It’s a sign!

Last day on the planks today.

Even though we don’t leave Arabba until Sunday morning for the long drive to Milan Airport, we have a little bit of a luggage issue.

We only had 800g to spare on the way here.  Since then, we’ve each bought new ski boots and a few sundry other bits and pieces.  So we need to package up all the excess gear and mail it home.  If we are overweight, Singapore Airlines (bless their cotton socks) charge US$100 per kg over the 30kg allowance.  So the mailing option looks the best way to go since we have about 15kg extra!! And the last possible day to post our stuff is tomorrow (Saturday) morning.

Today for our last day skiing, we hit all our favourite runs in and around Arabba.   We enjoyed our last mid morning coffee made with care by our favourite Romanian barista – Gabriel.

Gabriel: our lovely Romanian coffee man
Gabriel: our lovely Romanian coffee man

And amazingly discovered yet another a lovely place for lunch.  It’s hard to imagine how all these rifugios, huttes, cafes and bars make any money given the level of competition?   On the main Sellaronda route, you have an endless choice of places to eat, drink and make merry along the slopes.  And today we made a reservation at a newly renovated Rifugio Burz, just at the top of the first chairlift out of Arabba.  We have probably passed by this Rifugio at least 50 times during our time here, but we’d never ventured inside.   A great place.  Friendly staff and delicious food.

It’s started to snow fairly heavily and predictably the restaurant rapidly began to fill up from late morning.  By the time we got there for our reservation at 12:30, things were a little crazy with a huge queue waiting for a table.  With our reservation, we naturally walked to the front of the queue, much to the chagrin of a sweet-natured lady who left the queue to tell us in no uncertain terms to go to the back of the line. Well I think this was what she was saying as it wasn’t Italian!  It was all very forceful, loud and red-faced!   Phew!  This was the first “aggro” we’d experienced in three months, so we were a little unprepared, but the head waiter took care of this charmer by responding in no uncertain terms that we’d made a reservation and maybe “Signora” should go to the back of the queue since she’d now lost her place!   Whoa…way to go Signore!

Arabba has decided to give us a lovely send off.  We loved sitting watching the large fluffy flakes fall from the sky over lunch.   The Arabba snow-god who has been conspicuously missing this February, does know that we love to ski when it’s snowing.  And while it is only predicted to snow about 5cm this afternoon, we made the most of it after lunch.    Right up until the moment….disaster struck!

Yes that's a broken binding!
Yes that’s a broken binding!

At precisely 3pm I misplaced Graeme.  Usually, like a good Muslim wife I ski a few paces behind him, but for one of the first times I skied ahead.  Probably because the visibility for the first leg of our run was fairly poor and G likes to follow me in these conditions.   At the half way point – G was missing in action.  I waited ..and waited …and waited.  I thought he must have skied past without me noticing, so I kept skiing down to the cable car and waited some more.  Now I was getting a little concerned…it’d be a real downer if the big G had done himself an injury.  So back up the cable car I went for a re-run.  I was very relieved not to see any bodies strewn on the slopes we’d just skied.  Instead Gra was waiting for me at the cable-car and revealed the extent of the damage.  He’d had to walk down the rest of the slope and download on the other gondola.

Well I’m thinking it’s a sign?   Time to head back to NZ I think!

“But Andy….there’s still time for ice-skating….it’s going to be sunny again tomorrow!” Graeme has reminded me.

“Fabulous!  (sarcasm intended).”

 

 

 

 

 

The Ornella valley

Today’s plan is to head into a neighbouring valley to Arabba called the Ornella.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You can enter this valley from above by using the lifts from Arabba and then skiing from the top of  Passo Padon (2369m) where there is an off-piste entry to the upper valley.  This top section has previously been closed for avalanche risk, but we skied it yesterday with Jane and apart from a couple of little “gentle kisses” from the rocks it was skiable….well for any Aussie, Kiwi or Scottish skier….no European or north American would even look at it!!

It’s been ten days since the last significant snow fall and the temperatures have been very mild, so we decided to take a conservative approach and skin up a wide access track through the forest from the bottom of the Ornella valley and pull out if we think the snowpack is too thin.

