Spring has sprung & Piaggio lovin’

Today we had a lovely cruisey day. No flapping about on floppy xc skis or dodging rocks and tree stumps on a ski tour.   After high temperatures yesterday and strong hot winds overnight, the snowpack  has finally succumbed to the spring like conditions.  No more ski touring for us I’m afraid, even on the coldest and highest north facing slopes.

We reluctantly ate our last breakfast at Rifugio Scioatolli and thanked the lovely staff, before skiing down to Gino.  We really loved this little ski area – the 5 Torri.  Reminds us of a NZ Club field, but with prosecco on tap!!     It’s really warm again today, but the wind has died and the sun is shining brightly as we head down into the Cortina town centre.  One of the things that we still can’t get used to is the “siesta” when all the shops and offices close down between noon and 4pm every weekday.  We’d love to be able to ski early and sometimes finish at 2pm to explore the towns  we ski from.  But there’s no retail therapy to be had during the afternoon hours, so inevitably we end up skiing until stumps.

Cortina is a well established ski resort for the Italians. A host of the winter Olympics in the 1950’s, the glamour is still there, although a little faded as indicated by a few empty shops in the main street.  For the first time, the majority of number plates in the car parks were Italian.  According to a lovely lady from Rome who we met on the chairlift today, all the wealthy Romans & Venetians have an apartment or chalet here and they fill the resort during holiday times. Like Wanaka over Christmas New Year the town population of 7000 swells to over 50,000.  Cortina has a pedestrian centre where locals and tourists alike can perambulate.  We arrived at about 10:30am and it appears that this is the time of day when all the women of Cortina take their fur coats out for a walk.  While I failed to capture it with a photo, one of the most priceless images of the morning was of a very elderly lady shuffling along in her long mink coat and hat….talking on her mobile phone.  Old and new traditions merging!

Mid-morning is also the time when all the “glamour-mums’ come out for coffee. Resplendent in either their fur coats or Gucci puffer jackets over their designer gym gear, they all seemed to have tight figures and cosmetically plumped lips.  I’m perhaps being a little harsh as Graeme was enjoying the scenery.   Over coffee…the pièce de résistance – our neighbour, a cosmetically enhanced woman in a tight tracksuit had a “handbag dog”.   I have only ever seen papparazzi shots of handbag dogs, but I’ve never been up close and personal to one.  Graeme couldn’t believe his eyes as this poor little ball of fluff was stuffed back into the woman’s handbag as she left the cafe.   Actually he tells me now that he was rather hoping that the guy with the czechoslovakian wolfdog had made an appearance to really see some fur flying.

Again, the skiing at Cortina is surprising.  It is a totally disconnected resort, with each area a significant driving distance from the other.  Today we were on the eastern side of the resort in the Faloria area.  There’s only about 8 lifts here but the terrain is good with steep runs through the trees and the western faces have expansive views back over Cortina and the high mountains surrounding Arabba.

View from Faloria looking toward Tolfana and 5 TorriVeiw looking south

Lunch was outside in the sunshine today.  So much for my theory of Italians not caring about “table turns!”.  A very officious waiter was directing traffic in a loud voice with lots of Italian gesticulation.  We managed to get a prime table with a view out over the valley, but we had to vacate by 2pm.  It was only 12:15 – “no problemo”.  But then after sitting for some time before anyone noticed us, we realised that we had chosen a restaurant run by Basil Fawlty and Manuel.   It was controlled chaos.   But after we finally managed to order some wine, we sat back to enjoy the show. Eventually a harried underling “Manuel” served us some delicious food …and we just managed to finish our meal before the bells chimed in the valley churches for two o’clock.

Back down in the car park after lunch, Graeme has spied a Piaggio.  He loves these crazy Italian converted 3 wheel motorbikes.  I really really don’t get it?  As I am bullied into taking photos he is running his hands lovingly over the paintwork and peering into the cabin through the windowless door.  “This would be tax deductible in NZ…Andy” he gushes enthusiastically.   “So is a Karcher window washer Graeme,  but like you said to me…do I really need one?”    Well actually I do need an easier way to wash windows…but what’s wrong with a trailer behind our 4WD?  Why would a tiny, unstable 3 wheel motorbike be better?   Aaah men…they’re from Mars and we’re from Venus.

But somehow, we must have managed the art of compromise over the years.  Today is our 25th wedding anniversary.  There’s been some confusion over the last few days about the actual date?   Was it the 21st or 22nd February?  I thought it was the 21st which is why we stayed an extra night at R.Scoiattoli but Graeme is sure it’s today.  I expect he’s right.  But hey, it’s been a quarter of a century ago and already our memories are fading. But who really cares – we’ve made it a multi-day event!   What a fabulous way to celebrate 25 years together!   Three months in Italy doing what we love the most together and enjoying every minute… [well except for the vomiting and head cold parts….!!!].

