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Tag Archives: mountains

Swiss wrap-up

9 Oct
The trip to the Questura interrupted my tales of hiking in Switzerland.
We had unbelievable weather, sunny though chilly in the morning, no rain until the night before we departed for home. We never had to deploy an umbrella or pull up our hoods.
Having a full week in Lauterbrunnen afforded us an opportunity to explore the region a bit more than we have in two prior trips. Relative to the other meaning of “afford,” we were able to keep the budget somewhat in check by renting an apartment and cooking breakfast and most dinners. With this plan to travel extensively in retirement, we have committed to cooking more when we travel. After all, we have time. Plus, the food in Lauterbrunnen is rather uninspiring. It’s a cheese world after all: Rösti, Raclette, and Fondue are everywhere you turn. Vegetable options are slim, mostly potatoes and small green salads or coleslaw.
The trains and lifts get pretty expensive, but a Swiss half-fare card coupled with a Berner-Oberland Regional Pass meant we were able to save considerably on transportation during our 11 nights in Switzerland.
This is an extraordinary place to visit and hike. We really love the Dolomites, but Switzerland is pretty special too. It is incredibly clean and well-organized although the food and coffee are better in the Dolomites.
Which way? I love this picture Ric took of two hikers standing beneath a way-finding sign looking at their map.
Which way? I love this picture Ric took of two hikers standing beneath a way-finding sign looking at their map.
Hiking from First to Grosse Scheidegg, that's the EIger in the background. Everytime we go here we feel like we need to watch the Eiger Sanction again.
Hiking from First to Grosse Scheidegg, that’s the Eiger in the background. Every time we go here we feel like we need to watch “The Eiger Sanction” again.
We love this hike from Grutschalp to Muerren along the narrow gauge rail line.
We love this hike from Grutschalp to Muerren along the narrow gauge rail line.
Another favorite hike is from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. This is a view toward Grindelwald in the valley.
Another favorite hike is from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. This is a view toward Grindelwald in the valley.
My surveillance photo of Ric getting ready for a hike. At a train station, of course.
My surveillance photo of Ric getting ready for a hike. At a train station, of course.
Lunch in Muerren, overlooking the Laurterbrunnen Valley.
Lunch in Muerren, overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
Bern city center as seen from the site of our lunch.
We did one city day, in Bern. Here, the city center as seen from the site of our lunch above the bear enclosure.
Subterranean shop in Bern.  There are many such shops.
Subterranean shop in Bern. There are many such shops, former storehouses and cellars.
Terra cotta bunnies, Bern, Switzerland.
Terra cotta bunny and mouse, Bern, Switzerland.
This is the guy we saw with the gun on the train two days before. He works for the railroad.
This is the guy we saw with the gun on the train two days before. He works for the railroad.
Looking out our back door. The morning we departed, the cows were put to graze in the meadow behind our apartment.
Looking out our back door. The morning we departed, the cows were put to graze in the meadow behind our apartment.
View from Harde Klum to Lake Brienz. Lovely day, difficult hike.
View from Harder Klum to Lake Brienz. Lovely day, difficult hike.
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Where few Americans venture….

