Real People Stuff

Today was a day of firsts–I had to navigate a telephone call to a courier to see when my package would be delivered, and Eric had to go solo in search of goodies for breakfast and lunch. Turns out no one knows when a package will be delivered here. Apparently, they could learn something from Amazon. Anyway, see there were these Italian shoes that were on sale, and I really had to have them. They are one of my favorite brands, and I could have gotten them in the US for 5x the price, so I ordered them in my size from the Italian sale site. No problem. They tried to deliver them Friday and Saturday, just missing us both times. So, I stayed around the apartment while Eric went out for his coffee and a mission to bring back some strudel for breakfast. I sent him with some helpful phrases–“Sprechen Sie English,” “cafelatte,” and “mitnehmen (to-go).” If you order a “latte” in Italy, you will get milk because that’s what latte means. Americans just shorten it and drop the coffee part. Anyway, apparently, no one spoke English. However, Eric is an accomplished pointer and knows 1-10 in both Italian and German, so I had confidence in him. He came back with a cappuccino and 2 pieces of strudel. Well done. The strudel was well worth his effort, if I may say so. By lunch the shoes still hadn’t come, so out Eric and Nate went with the mission to bring back meats, bread, cheeses, and fruit for a picnic of sorts. Meanwhile, I did some laundry and admired the view with the doors open and the cool air coming in. Again, no one spoke English, but Eric pointed and used his best number and food vocabulary and came home with bread, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, salami, and cheese. It was quite nice. The shoes arrived, and they were totally worth it. After lunch, we wandered around and found Nate an Italian soccer jersey he had wanted and the kind of sunglasses he wants. He wants the prescription put in them, but we know the style and brand now for when we get home. We had a great dinner in a Biergarten with an amazing molten flourless chocolate cake for dessert. Tomorrow we head to Innsbruck.

Gus got to go on a field trip to the tiny country of San Marino, which is totally surrounded by Italy, and he is keeping busy with lessons and classes. He is in a tiny town where no one speaks English, so he’s getting to use all of the Italian he self-studied.


Today was a bit drizzly, which brought a welcome respite from the heat. That didn’t stop us from making use of our mobile card pass. We took the 45-minute train ride to the lovely city of Trento, probably most famous for its role in the establishment of the counter-reformation and the revival of the Catholic church in the 16th century. Though it had been part of the land deal giving part of Austria to Italy at the close of WWI, it is distinctly Italian compared to towns farther north. We started at Tridentum, which is basically a Roman ruin discovered under one of the main piazzas of the town. The Roman town was discovered to have sophisticated sewage and drainage systems (complete with a hatch for inspection & the world’s first manhole cover) and heated floors. We then went to the Castel Buonconsiglio which has been home to Trento’s princes and host to important events from the 8th century. It’s a lovely compound of layering architectural styles. One of its most famous attractions is its cycle of months medieval frescoes in one of the towers. Tomorrow we are on the hunt for the best apfelstrudel in Bolzano and some shopping in the outdoor market. Weather permitting on Tuesday, we might head up to Innsbruck.

Gondolas, Buses, and Trains

Today I took Eric and Nate up to the same plateau I was on yesterday, except we went further up the mountain to the Corno del Renon, a scenic overlook. It involved 2 gondolas, a train, and a bus. It was a beautiful day, and though it was 90 degrees in Bolzano, it was easily 65 at the plateau. We enjoyed a nice lunch and a bit of light hiking and came back for a nice nap. Rain is in the forecast for the next few days, but it tends to be later in the evening or at night, so we’ll see what we feel like in the morning and plan accordingly. We did buy Sud Tirol Mobil cards, so we have access to all of the local trains, buses, and gondolas for the next 7 days, so there’s no telling where we might head to. The card basically paid for itself the first day. At the restaurant tonight Eric and Nate had Italian and I had German (spinach spätzle with Speck, which is kind of close to spinach gnocchi in a sauce with the regional specialty ham), but I ordered in Italian, and the waiter complimented me on my fine Italian skills. I guess nearly a month here helps out the old language skills.

Gus reports that he is getting a lot out of his private lessons and was complimented on his own skills. We’re glad he’s having a good experience, but we miss him!

Funny Rocks

Today was going to be a beautiful, clear day and a little cooler after the rain last night, so I went on another gondola adventure. Eric and Nate were arriving at 4:30, so I had time to go to Oberbozen and the Renon plateau to hike to the Earth pyramids, which are these interesting rock formations. They are rocks that have been weathered into spindly cones with a boulder on top. The way the weathering pattern works is that it erodes the sides and not the top. We saw something similar in Turkey in Cappadoccia. At any rate, it involved another gondola to the top of the mountain, a historic train, and then a 30-minute walk. Again, everything was stunning, and the haze burned off a bit for some clearer pictures. Eric and Nate made it just fine after a flight, a taxi, and a train–tired but glad to be here and ready for some time in the mountains. First order of business was some Italian pizza for Nate. Now, it is a matter of trying to keep them up until 10pm. I’m having more luck with Nate than Eric.

