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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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End of the World? No, it’s just August in Roma

24 Aug
20 August 2016.   Imagine a street, deserted of humans, cars parked dusty and unused, dead leaves skittering along in the evening breeze. There is an eerie, end-of-the-world-movie, ghost town quality. Think of the film “On the Beach” where New York City is deserted. Like that, but with the occasional bus or car passing. The trams are empty, too.
Usually this street, our neighborhood's main street, is chock-a-block with cars. Lots of horns would be sounding because everyone is in a hurry, and the lanes are often blocked by narcissitic double-parkers. Tonight you could park on the center line and not bother anyone.

Usually this street, our neighborhood’s main street, is chock-a-block with cars. Lots of horns would be sounding because everyone is in a hurry, and the lanes are often blocked by narcissistic double-parkers. Tonight you could park on the center line and not bother anyone.

That describes our “high street” as the Brits would say, Viale dei Parioli on this August Saturday night. The sidewalk markets (le bancarelle) have even disappeared by early evening since there are no prospective clients. We are the only people on foot at 19:30. There is finally shade and relief from the heat. We seek to stretch our legs after self-imposed confinement since 11:00, and we are searching for dinner.
This street merchant closed up super early. No customers walking by. Usually this area is full of merchant tables.

This street merchant closed up super early. No customers walking by. Usually this area is full of merchant tables.

A couple of days prior I made a reservation, as is my practice, but this morning while we walked before the heat came on, the restaurant called. They had made a mistake. Actually, their on-line reservation system had made the mistake, but most likely because they did not bother to update the calendar. They are closed for ferie. Throughout the hours surrounding Italian lunchtime I called three more restaurants whose websites and GoogleMaps purported they were open. I called again between 17:00 and 18:00. No answer. Maybe they did not open for lunch. Perhaps they are too busy to answer the phone. It’s possible that no one answers before 18:00 when they are readying for the evening.
We decided to walk 40 minutes to an area with several good restaurants we have patronized. Surely on this hot August night one will have a table. We pass the place we ate at recently. It was fine, but has a small menu and we do not care to repeat so soon. Then as we approach each familiar restaurant, going farther and farther from home, they are all shuttered. Chiuso per Ferie. 
This is usually an attrative little aperitivo bar with umbrellas and vute tables, candles, etc. Not this month!

This is usually an attractive little aperitivo bar with umbrellas and cute tables, candles, etc. Not this month!

By now we are past the British Embassy and almost to the American Embassy in Via Veneto. Seeing a lively corner we stop to peruse the menu. Looks fine. Nonno (grandpa) is outside asking to seat us. Is there a table within? Air conditioning seems like a good idea after an hour’s walk in 80-degree Fahrenheit temps.
A memorable meal for the wrong reasons. Fish previously frozen, an over-priced wine list, and an 80-year-old-guitar-playing-singer who went from table to table. He skipped us. Might have been the look on Ric’s face.
I pity the tourists lured into such a place that might think this is great food.
We did enjoy the goings-on around us. A couple from South Carolina that could not shake the minstrel as he sang them song-after-song. Three (southern) American women who wanted iced tea (eyss-TAY). The waiter, who could not understand their request, confirming they want te caldo, which is NOT cold tea but hot. A priest seated nearby piping up to correct the waiter. Across the restaurant, a little girl is enchanted by the singing grandpa.
We headed for home in moderating temperatures, luckily finding a bus just when we needed it most. This week, Rome begins to re-awaken. More stores re-open the 29th, and by September 5th we will be in full rientro mode as even the wealthiest people with case al mare (homes by the sea) will need to get back to reality.
And the motorini will once again scream past on the street past our bedroom making sleep difficult.
Before you go, over at Our Weekly Pizza we are on a pizza-eating hiatus and reviewing some of the restaurants we’ve enjoyed lately. Not the unnamed tavern above.

 

Every year the same thing: One, two, three, even four weeks closed.

Every year the same thing: One, two, three, even four weeks closed.

Hot town: summer in the city

4 Aug
4 August 2016. There is a hush over Rome that arrived earlier this year than in the past. Since our return from the Dolomites we’ve noticed traffic is already lighter. We cross the street almost without looking. Motorini do not disturb our sleep even with windows ajar.There are many empty parking spots on our street, although double-parking still plagues the commercial streets. Some stores are closed for the entire month. Are the Romans already off to the beach for their summer holidays?
Sure sign of August: closures everywhere. This on a cellular service storein our neighborhood. They'll be back AUgust 29.

Sure sign of August: closures everywhere. This on a cellular service store in our neighborhood. They’ll be back August 29.

It’s dreadfully hot: 35C/95F today. We pity the workers pouring concrete in the courtyard of our apartment building after replacing a gas line, as well as the guys doing construction on ritzy apartments whose dwellers have gone off to the beach during the renovation. But there are heat lovers: the sadistic bus drivers who do not turn on the A/C until afternoon. The 1940s-era trams that have no A/C are to be avoided after 10:00. 
How to survive in a city of bricks and pavement that retains more heat day-after-day, full of Italians who think air conditioning is the devil’s work? It’s all about taking advantage of the (relatively) cool morning and evening hours. We do not have A/C in the apartment or we’d turn it on full blast and wear sweaters to compensate. We had such great exercise in the Dolomites last month we do not want to backslide. But walking in 90-plus degree (Fahrenheit) heat is not an option. (The highs in Ortisei were lower than the lows in Rome right now.)
So here is how we structure our days.
October in Portland? No, it is August in Rome. The big trees on Viale Parioli have not had significant rain for awhile. Still they offer a welcome canopy as we shop.

