Have you ever had one of those days when you looked around and weren’t sure how you got there? I had one of those very recently, on our quick trip down to South Tyrol.
Where was I when I had these thoughts? Well…
I was on a bus. To be more specific, I was in the faaaar right back corner of a coach bus. That coach bus was fully loaded with the members of a German bowling club, their spouses, our Gardeners, and the Tuscans. With the addition of BV and I, both of whom are in our mid-to-upper 30s, the median age of that bus couldn’t have been lower than 55.
The bus in question was careening (as much as a fully-loaded bus of German retirees CAN careen) along the twisting valleys and up the mountain roads of the Italian Dolomites. We were entertained* along the way by the droning voice of a local tour guide, who educated us on such very important things as the best place to buy the checkered towels special to the region (not that we stopped there as we passed), and the Easter customs of local villages that may or may not involve young ladies being forced to exchange gifts with potential suitors (regardless of if they are actually interested in the boys in question).
How. How did this happen.
Long story short: the Gardener’s new wife had informed us on Sunday night at dinner that she had a surprise for us. All that she told us was that we’d all need to be at breakfast at 7:30 on Tuesday, because we had to leave by 8:00. Considering that if BV and I make it *to* breakfast at all on vacation, that was a big ask.
Bright and shiny early on Tuesday, aka at a time when we were already awake and showered, we all received WhatsApp messages detailing our plan for the day. The bus.
Turns out she used to work for a travel agency** and one of her old colleagues was traveling with the German bowling club on their bus tour. They were staying for two nights in the village just down the mountain from us, had six seats left on their bus, and she had invited us to join them on a day trip around the Dolomites. Yay?
So shortly after 8, we set off to meet the bus. After a few rounds of introductions (so many handshakes and no small amount of confusion as to why we were getting on a bus with them), we all piled in and got on the road.
We saw many beautiful things from the bus. They were even more beautiful when they finally parked and let us off after two hours of twisting and turning up roads that in my opinion, were SO not built for bus traffic. Or RVs. Or buses and RVs passing each other (not overtaking… just trying to travel in opposite directions on a road as one does).
Thankfully the view at Selva di Val Gardena was pretty epic.
The stop was really only long enough for bathroom breaks and for most of the tour group to suck down a coffee, a beer, or a cigarette. We ran up the hill and took a few photos, and then reluctantly turned back towards our oversized chariot.
Back on the road, our Tuscan duo sat in front of us and tried to do a bit of chatting with some of the bowling group folk around us. As I mentioned above, they seemed a bit perplexed by our motley group (the Gardeners look like bus people, the Tuscans look like they wandered off an artists’ colony, and BV and I look like… 30-somethings, I guess?).
Lady Tuscan got to talking with a couple nearby and relayed the story of how we wound up on the bus. The woman was clearly confused, but for a rather odd reason. She kept asking Lady Tuscan how they had gotten there. Lady Tuscan explained that we had all driven down from our village accommodations… and in fact, they drive to that specific valley every year for a few weeks on their fall holiday. Understandable, no?
Apparently not. The woman then asked what they *do* on their vacation. Lady Tuscan said that they hike, visit nearby towns, and generally just do what they feel like doing. What most people do on their vacations, I would imagine?
Not this woman though. She legitimately could not understand how they (or we, when we got involved in this chat), plan our vacations ourselves. No buses, no itineraries, no shepherding guides… a total other world.
On the plus side, BV and I had a very direct conversation after this day where we clearly established that neither of us has any interest in trying another bus trip for a bare minimum of 30 years. Or 35. Maybe when we’re in the Senior category it’ll have some draw but we’re not going to risk it again until then.
Side note: please take no offense if you are a person who loves a bus tour. Those people did seem to be enjoying their vacation (between bus naps), and if that’s your thing, knock yourself out! Enjoy… especially if you’re also the type who packs a cooler of Schnapps… which we saw more than one of on our bus.
Noon rolled around and we had an hour or so in the town of Ortesei Sankt Ulrich. It’s rather famous for the gondola going up to the Seiser Alm, an Alpine plateau that’s a favorite among tourists. In theory, we could’ve gone up there, as some of the others did, but it hardly seemed worth it given the time we had. Instead, we poked around the town, eventually hunting down a sandwich to ease my bus-rolling stomach.
I’d love to check out the Seiser Alm plateau on another trip though. I’ve only spent seven years hearing about it from students and this was the closest I’ve ever been!
Later in the afternoon we made a few more stops as we wound our way back to the group’s hotel. BV and I fairly sprinted off the bus just to get as far as we could as quickly as possible. In one of the towns, Kastelruth (Castelrotto in Italian), we even found the best possible view of the church from a pilgrimage path up the hill. The stations also led to a lovely (and blissfully silent) garden in the ruins of a former castle.
By the last stop in Klausen (Chiusa), we were hot (the bus had turned into an oven), tired (so many turns), a bit peckish (had only managed a sandwich in Ortisei), and positively dying for a drink. The Tuscans had all but promised BV the greatest Leberkäse of his life at a butcher they had visited years before, so that was our first stop. When the woman behind the counter assured them that they had no Leberkäse and, as long as she had worked there, had *never* had Leberkäse, we had no choice. It was Wine Time.
The six of us gathered around some comically small tables and ordered wine and coffees. After establishing that no other bus people were nearby, we got to rehashing. While it was a nice thought… it really was… even the Gardener’s wife who had gotten us the invite wasn’t all too impressed. She has plenty of experience with bus tours both for work and pleasure, and wasn’t into it. The amount of time we spent driving compared to our times in the town, and the endless nonsense talk of the tour guide did not do anything for any of us.
The good news is, now we know?
And again, since this has gotten a tad bit salty, we DID see some beautiful things on this day. I’ve definitely got a few more places on my list that I’d like to check out again, or more closely.
I shall not, however, be doing it from a bus.
Love a bus? Hate a bus? Have you also accidentally found yourself on a bus of bowling enthusiasts? Leave a comment!
*I’m using that term incredibly loosely.