A time for reflection…well.. we are by a pool after all!

Oooooh it’s nice not wearing ski boots.

As we kick back by our hotel pool in Singapore for the last couple of days it’s given us a bit of time to reflect on our three months in Italy and the Dolomites.

And here’s what we’ve come up with :

Firstly, we think that we will re-name the blog….”A visit to Planet Dolomiti!” With subtitle. “No season for fat skis”.

Well there’s no question that we had to undergo a bit of mental shift about half way through our stay in the Dolomiti given the lack of snow and our preference for off-piste skiing! We confess to recalling our endless winter at Les Carroz in France all those years ago and naturally our expectations were pretty high. We were egged on by a super early dump of snow in the alps last November, but which evaporated with warm rain by the time we arrived at the beginning of December.

There’s one thing that you can guarantee when talking about skiing, fishing, or sailing. The snow, fish or wind is always better somewhere else. You can make a whole career of chasing snow around the planet….check the blogs! And it will always result in phrases like – “You should have been here yesterday!” and “It’s dumping in the Rockies!” when you’re in the Alps. It’s like gravity. It’s totally a law of nature. However we didn’t quite expect that New Zealand would be getting more snow in January at the height of a southern hemisphere summer! That’s just perverse.

Once we made the “mental shift” around the middle of January, we were able to relax and more fully appreciate the breath-taking scenery of the Dolomiti and sheer mind blowing effort of creating their own winter regardless of what mother nature dished up. Add to that, we were gifted with day after day of bright sunshine which meant we could ski every day from 3 December until we departed, such is the snow & piste making capability of Planet Dolomiti. It’s worth mentioning that if we’d gone back to Les Carroz we wouldn’t have been able to put on our skis until mid January.  Up until then they’d literally had no snow.

I keep coming back to the scenery. We’re really not quite so sure why the world thinks that NZ is that beautiful? Gasp. Shock. Horror. But truly. Everyday we gazed out over the spectacular rocky peaks of the Dolomities and deep green forests and marvelled at the colours and contrasts. It always took our breath away. I think it’s easy to get a bit arrogant about NZ scenery. There are many other incredibly beautiful places in the world. It’s just that we’re spoilt in NZ …we don’t have to share the view with as many people.

While the village of Arabba certainly had some quirks, its location to the Sellaronda and Marmolada and access to high terrain was absolutely perfect. Having now visited every other Planet in Universe Dolomiti, we can confidently say that we were steered right by our Wanaka neighbour John in making Arabba our base for three months. Arabba is the most central location and it was only ever a maximum of 1.5 – 2 hours drive to any other corner of the Dolomiti we wished to ski.   This was a wonderful aspect to skiing in Universe Dolomiti.  Everyday was about making a journey on skis, not just lapping the same run over and over.  The Dolomiti, for us was all about discovering new valleys, villages and lunch spots and always a different vista.

But did we get to our target of riding 300 lifts?   Not quite!   Here’s the final stats.  Just short 9 lifts!   Oh well.  As G says…tell someone who cares!

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We loved meeting all the characters of our village, the Delmonego family Mario, Patsy, Heidi and Austin and Mario’s brother Francesco, the butcher.  No, he’s not the local hitman, just literally the village meat supplier.  Marilena (“grappa is for babies”) and Bob ( “Mr Fixit”) from the local market.   Renaldo our “vege man” who we finally cracked a friendship with.   Miriam & Peter at Bar Peter, Lorenzo at Rifugio Plan Boe and Gabriel the barista at our local watering holes.  Our boot buying & fitting sagas with the mercurial Renato in La Villa and Manfred the boot fitting maestro at Corvara. And last but not least, Gabi & Carlo our landlords, who despite major language barriers, looked out for us, and gave us a great place to stay.

Communication in Arabba was always a challenge.  We underestimated the lack of English spoken in our village.  First it’s Fodom (the local dialect), German second and Italian sometimes a distant third.   In France, our experience was that most people spoke English, but they just choose not to, unless you at least tried to speak French first.  Then with the typical Gaelic “Bof” when the French can no longer stand the mess you are making of their beautiful language and switch to English.  In contrast, most people in our village genuinely don’t speak or understand English.  I am not particularly gifted at languages and while I didn’t make any major gaffs like announcing to the whole village that I was frigid (“Je suis froid”) as I did in France, I also didn’t manage to construct enough coherent sentences to engage the locals in any deep & meaningful conversation.  It’s a shame.  In many ways, I found Arabba a bit of an enigma and I would have loved to delve a little deeper.

