Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Venice, Italy - September, 2012 (Days 10-15)

Gondola in Venetian Canal at dusk

The iconic Venetian Gondalier poling his charges through the seemingly endless canals of Venice.

I strongly suggest, as do guidebooks, taking a water bus (vaporetto) ride during the golden hours around sunrise and sunset. You will have to struggle to get a good viewing spot but if you manage it the rewrd is watching the play of light off the sky, water, and buildings that are anchored by Venice's intricate canal system. Since traffic is slow you have a chance to get good pictures even with a point-and-shoot like I used here (Panasonic Lumix LX5) and elsewhere.

We have been in Venice now for 4 days and while I am sure we have only scratched the surface we have seen a lot and formed many opinions. No doubt we have huge gaps in our experiences that will not go away. For example, although we have had dinner as late as 20:00 and sat outside 3 rather different , OK inside one, Venetian restaurants I am certain we still know next to nothing about the nightlife of the city. Personally, I think we have done rather well and it's time to share some of my thoughts in this first blush of Venice type of post.

I have come to Venice pretty much cold. I've glanced a little at a guidebook but to say it is cursory is probably being generous. Dad had more detailed ideas in mind of places to visit but nothing really firm. And while my parents visited Venice in 1966 they don't have extensive memories of the visit. Mom recalls that the pigeon population was vast compared to the seemingly small numbers we have seen so far. The waterways seemed dirtier too. We may have preconceived ideas but I think we have been pretty open to whatever we would find. Let's start with our arrival. After a bit of silly confusion with the otherwise fine directions our hotel, the Ca'Pozzo Inn, had provided we got ourselves to the boutique hotel after an easy, though quite crowded, inter-city train ride. When you leave the train station here in Venice prepare for crowds. If what we saw now in mid-September is any indication the throngs must be staggering during high tourist season. Right away we found ourselves confronted with a canal. I am not exactly sure what I was expecting but I am pretty sure finding a light green ribbon of water spanned by arching bridges that rise 3-4 meters above the water right away was not quite it. And though it took a while to register the utter absence of land-based motorized traffic of any sort is also a shock. Perhaps I was imagining dark and dingy black-water canals interspersed with modern streets and sidewalks. That is definitely not what Venice provides. Instead you have canals of green water flowing everywhere. Some, like the Grand Canal, are quite wide but many are just wide enough for boats to park on either side and leave a lane down the middle: think residential street width. The bridges that span the canals probably don't rise more than 3 meters above the waterline and I think, based on the number of steps you ascend, the height is often considerably less than that. Those bridges must be a nightmare for any wheeled vehicle. Some of the larger bridges have shallower steps but I believe we have encountered just two bridges with ramps. If you have to push a stroller you will get a workout hefting it about. How a person in a wheelchair manages is very much unclear. Immediately you start to realize that the way the city works is quite clearly affected by all the canals that weave throughout the metropolis. The streets are best thought of as pedestrian roads. There are some wide boulevards but more often than not you walk down a street of paving stones that is likely wide enough for two people to walk comfortably abreast. There are many narrow alleys to contend with and those alleys are the means of entrance and exit to stores, homes, hotels, and more just as the larger walkways are. If a person wants to get his produce to a market shop he has to offload it from a boat into a human-powered dolly that must be moved across the bridges. If you need trash removed it appears it goes in containers via dollies to be hoisted by winch onto trash boats that haul it somewhere else. Ambulance service is clearly by boat and it must be a wretched time if you need to get someone someplace quickly because you can't go quickly on the canals to say nothing of getting your patient from where she or he is to your boat. If they have to get big machinery somewhere I imagine it is quite a challenge because while a barge can float a lot you have to get that stuff off the boat to where it must go and as I noted earlier land travel is through restricted spaces. Perhaps this forces people to slow down. I am sure it has affected how they build and what they build here. It's remarkable what has been done.

After finding our hotel, the Ca'Pozzo Inn, we started to do some exploration of the neighborhood. First heading northwest to find lunch just beyond this bridge.
Venetian streets
Looking at a typical single-lane Venetian alley. the alley is getting narrower as it goes (right photo).
Since we had time to kill before we could get into our rooms we dropped our luggage off and began exploring. Ca'Pozzo Inn is located in the old Jewish Ghetto. These days I think Venice may have a population of 500 Jews and even at its height I suspect the population was not high. We have seen many stars of David and other Judaica but it is clearly a small region. We strolled along our local canal, Canalreggio, west towards the sea. We had some restaurant suggestions and soon found ourselves walking across a bridge and setting ourselves down at outside tables of Trattoria della Marisa. Eating is a serious business here in Venice, perhaps in all of Italy. It must be a serious business as people spend hours at their meals. We lucked out with our visit to Marisa's. She serves what she serves any given day and that is it. A couple of tasty pasta dishes with light but flavorful sauces and some house wine. We also quickly learned that you had best pay attention to the boat traffic that sometimes does more than putter on by. Once in a while someone goes by too fast and creates waves that crest the canal walls and wash across the sidewalks. It is a relaxed atmosphere: no one is going to hustle you out of your seat or come by as you take your first bite to inquire if the food is good. They let you eat your own meal.

We left to continue strolling about the neighborhood. We were struck by the small streets and numerous canals from the outset. It is a quiet city when you get away from the crowds. The sun glints off the green water from a clear blue sky and you can see why people like the city. It does have a singular lack of living green spaces but it is fun to walk down a narrow alley and pop out into a small square or courtyard and find a quiet place of several buildings including fine shops, hole-in-the-wall bakeries, cafes, and no doubt homes somewhere.

While it is possible to find areas where crowds do not exist don't be fooled into thinking Venice is unpopulated. We slowly worked our way towards San Marco Square (Piazza San Marco) and there we found throngs of people. The throngs were apparent well before the actual plaza and are truly impressive as they form lines to visit the various buildings around the plaza. If the crowds are this big now it is hard to imagine what they must be like during the peak of tourist season. We are very glad to not be here during that time.

Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge may well be an iconic location but this grand arched bridge has suffered from a bit too much attention. Graffiti and shops selling knick-knacks definitely adversely affect the place.
Other places also teem with people. The Rialto Bridge, reportedly a world famous destination, is one such. Maybe once it was worth visiting but now it is lined with shops that seem to be selling tchokes. Worse the high-arched bridge is covered in graffiti. In fact we noticed quite a bit of graffiti as we wandered about which seems to be quite a change from the lack of it in Verona. Through all our strolling we encountered canals of all widths from very narrow to very wide. The Grand Canal is certainly in the latter group and the one place where locals use gondolas: the traghetti. These boats, paddled by gondoliers just like the famed boats that take tourists on tours, take you from one side of the Grand Canal to the other. For locals the fee is 50 euro-cents; non-locals 2 euros. The crossing take a couple of minutes and it makes sense to use the boats on the Grand Canal because bridges that span the canal are few and far between.

Traghetti crossing Venice's Grand Canal
We did take one ride on a Venetian Gondola. The traghetti are guided by two gondoliers (bow and stern) who poll their charges across the Grand Canal.
Venice does seem to be a place to find art. We saw countless shops and galleries selling all types of fine art. In particular, sculpture type works particularly works of glass are in evidence. We took a vaporetto to the island of Murano to see where much of the renowned glass works come from. It is an interesting island with its share of canals and no land-based vehicle traffic. Murano seems devoted to the glass blowers art with many workshops. But it is a proper town too. We saw grocery stores, cafes, retail shops selling more than just artwork and no doubt apartments.

