Monday, June 30, 2008
We were flipping through one of the many book in the Washington’s hikes series, 100 Hikes in Washington’s Alpine Lakes and decided to try Bandera Mountain (location). For us, on this particular day it was a so-so hike. On the positive side, it was a good bit of exercise, especially the last grueling push to the ridge, it was great to see bear grass in bloom (never had), we saw a bear (not sure what kind) about 40feet from us up in a tree ripping bark off, and the hike is fairly easy to get to (exit 45 off of I-90). On the negative side, it was fairly hot (about 85F and in parts not much cover), it was a bit hazy so views were not that great, parts of the trail were blocked by snow toward the top, and the ever-present roar of I-90 is a bit of a detractor. We would have dropped down into Mason Lake but it was still “snowed” in it seemed looking down on it. We hiked nearby Granite Mountain in the past and that one seems like a nicer overall experience. Perhaps, Bandera on cooler, fall day might be more interesting?
Sunday, June 29, 2008
We went to a local supermarket, a Town & Country Market called Ballard Market, today to get a few things we could not find at the local farmer’s market. In particular we wanted to get a scamorza cheese for a recipe called “rosa senza spine” (rose without spines). What struck me about the cheese selection in this market was the sheer number of choices, 200+ we counted. (Of course, we were looking for a very specific cheese ourselves – helping out the demand-side of the equation.) What we almost wanted was a dozen choices and someone to walk us through them – a curated experience if you will. It seemed like more choice was paralyzing in this (cheese) case. (To do: watch Barry Schwartz video about choice on TED.) Of course if there were just a dozen cheeses, they would not have the particular cheese we were looking for unless we were in the particular region that produces it, but then again we wouldn’t be making this particular recipe? I wonder about the feedback loop of availability and what people cook.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
So we’ve been back for a week and we are experiencing what is called “reverse culture shock”. It wasn’t a term we were even aware of until we did some searching. Furthermore, we were “expatriates” (sounds fancy) and now we are “repatriating”.
The three stages for repatriatization are: shock, homelessness and homesickness, then peace and acceptance. I guess we are in the second phase still. For some quick info on reverse culture shock see: The Art of Coming Home (preview), a consulting service for expats and repats with some good advice, a magazine article from Transitions Abroad, and a student-focused repatriatization tips from the University of Missouri.
What manifests reverse culture shock for us? Things like this:
- Vague dissatisfaction with our surroundings and a perceived lack of anything interesting happening.
- Reverse homesick for Italy and Florence and the style of life we lead there.
- Feeling marginalized after the initial “honeymoon” period of being freshly back.
- Subtle wording choices like “so how does it feel to be home”, “you came back!” etc. We understand they are just words but they can frame our experience in a subtly negative way. Living abroad was our home for a period of time.
- The “public environment” of home seems out-of-scale, unsustainable, not human-scaled and downright unfriendly.**see below
- Missing the “food culture” of Italy. Italians seem more educated about food and have conscious choices they can articulate.
Things that are sort-of annoying for us? When people say:
- “How was your vacation?” Reaching for taser….
- “It seems like you just left last week”. Finger on the trigger….
- “So when are you getting a job?” Pulled the trigger! We are touched that so many people care about our job prospects (not really) but why? Is it that they can only relate to us when we have a job? Suggestion for people: ask how our sabbatical was? what did we do? what was it like?
Some things we are trying to do differently?
- The change that we saw in ourselves in Italy and that we want to continue here must emanate from inside. Few in our world “back home” can assist in the change.
- Make conscious steps toward moving our everyday lives closer to something that resembles what we had during the sabbatical.
- Take stock of what we learned and accomplished during the sabbatical and keep it fresh in our minds. Do things that accentuate it. For example, during our sabbatical we learned how to stop and talk to people, whether in the street or in the store. For us, practicing it here continues a small piece of the sabbatical.
- Don’t assume people haven’t changed during our sabbatical or nothing is different for them. Probe a little, ask what they have been up to. Be an agent of change for them?
