Friday, September 21, 2012

A Glimpse of Venice

Gondolas on Venitian canal
We took an early morning vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal towardsd 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.

I will have much more to say about our trip to Venice soon but I thought I'd share some photos now. Venice is greatly affected by the water that surrounds and infiltrates her geography. The water affects how they have built things and how Venetians move through their lives. The. canals make the city attractive. The light that strikes the canals is integral to this.

Venitian canal at dusk
I strongly suggest, as do guidebooks, taking a water bus (vaporetti) 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.
Venice before a rain near Pietro di Castello
It was not always sunny. One day, in particular an afternoon, saw overcast skies. The leaning tower in the background may be tthe bell tower for San Pietro di Castello.
Rain in Venice
During the rain storm that lasted close to two hours we settled in for an exceptionally long lunch at AAcqua Pazza with some friends. For us a meal lsating an hour is lengthy but the rain kept us under the canopy and true to Italian form the restaurant was in no hurry to free up our table (i.e., kick us out). I had wondered earlier how well the paving stone sidewalks would drain as I saw no sign of gutters or drain grates. WHen we finally left the paving stones were wet but not flooded. I suppose the walkways slope slightly towards canals and maybe I just never saw any drain grates. The walks were also still easy to walk upon - not slippery.
Morning in Venice
One nice thing besides spying interesting views about a morning ride and/or walk along the canals is you get a chance to see the city come to life. Boats are dropping people off everywhere. They are also dropping off or picking up stuff up. Once material is off a boat it is moved through the streets, no matter how narrow, by people either working alone or in pairs pushing and pulling dolleys of carefully balanced items. Many of these dolleys have special little wheels in front that are meant to be hefted up each step of an arched bridge to aid in getting the loads from one side of a canal to the other. It must be a tiring job.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Snow in Gardena Valley

Parents in the snow
We spent a good bit of time on a ridge that undulated around the 2,150 meter mark. Now and then we dipped below treeline which was particularly pretty.
Our free day, September 12, was a bit dreary with on and off again rain in the morning and especially afternoon. Clouds were pretty low so views from above the valley floor were all but nil. I suppose the weather made my minestrone soup at the mountain refuge at the upper terminus of the funicular (call it 2,100 meters elevation) more enjoyable but a view of something other than clouds would have been nice. We spent a good bit of time wandering around the town of Ortisei and then a fair bit of time just hanging about the hotel in Selva. This is all to give you a sense of the change in the weather. Snow was forecast for that evening and snow is what we got. Now, keep in mind that it can snow up high and do nothing or at most rain down low. That is what happened. The snow line was probably just over 2,000 meters but probably not quite 2,100. The higher you would go the more snow there would be. We planned to reprise the hike Mom had done Tuesday which spent much of the time contouring along a ridge with several fine views across the Gardena Valley. The official walks were either too much or too little as far as we were concerned.
The snow line was not that far below the upper terminus of the funicular. Where we spent much of our day, around 2,150 meters, snow was a couple inches deep on the slopes. The hiking paths were clear.
Funicular view
From the funicular we passed over the snow line not long before reaching the upper terminus. Today you can see Ortisei as the cloud ceiling is much higher.
The mountain hutte is not far from the funicular (to the east). A s all church, not shown, is not that far west of here.

We had a couple of inches of snow on the ground to either side of the hiking paths we would follow. I don't know what kept the paths so clear. It is true paths that get trafficked seem warmer and maybe they get a bit of shelter from the surrounding ground being just that fractionally bit higher. Whatever the reason our paths were almost all clear except for a few icy patches near the start of the day. The snow gave everything a fairyland winter feel to it. The temperature was around 40 throughout the walk with frequent stiff winds to give a substantial windchill. We were all comfortable with what we had to wear. Plenty of other people were also comfortable; the downside of the walk - crowds. We did feel a bit pressed at times which is a bit of a shame. Still it was a very fine day to wander the ridges above and below snow and tree lines. While we did not see the abundance of animal life Mom saw Tuesday (just one group of sheep) we had a fine four hours hiking the 8 miles. We spent more time in Ortisei before calling it a day. I ended the night joining others for a brass band (the Big Grass Band of Selva) concert. Not bad at all.

Mountain cabin
What a difference a day can make. The only snow around this mountain cabin above the Edelweiss Valley is what you see melting off the steep roof. I expect we were around the 2,100-2,150 meter elevation mark and even at the start of the morning on Friday morning at 10:00 around 2,300 meters the snow was all but gone.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Halfway in the Dolomites

Sasso Lunga seen from Rifugio Juac
Sassa Lungo dominates the surroundings and changes color throughout the day. Here, late morning it seems black and forbidding as seen from the grassy slopes near the mountain hut called Juac.

We are at the halfway point of our time here in the Gardena Valley of the Dolomites and I thought I would share some thoughts about the trip so far. Lets start with some simple superlatives: the scenery has been grand, the weather great, the hotel superb, the food sublime, and the group very good.

