Last December, I wanted to go back for more German Christmas markets, yet after so many weekends of whirlwind travel, my budget told me to look in places accessible by train. After long rides to Munich for Oktoberfest the past two years, I saw that the Italian Dolomites were an extremely attractive travel destination. The train always glided by as the grand, jagged mountains silenced the passengers with awe. A quick google search brought me to the website for the Christmas Markets of the South Tyrol:
After, I hopped onto booking.com, noting that most hotels were sold out, too expensive, or too far away, requiring a car. Yet, there was an extremely affordable option in Bressanone / Brixen. Towns in this autonomous region go by Italian and German names since those are the two official languages of this area that is more Tyrollean than Italian. After googling the town, I learned that the hotel in Bressanone was walking distance to the train station, the markets, and the spa. Booked!
It was more than a 7 hour train ride from Genoa, so once again, I dashed out of my 8th grade class exactly at the end of the day at 3:30, onto my scooter, downtown and onto the 4:10 train for Milan where I’d catch my connection to Bressanone. Yet, my train was late. And it got even more delayed en route. Even though I had a 35 minute transfer cushion, my train rolled into the station at the exact time my connecting train for Verona was departing. I leapt off the train, sprinting with with my backpack, and got to the train for Verona Porta Nuova just in time. I leapt on as the doors closed and the train glided away. Safe! Sweet Relief. Yet, this train was different. It didn’t look like the other trains I took to Verona. I didn’t remember there being a business section. Just as I noticed that, I heard the announcement, “Treno per Torino Porta Nuova.” OH NO! I didn’t catch my connection — I got on the wrong train. There was no time to check the track so I headed in the general direction of trains I’d taken to Verona and Venice before. I tried in vain to open the doors, pressing the button frantically as a businessman said, “Non e possibile. It’s not possible. It’s too late.”
I didn’t have a ticket or a reservation or a seat, and now I was heading in the opposite direction. I talked to the conductor for help, and they had me stand outside their little room– a weary, seatless vagabond–while they called for assistance. They said my ticket would not be transferrable to Verona because I got on the wrong train. Luckily, though, they did not charge me for the ticket to Torino. They said they would tell their colleagues on the train from Torino back to Milan but they could not guarantee that I wouldn’t have to pay for a ticket just go get back to Milan. I started arguing with them, losing my cool in complete frustration with Italy’s complete disregard for punctuality, saying “I didn’t know an Internet ticket wouldn’t be valid later. That’s not fair. I have nowhere to sleep tonight!” They responded, “This is Italy. The customer is not protected. You have no rights.” Raised on American service, I still could not adapt to this concept as I apologized, thanked them for all they did do for me, and silently fumed in an empty seat as my train pulled into Torino.
Rolling into MIlan again, having gone nowhere in the past 2 hours, I took a chance by going to the ticket desk as if I haven’t just gone to Torino. The ticket agent was understanding, and gave me a a new ticket to Bressanone, yet I was informed there were no more trains tonight, so I’d have to spend the night in Verona. I called Booking.com to notify the hotel I wouldn’t be there tonight, booked a hotel in Verona by the train station and shortly I was there in a tiny yet cozy single room where finally I could sleep.
The next morning I indulged in a great breakfast spread, hopped onto a train, and eventually to Bressanone, which, to my surprise, was not snow-covered as I had hoped. Ironically, my snowy Christmas market experience was not in the alps but actually the normally soggy and milder Rhineland. Bressanone was still absolutely beautiful in its eager, chilled wait for snow. I love places with the “mountain air vibe.” It was simultaneously exhilarating and relaxing, filled with action and adventure, families, couples, singles . . . everyone just here to enjoy, a combination of chillaxing and adventure.
At the hotel, I was pleasantly surprised by how charming it was for the price. I was also delighted that the hotel chose not to charge me for last night since they were notified. Yes! I gazed at the mountain views, dropped my bags, then began wandering around the markets. It was definitely like stepping into a fairytale in this crossroads of cultures, where you could order a crepe with Nutella, a brioche, a bratwurst, or a German pancake all at the same stand. I ordered a funnel cake with lingonberries, eyed the shops for tomorrow, took some photos, then hit the spa.
Like German spas, there was a no-clothing allowed area. I was used to that in Germany, but in Italy, bathing suits are usually compulsory in all areas–even the sauna–so I was really hesitant as I slipped out of my bikini. A few shy steps, and then I noticed confidently nude folks all around me, sipping wine, snacking on aperitivo, and heading into the saunas. Before long, I was alone in an outdoor hot tub, naked under the stars in absolute bliss. The travel stress melted away and only this moment existed.
Afterwards, I went for a nice swim– the only one in the saline lap pool with grand windows– and then back to the hotel for a long, dreamy sleep. The next morning, I over-indulged at the breakfast spread, wandered through the markets some more, then visited the presepi museum. Presepi are Italy’s nativity scenes, and in the tradition of St. Francis, they are often set in familiar Italian settings to help make the story more relatable. Like little dollhouses. The museum had very ornate sets going back to the 1700s. After a casual stroll, I checked out of the hotel. Still no snow but much peace. I walked out of town, along the babbling brook, gazing at hilly vineyards and farmhouses, happy hikers, and the promise of good tidings.
I snagged an afternoon train back to Milan where I was so lucky to have a seat as it was as crowded as a NYC subway at rush hour, elbows and purses assaulting my head in the car so hot it felt like I was back in the sauna, but clothed. I was so glad I booked a hotel in MIlan for the night to break up the journey, although it also meant that I had to jump on the 6:10am train back to Genoa where I’d hop on my scooter and dash into the school just in time for work. Another fantastic weekend, but a lot more zen than whirlwind this time.
For more Christmas Markets, my post about the Dusseldorf Markets, 2012.