The one place in Venice proper we found a few trees though no areas of grass was in the park area that encompasses the Biennale which is, among other things, a huge collection of pavilions and buildings dedicated to various types of art from around the world. I believe it is now a biannual art show for several countries and it has been going for several decades. You can explore a couple dozen buildings from quite modest to fairly large that contain an eclectic range of art from countries including Finland, Spain, Israel, the USA, Venezuela, and more. It is a bit pricey but if you want to soak in a lot of different types of art this is an interesting place to visit. The second part of the whole place is a staggeringly large building that seems wholly dedicated to the exploration of architecture (the Arsenale). It is daunting in its scope but I have a sneaky feeling we will most remember the rather comfortable white plastic cup-like chairs we lounged in for a time when we were done with the visit.

Beach on The Lido
The beach on The Lido was remarkably uncrowded. Though you cannot tell here the cabanas in the background continue well beyond both edges of the photo. In the high season they must be full of people which would be rather intimidating I think.
Gondolas galore
We took an early morning vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal towards Academmia. The sun was just beginning to peak above the buildings and rush hour was in full force. Still not everything is moving quite this early as this row of gondolas attest.
Venice is really a collection of islands. While the main city that most visit is Venice many islands, all with their own names, cluster around. Murano is one as is The Lido. The Lido is the beach island and when we arrived we were struck by the fact that it reminded us strongly of the area of Sarasota, Florida. It had that certain feel that I cannot quite explain though I suppose part of it can be traced to wide streets with actual vehicle traffic lined with wide sidewalks that even had a tree or two growing nearby. The change in background sound was pronounced with the automobile traffic. It was a real pleasure to find our way to the wide, such a nice change from the postage stamp width beaches we found on the Bodrum Peninsula last year, light colored sandy beach. The sea was lapping gently and the water was warm: easily swimmable. While we saw a few people playing in the water and others sauntering down the beach as we were doing our overall impression was that it was pretty empty. This is definitely not what things must be like during the summertime as the seemingly endless rows of cabanas attes. But right now I could certainly enjoy sitting on that beach though I did also notice that there did not seem to be any beachfront cafes or other types of eateries. While we did not fare so well in finding a place to eat that is no indictment of Lido just our poor choice. We were quite glad we visited this island which feels so different from the primary city that is just a kilometer or so across the water to the west.


Venice morning

Standing on Ponte de l'Accademia gazing towards the rising sun. This was our cloudiest day in Venice.

We actually spent the better part of 5 days in Venice. For the bulk of that time we were treated to superb weather. On our last full day we found out what the city could be like when it rains. Our experience was nothing compared to what Venice has just recently experienced with flooding. We joined a former colleague of Mom's for a fancy lunch and during that time a strong rain shower came on through to drench the surroundings. We were under canopies so were pretty well protected. Staff from the restaurant now and then poked the canopy to dump excess water off. Fortunately no one is in a hurry to kick you out from your table so we settled in for a couple of hours while the rain came down. People scampered across the plaza trying to keep dry (umbrellas sales probably shot up) while we ate. It would have been interesting to see how the water in canals reacted to the rain but we weren't near any canals at the time. When the rain abated we left to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Museum the streets were slick but not flooded. I had wondered before what the drainage would be like and it seemed fine.

I want to take a bit of time to laud the vaporetti. These are the public transportation water buses that get you around the city and associated islands. I strongly suggest that you purchase the multi-day pass instead of buying per trip tickets which end up being considerably more expensive. The boats seem to come in a few different varieties. Whichever style of craft you get on if you can find a place outside, assuming the weather is decent, I think that is preferable. It is far more pleasant to be in the open air and, of course, your view of the cityscape will be far superior. If you are at all interested in photography taking a ride on the Grand Canal during the "golden hours" (just after sunrise and before sunset) is worth it. Try to sit at the bow to have the fewest obstructions to your view. The boats move slowly enough that you can get some rather pleasing pictures. I was surprised that I was even able to do some simple High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. Finally, I am very glad we decided to take a water taxi to the airport. While you can go to the bus terminal and take an actual wheeled bus to the airport which will be quicker leaving Venice on the water just feels so much more appropriate and the ride is quite enjoyable.

View all the photos from our time in Venice (19 photos).


Friday, November 30, 2012

Selva, Italy - September, 2012 (Day 9)

Hiking from Jimmy Hutte

Just beyond Jimmy Hutte. That place seemed to be partly built into the mountain though i realize i feel that way because of the dungeon-like sense you got searching for the bathrooms. Most of these open slopes were likely ski slopes.

The storm that brought us the snow that fell above the 2,000 meter line and considerably colder temperatures moved quickly through the region. Today dawned with crystal clear skies. While the temperature was initially about 40 degrees at the 2,200 meter mark it would warm up quite a bit as the day wore on. In other words our last day of hiking in the Dolomites was again graced with excellent weather.

We decided to do the easier walk. The harder walk was just over 10 miles long and had over 4,500 feet of descent and about 2,000 feet of ascent. That just seemed like a bit much. Our walk would be a mere 7 or 8 miles with about 1,900 feet of ascent and 2,800 feet of descent (I know we were actually told much lower numbers but if the GPS track is to be believed tey were closer to these). What would make this walk different from the others we had done was that we would visit a new valley. We headed out of Selva, going primarily east, to a lift that would take us up to about the 2,200 meter line at Passo Gardena (Gardena Pass). From there we could look back down towards Selva though we could not really make out the town. We began the actual walk at about 10:00 and as I have noted the temeprature was not much above freezing. There was also a modest breeze, less than 10MPH to give the air a bit of a bite, but the sun was shining in clear skies so all was very well indeed. We quickly began descending a moderate dirt path winding our way down a mountainside that had a patch or two of clinging snow still but was essentially completely clear of any signs of the storm. In short order we arrived at a rifugio that everyone apparently calls Jimmy and whose actual name I do not know. It must be partly built into the mountainside to judge by the dungeon-like warren you enter when trying to find the bathrooms. Some snow dripped off the buidling's roof and bits of snow clung to the deck where we sat around tables enjoying snacks and drinks. It was a nice place to sit for a few minutes though it did come rather early in our walk and I expect if the three of us were to repeat the walk we wouldn't stop there.

Dolomite alpine valley
I am not sure if we are looking out towards Selva in Val Gardena or down into the valley we would be hiking through towards Jimmy Hutte.
Our descent would continue taking us under a gondola and then we would begin contouring around, heading generally east, along a ridge that to our left sported the massive cliffs that seperate the Edelweiss and Gardena valleys. Those cliffs would dominate the view on that side all day long. Our walk would meander through high meadows, and sometimes through small stands of forest. Those little changes from light to shadow did slow me up a bit but the walking was really quite easy. Now and then we had to leave the easy hiking path for a mountain road but since there never was any traffic this was really no big deal. When we had the chance to bypass those roads by simply working our way down grassy slopes, often ski slopes, we did.

Mountain hut
Now and then we encountered small mountain huts like this one.
We saw few people today. I suppose there were some at Rifugio Jimmy and I think we passed and were passed (in either direction) by a few near that first refuge but until we reached the Edelweiss Rifugio I think we encountered just a handful of folks and, surprisingly, two dogs.

Lunch spot
By the time we had worked our way to the Edelweiss Rifugio the afternoon had warmed up quite a bit. We had easily reached an air temperature well into the 60s and sitting on the sun deck of the rifugio I am sure the sunshine temperature was closer to 80. To reach that last place we first had to work our way through a few hundred meters of slightly scramblly trail. It was the only tough bit of the walk as far as footing was concerned. Plenty of twisty roots and high rocks to impede ones path. But if we had not taken this slightly round-about way we would never have disturbed (or, more precisely, I think the dog did the disturbing) the marmot and heard it scream in response. A marmot apparently makes a very loud whistle-like sound that would do an emergency whistle proud. After finishing the scramble we ascended a mountain road for a ways before splitting the group a second time with some heading down directly to Corvara and the rest of us retracing our steps via a ski slope down to the Edelweiss Hutte and then into Cofusco (sp).

