We’re roughly halfway through our Euro vacation with the extended family – mostly through the Italian leg – and a spell of stinky weather has providentially allowed me some downtime to catch up on my current travelogue.
Here at the outset, then, allow me to introduce the dramatis personae for the voyage:
- The author, a retired natural gas cylinder normally residing in France, whom I believe you’ve already met.
- His lovely and infinitely patient wife Carol, whose praises you have heard sung elsewhere throughout this blog.
- Brother-in-law #1, Graham, a retired New Zealander; with Jackie, his friend and traveling companion, also from the Antipodes – both worldwide trampers who have spent time on just about all the continents (including Antarctica).
- Brother-in-law #2, Colin, the director of a prestigious American astrophysics center; with Marilou, his remarkable Filipina wife, who has been designated by the UN as official human greeter to all alien life forms that may visit the solar system; and Wes, their twentysomething son, holder of a black belt in computerized devices, and the current IOC-recognized world champion in solo snoring.
Coordinates in the Vertical Axis (aka Highs and Lows)
The seven of us converged on the Tyrolean Alps from our several corners of the world last week, and therewith unleashed ourselves upon the unsuspecting Italian population. Being the people we are, our objectives in this part of the world are clear, and can be stated in few words:
- Spectacular hikes
- Spectacular photographs
Regarding item #2, I should mention that Graham, Jackie, and Colin are all brilliant photographers, real artists whose work has won accolades. Serious craftspeople who don’t even go to the toilet without a tripod and a neutral density filter, these three consult their camera manuals with the kind of ardor that the average person reserves for letters from an overseas lover, religious texts, or cat videos.
I like to take photos as well – as evidence, you can check out my Italy 2022 gallery – and superficially, my camera (on the rare occasions when I’m not using my aging iPhone) is similar to the others’. But where Colin uses his full frame, mirrorless, 45 megapixel Canon like a skilled sniper with a finely-tuned rifle, I use my Nikon rather like an urban rioter with a brick. The other day, for example, he was describing to me his experimentation with a photographic technique called “focus stacking”; while I listened with the sage expression of a dog hearing Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces, and a comparable level of comprehension.
Ironically, while our several destinations so far – Aronzo, Lago di Braies, Seceda, and others – have been stunning to look at and (literally) breathtaking to hike, they would fall flat utterly to describe in words. To get a flavor of the sweeping, soaring landscapes it has been our great pleasure to witness, your best bet is to spend some time in my aforementioned photo gallery.
When we haven’t been up on the heights, the relations and I have been staying in a mix of comfortable Airbnb accommodations and mountain rifugios. In case you’re not familiar with the latter: a rifugio (refuge) is a more or less rustic lodge, where alpine visitors can stay overnight in a remote scenic area rather than trying to make it back down to civilization before night falls. Because of their remoteness, rifugios often restrict use of resources like hot water and overnight electricity. Such strictures notwithstanding, though, they tend to be convivial places where adventurous travelers can share hearty meals, beer (of course), jolly conversation, and a colorful variety of communicable diseases.
In a place like the Tyrol, where there are so many high points, there must inevitably be low ones as well, of course; and we have had to weather our share so far. For instance, there was…
- The less-than-a-year-old car battery that died on us at Lake Garda. 359 euros later, Carol and I were on our way to meet the rest of the family at Rifugio Aronzo – but unfortunately six hours too late to see the Tre Cime in their full glory. (And the new battery apparently came with a poltergeist, who played with us, until he got bored with it, by randomly opening/closing windows and locking/unlocking doors – even with no keys in the ignition.)
- Carol’s iPhone, which got stolen while she rested on a bench high atop the peak of Seceda. We were able to trace the thief to a block of apartments in the town below, but the tracking was too fuzzy to pin down beyond that. Carol has taken appropriate measures to wipe the phone, report the theft to the police, and do everything else she could to stymie the purloiner. But I still wouldn’t want to be in his shoes if she caught him alone in a dark alley.
- The omicron strain (probably) of COVID-19, which was lying in wait for our party and has now put one in quarantine. (She’s feeling better today.) Since then, we remaining travelers have mummified ourselves in Saran wrap, and are now subtly side-eyeing one another like six people in a lifeboat containing five canteens of water.
So, it’s like Carol King says: you got to take the bitter with the sweet.
All that notwithstanding, Ortisei, where we’re staying right now, is quite pleasant – one of those pretty Tyrolean towns with an onion-domed church, cobblestone streets, and lots of pastel-colored buildings. It looks like it emerged whole out of a Bob Ross painting.
Except there’s beer. God be praised.