The Cortina conspiracy

Well actually there’s no conspiracy.   I was just looking for a catchy headline.   But certainly Cortina was a surprise today.  A nice one.

There are really 8 different areas of Cortina.  Today’s plan was to ski one of the biggest areas called “the Tofana” then take the car back to a small area closer to Arabba called  – “the Cinque Torri” in the afternoon.

We had no high expectations for Cortina.  They have had less snow than any other Planet in the Dolomiti universe, the areas are not that well connected unless you are happy to use buses, food anywhere on the mountain is really expensive and John had told us that the lifts are really old and slow.

Sure, pretty much all of this is true, but on the other hand the ski runs at Tofana were excellent.  Long, long runs with good fall line and groomed piste in top condition.  We’re pretty expert at judging a piste by now as you can imagine!    It’s a super sunny spot to ski in the morning, but with the cold temperatures, the snow is still chalky and you can get a good grip on even the steepest black run.   There’s also heaps of runs that wind down through the trees, which we love.   The views are also spectacular!   All in all a really fun morning.

The resort does have a feature that I think should be available everywhere – the “Snita Station”.   We purposely rode this rickety old double chair just for the free tissues…just kidding.

All ski resorts should have one!
All ski resorts should have one!

After lunch, which yes, was the most expensive one we’ve had to date, we headed further up the pass towards the Lagazuoi where we were yesterday to discover a tiny ski area called the Cinque Torri. Named for 5 distinctive rock Tors standing together.   In fact I think there would have been six at one point in history.  It does look like one has taken a tumble or maybe it was bombed in WW1?

The “6-1 = 5” Rock Tors of the Cinque Torri

In reality in a half decent snow year, the skiable area of the Cinque Torri would be vast even though its only serviced by just 4 lifts, 2 of which are rickety old doubles.  But with only limited snow making here and mother-nature sending all her snow to the US and the NZ summer this year, there’s only a few pistes open.  Aaah but the potential.

Before heading out for our first run down the sunny side of the hill, we stopped by Refugio Scoiatolli.  We were charmed… even had a hot tub out in the snow overlooking the magnificent mountain vista.   We think we might try and book at night here after Rick & Liz leave in mid Feb.

The hot tub at R.Scoiattoli
The hot tub at R.Scoiattoli

And lastly a couple of serious contenders for our Ski Fashion Crime list.  I’m still thanking the Gods of “Decorum and Good Taste” that the gentleman in the right hand photo decided not to take matters further.

Another great day in Universe Dolomiti!   Tomorrow we are getting ready for our first visitors.   We drive to Venice on Thursday morning to pick up Hubert and Marie.  Only a morning of skiing tomorrow as there’s some house work to do first.   But to Graeme’s excitement a new Bosch washing machine has finally been installed downstairs.   Just 57 minutes for a full cycle!    He’s currently undecided what to do with all his new spare time.


The Lagazuoi

We tried to do this tour before Christmas but the cable car was closed for strong winds. But today, all systems are go!  Sun shining?  Check.  No wind?  Check. Feeling better? Check.

To get to the Lagazuoi Pass requires taking a series of connected chairlifts from Passo Campolongo and then a small shuttle taxi from a little town called Armentarola.  As with anything involving Italian driving, the shuttle bus was well and truly the most exhilarating part of the trip!

90km/hr up a narrow mountain road!!
90km/hr up a narrow mountain road!!

From Passo Falzarego you take a small (and a little rickety) cable car to the Lagazuoi at 2800m.  We were treated to incredible views in every direction, with choughas flying gracefully in the skies.   I love choughas.

There is a bit to do at the summit, but we were unsure how long it would take us to complete the run back to Armentarola.  There is another huge refuge just below the summit and a walk along the ridge to the very top, for what we figure will be even more breathtaking views.  There’s also a run down the south-east face of the mountain back to the cable car.  But Gra wanted to just get going to make sure we didn’t run out of time.   Just before leaving the cable car exit, we spotted a very distinctive pair of skis plastered in Treble Cone stickers.  We immediately knew John was in the vicinity.   We made a good search of the area but couldn’t locate him, hopefully he’d catch us up on the run.