- Treat our repatriatization as a new phase, our home turf as a new place to explore regardless of how long we might have lived here or how familiar we think we are with it. It forces us to tell a continuous story of discovery and progress rather than discontinuous story of exploration-and-now-it’s-over.
- Be honest with ourselves if we feel like we are slipping into old, less desirable patterns.
** Some of Seattle’s public environment that seems very odd to us during our repatriatization:
- Waiting at traffic lights. Why do we spend so much time waiting at traffic lights? Have planners every heard of a traffic circle here? Seriously, the amount of time waiting is very strange to us. Maybe it’s a typical American approach: control your driving rather than let you be responsible yourself? I still go back and read this article on traffic called Roads Gone Wild and can’t help to believe in its basic message of engineering roads differently so people take more responsibility.
- Basic car dependence culture. The first task when we returned was ensuring the car was operational (the battery died) because we were dead-in-the-water without it. And, we live in a walkable neighborhood but there were many things we just couldn’t do without the car.
- Buying in bulk. We started to catch ourselves buying simple things thinking about storing them for long periods of time because access to fresh produce, meat, and basic groceries isn’t a quick stop in our normal day as it was in Florence. Back in Florence, excellent veggies were only a short walk away to the nearest piazza. Buying in bulk, in my opinion, leads to the oversized and multiple refrigerator phenomena.
- Oversized roads. Oversized, yet still packed with cars not moving anywhere. See point 1 above.
- Lonely sidewalks. Well, they say if you build it, they’ll come. Unfortunately, there are a lot of lonely sidewalks in Seattle (excluding downtown during parts of the day). Been to Redmond lately? (Okay, technically not Seattle, but close.) It has some of the widest sidewalks this side of the Mississippi, but you would be hard-pressed to see people on them. For more eloquent thoughts on this see James Howard Kunstler’s TED talk on sprawl and bad urban design.
- No visible laundry. There is no visible laundry because everyone has a dryer because electricity is cheap here. We got used to seeing laundry hung out and not using a dryer ourselves because there wasn’t one to use! What’s wrong with saving some energy and hanging out some laundry?
- Trees-gone-wild. No trimming just overgrown as if the more overgrown, the more nature is introduced into the urban setting. Don’t think so. Add an ivy plant that has invaded the tree and we have a typical Seattle tree. We got used to seeing trees trimmed and maintained in urban spaces and that is just not practiced widely here. If trimming occurs here, chances are it gives the Plant Amnesty people fodder to write about. They are based in Seattle after all.
Friday, June 27, 2008
After our yearly physical what better way to celebrate than with some gelato! We had not been to Gelatiamo in downtown Seattle for a while. An Italian friend invited us to meet her there so we made our way over. Especially coming back from Italy, this gelateria was a pleasant reminder of what we enjoyed there. A little piece of Italy in Seattle. We sat and chatted at an outside table, laughing and eating gelato. Now, shouldn’t that be the way it always is? The owner, Maria would pop by every so often chatting and tempting us with goodies.
I finally got the double meaning of the name (all that Italian pays off): If there were a verb “gelatare” – which might be translated roughly to make or do gelato, “gelatiamo” then would translate to let’s do gelato. It can also be “gelat – ti amo” – gelato, I love you.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Of the many pressing issues us repats must deal with, the inevitable cluttering of the house is certainly high on the list. Shelves and desks were clean when we returned, almost spartan. Now they are slowly filling up with stuff. Though, one small victory is that we finally figured out that our HP Office Jet 7310 All-in-One Printer can be used wirelessly. Yeah. It works like a charm and there are a few less wires in our office (think One Less Bell To Answer – the 5th Dimension – oh, the audacity of that medley!).
Monday, June 23, 2008
One thing we promised to do to lessen “reverse culture shock” is to get out more and walk around our city, Seattle. It doesn’t hurt that the weather has been nice and we don’t have jobs, yet. Anyway, today we walked around Lake Union (location). It took about 2 hours walking leisurely and stopping to explore. One thing we discovered that surprised us was the I-5 Colonnade Park. It’s an urban mountain bike skills park. We stopped and gawked at the park. We couldn’t believe they actually did something interesting with this piece of land under that concrete gash called I-5. The park is not a bad attempt at connecting the Capitol Hill and Eastlake neighborhoods so rudely divided by the freeway. The connection gives walkers, bikers, and motor scooters an edge on the car for getting between these two neighborhoods. Phase 2 is currently under construction.