Further afield.  We loved the opportunity to revisit with our Euro friends, Georgie, Hubert & Marie and Rick & Liz on our road trip to France.   And what a wonderful surprise to catch up with an old Aussie friend, Jane for a couple of days skiing.

We are officially “Italophiles” …if there’s such a word.  We love the people, food, wine and history.  Our little side trips to Verona, Treviso and Venice were real highlights.  We’ve barely scratched the surface of Italy on our trips here over the last few years and I can see us back here many more times in the future.

And finally who got our vote for the winner of the #1 Dolomiti Ski Fashion Crime?

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Well it was a hard choice …but we think the fellow at Cortina gets our vote.  Mainly because he’s also wearing his stylishly colour-blind number in Cortina …which is a seriously fashion conscious resort and secondly because of his choice of matching headwear which really tipped our decision in his favour.

Ski Fashion crime contender
Ski Fashion crime Winner!!

And so it’s back to the real world.  We hope that Wanaka has saved a little summer for us before we head into winter once again.  

Back to church and a German lunch

Bad weather forecast today.  Well…it depends on your definition of bad…for us the forecast is predicting snow by afternoon and into the evening.  Fingers crossed!!!

Plan was to take Graeme on the “ski tour la Croce”, which is an on-piste journey slightly off the main drag of the Sellaronda. This was the trip I did with John while Gra was resting up back before New Year.   The conditions were slightly different this time!

We ducked into a busy slope-side restaurant and ended up sharing a table with three Germans, who of course spoke very good english.   I often wonder what would happen if we told people (and in particular) Germans we were from England or Australia rather than New Zealand?

Without fail, as soon as we say we’re from  “Nuova Zelanda” people are intrigued enough to continue conversing with us.  I know of course, that saying we’re from New Zealand is controversial for some of our born & bred kiwi friends because of our convict heritage.   But after 17 years living in NZ and with me a real live card carrying citizen….where else do I say we are from???     If it makes those “local sticklers” feel better, we do clarify at all times that we were in fact born in Australia but currently live in NZ.  Phew…glad we got that sorted.

Niels, Andrea and Kirsten
Niels, Andrea and Kirsten

And again, the “Siamo dalla Nuova Zelanda” worked a treat and the ice was broken.  We weren’t quite sure what the deal was with our three germans, but it turns out that Niels was there on his own and Andrea & Kirsten were a couple and we were all sharing the table together.  A lovely conversation ebbed and flowed.  Of course they were interested to hear about NZ and we were keen to know where they lived and where they liked to visit in Europe.  Niels was from Hamburg and Andrea & Kirsten -Cologne.  Niels was retired. Andrea worked for the Ford Motor Co. and Kirsten as a legal advisor to an insurance company.   Like us, they all loved Planet Dolomiti for the incredible scenery, endless skiing and fantastic food.   Andrea and I had a great laugh comparing our experiences working for US car companies, while Graeme talked to Niels about his recent trip to Greenland.  [ Oh no…he’s googling Greenland as I am typing this!  FFS!]

Outside light snow was falling but the conversation and company was so good we had a lovely long lunch….so long that we were a little concerned that we weren’t going to make it back to Arabba before the last lift.  “Pedal to the Metal” as the snowfall increased into the late afternoon and we did manage to get the last lift back to Arabba.

And always…if you keep your camera handy…there’s always a ski fashion crime to be snapped!

Ski Fashion Crime!!
Ski Fashion Crime!!

 

Heated seats and Yaks!

Today was a foggy one in Arabba.  Not a touring day on our side of the hill unfortunately. We absolutely need to see where we are going as there are still many “snow-snakes” lurking under the thin snowpack, not to mention a few pesky 50m cliff bands that are best avoided!

It’s hard to imagine, but we still have new lifts and runs to tick off our list even in our own little neighbourhood more than 70 days after getting here.  Today we did a run down to the village of Canazai in the Val di Fassa. There’s some “fine print” on this run to the valley floor that we obviously missed….the run ends a long way short of the gondola going back up the mountain.  This must be a major concern to our Italian friends, who after purchasing a lift ticket…do not walk…under any circumstances…ever!!

