Saturday, December 31, 2016

Broca’s Earlobe

I don't know much about my uncle Joey. The memory bits I have of him are organized willy-nilly in my mind like a kitchen junk drawer that has all sorts of little interesting things, but is never quite as organized as you want it to be. Or: the bits are like shards of picture that I'm trying to assemble to catch a glimpse of him. Selfishly, as family memories go, perhaps I'm trying to assemble the shards to get a glimpse of myself. At any rate, among the bits is the memory of my uncle's obsession with earlobes.

My uncle Joey's was obsessed with touching earlobes, at least that's how I remember it. He would call you over, and he would talk to you in a low, authoritative voice, and fondle your ear. He died at 50. I just turned 50 and it recently occurred to me that his obsession with earlobes was a bit odd.

I suppose I let him do it for many reasons. He was a father figure and you didn't argue, and I was in need of that kind of attention. He was one of my 4 uncles that I wanted to know better. The attention and ear touching was the only 1-1 time we had together.

~Two worlds~

I remember my uncle Joey projecting manliness, smarts, outdoor ruggedness, and a touch of sophistication that seemed lacking in other people I knew. As a kid, we rarely went to his house, but when we did, it was special. There was an aesthetic there that was enticing. The living areas were like exploring a small museum displaying objects out of a cabinet of curiosities of a Renaissance collector with a real leather couch and a cool stereo to boot. The kitchen area was slightly chaotic and well-used. It was the opposite in the house I grew up in. We had living areas filled with ordinary stuff: a penny jar, empty chianti fiaschi, posters, and a fabric couch. Our kitchen looked like it was rarely used.

Joey built his house by hand, at least in my mind. It was part lodge, part house, constructed in natural woods with an open floor plan, and views to the surrounding countryside. By contrast, our pre-fab house arrived on a tractor trailer in two halves that were snapped together creating a rabbit warren of small rooms with flimsy walls. We looked out on our neighbors in a suburban track development. We had puke-colored carpet that scratched our skin during wrestling matches. No natural hardwood floors for us.

Joey's skills seemed practical. With his forestry degree, he could identify trees and tell stories about them. What could be cooler than that? And, he knew how to grow trees - lots of them. People paid for his skill. My dad delivered fuel oil, ancient trees in liquid form.

A case of the trees looking greener on the other side of the fence? Maybe so. I was always secretly envious of my two cousins, Joey's daughters. I wanted to be part of their family. Though, I’m guessing my cousins' image of their dad is likely different than mine.

Heck, Joey even had a waterbed and once, with my two cousins, we sneaked up and bounced around on it. Now that's living I thought.

~~Odd Satellites~~

I admit the line between fact and myth is a bit blurred in regard to my uncle Joey, but I like it that way. I imagine him working for days in the forest, able to survive on wit. He seemed to know something about everything, and I was ever so curious. Yes, you can fondle my earlobe if you tell me a story about a tree.

It's odd that later I would gravitate toward traits similar to an uncle I barely knew, be it a love of nature and trees, a fascination for what things are called, or even an aesthetic about how to keep my home. (Not earlobes though.)

My siblings and I were much closer to my mom's family, and that meant we were in the constant throes of the tumultuous relationship between my mother and her mother. My grandmother was sort of gravitational force that once in her pull, it was hard to escape. One of my other uncles called her the "planet".