Rifugio Edelweiss' sun deck

Nothing quite like relaxing in the sun on chase lounge chairs on the sun deck of a mountain hutte like Edelweiss Hutte. From here it is a quick road descent into Colfosco.

Stopping at Edelweiss Hutte was quite nice. Sipping a beer or soda and basking in the sun was a real fine way to end the hike. I am sure that this place can get quite crowded given its location near a town and several ski trails. We hung around for a good half hour before making the final descent into town. Along the way we passed by a small herd of horses. I've no idea if these animals are roaming free and wild but they aren't fenced in and clearly have no concerns about people. They were quite approachable and just did not seem to care we were around. They had more important things to do like crop the grass.

Arriving in the small mountain town of Colfosco just before 15:00 we had time to kill before taking a bus back to Selva. Given that there wasn't anywhere to really sit we just stood around the bus stop and waited. That is as dull as it sounds. But the bus ride would make up for it. We climbed up a twisting mountain road to the pass at just over 2,100 meters (the town we had been in was at about 1,640 meters) and it was quite a scenic ride indeed. The bus drivers definitely have to pay attention to what they're doing when driving this , and similar, roads. We were dropped off in a little town just above Selva where we would catch a bus for the very quick ride into downtown Selva. All told we probably spent an hour on the buses.

This was a nice way to end the week of hiking. It might not have been a phusically demanding final walk but the scenery was enjoyable and the weather was certainly conducive to not rushing through the mountains. Sometimes it is alright to take your time getting from place to place. We enjoyed ourselves on this last walk just as we enjoyed all the other treks we did.


View all the photos (9 photos) for today's walk.

To see the general map and our route visit here.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Selva, Italy - September, 2012 (Day 8)

Mom and Dad on the trail

Mom and Dad along our snowy path.

To properly describe today's events I need to first take you back to our Free Day yesterday. I don't really need to spend much time talking about our wandering around Ortisei seeing what this larger town had to offer. I don't really need to talk much about the mountain cafe/hutte/upper terminus of the funicular where we had a late morning snack that was surprisingly good. I do, however, need to touch on the weather that affected it all. It was a bit of a dreary day with totally overcast skies and on again off again rain especially in the afternoon when it became heavy showers. The temeprature had dropped considerably too. At the funicular upper terminus around noon I would not be surprised if it was barely 50. The forecast was for the temperature to plunge and snow to fall during the evening with the snow line somewhere around the 2,000 meter mark. Remember that the previous few days had seen high temperatures nudging the 70 degree mark . While a cold front like this may not be unuusual it still came as a bit of a surprise.

When we got up this morning and looked up towards the north eastern mountain slopes we could see plenty of snow had fallen. It was impossible to know how deep it might be or what the trails owuld be like but it was obvious the forecast had been correct. But it was also clear that the clouds had risen somewhat from the day before so while we had no real views when we were up high on Wednesday today seemed like it would be different. Mom, Dad, and I had decided that the harder walk which would cover, if the route was passible, some 8 or 9 miles with 2,000 feet of ascent and nearly 5,000 feet of descent was not for us especially since a lot of the descent was reportedly rocky. The easier walk felt as though it would be too short covering about 6 miles in the mountains with a 1.5 or so mile walk again back from San Cristina which none of us wanted to do again as the finale. Instead we decided to reprise the walk Mom had done Tuesday which was about 8 miles long with2,100 feet of ascent and close to 2,900 feet of descent (numbers could have been a bit higher). When Mom did the walk ambling west to east along a ridgeline around the 2,170 meter mark she spotted numerous cows and other animals along the green mountainsides and was no doubt bathed in sunshine. Our walk would be differnt.

North view from hotel
Looking north from Hotel Malleier (Ma-lay-ah).
Passing the snow line
Not that far from the upper terminus of the funicular station. Unlike yesterday the clouds have lifted and the town of Ortisei is clearly visible.
We, along with a fully packed funicular's worth of people were dropped off at the upper terminus just after 10:00. The ride up had shown us that the cloud ceiling had definitely risen as we could see Ortisei all the way up. The snowline , as marked by where snow really appeared beside and upon the tracks was not that far below the terminus which sits at about 2,150 meters elevation. A tiny bit of snow clung to the paths but they were really almost clear by this point with some small icy patches. I suppose the action of walking helped clear the paths and paths always seem to be a bit warmer than the ground just to their left and right (I suppose some machine could clear the paths but this seems a bit of a silly notion given the number of hiking paths and their length). The snow did cover the ground but even the drifts were not that deep and a typical depth was probably just an inch or two (up higher where the folks doing the tougher walk , suitably revised for safety reasons we would learn, the paths did have some snow and it may have been ankle-deep in many places). The effect was to make the mountain slopes white clad but with plenty of dark spots showing through where sides of rocks poked out. Trees, some of the walk would be above tree line, were clad with snow but they were not so burderened by it that they were merely white tall shapes. Instead the snow dappled the evergreens leaving plnety of very dark green contrasting with the snowy white. A very fairlyland wintry scene at times.

Busy snowy trail
This is a pretty busy path even on this chilly snowbound day.
A fine snowy scene
We were a bit surprised and dismayed at the number of people around. While the numbers did not match what we encountered on the "Notch Walk" (second walk) they were still considerable. You end up feeling a bit pressed to move on so as not to feel rushed by others getting close and that causes you to rush yourelf. But we had enough time when groups were mostly out of sight and earshot. I just wish it had been even more so. The temperature was about 40 and their was a brisk wind whipping about that I have no doubt sent the windchill down below freezing. Though cloudy it was not precipitating much at all. Really just here-a-flake;there-a-flake when something happeend. We had more of a storm back in Yellowstone last June.

We passed a rifugio in short order and continued on to a seemingly lonely small church. I believe this tiny house of worship has been up here at the 2,200 meter line for centuries but I find myself wondering why. While I have no doubt animals were and are grazing up here I don't think many homes were ever up here. The crucifix with a very tortured Christ on top of the local peak (about 2,257 meters) is impressive but I suppose it is tied directly to the hcurch. It wouldn't draw people to live here , would it? Looking out across the valley (south) we didn't have great views into the valley below but we could well see across to some rather snowy mountains on the far side. The scene had the stark beauty snow covered swathes of land often have.

We left that high plateau and began the bulk of the walk along the ridge. We would rise and fall sometimes dipping just below the tree line but remaining always above the snow line. One stretch, just after a path junction I believe, where we turned northerly for a time, had us strolling down the dirt path through a small forest that was particular pleasant with plnety of winter-time type coloring to catch the eye: the rich brown of the dirt path, the deep near black green of the trees, the white of the snow - a litle blue would have been nice but the sky remained totally cloudy (a blessing in some ways considering how bright sunshine would have made the snow). When we were amongst the trees the wind was blocked and we felt more than comfortable. Even when the wind bit at us we were happy.

We did not pause much. This was perhaps in part due to a desire to stay warm by moving but I think mostly to avoid getting caught up in any of the larger groups that were travelling the paths with us. It did mean we took fairly few photos which is a bit sad since there were some photogenic locations. Our hiking path would eventually turn into something more akin to a two-track that would continue to undulate along the mountainside. On Tuesday Mom saw a fellow on a motorbike herding cows. Today we saw no man or beast. We were making good time and when we finally stopped for our lunch in a bit of rock sheltered curve we had walked two thirds of the route. It was about 13:10 and the temperature was still hovering around 40. We did not linger over our sandwhiches. When we came to where we would turn to begin the bulk of the descent, by a cow grate not far from a rifugio, we made the turn bypassing the mountain hut (a small group of sheep were nearby; the only fauna we would see). The bulk of the descent is done in about 3km on hiking paths that eventually wind through lush stands of evergreens. Mountain glades pop up now and then but what really made the descent nice was the stream burbling nearby. It was a wholly enjoyable descent: not terribly steep and upon a treadway with fine footing. We arrived at the Furnes terminus of the Seceda lift just after 14:00. A very fine walk.

