So... our mountain adventure was complete for the day. Unfortunately, and it was still raining, snowing and sleeting...
The drive to Cortina
Well, no one was in any mood for camping. Even Markus, deep down inside. Our next general area of exploration was to be The Cortina D'Ampezzo area, so we headed in that direction. The weather continued to worsen, being mostly rain in the bottom of valleys but mixed with snow higher up. And at least one high mountain pass was between us and Cortina. Leaving the thought unvoiced, I wondered what road conditions would be like on that pass....
The Hotel Meuble Maryam
Our convoy of three rental cars snaked our way through the mountains. And, as we approached Valparola pass, (rising to elevation 2197m, 7200 ft), a thin layer of slush started and soon changed to a thin layer of wet snow... a quick test of the brakes revealed lots of ABS action... oops, getting slick! as we approached the pass itself, the road became very slippery, and we slowed to a crawl, nervous, wondering if we should continue over or retreat.
It was a race to the pass - we were obviously almost there, but how much higher would we have to go? Each metre of elevation meant a little more snow and a little less rain. After a heated debate over the radios, we decided to inch forward. Annette flatly stated that she would ditch the car into a rock wall if she had to to avoid going over dropoffs. We reached the pass shortly thereafter and slowly, ever so slowy, crept down the road. And, lo and behold, it didn't take long on this side of the pass for the road conditions to improve. after only a kilometre or so the road was slushy but much more driveable. We had run the gauntlet and passed! From here on it was all downhill to Cortina, and soon the snow gave way completely to rain, and our road troubles were over.
Continued winter weather
Cortina is a quaint town, much larger than the other communities in the Dolomites. It hosted the 1956 winter olympics and has over the years become quite the winter sports destination.
The city lost a bit of its charm today, though - soggy, wet and slushy, and it was a foregone conclusion that, with night approaching quickly, we had no appetite for soggy tents and clammy sleeping bags. So began our quest for an appropriate hotel, winding around and around the pseudo-ring road that Cortina has, looking for our home for the night.
Eventually someone picks a nondescript looking little place called the Hotel Meuble Maryam. It has only 14 or so rooms, and was managed entirely by a single family. Initially they told us they didn't have enough room for us, but as we were outside discussing our options the lady of the place came out and said that she could accommodate all of us after all. And for only 50 Euros per room per night. Not bad... Maybe we looked pitiful enough in the rain to turn their hearts?
Trying to get a new key
Next came the process of lugging all of our wet luggage up to our rooms, which turned out to be very quaint, very stylish. We'd gotten lucky with this place. After lugging some of my essentials upstairs, I recline for a bit, listening to the rain and sleet patter against the balcony window.
There is a heavy knock on the door. It is Markus, looking damp and a bit crestfallen. His normally lively voice now a dull gravelly monotone: "um, Andrew.... I think I did something bad - I think I've locked the keys in the rental car....".
In fast forward, many sequences of images flash through my brain... maybe he just thinks the keys are in the car, maybe the hatch is still open, maybe we can jimmy the car open, maybe we'll have to rent another car, maybe we'll be stuck here forever, maybe, maybe, maybe... and then I realize: all of my hiking and climbing stuff is in the car. If I can't get in there, we aren't doing any more hiking, climbing, camping. Nothing.
I tell Markus to not worry about it (I have a good poker face), and we take stock of the situation. No, Markus does not have the keys in his pocket. No, they are not in his room. The last time he had them was while quickly rummaging around in the hatch of the wagon. Out into the rain with headlamps, and we scour around the car, we shine lights into the car, but see nothing. Either they are lost, or they are in the car. so, here we all are: in the dolomites in Italy, in a yucky september snow-sleet storm, all of my outdoors stuff might as well be back in Canada, and we are all in a bad mood. And Markus is just about at the end of his rope.
A calming session is in order back in my room. We ask the owner about car dealerships. To our surprise, there is an Audi dealership just a few kms up the road. Which is a start. We also call Avis, or actually Markus does, because we are calling Avis Germany and Markus speaks German (Plus he is the one who got us into this).