Even though the track down was very narrow, it was a spectacular run through the steep sided canyon that runs NW down towards Armenterola.

As Graeme mentions in his little film, much of the landscape here was radically changed back in WW1 when the Italians attempted to take the Austrian held lands to the NW.  They were halted here by the Austrians and the high peaks of the Dolomiti.   Realising the futility of surface to surface attacks both armies began to excavate galleries and caverns in the mountain with the intent of blowing up their adversaries and fortifying their own positions.   The Austrians let off their biggest bomb here, and pretty much destroyed a whole peak, with the aim to send rocks raining down on the Italians below. Apparently the Italians knew it was coming and got out of the way!  Smart Italians.   Actually if you read the history a bit more, the Italians had probably deserted their position in favour of finding some food and warmth miles away.  This part of the Italian front line was severely under-provisioned and many troops actually starved or froze to death without firing a single shot.   The futility of war indeed.

Back to the light & fluffy world of today…we’re off to find coffee.  Along the way there is of course two places to stop for food or drink.  Of course we stopped at both, I mean it would be rude not to!


First coffee stop was the charming Rifugio Scotoni.  It was nearly midday but only -7C! Second coffee for the day.   Outside the Russian contingency were keeping warm externally by the fire and internally with the local grappa!

Continuing further down the piste, we caught up with John at the next refuge and joined him, his son, Steve and grand-daughter Gracie for lunch.   Following lunch we skied the last section of track to meet with the “Horselift”.    For €2.50 pp, you get to hold a long rope with a knot handle and have a horse sleigh pull you along a gentle incline back to Armentarola.  There were 2 ropes, with 10 handles on each side.   These strong horses were pulling along 40 people.  I wanted to film the experience but it was all a bit fraught with the number of people on the ropes behind.  Apparently if you fall off, they don’t stop and wait for you.  Before we started, John told us that he fell once and was literally skied over by the person behind him.  Hmmm, comforting thought?  So I decided discretion was the better part of valour in this instance.  The reality was that the speed was fairly slow and provided I was careful I probably could have shot some footage.  But I’m sure we’ll do this trip again and I’ll be ready.

What a fun day.  Full of breathtaking scenery, history, cute refuges and a fun “horselift” to end the day.  I think this is what our friends Jen & Stu were talking about when they were recommending we do a horse ride while skiing in the Dolomites.   We were a little perplexed about what they were referring to and had envisaged trying to sit astride a horse with our ski boots on….but now we know!

Very modern restaurant near the Vallon
Very modern restaurant near the Vallon – look at the view!

Yesterday we found another ultra modern bar to lounge about in.   It’s on the sunny side of the hill between Arabba & Corvara.  It also has a fancy restaurant and a view over Corvara to die for.  Just the place for an end of day Bombadino before we head back to the apartment and as Graeme has reminded me in a hushed and excited tone….”the new washing machine!”  Gotta love that man.



Back in the saddle again…e una nuova lavatrice

Well it’s been 7 days since we last skied.   Shock, horror!

But it’s a beautiful sunny day and slightly warmer, only about -2C during the middle of the day. And while it’s hard to imagine, today we found some new places to go in our own backyard of the Sellaronda.   We rode 3 new lifts and skied 4 runs that we hadn’t been on before.   The mind boggles.   We still have 3 other planets of Universe Dolomiti to visit before the end of February and we haven’t even been to Planet Cortina yet!

Today we headed up to the highest piste on the Sellaronda, the Vallon. We’re not quite sure why it’s taken us this long to ski this run as it’s actually quite close to Arabba.   The views from the top were breathtaking.

To our surprise, a little away from the ski-run is a large mountain refuge.   It does seem so incredible to see these permanent structures above 2500m.  This refuge is called  Utia F.Kostner and is only open in the summer.  Obviously hikers and climbers use it as a base.  Also attracting our attention is a huge gap in the canyon like walls of the Sellaronda.   We are thinking we might hike up to take a closer look as soon as we are back to peak fitness.