My uncles were distant satellites checking in periodically in their orbit around my grandmother. We had little chance to get to know them. What's more, there always seemed to be an tension in the air between my mother and her brothers. This was a solar system that had problems. One uncle was seemed to always be strung out and didn't want anything to do with pesky nephews and nieces. Another uncle lived far away, drove a VW bug, and was viciously smart. We'd see him occasionally and that was enough. A third uncle was dark and handsome, but prone to bouts of anger. I remember him jumping up and down on a car roof and brandishing a gun. That left uncle Joey, the oldest of the brothers and seemingly most sane. So what if that came with a little ear fondling.

~~~Carl Sagan~~~

My uncle Joey once gave me the book Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science, the 1979 book by astrophysicist Carl Sagan. I was about 15 at the time, and I remember the book being an invitation to enter into his world. A book I ought to read. A book that he endorsed. The book's black cover and red title font conveyed seriousness.

I didn't read it, at least not right away. It wasn't until many years later that I made it through Broca's Brain.

But, if I had to give one image to fix in your mind the image of my uncle Joey, Carl Sagan would in fact be it. Joey, 10 years younger than Sagan, I imagine followed Sagan as a role model, in scientific leaning as well as in fashion. Joey's thick dark hair was always swept to one side, not too fussy much like Sagan. As well, my uncle was prone to wearing a tan corduroy jacket, with elbow patches, and a simple turtle neck sweater underneath. I suppose the seventies were partly to blame as well.

Joey even spoke like Carl Sagan with a slow deliberate cadence. He gazed at you as if sizing you up, formulating the right question to catch you off imbalance. He wasn't the kind of uncle to ask you a quick math problem. No, it was a more serious question that made you think deeper. Something about stars and infinity, like Sagan would ask.

Joey attended Paul Smith's college in the Adirondacks where he studied forestry, and taught at the University of Connecticut. He was by all means the most successful in the family, if not the most revered. He was a Sagan in training. A few years after the Broca's Brain gift, I left home and the unstable solar system, and slowly lost contact with my uncle and his life during the 1980s and early 1990s. I don't understand the details of what happened, but it's fair to say that his life got derailed: a divorce, drugs, and untimely death.

~~~~The Man Behind the Camera~~~~

All I have left of Joey are a few photos and vague stories about the photos. First, there's the black and white photo of me and my brother sitting in the grass. We are about 4 and 6 years old. I stare straight at Joey behind the camera, while my brother gazes elsewhere. The photo transports me back to my grandmother's yard along the Farmington Valley River. It was our playground when we were young. My uncle was often there and often with a camera.



Another photo Joey took hung in my grandmother's tiny dining room for years. Two windows, a closet, a desk, a hutch filled with knick-knacks, and two doorways took up most of the wall space in the room. What little space remained was taken up by examples of my grandmother's needlepoint and a picture of Michelangelo's David taken by Joey. Countless family events took place in that dining room, everyone crowded around the table and under that photo. My grandmother wasn't one for putting up much art, so this photo meant something. In the photo, David is photographed from the side and superimposed on a photo of a galaxy. A master of the photography and photo-processing, the image is an example of the blend of art and science that my uncle represented.

