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Familiar faces and places

22 Sep
22 September 2017.
When “Taxi Ivan” picked us up in Bolzano last week, we could scarcely contain our excitement. We were returning to Ortisei for our 6th summer visit. Ivan remembered transporting us with our cats last summer.

The street where we lived, temporarily. So charming!

Despite the calendar, it did not feel like summer.  Lows of 2 C/35 F and highs of 12  C/54 F were not quite what we expected. We each had to purchase a fleece as a warm layer: our long-sleeved tees and rain jackets just did not cut it.
Nonetheless, it felt like coming home. We stayed in the same apartment we shared with our cats, Libby and Jane, last year. Justine and Siegfried at Residence Astoria greeted us like old friends. We were honored to see Justine had purchased our book for use by her guests! Even the staff in the gelato and grappa store recognized us. It really felt great to come back and feel so at home. And my Italian came back rather quickly, if imperfectly.

That view looks fake, but it very real. The Sciliar and Punta Santner with Compatsch in the foreground.

We managed to carve out two good hikes in our four full days. One was crossing the Alpe di Siusi on a favorite route, stopping for strudel at a preferred mountain hotel. The other a very cold hike through fog across the ridge at Rasciesa. Luckily hot coffee and fine strudel awaited us at the rifugio.
Another day we listened to the forecast of rain all day and decided not to risk a mountain expedition, so we took a bus into Bolzano for shopping and lunch. But we never got our umbrellas wet! Not in 36 hours! It looked like rain most of the day so our time at higher altitudes might have been cut short. Hard to know when to believe a forecast.

One of our favorite rifugi, Rasciesa. We were the first customers at 9:45. As we were leaving, the crowds were arriving.

We cooked several dinners (restaurants get tiring when you travel long term) but treated ourselves to one fine meal at what has become our favorite fine dining establishment in Ortisei, Restaurant Concordia. We were one of only three parties on a Sunday evening, all seated in a cozy room with the woodstove burning. We dithered over many fine options on the menu, choosing an antipasto of involtini with mozzarella and grilled vegetables and secondi of venison and pork, with a fine local Lagrein to accompany. Everything was superb! The owners are wait staff and chef, making for a very personal experience. They were thrilled to hear we returned to them after a great experience last year. It is so nice to go to restaurants away from the main streets, no matter how small the town, and find such intimacy.
Here are a few more pictures from our stay in Ortisei. Click any picture for complete captions.

The canal where we live.

We are now in Venezia and the weather gods have cooperated. We were out in shirtsleeves and ate lunch al aperto twice this week.
Venezia is, of course, very familiar to us. We’ve been here 10 times although I am not sure we should count our one-night-stand in August of 2016 when we came here simply to briefly escape the heat in Roma. We know where we are going most of the time although I am grateful for GPS on the phone when we get twisted about. The first few times we visited we used only paper maps. I am happy to have adopted the electronic form when I see others standing around gaping at their maps trying to decipher Venezia.

Incredible saute of mussels and clams at Trattoria da Jonny.

It was another fine meal we got ourselves into at Trattoria da Jonny. Or rather, I should thank Michele over at Meandering with Misha for getting us there. She raved about it in March and I remembered her post was so inspiring we had to go. We were shocked to arrive and find the place lightly attended while out on the main tourist piazzas things were humming. It was to our advantage: a finely prepared lunch in a peaceful location with only schoolkids and local shoppers passing through. We kept it simple: branzino with spinach for Ric, a lovely bowl of mussels and clams for me, accompanied by seasonal veggies and roasted potatoes we shared. A little Soave washed it down nicely. A lot to eat for lunch but after our three-plus mile morning walk (and knowing we’d do four more miles before the day was finished) we deserved it. Again we are preparing food a casa so a simple salad and more good wine (Donna Fugata why are you not exporting to the U.S?) made a fitting evening meal.
When we travel long like this, our evenings are much like being in the U.S. If we do not go out to eat, and if we’ve had an active day, a simple supper at “home” with perhaps some streaming of American TV is a nice way to chill out. Unfortunately, Amazon and Netflix are wise to our use of a VPN. Although Amazon worked in Ortisei, they are apparently on to us now. We found PBS is still willing to feed our need with their fine programming. Is anyone else watching Ken Burns’ “Vietnam?”

