NOTE:  When Sharon adds comments, they will be in {curly brackets}.  Comments added AFTER real time are in [square brackets].


Trip Log 4.  Day 4.  High Up in the Italian Alps

Saturday October 16, 2010.  Völs, Siusi and Alpe di Siusi

Alpe di Siusi (I’m gonna guess AL-peh dee SYOO-see as a pronounciaion) is Europe’s largest high alpine meadow.  It separates two of the most famous Dolomite ski valleys.  It’s eight miles wide, twenty miles long and soars up to 6500 feet in altitude.

This meadow is the reason I carved out this northeast Italian spot for the first of four locations we’ll visit in Italy.  I’ve always loved high mountain forests and meadows.  To get there, you first drive to Siusi, a small village with a gondola lift to the meadow.  But before that, we decide to go to Völs, because we were told we might get a SIM card there.

So this report is about our experiences in the village of Völs, and of the gondola lift and the meadow the gondola takes you to.

It’s a little before 9 am.  Sharon steps into my role as the person who figures our how things have come to be – how the world works, by speculation, intuition and common sense  She reports that she just figured out that the word passport came from the papers one used to have, to allow you to pass through ports, as Europeans and others arrived in Staten Island, to come to the United States.  {I guess I was thinking of far before that, as most travel was by ships that came into ports around the world}

We just finished breakfast at the cafe Sabina,

where the lane from our apartment reaches the main road.  We are outside looking at birds, and get a couple of Blue Tits.  It is cold.

There are numerous flocks of Tree Sparrows, maybe ten or more in each flock, flitting about.  They have a little white cheek patch, with a black mark inside the white.  Very elegant.  They have a rusty red head, also differing from the House Sparrow in that regard.  So there ya go.

Suddenly I get a half-instant view of a bird that flies into the hedge.  I’m pretty sure I know what it is, when it pops out and right onto the grass, big as life.  It’s a Robin.  Over here there is the Robin, and then there is the rare American Robin.  Sharon and I call THIS Robin the European Robin, or English Robin.  Cute little guy with a great song. {This little bird is a flycatcher type with a beautiful rust color head and chest.  We think that when the Europeans saw OUR robin which is a thrush with a rusty chest, they thought of “their” robin and called him the same name.}
It’s about 10:15 and we should get moving.

We want to stop at the Castlerotto supermarket, right on this edge of town.  The tiny twelve-car parking lot in front of the store is full, of course, and we go to the dirt, rock and sloped overflow lot in the back.

To our surprise, there is a ski lift running, with nobody riding, but still, it’s running.  We never learn the answer to this question, but we wonder if anybody can just hop on the lift, ride it up the mountain, and go hiking for the day, for free.

The fenced-in (tiny electrified one-wire fence) meadow is full of  Swiss Browns, the cows Sharon has just learned the name of.  One comes very close, and is beautiful, in a cow-appreciation sort of way, with the two yellow earrings in her pierced ears.

We go in, and BOOM crossed with UH OH – Sharon has found the cowbells, hung from leather straps.  They are very cool, and I wonder which one we’ll be taking home with us.  {The cows here all wear the bells and in the supermarket, they have a hardware store with all kinds of things the farmers use.  There are giant bells a foot across and the one I want that is the size the cows are wearing.  I have a bell that Aunt Dorothy Baumgartner let me have from one of her cows who  also used to wear them (in Versailles, Missouri) and I think of it when I see these cows.  Her cows all now wear computer chips that can read the milk production of each cow and adjust their feed accordingly.  Not as sweet as a bell, though.}

She asks how much for the cowbells, and the worker scans a cowbell in.  Fourteen euros, he says (add 40% to get dollars).  {But a customer by me, maybe a farmer} says something to him, and then says, “plus 19 for the layder” [writing phoenetically here].  Actually spelled leder, it means leather.  More for the strap.  The total is 33 euros, or about $46.  Sharon leans towards the feel of ‘33’ rather than ’46,’ so that’s how we think of it.  33 euros.  Doesn’t that sound a little easier on the pocketbook?

We buy a couple of other things and head back to the car.  We notice some birds, and stop to check out a WhiteWagtail, a couple of Chaffinches, a couple of Rooks and a couple of Magpies (same species as America’s Black-billed Magpie).

We try to drive out, but there is a discussion about where to find an ATM in town, which results in us turning right onto a tiny road snaking through some stores, then opening up into a piazza (say “pee-OTS-uh,”) in which stands a very tall bell tower.