Horn pipers in Ortisei
The same alpine horn pipe players we encountered on the second day. I think they played the same music.
Spending a bit of time in Ortisei before returning to Selva was well worth it. The sun broke out for a time during this part of the day. We had a snack and drink (not as good as it could have been; our latte machiatos were not hot enough. We were serenaded by the same alpine horn pipe players too. I think they played the same suite of music. We wrapped the afternoon up with a visit to the summit of Mount Seuc taking the Seuc lift up. These red bell-shaped cars are rated for 15 people and that must be one hell of a squeeze when full. Our return journey had 8 of us and one rhodesian ridgeback dog and I don't know how you would get 7 more people in there. It remains a surprise to us that dogs can go anywhere. Our jammed to the gills bus ride back to Selva had at least a couple large dogs along with a big stroller and standing room only people (why we sat around Ortisei for 10 minutes before moving I do not know). I will note that the views from Mount Seuc were quite nice but we did not linger as we had nothing really to do. It was a nice way to end the day as the sun shone down upon us and helped to show us just how big Ortisei is as we rode the gondola up and down.

The night featured a brass band, the Big Brass Band of Selva, concert. They played supposedly local pieces but also quite a lot that was not what I would call a celebration of local culture. Not unless you can consider the A-Team theme or Whitney Houston or even a bit of Verde local. Still it was nice.

View all the photos for this walk (15 photos).

View the map of today's hike (the same route Mom followed two days earlier).


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Selva, Italy - September, 2012 (Day 6)

Upper funicular station at Mount Rasciesa

Mom elected to do the shorter walk which started at this upper funicular station on Mount Rasciesa. All of us would return to this area over the next couple days.

Dad and I decided to tackle the tougher walk and Mom chose to do the slightly easier one. In the context of this week's hikes that means her walk had a bit less elevation loss and considerably less elevation gain than our walk did. Our walks both began from the village of Ortisei but that was about the only thing they had in common.

We piled into a bus along with dozens of others to make the twenty minute journey from Selva to Ortisei. The buses are really jammed full of people and they must put extra buses on the roads during the high season to cope with the traffic. Once in Ortisei we walked through the town and ascended three escalators and two moving sidewalk ramps to reach the base station of the Seceda gondola (Mom would continue up some steep roads to the terminus of a funicular that marked her access point to the higher elevations). It is remarkable the engineering that is so evident throughout these towns. Equally wonderful is how clean everything seems to be. I don't think any of us has seen any litter let alone graffiti.

Horse herds above Ortisei
Mom saw quite a few horses and other animals grzing along her walk.
Mountain valley
The open mountainsides are dotted with small buildings and here we found forests of many evergreens lining those open spaces.
Our gondola dropped us off at the Furnes station where we quickly left some small bunches of people to quickly descend along a gentle path that would soon leave the groomed mountain slopes for woodlands. We actually crossed a stream which has been rather a rare occurrance. Joining path number 8 we began a steady but not too steep climb up through forested slopes that now and then opened into glades that seemed to be there for no obvious reason. I don't quite understand what causes these little mountain meadows to appear. Now and then the ring of a cowbell could be heard but I certainly never saw any animals.

Glunch spot view of Ortisei
I think the town you can see down below is Ortisei. We had a nice break here.
Our walk also took us across some scree fields. The paths were pretty well defined though they could easily become treachreous if you were not careful. However, they did not cause me any great nervousness compared to some knife edge trails I have walked before. Crossing those fields was actually a bit cool as they were in the lee of the mountainside and thus shaded from the warmth of the sun.

Our somewhat gradual ascent would steepen after crossing the rocky bits and leaving a small junction (with path 6) behind. The sun was now shining upon us so we all warmed up quite nicely. I think we had 2 major climbs today. The first from the junction to a crucifix not that far west of Mt. Pic took us through steep trails in mountain forests and sometimes through mountain meadows. The climb was about 325 meters and I suspect it was along a distance of 2km - it took us about 45 minutes. Our lunch spot, I think, looked down upon Ortisei. It was still sunny though the wind had picked up slightly .

Leaving that spot we continued our ascent towards Mt. Pic but this time we were in more open countryside. In fact it was open enough that as we climbed we felt the nip of the wind enough that at least some of us paused to put back on an extra layer. The path was steadily steep with a few rocks and it certainly got the heartrate up and increased my breathing. It was about 45 minutes of walking but when we reached the surprisingly small summitt the views were worth the effort.

I don't, sad to say, really have good photos from Mt Pic. In some ways that is because while we arrived around 14:00 the light just wasn't that good even with some clouds slowly massing in the sky to add a dramatic feel to things. What makes the views in this area stand out I believe is the contrast between the valleys and lower mountainsides so carefully tended and the massive rock formations that rise above everything else. Even though it was a bit windy on top of the mountain, the most wind we have encountered the entire trip and yet probably still not much more than a breeze, I can see why people climb up here and settle down for a spell.

Des ing from Mount Pic
We left Mount Pic quickly descending into the valleys below. You can see what we were walking down into.
dad nearingNearing Rifuguio Fermeda

This dirt track was used by walker like us and occassonal cyclists. We weren't too far from Rifugio Fermeda by this time.

We were re-joined by Marion and Maggie at this point. They had come to the mountaintop via a different somewhat shorter in both ascent and distance route. They had enjoyed the afternoon on the summit for an hour when we showed up. Together we would head down the way they had come up. The path was narrow and rocky. It was definitely steeper than our ascending path had been and in some stretches quite a bit rockier making the footing much trickier. While it wouldn't be anywhere near as bad as say descending from Demetz Hutte to Vincenza Hutte it was a real chore nonetheless. However, once past the worst of it the path became first your typical descending path and then moderated a bit more as it wandered through the alpine slopes towards the Fermeda Rifugio which seems to be part of a small cluster of places nestled up here. When we reached the refuge we found everyone else there having drinks and a bite to eat. We settled in ourselves and enjoyed the respite. As we sat at our tables outside we felt a change in the weather. The temperature had been hovering at 60F with some dips into the upper 50s. Clouds were massing and moving quickly. In fact when we left to walk the last mile along high dirt mountain roads to the upper terminus of the Col Raiser (Rie-sah) lift which is located at what seems to be quite an extensive hotel complex the sun returned to warm things back up. At this point we could have hiked down into San Cristina (Saint Cristina) but everyone decided to ride the gondolas down instead. They run efficiently and you get nice views all the way down. We spotted a small herd of sheep as well as a very good looking cow trailing close behind two men. I suppose it was following them home. That was the extent of the fauna we saw; Mom and her group saw considerably more and from much shorter distances.

From San Cristina you can either catch a bus or walk back to Selva. Most people decided that the extra 1.5 miles was worth the walking compared to waiting 25 minutes for the bus. We did get back to the hotel before the bus riders did but it is a dull walk and you do want it to be over especially when you have to climb the last short but slightly steeper bit through Selva to reach the hotel. If we have any more walks that end in San Cristina I think I'll take the bus back. Overall though this 8 mile walk was well worth doing as it had a variety of scenery and was also pretty quiet.

View all the photos (14 photos) for both walks.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Selva, Italy - September, 2012 (Day 5)

Sassolungo Massif viewed from Ciampinoi

At the gondola station at Ciampinoi for the start of our second walk.

