Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Honeymoon + 10: Day #6: Lazy Sunday Hike from Marinzen and Meeting Oetzi

The final day of our honeymoon remembered….


While our first room at Hotel zum Wolf had a view of the mountains, the view from our current room was dominated by a close-up view of the church tower. As each bell vigorously called out to demand parishioners attend morning mass, we realize that sleeping-in is not an option. After a breakfast buffet at the hotel, we take a ride on the Marinzen chair lift. The open air rides provides a good view of the open meadows, the fairytale forest, and the skyline of Kastelruth dwindling in the background. Liam is anxious about getting off at the upper terminus, but discovers that chair lifts are lot easier without skis. We stop to write postcards and sip cappuccino at the Marizen-Hutte. Around the hutte is a children’s petting zoo and we look at the cats, goats, pigs, donkeys, and ducks. One Wilhelm-Goat is particularly impressive although uncooperative about posing for pictures.

Hiking through awe-inspiring open meadows.

We walk down the trails that return to Kastelruth. First they pass through thick forests, occasionally opening into small pastures where cow grazes. Liam poses with the cows for a picture and then inadvertently frightens one by getting too close. As we descend we pass by picturesque farmhouses, barns, and vacation homes. The forest ends and the trail crosses open meadows that make one want to spin around singing “the hills are alive.” We rest on a bench and watch as children ride up the trail on ponies, their guides stopping to give them lambs to hold (although we feel they’re far to young to be playing with these animals). At long last our stroll returns us to the city center of Kastelruth, where we have another yummy meal and more beer.

We take the bus back to Bolzano, Liam finding the close air inside the bus, the rapid twists and turns, and vertiginous drops to the right of the bus to be a bit nauseating. In Bolzano, we bail out our extra bags from luggage check and then check ourselves in the Hotel Feichter. We wander across the city to the South Tirol Museum of Archaeology, home of the iceman Oetzi. Susan wisely rents an English audio guide and is nice enough to share it with Liam when he discovers that all the labels are in Italian and German. The museum is a comprehensive collection of archaeological artifacts from the South Tirol region starting on the ground floor in the Neolithic Age and winding up the stairs through prehistoric times, the Roman Era, and into the Middle Ages.

The centerpiece exhibit is the mummified remains of a Copper Age man found by a pair of Alpinists in the mountains along the Italian-Austrian border in 1991. An entire floor of exhibits contain the well-preserved remains of this man’s clothing, tools and weapons with interpretations of how the iceman may have used them. As the two British narrators on the audio guide frequently comment, “We don’t know for sure.” The remains of the iceman – nicknamed Oetzi – are kept in a temperature and light-controlled room that visitors may peek into to see his shrunken, tattooed body. The narrators of the audio guide remind us that Oetzi is a dead human being and this is his final resting place and to treat it with respect – in fact they insist one turns off the audioguide before entering the room. It’s both eerie and amazing to see the 5,000-year-old remains of this human being (although it’s actually less creepy than the scourging of Christ on Calvario).

The museum is well-designed and fascinating, but museum-fatigue and hunger set in and Liam decides we must go. Finding a place to eat in Bolzano on a Sunday evening is not the easiest thing as most restaurants and pubs are closed, so we settle for a sidewalk cafe that serves food that obviously was heated in a microwave. We return to the hotel where Susan curls up with her fantasy book, but after packing his bags for the trip home, Liam gets restless and goes for a walk. After dark there are now numerous cafes and beerhouses open and overflowing with customers but Liam is not linguistically adventurous enough to go in for a drink. So he sits in Piazza Walther, admiring the catalpa trees that remind him of Williamsburg and the illuminated cross on the mountaintop overlooking the city which looks like it is floating in the dark of night. Liam also finds a machine that vends Pez candy and brings some back to Susan as treats from Mt. Pez that he found stuck to his hiking boots.

Residents of Bolzano commute to work by bicycle.

The next morning we take a cab to the Bolzano airport to begin our journey home. We fly a prop-plane to Rome and from there fly to New York and then on to Boston. It is a long day of travel with all three flights crowded and delayed so we arrive home more frazzled than rested. But we have our memories of Italy and our hopes to one day return.

Full photo album from Day #6: Kastelruth and Bolzano.