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Cross country cruising in Cortina

We both enjoyed a good night sleep at our Rifugio last night.  Even though we shared a bunk room with another group of 5 from Switzerland, they were all “church mice” in their former lives. They were so quiet.   To be honest it was probably me who kept them awake all night.  Unfortunately I come from a long maternal line of snorers.   My mother was known, not so affectionately in our family, as the “human buzz-saw”.     At least we were tucked into a corner of the L-shaped bunk room and hopefully I didn’t disturb them too much.

Rifugio’s here in Europe are a completely different proposition than Kiwi mountain huts.  We slept in freshly laundered linen under thick fluffy duvets, sipped our pre-dinner prosecco’s and enjoyed a 3 course meal from a menu of 4 or 5 choices for each course.  Hot showers with flushing loo’s…. there’s no comparison to the garden sheds with long drops we call our mountain huts.  We are looking forward to spending another night here.

Today we are on our way down from Rifugio Scioatolli to meet my old University friend Jane for some cross-country skiing in the valley to the north of Cortina.

OK...how hard can this be?
OK…how hard can this be?

Jane is a level 3 cross-country ski instructor, so Graeme’s keen to get some tips on his skating technique. He’s been watching so many biathlon Youtube clips lately that I think he’s dreaming about competing in the Olympics as his legs twitch from side to side in his sleep! I am just happy Jane has promised that today’s 10km skate is all downhill!!

We arrived early to the cross country facility and got organised with all our gear. A trail day pass is only € 6. What a bargain.  Cross-country skiing really has to be the most perfect exercise. It’s a hugely aerobic activity, like long distance running but also requiring good balance and co-ordination and most importantly, as cinquagenarians, there’s no jarring to our aged joints. Then add incredible scenery and exhilaration from whizzing along the snow at speed and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more perfect exercise.

The trail we skied along is an old railway track that descends about 200m over 10km from Cimabanche to Fiames where there is a purpose built nordic centre.  The trail passes through forests, alongside historic WW1 buildings, over wooden bridges and through a series of lit tunnels.

The lovely scenery did certainly help lessen my intense frustration at watching Gra skate elegantly away down the track with lovely large gliding strokes while I flapped and flopped like a waddling penguin.  I didn’t fall over….but my, it was a close thing!  Adding to my woes, I learnt from Jane that I stick my butt out!   Well actually, I’ll defend my stance!  It was strategic.   I was just lowering my centre of gravity in case I needed an emergency bum dragging braking manoeuvre to avoid on-coming traffic.  But apparently, sticking your derriere out is not good skating technique!

Jane graciously rewarded us with lunch back up at Cimabanche after our ten kilometres of effort.  She, of course still looked fresh as a daisy despite recovering from a World Loppet 42km event on Sunday where she came 4th in her age group and 13th woman home overall.  She still has 2 or 3 more races coming up in Austria before heading home to Jindabyne.   As I have mentioned before…she’s no slouch.  Now!  Just to get her to the Merino Muster!!

We were sitting down to lunch when a man walked in with a huge dog.  Grey dappled fur, big chest, lean hind quarters and yellow eyes.  “Look, a wolf!” I pointed him out to Jane and Gra.  We ANZACs still have an initial disbelief that it’s OK to share a restaurant with a dog, and then today a second moment of disbelief when we saw it was a wolf.

And it really was a wolf or rather a Czechoslovakian Wolfdog.  After speaking to the owner we learnt that they are really quite shy and gentle with humans but he has to be careful taking him into the forest that he doesn’t hunt down all the small animals or even deer!  Also there has been a few incidents with poodles and sausage dogs…!?  Graeme liked the wolf-dog immediately upon hearing this bit of information.   There was also a snappy, yappy little sausage dog haunting the dining area and we all secretly hoped for some action, but apparently my soothing stroking under the table kept him happy enough to ignore the antics of the potentially tasty sausage entree prancing before his nose.

Well it truly is goodbye to Jane this time.  What a fun day.  The time passed so quickly and we lingered over lunch so long we almost missed the last chairlift back to our Rifugio.  No hot tub tonight.  The wind is blowing very strongly and they don’t light it when the wind speed is over a certain strength.  Not to worry. Nice long hot shower, delicious meal and early to bed.   The lovely guardians of the rifugio have given us a bunk room all to our selves.  Nice!

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?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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…..it 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.