Not surprisingly, I have very few photos of Joey himself. He worked the other side of the camera mostly. Of the photos I have, two stand out. The first is a 1975 black and white snapshot. Joey is bare-chested and holding my recently-born cousin. Both gaze out of the photo as if in a stare-down match with the viewer. The second photo, is one of the last taken of him in 1993, a year before his death. A very gaunt, shell of the man from the first picture stands by the same cousin, now fully grown and recently-graduated. Joey stands behind my cousin and my grandparents encircling them with outstretched arms as if swooping in behind them. Protecting or holding on, I can't decide. An impossibly bank of bright yellow school lockers dominates the photo. There is tension in everyone's faces.

~~~~~Earlobes and Star-stuff~~~~~

I remember the call from my mother: "Joey is dead. He froze to death." On a cold January day in 1994 he wandered into a roofless building that was under construction in the prosaic town of Pine Meadow, got locked in, and was found the next day. Some say maybe he went to the liquor store nearby, got drunk, and became trapped. Some say he knew he was dying and went there knowing the consequences. Others say it was an accident and he was too weak to get out. Whatever the explanation, he died in nature, which seemed strangely fitting. It was a cold, mysterious, and unfinished ending for me, much like my relationship with him. Our relationship froze at the point of the young boy who had a minute or two with an enigmatic ear fondler.

What are earlobes for? It seems the jury is out. Various suggestions include helping collect sound for the ears, acting as an erogenous zone, making us more attractive to partners, or just plain having lost their major biological function being vestiges of an earlier function. More ambiguity to live with, just like Joey's passion for the Lobulus auriculae, as earlobes are called in Latin and which I'm sure Joey would have known.

Many of my memories of Joey capture some aspect of truth, but never quite reveal him fully. But where there isn’t fact, fantasy fills in nicely. I’ll have to live with the ambiguity. I don't know what the purpose of an earlobe is let alone why my uncle liked to fondle them. So be it.

Carl Sagan died two years later in 1996. As Sagan said in his iconic Cosmos series: "The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself." Both Sagan and my uncle are now part of that star-stuff. I hope the universe can figure out the ear thing.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Happy Sound in the Grotto

Left: My grandfather and grandmother just prior to departing for Italy in 1973. Center: A stash of letters written by grandfather in 1946. Right: Blue Grotto.
My grandfather and grandmother just prior to departing for Italy in 1973.A stash of letters written by grandfather in 1946. Blue Grotto.

My grandfather sang in the Blue Grotto and he was extremely happy. Everyone applauded when he finished. The story has been with me since I was a kid. I wasn't there, but I can construct the details easily, part imagination and part borrowed imagery from a postcard my grandmother sent. Two dozen people in a boat, slowly being rowed through the cerulean water, and my grandfather stands and sings with the captain. The walls and roof of the immense cavern amplify his sweet baritone voice. People in other boats stop and listen, and are jealous that he isn't in their boat. That was in 1973.

Reading an old travel diary resurfaced this story and others about my grandfather. The diary, kept by my grandmother, describes their time in Italy, and the time they went to the Blue Grotto. My grandmother in her typical economical prose wrote: "Dad and the rower started singing and it was a happy sound in the Grotto. So very blue!"

~The diary~

My grandparents visited Switzerland and Italy in 1973, and Italy in 1979. My grandmother kept a diary of these trips in a small brown notebook that recently came into my possession. The diary took a convoluted path through our family to end up in my hands. After my grandmother's death, a family squabble ensued forming a rift between two sides. The diary was taken by an uncle on the side of the rift that I wasn't on. (Not that I chose a side, but in family matters, neutral is not an option.) Eventually, the rift closed, my uncle died, and the diary passed to my mother who gave it to me.

I give my grandmother credit for diligently keeping the diary during their long exhausting days of travel. I can imagine that she had a head full of impressions and ideas that she needed to empty into the diary, much like I've had with my time in Italy. Her diary entries provide a peek into what caught here attention, what fascinated her, and what annoyed her. For example, she:


  • Tracked the cost of things.
    • Pompeii: "We arrived at Pompeii. Took a Fiat limousine to Pompeii 4.000 lira (we knew we had been taken) but were too tired to do anything about it."
    • Venice: "We had a coffee each. (Couldn't believe it when it cost 1.200 Lira ea. $2.00 a cup!) That's when we decided to leave." [I can't help but love that she hightailed it out of Venice over the price of coffee.]
  • Pondered why women weren't shaving under their arms.