Huge crack in Sellaronda wall
Huge crack in Sellaronda wall

Next stop was to ride a couple of poma’s that had missed our hit list.  One of them is through the trees and is the lift for a favourite run of Graeme’s.   And then of course to lunch where we enjoyed the antics of a group of work collegues – they all had matching green jackets emblazoned with “Grundig”.    We are surprised at how many big groups of men we see on the slopes, especially from Germany and the Eastern European states like Czech Republic and Russia.  I wonder if their wives are with them but not skiing or they are on a “boys only trip”?

Nothing like the sun shining on your beer!
Nothing like the sun shining on your beer!
Lovely Chough decals on the window frames
Lovely Chougha decals on the window frames

Much excitement this morning before we left.   We were checking in with Gabi our lovely landlady to let her know that we had friends coming to stay on Thursday this week. It’s always a fraught interaction, mainly because she speaks, Ladin (the local language) first, German second and Italian third.   I have begged her “Per favore, parlare solo italiano!” Google translate has been our saviour.  But this morning she was excited to tell us that a new washing machine was being delivered.   “La lavatrice è “kaput”!!”   “No kidding?” We wanted to tell her about G’s trials and tribulations with the evil machine …but given our lack of Italian we just nodded enthusiastically!   “Bravo, signora, bravo!”

Mind Blowing Biathlon & fun Finns

It’s another sunny and frosty start to the morning. there any other type of weather in the Dolomites?

We are on our way to see a world cup biathlon in Antholz about 1.5 hours drive to the north of us. Graeme in particular has always been fascinated by Biathlon ever since he helped Dave Pickard build some target ranges for the Snow Farm. Studying the form guide for the athletes we were surprised to see very few Scandinavians. The sport actually seems to be dominated by German and French competitors.  We also learnt that the Biathlon has been around since the 1700’s!   Initially it was a primarily a military competition and it didn’t become a civilian sport until the 1950’s when the modern nordic format was adopted.

We had originally intended to go to this event yesterday, but we were still in the grip of Mr Lurgy.  It’s now Saturday and we are a bit concerned about the traffic. It’s always the worst day to be on the roads in the alps.  And…yup about an hour into the trip were stuck in a jam. Gina is predicting about a 7 min delay. We are starting to think that maybe we have under-estimated the crowds at a Biathlon.  There are about 50 buses in the queue ahead of us?

Fortunately Gina’s predicted delay was correct and it wasn’t long before we were on the road to Antholz. The stadium at Antholz is set in a picturesque valley whose end to the north is a pass over into Austria.  We really were not sure what to expect, but being a World Cup event, everything was super organised.  We were directed to a huge carpark (field) about 2km from the stadium and then jumped into a waiting bus to take us the remaining distance. We were were anticipating traffic chaos, but rather it was a demonstration of precision people moving.

We didn’t realise it at the time, but there will 25,000 people (yes 25,000!) at this event today.   Given our complete ignorance about the world popularity of biathlon and nordic sports in general we naively thought it would be a smaller crowd than the World Cup GS race we saw in La Villa. Tickets to the main seating area where you can see the rifle range, and start/finish lines were sold-out in August last year we were informed by the lady at the ticket office.  So we just bought a pass which entitled us to wander around the course.

Huge crowds
Huge crowds

It was now about 10:30am and the first race – the women’s  12.5km was not due to start until after 1pm.   We had experienced the chaos of the “food tent” at our previous GS World Cup event, so we thought we’d better eat early.  Predictably, the party was already in full swing in the beer tent!   The piano accordion is alive and well and “rockin'” in the Alps it seems.  Our band this morning is a real hit in the hills!  They had their own program on all the tables, advertising their upcoming gigs and all the CD’s you could buy of their music. I’m dying to know if my friend Guenter has heard of this band?   They had over 40 CD’s in their catalog!  Perhaps they use them in Guantanamo Bay to assist with terrorist interrogation??

Back out on the course, we found ourselves a good spot by the fence and near the big TV screen so we could see the athletes up close as well as watch the screen for the shooting.  As it happens, I saw a lone Finnish couple a little way from us waving their little blue and white flag.  There was a Finnish competitor Kaisa Mäkäräinen in the Women’s 12.5km race.   Now I figured that since we were surely the only ANZAC’s at the event, and this Finnish couple were also in the minority, it might be worth saying hello.  Also because their own language is not spoken anywhere else in the world,  Finn’s always speak English well.