October in Portland? No, it is August in Rome. The big trees on Viale Parioli have not had significant rain for awhile. Still, they offer a welcome canopy as we shop.

Up at 5:00AM, we open the house and allow the cooler air in, lighting citronella candles to keep the mosquitoes out while we have coffee and feed the cats. Only our bedroom has screens and we had to pay to have those installed. It’s about 22 Celsius in the morning. That’s 72 F. When we hit the sack at 10:30 or so, it’s still 29C/84F. We do our errands and appointments — always walking an hour at least — as early as possible so we can be out and back before 11:00. Or, as we did this morning with no big errands to run, we might take a purposeful walk of 90 minutes, leaving at 6:15-or-so, when the city is quiet and walking is tolerable. Home by 8:00 (stopping for cappuccino, of course!) we shower and then run to the store for any fresh food we might need. By 8:45, as the sun creeps up over the building next door, we have to close the windows and the heavy Italian serrande that hold the heat out. We become cave dwellers, leaving only a small cat-height opening onto the terrace as the girls still like to bake themselves. It is so dark with the serrande down, we have to use lights all day.
New on the street this year: motorino sharing from ZigZag. Three-wheelers.

New on the street this year: motorino-sharing from ZigZag. Three-wheelers.

Fans are on high, and we sit around the dining room table with laptops, both fans aimed for maximum air-blast. If we had Italian mothers they would be shocked. Air blowing on you can cause an illness called colpa d’aria. Or we may move a fan with us to a different part of the apartment to facilitate a chore: chopping up ingredients for dinner in the kitchen, for example. Use the oven? Certainly not, at least not after 7:00AM. We use the crockpot, but even that generates some heat. Salads are our friends these hot days and nights. We watch some TV, we read, write, manage finances, shop online, plan trips.
About dinner time (20:00) we can think about opening a couple of windows as we do not face west. Is there a breeze to catch so we can cool off the house a bit before bedtime? We light the citronella candles again against the dreaded mosquitoes. (Why don’t Italians do screens? Instead, they close the shutters tight and sleep in the hot rooms, fearful of killer night breezes and mosquitoes.) After dinner, we might take a stroll just to get some air and stretch our legs.
This store decided to only be open from 16:00-20:00 for 3 weeks.

This store decided to only be open from 16:00-20:00 for 3 weeks.

One evening we bravely took a bus at 17:00 (the street was shady at least, in the 31C/88F temp) to a movie theatre, where we basked in air-conditioned comfort for two hours. Then we walked an hour home in the relative comfort after 20:00. Another night we ventured to the opera at the Baths of Caracalla; starting time, 21:00. There is a lot that goes on after dark in summer and people come alive embracing the night time for socializing and getting out. Dinners run past midnight in many restaurants.
At bedtime,  we have to close up everything except the bedroom (so happy to have screens on the terrace doors!) and aim the best fan right at the bed. We sleep like the dead as with a diminished number of people in the city the motorini passing on our street are also miraculously few.
The beauty of Rome in summer is that it is eerily quiet and it’s kind of fun to wander around in the crepuscular hours.  We will live this way until September 7 when we head off on another trip. Somehow, magically, when we turn the page to September the heat is not so intolerable. The Roman sun follows the order of the universe and nights will mercifully drop below 20C/68F. We might even turn off the fans.
Not to be outdone, Enjoy, a cooperative effort with the national train service and ENI a fuel supplier, adds motorini to their car-sharing fleet.

Not to be outdone, Enjoy, a cooperative effort with the national train service and ENI a fuel supplier, added motorini to their car-sharing fleet.

If you’d like to read about past impressions of life-in-Rome in August, here are links to 2012, 2013, and 2014. (2015 we were in the U.S. lapping up the air conditioning.)
August 2014
August 2013
August 2012

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.

Off-season pleasures

12 Nov
Off-season travel usually means planning a trip around indoor activities, i.e., museums and churches. November in Roma has been glorious, so much so that I almost feel guilty knowing what the weather has been like in Portland. Tuscany was equally mellow and we were pleasantly surprised to find Lucca wreathed in fall color whereas Roma is drab. In Roma, the leaves simply fade to yellow and give up, falling into the path of AMA street sweepers.  Lucca’s trees give a bit of a show. Nothing like my native Minnesota, but quite pretty. (Click on any picture for a larger view.)
I’ve always said that it was not worthwhile to go to Pisa and waste a vacation day. Having visited — and being glad we did see The Tower — I would still advise those with limited travel time to spend their precious days elsewhere, but it was fun to see the iconic leaner. We were a 20-minute train ride from Pisa and the weather was perfect, so why not?
We also made a trek to the beach at Viareggio. I  expected more, expected to be wowed, alas the beach has not much to recommend it. However, the beautiful weather had us in shirtsleeves seaside before Noon. It’s not our beloved Cannon Beach, but it’ll do in November.
Lucca surprised us in many ways. After the costumed crowds cleared out, we found a walkable, shoppable little town, with affordable restaurants, inviting stores, and well-preserved buildings. Our B&B was from the 14th century, handily updated for modern living. This is a delightful place for a two-or-three night stay.

 

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