The tour route has two large bowls separated by a 20m cliff band through which there is a steep narrow pass.   We know that the upper bowl is skiable but we don’t want to ski down and then have to boot pack back up the steep pass between the bowls if the snow in the lower bowl is too thin.

It’s a glorious day, we’ve packed a picnic lunch and we are looking forward to exploring more new territory.   We parked our car at 1450m in the little farming village and then donned our skins and headed up the valley.  The route is essentially a farm-bike track, not a walking trail so it was much wider and less steep than our previous walk in the woods.

On our way to Ornella Valley
On our way to Ornella Valley

It took us a couple of hours to wind our way up through the forest to the lower bowl and we were surprised to see how bare and open it was. Our guidebook had described it as “sparsely forested” but not the completely open space we were seeing.   When we looked more closely, we saw that a very large avalanche had obviously been through about 75% of the bowl.  There were stunted and damaged trees leaning precariously downhill and many full trees lay on the ground with some only barely covered in snow.  Hmm…not so promising for a safe ski down.  We ventured about half way into the bowl and realised that alas, the snow was not deep enough for skiing down without the risk of hitting an unseen fallen tree or worse getting a ski caught under one of them – that’s broken leg territory!!   Given the discrepancy between the guide book description and the conditions we were seeing today, we suspect the avalanche must have happened fairly recently, most probably in the winter 2015/16 when Arabba had 8m of snow and huge problems with avalanches.

Looking up our route
Looking up our route

Oh well!  Question answered.  We found a great picnic spot and basked in the warm afternoon sunshine, enjoying the stunning views back down the valley before heading down our tracks for a nice cup of coffee in the village.

We’ve been debating whether we should have organised a guide, but the fact remains, there really just isn’t enough snow off-piste anywhere we’ve been – even up on the highest peaks at 3000+m.    There is still no base.  If by some miracle, we get another 50cm on top of what is now still left on the north facing slopes, I think we will definitely shell out the dosh and get a local guide.  But until then, we will have to be content with long walks on our skis without worrying too much about a ski down.   We now count ourselves as experts at using skins to ski down steep goat tracks in a semi-controlled manner – always a useful desperado skill to practice!

Tomorrow a new planet in the Dolomiti Universe – Obereggen here we come!

 

 

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!!

 

Patience is a virtue

It’s been 69 days since we arrived in Arabba and in that time a grand total of about 15cm of natural snow has fallen from the skies.  And yet, we could have skied for miles and miles every single day if we’d wished, such is the extent of snow making and the vast network of inter-connected trails on Planet Dolomiti.  We still have only skied 231 lifts out of a possible 450!

But we confess.   We really do like to indulge in a drop of champagne powder snow from time to time and we’ve been “on the wagon” and suffering severe withdrawal symptoms these last two months.  The symptoms of which have been further exacerbated by endless Facebook photos of deep snow in the US, Japan and the even more humiliating 30cm of snow at Cardrona in January!!!

Hooray!  Finally, today our patience has been rewarded.   Bright cold sunshine and about 50cm of fresh even snow has fallen.

In planning our tour today, we took a very conservative approach given Grade 3 avalanche warnings and also our uncertainty about how good the base was going to be.  On the south side (sunny faces), much of the snow had fallen on bare ground.  Fortunately, Gra’s reconnoitre ski tour last week came in handy, he knew that the area around the Col Toron, at 2100m above Arabba still had snow, with much of it protected on its north facing slopes.

There’s not much more to say this evening…. other than the pictures tell the story.  We went pretty hard I have to say and we are this evening…officially “rooted units!!”.    Back out amongst it tomorrow!  Many thanks to the Planet Dolomiti Snow God for rewarding our patience.

First Tracks 7 Feb
First Tracks 7 Feb
On our way back up from first morning run
On our way back up from first morning run
Our tracks 7 - Feb
Our tracks 7 – Feb
Ski Tour 7 Feb
Ski Tour 7 Feb
Morning lines off East bench of Col Toron
Morning lines off East bench of Col Toron

 

Good Samaritans in the snow!