Good bet.  A delightful couple.  We hit it off right away and spent the rest of the afternoon with them.  Ari & Arris were here for a long weekend. [ I’m not entirely sure I have their names was a little hard to hear over the commentary and crowd noise..hopefully they’ll make contact and I’ll be able to correct it.]   They live about 100km north of Helsinki and they are having their floors sanded back at home, which provided a good excuse to escape for the weekend to watch a biathlon.   They are nordic skiers at home and Ari has tried biathlon before, but as he explained…”the rifle range is impossible!…even when the guns are set in permanent rests I couldn’t hit one target”.

It turns out that where we had both chosen to stand was good for watching the practice circuit but not the race.  Poor Arris was desperate to see Kaisa.  Big tall Graeme and Ari did their best to “muscle-in” in through the crowd at the fence near the race course but with not much success. The best Graeme could do was use his height to try and take photos above the heads of the crowd.  But we had a cunning plan sorted by the time the Men’s 7.5 x 4 relay started.  During the break between races Gra found a good viewing spot and protected it for Arris until we returned from trying to buy some gluhwein.  An impossible task given the size of the crowd. But no matter, our Finns were interested to learn more about NZ and Australia and we also about Finland and we filled in the time between races in lovely conversation.

The Men’s relay turned out to be a very exciting photo finish between Norway and Germany with Germany making a desperate lunge for the line in the last possible second. It was thrilling.  For anyone who may like biathlon here’s the link to the race. It’s a german commentary but if you’re an enthusiast you can get the gist of it.  It’s certainly a race and an event that we will remember for a long time.

We were sad to say goodbye to our Finnish friends at the end of the day.  I have their email address and have sent them our photos from the day.  You never know, we might hear from them again.

Despite our dose of “P” wearing off, we have done remarkably well today.  We have been warm all day despite a top temperature of -5C (in the sun!!) and our head colds are getting better.    Time to put the skis back on tomorrow in Arabba.

Non è successo niente

Today.  Nothing happened.  Ditto for yesterday.

We’ve both come down with head colds.  Nothing serious, but our apartment is awash with tissues and the bottle of pure pseudoephedrine tablets that I wisely procured from my doctor before leaving Wanaka is taking a hammering.  Given the good side effects of “P” we’re not feeling that bad and we’ve managed to get out in the village for our morning coffee at 11am each day, returning for a light lunch in the sun on our balcony followed by a “nanna nap”.   Once awake again, in the evening, we cook a light dinner and watch a movie.  “Bridget Jones Baby” was surprisingly good, but tonight Gra is on the couch totally absorbed in his book “The Martian” by Andy Weir, which I just couldn’t put down and promptly finished in record time.  Seems like he’s similarly absorbed.

Balcony lunches
Balcony lunches

As I am typing this tonight, we are feeling much recovered after 48 hours of cocooning ourselves in our warm little nest.

Just a little note of thanks to all those who recently contacted us to find out if we were OK after the reports of an avalanche/ earthquake in central Italy.  It’s a big country and we’re a long way away from this area.  We can’t believe that Keiko & Al McLaughlin contacted us from Japan and Andrew Turnbull from South Africa…..our highly connected world is truly amazing.   Although, Andrew admitted that he just wanted to know if he needed to make a trip to NZ to pick up his wine.  [Gra has left Andrew our wine collection in his will. ]

Tomorrow we are planning to head north to see a World Cup Biathlon in Antholz near Brunico about an 1.5 hour drive to the north of us.   While the temperatures have warmed considerably since the beginning of the week, we have laid out all our warmest gear…we’ve got this winter clothing totally sorted now!   Just hoping that spectators are not drug tested like the athletes.  Our current “P” habit will be a problem.

Epic shopping fails, Bvlgari and back to Arabba.

We are sad to be leaving Verona.. our little city of love as my friend Leanne called it.