The walk today is reportedly 8 miles long gaining 2,500 feet and losing 3,000 feet. A good 1,300 feet of that ascent happen between the two rifugios over steep to very steep rocky terrain covering just under a mile. It would end up feeling like a longer walk than 8 miles but I don't have good track data to say if that is really the case. Perhaps it is merely an illussion in our collective minds since we were actually out considerably longer today than yesterday and even when you factor in the breaks and include the time spent on the two cablecar rides it felt like we had more break time yesterday than today. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We rode the gondola from Selva to Ciampinoi (sp) where we found ourselves with a superb view of the rugged Sassolungo massif. There are many wide and obviously well cared for trails leaving the cable-car terminus which has bathrooms and a cafe as well as ample places to settle down and just soak in the sun. No doubt scores of people do just that. After getting ourselves sorted out, a task that took a bit longer than it should have since Phillip had left his walking sticks (I think that is what he left behind) back at the hotel, we began walking down into the rolling valley approaching Sassolungo. Numerous cows were grazing in the valley below. The jingling of their cowbells was clearly audible as they moved their massive heads cropping the grass. The views of the mountains were impressive and we were having an easy time of it so far.

Into the forest
The walk wound into a bit of mountain forest just a bit farther on. Many rocks and tall evergreen trees with a stream or two made for a lovely section of the walk.
Mountain valleys
Busy mountain trail
Sometimes you find yourself on a trail with many other people. This happened to us as we walked along this ridgeline towards Rifugio Vicenza.
Soon our path would leave open ridge and climb up into a bit of forest. The path changed from the easy footing of a dirt and gravel-like path to a somewhat more rocky trail. It reminded me a bit of sections of Appalachian Trail in parts of New England. The going was a bit tougher here but hardly challenging. The change of scenery was nice. In the forest the temperature dropped several degrees as the sun did not penetrate here at this mid-morning hour. The only real downside to this section was the number of larger groups we had to share the trail with. This is a popular area. Some groups wwere far larger than our own. This would become quite clear when we left the forest for a descending narrow dirt path that contoured around the mountain affording us huge vistas. Overall the footing again was superb.

That path would eventually begin to switch back aand forth leaving the narrow contour to heading up-mountain towards the first rifugio. The switchbacks were wide and well built taking us steadily up. While not as gentle a climb as some I have done they were not so steep that you felt you couldn't make it. It just felt a bit long as you would constantly catch sight of the mountain hutte and think it is closer than it actually was. This big building nestiles against the shoulder of the mountain and has places for people inside and out. I don't know if it has beds but given it is at least two stories high I would not be surprised. Mountain huttes like this seem to be everywhere and all sport modern essentials including electricity and plumbing (i.e. flush toilets). I am unsure of the correct names for the mountain huttes. The signs confuse me. They note many place names and the trail numbers to follow to reach them but no distances are given. So, is the first hutte Vincenza or Demetz. Or maybe it is Sasso Piatto (we stopped at Vincenza and hiked up to Demetz). Whatever the case both rifugios were impressive places and certainly quite welcome. I suppose we actually spent close to a half hour at the lower refuge. People thoroughly enjoyed hot and cold drinks and a bite to eat. The apple strudel looked like big loafs of tasty goodness. But we had to push on up and over the mountain through the notch of rock where the second mountain hutte is located anchoring the upper terminus of what is affectionately called the coffin lift. This would be the toughest portion of the hike and is likely the toughest HF hiking segment I think we have done.

Mom, between Vincenza and Demetz huttes
Between Vincenza and Dametz huttes you walk up a rocky, sometimes hard to follow path, that rises about 1,300 feet over about a mile.
Me, on the way to Demetz hutte
Slowly making my way up the steep trail between Rifugio Vincenza and Demetz.
The scree and dirt switchbacks aren't too bad initially. Not realy much worse than what we had been climbing to reach the first hutte. You can see where we are heading and I suppose you know it can't last but you think it will. Within 20 minutes you know that it will be much harder. The gradient rises considerably and the switchbacks become considerably more rocky. You have to carefully pick your way along the path making sure you follow the faint signs that sometimes appear. It is definitely a tough climb that I have no doubt would have taken me far longer to negotiate had I had to do it alone. I had to pause a few times, sadly not to take photos or even catch my breath, but to have what I euphemistically call my "moments." That is my cute term for when my blasted body feels intestinal pressure and I just have to stop and hope it subsides so nothing worse can happen. I suspect the views back down the steep valley were impressive, though maybe a bit monotonous, but I never really looked back. I plodded on following others. It took nearly 90 minutes to reach the pass. I am sure many of the group got their considerably before I did and just a couple lagged a little behind. Sitting in the shadow of the massive rock to our west with the sun just peeking out you felt a definite chill in the air at just over the 2,600 (I think) meter mark. Having a nice hot drink or something in the hutte would have been great. I settled, like most I expect, for my packed lunch.

Demetz hutte
It was just after 14:30 when we began piling into the Coffin Lift cars. The people who work this lift hustle you in two at a time into these phone booth sized cubbies. They really shove you in and unless they have reason (like a legally blind adult male) the cars do not slow and you have to quickly hop up into the car before you are sealed in. The ride down actually doesn't loose all that much elevation given the length of the ride. At least if my tracking data is to be believe that is true. I am not so sure of that. I think we probably dropped most of what we had just ascended over the easily 20 minute descent. There are trails that wind up the mountain on this side and I admit they look far less daunting than what we had to deal with but that could well be an illussion. In many ways after getting off the cable-car at some little hamlet I think we would have been happy to take our leisure at the cafe here and then catch a bus back to Selva. We did not do this. Instead we began descending grassy slopes on narrow dirt paths. The most interesting part of this last several kilometers happened pretty early on. A group of people were playing huge horn pipes. Think of a pipe easily 8 feet long with a tiny curve at the end where the pipe mouth is. Somehow they get different notes out of these pipes, perhaps in the same way a bugler does, and the sound carries quite a long way. That was a nice treat to see and hear.

Looking back from the Coffin lift
At the bottom of the coffin-like chairlift near Sasso Piatto Rifugio. Looking back towards the notch where Demetz is.
Alpine horn pipers
We heard these alpine hornpipe players long before we saw them. They play thrughout the valley and we heard them a couple days later in Ortisei.
Sadly it was the last nice treat as the remainder of the walk was either on country lanes, eventually passing some massive construction - building of a resovoir for some reason. Then we paralelled a busy road on a narrow annoying path that followed a swift flowing stream with manmade whitewater rapids. It was a slog that I think we could have done without. The best part of the walk was everything up to the first hutte. I'll give you the ascent to the second hutte as well because you certainly do get a sense of accomplishment (and I marvel at the people who descended from that hutte especialy the handful of young children who probably are not only in better shape than I but also simply know no fear). But I would skip everything after the Coffin Lift dropped us off.

You can view all the photos for this walk here (14 photos).


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Selva, Italy - September 2012 (Days 3 and 4)

A view of Selva

Looking down on our base village: Selva in the Gardena Valley just south of the Italian border with Austria.

