About Me

I am a 45 year husband and dad, currently adjusting to life back in the United States after living in Italy for a little over two years. I love spending time with my family, cycling, model railroading, mosaics and watching TV and movies.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Weekly Count

41 Week Gelati Count: 193
41 Week Wine Bottle Count: 47


We woke up to a chilly Sunday morning in Bolzano. After packing up, we went downstairs for breakfast then checked out and took our luggage to the car. The hotel management was nice and let us keep our car in their garage for the day.

Hotel Feichter

Our plan was to explore Bolzano, even if it was a very quiet Sunday morning. We decided to ride up on the cable car to Overbozen. The Renon/Rittner lift was only a few blocks from our hotel. Its a new and very modern gondola that whisks you to the top of the tourist town of Oberbozen in about 10 minutes.

Cloudy view of the Dolomites from the Renon/Rittner gondola.

Train that funs along the ridge, connecting several villages

A happy boy

Mountain views from Oberbozen

The most modern bell tower and church we have seen in Europe

It was very cold at the top, so we kept moving. We walked around town a little bit then headed back to the gondola for the ride back to Bolzano.

Looking down on Bolzano. The old city is on the right, railyard straight ahead.

Yep, we're still in Italy, where you can park on the sidewalk if there aren't any spaces available.

We wanted to visit the South Tirol Museum of Archeology, so we walked through the old town to find it. What an excellent museum. We have been to many archeology museums since we've lived here and appreciate the importance of the displays. But, at most museums it gets a little dull when you are looking at room after room of broken pottery, tools and random pieces.

This museum did a wonderful job of making their displays interesting. There are informative displays, models and video demonstrations that take you from the Paleolithic era to the Roman period and into the Middle Ages.

The highlight of the museum is Otzi the Ice Man. His frozen body was discovered high on the Italian/Austrian border by some German hikers in 1991. Experts initially thought he was a lost hiker, but soon realized that he was actually a 5,300 year old nearly perfectly preserved man with clothing and gear. You can see all of this, including his body (which is kept in a temperature controlled room).

It was lunchtime, so we made out way to a Cinese restaurant we had spotted earlier, stopping along the way to take pictures.

Candy roses, all ready for Saint Valentine's Day.

The Cathedral, with its glazed tile roof is typical of the Germanic world. The church was flattened in WWII (the downside of being so close to the train station).

Piazza del Grano/Kornplatz

Example of Italian and German street signs

Bolzano train station

We had a great weekend. The Dolomites are a region we hope to return to this summer, to see the other season in the mountains.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sledding on Alpe di Siusi

This video is from our second run down the mountain. After the first few hundred meters, I decided to pull my camera out and see what video we could get. This video covers about 2/3 of the 2km course. What a blast!!

Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm)

View from our hotel room. The Feichter Hotel is located in the heart of the old city of Bolzano.

We started our day with breakfast in the hotel bar, included in our stay. It was the typical European spread of cheeses, meats, cereals, yogurt, juices, croissants, etc.

This is a very interesting region of Italy. It is a bicultural region, with an heavy emphasis on German. Most locals speak German first. Many wish this region was still part a part of Austria. In the Middle Ages this region was very much a part of the northern cultures. But, after losing WWI, Austria's South Tirol became Italy's Alto Adige. Many hoped that Hitler would 'liberate' them from Italian rule, but that would not happen as long as Hitler and Mussilini were allies. Residents were disappointed once again after WWII when the Allies decided to keep the region under Italian control.

Today the region is a mix of Italian and German culture. Most street signs are posted in Italian and German. In recent years the region has enjoyed a bit for autonomy due to measures written into the 2001 constitution. To make locals happy, the Italian goverment has also given economic breaks that make it one of Italy's riches areas.

Today we headed to Alpe di Suisi, Europes largest high-alpine meadow. The valley is 8 miles wide and 20 miles long, at 6500 ft. In the sunny summers the valley is dotted with wildflowers, hikers, mountain bikers and dairy cows. In the sunny winters - skiers, cross country skiers, families sledding and sleigh rides.

We had to drive about 30 minutes up into the mountains to reach Siusi/Seis. Here, we were able to catch the Seiseralm Bergbahn cable car up to the Alpe di Suisi.

The Schlern Mountains. You can see the cable cars that we rode up to the Alpe.

The Dolomites are Italy's rocky rooftop of the Alps. Dolomite is sedimentary rock similiar to limestone, which gives the mountains their distinctive shape and color. They were first written about by French geologist Dolomieu.

The Schlern mountains, at the head of the Alpe di Siusi. These mountains scared ancient peoples enough that legends of supernatural forces were passed through the region.

At the top is the village of Compatsch. We wandered around the village a bit enjoying the fresh mountain air, the sunny skies and all the snow. What a gorgeous valley.

What a beautiful view. Looking across the Alpe di Suisi at the Sasso Lungo mountains.

Looking down into the valley

Kiddie ski school

King of the snow drift

More pictures from the Alpe

These horses were beautiful and fascinating to watch. Every once in awhile they would run, play and even roll in the snow. We read in a brochure that they are used for sleigh rides.

More Dolomite pictures

This ski village is very interesting in several ways, mostly due to differences from resorts we have seen the US. First off, its not just for skiing. You can hike, sled, and ski, all from the same lifts. Many of the ski runs have groomed 'walking paths' right next to ski runs. You can walk up to any lift and hop on to reach hiking areas higher up the mountains. You can also rent sleds. Many of the slopes also have sled runs. These runs can be very steep and exhilerating, sometimes crossing ski runs and hiking paths. All of these activities coexist on the same mountains. Its fabulous.

Music on the mountain

The other difference we noticed concerns the lifts. You can walk up to any lift and buy: a one time lift ticket, a mult point lift ticket (each lift has point values and you use the ticket accordingly), half day and full day passes.