But having left the shopping duties to last, we had planned to spend the morning hitting the shops before driving back to Arabba.  The list:-

  1. Andy’s gorgeous leather ankle boots;
  2. Tiny bottle of travel perfume;
  3. A couple bottles of good Italian wine in preparation for our visitors next week.

Alas the day started with disaster….the boots I had fallen in love with in the shop window were the only pair they had left …a miniscule size EU36, I’m a 38-39.  Major disappointment. Did they have another store with other sizes?  Of course not!  They’re hand-made!    The saleslady did her best to interest me in their other ankle-boots, but alas I had given my heart only to this design and while I humoured the lovely lady, I couldn’t switch my affections….I didn’t fall in love with any other boots.   “Sigh”.    It seems like I’m fated never to buy a pair of boots in Italy.   I remember a lustful longing for a shiny pair of black patent leather boots in Livigno but just when I was about to buy them, I lost my ski gloves and the money I was going to use had to go to the essential gloves instead of the frivolous boots.   “Sigh”.

Next stop, the Veronese make-up & perfumeries shop.  This was hilarious.  Buzzing around the floor were an animated gaggle of highly made up young women (think “dolly birds” at the perfume counters of large department stores).   I wanted a very small bottle of perfume.  I have run out of the perfume I’d brought from home, but I didn’t want a big expensive bottle to replace it.  We were pounced on by one of the ladies who spoke rapid fire Italo-Anglo but seemed to understand what I wanted.  She was insistent that I come upstairs and try the new Bvlgari perfume range.  She liberally sprayed me with perfume and then grabbed the men’s scents and doused a poor unsuspecting Graeme.   We were floating in a cloud of vaporised Bvlgari and starting to feel a bit dizzy.   Finally, I got in a few words to explain that it all smelled lovely, but we were travelling and I wanted a very small “piccolo” bottle of perfume.  Even less than 50ml.   It was the saleslady’s turn to be disappointed.  She trudged back downstairs to a less glamorous section of the store.   Once there, she handed me a couple of tubes of perfume which were a perfect size, but she was obviously cross that she’d missed out on this week’s sales bonus on Bvlgari.  I felt a bit sorry for her and allowed her to talk me into a panda shaped green tea eye restoring stick (???).   Peering at me closely, she said I looked tired and could do with a more advanced eye treatment and maybe some very good light reflecting foundation. With that statement, she started to herd us back upstairs again.  Fortunately, a wary but sweetly smelling Graeme stepped in to politely say that he preferred my “natural” look and promptly dragged me away to the cashier.  I mean there’s only so long a man can cope with a full noise cosmetic store experience.

Phew!   Graeme could now enter his world.. the wine cave.  The friendly waiters at La Canonica restaurant had recommended a wine shop a short distance from the Arena.  Gra still had Rick’s list of good (and affordable) Italian reds and he was able to find them at a reasonable price here.  At least we had one shopping win!

We had checked out of the Accademia Hotel, so all we had to do was find Gino again.  It was a good decision to have marked his location in our Google Maps.  We just “clicked on his flag” and hey presto the phone led us to him.   Personally, I think Gino would have enjoyed his stop in the warm streets of Verona, compared to the -15C overnight temperatures that Arabba has been experiencing.

Back on the road, we stopped into a town near Trento called Rivereto.  There was apparently a very good shop for telemark gear here.   Alas we had forgotten Italian shopping hours!  We got there at 12:30 but the store didn’t open again until 3pm.   “Sigh! ” [from Graeme this time].   We didn’t want to be doing our two high snowy passes after dark so we just had a bite to eat for lunch and continued on to Arabba.

As far as shopping goes…Graeme and I are epic failures.  I’d even convinced Gra that since we’ve purchased ski boots here, we will already need to mail stuff back to meet our luggage weight limits.   It would be no problem to mail back a few more things!  However as the pathetic photos of the sum total our purchases in Verona attest, we are useless! Final “Sigh”.

While the sun was still shining brightly on our arrival back in Arabba, with such cold temperatures, most of the snow that fell last Friday is still on the ground. Unfortunately, both of us have obviously picked up some exotic warm climate bug during our stay in Verona and we both are feeling under the weather.  Soup and straight to bed for us tonight.