Friday, June 20, 2008
A little bit of American ‘history’ for a change on Travelmarx. (BTW, did you know the same word in Italian can be used for story and history, interesting.) Virgina city, just a short car ride from Reno, is an example of a mining boom town. At its peak there were something like 30,000 residents. Today there is just a fraction of that. Its claim to fame starts with the Comstock Lode silver strike of 1859. It was largely silver which came out of the Virginia City mines. The depths that they dug looking for ore were incredible. But, alas, by the mid 1870 the pickings started to get slim and by the turn of the century the ore was largely tapped out and the town eventually shriveled. The town was made a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and has rebounded a bit. Some suggest it was helped by the television drama Bonanza (though the actors probably never stepped foot there in the flesh).
Today, the town is largely a tourist destination – as far as we could tell. We saw only a small part of it, so advice from Travelmarx is slim. We did take the tour of the “basement” of the main church (red brick, white, just off the main street) which was interestingly narrated. And, we took the Ponderosa mine tour. It’s a short tour you take from a saloon on “C” street. The mine shaft starts in the back of the saloon.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
We had the chance to take a stroll in Galena Creek Park (location) today just outside of Reno. We are in Reno for a few days. The park is a welcome relief to get up higher, take in some cooler breezes and enjoy a little exercise. Reno, being the second city we saw after coming back from Italy is a mind scramble for me. I can’t distinguish between a Bed Bath and Beyond, a post office, a school, or a disco. Everything looks the same, a look I’ll call desert-mall. There is nothing to orient you (outside the main downtown) where to go to find a bakery or a grocery store. Malls are located far away from where people live and you have to practically drive around the mall parking lot to get between stores (I’m thinking of this mall specifically.)
Back to the park. Galena is a natural mineral form of lead sulfide. (I was thinking it was a chicken as in gallina in Italian – back to the mall for me.) It was a material that was annoying to the mining operations and there was once a town called Galena that has since been abandoned. We spent about 2 hours wandering the Jones Creek Trail. The trails were well maintained from what we could see and there were picnic areas and restrooms. We definitely would like to go back and make it up to Mt. Rose.
Friday, June 13, 2008
The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology is located in Bolzano in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy. The museum is famous because of its permanent resident, Ötzi the 5000+ year old iceman. Ötzi is certainly the star attraction but what makes the museum truly successful is how they build up to tell Ötzi’s story: how he was found, where he was found, what he was found with, and some probable and some speculative aspects of his Copper Age life.
If you want to cut to the chase and see Ötzi directly – or really, peek at him in his bedroom chamber of -6° C glacier-like temperature - then go directly to the second floor. But, to do so and not take some time to follow the curated exhibits leading up to viewing him would be to miss a big part of the museum’s charm. A word or warning: there are a couple of English signs around the viewing area of Ötzi but otherwise they are scarce, so, for English-speakers the audio guide is indispensable.
So who was Ötzi? He was a man who lived somewhere between 3,350 and 3,100 B.C. He died probably as a result for a wound to the shoulder falling into a gully on the border between Italy and Austria in what are called the Ötztal Alps (approximate location he was found). Over time he became mummified and covered with a glacier, called now the Tisenjoch glacier. He was discovered in 1991 by some hikers thanks to warmer temperatures and retreating glaciers. At first, it was thought that it was just another lost hiker as several a year are found in that area. It took a while to figure out that this was quite a different kind of find.
There are many interesting aspects of Ötzi, but the one I found the most interesting is the markings or tattoos on his skin. The markings are groups of straight lines. It is believed that these marks could well have been therapeutic in nature as they were made at specific parts of the body that were exposed to the most stress like joints and the spinal column.