What?  We won't walk will we?
What? We won’t walk will we?

Surprisingly, this side of the Sellaronda was bathed in sunshine this morning, although it’s cold at the top …-8C.   Whilst sipping on our espresso lungi’s down in the valley, a shark came to the counter….well a strange fellow wearing a shark costume.  Huh???   I surreptitiously snapped off a photo, while trying to figure out why you would be skiing in a shark costume???   It’s not closing day in the Dolomiti??   After finishing our coffee we went outside to find a table of gentlemen dressed in full neoprene wetsuits with snorkels and masks fraternising with shark man!   Okay…way too much for my curiosity.  I asked for a photo and found out that this group were from Manchester, England.   I asked them why they were all dressed in wetsuits and sea costumes?  And..their answer?   “Because it’s Thursday!”   Of course!  How silly of me not to know that Thursday is officially “dress up as a marine creature day??”   WT….??     I tried to get a little more information from these guys but they weren’t that forthcoming…I think I needed to be younger, blonder and be wearing a tighter ski-suit to have gained their full attention!

Back up again from Canazai, we have been on the hunt this morning for good off-piste, lift accessed runs.  We’ve got a couple of runs lined up in Arabba for the next snow-fall, but we thought we also might look a little further afield.  But as you all know, research is hungry work and we headed to Refugio Federico Augusto for lunch.    This is the place with the big wooden cow sculpture out the front.  We’ve been by this Rifugio twice now, but today we learnt that the steer is not a cattle beast at all but rather it’s a Yak.   The restaurant has several live yaks living in their backyard.

We were treated to our best meal on the mountain to date.  This restaurant is absolutely charming and deservedly very busy.  Graeme was enthusiastic about the sled in their yard and wanted to get a photo in it.  He had to scare away several children who were playing on the sled with his best creepy Uncle Fester laugh so I could get a photo of him!

Graeme and his sled
Graeme and his sled

After lunch, more new runs and lifts!  And as rated by Graeme, the best thing today was a ride on the newest chairlift on the Sellaronda – an 8 seater with heated leather seats and tinted bubble hood.  I’ll let Graeme explain.

8 heated seats!
8 heated seats!

Apparently this chairlift is even better than the Sponge Bob Square Pants snow sculpture!

Home to Arabba and up to the Refugio Plan Boe to catch up with John.  He will be leaving Arabba on Saturday and we can’t thank him enough for recommending such a great place to spend the winter.  He seriously is the hardest core skier we know.  I think he has skied every day for 2 months.   He puts the Oxley “latte skiers” to shame.   Patsy, Heidi and Austin were there too and it was lovely to have a quick catch up with them too.

Sellaronda by car

Today, Gra kindly agreed to take a day off skiing and take me for a drive.  Secretly, I’m a little nervous about the driving part given the twisty mountain road and my tender tummy.  But I’m sooo “over” my bed!

Plan is to do the Sellaronda by road, over the high passes,  Pordoi and Sella for morning tea at Selva di Val Gardena or “Selva” as the locals call it, then over the Passo Gardena to Colfosco for lunch and then, Corvara for afternoon tea.   How civilised.  Not that I will be tucking into any gnocchi gorgonzola in a hurry!   It will be cups of tea and maybe some barley soup for me.

There are 4 quadrants making up the “Sellaronda”, the 2 to the north  (Val Gardena & Alta Badia(Corvara) are heavily Austrian/German influenced and the southern quarters, Val di Fassa and Arabba/Marmolada are Italian/local Fodom culture speaking Ladin.   Every sign in the northern half has 2 names – the German and the Italian and in the south – Italian and the local dialect Ladin.   It does make trying to understand the language quite confusing especially for Gina the GPS.   She really struggles to find place names the closer we get to the Austrian border as she doesn’t know which place name to choose.

map

It’s quite a different experiencing the Sellaronda by road, but apparently in the summer months this route is an equally popular circuit for motor bikers and road cyclists.  Our friend Gavin, from Wales mentioned to us that he has guided trips through this area in the summer.

Selva is one of the towns where the skiers have to cross the road.  They have a unique solution – traffic lights to stop the traffic and gates to stop the skiers hurtling out on to the road, as the piste literally stops by the roadside.

