Valley with Cortina D'Ampezzo.
Back in Cortina, we arrived at the hotel, hoping beyond hope that maybe the key had arrived. Of course, it had not. And not only that, the rental company had sent us no update via phone or fax, even when they claimed they would. More angry calls revealed that they key STILL HAD NOT BEEN SENT!
ridiculous! unacceptable! We'd called them about this problem Monday. It was now Wednesday, and their "overnight replacement service" still had not been initiated.
I made it clear to these people that at this point the onus was on them, big time, to get the key to us fast. And not only that, we were losing precious days of our vacation to their beaureaucratic incompetence. And that we shouldn't be paying anything for a service that completely falls short of all reasonable expectations. After some more angry haggling, we at least got cleared of all charges, and possibly we would be able to get some restitution for the days that we were held up. If we had not had 3 rental cars in total, we literally would have been stuck with few options.
So, the next day was not going to be a resumption of our ferrata adventures. And the weather, believe it or not, was actually clearing. For real this time. Slowly the peaks around Cortina, heretofore blanketed in clouds, were revealed. Cloaked in brilliant white snow, they were simply spectacular. But they also looked a lot more dicey to climb on now.....
Given that we were again without critical gear, we decided as an alternative to explore other attractions in the area. A flyer down in the lobby of our hotel talked about the 'Volpera caverns'. These weren't far away and didn't really require any Ferrata stuff, plus Daryl and Bob both were into caves, so we decided to explore there for a bit.
The day was beautiful, calm, warm, and sunny. It was a welcome change to the gloom and bluster of the last several days. The views of green pastureland with quaint mountain dwellings and mighty spires of rock behind were great. The caves turned out to be fun... more of a series of smaller caverns than a single network, and was a pleasant way to pass the morning.
Video: Bob Spelunking in the Volpera Caverns.
In the afternoon Bob and Annette part ways with us, heading south for Tuscany and warmer climes (we are now down to 4: myself, Markus, Andree, and Daryl).
We were still up for more [mountain-stuff], and we headed back up to the pass that we had barely been able to drive over many days before in the snowstorm. At that altitude there had been a lot of snow, and still was. Probably about 25 centimetres total. Fortunately I did have my hiking boots and some warm clothing, but unfortunately not my sunglasses. And it was very sunny and the snow was very white.
Not wanting to court snowblindness, I used the trick Markus had used many years ago before he discovered sunglasses: a big toque pulled way down. So I looked a bit like Eminem... but who cared anyway? We were out in the mountains in glorious sunshine.
We'd come up here because this was a spot that had had a lot of military activity during the first world war, when Italy and Austria were battling it out over control of these mountains. The 'mountain war', as it was called, involved all kinds of strange fortifications in the mountains - summit observation posts, tunnels, galleries, gun ports... and lots of other wartime artifacts. In fact, many of the early vie ferrate were actually built and used by soldiers to get them to their airy perches.
Lagazuoi tunnel entrance.
So, anxious to see some of this open-air history exhibit, we trudged up on a snowy path, examining the cliffs and crags of the Lagazuoi summit near us. It was not long before we could see fortified walls and holes in the cliffs, far above the ground. Very neat.
After a bit of high altitude huffing and puffing, we reached the start of the Lagazuoi galleries, an extensive (and I mean extensive) network of fortifications, tunnels, galleries and rooms, all totally within the Lagazuoi summit. We donned our headlamps and disappeared into the gloom.
Hiking _inside_ a mountain
It felt like the mines of Moria. Roughly hewn steps, covered with a thin layer of slick ice in places, led up, and around, and up, and up. After a while there would be side rooms with a rock window looking out - over nothing. Your head would poke out in the middle of a sheer cliff!
Eventually the tunnel leveled out, and start branching out into all sorts of different rooms, many with relics from the war: sleeping barracks, engine rooms, mess halls, gun emplacements, some with original artifacts carefully maintained in place. Fabulously interesting. And sobering. Apparently the Italians built up this whole infrastructure just so they could get to the Austrians, who occupied the upper summit area. The plan was to tunnel high enough and then blow the summit off the mountain. This they managed to do; however, the Austrians heard the workings down below and had evacuated beforehand. Seems like a lot of effort for nothing... but makes for a very interesting excursion.
Eventually we popped out of an old wooden door and emerged onto the Lagazuoi pre-summit, somewhat lower than the main summit. There was a cable-car that went from the main summit back down to the car, which would have been neat to do, but we were ill-prepped for the brief bit of mountaineering that it would have taken to get there, so we turned and retreated back into the mountain.... down the tunnels, and back to the car. All in all, a very full and worthwhile day. And in light of the ongoing car fiasco, we did pretty well at filling our day with interesting activities.
Mommy and child
Back at the hotel for night #4 (and Giuseppe has taken pity on us and given us 2 rooms for the price of one), we (of course) discover that no one from the rental agency has sent us any of the promised faxes or phone calls. However, a call to the rental company is answered by an assurance that the key has been sent via UPS, and that it will be there by the next day noon for sure. Being skeptical at this point, we demand a tracking number. Well, apparently they don't have one.... we carefully explain to them that everything sent by a courier has a tracking number, and send them off packing to get one for us. Incredible...
Will we ever get out of here???