Giant hands support a building along the Grand Canal. Interesting metaphor.

In addition to eating at several new-to-us places, this is turning out to be an art tour of Venezia as we finally attended the Biennale. More on that later. Always new things to see even in a place you’ve visited many times.
Per addesso, ciao!

 

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We wrote a book!

10 Feb
10 February 2017. Having frequently mumbled to myself “Someone should write a book,” I actually became the “someone.”llbarton_3d_mockup
Ric and I have hiked in the Dolomites around Ortisei for the past five summers. The genesis for the book was this hike advertised as “easy” in local information but I was certain we were going to die at least twice during the trek. As we recovered from the experience I said those famous words about writing a book, and the trip turned into a research venture. Ric and I carefully traipsed the trails and documented a couple of dozen walks during our 4-week stay in Ortisei last July. Then, in the midst of the craziness of the past few months — moving to Oregon from Italy,  buying a house, relocating to the Oregon coast — we’ve managed to publish a book. Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena: 20 Easier Walks in the Dolomites near Ortisei, Selva, and Santa Cristina is now available from Amazon worldwideSimply search for it (typing “Hiking Val Gardena” in the search box on any Amazon site will bring it right up), or in the U.S. click here. 
I also have a new blog, ProjectEasyHiker, and will be shifting my focus to writing about our exploration of the Oregon Coast or anywhere else we may travel. Good Day Rome will be maintained as an archive and as inspiration strikes I may blog here as well. If you would like to continue our relationship, please head on over to PEH and follow. Project Easy Hiker is also on Facebook

Easy hiking

16 Jul
16 July 2016. We unabashedly take hikes rated as “easy” these days. Having injured both knees over the past two years, hikes labeled “moderately strenuous” are now usually just plain strenuous for us. Altitude gain doesn’t bother us too much once we are acclimated, but tough footing, disappearing trail signs, and steep descents give us cause to pause and think about how much we value our lives.
Marinzen is a lovely rifugio. Many people just ride up to hang out and not even hike.

Marinzen is a lovely rifugio. Many people just ride up to hang out and not even hike.

According to the book “Walking Guide Around the Alpe di Siusi,” the hike we chose for Friday, #10 for the record, was to be an easy hike. It was depicted as a round trip that was to take 2.5 hours with 214 meters of altitude gain and loss. We are slow hikers, so we figured even if it took 3 hours, we’d be fine, and there were two rifugi where we could get lunch. Piece of proverbial cake. Ha!
The Marinzen chairlift. Scenic, but such a cold wind this day! It goes up, up, up into the trees ahead.

The Marinzen chairlift. Scenic, but such a cold wind this day! It goes up, up, up into the trees ahead.

The lift to our starting point at Marinzen leaves from Castelrotto at the base of the Alpe di Siusi. Marinzen is an older chairlift. Nothing wrong with it, but it is less comfy than some others in the area. It is a long ride, about 20 minutes, and this day, in JULY no less, it was cold, about 9 degrees Celsius (48 Fahrenheit) with a biting northerly wind. Brrrrr. Once we hit the trees we were shielded from the wind and the sun came out. At the top, we found a delightful refugio with baby goats only a couple of weeks old. They (the rifugio, not the goats) served great strudel, one of the best we’ve had, and a perfect cappuccino. God, I love hiking in Italy! We could have stayed awhile, but there was a hike to do.
Goats being fed parsley stems at Marinzen.

Goats being fed parsley stems at Marinzen.

