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Alpine Transhumance

26 Sep

26 September 2019.

It seems I’ve been waiting until the cows come home to see the transhumance here in Lauterbrunnen, or at least the ceremonial descent from summer pasture to the valley.  Now and then we’d see a farmer going down the street with two or three cows — you can hear them coming for a kilometer or so thanks to the bells — but we’ve either been out on the mountain trails or arrived too late in the year to see what we saw today.

We were advised to be near the Hotel Silberhorn at noon to witness the parade. The cows were arriving from pasture at 1500 meters/4900 feet at Winteregg, a path of about 4 miles.

 

The ceremonial transhumance involves gigantic cowbells and decorative headwear…for the cows. I hope they weren’t forced to wear this gear the entire 4 miles, although that might explain why a couple of them looked so grumpy.

Cow parade

The cows round the curve coming into town by the Hotel Silberhorn, under the Grutschalp gondola. Look at the size of that bell!

End of cow parade

Trailing to cows through town, clean up vehicle and crew following.

Cow Parade

Coming around by the church, traffic is stopped on the main thoroughfare.

Cow Parade

Passing the church, the cows are coming into our neighborhood. We took a shortcut so we could meet them down by the river. This is just 150 meters from our temporary home.

Cow with head dress

One cow gets out of the parade when she spots something tasty after walking through the town.

Cow mooing

As the ceremonial cows pass on the street below, a small herd overlooks the scene and one cow seems to say “What about us?”

Hotel Silberhorn staff greeted the herders and onlookers bearing trays with small cups of wine. A nice touch!

Retreat on the Alpe di Siusi

15 Sep

15 September 2019.

Sometimes you just need to escape even while you are away. Rick Steves calls this a “vacation from your vacation.” While we aren’t really in need of further relaxation, we do like the atmosphere of the Alpe di Siusi and it has become a tradition for us to pass a couple of nights there and be able to hike in the mornings without worrying about an early bus from Ortisei or racing to beat the last gondola down at 17:30. It’s a looonnggg walk if you miss the last ride.

Cabinovia

The gondola up to — and down from — the Alpe di Siusi. It only runs until 17:30 so don’t miss the last ride!

We are based for 2 1/2 weeks at the incredible Residence Astoria, our home in the Val Gardena the past four years. (See Training cats from 2016.) Taking only our backpacks with a change of clothing, we headed to Hotel Saltria for two nights, partaking of their half-pension plan and enjoying the convenience of being right there in the Alpe di Siusi for an early morning hike as recommended in our book, Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena. It’s good to travel light as this journey takes 3 buses and a gondola over the course of 90 minutes. Not fun with heavy luggage.

Hotel Saltria

The Hotel Saltria is a larger property, yet retains an intimacy

Arriving at the hotel, we had time for an hour’s walk in the afternoon sun through mountain meadows, then a shower before dinner. No extended Italian eating hours here! Dinner is from 19:00-20:30 and almost all of the guests arrived in the first 15 minutes. (We did see one couple, clearly new to the concept and not Italian nor German, waltz in at 20:28 and they were seated and served. I think they got the dregs of what was left, though.)

Rifugio

A rifugio on the Panorama hike. The pond is used for fire-fighting (rare) and snow-making in ski season.

The next morning we were on the trail before 10:00 and took what may be our new favorite hike in the Alpe di Siusi, Panorama to Zallinger. (I’ll be writing that in detail for another post.) This was a long-ish one. Leaving the hotel a few minutes before 9:00, we did not return until 15:30 what with transportation, a coffee stop, a lunch break, and a 10 km walk. If we had tried to do this from Ortisei, we would have been gone from 8:00-18:00.

It was so nice to be catered to for breakfast and dinner. No shopping (which we do daily when we are in a self-catered situation), no cooking or food prep of any type. We just showed up and let the hotel staff take care of everything.

Dining room Saltria

The dining room at Saltria. There were people of all ages: young couples with new babies, young couples alone, multi-generational groups, and people like us.

Breakfast was spread across a room bigger than our home living, dining, and kitchen areas combined! Set in a huge “E” shape, were baskets of various rolls and pastries, 8 types of preserves, 4 kinds of honey including one that was still in the comb, fruits, fruit salad, yoghurt, soft boiled eggs, a vegetable juicer, salad ingredients, 4 kinds of sliced meats, and at least 4 types of cheese. Beverages were on a separate buffet and the waitress made cappuccino, espresso, or “German” coffee to order.

