A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

NUOVO ANNO IN VENEZIA

rain

Molly [our GPS] got us a bit lost due to a new highway near Venice which was not on her radar, so we had to double back a long way and eventually found Camping Fusina, the only campsite near Venice that stays open all year. It is also an expensive site, costing €31 per night, and most of the facilities are closed down for the winter. It is situated on the lagoon, directly across from Venice, but unfortunately the cloud and rain made the visibility very poor for the first three days.

We decide to take the bus into Mestré [mainland Venice] to buy an internet connection; but with very little English spoken, after 3 shops we still had not succeeded. By then it was 12:30 and everyone closed for lunch, but because it was New Year’s Eve, they were staying closed. We were feeling quite low, so we stopped in a bar for some Roquefort pasta for lunch. With a long weekend ahead we headed glumly back to the campsite, hoping to use their advertised internet facility, only to be told it was not operational in winter! With the rain and cold we are starting to feel the effects of S.A.D. [seasonal affective disorder].

It is New Year’s Eve and we are cold and damp and feeling very isolated from loved ones, so the last thing we feel like is cooking dinner. We settle for cold hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise, and warm the cockles with some vino brulé which we make on the stove. We could hear lots of fireworks from Venice across the water, but could not see anything due to the heavy fog.

We woke up to another miserable day, and feeling rather dispirited, we forced ourselves to get going, but missed the bus into Venice by a minute. We then had to catch the water ferry across to the city, which was quicker but much more expensive.
Approaching Venice by vaporetto

Approaching Venice by vaporetto


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Being Capodanno [New Year’s Day] we thought Venice might be rather quiet, especially with the soggy weather, but it was choc-a-bloc with tourists! Those “in the know” wore wellies or thigh-length waders, as the high tide water level was about 20cm in places. In popular thoroughfares, the authorities provided raised walkways, but in other areas one could not get past.
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Shops were selling plastic-bag boots to gullible tourists for €15 a pair. In many places the water lapped way over the thresholds of doorways, which must make for very damp interiors! A lot of shop doorways were protected by raised metal sills, which were fixed firmly in place to stop the entry of water.
IMG_1688.jpgWater pump in action

Water pump in action


We explored the narrow alleys, waterways and bridges connecting the 117 islands that make up the city.
IMG_1599.jpgIMG_1603.jpgIMG_1597.jpgThe only gondolier we actually heard singing!

The only gondolier we actually heard singing!


There are hundreds of similar shops, selling mostly Murano glassworks, ornaments and jewellery, and exquisite masks in all shapes and sizes. Some shops specialise in creating extravagant ball-gowns and costumes for the famous Venetian balls.
IMG_1636.jpgIMG_1640.jpgBeautifully crafted marionettes

Beautifully crafted marionettes

Some of the mask shops sold various designs of the historical "beak" mask, and it was quite exciting for Sandi to be able to tell David the story behind it.
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During the Black Death plague in the early 14th Century of the Middle Ages, which killed more than half the European population, doctors and those collecting the dead bodies wore masked hats fitted with a beak-like protrusion, which was filled with aromatic plant materials. The fragrant plants no doubt helped to protect the wearers from disease, as well as filter the stench of the dead and rotting bodies they had to remove. The story of the Medieval “beak” is well known in the history of aromatherapy, so it was delightful finding ceramic versions of it in the many fabulous mask shops in Venice.
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Hope some of our past aromatherapy students see it on the blog, as the only picture available for their course notes was the line drawing.

We found delicious toasted focaccias for lunch at a street stall, but had to eat them on the trot, while window shopping, as eating them inside cost-a-plenty. Venice is not for shoppers-on-a-shoestring. When we wanted to have a pee, the sign on the WC demanded €1.50! That would have been €3 for both of us!
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Holding on in the rain is not easy, but when we could hold on no longer, we found a coffee shop with a toilet, where we could buy hot chocolate, thaw out a bit and relieve ourselves, all for €3.40!