Honeymoon + 10: Day #5: To Tierser Alpl and Back Down

The fifth day of our honeymoon remembered….


We awake to a chilly morning, the shadows and sunrise transforming the appearance of the surrounding mountains, and a dramatic undercast filling the valleys below. In the dining room, we’re among the first to take our seat and felt further shunned as all the German-speakers gather around the other table to chat and eat breakfast. After breakfast we begin our hike along the ridge of the Schlernalm/Altipiano Dello Sciliar. Again the views are quite impressive, the Alpe di Siussi on our left and a more distant valley down the steep slopes on our right. At one particularly dramatic overlook, an elderly couple we recognize from the Schlernhaus offer to take our picture. Susan and the gentleman converse awkwardly in German, while the woman tells her husband several times that we are “Amerikanische“. Finally the man hears his wife and says, fluently, “Well, in that case we should speak English!” After a laugh, Susan apologizes for not being able to speak German well, but that man replies, “That’s okay, we’re Norwegian.” We tell him about our problems communicating at the hutte, but he says reassuringly that it’s not a problem, “as long as you can eat.”

The language divide provides a moment of levity for Liam & Susan as a fellow hiker takes their portrait with a dramatic backdrop.

Past this point the trail winds around a deep gorge where several mountain ranges meet. The views here a particularly fascinating and Liam stops frequently to take photographs. Peaks of limestone tower over us looking like the drip-castles children build on the beach and perhaps are an inspiration for Frank Gehry’s architectural style. While the hike is generally not too strenuous, our untrained lungs find it difficult to breathe in this altitude, and after passing through the gorge a slight uphill grade feels like a deathmarch to Liam. We stop to refuel at Tierser Alpl hutte where Liam perks himself up with an espresso and fills his tummy with polenta, while Susan enjoys the Huttennudeln.

From here begins the descent back into the Alpe di Siussi along a series of maddening switchbacks that zigzag among loose rocks. The descent here is much steeper than our ascent of the previous day and Susan feels like a wimp not climbing up this side, but a smart wimp. Liam points out that she is in fact a luck wimp since she had no idea what the trails would be like. Numerous huffing and puffing Wanderen are coming up the trail and apparently ask us how far to the hutte. Susan is forced frequently to say “Es tut mir lied. Ich spreche nur Englishe.” Liam smiles and nods. Every time we think we’ve neared the end of the descent we turn a corner to find more switchbacks. Eventually we reach the meadow where the trail levels out. Along the trail, a Haflinger stands blocking the way and Susan enjoy a close-up look at the horse until it bares his teeth at her. The trail crosses the meadow where the ground is spongy and springs back after you step on it so that no footprints are left behind.

Susan befriends a Haflinger, one of the stocky little horses specfically bred to be workhorses in the high altitude of the Italian alps.

Our hike comes to an end at the Panorama hotel, where a group of children are intrigued by a paddock filled with little goats (the kids like the kids). There’s a chairlift to Compatsch here, but since there is no staff to let us on we decide to walk down the road. Along the way we notice some rulebreakers hop on the chairlift of their own volition. From Compatsch we take the Seiser Alm Bahn again, this time hearing conversations in three languages among our fellow travelers in the gondola. The shuttle bus is crowded and we have to stand and hold onto our packs as the bus speeds around the bends of the mountain roads. Burgi greets us and apologizes that she cannot put is in a room with a balcony again. The room also lacks a sofa, a dinette table, a hairdryer and a shower curtain. We think that Burgi is trying to tell us something. Liam discovers that his water bottle leaked and wet all his clothing and thus has no clean shirt to wear. While Liam washes clothing in the sink, Susan heroically returns to the sporting goods store and purchase Liam a lovely plaid shirt made of a wicking fabric.

We dine at a pizzeria, recovering from our hike with a couple of pizzas and lots of weisebier. We write postcards and listen to the church bell ring frantically as it calls worshipers to the vigil Mass. After the sun sets we go on a walk around the Calvario/Kalvarienberg hill where life-size dioramas show the stations of the cross. The scourging of Christ is particularly creepy in the dark. We encounter other walkers including a pair of children out on their own playing with flashlights and some dogwalkers whose vicious hunden bark vigorously at us. Liam worries that we are walking further and further away from Kastelruth on the dark wooded paths, but then we turn a bend and come upon a view of the Kastelruth church tower. Susan claims that she knew the path was circular all along. After another loop around, we head back to our hotel and help ourselves to drinks in the self-serve bar and look through the stacks of German board games. Back in our room, Liam flips the TV channels vainly in search of soccer, fussball, or calcio, but ends up watching the end of Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy humorously dubbed into German. Susan just sits back obsessively reading her George R.R. Martin book until drifting off to sleep.

