Val Gardena book now in third edition

21 Feb

21 February 2020.

It has been a very busy month. Having just released our book Walking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland on January 26, we’ve updated our book of easy hikes in Italy’s Dolomites. Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena is now available in its third — and best — edition. Just released on Amazon overnight last night, the big improvement in this edition is that it includes maps for every one of the 23 easy hikes described in the book.

We first published “Walking,” or as I like to call it “WIVG,” in early 2017. Each year we’ve made it stronger, but I am really delighted that we found a tool to help us create maps. Each hike has a printed map and a link to an online map with an elevation profile. The viewer can customize their experience by selecting the type of map (Street, Satellite, Cycling and more), zoom in to see more details, and also personalize a timer based on individual walking speed. Maps can be downloaded in eight different formats.

For fun, here’s one route, a very easy but delightful art walk on a small mountain called Monte Pana where views over the valley from almost 7200 feet are accompanied by an art installation. Take a look and discover the Troi Unika.

Mountain path with artwork

The emblem a the start of the Troi Unika, a very easy walk.

WIVG is available in paperback as well as Kindle, and if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can read it for free. Our books are also available in Amazon Marketplaces worldwide such as Italy, the UK, Japan, and India.

New Book! Hiking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland

27 Jan

26 January 2020.

We are delighted to announce our new e-book is live on Amazon! Walking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland: Easy HIkes in the Jungfrau Region is designed for anyone who likes to walk, likes to be in nature, but may not have the stamina for longer, more strenuous hikes. Like our book on Italy’s Val Gardena, we’ve included hikes for children, seniors, or anyone who wants to enjoy the mountains but not climb them.

There are 13 walks, perhaps best described as light hiking. They range from 1.4 to 4.4 miles and all are under 2 hours. Some can be linked together for those desiring more activity. We also advise on transportation, which the Swiss make amazingly easy. A car is an unnecessary expense and hassle especially in this region of Switzerland.

While the Swiss offer a mind-numbing assortment of transportation passes, we explain the differences and how to determine which passes you may need.

For a taste of the book, you might enjoy our blog post from Project Easy Hiker, the Lauterbrunnen to Mürren hike from 2017. It is our #1 recommended hike for those who only have a couple of days to spend here.

If that’s not enough to entice you, take a look back at our trip report from autumn of 2019.

We welcome your input. If you use the book and have comments, please send them to us using ProjectEasyHIker@gmail.com. If you have favorite hikes in that area that we should explore, please leave a comment here or send a note to the email address.

If you have not been to the area, think about this view and ask yourself why you haven’t gone there yet?

View of the Lauterbrunnen Valley from Wengen

 

My year in books

3 Jan

3 January 2020.

Year-end lists are more numerous than diet plans in this first week of January. From Barack Obama’s 19 books for 2019 to who died in 2019, there seems to be no escape from the wrap-ups.

Girovaga is no different. As I started a new book on New Year’s Eve, I felt the need to reflect on my 2019 reading. Thanks to Goodreads, it’s easy to do.

According to Goodreads, I read 32 books and almost 16,000 pages in 2019, about equal to 2018 but up significantly from 2017 when I last wrote about my year’s reading.

By genre

  • World War II novels, 9 books
  • Travel, 8
  • Spy/Mystery/Intrigue, 6
  • Non-fiction, 3
  • Other fiction, 6

Favorites

42421761. sy475 Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is at the top of my 2019 list. Set in the deep south of the 1960s, Owens presents a rare combination of intelligent plot, rich characters, and talented writing. She carries the reader along effortlessly. A pleasure from start to finish and an amazing first novel.

Nearly as wonderful as Crawdads are William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land and Ordinary Grace. How this author’s work has escaped me for so long I cannot imagine.

In This Tender Land, the story, the characters, and the landscape all conspire to pull the reader along in a compelling journey. Reminiscent of Huck Finn, but deeper, with a plausible realism of the era – 1930s Minnesota –  that at times is painful to imagine. Krueger is a truly gifted writer.

Krueger’s Ordinary Grace is set in a small Minnesota town with many flawed and interesting characters. In a way, it is a coming-of-age story for the protagonist, Frank, but it is equally a mystery and a study of the changes occurring in the 1960s. Krueger’s depictions stirred in me fond memories of Minnesota summers and small-town living.

Oddball

34729689. sy475 One oddball to share, Sourdough by Robin Sloan. Not quite as good as Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, but engaging nonetheless. The protagonist, Lois, is an iconoclast and the people she meets unique in their own ways as well. A fun intersection of technology and food. San Francisco seems more of a small town than a major city in Sloane’s world.