We joined the queue to go into the Basilico of San Marco. It is a beautifully ornate building on the outside, and covered in mosaics on the inside and outside.
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The parquet stone floors have survived millions of feet walking over them, but still look perfect. We get annoyed when so many tourists blatantly ignore the warning-signs not to take photos, but in spite of the temptation, we didn’t take any. The precious stone-encrusted gold panel behind the high altar where St Mark’s remains are buried, is exquisite [and worth the extra €2] to behold.
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We watched the Moors strike the hour on the clock-tower,
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followed by the never-ending peal of bells from the top of the Campanile tower.
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After a hot shower back at the camp-site, and some chicken stew for supper, we felt a good deal more positive at the end of the day. The gas heater warmed up the van well, but we were alarmed to see the carbon monoxide level climb after we switched the heater off! The gas aggravated Sandi’s headache so we have to be very circumspect in using the heater.

The next day, January 2nd, we set out early by bus for Mestré, so that we could use the internet café before going into Venice proper. This time we were much better prepared, as we wore our wellies, but it was still freezing cold and wet, wet, wet! Undaunted, we caught the no 1 vaporetto up the Grand Canal, getting off to explore the Rialto Bridge and surrounds.
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The rain came down steadily, so out came a collage of umbrellas.
IMG_1668.jpgThe streets are indistinguishable from the canal at high tide!

The streets are indistinguishable from the canal at high tide!


The market really shows one what a dead chicken looks like!
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The restaurant windows are far more appealing!
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Then back onto the vaporetto chugging past an amazing array of water-side buildings displaying both grandeur and decay. If it wasn’t for the uniqueness of the canals, and the histories behind the place, it would be easy to mistake Venice for a slum. It is hard to be sure whether Venice is sinking, or flooded or both. It is incredible to think that these buildings have survived, intact, for hundreds of years, without collapsing into a damp, mouldy sludge.
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We explored some more alleys and shops, punctuated by coffee/chocolate pit stops.
View across to the island of San Giorgio

View across to the island of San Giorgio

In the afternoon we took a boat trip to three islands. First stop was Murano, where we watched a master glass-blower tease out a molten ball of glass into a prancing horse in about 60 seconds.
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The showroom had some exquisite glass sculptures, chandeliers and jewellery, but all very expensive, so we explored the shops instead.
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Next stop was Torchello, which was the site of the earliest civilisation in Venice, with a church built in the 6th century.
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It was quite a walk to get there from the boat, and still raining cats-and-dogs. So, after a cursory look around, we decided to head back to the dock, popping in to a cafe on the way for a hot chocolate drink, instead of freezing outside.
The last island we visited was Burano, with rows of brightly painted houses, which we were just in time to appreciate in the fading light. The sun came out just in time to set as we landed.
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We were escorted into a lace shop, where we watched an old lady making lace. It takes seven women months to make each piece, as each woman contributes a different stitch.
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The route back to Venice took much longer, as we stopped to hitch up a broken-down boat alongside, and towed it back to the pier ......... slowly!

We decided to treat ourselves to a 2-course tourist menu for supper in a restaurant near San Marco’s Piazza. They served the bare minimum they could legally get away with for our €13, and still charged a whopping €12 for a half bottle of vino casa. A complete rip-off, as the food and wine were both rather yukky. At 19:45 we began the long trek homewards. First a walk to the vaporetto jetty, then a longish wait for the boat, then a chug back up the Grand Canal for 45 minutes.
The Church of St Maria della Salute was all lit up

The Church of St Maria della Salute was all lit up

We had two bus rides ahead of us before getting back to home-sweet-[icebox]van. By now we were getting anxious that we would miss our connecting bus at Mestré station, as we did not want to stand waiting in the cold again. We managed to catch the bus from Venice to Mestré, just as it was leaving, and arrived at the station with 2 minutes to spare - feeling very relieved. When the connecting bus to the campsite failed to arrive, we realised that it must have left early, and set about trying to work out when the next one was due. Two more no.11 busses came and went, but were not headed for Fusina. It was bitterly cold and windy, and our feet felt like ice-blocks after 12 hours cramped into our boots. The waiting room at the station provided no relief as it was full of unsavoury characters who smoked, drank and chattered, and obviously “lived” there. We were very obviously unwelcome, as this was their turf, so we headed back outside again, preferring the fresh air to the fetid air. Eventually, more than 2 hours later, our bus came, and we dragged our frozen limbs on board, getting “home” to our cold, damp van by 23:00. It was during that long wait that we decided to abandon the next leg of our Italian trip and head for warm shelter with our new friends in France.