Full photo album from Day #5: Hiking the Alpe di Siusi and Seiser Alm

Honeymoon + 10: Day #3: From Basilica Di San Marco to the Dolomites

The third day of our honeymoon remembered….




Over breakfast we determine that pricey Venice has emptied our wallets, so Liam sets off in search of an ATM so we have enough Euros to pay our hotel bill. Right in front of Hotel Riva the same fashion models are posing for another photo shoot. The whole crew come into the hotel for cofee and pastries, but the models refuse to eat anything. More tart succo di frutti and cherry preserve on rolls for us!

Liam evades a bronze horse trampling.

Liam in his wisdom made online reservations to visit Basilica di San Marco, yet when arrive at the church there is no indication of where tourists with reservations can enter. There’s a long line of tourists waiting by one door and a long line of tour groups waiting by the other door. This causes Liam to have a hairee-gazairee. We end up standing in the tour group line until the guides for a Japanese group tell us that all we need to do is cut to the head of the line and go right in. So we do. The basilica is crowded with people pushing and ignoring the no photography signs, but when we can sneak off into an uncrowded spot we admire the basilica’s beauty. After years of settling, the marble flooring rolls like the sea. The walls use many marbles of different colors — pink, green, grey, white — like a Neopolitan ice cream. Up in the galleries we can view the glimmering mosaics up close. Finally we step out on on the loggia to stand beneath the bronze horses and enjoy a wide view of Piazza di San Marco. Despite this, crowd fatigue has us feeling cranky and anxious.

We retrieve our bags from the hotel and then take a vaporetto down the Grand Canal to the train station. After puzzling over the self-service ticket machines we eat an adequate lunch and then board our train. Despite having reserved seats, we find a group of pouty, young German women occupying our compartment. They don’t have reserved seats and try using “We are so exhausted!” as an excuse, but we’re still forced to evict them. Our train rolls northward while we nap, read, write and look out the window. Susan is delighted when two gentleman in our compartment get off at Verona. The train heads into a long dark tunnel and when it reemerges we are in a land out of Grimm’s Fairy tales – towering mountains shrouded in mist. Yet even among the mountains it appears that every spare patch of ground is filled with grapevines. We arrive in Bolzano and on the platform Liam tries to buy a snack from a vending machine but it eats his money. Susan goes into the adjacent newsstand and buys an apricot-jam croissant which they share on the train platform. It is the most romantic moment of the honeymoon.

After checking extra luggage at the train station and struggling to find the bus station, our journey continues to Kastelruth. A few miles out of Bolzano our bus leaves the autostrada and starts up a narrow, windy road. Soon the autostrada is just a thin ribbon of black in the valley below, but our bus keeps climbing up, up, up through verdant mountain passes. Then we turn a bend and for the first time see craggy limestone peaks towering still higher above us. Liam contemplates hiking these mountains: “We’re going to die!” We’re seperated on the crowded bus and the friendly woman seated next to Susan tries to let her know where to get off for Kastelruth, but Susan can’t understand. Several rows back, Liam is powerless to reassure Susan that we are riding all the way to the last stop. That stop is conveniently located right next to our hotel, so we head up the stairs where the hotelier (who we learn later is named Burgi) greets is by name. Susan is amazed but Liam figures we’re the only guests who haven’t checked in yet.

Susan admires the view from the balcony of our room at Hotel zum Wolf in Kastelruth.

Hotel zum Wolf is very modern with rusticated decoration and is neat as a pin. We’re amazed that our bargain hotel room is large and cozy with a balcony looking out over the Dolomites. Susan decides she does not want to leave Hotel zum Wolf. Ever. At the desk we extend our stay another night after our planned hike and Burgi reccomends a restaurant for dinner. Our meal at Ausserzoll restaurant may be the gustatory highlight of our honeymoon. Liam eats rocket waffles with gorgonzola mousse and spinach ravioli, while Susan savors champagne soup and frogfish. We wash it down with the local brew and afterwards the waitress treats us to grappa as a digestif. We head off to sleep feeling warm and happy.

