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December 23, 2010

Italy: Bassano del Grappa

Filed under: Europe 2010, Italy, Travel — Becky Dave @ 7:25 am

Ponte degli Alpini in Bassano del Grappa

Google Maps says that Padua is only a couple hours by car from Cortina-d’Ampezzo, the next destination on our summer’s road journey.  There seemed to be time for a sightseeing stop during our transfer north. Consulting the guidebooks and after some discussion with G&C, we opted to visit Bassano del Grappa.

A grappa distillery

Bassano del Grappa, about an hour by car from Padua, is seemingly along the way to Cortina.  A stop in the home of the spirit grappa seemed reasonable.  In reality, though, the detour to Bassano nearly doubled the driving time from Padua to Cortina-d’Ampezzo.  Bassano del Grappa may have been in the right direction, but getting there on secondary roads would mean that we’d miss driving the much faster autostrada.  Nevertheless Bassano del Grappa is worth an effort to get to.  And besides, the drive to Cortina via Bassano is scenic.  It is the journey and not the destination, right?

Our short visit to Bassano del Grappa centered about its most famous landmark, Ponte degli Alpini.  Spanning the Brenta River, the wooden Bridge of Alpini was designed in 1569 by the region’s famous architect Andrea Palladio.  The bridge is the epicenter of life in Bassano del Grappa.  When we passed through the town, Bassano’s bridge was a hive of activity.  Amongst the crush of camera toting tourists and road cyclists, the bridge was the starting point for a Vespa rally.  Around a hundred restored Vespas left the town crossing the bridge and climbing up the slope of the river valley amongst blue-gray clouds of two-cycle smoke and the rattle of the motors.  Though the exteriors of the Vespas were exquisitely maintained, the internal mechanics of many machines were borderline functional.  Dozens of the scooters couldn’t make it up the gentle hill under their own power and had to be pushed by their owners.  It was vintage Italian engineering in action.

A Vespa works its way up a hill in Bassano

Running with the scooters during the festival della Vespa

Aside from the Ponte degli Alpini, Bassano is famous for its namesake spirit, grappa.  Distilling the pomace leftover from winemaking produces the clear colored alcoholic beverage.  With a short stop, only G was able to squeeze in some grappa testing.  Maybe it was Becky’s driving.  G normally doesn’t touch the stuff.

Bassano del Grappa has had a long association with the alpine soldiers or alpini who passed through on the way to the Alps.  During World War I this area of Italy was near the front lines with Austria.  Famously, Ernest Hemingway’s stay in Bassano as a military ambulance driver during the Great War served as the inspiration for “A Farewell to Arms.”  Hemingway also frequented our next destination, Cortina d’Ampezzo.  Indeed it’s likely we retraced a route that Hemingway used numerous times.  I trust that our modern transit between Bassano and Cortina in our stuffed to the gills Kangoo was much more expedient than Hemingway’s typical passage.  But for sure, Hemingway’s visit led to a much better story.  “A Farewell to the Vespas” just doesn’t sound like a title that will climb the bestseller list.

The cockpit of the Vespa is pretty but I'd guess the only way this ones going 100 kph is if it is dropped out of an airplane

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