Some points to keep in mind:
- Early June is still low season so you won’t see a lot of folks on the trail nor will many restaurants, hotels, or more importantly, rifugios (refuges) be open. For us, that’s okay. Everything starts to pick up here we were told around July 1st. It would have been nice to have more rifugios open so we could lessen what we were carrying food-wise.
- We had a car so that we could drive to trailheads. We did not use public transportation. It exists though.
The specific hikes we did:
- Santa-Croce Hike. We took the Santa-Croce chair lifts (two of them) to the Santa-Croce rifugio at 2045m. Then we took #15 heading south to #12 heading east, then doubled back on ourselves and took #12a to #15 back to the chair lift.
- Capanna Alpina Hike. The goal was to hike to Rifugio Fanes. We followed trail # 11 all the way to the Rifugio. #11 and Alta Via 1 coincide for part of the way. Capanna Alpina is a rifugio just southeast of San Cassiano; there is parking lot there.
- Puez-Odle Hike. This was a loop hike that we started and ended from our hotel in Colfosco and which passed through the Puez-Odle park. We walked from the church in Colfosco up to the Edelweiss rifugio (follow the signs). From there we headed west on trail #8. When you reach Jimmy Hutte take trail #2 (which coincides with Alta Via 2) for some time passing by Lago Crespeina. At the next major trail intersection take trail #4 back to the Edelweiss rifugio.
- Cinque-Torre Hike. We took the Bain de Dones chairlift to Rifugio Scoiattoli (2255m) and then did the hike in two parts. First we hiked up to Rifugio Nuvolau (2575m) and then we hiked around Cinque Torre starting with the open air war museum there. The museum paths still had snow this early June.
- Passo Sella Hike. We drove from Colfosco to Passo Sella (2176m) and parked. We decided to circumnavigate the Sassolungo group clockwise, but first we took a detour to climb up to Col Rodella (2484m) for a quick view. Back down we followed trail #4-557 west. At Rifugio Sasso Piatto we caught trail #527 heading north and then east. Eventually we met up with trail #525 which took us back to the Passo Sella parking lot.
- Passo delle Erbe Hike. Leaving the Passo delle Erbe parking lot we took trail #8a until we reach the base of the Sas de Putia group and then we headed west to begin a counter-clockwise circumnavigation still on #8a. Eventually we met up with #4 (coincides with Alta Via 2) to the Forcela de Putia (2357m). At this point we took a detour to climb to the peak of Putia (2815m). After coming back from this 2 hour excursion we continued around following trail #35 for some time across the south side of the mountain group. Eventually we met up with trail #8b which took us back to our starting point.
- Lagazuoi Tunnels. The goal of this hike/walk was to visit the famous Lagazuoi Tunnels. We took the cable car up from Passo Falzarego to Rifugio Lagazuoi. From there we took some time taking in the view and then headed for the tunnel entrance. The approach to the tunnel and the exit were a little tricky. There were cables to hold on to, but if you are not one for heights, it may not be the best thing to do. Once inside the tunnel we spend several hours exploring passageways.
- Pisciadu Waterfall Hike. This hike we also started out of Colfosco. We took trail #651 to #26 to #666 to Passo Gardena to #8 to #8c which dropped us back in Colfosco.
All hikes were interesting, but the Passo Sella Hike and the Passo delle Erbe Hike stand out because of the interesting aspect of circumnavigating large rock masses and getting a good sense of the geography.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
- Mesoles – Located close to our hotel at Str. Rönn 5, we ate at Mesoles for five different dinners. We got to know the owner, Hilda Alfreider, well and we often chatted until late in the evening. It’s a relaxed place that carries all the typical dishes of the region, especially “tutres”. Mesoles is located just outside of the downtown part of Colfosco as you are heading toward the Passo Gardena. There are several rooms that can be rented at Mesoles.
- Il Ciano – Il Ciano is located in La Villa at Strada Boscdaplan 25. It has a wide selection of pizzas as well as pasta and seafood dishes. We were a little sceptical at first about the fish, but were assured that the seafood comes in fresh every day. So we tried pasta scoglia (with seafood) and pasta con vongole (with clams) and were not disappointed.