World War II

This era continues to inspire stories of courage and survival. I am drawn to these stories whether in books or movies. Of the nine novels I read that are set in WWII, there are two standouts: The Huntress by Kate Quinn and The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel. In each book the plot kept me guessing and even when the dawn of understanding hit me, the stories kept me on the edge of my chair.

Travel

43172439. sy475

Invariably there are travel books on my list. Trip planning and execution have me delving into one of more volumes almost daily. In fact, while on-the-road, I seldom have time for recreational reading as I juggle our daily activities. SInce we were abroad for 12 weeks in 2019, my nose was often in a travel guide.

A standout in my Travel genre was not a guide, rather a collection of writings by Beppe Severgnini entitled Off the RailsSevergnini is an Italian journalist, writer, and columnist. Not only does he write for the Corriere della Sera, he is a contributing writer for the New York Times. What I enjoyed about this book is the curiosity and humor with which Beppe travels. He is obsessed with trains and amusing situations seem to find him wherever he goes. Maybe in 2020 I will try to read one of his books in Italian.

What to read in 2020? My first book is thanks to Barack Obama, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell. I am not far into the book as yet but from the book’s overview this description caught my interest.42771901

“Jenny Odell sends up a flare from the heart of Silicon Valley, delivering an action plan to resist capitalist narratives of productivity and techno-determinism, and to become more meaningfully connected in the process.”

I am weary of paying attention to every twist and turn in the 24-hour news cycle. I am tired of scandals, lies, deception, and unrelenting opinions. There’s too much noise, too much input.

Here’s to tuning-out some of the cacophony and tuning-in to friends, family, travel, good food, the natural world, and great books.

What have you read that I might like? If you are on Goodreads, please connect with me (Laurel Barton) and we can inspire one another’s reading in 2020. Cheers and Buon anno!

The best hike on the Alpe di Siusi: Panorama to Zallinger

5 Dec

5 December 2019.

As the clouds, rain, fog, and cold temperatures descend on the Oregon Coast, I am thinking about a wonderful hike we took in September and looking forward to a repeat next September.

We pushed ourselves a bit in taking this hike as it is more ambitious than our usual fare. We reveled in our satisfaction at completing it and celebrated with a Radler over lunch. Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook sucked drew us to this hike but his directions and time estimates were terrible. (His 1H30M section was our 2H25M. We would have taken the hike anyway however an hour’s difference in the estimated time is disappointing.) I think it has been many years since anyone in the Steves’ organization took this route and updated directions.

So we did it.

Book cover

Click here to buy on Amazon.com. Also available on all Amazon sites worldwide in Kindle or paperback versions.

I would include this in the next edition of our book (coming in early 2020!), but it is a little beyond the “easy hiker” scale so I offer it here, for anyone who might enjoy the option. We spent the nights before and after on the Alpe di Siusi, enjoying the luxury of half-pension at the Hotel Saltria. This hike can be done as a day trip from Ortisei, but it is a long day, at least 10 hours with transportation. We recommend a couple of nights on the Alpe di Siusi as part of a holiday in the area. Two or three nights on the Alpe di Siusi plus four or more nights in Ortisei is perfect.

Herewith, this magnificent hike as we would write it for the book. Start dreaming of an Italian hiking trip! If you are not into hiking or cannot imagine doing this, at least look at the pictures?

 

Panorama to Williamshütte: A grand view on the Alpe di Siusi

Map

The route map with profile can be examined in detail and downloaded at Plotaroute. (We will be including maps for most walks in our next edition.)

Featuring: Vast meadows, peak views near-and-far, cows, ponies, wildflowers, two dramatic chairlifts, and lovely rifugi where you can rest and refuel. The best time to take this hike is from mid-June to mid-October but be aware there can be snow in high elevations at any time which may compromise your ability to do this hike.

This hike is more strenuous than most of those in our book, Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena. In fact, we rated it a “4” on the Easy Hiker Scale* due to the varying terrain of the final two-thirds. While it starts and ends at about the same altitude, the ups-and-downs are considerable, and you will ascend 1253 feet/382 meters and descend 978 feet/298 meters.

How to arrive: Six times each day the bus #4 from Piazza Sant’Antonio goes directly to the base station of the Cabinovia Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm Bahn. This is your most efficient choice at 8:45, 10:00, 11:15, 14:50. 16:00, and 17:15. Note the cabinovia may not be running if you arrive on the last bus. Later in the day, use a combination of bus #172 to the bus plaza in Castelrotto and the #170 to Bivio Cabinovia (drops you a short way below the lift station and you walk up) or the combination of bus #172 and #2/3 which takes you right to the base station. Ask locally if you are confused. The bus drivers are fantastic and the route is included with the Val Gardena Mobile Card provided by your lodging host.

