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….!!!].


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!

Catching up with old friends

Fantastic day today, catching up with Jane Scheer – a friend from university days. When I do the math – that is 32 years ago…..OMG!  I am officially old!

Funny thing about old age!  I don’t feel any different than I did when I was 18 and met Jane during the Monash University Orientation week.  And while I’m sure we have some stiffer joints and a few more wrinkles, I do know that we’re wiser than we were in our late teens! Unsurprisingly, there was no lag in our conversation from the moment of meeting up this morning.  It seems like we just picked up our conversation where we left off when we last saw each other 10 years ago.

Jane still has an oversupply of energy.  She has been in Europe since early February for cross country ski training and competing in a number of Loppet’s  [ marathon 42km XC ski races. ]    She is currently training at Dobbiaco which is about 1.5 hrs drive from Arabba, near Cortina.   Jane is no slouch at her racing.  In her most recent race yesterday, she came 5th in her age group and 14th woman home overall out of a field of over 100 female competitors.   Remembering that this is Europe and the standard of competition is much higher than in Australia or NZ – this result is very impressive.

We organised to meet Jane at Passo Falzarego to do the Lagazuoi run and Horselift.   She was appreciative of a quiet day given her exertion in the race the day before.  And after our fateful “walk in the woods” we were also looking forward to a cruisey day.

The sunny weather is back with very warm temperatures predicted over the coming week.  Unfortunately, all our new snow will rapidly start to fade away.  But it’s hard to be grumpy about gorgeous sunny weather and we enjoyed the stunning views from the top.  Jane was particularly impressed.  This time we took a walk up to the very top of the Lagazuoi above the cable-car and rifugio.  To get to the top, you cross a fairly narrow ridge-line.  And we both commented that in Australia and NZ, there would be guard rails and warning signs everywhere.  Nope, in Italy…there is still no “nanna state”!  It’s so refreshing.  People in Italy take responsibility for their own actions.  It’s a real shame that Australia and NZ seem to keep moving closer and closer to the US and UK blame culture which sees every bit of adventure regulated to such an extent that there ceases to be any adventure left….!   Sorry…a bit of a rant there.

Climbing to the top of the Lagazuoi
Climbing to the top of the Lagazuoi

The Lagazuoi is truly a great day tour and is a “must-do” for anyone skiing in the Dolomiti.  Gra has done it 3 times and me, twice.  But it has been different each time, and the horselift at the end is such a surprise for our guests.

Being “old hands” now, we made sure we had a table booked at Rifugio Scotoni, our favourite place for lunch half way down.  It didn’t disappoint.  Huge tomahawk steaks cooking away on the indoor grill [ which we didn’t order] and lovely home-made pastas and salads [which we did order]!   On our way out, I noticed for the first time that the Rifugio keeps quite a menagerie of animals.  Alpacas and pigs lay about in a fenced farm pen.  I can’t recall them being there the last time I visited.  But it’s much warmer in the valley now with the sun higher in the sky.  Perhaps they only bring them up to the Refuge when the weather is warmer?

And lastly, of course – the horselift.  Jane is a keen horse-woman and has 3 of her own horses at her farm in Jindabyne, Australia and she loved the concept of a horse-powered ski lift.

Jane is “on the couch” tonight with us in Arabba as the other Dolomiti classic tours to “tick off her list” is the Sellaronda and Marmolada.   Both can be done in a day as we know from our trip with H&M but it’s a big day out.  Not to worry! Jane is up to the task!  As well as being a champion XC skier, she’s also a level 3 telemark instructor and a strong alpine skier ….sickeningly overqualified!   Looks like I’ll be dragging the chain at the back again!!

We whiled away the evening with stories about her family, her partner Geoff and eight year old son, Flynn who also love skiing, mountain biking and horse-riding.  Funny about that!?   Geoff and Flynn had to return to Australia at the beginning of February for Flynn to start school, but Jane is staying on for another couple of weeks to compete in a few more races.   I am trying hard to convince her to come and do the Merino Muster at the Snow Farm in Wanaka now it is a qualified Loppet race, but unfortunately it clashes with inter-school racing that Flynn is involved in back Australia.

Tonight, Graeme has found a new friend to watch Biathlon with.  Since our visit to a World Cup biathlon event last month, he’s become obsessed and has subscribed to the Youtube channel to watch all the races.   I left the two of them on the couch, totally absorbed in a Women’s sprint race as I crawled into bed for an early night.   We have to be on the first cable-car out of Arabba in the morning if we want enough time to ski the Marmolada glacier and the Sellaronda. Wish my legs good luck..they’re going to take a hammering tomorrow!




The first day of 2017, the 3 Zinnen and Gino has a bath

Today’s cunning plan saw us drive about 1:15 hours to one of the far flung galaxies of the Dolomiti Universe – the 3 Zinnen or the Italian name – Tre Cime di Lavaredo.  Before WW1, this area was owned by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire – so again a lot more German spoken than Italian.

We were away early this morning, having slept through Arabba’s NYE celebrations.   Graeme did say that there was little noise and most of the fireworks were set off from private residences rather than there being any official firework display.

Not a great start to the journey.  I was driving this morning and I promptly reversed out onto the wrong side of the road.  It took a few seconds for me to realise that the cars were coming up the hill directly towards me.  Graeme’s screams of terror finally did the trick and I pulled over into a lay-by and collected my thoughts.   I promptly offered up the drivers seat to Graeme, but with teeth gritted…he told me I needed more practice.  Imagine that?  Man, does my husband have nerves of steel or what?