Real history, lovelocks & cena deliziosa

After a deliciously late breakfast where we stoically resisted the temptation of the Prosecco, we made our way to the Verona Arena, the Roman amphitheatre completed in the 1st century AD.

As we climbed to the very top row of the amphitheatre and sat basking in the sunshine, Gra and I talked about how little we really knew about Roman and European history in general.  To be fair we did grow up on the other side of world.  But after all the time we’ve spent in Europe over the last 10 years, particularly in Greece & Turkey we have both become quite fascinated with roman history in particular. After our Turkey visit in 2015, I threw myself into an historical reading frenzy starting with a “Roman History for Dummies”, followed by the Robert Harris “Cicero” series and finally Colleen McCullough’s “Masters of Rome” series…which was a bit of a mission, but after Verona, I’m finding my way back into now.

Verona, as well as being a military town protecting Rome’s northern borders, was very much considered a holiday resort where even Rome emperors came to vacation. The huge theatre and Arena were pivotal for the Romans “holiday entertainment”.  Nothing like a few intellectual plays beside the river but then followed up with a gladiator or animanl massacre or two at the Arena into the evening!!    The theatre on the banks of the Adige has not survived well but the Arena is amazingly preserved especially considering the number of battles and occupations the city has survived during the last 2000 years.   Here’s some photos and a little clip of our walk around the corridors of the Arena this morning.  It’s fantastic to think that the Arena is still in regular use with the Opera season and other contemporary concerts…it will help it survive for another 1000 years!

Next stop, the famous but fictional Juliet’s house and balcony.   I guess some of Archangel’s cynicism for this “tourist attraction” rubbed off on us.   We were both much more interested in the “real” history of Verona.

“Casa di Giulietta” is a courtyard house located off one of the main shopping streets.   For €6 each we could have entered the house and stood on the balcony and seen Juliet’s bedroom.   But we opted to just stand in the courtyard and do a bit of people watching.   The house was actually owned by the “Cappello” family back in the 13C as there were no “Capulet” or “Montague” families in Verona.   But the name “Cappello” was close enough to qualify and so the house of Capulet was born!

Aside from the centuries thick graffiti on the walls of the courtyard, and the highly polished breasts on Juliet’s statue,  a more interesting phenomenon for me was the proliferation of “lovelocks”.     Not only were these “lovelocks” thick on the gates of Giulietta’s courtyard, we’d also seen them on many old bridges and fences of the monuments around Verona.   When I googled “lovelocks”, I found that actually they’ve been around for a long time, but they have become more prevalent since a 2007 Italian film called “I Want You” which depicts lovers inscribing their names on a padlock, then tossing the key off a bridge to symbolize their unbreakable love.   Huh?  I’m Gen X…I don’t get it?

In fact, lovelocks have now become a real problem.  Especially in romantic places like Venice & Paris.  Venice now has a €3000 fine for anyone fixing a padlock to any bridge or structure in the city.   I guess Gra and I will need to figure out another way of symbolising our 25 years of marriage when we visit Venice in February.  A nice glass of champagne sounds fairly harmless to me?  Or maybe matching tattoos?

For us, it was still much more fun wandering the streets of Verona as evening fell.

And finally, to celebrate our last night in Verona, we treated ourselves to a delicious modern Italian meal at La Canonica.   Of course, I’d love to tell you that we had planned to go here, but rather we’d stumbled upon it as we wandered the streets.  Delicious food, attentive, patient waiters and a fantastic wine list…we had a lovely meal.  Graeme even found they had a bottle of wine from his year of birth on the shelves!   Display only, as the sommelier advised.  “Only good for cleaning the drains now, signor.  Definitely, not for drinking!”  Gra quizzed the sommelier on his thoughts about the best Amarone wine.  He advised:  “Guiseppe Quintarelli Amarone” was one of the very best.   This wine maker does not do any advertising, handwrites his labels and you have to go to their winery to buy…they don’t ship!   Their latest release 2007 retails for about €200 a bottle and the older vintages…well it just keeps going up from €500.  Needless to say, no bottle with Guiseppe’s handwriting made it to our table!

Our last day tomorrow….shame.  We love Verona.