We were able to make a leisurely start to our day today.  The original plan would have seen us up early with Venice garbage men and catching the Vaporetta in the dark to meet Rick at the airport first thing this morning.

But Plan B, now allowed us a leisurely breakfast, a last farewell to San Marco square and an easy ride down the Grand Canal late morning to our parking spot.

San Marco square
San Marco square

Checking our emails this morning we received an hilarious email from Gra’s friend Ralf…who funnily enough we had been reminiscing about over the weekend as he was the mate that Gra had first visited Venice with, all those years ago.  We don’t hear from Ralf overly much so it was rather a funny co-incidence.

Ralf was contacting Gra to apologise for a potential panic he may have caused….I’ll let him explain…

Hi – expect you are going to be back in time for this gig [ a 40th year school re-union ]

Cam probably updated you on the rumour from Mark Bytheway via Brett Kenny announcing your death…

… apparently a fiery car crash…. you hoon…. think I freaked out all of Wanaka when I rang Te Wanaka to check on you… sorry

Talk soon

Ralf

Classic!    And just as we were talking about it again while hurtling down the Autostrada back to Arabba at “hoon-like speeds”….we were overtaken by ……a hearse.    OK….now all of that’s a little bit spooky!  But since we don’t seem to have received any panicked calls or emails from Wanaka, I guess either everyone knows that we’re alive and kicking or …. they’re not that fussed at Gra’s supposed firey demise… I’m sure it’s the former and not the latter!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“Gra…we just got overtaken by a hearse!!”

We are pretty stoked to see that there’s a decent amount of new snow.  Presumably it will increase as we get higher!   And sure enough, the road became narrower and more snow-covered the higher we climbed.   It was lucky that we were going through to Arabba later in the day as it seemed pretty obvious that at least one of the passes would have still been closed to traffic before lunch.

Along the way we needed to give Gino some more mountain fuel.  By that I mean diesel with a special additive that prevents the fuel from going “sticky” in the low temperatures. With temperatures regularly below -10C in Arabba, we definitely needed this type of fuel.  The best place to fill up is when we’re actually in the mountains.  You can never be sure if you are getting the right fuel if you buy it in the valleys.

We had been using a fuel station at Forno, in the Cadore valley just before the main Belluna valley to Venice. There has been a nice man in attendance previously. But this time, Graeme had to use cash in an automatic dispensing machine.   After feeding in €25, the pump failed to fire.   G was pretty upset about this and he was very reluctant to just abandon his cash to the machine.   And fortunately for us…along came our good Samaritans.   A lovely young Italian couple from the local village.  The girl’s partner was the local snow-plough driver and it appeared she was keeping him company while he was busy clearing the roads and now the garage forecourt.   They’d noticed our distress and the girl jumped out of the truck and started to speak French to us.  Reasonable assumption since our number plates are French and bright red just to make sure no-one misses us!    At this point, my husband, who tells me how fluent he is in french…regularly…looked blankly at the lovely young girl.   I had to tell him that she was speaking French in the end…..hmmmm!!!!

It was a quick switch to English, which unfortunately neither the girl or her partner spoke well.  But somehow with charade miming, lots of sad facial expressions and waving our machine receipt we were able to get across the magnitude of our dilemma.   Guess what this delightful couple did?    After they made sure that the machine was indeed working and it was just our stupidity, they put their own money in the machine and filled our tank for us.  They just asked us for our receipt and told us they would sort it out with the garage owner when he returned from lunch.  How was that?   I hugged the lovely girl and shook the young man’s hand.  I really wanted to take their picture…but thought it might have been a bit weird.   I had to settle for a photo of their snow-plough instead.   Both Graeme and I were so grateful.   We spent the next few moments in our re-fueled Gino, sending mental messages of the best karma possible to this wonderful couple of good samaritans from Forno.

Our lovely snow plough saviours!
Our lovely snow plough saviours!

Back on the road again, we’re really appreciating the traction control button on Gino.  We didn’t need to put chains on despite some fairly significant snow on the road.