This part of Italy is so Austrian that the first words out of anyone’s mouth are generally in German. In fact, this past week one of the German-language newspapers of the Südtirol expressed sadness on the 100th anniversary of the annexation by the Kingdom of Italy in 1919. Memories are long. So we were offered “German” coffee whereas in most of Italy we would have been asked if we wanted “American” coffee.

German is more prevalent in the Alpe di Siusi than it is even in the valley. A couple of our servers had trouble with Italian. One stumbled over the number 6 (sei in Italian) until I used the German word sechs. Some transactions became amusing mixtures: I told them I wanted my coffee senza milch. That high-school German comes back on occasion.

Vegetables

A sampling of the many vegetables available every night.

At the hotel, none of the food on the menus was described in English. Our evening meals — five courses if you wanted to eat that much — were described in Italian and German and the cuisine was decidedly fusion. Pasta or prosciutto and melon for a first course followed by roasted veal and a beetroot/potato puree. Or a cheese strudel as a starter with mountain lake fish on a bed of leeks with lardo. (Lardo is what it sounds like, though quite refined, a Tuscan specialty.) Like I said, fusion, or as our Italian friend would say, contaminated (contaminazione in Italian is a little pejorative, but serves as a false cognate in this case).

After our long day hike, we could have refreshed in the indoor-outdoor pool or worked on our skin cancer, but we retreated to a pre-dinner shower and coffee on the terrace overlooking the magnificent peaks. Just as the sun was setting, we headed to dinner, now greeted by a huge salad and vegetable buffet spread over the enormous “E” that once held breakfast. Perfectly sauteed artichokes, two types of asparagus, grilled peppers and eggplant, marinated mushrooms, more salad ingredients than the farmers’ market, and a cheeseboard.

Pasta

My primo one night, pasta with smoked salmon. Sensibly small portion as there was more to come.

That was the first course. After that, there were soup, a primo, a secondo, and dessert, plus (more) cheese and fruit. We confined ourselves to three courses (no soup nor dessert) but indulged in a fine and reasonably-priced wine list.

My middle-of-the-night trip to the bagno was blessed with the lovely sight of the great mountain peaks bathed in moonlight. That alone was worth getting up for at midnight.

Travelers often complain about “touristy” areas and that so many places are over-crowded, or that they encounter too many Americans carrying Rick Steves’ guidebooks. If one wants to have an experience unlike any you are likely to have in North America, this is a fine place to add to an itinerary.

Laurel and the Sciliar

Just starting out on the Panorama hike. Perfect day!

Dash across Germany

16 Sep
16 September 2017.
Relatively speaking, that is, we dashed across Germany. Eight-and-a-half hours by train from Amsterdam to München. Seems long, but it is not much slower than flying when you consider time to-and-from airports, security, waiting time, etc. And it is far more relaxing. I’ll take a train over a plane any day. We read, napped, chatted, and snacked. The only challenge was the six-minute change of trains. Six minutes! We had to go from the end of one very long train, down from the platform through the very busy Hannover station, up to another platform, and run several car lengths. We made it about 60 seconds before they closed the doors. Note to self: never let Trainline.eu schedule our connections. Should’ve bought directly from Deutsche Bahn. The price was great, though.

This passed for a snack in first class on our second DB train. Expected beer and pretzels.

Germany wasn’t really in our plan, but we needed to get from Amsterdam to Ortisei and it was not feasible to do in a day by train. I last visited München in 1972, a few weeks before the ill-fated Olympics. Ric had never been. In order to make the most of our time there, we hooked up with Taff Simon (not yet born in 1972, he observed) of Dark History Tours. Taff is an archeologist and life-long student of history. He shared with us not only the highlights of München (Marianplatz, Frauenkirche, Hofbrauhaus, and so on) but afforded us an insider’s view taking us into places big groups would never go. For example, the big meeting room on the top of the Hofbrauhaus where in February 1920 Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists held their first meeting. Taff led us through historic sites related to the rise of the Nazi party and Hitler’s activities in München prior to WWII, and we were also privy to his insights on the culture, the Bavarian royal family (think of the “Kings Ludwig”), and of course beer.
Click on any photo for a larger view and caption.
We visited a bierkeller our first night, but the stand-out meal we enjoyed in München was Lebanese at Baalbek. What a delightful change from pork, red cabbage, and dumplings! Served with fine Lebanese red wine, we could not have been happier. We are also happy to be back in the habit of walking everywhere. A 20-minute walk before and after a dinner like that is so preferable to dropping into a car and carrying your new fat right to bed.
We are now in Ortisei and delighted to be back in Italia. It feels like coming home. Had great weather Friday morning, if cold (32 F/0 C), so we got in a great hike. We had to go buy fleeces: Didn’t pack them as we had not expected such cold to hit already.