13 Jun
From Montese we ventured to Lago di Garda. I have to say I was not impressed, except by our lodging at the fabulous Erika Hotel. And we did have some fine meals, especially at Cirano, affordable, family-run, low key, with excellent wine suggestions. Lago di Como seems better set up for hiking, long ferry trips, and gawking at fabulous estates. Maybe we didn’t give Garda enough of a chance. And there was that issue with a tow truck. I was not driving. We may have to go back just to stay at Erika’s and to ride to Monte Baldo. But on to the Alta Pusteria.
Our balcony looked out over the Val Fiscalina, which runs deep into the mountains. We hiked to the end of the valley.
Our balcony looked out over the Val Fiscalina, which runs deep into the mountains. 
Our Italian friends raved about Sesto and Moso. They go every winter and we decided that this would be a great opportunity to see the area since we were already at Lago di Garda. We left Rick and Jane in Verona to go on a wine tour with some friends, and rented a car to continue on to Moso. The drive was spectacular and luckily the traffic was minimal as it was Sunday. I shudder to think of those narrow roads through the mountains with logging trucks coming and going.
Moso was very quiet on Sunday. We had a bottle of wine gifted to us by Riccardo of Trekking Italy and we had cheese and sausage leftover from our Montese picnic. The very kind landlady gave us some great multi-grain bread, and we found water at the one bar that was open. What more could we need for supper?
The entire apartment is constructed in the traditional style of the Sud Tirol. Here, our nook.
The entire apartment is constructed in the traditional style of the Sud Tirol. Here, our nook.
We stayed at an agriturismo that I found through Red Rooster Red Rooster specializes in small family properties in the Alto-Adige. They are family focused and very affordable. Kirschnerhof is right on main street in Moso, but is indeed a working farm, with 11 head of dairy cows. The warm fragrance of the barn wafted over the property in a not-unpleasant manner. The place was spotless and impeccably organized. We had a comfortable and attractive one bedroom apartment that would easily accommodate a family of 4 for a price you won’t find at a Motel 6 in Cook, Nebraska.
We were greeted by a plaque announcing this was °home° for a few days.
We were greeted by a plaque announcing this was °home° for a few days.
In this region English is a distant third to German and Italian. I would call this a region of reluctant Italians. They seem shocked to hear us speak Italian. Menus are in German and Italian, seldom English. One day at lunch the waiter clearly knew we were not local and although we greeted him in Italian and asked for a table, he warned us the menu was only in German and Italian, then never spoke another word of English to us. Frankly an Italian menu is always our preference even in Rome as the English translations are often quite odd and sometimes they leave out items. But I digress….
Tiny Moso, or Moos in German, with dramatic backdrop.
Tiny Moso, or Moos in German, with dramatic backdrop.
Hiking is the thing to do here unless you arrive in winter when skiing is the #1 activity. June is not high season so it was quiet. Half of Kirschnerhof was occupied, meaning two-out-of-four apartments and one room. It seemed every place had a sign saying zimmer frei. Baked goods lean to types more commonly found in Austria or Germany, while pastas dominate restaurant menus along with lots of potato dishes.  As we have found in other parts of the Alto-Adige, menus are a combination of Italian and German cuisines.
We spent three lovely days hiking. Well-marked trails made way-finding easy, something we have come to appreciate both in the Val Gardena and the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland. The ability to hike to a rifugio and find coffee and full-service menus along with clean restrooms is so civilized! Nothing like fresh strudel and espresso for elevensies! Not to mention a nice place to freshen-up, instead of crouching in the woods. Click any image below to enlarge or for a slideshow.
It was cooler by far than Roma. It was in the low 50s, Fahrenheit, in the morning, so hauling along the fleece jackets and SmartWool socks turned out to be a good idea. One day the high in Moso was 21 Celsius/70 Fahrenheit. Roma was 31C/88F, which is not bad for Roma in summer, but it is hot for moving around.
The Montese hike reminded us we really do like hiking sticks, so we bought new ones in Moso, the nicest we’ve ever had. Too bad about the three sets sitting in Roma, but they are a pain-in-the-ass to carry along, so it seems we end up re-buying them on subsequent trips. Once we had a set in Switzerland that when extended properly for hiking refused to collapse for transport home so we left them in the room. The newest ones are more cooperative so I think they will make it onto the packing list for Ortisei in July. Am I digressing again?
On our last hike, downhill from Baranci, we came across the ruins of an old health spa. While the spa heyday was the late 19th and early 20th century, knowledge of the curative waters goes back to the 16th century. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. 
We met only German and Italian-speakers here. The common greeting from hikers on the trail is Gruß Gott. After all, we are only 6 km from Austria as the crow flies: Up until WWI, this was Austria. Although Italian is the official language for education, German is the cultural choice in the household and the first words uttered in any business location. Nonetheless, like Montese, it was a good opportunity for me to practice Italian. Is it truly where no Americans go? Probably not really, but for those who want an experience where one does not run into English-speaking tourists at every turn, this is a corner of Italy to try.
We came across this strange box in the woods.
We came across this strange box in the woods.
Upon opening the box we found a clever display about the woodpeckers in the area.
Upon opening the box we found a clever display about the woodpeckers in the area.
Inside was an old woodpecker nest, displayed in cutaway with Plexiglas protecting it.
Inside was an old woodpecker nest, displayed in cutaway with Plexiglas protecting it.
And the original hole bored by the woodpecker led to the display nest.
And the original hole bored by the woodpecker led to the display nest.