The sky is beginning to lighten and I suppose the sun will be peeking over the mountains fairly soon. I will head down to breakfast in about an hour. This is the start of our first full day in the town of Selva near the Italian/Austrian border in the Dolomites. Here you will find signs printed with names in Italian and German: a legacy of when this area was taken from the Austrians in 1919 after World War I. Mussilini attempted to eradicate all vestiges of Austrtian/German influence but as so often seems the case he did not really succeed. You are just as likely to find people conversing in German as Italian and I expect people slip from one language to another with reckless ease. To say nothing of those who speak a language known as Ladin which is some local tongue I know nothing about. Selva, also known by the old German family name Volkenstine (sp), sits high in the mountains at an elevation of about 5,200 feet above sea level. It is the third and highest of three close villages that lead up to a pass that I suppose marks the border. The hotel Malleier (Ma-lay-ah) sits above the bulk of the village though there are plenty of inns higher up the mountain slopes than we are. I understand the population of Selva is 3,000 people but they have 12,000 beds for tourists. We are here at the very end of the walking season. Many hotels, including this one, will close for several weeks until the winter skiing season begins in December. This town does have an apprpriate alpine feel about it. Many of the buildings have flower boxes attached to their windows. The buildings have that chalet look about them that just feels right. At the same time the town is clearly geared towards the tourist industry with many small cafes, markets, sporting goods stores, and innumerable hotels. But while that kind of reminds us of Jackson Hole, Wyoming the town lacks the relentless theme-ing that Jackson Hole has. Or, maybe more likley, we just are failing to notice it. Selva feels more real somehow with the Dolomites rising all around her. Perhaps that is just an accident of geography. While there are some mountains snuggling up to Jackson Hole you typically have to drive to where you really want to go (e.g., Grand Teton National Park). Here cablecars and other mountain conveyances have base stations right in town.

We arrived in mid-afternoon and after dropping our luggage off in what seem to be very posh rooms the majority of the HF group formed up to take a quick walk into town for a bite to eat. We settled on a cafe with canary yellow canopies sheltering tables outside for our repast. They don't skimp on portions. The sandwhiches we got for ourselves will serve as at least one lunch today. The atmosphere was congenial and I suspect that although our group is rather large, 26 guests and 2 HF leaders - Paul and Michael, we will mesh well. Sitting under those huge umbrellas on a pleasingly warm, probably in the low 70s under direct sunlight, afternoon was a pleassure. After all, we had spent the previous couple of hours on a bus driving from Verona. I think we will have no trouble finding interesting places to pop into in this mountain village. When you walk by a place that has a giant wood carved chain saw in front with a sign politely asking that you not climb the saw you have to feel good about where you are.

***. ***. ***

Sassolungo Massif

The Sassolungo Massif.

We decided to jump right in and tackle the harder walk. What seems to really differentiate the walks is the amount of elevation gain and looss, especially gain. The harder walk would take us about 9 miles starting and ending at our hotel through the northern and western, reletive to the villages in the Gardena valley below, mountain slopes. We would gain and loose about 2,900 feet though hardly in equal meassure of distance. Contrast that with the easier walk which was, I believe, about 8 miles and gained 800 feet while descending about 2,900 feet. Our group of 16 people including HF leader Michael probably got moving just around 10:00. The morning had warmed up from a brisk mid-50s a couple of hours earlier to the mid-60s and the valley temperature was heading for a high in the mid-70s. All in all, fine hiking weather.

We started the walk by strolling the winding and steadily climbing streets of Selva. These paved roads and sidewalks are often remarkably steep and it was not all that long before we were well above the heart of the town as we passed through the outskirts of the village along route number 3. We left the paved paths after about 0.8 miles and began, still fairly steeply, what can be thought of as wide hiking paths and sometimes single lane dirt roads maybe a bit akin to a woods road. Though steep the paths were very well maintained. You ascend through forests that seemed to me rather quiet. I heard the sounds of insects but I don't think I really noticed much birdsong. If you were lucky you might hear off in the distance the tolling of a cowbell.

Now and then our path would pop us out onto short grassy steep slopes that would provide us with the big mountain views. I beleive many of these peaks are limestone and it is fascinating to watch them change color as the light changes. For example, the dominating, rather conically pointed peak of Sassolungo was craggily gray and white early on but later in the day well on its way to jet black. A lone small cloud seemed to hover over the peak throughout the morning.

Rifugio Jusc
Rifugios like this one (Rifugio Juac) are located throughout the moutnains. Sure they, and the chairlifts,intrude on the "natural" scene but then you could argue there ihas been little not impacted by human hands in Europe for centuries so perhaps it's just part of the world.
One thing that I continue to be amazed by are the mountain rifugios (Italian: rifugio; German: hutte) that pop up from time to time. While perhaps not all have places for people to spend the night they all seem to have thriving kitchens that serve hot and cold drinks and food. I know mountain roads criis-cross the region but it still seems odd that these places are here. Numerous small huts that are used by families as resort cottages abound and I guess are accessed by mountain road or snowmobile trail depending on the season. Surely people don't schlep large amounts of supplies to these small and large huts via the gondolas that run up and down the mountain slopes. We took our first half-hour or so break at Rifugio Juac and I suppose our second half hour break was taken about an hour later at a somewhat higher hutte (Gamsblutt, Ithink). I tried a radla (sp) , a shandy, which is beer mixed with lemonade. It won't be something I crave; I found it not very thirst quenching. This second hutte was near our highest point of elevation. We began descending not long after visiting it. Initially our descent was on a mountain road.. We saw a couple cyclists and a car going in each direction. The road is actually steep enough that taking small steps is quite adviseable. There are enough loose bits of rocks to make footing at times seem a bit slippery though realy it is more than adequate.

Mountain vista
We found a little grassy hillside that gazed down into the grassy valleys below for lunch. A small narrow path was here but to be honest I am not entirely convinced it was an offiical hiking path. It had more of the feel of something that had developed over the decades are an alternative to walking the road. But even if that was the case it was a fine, and quick, way to drop elevation down towards the valley floor. When we left our lunch spot some clouds had rolled in blocking the sun but the temperature was still around 66F. Our thighs burned as we walked down the path towards the sound of distant cowbells. Lo and behold we soon found a small herd of cows munching their way through a small alpine pasture. The only cows we saw the whole day. Earlier we spied a horse and mule and maybe a cow but that was it. Leaving the mountain farmstead behind we found a hiking path that steeply switched back and forth down towards the village of Santa Cristina. By this time we were heading pretty much southernly and dropping fast. In fact, I am confident that we did our descending far more quickly and in a far shorter distance than the ascending. I would not be surprised to find that the descent was done in half the distance the ascent was (i.e. 3 miles versus 6 miles - sure some level bits were in the hiking too but never very much). A bit after 14:00 with the temperature soaring to about 75F we arrived at the heart of Santa Cristina.

Santa Cristina cemetary
Castle Volkenstine
I think what struck us most about this village , later repeated in Selva, was how still and quiet it was. No people were out and about. No cats or dogs made their existance known. We saw a couple people in the church and that was it. We definitely saw more people in the mountains than the villages. Now it is true that the big parking lot we encountered somewhere between our lunch spot and the village was surprisingly full of vehicles so perhaps everyone was out in the mountains but it still seemed a bit peculiar to be in a village that was so seemingly devoid of life. The cemetary plot outside the church was interesting. While the village may have seemed unreasonably quiet there was no shortage of traffic on the mountain highway that runs through Gardena Valley. Our group would split up in the village with many deciding to trek to a gondola for a ride up and down before hiking the rest of the way back to Selva. Four of us decided that wasn't worth the extra walking and so struck out along the jogging/cycling path that was once an old railroad that connects Santa Cristina and Selva. It is about 2 miles and you gain a few hundred feet of elevation as you stroll down the modern paved path with views of the mountains to the north, south, and east. Not far off the path is Castel Wolkenstien which was the family seat I suppose for the family who gave Selva its Austrian name. It was just after 16:00 when Mom and I returned to the hotel and found Dad waiting for us (he had been feeling under the weather so had decided to return to the hotel not long after we started the walk). A good but tiring day and I know my thighs will be sore.

You can see all the photos for the first day here (11 Photos).

