Saturday, January 30, 2010
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.