It’s been a while since I last posted an update and even longer since I actually had the experience. As a result, the next few blog updates may be fairly brief as the details are not as fresh.
As I think back on Venice, it reminds me in some ways of Split. The city is a winding labyrinth of streets…small ones lead in to major areas while others dead end at a canal. The number of boats scattered all over is beautiful…from gondoliers to small speed boats…it adds to the city’s charm.
When I departed Venice I backtracked towards the center of Italy and headed north to a smaller town by the name of Trento. Trento is located in the lower Dolomites nestled along a river that winds its way through an impressive set of mountains. The train ride there was gorgeous. Once you enter the mountain range the mountains seem to almost sprout out of nowhere. One minute you see hills to either side, the next you go through a long tunnel and find yourself winding between them along a rich fertile river bed. There are beautifully intact fortified palaces and small castles that decorate high points along the river while the earth that surrounds them is covered with vineyards.
The trees on the mountains had begun to pass from the golds and yellows of high autumn into the more burned hues of winter. Despite the faded color the region was beautiful. The town of Trento is a bit larger than the small towns I passed through along the way and as a result lacks some intimate character. It is a beautiful old city with wide cobblestone streets and a gorgeous medium-sized cathedral that sits on a square and is kept company by an old palace. The city’s castle is a large sprawling thing which housed the famous and incredibly powerful prince and bishops that ruled the area for an extended period of time. Their wealth and the evidence of their power – both military and religious – is everywhere. The city itself has a number of palacial establishments which they left behind. Historically it is also commonly referred to as Trent. Famous for the council of Trent during the counter reformation.
I arrived at a rather peculiar hostel which I wrote about earlier. Once settled in I began to explore the city. The city center was fairly small but still offered some rich elements. Along several of the main streets off of the main square the buildings, which are all similar in style, still have painted fresco fronts. These painted facades are beautiful and add a significant amount of character.
The main square itself with the palace and cathedral is a nice large open area…one that shows off the simple lines of the cathedral which dates to the 12th and 13th centuries. On the second night I was there, relaxing by the fountain in the center of the square debating how best to photograph the duomo, an odd thing happened. At the time I was socializing with 3 other Americans I bumped into on the square, exchanging the usual pleasantries and happy to have someone to talk to – they were the only native English speakers I met in Trent – when a pack of wolves entered the square. More specifically – or correctly I should say- some sort of wolf owner’s convention descended on the square with their pet wolves in tow. The group of 15 or so people had a similar number of wolves. Some looked pure bred, others showed slight signs of mixed blood and all ranged in age from pups to a full grown, impressive alpha. The wolves were friendly and added a fun element to the square and the experience.
During my wandering throughout the city I eventually made my way to the main castle. The castle itself is not overly beautiful, however it is impressive. The military power of the Prince Bishops definitely comes through in the castle’s construction and size. With fortified walls and a defensible sprawling keep it dominates the surrounding buildings which have been allowed to spring up around the castle. Over the years it also looks as though windows have been added and various other additions made to make the place more comfortable. Inside the building the ceilings are frescoed and while I found most of the frescos unimpressive there are several areas that are quite beautiful. The castle itself has been turned into a museum. It houses historical artifacts from Trento’s long history and also had what I presume is a traveling display dedicated to a group of grassland nomads and their artifacts.
The interior of the keep is interesting in that it is built in two main parts which are joined by one central set of bridge-like walkways though the building itself looks to be one solid mass from the outside. There is also a large villaesque courtyard with a fountain and beautiful frescos on the walls and ceiling of the covered area that wraps around it. The area between the keep and the castle wall houses a decent-sized grass area full of trees and bushes. While several of the rose bushes still stuggled to put forth a few small rose blossoms most had died back leaving the area feeling strangly barren, a feeling that was magnified by the large gnarled, leaf-bare trees that lined parts of the area. In spring however, I imagine it’s a beautiful sight.
The sunsets visible from the city themselves are not overly impressive, in large part due to the massive mountains that surround the city. That said however, around dusk the mountains take on an odd rose glow which apparently comes from the particular nature of the mountain rock. The rose glow definitely makes up for the lack of a proper sunset, though it’s much more subtle.
On my final day I found myself with a few hours to kill before my train was scheduled to depart. As I wandered I eventually made arrived at the river and was slightly suprised to see a set of somewhat daunting tram lines that stretched in a long, lopsided U from a large building about halfway up one of the nearby mountains to an area just down the river from where I was. I made my way to it and was surprised to find that it was a public tram to a convention center and only cost .90 Euro cents for a round trip. I nervously checked my watch and the tram times. Despite my bizzare fear of heights (I never know what will bother me and what will not) the temptation was too much to resist. I paid for a ticket and a few short moments later was in the swinging car and quickly found myself leaving the ground behind. The ride lasted about 5 minutes and offered an incredible view…not to mention sensation…as I was winched up over the river, a set of factories, a large sheer cliff face and eventually found myself and the cable car nestled in the landing platform perched on the side of a sheer drop. I disembarked and made a quick exploratory trip around the outside of the convention center taking in the incredible view of the valley in both directions and Trent as it sprawled before me. Then, with no time to spare, I headed back and caught the cable car back down. If the trip up had been interesting, down was quite the experience. The sensation and view that I had as I looked out the side windows down the valley as I hovered hundreds of feet away from earth of any sort was fantastic.
I landed at the platform and hurried to the train station where I caught my train south back toward Florence. Unfortunately, the train itself was packed. It had been a religious holiday and everyone had been traveling. The regional trains in Italy, while cheap, don’t have reserved seats. In typical Italian form, they also don’t care in the slightest if the train is overflowing. The four hour train ride turned into a bit of a nightmare when it became apparent that not only was the train a standard regional train, but that it was cabins instead of standard airplane seating. The result? Far fewer available seats, smaller walkways and a long stretch of first class cabins. For me that meant the lack of a seat and being confined to the hallway of the dining car, blocked for exploring further by a large mound of luggage and a number of huddled bodies that filled every available spot in the train. It’s a suprise the damn thing could even move. After an hour spend standing and kneeling I noticed one of the dining car attendants move a few people, I followed and managed a seat in the dining car, fully prepared to spend the 2 Euro for a coffee if it got me off my feet for a bit. I opened the menu and sat across from a fellow drinking his coffee. As I sat there I pretended to look at the open menu whenever a waiter came near. The charade worked and I was able to spend over an hour sitting before deciding not to test my luck in the car further. The train stopped and I disembarked, then ran to the far end of the train (I had been at the very back). There I reboarded and in short order found a seat that had recently been vacated. In other parts of the train the press was still as thick as a mosquito swarm in Florida. Relieved I sat in my oddly positioned seat and relaxed for the remainder of the trip to Florence.
That’s all for now….Ciao