The girls (sorry, that’s how I think of them) go into the tower, and when they come out, we learn that there is a casket inside containing the body of a woman who died two days ago.  Sharon understands that the funeral will be later.  At the edge of the piazza, very close to the tower is a large church.

Jerry and I notice a bank across the piazza (think “plaza”).  I try E400 (the way I will say “400 euros”) but it seems to say, in Italian, “no international transactions.”  I try my second ATM card for E300, but it bounces me back out also.  I give up and wander around.  Jerry comes over in a couple of minutes and says that E250 worked ok.  I tried my Wells Fargo again – no good.  I try Comerica, and “What Ho! Cried Daniel” it works.  Woohoo.  We’re set for another few days.  Or hours anyway.  It’s about 11:30 am.  I catch a glimpse of a Great Tit in a small tree between the church and tower.

Time out for a history lesson.  Brother George was going to Missouri University medical school.  He was in a stall in a rest room one day, and as clever college men like to do, he wrote those four words on the divider of the stall.  A day or a few days later, he went into the same stall, and someone had added the response, “It’s a long way to Damascus!”  As George says with a chuckle, “Why Damascus?”

OK, time in again.

We pile back into the van, make it out to the main road, and after a bit, we see a wonderful barn.  In Missouri, my cousin Mel has a “bank barn.”  That refers to the earth and grabel embankment built against the side of the barn, so the tractor is driven straight into the upper level, not the ground level.  This particular bank barn has a curve in the entrance road, plus a very interesting cutout in the back wall.

We continue on and in no time, we are in the village of Völs where we have heard we might get a SIM card.  We follow our noses, and wind up at a little store which it seems might sell us a SIM card for our useless-without-one cell phone, or at least a phone card.  A girl, daughter of the owners, is going back and forth between the store and her car, and yes, she says, she speaks English.  She explains that they are just closing {wouldn’t you know it, it’s 12:01 and they close at 12}, and her parents are off to have lunch, or else they might help us.  She also explains that no matter if we DO get hold of a SIM card, no telephone service exists on the weekend to turn it on.  So we are up the creek on that.

Sharon, who likes to collect rocks from countries we visit picks up a broken chunk of a loose brick, or paver.

We decide to let all that go, and drive up the hill to where the beautiful church is,

looking for a rest room, almost universally shown as WC on the signs pointing to them.  We find the location, pull off into a little parking lot, and cross the small road to the town library, with public bathrooms open all the time, although the library itself is closed for the weekend.  I never saw such a spotlessly sparkling bathroom.  Outstanding.

By the time everybody uses the facilities, and we are walking back to our car, Shirley points out the most unusual stair arrangement I’ve ever seen.  Each “step” is slightly raised from the one below, but each one is angled to go upward to the street, not level to gravity.  Very interesting.  Well I guess you have to see the photo.

As we are admiring the stairs, a huge bus pulls up, stops, and lets out a hoard of tourists, who are going to check into a hotel just up the street.  The bus is blocking us from getting out.  Sharon talks to the driver, who says he will move.  We load up into the van, he backs down a little, and we are out.  Shirley saw some white stone carvings on the way up,

and we find a little parking lot across the street from them.  She and Jerry go to check them out.  Suddenly a pickup truck comes flying up the street, turns into our parking lot, and slams on the brakes.  Two men jump out and run down below, where exists a fire station.   {We guess volunteer firemen who have been summoned some way.}

In no time, a fire truck comes roaring out, onto the street, and then we see what the deal is. We can see across a distance of ground that a car has flipped over right on a curve of the highway. An ambulance and another fire truck are already there.  We watch the goings-on for perhaps 15 minutes.  One of the ambulances takes off, and we are left wondering how on earth he managed to flip his car, but have a clue.  The road curves to the left, and there is an embankment of stones on his left, and a guardrail on the right, to prevent him from zooming out into a dropoff.  We think he hit the inside slope, and in reacting, flipped the car.

We finally leave the scene.  It’s gondola time, and we drive up to the gondola base at Siusi, park and enter, buying four tickets to ride up and back.  I say how much for tickets, she says 13.50, I say ok, she says, “Maybe seniors?”  I say yeah, yeah, yeah, and we get in for 11 euros each.  It’s great to be old!

We check out a mountaineering/skiing clothing and footwear shop for a few moments, but decide to spend more time here when we come back.

You know?  Now that I think of it, we saw the accident scene first, THEN went up the hill to the bathroom, then went up to the gondola.  Mi scusi.