You can see our route here on EveryTrail.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Verona, Italy - September 2012 (Days 1 and 2)

Parents and River Adgive

The River Adgive bisects Verona seperating the old town from the new to some degree. Unlike some places we have been it seemed like the riverbanks here sported airly minimal activity. No wide promenades with cafes with outdoor tables were noticed. Nor did we see any kind of river traffic. Just meandering water.

Our flights from Boston to Verona were uneventful complete with pretty poor airline food and mind numbing monotonny of modern flight. Sure, we had movies aplenty to pick from but I must say that I found watching the action-filled Avengers rather a lackluster experience. I know it is a small screen on the back of the seat and the audio is beyond poor so I suppose allowances must be made. We zipped through customs and passport ontrol in Munich, seemed far easier than similar times in Frankfurt, and had a pretty short wait before boarding our puddle jumper prop plane for the quick trip to Verona. Everything went perfectly - no luggage was lost. We arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Treste, around 13:00.

It was a wonderful afternoon with a hazy blue cloudless sky and temperatures in the mid-80s. We dropped our stuff off in our rooms and immediately set out to do a bit of exploring of our surroundings. There was no reason to hang around the hotel . We quickly found our way to the Arena. This is a 2,000 year old Roman amphitheater that is in very good condition. The outer wall is all but gone but we were given to understand that the inside is in fine shpae. The place seats somewhere around 20,000 people on a combination of red metal seats that are remarkably comfortable for stadium seating and above those circling the ascending stone walls are the long marble benches that have been worn smooth over the millenia. When you sit on those seats you can't help but wonder what sorts of performances took place ages ago. Certainly gladiatorial fights took place but I expect less violent events took place too. I would have enjoyed taking in a show but while some sort of modern musical was being performed Friday night it was sold out.

We continued our exploration into numerous pedistrian streets lined with shops of all types. Many of the shops are quite high-end but at the same time you will find cafes , restaurants, gelateria, galleries, and more throughout the shopping districts. Often times you walk into small courtyards that are home to pleasing cafes or perhaps a small church or remarkable tower. While their is an old-world feel to many of these places we never really encountered the cramped streets and passageways you would find in say Seville.

One thing that surprised us was that we saw seemingly little activity along the banks of the River Adgive. This light green-tan wide and reasonably quick river winds forociously through the city. I recall in Granada that the river was lined with cafes, shops, and wide walkways. Here that did not seem to be the case. Now and then a cafe would have a few tables that would afford a river view but you never seemed to find a promonade. We would walk along a narrow sidewalk and/or street for a short ways before having to leave the water's edge. Nor did we ever see any kind of traffic on the river itself beyond a few ducks. Very strange.

Castelvecchio rooftop
A view from one of the rooftop walkways of Castelvecchio.
Our wandering would take us to Castelvecchio which was iniitally built as a military castle some 700 years ago. It remained such for the builk of its life though I imagine it had little to do for much of that time. In 1954 Carlo Scarpa was commissioned to restore the castle to its original medieval appearance and by all accounts he did a fine job. The views from the rooftop out across the river are quite nice and the frescos you can see inside the museum are interesting. It is not a particularly large castle. In fact as I type this I find myelf wondering just how many men-at-arms could be garrisoned there.

Our initial exploration was bounded by our hotel to the west, the Arena to the south, and the river to the east and north (it makes some big ox-bow curves) and we enjoyed our afternoon quite a bit. But we all felt the need for a little comfortable rest before tracking down dinner so we only spent about 2.5 hours roaming. we never found a proper sit-down lunch so settled for a slice of thick but light crusted pizza ladened with a variety of vegetables and cheeses with very little sauce. It was filling enough. In most respects I suspect we would all agree that the slice and the gelato cones we all had were actually tastier than the dinner we had later on. It wasn't a bad meal but it won't stand out much either especially given its price. Maybe it would have been a bit better if we hadn't been regaled by some strange oratation from the big stage just outside of the Arena (which was being dismantled the next morning) by a couple fellows who were doing goodness knows what. It didn't seem like a comedy act nor did it seem like a two-man play. I am not even sure it was a real conversation - it felt like rambling monolouge but then since I am not fluent in Italian what do I really know. It was bothersome.

Friday would be our one full day in Verona and we got it started not long after the staff of Hotel Trieste began serving breakfast. The dining room of this hotel is nicely laid out with a handful of white linen draped small tables spread out in a modest sized room. A couple of larger table sport the breakfast items which include an assortment of breadds, meats, cereal, fruits, juice, and coffee and other hot drinks. If you want an esspreso style drink you can get that. If you would like eggs with your meal that is available too. Everything was fresh and in good supply. Compared with some of the other breakfasts at other hotels we have stayed to say nothing of some of the huge buffets that had quantity but not always quality Trieste lays out a wonderful meal. We left for our day of walking well sated.

Verona Arena
It is hard to get a real sense for the size of the Arena. It can hold 20,000 people. While i expect the view is likely beter from the red metal seats I think the experience sitting high on one of the marble benches would be better. You would certainly have a better sense of what the Romans may have felt like watching events two thousand years ago.
I've already talked about the Arena and this morning we really explored it more completely. I found myself trying to imagine walking through the corridors of stone with their 60-70 foot ceilings a couple thousand years ago. I expect if they were lit at all it was with some form of torch light though their is no sign of where torches would have been placed today. I also found myself wondering what the halls must be like where gladiators, Christians, beasts, and I expect occassional actors were like. What was a dressing room 2,000 years ago like? You don't get to walk into areas (if they exist) behind the stage. It is entirely possible that the accoustics in this great amphitheater are not all that special; maybe nothing better than what you could expect at any sports stadium of today but surely they must be at least a cut above nothing so people in the bleacher seats (those marble benches) could hear what was going on. I wish I knew.

Streets of Verona
One thing that caught our attention wadnering through the streets was the use of variously colored bricks in building fascades like this.
We left the Arena to go explore in greater detail what we had sampled the day before. Right away we found something new. Verona, like most cities, has places where people set up to do street performances. We never found musicians plying their trade waiting for people to toss money into a guitar case. Instead we found many people doing various types of mime; the human statue seems particularly popular. But what really took our breath away was one fellow sitting on a corner near the Arena all dolled up in pink, sitting inside what was clearly meant to be a pink stroller. He was making sounds you woulld expect to hear from an infant. Wailing, crying, cooing. I don't think he could possiblly have been using his own voice to create those sounds but they sure sounded like the real thing. The emotional import was definitely present. He waved his hands about imploring the crowd to toss coins into a container and he responded with infantile glee when that was done. He also would tend to , and we aren't sure how, sneak a pinch in if a lady stood next to him to play momma to his baby. A slightly lecherous baby I suppose but it never failed to raise a laugh from the onlookers. What a remarkable gig. We saw another man doing something similar later in the day but his act didn't hold a candle to the baby-in-pink.

Lambert I Tower
A climb up the 368 steps of Torre Lamberti is worth it if you want to get a view of the city from on high. The level directly below the peak of the tower is really the place to soak in the view as it is not obstructed. The topmost platform, perhaps 50 or so steps higher , has windows with quite a bit of screening and bars that get in the way of seeing anything. If you aren't willing to climb all the steps you can ride an elevator (takes about 45 seconds; at least that was how long the descent was) up and avoid about 250 steps.

We continued wandering around eventually finding ourselves ready for lunch and finding a nice place to eat with a lovely courtyard seating. The salads and pasta dishes we had were quite good and the atmosphere was prefect. Sure we were the only ones present for most of our meal but we suspect that was only because we setled in for lunch at least an hour before most people seem to eat. Certainly eateries seemed to be much busier closer to 14:00 than 12:30.