Full photo album from Day # 3: Venice — Kastelruth

Honeymoon + 10: Day #2: Venice Walks

The second day of our honeymoon remembered….

Rooftops of Venice in the shadow of the Campanille.

In the early morning, Susan watches from our hotel window as a man and his dog pilot a work boat down the canal. After a tasty breakfast at our hotel, we follow walks around Venice from our Rick Steves’ guidebook. We start in Piazza di San Marco – home to Basilica di San Marco, the Doge’s Palace and the Campanile. We ride the elevator to the top of the Campanile where we can see the red-clay rooftops of Venice and clear views across the lagoon. After strolling the waterfront and seeing the famous Bridge of Sighs, we head off in dense web of alleyways toward the Rialto. En route we visit the 10th century Church of San Moise with its Baroque 17th century facade. Our guidebook tells us that during World War II the Nazis had there local headquarters next door to this church named for one of the great patriarchs of Judaism (the irony of this occurred to Liam two days later while hiking the Seiser Alm). Further along our meandering brings us to Scala Contarini del Bovolo where we climb the spiral stair to the top. We are greeted by a slim, friendly gatto wearing a jewel-encrusted collar. The view here is more intimate than the Campanile, with views of tiny Venetian backyards and clotheslines.

Liam peaks out of the bovolo (“snail shell” in the Venetian dialect).

After a stop for a cappuccino, we emerge onto the Grand Canal by the Rialto Bridge where we are reacquainted with the throngs of tourists. We cross the bridge and enter the arcades of the Rialto Market (Erberia) where vegetables, cheese, fish, leather handbags, and tourist junk is sold. Susan is delighted by a UPS delivery boat and piles of pallets on the quayside. For lunch, Susan eats a plate full of tiny squid and Liam cannelloni in a dark, atmospheric pub along the shopping street called the Ruga. We follow lunch with another helping of gelato. Continuing our walk, we visit the Church of San Polo, its small stone nave decorated with art by Tintoretto, Veronese, and the Tiepolos. Like New Orleans, Venice is always ready for Carnival and mask shops are frequent along the tourist paths. We stop in Tragicomica and try on some masks, but don’t buy. Our next stop is the Frari Church, a larger medieval/early Renaissance building containing both paintings and the tomb of Liam’s favorite artist Titian. Next door is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco — home to a fraternal organization that performed charitable works for plague victims — and is richly decorated with religious art by Tintoretto. We enjoyed interpreting the religious themes in the dozens of giant canvases on the walls and carrying large mirrors to study the murals on the ceiling.

After all that walking and art, it was time to rest with pizza and beer at a cafe by the Academia Bridge. It was delightfully refreshing until the wind picked up and we got too cold. We ducked back into the alleyways zigzagging our way toward La Salute Church. Along the way we stopped at a gallery selling intriguing works of art by an artist named Tobia Rava. We continued are walk into a covered alley that felt like a dark tunnel. We emerged from the tunnel and found ourselves amidst twig-thin fashion models in a photoshoot. We are certain the photographer said, “Yes! Gauche Americans are exactly what this picture needs to make the cover of Elle!” We returned to our hotel to rest and wash up for supper at Osteria de Carla. The fact that all the other diners speak English and clutch Rick Steves’ guidebooks embarrasses Susan but the food is tasty enough to bury Liam’s shame.

We conclude the evening with a gondola ride. Susan chats up the gondolier:

“Have you gone under all 460 bridges in Venice?”.

“Si, most of them!” He shows as Marco Polo’s house and the City Hall as we sail along tiny canals as well as a brief float on the Grand Canal. In the darkness, we can peep in windows, look at the stars, and listen to the gondolier greet doormen and waiters as we pass. The motion-sensor doors on the fancier hotels slide open as we glide by. Venice looks just right from the water.

We eat more gelato before returning to Hotel Riva for the night.

Susan waits for the gondolier to return to begin a tour of Venice’s canals by night.

Full photo album from Day #2: Venice.