(NB: Bus numbers, routes, and schedules tend to be adjusted seasonally so verify times before setting out on your adventure!)

Path across Alpe di Siusi

The path is wide and level as it leaves Panorama with the Sciliar and Punto Santner in view.

FYI, driving to the Alpe di Siusi is possible only before 9:00 and after 17:00 unless you have a hotel reservation and a permit for your vehicle. If you have a permit from your hotel, you can drive in at any time on your arrival day and out on your departure day, but during your stay you may only use your car before 10:00 and after 17:00. The buses are excellent, though, and parking is limited so go with the flow and take the #11 shuttle! Once at the base station (where there is lots of parking if needed), take the blue gondolas up to Compatsch where the hike begins with another lift, to Panorama. The Cabinovia Alpe di Siusi starts running at 8:00 from late May to early November. Note there are seasonal closures before-and-after ski season commences. Last ride down is 19:00! (Check locally to make sure that has not changed.)

Make your way to the base station for the Panorama lift (opens at 8:30), about a 5 minute walk down from Compatsch. At the top of the lift, pass the Alpenhotel Panorama and look for Trail #2, the start of this journey.

Lake, rifugio, and mountains

Mountains on the other side of the Val Gardena are visible from the trail near Edelweiss Hütte.

The route

Trail #2 joins Trail #7 in short order. Turn right and follow Trail #7 with magnificent views of the Sciliar and Punto Santner to the west. Trail #7 is a road, more up than down, but it is not steep and undulates pleasantly on your way to Rifugio Molignon, aka Mahlknecht Hütte. There’s plenty of room to walk abreast and footing is easy. We rate the section from Panorama to Molignon a “2” on the Easy Hiker Scale.*

Mountains and farm

Coming into Molignon, a perfect stop for strudel.

Moligon is a delightful place to stop although you may choose instead Edelweiss Hütte or Almrosenhütte as you pass them. Molignon is about 1H20M (depending on how often you stop to take pictures) from the Alpenhotel Panorama at the top of the lift. We usually arrive about 10:30 and use Molignon as a coffee/strudel/bathroom stop. Marvel that real ceramic dishes, stainless tableware, and actual glasses are used to serve housemade food, hot, fresh, tasty. Have a late morning beer like many of the locals do. Cyclists also stop here also and will head off on 8A as they are prohibited on the next section of Trail #7, but you’ll see many of them again at Dialer and some go all the way to Zallinger so you will share the path on occasion.

Hiking trail

Leaving Molignon, which is a working farm as well as rifugio.

 

Hiking trail

After Molignon the path becomes a true trail.

From Molignon, pass through the gate and walk past the pond, horse corral, and pasture with a herd of cows. Now the trail becomes more of a hike. You will pass over a couple of small streams, one with a bridge and one with stepping stones. Expect some dampness and mud if it has rained recently. Climbing fairly steadily, you will briefly rejoin the road (with cyclists) and reach Dialer, the highest point on the route. The chapel of Dialer Kirchl sits picturesquely against the backdrop of the Sciliar-Catinaccio.

Church at Dialer

The little church at Dialer.

Take a moment to savor the setting and maybe visit the chapel, then continue on Trail #7, following signs to Zallinger. The trail goes in and out of forests and the pavement varies. There are full-on views of the Sassopiatto’s flat face and occasionally a glimpse of Saltria far below. There is another tiny stream to cross. At one point, it appears you might need to hike up a steep gravel road but look for the sign on your left indicating #7 to Zallinger and follow it slightly down, then undulating, and at one point falling to a creek (with bridge). Finally, pass a farm and hike steadily up to the beckoning rifugio.

Bridge

One of the bridges crossing a creek.

]

Zallinger rifugio

Zallinger comes into view!

And what a refuge it is after this long hike! It is only 10-15 minutes to Williamshütte and the Florian chairlift down to Saltria but Zallinger offers some of the best views possible from their terrace and the food is praise-worthy, ranging from gourmet salads (try the fitness salad with turkey) to Weiner-Schnitzel or the local canaderli. Of course, there’s beer and where there is beer, a Radler is possible as well.

Sassopiatto and cow hide

The Sassopiatto looks a lot different from this angle.