Now it does appear that we have been misled about the amount of traffic on the road.  I expected the roads to be completely empty.  Alas.  Not the case.   Our route this morning took us over the pass between Arabba and Cortina.  The road was super twisty and narrow, but there was great views to be had along the way.  Graeme was particularly impressed with the road building and tunnels.   Apart from a couple of near misses, he was enjoying being a passenger and being able to look out the window for a few milliseconds at a time.

This morning’s route took us through the Passo Valparola and into the Cortina Valley.  Poor old Cortina.  It used to be THE place to ski in the Dolomites and probably the whole of Italy.  But they have received even less snow than anywhere else in the region and they don’t seem to have made the same amount.  They have the least number of lifts open.  The valley is very open and sunny, so maybe they have more trouble holding their man-made snow?   Whatever the reason, poor ol’ Cortina at first glance looks a little down on her luck.  We will definitely come back to the town for a more in-depth look some time soon.

A very sunny but dry Cortina valley
A very sunny but dry Cortina valley

Past Cortina and heading north we entered a very tight steep sided valley.  It was well and truly the coldest we’ve experienced so far – a steady -10°C  was showing on the car display as we drove through.  It appears that this valley is a major cross-country facility, presumably set up when Cortina hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics.

We arrived at the gondola for 3 Zinnen at about 10 o’clock. As we left the car-park, with the sunlight on little car, we noticed how incredibly dirty “Gino” was.  Time for a bath we think!  Almost every fuel station we pass has a self-service car wash bay, so we should be able to give him a bath on the way home.

Grubby Gino the Peugot Grip!!
Grubby Gino the Peugot Grip 2008!!

The 3 Zinnen area – as well as being a ski area is obviously quite a renowned sledding place.  There was a super long sled track that wound its way down the mountain partly beside the ski runs.  It was huge fun to watch, particularly the one corner where just about everyone didn’t make the bottom left hand turn.

According to Graeme, this resort has the “Holzriese Part A & Part B” which is supposed to be the steepest piste in Italy.  I’m not really sure about that.  It was certainly steep, hard & scraped with the GS boy-racers hurtling down it at break neck speed.  Gra handled it fine….I had a little melt-down moment about half way down that fortunately Graeme didn’t witness.  I felt I’d been ambushed.  I had been quite happy cruising the normal slopes.  I was tired, I hadn’t had a coffee yet, my edges were blunt…yada yada.  I gave myself a slap, stored my indignation and managed to ungracefully slide down the hill, to greet Graeme’s enthusiastic…”How good was that?”  with a pursed lipped turn of my head in a true imitation of Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”.   “Not good then?” a crestfallen Gra got the hint….”I guess we’ll go for coffee?”.    I was already in the gondola.

I never really recovered my “mojo” after that and lunch followed soon after.   It truly is amazing how dogs are accepted in restaurants in Europe.  At lunch we sat inside to keep warm and next to us was an older couple with a huge blood-hound which they appeared to be hiding fairly unsuccessfully under their table.  He was certainly not the best behaved dog and we were convinced that when a young lady walked by with a little poodle it was going to be on for young and old.  But to our great surprise, even though this huge dog could have pulled the whole table over in one lunge, he was a complete gentlemen and didn’t try to eat the poodle.  Shame…I don’t much like poodles.

The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur of beautiful scenery and interconnected lifts….

On the way home it was time to give Gino his bath.  We were returning to Arabba via the Corvara valley which is slightly longer, but supposedly quicker as there are less passes and twisting mountain roads to contend with.  However, the traffic along the valley floor was super busy.  Busiest we’ve seen, and then of course we remembered it was Sunday and some people were going to start work again tomorrow.   No matter, we’re not under any time schedule.

Pulling into the first station, we tried to fill up with fuel.  No luck, the credit card was rejected.  Hmmm?   Next we tried the carwash.  For the life of us, we couldn’t figure out how to make the carwash hose work.  It was absolutely freezing and the water spray had formed a thin frozen layer over the concrete.  We needed crampons.  Poor Gra was skidding and sliding all over the place.  The €1 coin we kept trying to give the machine was continually spat out.  We tried 2 different wash bays without luck.  We gave up and got back on the highway and onto the next fuel station.  Same deal.  G was not happy.  I didn’t think this would be a time to suggest that he asked for help?   Finally service station #3.  It was really really cold now – at least -6°C and dark.  My suggestion that we buy a coffee to swap out our “dodgy”  €1 coin, was accepted.  We were also able to fill up the car with diesel.  Things were looking up.  So armed with shiny new euro coins we pulled into the washbays.  No joy.  Very very bad words uttered by Graeme, which were over-heard by our neighbour in the next bay.   Rather than give an angry 6’3″ english speaking lunatic a wide berth, this brave man kindly came over and showed Graeme the token machine on the side of the building.   “This is where you put your coins in perfect patient English and then you get a token to run the wash.”   Nice fellow.

It’s now -8°C and €1 didn’t get us very far.  But finally after 3 more coins, the very grubby Gino is clean and we can see out of the windows.  A great improvement.   But we were two tired and emotionally unstable people by this stage. I have no idea how we got home….I just remember falling into bed pretty soon after a light dinner.