    • Rome: "An interesting note about Italian women. In the 6 years since we've here they've come a long way. Almost every girl, even women paint their nails, but for the life of me, I can't understand why they can't shave underarms. It's appalling to me. I've checked and observed, even the most fastidious + up to date modern Roman girl. Yet when she holds the strap on the bus, I can't believe it! "
  • Lamented how hard the bed was at a relative's house. After arriving there she wrote:
    • Ceprano: "Then, hit the sack and that's just what that bed is - one hi and one low mattress put together."
  • Noted food and customs.
    • Palermo: "All they do is eat, talk, laugh, eat again. Nice friendly people, but tiresome, repetitious and always ready to eat." [What's wrong with that Grams?]
    • Italy in general: "Good thing I brought Maxwell instant and Cremora. We can't stand their black coffee in the morning." [Grams: am I really related to you?]
    • Of Palermo on her second visit: "And of course the whole of Palermo has gone downhill. Now more than ever the people nave no scruples about throwing their garbage around. Everywhere one looks, there are piles of garbage in the streets. Their parks are dirty and dusty. Everyone eats and throws their remains on the grounds wherever they are. It's appalling to see how inconsiderate they are of cleanliness. Even with their dense population (they claim that's the reason for the messiness), it would seem if they were taught to observe clean habits, Palermo would indeed be a better place to live in, and visit."

The niggling, slightly cranky tone of her writing is my grandmother's "voice". I agree with on some points and disagree with her on others. Maybe she wrote these never expecting them to be published. Furthermore, I can't claim that my travel diaries rise to any better level.

When I spent time as a kid with my grandparents, I remember my grandmother more because she did most of the talking. Throughout the years, my grandmother send me cards and letters such that I remember her in words as much as I do in person. In those cards and letters, her tone was similar to the diary: full of chit-chat, sometimes slightly irritable, and with few mentions of my grandfather. The travel diary was interesting for its few glimpses into what my grandfather liked and when he was happy. To be honest, my grandmother wrote and talked more all those years because my grandfather was barely literate.

~~Like a sardine~~

The literacy of my grandfather wasn't something I thought about until along with the arrival of the diary there also came a small stash of letters. The letters were written by my grandfather and are the only thing I have ever seen written by him. In 1946, age 34, he had hernia surgery, and stayed in the hospital from August 30th to September 7th. The stash I received are the letters he wrote every day to my grandmother.

Upon reading the letters, I was struck by the child-like quality of his writing. He wrote English like I write and speak Italian: choppy, and not quite right. The letters reveal that he had a very limited understanding of how to write in English.

In the letters, my grandfather wrote about mostly how he wanted to be out of the hospital and how much he missed my grandmother. It's clear from the letters that the separation from my grandmother was very hard for him. My grandmother was able to come every few days to visit him. And in one visit, she brought some pasta that all the other patients said was the best they ever tasted – my grandfather recounts to her in one letter. In another letter, he tells my grandmother to keep her head high in some family squabble that is only obliquely referred to in the letter. He says: "They are all a bunch of no good Lous[es], they all stink, I believe it."

Two other interesting aspects of the letters are his terms of endearment and his fish analogies. His terms of endearment toward my grandmother and their two kids at the time are conveyed in very physical terms like "…my baby’s Joe-Marie are they fresh if they are just tell them I be home in a short while to beat them up with the strap." and "I could beat you to death, And Hug you to death I love you Deeply in my Heart."

Then there are the fish analogies. Perhaps my grandfather really resonated with the ocean. Perhaps he liked to eat fish and it was on his mind. Or, more likely, perhaps these were the few idiomatic expressions he knew how to use in English to express how he felt trapped in the hospital, in his bed, hopeless and far from home. His fish metaphors:


  • "I just feel like a dead fish I feel that I am in another world"
  • "I felt so blue when I look through the windows was a beautiful morning here I am in bed like a dead fish its 6 days honey"
  • "I felt like a herring in bed when you went home I did know what to do you look very pretty to me But don’t get Swell Head"
  • "My dear beautiful wife, Today is 7 day 3 more to go or 2 more or 1 more I feel fine but I am still blue Holiday pass and I am still in bed like a sardine."


My grandfather's parents were born in Sicily and my grandfather was born in Brooklyn. He lived the first third of his life surrounded by other Italians, speaking Italian. He probably didn't finish high school explaining why he wrote at a basic level. As I remember it, his spoken English was basic, but serviceable. As a kid, I didn't judge language abilities as I might today as an adult.

The diary. Left: Cover. Center: Page listing family met. Right: Last page and overview of the trip.
My grandmother's travel diaryMy grandmother's travel diaryMy grandmother's travel diary

