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Postcards from Italy: The Val Gardena

13 Sep
13 September 2018.
We are wrapping up two weeks in Italy’s Dolomites and what a two weeks it has been! While hiking on the Alpe di Siusi one day we stopped to help a couple who were confused by the trail map they held. “You look familiar!” exclaimed the wife. “Don’t we know you? You wrote a book!” Our first celebrity moment. Thanks Judy and Andy! You made our day!

Ric on the deck at Rasciesa before our hike.

Our hosts now for three years, Justine and Siegfried at Residence Astoria seem like old friends. Their cat, Minno, was newly adopted during our visit in 2016 and now he is a strapping lad. As luck would have it, another couple who have our book is staying at Residence Astoria! Cathy and Gene from Auburn, AL are here and hiking using our guide. Turns out we share an affinity for the Berner Oberland as well.

The red cable cars emerge from the fog as we ascend to the Alpe di Siusi. We decided to go on a foggy day and found tranquility but no rain.

Blissful foggy day on the Alpe di Siusi. Very few people bothered to ascend but we enjoyed the fog.

We’ve explored some easy hikes to add to the book and we have taken some ridiculously difficult trails that we will not include. One night we splurged and stayed on the Alpe di Siusi in a lovely old hotel (we are not the rifugio types) so we could hike more easily there for two days.

Below the cable car at Seceda in the Puez-Odle Park there is a madness of marmots.

New to us, a short and scenic hike at Passo Gardena. It will be featured in the next edition of our book.

I am grateful my Italian comes back to me when we are in Italy but here in the Val Gardena — it was part of Austria until WWI — my high school German floods back and I find myself substituting German words when I forget the Italian. The locals often switch between the two languages in casual conversation so I fit right in.

We enjoyed watching these goats play while eating lunch at Malga Laranzer in the Alpe di Siusi.

The Sciliar and Punto Santner stand guard over the west end of the Alpe di Siusi. Our view over a cappuccino.

On the trail to Col Raiser, above Santa Cristina. It was a lot of work to get here!

There’s been pizza (3 times), apple strudel (also 3 times), and canederli (once is enough) along the way, and lots of good Lagrein, the local red wine. Luckily all offset by our average of 19,000 steps per day!

Pizza with anchovies and mozzarella di bufala at La Tambra, Santa Cristina.

Next stop, Innsbruck.
A dopo!

Mountaintop to sea level: Girovaga’s 2018 Euro-trip

4 May
4 May 2018.
When the weather is miserable travel planning can be a great escape. At any given time, I have three or four European itineraries rattling around in my head and usually one of them has moved beyond theoretical and into reality. This year our theme is Mountaintops, Lakes, and Seashore. We will visit 4 mountain areas, 2 lakes, and the Ligurian sea. Purtroppo, we won’t be going until late summer.
I’ve spent a fair amount of energy in planning, securing lodging, researching hikes, and just yesterday I started making train reservations so as to get the super economy fares where possible. (I love every minute of the pre-trip tasks.)
Here’s what we have planned.
Having learned our lessons last year during The Grand Tour, we are not going to hop all over the continent. Our modus operandi now is longer stays in fewer places. This trip we will confine ourselves to Northern Italy and Switzerland with a tiny stop in Austria.
In a nutshell, here is our route: Milano – Ortisei – Innsbruck – Pontresina – Lauterbrunnen – Stresa – Camogli – Lausanne over the course of seven weeks. No cars, no planes, just trains. 
Milano is a city we’ve visited many times and while there are not any major sites we plan to see, it will be a buffer between a long Transatlantic flight and our train-plus-taxi to Ortisei, a journey of about four hours. We like Milano and have a favorite hotel there, the Hotel Berna. Alas, the Berna’s prices are sky-high due to a Gran Prix event so we will be staying across the street at the oft-recommended-to-me Hotel Garda. Nothing fancy, but (I am told) comfortable. We’ll recover from jet lag, buy SIMs for our phones, enjoy browsing, and perhaps take in a special art installation. After Milan, there will be no large cities this trip.

The last time we spent the night in Milano was in December 2015. Expect it to be much warmer when we arrive end-of-August.

Ortisei is, of course, our favorite place in Italy. This will be our seventh year there and eighth visit overall. Can’t wait to see our hosts Justine & Siegfried, visit our favorite shops and restaurants, and hike to the rifugi all over the Val Gardena. We will stay in the apartment we occupied in 2016 and 2017 and use this opportunity to update and add to our book, “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena.”  We are planning to add a couple hikes to the book as certainly we will try something new in addition to repeating the hikes and riding the lifts we love.

One of my favorite views in the Alpe di Siusi. We will surely hike here and update our book.

I was in Innsbruck in 1972 but Ric has never been. I remember it being quite lovely and it makes for a convenient break in the otherwise long journey by train to Pontresina in Switzerland. Just passing two nights here.
Pontresina is near St. Moritz and is purported to be a good base for easy-hiking so we will spend a week. We’ve found a darling apartment overlooking the route of the Glacier Express and a lively river. Can’t lose with lodging overlooking a train line in Switzerland.
From Pontresina, we head to Lauterbrunnen via the famous Glacier Express. The Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Jungfrau Region offers an incredible combination of transportation and easy-hiking. It is, so far, our favorite area in Switzerland. This will be our fifth visit. It vies with Ortisei for favorite mountain locale, but the food is better in Italy.

On the hike from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidigg, above the Lauterbrunnen Valley. There was snow at high elevation in October.

If Disney wanted to invent a new attraction, they could not accomplish anything more fantastic than the Swiss have already done in the Jungfrau Region. Train to 11,333 feet? Check! Thirty-minute gondola ride in complete silence through a stunning landscape? Check! Behind-the-scenes at a James Bond’s mountaintop location with a revolving restaurant? Check! Seventy-two waterfalls in 9 kilometers? Check! We have a favorite apartment here, too, and fall brings reasonable rates, pleasant weather, and fewer tourists.

This is the view from “our” apartment in Lauterbrunnen: Staubach Falls and  a small herd of cows as well.

Then we are back in Italy, stopping at Stresa on Lago Maggiore for three nights followed by Camogli, Italy, for six nights. Stresa makes a nice place to break up a long transfer (with several changes-of-trains) to Liguria. Stresa has been on my list for years and promises not only some light mountain hiking but lakeside strolls and island hopping.
Camogli is our seaside destination. We have not been to Liguria since 2014 and our previous four visits we always stayed in the Cinque Terre. I am hoping Camogli will be a little less frenetic and allow us to experience a different part of Liguria. I am so looking forward to Ligurian cuisine! Alici marinate (marinated anchovies) are the best in Liguria most likely because they are caught nearby and fresh as can be, marinated with local lemons. Then there is pesto pasta, focaccia, and almost anything they do with a fish.
Finally, we will wrap up with a week in Lausanne, Switzerland. Several trains are required for this transfer, which is a bit kludgy, but we like a train day. Since we pack light, it’s not too difficult. Lausanne is featured in so many books and movies — especially stories of intrigue — that it has been on my list for years. We look forward to exploring Lake Geneva, the vineyards, castles, etc. It should be a rather low-key end to a long trip. We will fly out of Geneva, a mere hour by train from Lausanne.
Have you been to any of these places? What are your insights? Favorite restaurants, sights, hikes, or tours?

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!


We wrote a book!

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

Easy hiking

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

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

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

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

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

Goats being fed parsley stems at Marinzen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby goats!

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

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

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