And so begins our odyssey with the inefficient beauracracy that is Avis Germany. Apparently there is a second key, and we are told we can get it sent overnight, but it'll cost us 300 Euros (about 500 Canadian). Its either that or break a window. I'm not so big on the window thing, and we can't do anything tonight anyway, so we call it an evening and go out to a restaurant in Cortina. Markus is miserable about what happened and stays in his room. And another day in our trip comes to a close.
Free continental breakfast.
The next morning dawns.... raining and sleeting. Kaiyikes! this is getting annoying. Although really, it doesn't matter. Even if it was nice we couldn't do anything with a bunch of gear stuck in a car we can't drive.
The snow level seems to have lowered down to the altitude of Cortina (about 4000 feet), so snow is starting to accumulate even in town. We head downstairs to the very nice complimentary continental breakfast offered at the hotel.
Trying to pick the lock
The hotel owner is our server, and likes to play the radio loud, turned to one of the many Italian radio stations that is infatuated with American '80s pop music. Markus, irritated by the loud music, discreetly goes up and turns it down. We do not know it at the time, but this exact scenario is to play itself out many times over.
After breakfast, the next order of business is figuring out what to do with this key problem. We start running up our tab on the phone bill with many more calls to Avis, trying to get them to start the process of sending the key. However, apparently, _they_ don't have the key, some third party does, and they need to contact them. When the third party is contacted, they don't know where the key is, and they advise us to call Avis to figure that out. AAAAAHHH!
Here's some audio of our attempts to get things sorted out with Avis Germany:
After a while our voices get louder, more persistant (some of them speak english, and when I think Markus is being too nice, I get on the horn). We finally make sure they understand that they are to send the key to the hotel and to do it pronto. And of course they will call back with progress, yada, yada, yada....
So we leave it at that. We aren't going to get the key today, and it will probably come tomorrow. Next stop: the Audi dealership. The lady at the front desk is not hopeful - it will take many days to order a new key, and lock picking is not an option - apparently these new-fangled key systems are next to impossible to jimmy or pick, and she said they'd already tried with another car and failed. Another possibility is smashing a window and then ordering and installing a new one, but the lady tells us that a new window will take many days and will "costo molto". Strikeout again....
Way to Venice blocked
So, what to with the day? The mountains are rainy and snowy, but maybe the lowland is not.... and so we thought, what would be a cool place to visit that is not far... how about Venice! I'd never been and was hoping to see it, Daryl and Andree thought it was a good idea, and Bob and Annette had planned to visit anyway. Fortunately we had 3 rental cars in total, so we still had enough seat space to get all six of us there. Maybe the day wouldn't be a washout after all.
Poor British sods....
So, off we go, anxious to be out of the little taste of winter with which we'd gotten saddled. The roads were quite snowy, but driveable. And the road down to Venice involved no high passes, and so eventually the road should clear of snow, naturally.
Unfortunately, just out of town we encounter this huge traffic jam. Everyone is stopped. Markus is assigned as spotter and is sent ahead walking with a radio to report. After a while his voice comes crackling over the speaker, and apparently at a slight downhill ahead the opposite traffic can't get up the slope because of the snow and cars and trucks are everywhere all over the road. It'll probably take hours just to move a kilometre.
Well, so much for the Venice idea..... on the way back, we notice a number of old and new British sportscars, mostly open-topped, with guys in helmets driving around. Looked like some sort of motoring event.... I felt very sorry for them, especially for the poor guys in a Super 7 with helmets and race gloves, sitting totally out in the open in the traffic with a single umbrella over their heads (see picture). I bet they were thinking: "and we left england for this??"
Alternative to Venice
So its back to the hotel, where at least we can check on the progress of the key. Well, turns out that they haven't located the key yet, seems to be missing or misplaced, or some miscommunication with their infernal 'holding company'. So, after more yelling and more assurances, we are told that it will be found and sent such that it arrives by the day after next at the latest. Our hosts assure us that yes, we can stay an extra night.