Bikes, Castles & Museums 7/2-7/3

Sherie and I have noticed the bicycle infrastructure in Bolzano.

I would guess it is on par with other Italian cities, but can’t really verify that with enough experience.

However, what we have noticed:

  • Bikes are parked everywhere. Most all are city bikes, with racks, chain guards, fenders, upright seating
  • People of all ages are seen riding on their errands, in business clothes, clubbing clothes, with groceries, briefcases, etc. When you see the tall apartment buildings in the newer districts a few km from the city center, you understand why. It is hard to park near businesses, and it is only a few minutes by bike to anything you need.
  • There is an extensive walking/biking district with the best shops, clubs, restaurants, etc.  This is the social and commercial heart of the city
  • Bike lanes and paths connect the city well with its suburbs and scenic areas. Many co-exist well with pedestrians, although there are some thoughtless people who do walk in the bike zones.
  • Bike rentals are cheap and easy. We rented bikes right off the main square for 1 Eu each for up to six hours, although the bikes were in really poor repair.

On Saturday, Sherie and I rented bikes and road to Firmian castle, about 10 km west of the city center. The cheap bikes had issues: rattles from loose fenders and chain guards, 3-speed hubs that wouldn’t shift, saddles that couldn’t be clamped tight enough not to move around, etc. But they had little locks included, and we enjoyed a slow ride by the river out toward the site. Sherie will disagree about the map reading, but the bike path shown on our free map was closed to traffic, and the alternate path was not shown. So Ben backtracked us to some busy through streets and we followed families and older people through a busy district to get out to the castle.

Reinhold Messner now owns Firmian. Messner was one of Ben’s heroes back in the seventies and eighties on how he showed how mountaineering, even in the biggest peaks, is safer, more environmentally friendly, and culturally more respectful when done in small parties “Alpine style.” And the castle/museum did not disappoint, and is worth a visit to anyone who has appreciation for the mountain cultures of the world.

There is western art, eastern art, mountaineering artifacts, personal stories, and great views and history, all on a bluff overlooking the rivers and city.

We had a great time exploring for a few hours, and a Tyrol cultural experience at lunch.

On Sunday we walked north up the Talfer River to another castle, Schloss Runkelstein. It is a great story of how the middle class came to supplant the aristrocracy through wealth gained through trade and crafts (as opposed to land ownership and agriculture). It beautifully shows the largest extant collection of lay frescos from medevil times, telling secular stories on the walls. A great visit to a site where a series of atheist owners gained some power and respect from the community; a great contrast to all the religous concentrations of learning and wealth in the surrounding countryside.

And the walk by the river was mostly just beautiful. Great flowing stream, tumbling pretty fast and steep through the river rocks.

Tree-lined levees, very wide in places, are bike and walking routes, parks, and viewpoints to the various other castles, vineyards and orchards, and city and mountains. A very enjoyable time.

Sunday is very quiet in town, except for the churchbells that is. The food market is closed, the shops are closed, most restaurants are closed. Only tourists walk the central district; the fashionable locals are home.

Tomorrow we leave early for the mountains and Corvara. Our plans include two buses and about four hours travel time total, up the Eisack river and through Val Gardenna to transfer at Plan for a bus over a couple passes. We are excited to go, and need to spend some time this evening organizing and packing.

Thinking about the past few days, both Sherie and I have really relaxed and enjoyed ourselves. The hotel is so comfortable, the city so intersting with both German and Italian cultures, the food and sites great.

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