One thing we all enjoyed seeing was the ways building fascades changed. This was particularly obvious with several of the churches like St. Anastasia and the Duomo and Zino buildings. The brick work is wonderful. Patterns are created using light and shadow as well as different levels of relief in the structure of the walls themselves. It turns an otherwise dull stone building into something with zest and life and perhaps even a bit of whimsy. Toss in crenonations on medieval walls and you have numerous doses of interesting achitecture to capture ones eye. All of this can be found in an area that is very walker friendly.

We spent several hours strolling about, dipping into a gallery here , a store there, wandering a small grassy park over there (the far side of the river). All in all the time went by quickly and we found the day easily slipping into afternoon before we worked our way back to the hotel for a respite before dinner. Dinner was definitely much better our second night. We found a place in a piazza by Torre Lamberti. Our meal was worth the wait. Walking back afterwards it was clear that the city had become much more active. Perhaps a fair bit of that can be attributed to the masses heading into the Arena but I have no doubt that Verona must have a decent nightlife even though we never really took part in it.

You can see all the Verona photos here (9 photos).


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Great Lakes Hikes November 2012 Gathering

Autumnal Forest Light

One thing I particularly like about fall is the quality of the light you can often find dancing upon the forest leaves. THis is true even when, as is usually the case by this time, the leaves are completely off the trees. Add in the child-like joy everyone seems to get by shuffling through the piles of leaves on the forest floor and the magic of this season can only grow.

For the past 14 years the Great Lakes Hikes email group (hosted over on Yahoo Groups here) has gotten together the weekend before firearms deer season for a couple days of autumnal fun. We settled in at the Birch Grove Schoolhouse and spend the weekend hiking eating, chatting, playing games, and generally having a grand old time. As a bonus the Gathering, as it is known, tends to fall on a couple GLH members' birthdays which always adds a tiny bit of zest to the annual event. This year just under 20 people managed to attend the event and while we may have had one of our shortest hikes ever on Sunday I think it is fair to say everyone came away from the weekend having thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The overall vibe of the event combined with exceptional weather to make this year's Gathering one to remember. People come from all over the Lower Peninsula. While GLH has members that live in the UP it's understandable why they might not want to make the long trip to attend the Gathering. After all, for those of us coming from the Detroit or Saginaw areas it is well over a 3 hour drive to reach the Schoolhouse located not far from White Cloud, Michigan in Newaygo County. but for many of us this has become a traditional annual event where we can renew friendships and enjoy the company of people who share similar interests and pleasure in spending time outdoors. People start arriving Friday evening and by the time John and I drove up to the Schoolhouse a roaring campfire was burning and people were surrounding it totally immersed in the merriment that can't ever be far away when you sit around a blazing fire with other good people. It was a love evening, unusually warm, and though the weather forecast had suggested an 80% chance of rain it sure did not seem at all likely that would materialize any time soon. Their is something special about a campfire. People gravitate towards one. It happens even when the people are strangers to some degree and the pull is considerably stronger when the group know each other. We settled in around the fair-sized blaze for several hours of chit-chat. I wish I had brought more chocolate chip cookies and maybe I should have brought out the knockwurst and buns that night for general consumption. November 2012 Campfire

This was a good-sized though far from Government-issue (10 FBET points for those who understand the reference) fire. More than enough to keep us cozy, perhaps even a bit too hot, as we sat about the fire and talked into the small hours of the morning. Left to right: John, Jim, and Paul.

I think this may well be the first Gathering where nobody slept inside. The majority of attendees pitch tents or tarps in the spacious backyard. Somehow we all seem to find ourselves using more or less the same locations in that general area year after year. Perhaps we sleep outside because we want to feel closer to the external world. Perhaps we do it so we can ensure we get the most sleep because people will likely be milling about the single room of the Schoolhouse until rather late and, likely worse, moving about getting breakfast ready very early. Sleeping outside is quieter. But some folks don't want to bother with the hassle of setting up a camping spot. Perhaps this year some people were influenced by their children to sleep outside. If so, way to go kids. I was not one of the earliest risers. Having gone to sleep at about 01:00 I began pulling myself together for the day about 7 hours later walking into the Schoolhouse a little after 08:00. The morning was overcast and warm. I found many, though not all, people moving about getting food. As expected we had a wide variety of food to pick from. I soon noticed that the cookies I brought were all but gone. I was lucky to snag one for myself. If only the pies I brought got consumed with equal abandon. Breakfasts at the Gathering are always a lazy affair. However, I think we actually got ourselves sorted out for the various hikes of the day a bit more quickly than usual. We settled on three distinct hikes that all used the same general area of North Country Trail. The shortest and longest hikes would both start at the Lake and Newaygo County border (96th Street) North Country Trail trailhead. The short hike, about 3.5 miles, would end at the northern end of the section of NCT that Andy, John and I maintain. The longest hike would continue on through our section and then go an additional couple of miles to South Nichols Lake just north of 11 Mile Road for a total distance of about 11.5 miles. The middle distance hike trekked through the section of NCT that we maintain (16 Mile to 13 Mile Road) covering a bit more than 6 miles of rolling hills. With one thing and another cars were dropped off at 3 locations and the bulk of the group who were doing the longest and shortest hikes were putting our feet on the ground just before 11:00. It was overcast but warm. The forest was quiet except for the inevitable crunching of leaves. No one can resist shuffling their feet through leaves when deep piles of leaves present themselves. Next to the leaf shuffling sound the loudest sound in the forest was the jingling of Capone's bell. While the humans of the group will hike a bit more than 11 miles I am confident Capone, a dog of who knows how many breeds, no doubt put on considerably more miles boundeng about having a good time. Capone and Highbanks LakePaul and Abbey November 2012Zingermans versus Ken

We tend to spread out during these hikes. It caused me a bit of confusion a couple of times as I wondered when we would have our actual lunch. I think most everyone had their "official" lunch before we got to Highbanks Lake but I held off until we got to the lake.

Part of the joy of these hikes can be found in the walking through the forest taking time to chat about whatever comes to mind. Sometimes though you find yourself hiking through a section of land where you can have a bit more fun exploring off-trail. This happened both days for us with chances to explore the rather drier than usual wet areas that lay alongside the NCT in several places. Some of these places sport some wonderful flora including tamerac trees, button bushes, and pitcher plants. Jim and Bethany did particularly well finding such things.It's too bad I did not get any real good pictures to share but I was concentrating a bit too hard on ensuring I didn't step into a deep wet spot. We found more such places along the NCT connector trail to Diamond Lake on Sunday. NCT moist-landsNovember 2012 Rest Stop High Above a Swamp November 2012

The panorama is a moist-land area just off the NCT. A little further south between Leaf (just southwest) and Walkup Lakes just east of Alger Avenue was a fine resting spot for me, Jim, Paul, Abbey and Capone. The bottom photo shows Andy carefully walking across the log that runs above a swamp not far from Diamond Lake.

Saturday was a fine hiking day. Sunday was even better. I ended up not taking many pictures which is a little bit silly given the quality of the day. Sure our hike on the connector trail was probably the shortest Sunday hike e have ever done during a Gathering but I don't think many people really minded. We relished our time sitting on the beach being buffeted by the wind alongside Diamond Lake. Nigel stole much attention with imagined games of stick ball with many of the kids-at-heart adults. Those of us who didn't get sucked in just relaxed enjoying the late Idian Summer weather. The Gathering is about the hiking to be sure but it is more about the people who gather. When we aren't hiking we are spending time with each other chatting about whatever comes to mind; chowing down on the truly staggering amounts of food that are contributed to dinner and breakfasts; enjoying the campfires; playing games either real or imagined; and so on. This year we were blessed with superb weather and were fortunate enough to also have people with varied enough tastes to make the entire weekend memorable.