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!

 

 

 

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And then there were three…

Well it’s a long time since I turned myself inside out quite as well I did all the rest of last night.  Memories of the “Istanbul intestinal incident” in 2015 came flooding back (bad choice of words), but this bout made that 2015 bout pale into insignificance even compared to one Mr M. Barton!!   Needless to say, I was nothing but a limp trembling little waif huddling in my bed come morning.

By some miracle, H&M slept through the horrendous noises emanating from the bathroom and our bedroom during the wee hours of the morning.  And of course I was terribly concerned that I had given them food poisoning with my curry, but no…all good for the Frenchies.    Thank goodness.

And so today… Graeme will be making the blog entry, while I continue to practice keeping lemonade down.

Well guess who’s writing this???? After a very unpleasant night with Andy firing from both ends, the day dawned with “I can’t possibly go skiing. You’ll have to take Hubert and Marie on your own”. After breaking the news to H & M and many “désolé’s”, the remaining three musketeers boarded the first cable car for a leg warmer down our favourite black run in Arabba called “the Burz”.  Hubert was in his element blitzing it at warp speed on the beautifully groomed corduroy.  You couldn’t wipe the smile from his face, while Marie & I followed at a more sedate pace behind. Then it was off on a bit of a mystery tour for H & M.
I was taking them to the Lagazoui which Andy and I had done a few days earlier – the day was of course bluebird yet again. We headed over to a lovely cafe for a coffee on route to Armenterola to pick up a taxi for the trip to Passo Falzarego. We rode the cable car to the Lagazuoi and then did another blinding speed run down the front sunny side of the mountain and back to the cable car – did I mention that Hubert likes to ski fast!!!
Back on the cable car – but as we were going through the turnstile the head count clicked over to 80 people just after Hubert and I went through but poor Marie was locked out on the other side. The operator won’t let you wait at the base station once you pass through the turnstile you must board the cable car and ride it to the top. So Hubert and I waited patiently on the panorama deck in the sun – not really a hardship, did I mention it was sunny – and even a little warmer!
We then headed off down this most spectacular run to our lunch destination- Refugio Scotone which we had only visited briefly on our previous trip. We sat outside on the deck in the sun I actually thought this was strange as last time we were here at this time it was bitterly cold and all in the shade. I got Marie to ask the waitress if the sun was going to disappear behind the spectacular peak behind us to which she replied “cinque minuti” at which point we moved to a table inside and sure enough 5 minutes later the whole deck was in the shade and of course now all the indoor tables were occupied as all their other skiers scrambled inside to grab a table.
After quite an early lunch – including a torta (cake) for desert – a first for us, we headed off down the trail for a surprise rendezvous with the famous “horse lift”. This time I was brave enough to video part of the trip behind the sleigh. As we jumped on the next lift Hubert complained that he shouldn’t have had that cake. It wasn’t agreeing with him – Oh no!
We continued on, blaming the cake for his bloated feeling. Next stop was the World Cup Giant Slalom course at La Ville to allow Hubert to re-live some of his racing youth. Last time we visited La Ville it was closed for preparation.  I can now confirm it is steep and it is icy and it is scary!!! Hubert loved it and of course skied it slowly and cautiously – not!!
Hubert in the start gate
Hubert in the start gate
We slowly headed  back to Arabba to check on patient Andy, but for some reason H didn’t want to stop for a Bombardino!   O’ oh!
As soon as we got to the appartment it was straight to the toilet for H and poor old Andy still wasn’t great.  With her excellent command of the Italian language, Marie headed up to the village Farmacia to see what she could get to help us both.  It was a long visit and she explained that the pharmacist was very friendly and liked to know all about his customers before getting down to business.  With two other people ahead of her in the queue, it took a long time to get the drugs she needed.  But she did learn that there is a very strong gastro virus going around the town at the moment!  Perfect!!   We also learned that “Immodium” is a universal brand.
Two down, two still standing. Marie and I abandoned the infectious diseases ward and headed out for a pizza!!!

 

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.

 

 

Exploring Alpe di Siusi & the Black Cock

We have been told by everyone we meet, that come 26 Dec, the whole of the Dolomites will be at maximum capacity.   Given that there is no off-piste available and no snow in the forecast, we can only imagine how crowded the slim little strips of snow will get.    So our aim this week has been to travel to some of the more far-flung corners of the Dolomites before the roads and ski slopes get too busy.

Today we were again in the Val Gardena, but this time we drove about an hour to St Ulrich and spent the day in an area called the Alpe di Siusi.

Val Gardena is really the border where the people and language is much more German.   All signs are now first in German and then in Italian, compared to our Arabba side of the Dolomiti.

We thought that we were heading to a colder north facing slope as we headed up in the gondola from St Ulrich. But the gondola took us up to a high and gently sloping plateau 1900 – 2200m.   This is very much a beginner/ intermediate area so the slopes were very gentle. Much of the plateau faced south and west, so we were in the sun for most of the day.   Even the most expert Italian snow makers were obviously having trouble getting the snow to stick!

But there’s so many lifts here, we were able to pretty much do a non-stop anticlockwise ski tour of all the lifts and open slopes.   According to our MyDolomiti App, we managed to ski 26 lifts, 39.5km and 5,340m vertical and stop for a 2 hour lunch in the sun and make it back to St Ulrich by 4pm when the lifts closed.

On the way home we stopped at St Cristina just in time to see the famous village clock do it’s Christmas carolling.

We also stopped into the local Des Spar supermarket to get some supplies and Graeme was entertained with a “wall of wine” while I went about getting the boring stuff like yoghurt and eggs.   So far we’ve really struggled finding wine that we like.   While in Araches we consulted our Anglo/ Italian wine guru – Rick.  We leave the French wine advise to Hubert obviously.

Rick has given us a list of wines to try.  He mentioned something about a “good Chianti” having a black cock marked on the bottle.  So Graeme spent most of this evening’s shopping trip looking for black cock…emblems.   Rick also mentioned a dry white wine called “Soave”.  Best described by us with our limited NZ palates as a cross between Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. It is delicious.  I’m sure even our chardonnay queen, Sue Cowles, would approve.

Tomorrow we are will head into the depths of another valley – the Val di Fassa.