We arrived at the lake’s northernmost town, Riva Del Garda at around 2 in the afternoon. As is Italian custom, lunch is served from 12:30 to 2:30 and so our first priority after checking into our hotel was finding a place to eat. Since the main street we had arrived on was covered with pizzeria ristorantes, we didn’t think this would be a difficult task. What we had forgotten was that it was November. And, being a lakeside oasis, it was no longer peak season. It may have been sunny and sixty degrees, but it was already the off-season for the town’s restauranteers. I’ll admit I was a little worried. It has happened before in my travels that I missed the window for pranzo and let’s just say I’m not known for being particularly pleasant when I have an empty stomach. Especially of late. Fortunately, after walking passed several dining options that were closed for the season, we stumbled upon a pizzeria that was “aperto”. Refreshed after a delicious Italian pie, we headed back outside to take in the sights we had been forced to bypass in our food-finding-frenzy. And the sights were aplenty.
Parallel to the main street was a walking path along the water. We could see it through the trees as we ventured along in the direction of the Expo center, and unanimously agreed we would follow that route on our way back to the hotel. In the meantime, we appreciated the quaintness of the town making its way into the afternoon shadows of the mountains elegantly surrounding it. Even with most places closed for the winter months ahead, it was clear that this getaway is geared towards the adventure-minded folks. Shops for running, biking, hiking, sailing, and kayaking lined the roadway and outnumbered the cafes and restaurants that typically monopolize Italian streets.
When we made it to the Expo center, situated just before the start of the pedestrian-only old part of town, I came to a realization: if you are going to run a long-distance event, Italy is the place to do it. Not only was the scenery amazing and the entry fee a fraction of the cost in the States, but there was also a lot of food. Apple streudel, pasta, and wine stations awaited athletes and spectators. And our gift bag for registering for the event included more than the usual tee-shirt. In addition to a long-sleeve New Balance tech tee, we got fleece running gloves, yogurts, fruit drinks, energy bars, a jar of peperocino pasta sauce, AND a block of Italy’s own Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese. It was like Christmas! I didn’t even run, but my gift bag more than paid for my unused race number bib!
After checking in and sampling the various goodies provided, we headed back to our hotel via the lakeside path. The views of the lake turned out to be even more beautiful than we had anticipated. With large mountains erupting from the water, I was reminded of the Italian Riviera and its sights along the Ligurian Sea. But this, as enormous as it seemed, was a lake. A clear, beautiful, fresh water lake, made all the more picturesque by the collection of sailboats and pebble beaches lining its shores.
By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was already dusk. Wed decided to check out the pool and Jacuzzi only to learn that those facilities are not the same as we find at home. Jacuzzi water is cold and pool water is colder. But nobody else seemed to mind. We forced ourselves into the “hot” tub since we had gone through the trouble of changing into our suits and didn’t want to look as foreign as we felt by making a quick departure. When a little girl joined us and exclaimed “Che caldo!” which translates to “how warm!”, we all laughed. Teeth chattering and covered in goosebumps, we hurried back to our room. Just another day in Italy bringing about another taste of culture.
The next morning, after a restful sleep and a dinner outing that was far more satisfying than our trip to the pool, we had breakfast. And I am not talking a croissant and a coffee breakfast. I am talking a bacon, egg, toast, fruit, yogurt, cereal, and everything else (minus bagels of course) breakfast. I realized while relishing in our semi-American meal overseas that, though we were in Italy, we might as well have been in Germany. German speakers outnumbered Italian ones two to one. I had forgotten how far North and how close to the border we actually were. Though Kevin has been to the Trentino-Aldige region of the country countless times for his games, this was my first experience in the vicinity of the more German Italy. Culturally not too different, but it was fun to hear a different foreign language in an already foreign country.
Before we knew it, it was time to head to the starting line. I felt the same nerves I would have if I were running, and I loved the excitement at the start. Our friend who had never been to a running event said that it was incredible to experience the atmosphere. When the gun went off, we cheered for our running pal, headed back to the hotel to check out and drove to a point somewhere beyond the middle of the course. There, when we spotted her amongst the sea of runners, I joined in to run a few kilometers and keep her company. We past vineyards and a turquoise-water river before I jumped back out at the spot designated for meeting up with the third member of our crew. I wished our runner luck on her final kilometers ahead, and us two members of her support crew power-walked to the finish.
After a successful race for our running companion, and an enjoyable day spectating for the myself and our third traveling pal, we all walked to the old town for a final meal by Lake Garda. This time we dined on the waterfront in the company of countless other athletes and families. We shared a delicious pizza topped with fresh parmesan, tomatoes, and rucola before jumping back in the Valpe-mobile for our roadtrip back home. I was grateful that even though I couldn’t complete the race myself, it had given me a reason to explore a part of Italy’s biggest lake. I won’t get in the habit of registering for races I don’t plan on running, but it was certainly the perfect roundabout way of adding to my adventures abroad.