The Whos down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot

27 Dec
When Dr. Seuss wrote “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” I think he must have had Ortisei in mind. It sits in a steep valley beneath snowy peaks reminding one of the “Whos down in Whoville.” As we descended yesterday from the highest lift station we could just make out the
From up here (in a gondola) Ortisei seems like little Whoville down in the valley.
From up here (in a gondola) Ortisei seems like little Whoville down in the valley.
village far below, and imagined the Grinch careening down the steep slopes to return the Christmas treasures. Instead we saw skiers launching off the mountain and enjoying a run of several kilometers albeit on mostly artificial snow. Ortisei calls itself Il Paese di Natale, and celebrates for 25 days, right up to Epiphany on January 6. They like Christmas a lot.
We spent a lovely Christmas Day in the Alpe di Siusi (if we are Facebook Friends you have already seen a few pictures from that hike), and on Santo Stefano (Dec. 26) we followed a local alpine guide from the Catores group on a hike to the Church of San Giacomo, which turned out to be a pretty good workout of 2 ½ hours roundtrip. I am pleased to say we old timers were not the slowest ones on the uphill stretch.
Dating to the 11th century, far above Ortisei. My Swedish ancestors were still practicing Norsk Mythology at that time, I think.
Dating to the 11th century, far above Ortisei. My Swedish ancestors were still practicing Norsk Mythology at that time, I think.
Fresco on San Giacomo, 15th century! There is also a quaint cemetery with a view to "die" for.
Fresco on San Giacomo, 15th century! There is also a quaint cemetery with a view to “die” for.
We also spent part of the evening in Ortisei to see the activity during the passeggiata and the fairy tale-like village transformed by holiday lights.
Luckily we are able to be active (as was the point of this trip) to compensate for the amazing food we are consuming at Hotel Albion.
We are staying at what is for us one of the nicest places we have ever stayed. I would compare it to Salishan Lodge on the Oregon Coast in terms of elegance, although the Albion has a decidedly ski-sport bent versus the golf club sophistication at Salishan.  On a normal trip we stay in B&Bs, apartments and small hotels with a goal of spending no more than EURO 100.00 per night. Usually we are successful at that budget number on an average basis, and sometimes we get breakfast included. In planning this holiday trip, a gift to ourselves in lieu of stuff, we wanted to be a little pampered and stay somewhere special and memorable. I agonized over several choices in Ortisei, and while this one is expensive, it is half the price of the high-end properties here!
Like many European resort hotels, the meals are included in a half-pension plan.  Breakfast and dinner are included and are beyond ample. Breakfast offers almost every kind of fruit, a make-your-own juice bar, several choices of breads, pastries, eggs, sausages, assorted salume from speck to cotto, mortadella and salami, yogurt, muesli, jams, a honey bar (6 options!), a dozen types of cheese, and I would venture at least that many types of butter, flavored and not. This is the Tyrol and the northern influence on cooking brings butter to the forefront. Dinners are five courses including an amazing over-the-top salad buffet and an ever-changing menu of primi and secondi. We’ve enjoyed fish, shellfish, venison, quail, veal and duck as well as beautiful vegetarian dishes. I could go on but I won’t.
The clientele are from all over, although I am certain we are the only Americans on the property and probably the only native English speakers. Christmas morning we enjoyed hearing greetings of Joyeux Noel, Fröhliche Weinachten, and Buon Natale.
There is a shuttle to take us on demand to the lifts or to the village center. There is a spa including outdoor heated pool, which we have not had time to try. The only thing missing was snow, until today (Saturday) when it started during our hike and continued for about 8 hours.
This is our fourth Christmas in Italy, starting with our 2011 vacation here and now three years as residents. Family and friends, we miss you very much, especially at this time of year. We have traded greetings with many of you and have kept up on Facebook , which has been fun.  We keep ourselves entertained, but truly look forward to your visits here next year and to our planned extended visit to the U.S. in August. (Here we come, Seattle, Portland, and Durango!)
Here you see the plateau we hiked on Dec 24, Rasciesa. The view is from another peak, Seceda. The little black square is the rifugio where we ate lunch. See prior post.
Until the next time I think of something to say, Auguri e Buone Feste from both of us! May you have a blessed Anno Nuovo.