~~~A pipe for Dad~~~

In the travel diary of 1973 my grandfather, Sal, is also referred to as "Dad". He is alluded only a few times, all positive. His life was always filtered through my grandmother's actions and words in her role as the main bread-winner, decision-maker, and spokesperson of the family.

A typical entry in the diary about my grandfather can be boiled down to this: "Sal was happy". His happiness was in simple things: touching the tomb of a saint in Padova, seeing the holy reliquaries in Orvieto, or sleeping with church bells. (My grandmother couldn't sleep at all in Orvieto because of the bells, but my grandfather slept soundly and peacefully.)

Excerpts from the diary include:

  • Padua, at St. Anthony Chapel
    • "Then we walked around and saw and touched the tomb of the Saint. This made Dad very happy."
  • Bologna
    • "We had coffee, bought cards and pipe for Dad." [He loved his pipes.]
  • Florence
    • "We stopped to eat. Dad had tripe and mussels, ugh!!" [Go Gramps!]
  • Orvieto
    • "Then we went back to hotel. I washed some things and wrote cards. But then try to sleep. The bells ring every 15 min! And they are right next door. Sal doesn't mind. He loves bells."
    • "Famous for its of relics of the "Miracle of Bolsena". We happened to be right there in the little side chapel when they had their yearly showing of the 'cloth' and we went up the ladder to see it and I took a picture! Sal very happy to have been here at just this time!"
  • Capri, Blue Grotto
    • "it was a happy sound in the grotto."

