Today I ventured to figure out the bus system, which in Germany would be simple–just look at the published tables, and get on the one that arrives precisely when it was supposed to. I have to keep reminding myself I’m in Italy. I thought I was going to get on a bus and have to change, but luckily I asked, and there was a direct one, not on the published table. It left an hour later than the other, so that didn’t really save me any time, but I didn’t have to change. People-watching in a bus station is entertaining in any country. It’s Italy, so people were bringing their dogs hiking, so that was the best part. It was about an hour on a tour-type bus to Ortisei (or St. Ulrich or Urtijëi). Wait, what? Now things have 3 names? Yes, now we throw a 3rd language into the mix: Ladin, which is a mix of Latin from Roman conquerors and the language spoken in the valleys at the time. Given the remoteness of the valleys, the close-cousin of Latin survives. Right when I got to Ortisei, I headed straight for the cable car up the mountain. Yes, me. I don’t like heights. I’m okay with enclosed bubbles, which is what this one was, though–as long as they don’t stop and no one swings their feet! It was a bit cloudy in the mountains, as there was a storm brewing, so my pictures don’t quite capture the amazing structures these mountains are. They are these huge pieces of rock that just jut out and create these sheer cliffs. They are technically coral reefs from when this was all underwater. I had a nice lunch outdoors with an incredible view. I headed back down on the gondola. I did not bring shoes suitable for hiking, but many were hiking or riding mountain bikes down. The town was the cutest thing I have ever seen. If you have ever been to Switzerland and noted that it was all staged–this seemed exactly like the Italian version of that. But, I spoke to people, and I can attest they were real. Ortisei is a ski resort, but it is also known for its woodcarving craftsmen. There were stores all over with every iteration of the nativity you could imagine in any format. I, however, was on a mission impossible. Years ago, when I lived with a host family in Italy, we spent 2 weeks in the mountains near Bolzano, where my host father was born. They had this wine stopper that was a little wooden man in lederhosen sitting on top of a barrel of wine. When you pulled the lever on his back, he would tip his hat and nod to you. I loved that little man so much that when I left, he gave it to me as a present. I have it to this day, but one of my kids (who will not be named here, but you can probably guess) broke it 2 or so years ago, so no more hat-tipping. Since then I have done a little research, and the woodshop who used to make them stopped making them in the 60s. It was a very long shot. I looked in all of the woodshops but mainly found religious carvings. Finally, I stepped into one and asked in my best German, and he led me to a small basket of different figures. Apparently, there is one craftsman in that town that still makes them. I replaced my little hat tipper, and I bought 3 more–a violinist, one who drinks beer, and one who puts his glasses on to read the newspaper. I was ecstatic. During dinner back in Bolzano, the storm rolled through and is currently dumping a lot of rain and dropping the temperature by a full 35 degrees. Europe is in another record-setting heatwave if you’ve been paying attention. Currently, I’m sitting with my windows open just watching it roll over the mountains just like I would do in my apartment when I lived in Germany. I was lucky enough to live on the top floor (the 18th) of a building overlooking the Englisher Garten and in the distance, the Alps. I had a huge wall of windows (the nicest apartment I’ve ever had), and I would open them and watch the thunderstorms come over the mountains. Tomorrow Nate and Eric arrive. They are probably en route to Chicago now. I hope the cooler temperatures stay as our adventures continue.