Cooling off in the Alpe di Siusi

28 Jul
While Rome weather has been moderate this month (the warmest day so far in July was 30C/86F), it’s still nice to leave the humidity and the noise of the city for our annual trek to the Dolomites.
We seldom get photos of us together. Here we enjoy 14C/57F sun a Bullaccia - great hiking weather!
We seldom get photos of us together. Here we enjoy 14C/57F sun at Bullaccia – great hiking weather!
This is the first full week of annual leave we have taken all year. As you know, we have made several trips, but they have all been long weekends. The last time we took a full week off was September of last year when Derek visited. It’s about time we disconnected from work and Rome!
Nephew and niece John and Susan arrived Saturday from Seattle with William and Elizabeth. We have been planning for their visit — and Susan has been planning this European trek — for almost a year. We barely gave them time to get off the plane because Sunday we set off for one of our favorite spots in Italy, the Alpe di Siusi.
I’ve written extensively about travels here in the past (See Feeling German in Italy and Familiar Yet Foreign), so this time I will leave you with a few pictures from our first full day here. Think of them as little postcards sent to you. “Wish you were here!”
The Sciliar and Punta Santner in early morning light.
The Sciliar and Punta Santner in early morning light.
Elizabeth and William enjoy the hotel playground with a fabulous backdrop.
Elizabeth and William enjoy the hotel playground with a fabulous backdrop.
View from the Panorama Chair Lift, Alpe di Siusi.
View from the Panorama Chair Lift, Alpe di Siusi.
J & S at Bullaccia
J & S at Bullaccia
Ric, William and John along the trail to the Panche dell streghe (Witches' benches).
Ric, William and John along the trail to the Panche delle streghe (Witches’ benches).
Susan and Elizabeth share a moment on the trail. The background is the far side of the Val Gardena as seen from Bullaccia.
Susan and Elizabeth share a moment on the trail. The background is the far side of the Val Gardena as seen from Bullaccia.
E & W take in the view from the Cabinovia, our gondola ride to the Alpe.
E & W take in the view from the Cabinovia, our gondola ride to the Alpe.
 

Out in the country

2 Jun
Rome is a wonderful city but it is, after all, a noisy, busy, annoying place. Motorini buzz up our street at all hours, buses discharging their air brakes echo in the night, and even the church across the street hums with activity as late as 11:00 PM. Seagulls sometimes screech as early as 3:30 AM, and compete with a songbird whose otherwise beautiful song is not quite so lovely at that dark hour.  So we seek to leave the city, walk without worry of careening motorini, and give our ears a rest.  Even a single day out of Rome can leave one refreshed. So it was with delight that we accepted the invitation of friends to join them at their home in a tiny town almost too small for the map.
Whenever I need to leave it all behind
Or feel the need to get away
I find a quiet place, far from the human race
Out in the country
 “Out in the Country” by Three Dog Night
As we leave Vico, heading up a rural road.

As we leave Vico, heading up a rural road.

The official town site says Vico Nel Lazio has a population of 2258. That might be true on a day that everyone who owns a home there shows up and brings the extended family. Our friend Gigi, whose family has had a house in Vico for 5 generations, says there are maybe 1000 people year-round. There are two bars, a tabaccheria, and a bakery. Everything else is down the hill a few kilometers away, except for the 8-or-so churches. Vico sits at over 700 meters above sea level. This medieval village dates back to at least the 13th century. The ancient gates are still in use and many of the original 24 towers still visible. It is not a tourist destination.
Tiny Vico Nel Lazio as seen on our ascent.

Tiny Vico Nel Lazio as seen on our ascent.

Driving about an hour and 45 minutes from Rome, we arrived late one Sunday morning to be greeted by Emanuela in the town piazza. Shortly, our group of 7 set out on a two-hour mountain hike, high above Vico. Gigi has been hiking these hills all of his life and took us meandering through grazing cows and horses with foals alongside. We could never have done this on our own. We’d be wandering there still today without his expert guiding. Along the way we shared stories with the accompanying Italian friends, picking up new vocabulary words as they willingly helped us with their language. As storm clouds threatened across the valley, we found a trough high in the hills. It must have been there for a very long time, fed by a spring. Luckily the rain arrived only as due gocce (a few drops).
Heading back to Vico we enjoyed il pranzo della Domenica (Sunday lunch) in the picture-perfect setting of Gigi and Emanuela’s garden. Following antipasti of salumi and cheese, there was homemade fettucine by the talented Maria, roasted suckling lamb and potatoes, salad, fruit, pastries and wine. It’s no wonder some of the group took to napping in the grass. Click on any photo below for a slide show.
Driving back to Rome the reality of urban life struck all too quickly as we encountered intense traffic and logistical problems in navigating our way home. But we had a lovely day in the country free from noise and traffic. Lovely. 
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