Refueled and rested, make your way up up up to Williamshütte (15 minutes) and the dramatic chairlift down to Saltria. From Saltria, the #11 shuttle runs roughly every half-hour to Compatsch. The last bus is at 18:55 from mid-June until mid-September, then for the next month the last bus is at 17:35. Check locally to make certain you know when the last bus departs as well as being informed about the last gondola down from Compatsch!

* Easy Hiker Scale

  1. Promenade – Paved or partly paved and mostly level; well-signed and generally suitable for baby carriages
  2. Easy hike – Unpaved, crossing hills or mountain terrain, some ups and downs, or may have minimal signage
  3. Extra Energy – More exertion required due to length or extended uphill segments; may have loose gravel or moderately tricky footing
  4. Moderately Strenuous – Longer, more challenging terrain requiring sturdy footwear and endurance. Not suitable for very young children.

Logistics

Start: Mountain station of the Panorama chairlift at Alpenhotel Panorama, Alpe di SIusi
End: Williamshütte, mountain station for the Florian chairlift to Saltria
Duration: 3H 45M
Difficulty: 4*
Distance: 10.1KM, 6.3 miles
Type of Hike: One-way with return by bus
Trail #s: 2, 7
Transportation: Bus #4 or combination of #172 and #170 from Ortisei to Cabinovia Alpe di Siusi, then 3 lifts: the Cabinovia AdS, Panorama, and Florian. Return to Compatsch by #11 Saltria Shuttle. See links to schedules below.
Refreshments: Compatsch restaurants, Hotel Panorama, Edelweiss Hütte or Almrosenhütte, Rifugio Molignon, Zallinger, Williamshütte
WCs: Compatsch restaurants, Hotel Panorama, Edelweiss Hütte or Almrosenhütte, Rifugio Molignon, Zallinger, Williamshütte
Hiking Boots? Yes
Trekking Poles? Advisable

Helpful links:

#4 and #11 bus schedules https://www.silbernagl.it/en/timetables (updated seasonally as different services run winter and summer)

South Tyrol route planner http://www.sii.bz.it/en/siipdfOldtimetables

Road Food

29 Oct

29 October 2019.

We get tired of restaurants. Yes, food lovers that we are, when we are on a long trip food-fatigue sets in. Figuring out where to eat every meal becomes a chore. In parts of Europe, a very casual evening meal (other than pizza) is hard to find. Sandwiches and salads in the evening in Paris? Forget about it! There are nights where we just want to stay in after a day of hiking or touring. When I have >16000 steps on my pedometer, going out to dinner is less appealing than pajamas, a movie, wine, and a homey meal.

Occasionally, we just want some hummus and veggies or wine and cheese. Or wine without the cheese. Even a piece of toast with peanut butter sounds good now and then.  Other times, we want to have something satisfying yet not too time-consuming.

Finding ingredients can be a challenge. In Italy, we have never found hummus pre-made. Only in the U.K. (or rentals in Switzerland owned by Brits) do we consistently find a toaster. Peanut butter is sporadically available and we like the Italian one but then there are seldom toasters in Italian apartments. Luckily, everyone has cheese.

Parisian markets are always so orderly and colorful.

Over time and extensive travel in Europe, we have collected some recipes and adapted our cooking style to the equipment we find in rented digs, products available in the markets, and limited ingredients to keep it simple.

Sometimes there are great pans and sometimes there’s one battered old frying pan and small saucepan. Seldom are the knives sharp: We now carry our own set. Ovens are rare, microwaves are ever-present. One lovely apartment we rent each year in Switzerland has a slow cooker. Sometimes there are mixing bowls, always a colander (at least in Italy). We move in and assess the tools before deciding on a plan or going shopping.

Then there are condiments. Some apartments have those that are left behind by prior guests. Sometimes these are of indeterminate age and one sniff tells me that the oregano is beyond its use-by date. Never trust coffee that has been left behind! Ric considers it his community service to seek out and dispose of expired food items in apartments we rent.

Here are a few limited-ingredient recipes we turn to depending on the tools in the apartment and the products we can find. These do not call for a lot of ingredients you might have to abandon when you move on. If I can, I will squeeze that newly purchased oregano into my bag to take to the next place.

Salads

    • Everywhere we go we can find mixed greens, gorgonzola, a crisp apple (Pink Lady and Granny Smith are my faves), some nuts, dried cranberries, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. We sometimes buy a trail mix for the nuts and dried fruit. Many places sell pre-cooked salad chicken which is a nice addition. Boom! Great lunch. Sure, you have to buy oil and balsamico, but far less than paying for a couple of salads in a restaurant. Extra points for Ponte Glassa. Yum!
    • The same pre-cooked chicken mixed with mayonnaise, salt and pepper, dried cranberries or raisins, maybe some pine nuts or slivered almonds. Serve on a bed of fresh arugula. Very satisfying.