My grandparents visited the Blue Grotto in 1973 as part of their first of their two trips. In that trip, they drove from Zurich to Rome stopping at Bergamo, Padova, Bologna, Florence, and Orvieto. Their itinerary seemed to be on-the-fly, something I could never do, but maybe should try. They had places they wanted to end up, but seemed content to stop here or there, or just as easily, leave a place if it didn't appeal to them. After dropping their rental car off in Rome, they continued further south eventually ending in Palermo. In the southern segment of their trip, they took public transportation, of which my Grandmother kept detailed notes of prices and quality of service, and more importantly, vented when she felt they got ripped off.

My grandmother's family was from outside of Rome, Ceprano. My grandfather's family was from Palermo. Ceprano had the sack-of-a-bed. Palermo had the eat-talk-laugh-eat-again people. Oh, to have been able to travel with them! My grandmother with her impossibly large handbags filled everything plus a sandwich or two, her constantly sore feet, and her shrieks of "Oh, Sal!"

~~~~Parlare~~~~

Both of my grandparents spoke Italian and my grandmother could write it. I learned to speak Italian and be able to distinguish dialects long after they died. Their "Italian" voices are too faint in my head to be sure, but based on their family histories, my grandmother likely spoke like someone who grew up familiar with the Romanesco dialect and my grandfather with a cross between the Neapolitan and Sicilian languages.

As a kid at Sunday dinner at my grandparent's house - naturally at the kid's table in the kitchen, separate from the adults - my grandfather would come in and make sure we all had our coca cola with a touch of wine added. As he poured he would mutter phrases of endearment or scolding. His phrases pop into my mind every now and then, teasing me, daring me to decipher them. Once in a while, one of his phrases does map to something I've heard in Italian. For example, his term of endearment: scungillo or scunciglio or sconciglio I believe maps to a common name for whelk (cf: ref and ref). Or maybe, he could have been saying scugnizzo - street urchin, which would make more sense in how he used it.

~~~~~The Blue Grotto~~~~~

I was 8 when my grandparents went to Italy for the first time in 1973. They were first-generation Italian Americans from New York, and the trip was very important for them and the family they visited. We received postcards ever few days, including one of the Blue Grotto. The postcards were dispatches from the unknown for me.

My grandmother was always good about sending postcards. In fact, in 1973, the night after arriving in Zurich she wrote in her diary: "Wrote a few cards (we bought cards and stamps at airport)." Now that's efficient. Having just landed and bought postcards is not something I would ever do.

The postcards my grandmother sent were addressed to the whole family, but they always ended up with me. I hogged them and poured over them, looking for revealing details about their trip. I saved those cards for 30 years. One postcard from the 1973 trip was of a big St. Bernard dog on an impossibly steep mountain slope. The dog stared out from a field of yellow and red flowers. It was somewhere in Switzerland and I can still see that dog's blank face. I guess my love of travel started with those postcards and I owe many thanks to my grandmother for sending them.

On the other hand, I am a little peeved at my grandmother for the lack of interesting details about my grandfather and the Blue Grotto. They visited the Blue Grotto on a day trip from Naples and there is a lot of information about how they came and went and who they met, like this passage: "We got up early, breakfasted downstairs in restaurant. There we met a mother and daughter, Mary Ann and Donna, from Hollywood, Calif. We talked them into the tour of Capri with us and off we went." While I'm sure Mary Ann and Donna from Hollywood were nice, I'd love to know more about the Blue Grotto and my grandfather. What song did he sing? How long did he sing? Did people ask for his autograph? What did my grandfather feel like later that day? Did he talk about the experience? Did he want to return to the grotto?