 

Cose italiane (Italian things)

11 Apr

11 April 2017. This time of year I always think about cleaning out the closets, assessing spring and summer clothes, putting away the puffy jacket and wool sweaters. That inevitably made me think of how Italians do the seasonal cambio as well as other cultural difference. I hope you’ll enjoy this entry from a year ago. Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

The following was originally posted 11 April 2016.

Even after almost four years in Italy, there are things that strike me as uniquely Italian and a bit amusing.  

Cheek kissing

Funny how cheek kissing has become normal to us. You do not meet a friend on the street – male or female – without doing il bacetto, the little kiss. Even waiters and shopkeepers will do this with frequent and favorite customers. I’ve seen burly Carabinieri officers smooch my U.S. law enforcement colleagues. Famously, Italian politicians attempt to assault American presidents.  Il bacetto is a little air kiss, not a big wet smack and it takes some getting used to in order to execute one smoothly. When a group of friends breaks up after coffee, drinks, or dinner it can take a while for everyone to properly bid adieu as one cannot depart without giving il bacetto to each person. And then you have to say “Ciao, buonasera!” about a dozen times. No fast exits.  

 

President Bush doesn't quite know what to do when Italian Premier Berlusconi goes in for the bacetto. Remember: Always go to the right first!

President Bush doesn’t quite know what to do when Italian Premier Berlusconi goes in for the bacetto. Remember: Always go to the right first!

Il Cambio di stagione

Many Italians let the calendar decide their clothing. 80 degrees (F) in early April? Better keep a scarf around your neck just-in-case. You wouldn’t want to catch la cervicale (pain in the cervical vertebrae) or un colpo d’aria (literally “a hit of  air”)! These are Italian ailments that are hard to explain in English but are taken very seriously. A blast of air on your neck, throat, or head is the root cause of all illness. Although the temps have had Ric and I pulling out our short-sleeved attire, sending the wool sweaters to the dry cleaner, and assessing what new warm-weather clothes we need, we still see many Italians in their puffy winter jackets and heavy wools with scarf-wrapped necks. While in the morning it might be a pleasant 55F and the jacket is not too terribly hot, by afternoon it is 75F, way beyond needing the jacket. But it is too soon to do Il Cambio! Cold weather might come back!
When we lived in Portland, all of our clothes were in our substantial walk-in closet. I might shove the winter stuff to the back when warmer temps prevailed, and the short-sleeved tee-shirts came to the top of the drawer, but basically I could find warmer clothes in a couple of minutes.
The typical Italian household does not have a lot of closet space. We use wardrobes for what we are wearing now and some sort of under-the-bed or overhead storage for the other season. Typically, we have only about half of our clothes at hand. Il cambio (the seasonal change out of the closet) is a big thing twice each year. Sometime in April, but generally closer to May 1, Italians pull out the ladder to get things down from the overhead closets and unwrap the items in the under bed chests, deciding what to keep and what to recycle. Ric and I, in a decidedly non-Italian way, are well into il cambio but the temps did drop a bit the other day. I just hope we don’t freeze our necks when we go to dinner tonight. Maybe I’ll look for a scarf to wear with my spring jacket.
The only closets in our apartment are desigend for off-season storage, high overhead in the service hallway.

The only closets in our apartment are designed for off-season storage, high overhead in the service hallway.

Our bedroom wardrobes, one each, 100cm -- about 39 inches -- wide.

Our bedroom wardrobes, one each, 100cm — about 39 inches — wide.

Il cambio mostly compelte, my spring and summer clothes now fill my wardrobe.

Il cambio mostly complete, my spring and summer clothes now fill my wardrobe.

I love the wardrobe versus the American-style closet. I can see everything and I am forced into being quite orderly. 

 

Scarves & sundresses

As I mentioned above, a scarf is a way of protecting you from la cervicale. If the wind blows on your neck, you could become very ill. (Yes, you can call in sick with la cervicale. Try to explain that to your U.S. or U.K. supervisor.) You can also get colpo d’aria. So you will see women wearing scarves with sundresses. Air conditioning is generally considered to be a hazard to health, so if you have to go into somewhere cold (i.e., below about 80F) you want to be protected.
She is not taking any chances at developing cervicale!

She is not taking any chances of developing la cervicale!