Pasta

It is so easy to make a limited ingredient pasta almost anywhere as long as you have a couple of pots and a colander.

    • We love this one from The New York Times Cooking website. Pasta with Burst Cherry Tomatoes and Mint. I alter it a bit, substituting caramelized shallots for the raw scallions. (I cook them along with the pancetta.) I omit the butter.  For two people, one box of pasta makes two good meals.
    • In Italy, you can find frozen seafood for pasta or risotto.

      Frozen seafood pasta sauce. Just add spaghetti!

      It is amazingly good and very economical. All you need is a €5.00 package and a half-box of pasta to feed two very well with no leftovers. I have seen a similar product in the U.K. but not in the U.S. 
    • My favorite, when Romanesco is available, Orecchiette con broccoli e salsicce. Takes no time at all. I have included the recipe below.

Soups

    • You can find the basic ingredients for chili almost anywhere. I have substituted Italian fagioli for kidney beans and if I cannot find chili powder, a liberal dose of paprika plus cumin, oregano, and pepper does the trick. A small batch will do it. No sense eating it every night for a week.
    • In most European markets you can pick up a bag of pre-cut veggies, called minestra in Italy. What you add to them is up to you, but it is a fine start to a batch of soup without having to buy all the veggies and chop them. I plop in some chicken breasts that I cube, herbs and seasonings, add broth, zucchini, mushrooms, and during the final half-hour, farro (aka, spelt).

Of course, sautéed fish or chicken is easy, but I find it boring. A tuna sandwich hits home when you are sick of what is in the cafes at lunch. Seriously. When we are traveling for six-to-eight weeks, simple things mean a lot. We have, in desperation and exhaustion after a long day of sightseeing in London, even picked up a bake-at-home pizza at Sainsbury’s. It was pretty good!

When all else fails, one can heat up some Crack Sticks…if you have an oven.

Apartment breakfast is one of three things: scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and bread (toast if we are lucky), yogurt with berries (followed by a late morning pastry in all likelihood), or toast with peanut butter. Ric also loves hard-boiled eggs, especially in Switzerland. 

Restaurants

We do eat in restaurants. Wonderful restaurants! We love to try the cuisine of the area we are in or maybe find out what Indian food is like in Switzerland because eating rösti gets old. On a long-haul trip, we eat out two-or-three nights a week and at least half of our lunches. As regular readers know, we try pizza everywhere. On our 2018 trip, we had pizza nine times in seven weeks. Not that there is anything wrong with that. And my jeans still fit. Walking 16000 steps per day helps.

This is rösti, an evilly good Swiss staple. There is a pile of potatoes under that mountain of veggies and cheese. Not a diet-friendly choice.

Orecchiette con broccoli e salsicce

For 4 people

Orecchiette are the “little ear” pasta found most everywhere A particular shape that works well with this treatment. My measurements are an unfortunate mix of metric and U.S. standards. I do not measure when making pasta, so use your own judgement.

INGREDIENTS
4 Italian pork sausages, remove casings and tear into bite size pieces (about 1/2 pound)

400-500g dried orecchiette

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

One large Romanesco (Italian broccoli), cut into florets

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Chili pepper flakes (I use ½ teaspoon full and Ric adds more at table)

½-1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2/3 cup (or more) white wine

Anchovies to taste (I used 5 or 6 chopped finely)

Grated Pecorino, may substitute parmesan if needed but use fresh, not Kraft

INSTRUCTIONS
Add olive oil to a large frypan and over medium sauté the cut sausages until they brown and are cooked through.

Remove from the pan and set aside. The sausage meat will remain in compact shapes unless you break it up with a spoon as it cooks – the choice is yours.

Add broccoli, garlic, and chili to the same pan and sauté the for about 5 minutes. If you prefer your broccoli more cooked, add a splash of water or wine, cover and cook till the broccoli is cooked to your liking.

Start the pasta and cook until al dente, usually a couple of minutes less than the package says.

Increase heat, add the sausage meat, wine and anchovies and reduce the liquid – this should take about 5 minutes.

Drain the pasta (save a little of the cooking water) and combine with the meat/broccoli mixture. If it seems dry, add a bit of the saved cooking water. Mix well and serve with grated pecorino.

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