But apart from the philosophy of the matter, which I must confess to passing over very superficially at the time, there were other and more cogent reasons for wanting to go from Venice to the Big Venetian. It was the first of July, and the city on the sea was becoming tepid. A slumbrous haze brooded over canals and palaces and churches. It was difficult to keep one’s conscience awake to Baedeker and a sense of moral obligation; Ruskin was impossible, and a picture-gallery was a penance. We floated lazily from one place to another, and decided that, after all, it was too warm to go in. The cries of the gondoliers, at the canal corners, grew more and more monotonous and dreamy. There was danger of our falling fast asleep and having to pay by the hour for a day’s repose in a gondola. If it grew much warmer, we might be compelled to stay until the following winter in order to recover energy enough to get away. All the signs of the times pointed northward, to the mountains, where we should see glaciers and snow-fields, and pick Alpenrosen, and drink goat’s milk fresh from the real goat.
The first stage on the journey thither was by rail to Belluno—about four or five hours. It is a sufficient commentary on railway travel that the most important thing about it is to tell how many hours it takes to get from one place to another.
We arrived in Belluno at night, and when we awoke the next morning we found ourselves in a picturesque little city of Venetian aspect, with a piazza and a campanile and a Palladian cathedral, surrounded on all sides by lofty hills. We were at the end of the railway and at the beginning of the Dolomites.
Although I have a constitutional aversion to scientific information given by unscientific persons, such as clergymen and men of letters, I must go in that direction far enough to make it clear that the word Dolomite does not describe a kind of fossil, nor a sect of heretics, but a formation of mountains lying between the Alps and the Adriatic. Draw a diamond on the map, with Brixen at the northwest corner, Lienz at the northeast, Belluno at the southeast, and Trent at the southwest, and you will have included the region of the Dolomites, a country so picturesque, so interesting, so full of sublime and beautiful scenery, that it is equally a wonder and a blessing that it has not been long since completely overrun by tourists and ruined with railways. It is true, the glaciers and snowfields are limited; the waterfalls are comparatively few and slender, and the rivers small; the loftiest peaks are little more than ten thousand feet high. But, on the other hand, the mountains are always near, and therefore always imposing. Bold, steep, fantastic masses of naked rock, they rise suddenly from the green and flowery valleys in amazing and endless contrast; they mirror themselves in the tiny mountain lakes like pictures in a dream.