After a coffee and a chamomile tea for me, it was back over Passa Gardena to Colfosco, a pretty mountain town in the Alta Badia quarter.  The road is close to the piste here and it’s a little disconcerting to see skiers moving down the slopes faster than we can drive!!   Lunch was at a lovely family owned restaurant in one of the slope-side hotels.

And finally our day ended at Corvara where we were tempted back to our a little tea house that we’ve been to previously.  Serving our favourite bourbon vanilla flavoured tea, we settled in for the afternoon to watch light snow showers sprinkle down around us.  Maybe, just maybe there will be heavier snow tonight?

And lastly, another paparazzi moment in our collection of photos for ski fashion disasters.  These photos were hurriedly snapped in Colfosco while at lunch. For obvious reasons, in a crowded lunch room, I needed to be a little circumspect in snapping off a photo.  But this zebra suit was quite something and the photos don’t really do it justice!

 

 

 

 

Bread disasters and “infine, la neve arriva!”

We have a major problem with bread in Italy. We can’t figure it out? We know they do great foccacia’s and ciabatta, but we just can’t find them in our little village. There are endless dry toast/ biscuit like “packaged breads” available at the mini-market or you can buy a supposedly fresh dark rye or white roll. But you pretty much have to eat them within 3 hours or they dry out completely and turn rock hard. Our apartment in addition to not having a corkscrew, steamer or electric jug also did not have a pop-up toaster. We have since bought all these things, but we also now know why the Italians don’t “do pop up toasters”. Their “bread” does not toast. Being so dry, putting it in a toaster is like dropping a match on a grass paddock on a total fire ban day. It just goes up in smoke!

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That’s smoke in the light and black toast

We’ve only ever managed give the bread a light suntan by using the lowest setting and standing diligently by the release mechanism if there’s any sign of smoke or flames. Most of the time, if the bread is more than a day old…you can’t even cut it. Here’s Gra trying to make toast this morning!!

So… no toast this morning…”no problemo” –  Gra compensated with a nutella filled croissant washed down by 2 espresso lungi’s at morning tea!

Forget the bread…finally after 44 days in Italy & France, where just about every day has been sunny, cold and still, it’s finally snowing. The forecast is predicting snow just for today, but for the first time it’s real fluffy snowflakes and the ground is starting to look white instead of brown. We’re still a long way from having a base for off-piste skiing…but we’ll take what we can get and like all storm days, if you ski early and pick your runs, you can be skiing “boot-top” all morning even on the piste.

Graeme and I love skiing in a snow-storm.  We’re odd that way. Certainly there were few people out and about today – it was also -8C and with the wind, probably about -15C.   Our lunch venue was so quiet that the wait staff thought they’d increase their efficiency by cracking open a bottle of wine and having a tipple during the lunch hour.   And lastly…another candidate for our ski fashion crime competition!  This one piece was luminous yellow/green with a pink belt and detailing – see stylish elbow patches. He wasn’t a small man…but he obviously also had a big personality to carry it off.

Back at the apartment around 3pm, Gra was so enthused, he’s been downstairs in the cold apartment garages tuning up our skis.  Despite a lack of heating, it’s a great set-up down there. And it’s a time when Graeme and Carlo do a bit of male bonding.  Neither of them can communicate in any common language but Carlo seems to admire Graeme’s ski tuning skills.

It’s hard work with our landlords.  Our lack of language skills is a real barrier.  They can speak 3 languages, Italian, German and the local dialect Ladin…so what’s wrong with us?

Graeme tuning our skis
Graeme tuning our skis

 

No such thing as bad weather…just poor clothing!

According to a Google search….the saying “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing” is a German proverb.

Well today I was determined not to be cold.  I was “snap-chatted” by my mate Stephanie from Invercargill in the midst of my clothing selection process this morning.   So, Steph… this is what I came up with today!

You just cannot get lulled into thinking it’s going to be warm merely because the sun is shining.  Gino & Gina (the GPS) were both shivering this morning. Gina was showing -14C.  Even the anti-freeze window washing liquid had frozen in Gino’s tubes!

Gina says it's -14C this morning!
Gina says it’s -14C this morning!

Saturdays are a great day to go skiing.  I had forgotten about “change-over” day in the Alps. Most ski holidays are in week blocks, Sat to Sat.  All the people leaving the resort are packing up and those arriving generally don’t have time to ski on their first day.  Sundays on the other hand are when there are maximum crowds – those newly arrived for the week, weekend and day trippers.   But tomorrow is the last day of the Italian Christmas holidays…just like Wanaka it will be interesting to see how empty the slopes and roads are on Sunday and then on Monday.   We have purposely not travelled too far in the car this weekend to avoid any possible traffic jams.