The hike starts on a gravel road then veers off across a meadow with a faint track leading to a shrine. Past the shrine is a trail sign. We knew to follow #12. The path steepened so we took out the hiking sticks. It was a steady climb, but not bad, with occasional rocky sections, nothing horrible. We are, after two weeks here, acclimated to the elevation and the level of activity. Still, as we trudged on I felt it better to go forward because I really did not want to go back down that steep trail. My knees and my nerves dislike steep descents. A couple of places it was hard to discern the exact trail but we were able to look up and spot the CAI red and white sign and determine the proper path.
Looking back toward Marinzen as we set off on Trail #12. Such a promising start!

Looking back toward Marinzen as we set off on Trail #12. Such a promising start!

Younger people were passing us by, but we persevered. Then we came to a place where the trail might have gone straight or might have taken a left steeply uphill to a set of log steps with a railing. I was tempted to go straight, but a man was coming down from the left so it seemed a good bet that was the trail. No sign, of course. The next part was navigable, although basically a deer path with a steep drop off to the right. So glad we had our hiking sticks! Up and up we went, the drop to our right so steep that a misstep would mean waving goodbye and planning a funeral. Then we encountered an avalanche of boulders blocking the trail. It looked like a landslide from a long time ago. I wanted to turn back, but knowing how challenging the ascent had been, it made me weak in the knees to even think about it. Was there a trail that continued after the boulder field? Ric bravely scrambled up to see. Yes, he thought we could make it, so grabbing handholds on the boulders and carefully placing our feet so as to not twist an ankle or take a header over the cliff, we managed to clamber over the 40 feet of boulders blocking our way. It was not something one would expect on an “easy” hike.
Rest stop view. By this point most of the harrowing parts were over. Looking down on the valley where Castelrotto sits.

Rest stop view. By this point most of the harrowing parts were over. Looking down on the valley where Castelrotto sits.

Continuing on, now aided occasionally by some log railings to prevent a disastrous fall, at last we came to a lovely overlook with a picnic table, perfect for a rest. This was just over an hour into our supposedly 2.5-hour round trip, but we still had a long way to go. We could see the Cabinovia Alpe di Siusi and it was still a long way off. We knew our objective was past the line of the lift as it ascended. Our 1:25,000 scale hiking map showed we were past the rocky areas, but we hit one last bit of scree to navigate in an area of some water run-off then, luckily, the trail veered into the forest and the deer-path-with-a-drop-off disappeared in favor of a woody path with some rocks and roots. Relief! Eventually we joined a road and walked easily to Hotel Frommer. Walking time was about 2 hours. We are not fast, but we were moving as best we could. I think the trail is severely mislabeled at 1 hour. 
We were so concentrating on hiking that we did not take trail pictures. Oh I wish I had a picture of the boulder field and Ric crossing it! Here, the deer path is bordered by a fence to prevent falling. Not the case everywhere along this trail

We were so concentrating on hiking that we did not take trail pictures. Oh, I wish I had a picture of the boulder field and Ric crossing it! Here, the deer path is bordered by a fence to prevent falling. Not the case everywhere along this trail

In fact, in post-hike wonderment, I went seeking more information on this trail, which was very hard to find. A source I found in Italian put this section alone at 2 hours with 400 meters of elevation change given the ups-and-downs. This is, to our point-of-view, more accurate. Ric used his altimeter app to check the altitude at several points and determined the authors just checked the altitude at Marinzen and the altitude at Frommer and did the math, not accounting for higher points along the way. Losers. Oh, and the second source rated the trail intermedio, not easy.
Can you see the little blue ovals? That is the cabinovia that whisks people up-and-down from the Alpe di Siusi. We are nearing the end of the hike, having passed under it.

Can you see the little blue ovals? That is the cabinovia that whisks people up-and-down from the Alpe di Siusi. We are nearing the end of the hike, having passed under it.

