19.12.2009 - 30.12.2009
It is only 150 km between Merano and Ponte di Legno, but we anxiously kept close tabs on the weather forecasts, to decide whether we could risk the Passo del Tonale at 1800m in our van. It was a clear day and the roads were dry, so we decided to give it a go, although 3cm of snow was predicted.
We had to first go back down the valley between the Dolomite range of mountains,
then back up towards the Alps again.
We ascended the pass slowly and carefully, and were thrilled to get safely to the top.
At Passo Tonale village on top of the pass, we stopped to watch the many skiers on the pristine pists.
The descent into Ponte di Legno was also fine, and it was a great relief to arrive safely in the snow-covered village.
The reception lady at the Palace was surprised to see us as she pointed out that we were only booked in from the next day! She hardly spoke any English, but also told us that her boss was angry with Flexiclub Timeshare, because they never get paid, but would nevertheless try to sort it out. Very unprofessional to address such issues to guests though, as it didn't make us feel very welcome. We hope they do sort it out, as they'd obviously agreed to the booking, otherwise we wouldn't have been issued the voucher. Anyway, we certainly do not intend paying again for our accommodation for the next 10 days, as we have already paid Flexiclub. Just to add injury to insult we were charged €70 for an interim room for the night, as our apartment had not yet been cleaned. The room they gave us was dingy and dark and we felt quite depressed, but determined to make the best of it.
The next day when David asked to move into our apartment, they said it was only being cleaned that morning and would not be ready until 16:00! With David’s non-existent Italian [with much “prima” and “pronto” and huffing] and their minimal English, he could not persuade them to let us have access any sooner! Italians really seem to relish their f-u attitude! We were seething, but short of squatting in the foyer with all our bags, in protest, there was little we could do except sit it out.
So we donned all our winter woollies and went out to explore the neighbourhood. It was a crisp, clear day at minus 10 °C!
Within 20 minutes we were in the centre of the village, marvelling at the frozen fountains
and the frozen Oglio river coursing through the town.
The Catholic church had interesting carved, wood doors with an unexpected, rather esoteric eye.
At precisely 16:00 David went to ask for the key and they gave it to him with a smile - as if all their previous refusals hadn't occurred at all. Our apartment is much nicer, more airy and light, up on the 3rd floor with a balcony overlooking the valley and the village. It is comfortable except for the lack of a few basics such as an electric kettle and a hairdryer, which one would expect from an “international” resort. Also drinking tea from tiny, Italian coffee cups does not work for us, so thank goodness we could fetch our own mugs from the van!
On the Monday we decided we had better stock up on provisions for the next week, as heavy snowfalls were predicted for the next few days and the shops would be closed over Christmas. We found a supermarket but it closes on Sunday afternoons, all day Mondays and 12:30 to 15:30 every other day of the week! So it looks as if we will have to jack up the van to put on the snow-chains and shop on Tuesday in the snow storm after all! The freezing temperatures also make it difficult to start the van, so we may have to bring the battery indoors and charge it up overnight before we can go anywhere. We left a bag of large roasting potatoes, which Bob and Bear had brought us from England, in the van, but found that they had frozen solid! Although we tried, we couldn’t even make mashed potatoes with them. We also found all the cans of of food, like baked beans, lentils etc. had frozen solid and were bulging top, bottom and circumference. Even the cleaning fluids like Handy Andy was frozen solid. But the cherry on the top was the hot water bottle [a.k.a. the Rat] with its contents frozen solid as a rock - in spite of a double layer of covers. The joys of an European winter!
Feeling a bit homesick we decided to jolly the place up a bit and put up some Christmas decorations, plus our supply of fresh [scrumped] holly - so the apartment looked quite cosy.
Much of our time is spent indoors reading or watching DVDs on the laptop at night. We were not expecting any internet connectivity here, so it was with great excitement that we suddenly heard a blip from the laptop, informing us that we were linked to an unsecured wireless network [we even dropped the game of Scrabble halfway!] Unfortunately it has proved to be a very fickle connection, and perhaps more frustrating not getting connected, as our expectations have been raised! We still have a backlog of travel blog postings, with Paris and Switzerland still to be edited and uploaded, and are really missing being in touch with our loved ones, especially at this time of year. This will be the first time that we have spent a Christmas alone and out of touch!
On Monday night and Tuesday about 25cm of snow fell in 24 hours,
transforming our views and enchanting the soul.
As the van was snowed in, the next day we decided to walk down to the supermarket with empty rucksacks on our backs. The snow-graders had already been busy since about 06:00.
The temperature had risen to +2 °C, so the snow started melting, which meant the roads became increasing sloshy, and passing cars a hazard! Electric cables and trees also dropped snow-bombs on unsuspecting victims below.
We loaded up with wine for gluhwein, chicken [the last 4 thighs in the shop!], vegs and pancetta, to provide for Christmas and the days beyond. We could not believe the size of this Mortedella, and bought a piece once it was cut.
David looked longingly at the skiers on the slopes, but unfortunately both of us are experiencing trouble with our knees, so our skiing days are not to be. Being indoors much of the time, and with no connectivity, has meant that we have finally started to plan our future clinic, and given us a chance to evaluate what we still need to research.
On Christmas Eve the church bells pealed out melodies for about 10 minutes at midday, and many more times over the next 2 days.
On Christmas day we had rain and wind, followed by calm air and snowfall,
followed later by some sun and clear skies.
We had bought each other a little present, which was actually quite difficult to do, as we are always in each other’s company when we are out near shops! Sandi cooked a delicious lunch of chicken thighs [very large ones], potatoes and veg with gravy on the gas ring, as there is no oven. The angel-chimes danced around and tinkled, as we ate by candlelight.
We spent the rest of the day reading, listening to music, watching DVDs and browsing through family photos on the laptop. It helped to compensate for not being able to contact any one.
We got some connectivity again for a few hours on Boxing day, so it was with great excitement that we could send and receive emails and talk to some of you on Skype. Then we lost it again on Sunday morning for good – very frustrating! We went out for walks into the village and window-shopped.
This tabby cat was very cosy, curled up among the expensive furs in La Bottega.
After treating ourselves to delicious pizza for lunch, we discovered that the river was full of spectacular icicles.
The sunshine brought everyone out into the centre of the village. Many of the older women boast full fur coats, which must cost a fortune. [Who's ever heard of animal rights?] Many of the dogs also sported furs.
This Ice Bar made of solid blocks of ice, looked fantastic with the sun shining through it.
The Italians seem to love colour on their houses, with yellow, ochre, peach, guava, red and orange being the favourites. Such a welcome change from the drabness of the French houses.
The church had erected a stable for a donkey and a heifer, both of which seemed to crave our attention.
Snowfights, igloos, icicles and bathing ducks were all to be found on our climb up the hill back to the Palace.
On our last day it had snowed again lightly overnight. David had to warm up the battery and charge it overnight in the apartment. In spite of that the van still struggled to start. After clearing a path with the snow-shovel, David was able to back the van out of its “snow-bed” without too much difficulty. The problem came when, after packing our stuff into the van, we reversed into a parking bay, which we failed to realise was overlain with 15 cm of snow! After some ice-pick work, and laying chains under the wheels, Sandi and a helpful passerby managed to push us clear. After that it was all downhill, following the Fiume [river] Oglio all the way down the valley towards Venezia. The traffic coming up the opposite way was very heavy, probably due to school holidays and New Year.