Instead, my grandmother wrote only this: "Then we were rowed back to the other boat and then shore. There a canopied mini bus awaited and we were brought up to Ana Capri."

~~~~~~Memory diary~~~~~~

My grandfather lived his life in the shadow of my grandmother. She dominated their relationship, out of character and necessity. The hospital letters left me with the impression of my grandfather as a child-man. And in some ways he was. The travel diary left me with the impression of my grandfather as a secondary character in a play, a character that never gets fleshed out fully. Singing in the grotto was his brief scene. Who that man was singing in the grotto and why was he so happy? The playwright leaves us hanging.

I spent many summers with my grandparents. With my grandfather, it was mostly time together without words. We just did things. Maybe I need to judge him on his actions and be happy with that. So what if he didn't write well or much.

Thinking about our wordless time together, I can recover many things about my grandfather. He loved: wine - he was always sneaking it; pipes - I remember the wonderful tobacco smell; gardening - I remember helping him and enjoying it; going to church - boy did he nag me every Sunday morning to go with him. My grandfather didn't like pasta or conflicts. He wanted everyone to get along. He liked playing the lottery (he won $10,000 once) and he never had more than 2 or 3 dollars in his wallet. All facets of my grandfather locked in my internal travel diary called memory.

I remember his thick white hair, his smell, and the way he smiled. I remember his murmur: it was sort of cross between a low hum and rattle. He did it when driving, gardening, and when tending the fire on cold winter nights. I remember it well because I would sleep on the sofa near the fireplace. He moved slowly in the dark with only the glow of the fireplace for light, in pajamas and slippers, murmuring. He would tend the fire and then head back to bed. Sometimes, my grandmother, would kick him out of bed for snoring and he'd end up on the couch with me, his feet in my face. I remember those feet.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Walk from Bergamo to Ponteranica

Left: Walking route from Fontana del delfino (Bergamo) to Trattoria del Moro (Ponteranica). Right: View of Castello (Ponteranica) from just below Via Maresana.
Walking route from Fontana del delfino (Bergamo) to Ponteranica (Trattoria del Moro).View of Castello (Ponteranica) from just below Via Maresana.

Length: ~16 km (10 miles)
Duration: ~4 hours walking time, plus 1.5 hours for lunch
Elevation: total gain 540 m (1,770 ft), starting/ending 282 m (925 ft), max 706 m (2,320 ft)
Location: Italy, Lombardia, Bergamo, Colli di Bergamo

Today’s walk was a low-key Saturday urban/country affair. Our goal was to eat at Trattoria del Moro above Ponteranica, so we found an interesting route to take us there and back.

Our starting and ending point were Piazzetta / Fontana del delfino. Part of our walk took us on sentiero 533, which is one of the quickest ways to get onto the “major” trail system tracked by CAI. (For example of another hike that includes this trail, see Bergamo to Canto Alto.) That said, there are countless other trails that are hard to see on the CAI site or Google Maps. We often use the MAPS.ME program which often shows a lot of local trails (black dotted lines – see example photo).
The Food at Trattoria del Moro was typical Bergamasco: good and reasonably priced.

Left: Start of sentiero (trail) 533 on Via Quintino Alto. Center: Sentiero 533 climbs quickly. Right: Sign near La Maresana pointing to Castello (Ponteranica).

 Start of sentiero (trail) 533 on Via Quintino Alto.Sentiero 533 climbs quickly. Sign near La Maresana pointing to Castello (Ponteranica).

Left: Trattoria del Moro - Foiade con ragu di lepre. Right: Trattoria del Moro - Speidino e polenta.
Trattoria del Moro - Foiade con ragu di lepre.Trattoria del Moro - Speidino e polenta.

Left: A branch off of sentiero 533 leads to Via Bassani. Right: On the way back through Città Alta we happened into the rarely open Sant'Agostino church.
A branch off of sentiero 533 leads to Via Bassani.On the way back through Città Alta we happened into the rarely open Sant'Agostino church.

Left: From above the Porta San Lorenzo, view north toward Maresana and Canto Alto. Right: MAPS.ME screenshot showing the confluence of trails at La Maresana. Dotted lines show different trail options.
From above the Porta San Lorenzo, view north toward Maresana and Canto Alto. MAPS.ME screenshot showing the confluence of trails at La Maresana. Dotted lines show different trail options.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Short Hike from Colfosco to Jimmy Hütte

Left: Winter brown on trail #8 to Jimmy Hütte. Right: June 2008, the same trail in green.
Winter golden brown on trail #8 to Jimmy Hütte.June 2008, the same trail in green.

Left: The route from Nature Hotel Delta to Jimmy Hütte. Right: The last part of the trail to Jimmy follows the gondola.
The route from Nature Hotel Delta to Jimmy Hütte.The last part of the trail to Jimmy follows the gondola.

Left: Trail 8b, a scenic view under larches. Right: View east/southeast back to Corvara.
Trail 8b, a scenic view under the larches.View east/southeast back to Corvara.

Length: ~5 km (3 miles)
Duration: 1.5 hours
Elevation: 300 m (~1,000 ft) gained, max 1958 m, starting 1705 m
Location: Italy, Trentino Alto-Adige, Alta Badia, Colfoso

We did this hike 8 years ago, as part of a longer hike from Colfosco to Jimmy Hütte and then swinging on a clockwise arc (Alta Via 2) through the Parco Naturale Puez Odlde back to Colfosco. Today, we just did the easy part, Colfosco to Jimmy. For more information on the hike 8 years ago, see Alta Badia – Some Dolomite Hikes.

What a glorious day, for the weather and not to be in ski boots for a third day. We skied Friday and Saturday (see Alta Badia Dolomites Weekend and Skiing the Sellaronda). The trail to Jimmy is straightforward: trail 8B from Colfosco up to the intersection with trail 8 and then head to Passo Gardena. Jimmy Hütte sits south and just below the Pizes de Cir mountain range.

We ate very well at Jimmy Hütte. It was different from when we were there in June 2008 and it wasn't open, and we sat on the empty deck eating sandwiches and drinking homemade Dolcetto wine.

We cheated by taking the Frara gondola back down to Colfosco instead of walking back. We rationalized it by the fact that we need to get on the road back to Bergamo as quick as possible to avoid the traffic of the A22, which we hit anyways.

Views back toward Colfosco and Corvara with the Gruppo delle Cunturines.
Views back toward Colfosco and Corvara with the Gruppo delle Cunturines.Views back toward Colfosco and Corvara with the Gruppo delle Cunturines.