Well we both hit our “mojo” this morning and did our biggest day’s vertical as we lapped the big cable car out of Arabba this morning – 6,890m vertical.    Of course this deserved a delicious lunch at one of our favourite places…Refugio Fodom.  You can already see the fault in our logic here, but hey…there’s no scales in our bathroom!

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This Refugio has some of the best food we’ve had so far in the Dolomiti.  Graeme’s gorgonzola gnocchi was melt in your mouth. And while we didn’t order the “T-bone” steak, we were treated to the “show performance” as the waitress performed surgery on the brontesauras sized T-bone creating slices to be delivered to our neighbour’s table.

The drama of the T-bone
The drama of the T-bone
The quirky interior of R.Fodom
The quirky interior of R.Fodom

And lastly on the way home after few more runs…we continue to collect candidates for our 2016/17 ski fashion crime awards.  Here’s todays entries.

San Pellegrino…but where’s the water?

Today we circled the Marmolada by car, going to a little valley on it’s southern flanks called Passo San Pellegrino (E pink circle) and Alpe Lusia (SW pink circle).  Road trip in red & Arabba is the red dot.

cartina-eng_li

It took us about an hour.  Partly because we were stuck behind a campervan…same rules apply as in NZ.  Big G performed his first overtaking manoeuvre today!

I was disappointed to learn that this San Pellegrino is not where the famous brand of mineral water is sourced, however we weren’t disappointed with the skiing.  While it’s sunny, the strong and cold north wind is still blowing.  We thought the first cable-car ride  might be a tad exciting as huge gusts of wind hurtled down the mountain.  But they were running the car very slowly and there was not even a bounce.   However we were totally blasted when we got to the top.

Due to the wind, none of the lifts on this side of the valley were open, so there was only one way down.  A new black run they’ve put in this year.  It had very good snow and we enjoyed the first run so much we did it 3 times in total.  Here’s a little clip and our commentary from a couple of the runs.  I think one of the extraordinary things you have to understand ….there’s not a real snowflake to be had in the Dolomiti (except for perhaps at over 3000m on the Marmolada glacier)…. and yet, in a total of 15 days we have skiied !    We also think that during this busy period, finding resorts away from the Sellaronda area (which Arabba is part of) is not a bad idea.  The roads are actually not that busy and today in these small resorts we’ve not had to wait in a queue once.

We then headed over to the sunny side of the valley which was very much a beginner area.  We just ticked of the lift numbers and found a lovely place for lunch.  Alas, despite the healthy options available we succumbed to pizza and hot chips.  Soup & salad for dinner tonight!   Again in contrast to yesterday, while this Refugio was self-service, it was family run and they really had their systems sorted.  You ordered your pizza at corner of the servery and it was cooked fresh for you in a proper wood fired pizza – same even with the chips.  Not a heated glass food cabinet in sight.  The interior was very quaint as well.

Italians are a funny bunch.  They really don’t get uptight about chaos.  Leaving the restaurant after lunch we had pick our way through a complete jumble of skis left at the front door.  We were thankful that we had been diligent and hung ours up in the racks.  There were several people searching for their equipment amongst the huge mess of skis and poles.

Down to the valley again, we jumped in the car and headed further down the road to another resort called San Lusia.  This resort had some seriously steep terrain, but being mainly in the shade, the snow was holding up well even late in the afternoon.   We did choose one bad red run, that had been in the sun and the wind had polished to an ice-skating rink consistency.  I am such a whimp on ice!  I pretty much side-slipped the whole run…a bit embarrassing really.  One day I might bother to learn to use my edges!   Graeme just let his skis run to try & get off the run as quickly as possible.   After that survival ski, we knocked off another 4 runs including the black run back to the car in the valley floor.  I think we’ve finally started to get some ski fitness into the legs.  It was the last run for the day and we weren’t completely wrecked as we were a couple of weeks ago.

Continuing my search of horrendous piste fashion statements, in the shop windows at the Alpe Lusia gondola station were some excellent contenders.  I am seriously looking for a second hand ski clothing store! It’s time to update my TC closing day outfit!