Cuteness Overload

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.

Happy Birthday, David!

I had the loveliest day today. I have a friend from high school who lives in Munich now, and between vacations and work, he arranged his schedule to “pop down to Italy for lunch” on his birthday with a 3-hour train ride each way. He has a favorite restaurant in the mountains over a charming town, Vipiteno/Sterzing. I had a lovely hour-long train ride north along the Dolomites, following a fast-flowing aquamarine river. I got on an earlier train than anticipated and wandered around the main street and piazza for a while, encountering plenty of alpine-wear shops and interestingly enough, a Pringles dispenser, which looked like a giant gumball machine with mini Pringles cans inside. Italians do take their Pringles seriously. They have a Paprika flavor, a Ham and Cheese flavor, and apparently an illusive Rosemary and Olive Oil flavor I haven’t encountered yet but remain committed to my journalistic duty to try them and report back. At any rate, I met David and after walking around a bit, we took a taxi up to the restaurant/farm. It was straight out of anything you picture when you think Austrian ski lodge–dark wooden benches, flowers on the table, antlers on the walls. And, oh, the view! They had no menu, the owner simply came up to us and described what they had on hand. I understood most of it, though some of the meat-related vocabulary was unfamiliar, such as the Wolleschwein, which is a long-haired wooly pig (cute, yes; delicious, yes!). I just went with whatever the owner spent the most time describing since he clearly was invested in it. I found it amusing when David asked if the animals that supplied the meat and the cheese were from his farm, and he said apologetically that they were from the next farm over. Oh, the shame! We started with a lovely antipasto of local meats and cheeses with dark bread and glorious German mustard. The second course consisted of knödel (dumplings) of spinach, cheese, and basil and a puff pastry filled with cheese and herbs. The third was a veal steak with roasted potatoes and 3 different varieties of gourmet salt. We paired with a glass of local wine, and needless to say, we didn’t make it to dessert. I’m still full and unsure what if anything I’ll eat for dinner. The food was wonderful, but the company was even better. I’m so glad we were able to get together for a few hours. I will definitely take him up on his invitation to come and stay in Munich. I just noticed a Tai Chi class happening in the park outside my window. I think it’s just what I need to work off some of the amazing lunch. Tomorrow I’m going to see if I can work out the bus schedule another town Ortesei. Eric and Nate arrive on Friday, so more adventures to come with them in tow.

In Gus news: he had a lesson with a different professor, and he said it went very well. He’s getting quite a bit done on college essays, though he thinks it will take some doing to get his Spanish back for his Spanish Literature class in the fall.

Pfifferlingen is just fun to say

Today was another great day, but I am missing my travel sidekick. Gus would love this town–the blend of cultures and languages. This morning I walked to the main square to catch the free shuttle to Schloß Runkelstein. The castle is a well-preserved medieval castle (built in 1237 but restored later) with lots of intact frescoes on a hillside overlooking Bolzano. Apparently Maximillian I (founder of the Hapsburg dynasty) visited and got lots of ideas of heroes. The castle has the largest installation of secular frescoes in the world; they tell the legends of great heroes, like King Arthur and Tristan, etc. The vineyards and hillside around the castle were charming, and I had the place basically to myself. I came back down and took a leisurely walk around the University area of town. I’m thinking of how I can convince Gus to apply so I can visit and then had a lovely and leisurely lunch–a kebab with roasted vegetables and rosemary potatoes. It was very hot here today–high of 98, so I came back to the apartment for a little work and a nap to avoid the hottest part of the day. I ventured out for dinner once it had cooled off and found a handmade pasta with pfifferlingen (I’m not sure of the English equivalent; chanterelles are the closest). I remember when we stayed a few weeks in the mountains when I lived here with a host family, my host mother taught us how to collect edible mushrooms that are a local delicacy. They were delicious, as was the strudel and local wine. Tomorrow I’m catching a train to Vipiteno/Sterzing to meet a high school friend for lunch. He lives in Munich now, so it’s in the middle. It’s still in Italy, but barely.

Gus reports lessons are going well, and that food is very inexpensive where he is, so there is exactly 0 motivation to cook. At some point they get to take a field trip to San Marino. So far his lessons have been with his own teacher, but he gets to experience some other teachers starting tomorrow.