Starving by now, our strudel long forgotten, we decided to have lunch at Hotel Frommer. But there was no one in sight. Seemed closed. Time to break out the emergency trail mix and, unbelievably, wait for a bus to rescue us. Since we are in a land where travelers and hikers are catered to with public transportation, we found while sitting at our little picnic rest area that there is a bus that stops at Hotel Frommer. Score! The next portion of the hike was to be on a different trail, and the signs indicated perhaps an hour, but based on the experience to this point, we had our doubts. We did not want to chance it. In 20 minutes a bus came along and for €8.50 per person we rode down in comfort, all the way to Castelrotto, instead of finishing the hike.
Note the sign at teh bottom, 1 hour to Marinzen. We were 2+ at this point on the "easy" hike.

Note the sign at the bottom, 1 hour to Marinzen. We were 2+ at this point on the “easy” hike.

In a bit of a snit since we have now done three hikes from this book and two of them severely under-estimated the duration, I wrote a very thorough email to the author, who had invited feedback. Wouldn’t you know, the email bounced. I’ve tracked down the publisher in Castelrotto and forwarded our thoughts to an “info@” email address. No reply as yet.
Thank goodness we are experienced enough to weather a hike like this. Thank God we didn’t have small children along! Or a dog! Our old collie would’ve been impossible to get over the boulder field. The book has warnings about hikes not suitable for kids, but this particular trek carried no such warning. Surely things change in trail maintenance over the years, and this book is 6-years-old now, but I guarantee that boulder field has probably been there since before local hero Luis Trenker was in utero. It was not an “easy” hike.
Baby goats!

Baby goats!

 
It's all about the view and I love this one of the Sciliar and Punta Santner.

It’s all about the view and I love this one of the Sciliar and Punta Santner.

Festa!

14 Jul
14 July 2016. Small town festivals were a part of the fabric of our youth: parades, bands, queens, community dinners, and carnival rides. Quite a different animal in Italy.
We arrived in Ortisei in time for the annual sagra, or local festival, complete with beer hall, folk-costume parade, and band concert. In Italy, many sagre (plural of sagra) are agricultural-based celebrating artichokes, chestnuts, truffles, and so on. Not so in Ortisei: They celebrate their Ladin culture.
Three of the more elaborate costumes.

Three of the more elaborate costumes.

The Ladin people are the historical inhabitants of this ethnically and politically confused region. Before WWI, this was Austria. They are still a part of the Tyrol, with which they share culture, history, traditions, environment, and architecture; However, they are Italian residents of the autonomous region of the Trentino-Alto Adige and have their own language. Luckily everyone speaks German and Italian, and most speak English as well as Ladin, so communication is interesting. It is not uncommon to hear three languages among four people in a single conversation. 
The band, smartly attired in Tyrolean costumes. Our hosts' daughter is one of the flautists.

The band, smartly attired in Tyrolean costumes. Our hosts’ daughter is one of the flutists.

As a community gathering, the sagra in Ortisei was remarkably simple and it seemed the entire town participated. We saw the beer hall go up in the piazza Friday night, forcing the buses and taxis to do their pick-up and drop-off on the highway 100 meters away. At noon on Saturday, several loud reports from a cannon and the vigorous ringing of church bells announced the start of the festival and drove LibbyJean into hiding.
The festival hall/beer tent on Saturday night. Teeming with people of all ages.

The festival hall/beer tent on Saturday night. Teeming with people of all ages.

Saturday night on our way to dinner we passed the beer hall — now encompassing the large bus-and-taxi piazza — where at least 2000 people were crammed tightly into picnic tables with little room for the beer servers to maneuver. We happily passed by to enjoy dinner at a relatively empty restaurant. The BIG day was to be Sunday.
Note the beer hall is set up in the bus piazza.

Note the beer hall is set up in the bus piazza.