Honeymoon + 10: Day #1: Arriving in Venice

My wife Susan & I recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.  Looking at the website with all our wedding and honeymoon photographs, I discovered that I’d written a travelogue of our honeymoon in Venice and the Dolomites which I’d forgotten about.  In a sense, it was my first blog post; my blog before I had a blog.  A lot has changed since that time (as all the dead links can attest).  Ten years ago I was still using a 35-mm film camera and apparently brought very grainy film on the trip, so the pictures look like their from another era.  Still, it’s a fun time full of fond memories.

I thought it would be fun over the next six days to republish the travelogue and some of the best photographs in blog format. Happy Anniversary, Susan!

Rio di San Giulliano flows by Hotel Riva carrying gondolas and work boats.

We flew overnight aboard Alitalia, our cabin served by handsome bald flight attendants, one who said to Liam “Look at my face!” and apologized for the plane not having vegetarian meals, but did a good job filling Liam up with salad and cheese. During a layover at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport we sipped cappuccino alongside nattily-dressed Italian businessmen and Susan napped. Arriving at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport, we rode the Alilaguna water bus into the city. Liam got acquainted with the lagoon when a wave of briny water splashed through the window soaking his shirt. We disembarked at Piazza di San Marco, pushing through its crowds of tourists and pigeons to get to our lodging at Hotel Riva. Once checked in, Susan napped and Liam strolled blindly through Venice’s alleys ending up in Campo Santa Maria Formosa where he kicked a soccer ball back to a local youth. Reunited at the hotel, we headed out for supper at Antica Sacrestia. Following a tasty meal, we search for gelato and happily consume a cone of limone while listening to the orchestras on Piazza San Marco. We dance in the now depopulated square until accosted by flower sellers.

Susan and Basilica di San Marco are romantic by night.

Full photo album from Day #1: Venice.

Book Review: Unruly Places by Alastair Bonnett

Author: Alastair Bonnett
Title: Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies
Narrator: Derek Perkins
Publication Info: Tantor Media, 2014
ISBN: 1494505827

Dr. Bonnet collects a compendium of curiosities in geography, places in the world at the borders, no-mans lands, enclaves, dead cities, floating islands, and ephemeral places.

Destinations include:

  • Sandy Island, marked on maps in the Indian Ocean for over a century despite the fact that it never existed.
  • The historic Old Mecca, destroyed to make way for amenities for pilgrims.
  • Alan Sonfist’s artistic creation of pre-colonial plantings in New York called Time Landscape.
  • The lost Aral Sea, now the Aralqum Desert.
  • Kijong-dong , the North Korean “Peace Village” along the DMZ with South Korea.
  • Pripyat, the city abandoned due to the Cherynobyl disaster.
  • The intriguingly named Archaeological Park of Sicilian Incompletion  in Giarre.
  • The interlocking Dutch and Belgian enclaves of  Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog .
  • The micronation of Sealand.
  • Spray ice islands used for petroleum exploration in the Arctic
  • The RV park in the LAX parking lot which serves as the permanent home for many air carrier personnel.
  • Nowhere, the Burning Man-style art event in northeast Spain

Derek Perkins voice lends a curmudgeonly world explorer gruffness to the narration.  A fun book and informative.

Recommended booksMicronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Self-Proclaimed Nations by John Ryan, Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places by John R. Stilgoe, and Lights Out for the Territory: 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London by Iain Sinclair
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Be there now : travel stories from around the world

Editor: Mike O’Mary
Title:Be there now : travel stories from around the world
Publication Info: Dream of Things, 2012

This book collects very brief essays that capture a moment of a travel experience.  It’s interesting idea but a lot of the stories come out vapid and are not at all transcendent.  It’s a quick read, though, and a handful of stories stand out such as: volunteers helping sea turtles lay their eggs in Costa Rica ( A Trembling Voice by Frank Izaguirr), a blind man visiting mountain gorillas in Rwanda (In the Footsteps of Fossey by Irene Morse), and a writer exploring the world through Google Maps (Virtual Travel by Trendle Ellwood).  The book kind of feels the first part of a contest in which the authors of the top stories should be awarded with a chance to publish longer stories of their experiences.

Recommended booksThere’s No Toilet Paper on the Road Less Traveled: The Best of Travel Humor and Misadventure by Doug Lansky
Rating: **


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