- Maso Runch - Hof – Runch - Hof is in Pedraces and is a special dining treat. See this post for more details.
- Fornello – Il Fornello is located in Corvara. It’s a casual place to grab a pizza.
- Peter’s Stube – Peter’s Stube is located in Colfosco on Str. Col Pradat 4 and has typical dishes of the region.
- Albergo Dasser – Dasser is located in San Martino in Badia. We ate at Dasser for lunch one day after visiting the nearby Ladin Museum.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
During our stay in the Alta Badia we used three different types of maps. There are many to choose from, but we found these three most useful.
- Tappeiner. These are panorama maps that show a valley or mountain group from several different compass points with trails overlaid on the actual aerial photo. See the photo for an example section of the Langkofel-Sassolungo map.
- Tabacco Editrice. These are 1:25:000 or 1:50:0000 maps that are indispensible for the area. They are standard maps with lots of information. Here’s an example of what they look like. They come in different numbers representing different areas. For example we used 03, 05, and 07 for this trip. See the photo for an example of the different type of maps available.
- Ghedina Photo. These maps are specific to a particular feature. For example, we used map 06 – Gruppo Sella. See the photo for an example of the different maps available.
You can buy these almost all of these maps in many spots. We picked up ours in Sport Kostner in the center of Corvara. You might ask if these maps are really necessary for hiking. Not really if you are experienced in following trails and familiar with the area. However, if you are new to the area or just want to be able to identify features on the landscape, get a map or two.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Maso Runch - Hof (located in Pedraces) was one of the places suggested by our hotel (Garni Delta) as an authentic dining experience in the Alta Badia. They called and at this point in the season, they would only be having one sitting for dinner on Saturday so we signed up. For 26€ we had an excellent fixed menu with choice of main dish. Wine was extra. The main star of the meal is the seemingly endless supply of “tutres” and “canci” (both fried items very specific to this region) stuffed with spinach and ricotta or marmalade and poppy seeds. A word to the wise is to go easy and save room. Besides the tutres and canci there was a soup course, a pasta course, a main dish, dessert, and then coffee and aperitif. This is definitely a place to get into if you are at all interested in getting a sampling of Ladin cooking.
In the Val Badia (or Alta Badia / South Tyrol) the “stua” (or “stube” in German) in a Ladin house is a sort of living room built of wood, with a low ceiling, and where you find a large stove called a “mugum” in traditional Ladin house. The stove usually has a barrel roof and concave tiles for better heat distribution. Sometimes the stove is made of ceramic and can look quite elegant. In traditional Ladin houses the mugum is sort of the barrel-shaped object half sunk into an internal wall of the house. In modern houses the shapes can vary. Often there is a bench around the mugum and sometimes a bed on top. Besides the cooking stove in the kitchen this was the only heating source in older Laden homes.
One of the pictures shown is a recreated stube in the Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum in Innsbruck. It shows a white and green tiled mugum in the corner of the room with benches around it. The second picture is from the B&B Garni Delta’s dining room. We stayed at this B&B during our time in Val Badia. This example is a more modern take on the mugum.
Friday, June 6, 2008
The hotel Garni Delta is located in Colfosco (location) in the Val Badia (also called South Tyrol). Colfosco is located in the southern part of the Val Badia that is higher than the northern part and so is also referred to as Alta Badia. We can’t say enough nice things about this hotel, but we’ll try. First, our room (a superior facing east) is the best designed room we’ve stayed in. There was plenty of cabinet storage, comfortable beds, a large window and glass door leading to a balcony, a circular work table, and internet! Second, the folks there are super nice: Ricardo, Manuela, and Stefano Afreider. They’ve helped us in every conceivable way with maps, advice, 4pm hot chocolate, and friendly chit chat. Third, the breakfast was just right, not too big or too small, and items rotating in and out according to season. Fourth, the location, above Colfosco, commands an incredible view. You can sit here all day just watching the weather changes against the backdrop of the mountains. Fifth, the cost is reasonable compared to what we’d seen elsewhere. Sixth, they opened June 1st this year which is quite early in the summer high season which really starts the 1st of July. Many hotels and B&Bs only start opening in mid to late June.
