Refugio Locatelli; WWI battlefield
Jul 12, 2011
|July 12, Tuesday, WWI
I'm tired of using superlative after superlative to describe these mountains, but there's simply no other way to talk about them.
This morning, again is beautiful and sunny. We decided to explore the area, which, I have mentioned before, was at the heart of the Austro- Italian front. There are old trenches all over the passes with remnants of barbed wire, and most interestingly, miles of tunnels winding up through the peaks with frequent windows through which snipers aimed at troops below. We explored several of them with the aid of headlamps. There were a number of primitive crosses wrapped in barbed wire. Though my memory of WWI history is faint, our German acquaintances reminded us that the Dolomite passes were conquered and reconquered back and forth by the 2 forces. As in all wars, many young men lost their lives for reasons they ill understood at the behest of their leaders. We were moved by the sites and both recalled the popular song from the Viet Nam era,
"Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing,
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago,
Where have all the flowers gone ,
Gone to graveyards everyone,
When will they ever learn,
When will they ever learn?"
We explored a bit more around one of the peaks, hiked a narrow trail along one side with a bit of exposure, then came back to the refugio for lunch. In the afternoon we explored another nearby peak, Paterno, which is laced with tunnels, which we followed up and up, but with enough sniper windows facing the valley below to provide adequate light for climbing. We stopped at a final tunnel which headed up steeply and was very dark (we left our head lamps at the refugio) and ends in a via ferrata route to the summit. We turned around at that point and headed down for dinner.
We had dinner with a very wonderful German family including Rolf and Uta, the grandparents, a bit older than us, Michaela, the daughter, and Charlotta, 8, and Frederick, 11, the grandchildren. Through very satisfactory English on their parts, and no German on ours, we learned a lot. It turns out that Rolf is a retired internist, Uta, a retired teacher, and Michaela, an anesthesiologist who also does some critical care. We learned from Rolf a bit about the Austro-Italian front in this area during WWI, and about his friend, a grandson of the founder of this refugio, which was initially built in about 1915. Shortly, thereafter, it was used as a military barracks and ammunition depot, then destroyed, to be rebuilt shortly after the war ended, once again being used as an alpine hut.
We had a good discussion about their health care system which faces some of the same problems of poorly controlled costs similar to ours. However, everyone is covered through compulsory insurance based on means, with optional private insurance for those who can afford it. Even with private insurance the fee schedule is regulated and uniform. Michaela says that her family has the basic public plan and it is quite satisfactory.
Another interesting fact is that teachers are paid well there and have excellent benefits, such that, she says, considering their shorter work week and year, that they do better than physicians. Teachers also enjoy more prestige in the community than they do in the US.
They really like Obama and think his election did a lot for the respect the Europeans feel for the U.S. They are worried about the conservative backlash in the U.S. against Obama's policies and hope he can prevail. We continued our conversations over breakfast the next morning, exchanged e-mail addresses, and invited each other to visit.
Which brings me to thoughts on traveling abroad. One way to do it is with a tour group such as Rick Steves, Overseas Adventure Travel, or others. This provides a very efficient introduction to a country and its culture and history. One doesn't get bogged down in figuring out transportation systems, using the phones, making reservations, and deciphering menus in a language one doesn't understand. We've done many such tours and have enjoyed them all. However, you're mainly with Americans and somewhat isolated from the people and culture you are visiting. Your meals are taken care of, local guides and tours arranged, and the transportation figured out for you.
We have really enjoyed the 2 weeks in the Dolomites, not only for the beauty, but for the experience of learning their systems through trial and error, and finding that we could make ourselves sufficiently understood to find the right bus or train, ask enough of the waiters to partially understand what we were ordering, and find the occasional English speaking German or Italian from whom we could learn about their lives, systems, and philosophies. It has been a rich experience for us and made us more confident of getting by despite our ignorance of other languages.
So, I guess my point is that both methods of travel have their advantages, but to better understand and enjoy the culture it is helpful to be with the people and try to learn their systems.
One of the couples with whom I cycle has traveled extensively and has as part of their email signature this quote from Mark Twain, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."
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