We were extremely cold during the night, in spite of wrapping up in many layers, and when we woke next morning, there was a layer of ice on the inside of the windows [which Sandi scraped off and nibbled]. The mist had cleared and we witnessed a spectacular sunrise over the Lido.
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It was -4 °C outside [and felt like -14 in the van!] and the Dolomites in the near distance were thickly covered in snow!
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Our minds now firmly made up, we packed up and headed for the autostrada in the direction of France.

Posted by davidsandi 13:10 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

BUON NATALE IN PALACE PONTE DI LEGNO

snow

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,
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then back up towards the Alps again.
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We ascended the pass slowly and carefully, and were thrilled to get safely to the top.
Barriers to catch the snow along the pass

Barriers to catch the snow along the pass


At Passo Tonale village on top of the pass, we stopped to watch the many skiers on the pristine pists.
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The descent into Ponte di Legno was also fine, and it was a great relief to arrive safely in the snow-covered village.
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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.
Palace Ponte di Legno

Palace Ponte di Legno


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!
Hansel was out, but Gretel was in.

Hansel was out, but Gretel was in.

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Within 20 minutes we were in the centre of the village, marvelling at the frozen fountains
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and the frozen Oglio river coursing through the town.
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The Catholic church had interesting carved, wood doors with an unexpected, rather esoteric eye.
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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!
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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.
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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,
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transforming our views and enchanting the soul.
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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.
Poor Mr Stubby a.k.a.snowmobile

Poor Mr Stubby a.k.a.snowmobile


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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.
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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.
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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.
The Christmas Faerie

The Christmas Faerie


On Christmas day we had rain and wind, followed by calm air and snowfall,
And the next snow blizzard was upon us

And the next snow blizzard was upon us


followed later by some sun and clear skies.
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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.
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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.
Nightfall in the valley

Nightfall in the valley


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.
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This tabby cat was very cosy, curled up among the expensive furs in La Bottega.
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After treating ourselves to delicious pizza for lunch, we discovered that the river was full of spectacular icicles.
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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.
IMG_1558.jpgA doggy kennel for a poorer dog

A doggy kennel for a poorer dog


This Ice Bar made of solid blocks of ice, looked fantastic with the sun shining through it.
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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.
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The church had erected a stable for a donkey and a heifer, both of which seemed to crave our attention.
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Snowfights, igloos, icicles and bathing ducks were all to be found on our climb up the hill back to the Palace.
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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.

Posted by davidsandi 08:36 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

MERANO, ALTO ADIGE

SUDTIROLO or SŰDTIROL

sunny

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!
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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.
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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! IMG_1276.jpg
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!
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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!
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These decorations had wonderful aromas as they were made from star anise, cinnamon sticks and other spices

These decorations had wonderful aromas as they were made from star anise, cinnamon sticks and other spices


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Apfelstrüdel

Apfelstrüdel


The Kurhaus, now used as a conference centre

The Kurhaus, now used as a conference centre


An artwork constructed out of mosses and other natural substances

An artwork constructed out of mosses and other natural substances


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!
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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.
About to tuck into a hearty breakfast of spinatknüdeln und spekknüdeln

About to tuck into a hearty breakfast of spinatknüdeln und spekknüdeln


Lunch of salami and Mortadella, cheese, etc. and bubbly.
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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!
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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.
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An ice-rink had been constructed on the Piazza Therme and the little ones were using these aids to help them skate!
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Many shops shelter under ancient arcades, and the streets are narrow and cobbled.
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The Duomo of St Nicholas dates back to the 13th century and is a fine Gothic construction.
IMG_1270.jpgIMG_1269.jpgThis enormous lock is on the inside of the main door

This enormous lock is on the inside of the main door


Further up the river there is a bridge called the Roman bridge, although it was built in the 17th century.
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Tucked into corners in the streets one may come across a personal shrine such as this.
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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.
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We are starting to get into the Christmas mood with some decorations we couldn't resist buying at the market.
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This artist lady made lovely frames and ornaments with mosaics of cracked glass.
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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!

Posted by davidsandi 08:49 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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