Left: Our group walks in the mid morning light toward Jimmy Hütte. Right: Jimmy Hütte appears on the horizon, under the Pizes de Cir group. 
Our group walks in the mid morning light toward Jimmy Hütte.Jimmy Hütte appears on the horizon, under the Pizes de Cir group.

Left: In June 2008, Jimmy Hütte was closed. We ate sandwiches and homemade wine. Center and right: Salmon starter and glass of wine at Jimmy Hütte.
In June 2008, Jimmy Hütte was closed. We ate sandwiches and homemade wine.Salmon starter and glass of wine at Jimmy Hütte.Salmon starter and glass of wine at Jimmy Hütte.

Left: View of Colfosco from the trail. Right: Markers for trail 8 and 8b.
View of Colfosco from the trail.Markers for trail 8 and 8b.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Alta Badia Dolomites Weekend and Skiing the Sellaronda

Left: Our ski route (clockwise) on the Sellaronda route. Right: Passo Sella, Canazei ski slopes with Punta Grohman (Grohmannspitze) in the background.
Our ski route (clockwise) on the Sellaronda route.Passo Sella, Canazei ski slopes with Punta Grohman (Grohmannspitze) in the background.

Overview

Here we are again back in Colfosco. The last time we were here was in June 2008. Back then, we stayed at Garni Delta (see Colfosco Bed and Breakfast Hotel - Garni Delta). Today, the name is slightly different, Nature Hotel Delta, but it’s the same great place! As fate would have it, we stayed in the same exact room that we did 8 years ago. In 2008, it was our first time in the area and we spent our time hiking (see Alta Badia – Some Dolomite Hikes). This time around, we were here for the skiing.

This weekend was a 4-day holiday, Thursday – Sunday, called the “ponte dell’immacolata”. In English, we call it the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which falls on December 8th.  Friday is not a holiday, but many people take it off as well.

We drove from Bergamo to Colfosco. It took under 4 hours going, but 6+ hours returning due to traffic on Sunday on the A22. The A22 is called the Autostrada del Brennero and connects Modena in the south with Brennero in the north, on the border with Austria.

At this time of the year, there are the “mercatini di natale” or Christmas markets. In particular, the Tyrolese Christmas Markets in Trentino-Alto Adige are quite famous. Apparently, the more north you go, the more German it gets, and the Christmas markets get more “authentic”. So, it seemed everyone and their uncles and aunts piled into buses and headed north for the long weekend. Oh well, the subsequent traffic we encountered couldn’t erase the beautiful weekend. We should have left Colfosco earlier on Sunday but decided to take a short hike in the morning.

Skiing

This time around in Colfosco we were part of a group of 7, and the goal was focused on skiing. The first day, we skied above Colfosco and the area between San Cassiano and Corvara, that is part of what is called Alta Badia. The second day we did the Sellaronda route.

The Sellaronda ski route that takes you around the Sella mountain range, a plateau-shaped massif that is surrounded by four valleys: Val Badia (where we stayed), Val Gardena, Fassa Valley, and Val de Fodom. The route can be done clockwise (orange route) or counterclockwise (green route), and it can be done easily in one day. We are average skiers, and we found it relatively easy to do in terms of difficulty of slopes. We skied mostly blue (easy) and red (medium).

According the Sellaronda.info site, the orange route we skied is about 37 km in length with 13.5 km covered by lifts and 23 km skied. We did a bit more because a few points we did some runs that weren’t part of the Sellaronda circuit. The green route has similar distances. We got on the slope at 8:45 am and got off at 4:30 pm with a long break for lunch and the extra runs. Altitude-wise, we were between 5,000 and 8,000 feet.

We rented our skies at Pescosta in Colfosco. For two people, renting everything cost about € 140 for 2 days.

Finally, note the brown in the photos. There wasn't much snow outside of the man-made snow.

Eating

While skiing, we had snacks and lunch at various rifugi along the way and were never disappointed. We still are the can’t-believe-it-phase that you can ski in these wonderful areas and have good food to boot. Pinch us.

When not on the slopes we ate breakfasts at the hotel and then ventured out twice for dinner. The most spectacular dinner we had was eating again at Maso Runch, truly worth it for sampling Ladin cuisine. See the 2008 post Maso Runch - Hof, Pedraces for photos. The menu is fixed, and they just keep bringing the dishes. Here’s the order we had: panicia (an orzo soup), tutres (fried pasta, stuffed with spinach, ricotta or sauerkraut), canci arstis (leavened and fried ravioli with spinach or poppy seeds), canci t’ega (ravioli with spinach with melted butter), giama de purcel cun pulëinta (pork shank), custëis e kraut (pork ribs with sauerkraut), and Bales y golasc o pulëinta y golasc (goulash).

Our second dinner was at Nature Delta Hotel (simple and good). Our third dinner was at Ristorante L’Fanà Grill Room, which specializes in grilled meat.

Useful resources:
- http://www.altabadia.org/en/alta-badia-italian-alps-dolomites.html
- http://www.dolomitisuperski.com/
- http://sellaronda.info/
- http://www.masorunch.it/
- http://www.autobrennero.it/en/

Left: Metal ski sculpture of Alta Badia. Right: The drink de rigueur, Bombardino.
Metal ski sculpture of Alta Badia.The drink de rigueur, Bombardino.

Left: Canci arstis at Maso Runch. Right: Menu at Maso Runch.
Canci arstis at Maso Runch.Menu at Maso Runch.

Left: Day 1 sky routes around Colfosco and Corvara. "Colfosch" is Colfosco in the Ladin Language. Right: Pass for Alta Badia and pass for the Sellaronda route (Dolomiti Superski).
Day 1 sky routes around Colfosco and Corvara.Pass for Alta Badia and pass for the Sellaronda route (Dolomiti Superski).

Left: Morning view from Nature Hotel Delta southeast. Right: Map of Sellaronda ski route. Orange clockwise. Green counterclockwise.
Morning view from Nature Hotel Delta southeast.Map of Sellaronda ski route. Orange clockwise. Green counterclockwise.

Slopes above Colfosco, Stella Alpina and Forcelles.
Slopes above Colfosco, Stella Alpina and Forcelles.Slopes above Colfosco, Stella Alpina and Forcelles.

Left: Last leg of Sellaronda route for us, dropping down from Val Gardena into Colfosco. Right: View of Sella Group from Passo Sella, Canazei.
 Last leg of Sellaronda route for us, dropping down from Val Gardena into Colfosco.View of Sella Group from Passo Sella, Canazei.

Left: Those curious wooden barns typical of the Alta Badia and Dolomities. Center and Right: Views toward Val de Mezdi.
Those curious wooden structures typical of the Alta Badia.Views toward Val de Mezdi.Views toward Val de Mezdi.