Cornetti in the hand

When an Italian goes into a bar and orders a cornetto (croissant) and un caffè, typically the barista will grab the cornetto with a napkin and hand it to the patron, then turn to make the requisite espresso. The cornetto is generally eaten standing up, using the napkin to hold it, and is eaten before downing the shot of espresso, which is liberally laced with sugar. It’s all very fast, maybe 2 or 3 minutes for consuming the pastry as well as drinking the coffee. In fact, Starbucks cannot make a shot as fast as an Italian can consume this entire meal in a bar.
While we indulged in a seated caffè e cornetto today, Ric demos the technique. ONe always eats oneàs corentto wrappedin a napkin. More sanitary.

While we indulged in a seated caffè e cornetto today, Ric demos the technique. One always eats oneàs cornetto wrapped in a napkin. More sanitary.

When we go into the bar and order cornetti, 95% of the time they pull out plates and set our pastries on them. I actually like that as we tend to linger a bit more, but isn’t it funny in this land of slow paced living and reverence for food, the bar breakfast is consumed at lightning speed? And how do they metabolize all that sugar every day? We can’t do it and we walk 6-7 kilometers a day.

 

August

August is a weird month. So many people go on vacation at the same time that the nightmare traffic disappears and parking places are everywhere. How can so many people arrange their lives to be on vacation at the same time? Hospitals send patients home. Doctors’ offices close. Restaurants close so the entire staff can be gone at the same time. Buses are on a reduced schedule , special for August.
I love it. You can’t get anything done, but the city is so empty it is marvelous. You have to live it to believe it. And this does not happen in the center, in the tourist area. That remains hopping.
This is Viale Parioli, the major shopping street a few minutes walk from our apartment, in August at 17:30 in the evening,. Usually it is a hubbub of cars, motorcycles, buses and people scurrying to do their shopping.

This is Viale Parioli, the major shopping street a few minutes walk from our apartment, in August at 17:30 in the evening. Usually, it is a hubbub of cars, motorcycles, buses and people scurrying to do their shopping.

Portieri

When I was young and watched movies set in New York City, I would marvel at apartment buildings with “supers” and doormen. We had no such thing as far as I knew in St. Paul, Minnesota. How glamorous would it be to live that way!
In Italy, we have portieri. A portiere is a combination caretaker-concierge-postman-security guard. He – or she – will clean the common areas, collect your mail and packages, keep an eye out for trouble ensuring unsavory elements stay out of the building, and give advice. He’ll help you carry heavy packages to your door, assist the elderly up-and-down the stairs, and in our case, give the occasional Italian lesson.
One evening we lamented to Italian friends the problems we had with trying a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription because they’d deliver when we were not home and the produce would wilt in the sun in our driveway. Our friend  was shocked to hear we did not have a portiere to take the delivery in for us.
It is traditional to give the portiere a gift three times a year: Christmas, Easter, and Ferragosto. The latter is the mid-August holiday initiated by Caesar Augustus. Why then? Because the portiere stays on duty to ensure the safety of the property while everyone else is on vacation. If you have a portiere the incidence of burglaries is reduced.
Nothing happens in our building, on our street, or even in the neighborhood that our portiere doesn’t know about. He’s a font of intel when we need it.
Our fabulous portiere Pellegrino. Actually his wife is the portiera, and he is retired...but still helping us out every day. He calls himself "The Sheriff" and he is alwasy watching out for us.

Our fabulous portiere Pellegrino. Actually his wife is the portiera, and he is retired…but still helping us out every day. He calls himself “The Sheriff” and he is always watching out for us.