Selva is one of many small town in this part of the mountains. It, like its neighboring villages, really thrives when winter comes and the skiers appear. Hotels abound. Now at the tail end of the walking season things are much quieter but the things we have seen here in Selva and her neighboring towns of San Cristina and Ortisie (sp) strike us as remarkable. The towns are clean, clearly well cared for, and there is a sense of pride that is hard to miss. When you toss in the incredible engineering that is on display with all the chair lifts, gondola of various sizes (from the Coffin Lift that squeeze two people into phone booth sized coffins to 50 person shuttles that look like they should be flying into space), funiculars, and more you can't help but marvel at the impact people have had on this area. It is a pronounced impact and yet it doesn't feel nearly as intrusive as it could. Sure there are scores of wonderful rifugios dotting the mountains serving all sorts of food and , I think, often providing some overnight facilities. Often these mountain huttes are built into places that seem awfully inaccessible. For instance Demetz Hutte sits in a notch of rock at about 2,600 meters at the terminus of the Coffin Lift and a pretty steep set of paths on either side of the pass it resides in. Add to all this the fact that a lot of the mountain slopes have their grass cut somehow, in preparation for making good ski trails, and the impact people have becomes ieven more impressive. And yet, though the impact is there so is the natural grandeur of these mountains.

Mom, heading the Rifugio Vincenza
This proved a well travelled hike. It also had some of the most varied scenery from woods to scree fields.

From a place like Ciampenie you can gaze out across the rolling mountains and see mountain hamlets, massive rock formations like Sasso Lungo or Mount Pick (sp) and catch the jingle-jangle of cowbells on the breeze as small herds move about. You can walk well maintained, though frequently fairly steep, trails that take you through mountain forests on moment and then through an alpine meadow that I am sure sometimes is full of wildflowers the next. If you are really lucky you might pass through a high alpine hamlet, yes a human abode, where a group of musicians carrying 10 foot long pipes with flared bells at one end regaled denizens of a cafe with airy horn music (changing the notes like a bulgar does by changine how they blow). And all the time you have big mountain views to gaze upon. It is majestic in its own way and I find that more impressive not less when you reailize just how much people influence the area.

A rocky trail
The steep trail between Vincenza and Demetz mountain huts.
Ken, ascending to Demetz Hutte.
This rocky ascent has to be one of the toughest portions of an HF hike we have ever done.
Demetz Hutte
To reach the Demetz Hutte (shown here) from Vincenza you climb switchbacks and then a rather rocky rough and quite steep trail some 400 meters in less than a kilometer.

We have done 3 walks so far. They have all been in the 8 to 9 mile range and had elevation gains and losses in the 2,700 to 3,000 feet range. Often the descent has happened far more quickly than the ascent. But sometimes, as was the case with the walking segment between Rifugio Vincenza and Demetz that ascending was very steep indeed (about 400 meters in about 1,500 meters of trail). Trails have been either what an American would consider a hiking path and typically in very good repair with good footing even when steep or single-lane mountain roads. At the start and end of walks you have to trek through towns and, of course, that means walking sidewalks and such which can be a drag. While, for example, the walk between San Cristina and Selva on an old railway grade that has been turned into a walking and cycle path is easy it is still a 2 mile drag after you have spent the day tromping through the mountains. Some of the walks we have done have been quite popular. Their were surprisingly large numbers of people, often in good sized groups, on the pretty strenuous walk that lead us to Rifugio Vincenza and up to Rifugio Demetz. While the walk that started with a gondola ride (the Seceda lift) from Ortisie and took us to the summitt of Mount Pick (sp) and then to the mountain hut Fereda was consierably less crowded. Usually you can feel as though you have the area to yourself.

Alpine horn players
We heard these fellows long before we saw them. Very special.

One last little note in passing should be shared. Our hotel, the Malleier (pronounced Ma-lay-ah) has been excellent. The rooms are comfortable, well appointed, and very well taken care of. The staff clearly care about the place. The food has been wonderful. We have a continental style breakfast that includes cereals, fruits, breads, meats, cheese, and more. It is ample and more than enough. Where they really shine though is at dinner time. We have several courses starting with a salad, then a couple appetizers, followed by the main dish, and a dessert. Everything has been delicious and very well presented. We had one evening of serious concern when the dessert was listed as "omelet surprise" and no one knew, or would admit to knowing, what that could be. Fortunately it had nothing in common with an omelet but was rather a merengue, ice cream, light cake, chocolate and berry sause confection that was delicious and totally squelched our desire to walk down into Selva to Cafe Monica for galato.

Dad, on the rolling path to Rifguio Fermeda
After descedning from Mt. Pick (sp) we found ourselves on rolling paths with grassy valleys spreading out below us and massive mountains rising in the distance.