lederhosen and/or dirndls again real soon!

Ciao! ~ Todd

A Milano getting his lower lip bit off. He didn't complain.