Ex expat

15 Jan
14 January 2017. Twelve weeks ago we were still roaming in Rome. Seems like a distant memory, almost a dream.
When I see photos on Facebook by my friends in Italy, I really miss it. Walking around at Christmas was a biggie. My heart wanted to be there; However, my mind knew the crowds and the usual problems would make me crazy.
Personally, I don’t miss living in Rome, but I do miss our Italian lifestyle if that makes any sense.
We miss the being able to do most of our errands on foot.
We walked everywhere in Rome. If a bus was not coming, we walked home. That is not remotely feasible in Portland where we are staying with our son. Case in point, yesterday we spent 30 minutes waiting for a bus delayed due to the snow. In Rome, even if we were all the way across town we just would’ve started walking because it was possible to walk home in an hour-or-so from almost anywhere. There is no feasible route to do that here.
Not to mention it’s just incredibly beautiful to walk through Rome. Just saying. But then Oregon has some damn fine scenic elements. 
Walking was our major form of exercise, something we accomplished almost without trying. I cannot get to 10,000 steps here without making a major expedition. Hoping I can change that big time when we move to the Oregon Coast next month.
We miss being able to walk to-and-from dinner.
In Rome, we could not only walk across town but could walk to dozens of restaurants we would be excited to dine at. And we would work off the calories by walking at least one way most of the time. It’s terrific to walk 20, 40, or even 60 minutes after a nice dinner. 
We miss coffee bars and cheap, high-quality cappuccini.
In Italy, it is a God-given right to have a great cappuccino for about €1.10. That’s about $1.17. A great cappuccino served at a table outside a little cafe, possibly with a gooey chocolate cornetto that cost €.90. For €4.00 ($4.26) we would have our repast. Since we frequented Bar Ponte Milvio, we would leave a Euro now and then for our friendly server and the guys behind the bar.
By contrast, this morning, we paid $11.00 for two black coffees and two pastries, we served ourselves, and they expected a tip! The pastries were good, but seriously?
I miss speaking Italian.
Luckily I have a class “Keeping up in Italian” starting next week, and I play Parole con Amici (Words with Friends) daily to keep my head in it. OTOH, I do love understanding everything that is said and going on around me and being able to make myself understood in a grammatically correct manner. 
We miss hopping on a train.
Ah, the ease of travel in Europe! We could go anywhere as long as we had a cat sitter. Tuscany for the weekend? Venice just for dinner? (Yeah, we did that once and spent the night.) Joyriding to Paris via Milano beat flying. Now we will have to mount a major expedition just to visit. And flying is a necessary part of U.S. travel. (I can’t see hopping on the Empire Builder to go to Minnesota and taking 37 hours.)
We miss excellent wines at a non-budget-busting price.
Wine in stores in the U.S. is not priced too badly, but in restaurants, well, apparently thievery is not illegal. $11.00 for a glass of wine is not uncommon. We could buy a bottle of decent Sicilian wine in a restaurant for about $17.00.
We do have a fine Farmer’s Market in Portland. Fine, especially if the weather is good. It’s tough to get there in the snow.
OK, enough whining. Yes, we knew we’d miss this stuff. We knew what the U.S. was like and we came back anyway. You know why? Because STUFF WORKS HERE.
  • You can run all of your appliances at the same time without blowing a circuit and you can afford to pay the bill afterward.
  • We have a clothes dryer. I can do three loads of clothes before noon, including sheets, which would have taken an entire day to dry in our spare bedroom during winter.
  • You can buy anything you want at most large grocery stores. Not only food but lightbulbs, batteries, cosmetics, greeting cards, gifts, stamps. You do not have to go to four different specialty stores. And you can get cash from the cashier when you use your debit card. I’d completely forgotten about that convenience.
  • You do not need to have €200.00 cash in your pocket to get you through the week. Debit cards are magically accepted even for a coffee. (But then a coffee can cost $3.00 so why not?)
  • No one sneers at credit cards and you can return items if you make a buying error. This is no small thing.
  • Nice clothes are affordable and there are petite sizes for those of us who are height challenged. Funny how you can buy clothes made of Italian wool in the U.S. at an affordable price point but you can hardly find them in Italy.
  • You can go to a bank and talk to a teller without waiting 20 minutes. And the teller will be pleasant and bend over backward to help.
  • The Internet really is a fast web. (Play on words there. Our provider in Rome was “FastWeb” and they weren’t. Fast, that is.)
  • The buses come when they are supposed to, and tell you when they are late. We have an app that tells us when the bus is scheduled and that gives real time updates as to actual arrival. So if traffic is heavy and the bus is moving slowly, you know it before you leave the house. Buses never just disappear as they did in Rome. Knowing when the bus is coming is a big deal and Rome has not mastered that service.
  • My cousin calls the U.S. the “Land of Stuff.” That is good news and bad news. We over consume in the U.S. OTOH, you can satisfy a lot of desires and solve a lot of problems with the products available to us here.
  • Online shopping is superb. Amazon and Alexa, we love you.
  • The U.S. Post Office, bastion of good service that it is, should be a role model for the world.
People, of course, were a major factor in moving back to the U.S. We have enjoyed the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with family for the first time in years, and are enjoying dinners with friends when we can get out of the frozen wasteland of our neighborhood. (There have been two major snow events and one minor one since mid-December. Having a car has been a bit of a joke.) Being on the same continent as your family has benefits.
It is more expensive to live in the U.S. We did not move back as a shrewd financial move. It would have been more affordable to live in Italy, from a strictly dollars-and-cents perspective. However, I don’t think I would want to grow very old in Rome. It’s just not an easy place to live, period. We are, after all, and for better or worse, Americans.
We will be back, Italy! To visit. 

 

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