Sunday morning at 9:45 the crowd began to gather outside the village church, awaiting the folk-costume parade, led by the town band. Many of the parade watchers also donned Tyrolean dress: boys large and small in lederhosen with women and girls in dirndl skirts. The rest of us were festively attired in hiking shorts and tee-shirts.
The short parade of extremely elaborate costumes depicted traditional dress associated with a Ladin wedding. From helpful neighbors to the “inviter,” the grandparents, and the woman with the keys to the wine cellar, everyone had a role and a costume with special meaning. The band was an assemblage of young and old musicians who after leading the parade also performed a two-hour concert during Sunday lunch. 
I nonni, the grandparents, of the bride and groomi n distinctive Ladin attire.

I nonni, the grandparents, of the bride and groom in distinctive Ladin attire.

Of course, after the parade passed everyone followed it down the street to the piazza where it was apparently not too early for wine, beer, or a spritz con Aperol. We tucked into elevensies and enjoyed the band along with our own spritzes.
Post parade parade of the uncostumed surges down ther main drag.

Post parade parade of the uncostumed surges down the main drag.

From our hillside aerie we could hear music on-and-off all afternoon and into the evening, as well as the continued firing of the cannon and overuse of the church bells. By Monday morning it was all swept away to make room for the weekly market. 

 

Sweet children in elaborate cosumes. These take an hour to put on.

Sweet children in elaborate cosumes. These take an hour to put on.

Even the tiniest participant has to have the right attire.

Even the tiniest participant has to have the right attire.

Tyrolean dress for all ages.

Tyrolean dress for all ages.

Horse drawn carriage for the wedding couple.

Horse drawn carriage for the wedding couple.

Smaller crowd Sunday after the parade. Note the street lamps and taxi station signs.

Smaller crowd Sunday after the parade. Note the street lamps and taxi station signs.

Elevensies! A spritz con Aperol with bocconcini di pollo and insalata di patate (chicken nuggets and potatoe salad). We hiked after....

Elevensies! A spritz con Aperol with bocconcini di pollo and insalata di patate (chicken nuggets and potato salad). We hiked after….

Small town memories

6 Jul
6 July 2016. My husband loves grappa. Over our years in Italy he has come to appreciate the good stuff versus the lighter fluid they sometimes give you free after dinner in a Roman restaurant. The good stuff, by the way, is usually yellow and aged, sometimes called barrique grappa. 
In 2014, during a trip to Ortisei with family, we stopped at a gelateria with the little grandnephew and grandniece. I noticed a shelf of grappas at the back of the shop and pointed it out to Ric and nephew John.  The young man serving the gelato immediately dropped the scoop into the hands of his colleague and offered to do a tasting for Ric and John at the back of the shop. We walked out a short time later with a most expensive bottle of grappa. Oh, and the rest of us did get gelato. 
Sibona Grappa di Porto. Golden and delicious, just the right ending to a meal. It is a digestivo, after all. (That's Libby in the corner of the banquette.)

Sibona Grappa da Porto. Golden and delicious, just the right ending to a meal. It is a digestivo, after all. That’s Libby in the corner of the banquette. She didn’t drink any.

We loved this grappa! It was smooth and delicious enough to (almost) replace my craving for the occasional Scotch. It proved to be hard to find this particular grappa in Roma, so the next summer, 2015, when we passed two weeks in Ortisei, Ric asked the shop for two bottles: one to drink while visiting and one to take back to the U.S. for a friend. The young man had one bottle in stock but asked us if we would please wait while he went to fetch another. I don’t know if he went home to get it from his private stock or bought it from a competitor, but 15 or 20 minutes later, after we had consumed a gratis gelato, he returned and we sailed off with our two bottles. 
Today we stopped in and went directly to the back of the shop and grabbed a bottle. A clerk asked us if we knew what it was, then stopped mid-sentence: “You were here last year! You waited and bought two bottles!” Unbelievably, even with the thousands of people they serve gelato to in that shop, this woman and her partner (the young man from the prior encounters) remembered us. I guess two bottles is a memorable sale. 
We’ve since found a source in Roma as well as one online, but as far as we know, you cannot get this stuff in the U.S. If anyone finds it, please let us know for future needs. I don’t think we can afford to ship home a carload.
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