And lastly a word about “Pram Hazards”.   Because there are few foot-paths in the Dolomiti you will often find Mum’s out walking with their prams, right on the side of the road, around blind corners and with sheer precipices dropping away below them.  Then add narrow icy roads, sun-strike from the low winter sun, fast Italian drivers in buses, vans & trucks and it’s enough to make your hair curl!   Gra completely freaked out once while I was driving and we came upon a mum & her baby around a blind corner.   And today, just to add to the hazard the road is down to one lane because of the snow.   Perfect time to take junior for a stroll……NOT!!

Pram hazards!!
Pram hazards!!

There was so much excitement from Gra about all the lovely snow. Obviously our cunning plan to run away from Arabba for a few days did the trick.  As the sun was setting and the clouds clearing, the views across the small villages as we approached Arabba were magical.

She lives….she skis!

Well yes, today I went skiing.  Well I had to.  It was snowing.  Well, not really snowing.  More of a constipated splattering but it was white and falling from the sky.   I only survived long enough for 4 runs though!  Still, in our Arabba world of huge vertical that equates to over 3200m vertical which is not too bad a start for the jellied legged weakling I’ve become.

Weird weather.  We saw a number on Gina our GPS’ display this morning that we’ve never seen before…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Can’t remember if the temperature has ever been above zero before?

We double checked Gina against the town temperature gauge…and yes….+4C?   And it’s snowing.  Go figure?

Home at lunch time for a “nanna nap” for me and some computer work for Graeme.  My food intake is almost back to normal, although cheese, meat and wine are still off my list.   I may never look kindly upon chicken curry or a French sauscisson again.  I now have another answer as to why that great big Lyonnaise sauscisson was called an “Oh Jesus!”.

Okay! So we’re going to get serious with “la neve”.   We are now into our 3rd and last month in Arabba and so far only 16cm of snow has fallen since we’ve been here.   Murphy’s Law will ensure that if we leave Arabba for a few days it will snow.   And yes….a quick check this afternoon of the weather forecasts…..

2017-02-02_1932

Our original plan is to head to Venice on Friday for a long weekend. I will confess that I just love saying that!  “Oh just ducking off to Venice for a long weekend!” I have been practising to say it in my most nonchalant tone…as if it’s something we’d do often,  when in reality  I don’t expect that I will ever have another opportunity to say this sentence again in my life-time.

So many of my friends have lived in London and I used to love hearing their tales of going to Paris or Berlin for the weekend.  This ability to just “jet-off” somewhere exotic for a couple of days must truly be one of the most wonderful advantages of living in Europe.  In just a couple of hours you are in a completely different country and culture.  For us ANZAC’s it’s always a long plane flight costing serious mega-bucks and usually involving jet-lag!

So Venice here we come, whether you’re ready or not!   By this I mean, regardless of water levels.  It appears that Venice is starting to oscillate between either not enough or too much water in her canals.  We will be going before the Carnivale festival starts at the end of February which, I hope, will mean slightly less tourists around than later in the month.

This “Carnavale” festival has had me a bit confused.  Graeme came back to the apartment yesterday saying that the slopes were super crowded because our coffee man had told him it was a carnavale holiday?   But when I googled “Carnavale in Italy”,  I learned that any parties or festivals are usually only held about 2 weeks before the start of Lent which occurs 40 days before Easter.  In 2017, the earliest any festivals would start is from the 14th of February, with the 28th being the last possible day.     Given this information, I’m not entirely sure Graeme’s coffee man knows what he’s talking about. I did my own research and learned that Venice now has the most well known Carnavale festival but that festivals are also held in many other cities in Italy.  I also learnt that other than timing, it’s got nothing to do with religion, but rather it’s all about being naughty and subversive before you have to be good and pious for the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter.   Back in the day when Venice ran it’s own show in the 1700’s, it was all the rage, but then the dour Austrians took over and banned the festival, particularly the wearing of masks.  It seems the festival was forgotten about and it wasn’t until nearly 200 years later in 1979 that the first Carnavale festival was again held in Venice.

Armed with all this exciting new information we are quite enthused about our upcoming road trip.  With the weather forecast looking decidedly average tomorrow we’ve decided to leave for our Venice trip a day early and spend an extra night on the way in a little walled city of Treviso.

 

 

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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