By the way, “garni” is the German word for a bed and breakfast hotel. You’ll see this word quite a bit travelling around the Val Badia.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Forgot to post this but in Florence we once had an interesting visitor: a scorpion. We found him under a wet sponge in the kitchen. It kind of freaked us out. We photographed it and put it outside. It was pretty small, about 1.5cm. We confirmed with WhatsThatBug and they said it was a scorpion. Still, would say the mosquitoes in Florence are still more annoying.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
The Ladin Museum in San Martino (loc) might qualify as one of the best museums we have ever seen. The subject: the Ladin people and their culture and history. What makes this museum shine is a combination of factors.
- The history of the Ladin people is interesting because of the way they lived on and with the land, how they built their society and villages around little “viles”, and how they divided up farmland fairly so everyone had good farming land.
- The history of the Ladin culture is also interesting in that it intersects with many different waves of history so that in some ways you are taking a stroll through time as you learn about the Ladin. From the early alpine tribe called the Raetians (last centuries BC) who mark the start of the Ladin, to the Romanization of the Ladin, through all the countless monarchies that “owned” this area, through to WWI and WWII, it’s amazing that the Ladin culture and language has maintained itself so successfully.
- The museum is located in a very interesting old castle house in which you slowly make your way through various exhibits. The oldest part of the castle dates back to 1230.
- The audio guide for the museum is probably one of the best we’ve experienced. It’s sensitive to proximity so tracks automatically start when you are in a room or near an exhibit. The audio guide vignettes are either a story or in a question / answer format. In the story format, you walk into a “period” room (like a toy studio) and you are suddenly listening to a conversation between a mother, father, and son about how many (traditional) dolls would be carved and sold to support the family. Through the conversation you get a real sense of what life was like for them. Many rooms are tied together thematically around a typical Ladin family who might have lived on the premise. In the other format (question/answer) you have an interview with an expert on subject like geology or history. The questions the interviewer asks are exactly what you would ask yourself.
We spent 4 hours there and as we left they remarked that we had spent quite a bit of time there – a bit unusual I guess but definitely worth it. And the sad part is we didn’t even take time in the language “lab” part. So we could have spent another hour, but we were starving.
You can climb to the top of the tower and they have telescope devices which on first glance seem to just give views of the countryside, but as soon as you approach them and look through them, you view a narrated story about the view the telescope is focused on. Very clever.
Probably the most memorable exhibit was a room you walk into, sit down and suddenly find yourself in the middle of a dispute between the Bishop of Bressanone and the nuns of Castelbadia convent on whether the peasants should pay their tithes to the nuns. There are four characters in the conversation: Gregor Von Heimburg (a statesman), Kardinal Nilolaus Cusanus (Bishop of Bressanone), Verena von Stuben (Abbess of Castelbadia), and Herzog Sigmund von Tirol (a duke). The conflict came to a head in the Battle of Moreo in 1458. Each character is part of a painting and when they talk, the painting (really, a large LCD screen) comes to life. Again, very, very well done.
Monday, June 2, 2008
We just arrived in the Dolomites. In just a couple hundred kilometers from Piedmonte everything changes: scenery, food, and language. In particular, the languages spoken where we are staying in Colfosco (loc) are German, Italian and Ladin. When people are speaking Ladin it seems familiar to us, sharing some words and pronunciation with Italian, but we couldn’t hope to reply back. While here we speak either Italian or English.
Colfosco is a town in the province of Bolzano in the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol region of Italy. It is more or less in the heart of the area where the Ladin language is spoken. Ladin is spoken in several municipalities throughout Trentino-Alto Adige as well as a few municipalities in the Veneto region. It's somewhat complicated understanding the administrative borders of this area of Italy given that there are communes, municipalities, autonomous regions (like Trentino-Alto Adige), and “non-autonomous” regions (like Veneto) and how these administrative borders overlap with where the Ladin language is spoken.
In the graphic, the names of the towns and areas are written in Ladin. Bulsan for Bolzano and Belun for Belluno, for example.