Brandon saw the kids sledding on the small hill outside the lodge and really wanted to rent a sled. We thought it would be fun, so we did. The rental shop is where we realized that you can sled down specific runs from the top of the lifts. The sleds are two rail metal or wood frame designs. They are fast!! The rental was only 8 euro for the day. We ended up renting a sled for two and headed down to the lifts.

The lift we chose was unique. It had the usual chair lift seats, but every 5th or 6th was a gondola for hikers and sledders. We bought a one ride pass and rode to the top. Wow, what a view! About 20 meters from the lift is the beginning of the sled run. HOLY ?!?!! The first part of the run was steep!! We were nervous about what we had gotten ourselves into. There was a hiking path to the bottom of the first drop and Brandon chose to meet me at the bottom. I sat on the sled and stood up...sat on the sled and stood up. I'll admit, I was nervous. To top it off, I had some hikers at the bottom waiting with cameras. In the end I was a wuss and walked down.

Photo by Katrina

Katrina stayed up top while we took off from a less steep section. This would later prove to be not all that steep afterall. As we took off down the run I realized that we were not dressed properly for this. We both had shoes and jeans on. You brake and stear with your feet...when you do this snow flies up your pant legs. Oh, but what fun it was!! This particular sled run was a little over 2 km long.

We cruised down, then stopped behind a couple who were taking a quick break. While skiers are not allowed on the sled runs, and sleds are not allowed on the ski runs, it was interesting to cross ski runs a few times. You really have be aware of whats going on around you.

We quickly figured out why the couple had stopped. The next section was very steep and twisted along a ridge and through the trees. (Honestly, this is probably why these don't exist in the US. Unfortunately, it would be a lawsuit on a silver platter!) We cruised down the mountain, sometimes on the very edge of control. About 3/4 of the way down the sled run crossed over a slalom ski course and they were running races. There was a stop sign and a ski patrol member to direct us across between racers.

We were so thrilled at the bottom, from the fun and for making it down alive, that we called Katrina and told her we were buying lift tickets to do it again.

This time we started on the steep beginning of the run and it was not big deal. We were 'pros' now and used our brakes much less. Katrina took pictures of us on the first drop, then a few hundred meters down the run we stopped and took out my camera to video the ride. Check in out on the next blog post.

Photos by Katrina

Our second run was much faster than our first. By the time we hit the bottom we were frozen. Our pants were literally frozen solid. Katrina rode down on the lift and we all headed to lodge to return the sled and warm up.

It was a fabulous day in the snow, but we were tired and cold, so we hopped on the gondola down the mountain. Brandon had dry socks and shoes to change into at the car. I had to suffer for the rest of the day.

Frozen jeans and feet - photo by Katrina

Heading back down the mountain

We wanted to check out the village of Castelrotto, and we were hungry. Castelrotto is just down the road from the cable car station. It is a small town of 2,000 inhabitants. It is a village with a magnificent bell tower and a thousand years of history.

The bell tower stands at 250 ft. It was once attached to a church, which burned down in 1753. Today it is free standing.

View of the Schlern mountains from Castelrotto

We had trouble finding a place that was open for lunch, so we wandered the streets until we finally spotted a pizzeria. Castelrotto was a very quaint town, but very dead in the late afternoon. No one was out and all the shops were still closed for the lunch break.

The Schlern Witch. Today she is a symbol of the area. In days gone by she was the cause of many medieval townwoman's fiery death. In those days this area was the 'Salem' of this part of Europe. Women who did not fit in the norm were burned as witches.

Mendel Haus, with frescoes painted in 1886.

On the way down the mountain we spotted this castle and decided to check it out up close. The road up to it was single lane on the mountain side with 28% grade in spots - photos by Katrina

We were pretty tired this evening. We ended up relaxing in the room for awhile, then went strolling through Bolzano for a little while. Brandon spotted a toy store, so we had to check it out. We found some great Lego sets, and ended up buying a Lego game - Creationary. Its kind of like Pictionary, but with Legos. We spotted the Lego games this past summer while in Germany. I guess they will be coming out in the US sometime in 2010. Brandon had fun going down the slide. They had a slide from the first floor to the basement level that ended in a ball pit.

Since there wasn't much open and we ate a very late lunch, we picked up some cheese and crackers at the supermarket. I also picked up some California rolls. We ate dinner in the room and relaxed before going to be tired from a busy day.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Dolomites Bound

Brandon was up at 6am this morning working on the new Lego set he bought yesterday. Katrina woke up a bit later, then woke me up at the normal 7:45am wakeup time.

It's Friday! Katrina walked Brandon to school then walked across the street for a hair appointment. Once she was home, I drove her to work, then I stopped on the way home to get my haircut. Lots of hair cutting going on in Italy!

This afternoon I worked on cleaning up the house and getting our gear packed for a weekend in the Dolomites.

I was just looking at the exchange rate - 1.39. It hasn't been that good since July. In December it peaked at 1.52. That is so great for us. We are getting so much more bang for the buck...or euro.

I picked up Brandon at school, then we headed to ST for Katrina. We were on the highway by 4pm and heading east towards Verona, then north into the mountains. It was dark by the time we cruised through Verona, so we didn't get to see much of the Alps.

We arrived in the town of Bolzano around 7:30pm and found our hotel, the Hotel Feichter. We found this hotel in our Rick Steve's Italy book, and it is a great place.

Our room

After checking into our hotel, we reparked our car in the hotel parking garage. We had dinner at the hotel. The restaurant was officially closing, but they made dinner for us anyway. Katrina and I enjoyed schnitzel with some fantastic potato salad. Brandon has some pasta with meat sauce.

The town seems to close early, so we called it a night and relaxed in our room.