We head on to the gondola entry point, and it’s pretty cool.  There is about 3/4s of a circle round-edged platform the gondola travels around, with its door open and its floor exactly meeting the platform.  But it never stops moving, so we just step into the car, one at a time, since it moves at a comfortably slow pace.

We’re in, the door closes, and up we go.

It’s cloudy, cool, foggy, the windows are scratchy, and it’s fantastic.

It’s at this point, I pull a “usual” and accidentally leave the audio recorder on for about 8 ½ minutes.  Oops.  I’ll have to listen to the whole thing in case somebody says something cool or smart or clever.

Out of the blue, again, Shirley tells about a comedian who said, “If you lose an arm, you get an artificial arm with a hook.  Why a hook?  Why not a toothbrush or a key – something useful.”  I say, “Who ever heard of Captain Key?”

Up, up we go, into the fog, noting cows with bells (we magically hear a small tinkling, increasing in volume until we’re right over them, then decreasing as we continue up), {Come to My house to see the bell.} horses, geese, chickens, goats, farms, and much more, all through bits of fog then clearing.

We step off about 1:30, and there are very cool birds here!  We get a black bird with a down-curving bright yellow bill.  It’s an Alpine Chough (say ‘chuff’).  Then a small flock of birds the shape and behavior of American Robins proves to be several groups of Fieldfares.  Not life birds for us, but very very cool.

This is fun!

We have already decided to have lunch up here, and a worker points us to the café.  We go in, and it’s a glass-surrounded floor-to-ceiling walled extravaganza.  We can see as far as the fog will allow.  There are farms and roads and tractors and animals and interesting stuff everywhere.  Oh, yes, and a giant meadow!

In one corner is a totem pole-like carving of elephants stacked on each other’s shoulders, all cut from one log.

Sharon orders a dumpling goulash with the wonderful name of Kaiserschmarm, Shirley tries noodles with mushrooms, and says she’ll share it with Sharon.  That could be a book or TV show: “Share It With Sharon”  Anyway, Shirley’s meal comes and she says, “I don’t see any mushrooms.”  Sharon inspects it, finds one, eats it, continues to poke around, and generates a giant laugh when she says to Shirley, “There was only one mushroom.”

I have a tomato salad (Insalata Pomodoro), and Jerry gets potatoes and eggs. He’s a vegetarian and finds it difficult to ignore the fact that the eggs come embedded with large pieces of ham, which he didn’t ask for and it didn’t mention.

He picks the ham out, and says, to which we all agree, “Those are the orangest yokes I’ve ever seen.”  {I orderd a dish whch is chopped up pancakes sprinkled with powered sugar and “mountain cranberries”.  It is the best  of all the orders and we all share it.}

We notice a big white rabbit down near the barn of one farm.  He must have discovered some greener grass because he goes hoppin’ down the bunny trail.

There is major construction going on up here.  The existing hotels are old and wooden and very stately looking, but they are building several huge, modern-looking hotel structures, to be finished in December of this year.  It’s mostly for the skiers, don’t you know.

Some shopping is next, and there are lots of things we want.  We finish up, and make it over to the gondola area again, enter our choice, watch the door close, and down we go.  The trip down is more spectacular than the trip up for some reason.  A wonderful stream has an elevation drop about every 30-40 feet, making a series of small waterfalls.

We make it to the bottom, exit, load up into the car and drive back to Castlerotto, hitting the supermarket twelve minutes past four, and guess what they do on Saturdays at 4 pm?  I’m not even gonna say it.

But there is another, tiny market, and we reverse direction, heading for it.  It’s raining lightly, and the tiny parking lot is full,

so I let everyone off, and drive back to the piazza with the tower and the theoretically-recently-removed dead lady.

Buying a few things, it’s at last time to head for home.  Can’t wait for the cozy apartment.  We make dinner from the things we bought, and set all our electronic things to charge overnight.

We play a game of Rummikub with our cards, and it works fine.  Sharon wins.  She always wins, dangit.

I load the days photos, then I load Jerry’s photos, then I load the video, then I go back and copy the best photos of the day into a folder, and it’s time for bed.

Our situation is this: no cell phone, no internet, no AOL.  We need to solve this situation in Venice, yes we do.

But for now, since I can do nothing about it, I turn it over and let it go.  It’s so simple.
Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

Previous Report
Next Report
Italy Reports
Spain Reports
Family Trips