SUDTIROLO or SŰDTIROL
12.12.2009 - 19.12.2009
The little town of Meran [German] or Merano [Italian] spreads across the valley at an altitude of 300m, with majestic snow-covered peaks rising up to 3000m all around. These views are from our windows!
It has a very Bavarian feel about it, especially since it was part of Austria until the end of the 1st World War. The German language seems to predominate, which makes communicating a little easier, as David still remembers a little German from his student days. It is a famous spa town, like Baden-Baden, and was in its hey-day 130 years ago when Empress Elisabeth [Sissi] of Austria frequented the town for its health-giving climate. They boast 300 days of sunshine a year here, and a stable, mild Mediterranean climate throughout the year. In summer the public gardens are full of sub-tropical plants. It is indeed confusing to the body to bake in the sunshine coming through the apartment windows, then to walk outside in minus 3 degrees covered in many layers of clothing!
We are staying in a Hapimag timeshare resort building on the 5th floor with stunning views across the valley and of the snow-covered mountains around us. The two-roomed apartment is comfortable and modern, and they provided a modem on request, which was great, so we could stay in touch.
The house-keeper fortunately spoke English on our arrival, but otherwise English is hardly spoken or understood and we have to manage with a very crude version of German-Afrikaans. Still have to try to learn more Italian for when we visit Venice and Rome later. Though how those intentions will pan out go depends on the weather. We've realised it will be almost impossible to sleep in the van, even at these temperatures, so hopefully it will warm up by the end of next week, and we'll find space in campsites near Venice and Rome - although it seems there are very few open during winter in these areas. It will certainly test our philosophy of "living in the present"!
The courtyard below us is obviously pleasant in summer, but at the moment the swimming pool is frozen solid with at least an inch of ice!
A tree in the middle, covered in ripe persimmons, yielded Scrumping Dave a couple of it's delicious fruits under cover of darkness! It's incredible to see heavily laden persimmon trees in many gardens - so near, and yet so far!
The next morning, Sunday, we woke to the pealing of church-bells all over town, which continued for several hours. We then wandered down into the centre of town and found ourselves in the midst of an extensive Christkindlmarkt along the banks of the Passira river. Lots of decorated wooden chalets selling a variety of regional foods, exquisite Christmas decorations, glüwein, hot foods, cheeses, salamis, cakes, honey etc. Just as well we're on a tight budget otherwise Sandi would have stocked up on the tempting foods for months!
The cold air definitely stimulates the appetite, so it wasn’t long before we succumbed to this variety of glüwein called Krambambuli - hot, spicy red wine with a few squirts of dark rum sprayed onto the top of the mug - delicious!
Later we tried the local "Forst" beer and rolls with wurst mit sauerkraut Yum!
We bought some of the regional specialities, speck and spinatknüdeln and spekknüdeln, to cook in the apartment. Sandi boiled these filling little dumplings [Canederli Tirolesi] in salted water, and made a scrumptious broth to eat with them. She decided we would eat them for breakfast - though we're not sure if this is when they're meant to be eaten, but we needed to put something hot in the bellies before venturing out for the day.
Lunch of salami and Mortadella, cheese, etc. and bubbly.
We've fallen in love with the wafer-thin slices of Italian pancetta, which are totally scrumptious, whether eaten at breakfast, with eggs, or at any other occasion!
Over the course of the week we explored the little town with many large villas and hotels dating back to its golden era. The architecture is predominantly "Bavarian". Sandi was quite struck by the colours of houses when we entered Italy - ochre yellow, rich pumpkin orange, and unusual mossy-lime green. Wonderful to see colours other than grey and brown, which is all we've seen for months. The weather is crisp and very cold with the skies blue and sunny. All around us Europe is experiencing plummeting temperatures [10 degrees less than usual for this time of year] and heavy snowfalls. Looking at CNN weather news it's clear that we're in the ONLY little spot in Italy that is not covered in snow - even London is under 4 inches of snow. Ooooh - and we're heading up to 1200m at Ponte di Legno on Saturday, with an 1800m pass en route!
The Passira river tumbles over rocks as it rushes through the town to join the Adige river, but the water is frozen solid where there would normally be little eddies among the rocks at the edge.
An ice-rink had been constructed on the Piazza Therme and the little ones were using these aids to help them skate!
Many shops shelter under ancient arcades, and the streets are narrow and cobbled.
The Duomo of St Nicholas dates back to the 13th century and is a fine Gothic construction.
Further up the river there is a bridge called the Roman bridge, although it was built in the 17th century.
Tucked into corners in the streets one may come across a personal shrine such as this.
On the Thursday we decided to take the plunge and spent a couple of blissful hours in the thermal baths. They are full of radon which is apparently radioactive! but therapeutic. It is exhilarating to swim outside as well, when your body is in water at 37 degrees, but your head is in air of minus 3 degrees! Lots of bubbles and pummelling and relaxation.
We are starting to get into the Christmas mood with some decorations we couldn't resist buying at the market.
This artist lady made lovely frames and ornaments with mosaics of cracked glass.
Tomorrow we head off to Ponte di Legno for 10 days, and according to the weather forecast we will have new snowfall of 3cm tomorrow, and a white Christmas next week! Time to get out the snow-chains!