Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Tyrolian Alps

Nancy and new friend at Piazza San Marcos

Tom and Nancy enjoying favorite pastime, sidewalk cafe people research, cappucino and tea optional.

Sunday morning in the Dolomites

Sunday early afternoon along Italian alps

Sunday late afternoon at Brennen Pass

Sunday 10/21/07: Greetings from Innsbruck, Austria
Though they were cold but gorgeous blue skies this morning, we gambled and drove on north to Austria crossing the Brennen pass in light and blowing snow/rain. Arrived late afternoon after dawdling about in the Alps with occasional stops by streams and ruins for pictures and snacks. We tend to drive slowly, even in our regular on the road lifestyle, so for us a long day can be 200kilometers/140 miles. Have internet connection via the campground wifi network so will catch up on news and emails. More rain/snow tomorrow so will probably stay put before moving up to Munich. Guess I'll never wear those shirt sleeve shirts now:)

10/20/07: from Cortina D'Ampezzo, IT Writing this missive with a cup of hot chocolate while the north winds blow and the temperature drops below freezing...a very cold first for us in many years! We are in the Dolomites or the Italian Alps near the Austrian border at 1200 meters (and 46Nlatitude) near an upscale Italian ski resort, before the snow but after the summer fun. Not many of us here. On the map it looked like a shorter route from our last venue, Venice to Munchen (Munich) Germany. Very scenic, but...

What can we say about Venice except that we loved it even more than Rome and Florence.......this city, which has never known the automobile, was just so beautiful and alive that it's hard to find words to describe it. So many of the buildings have an arabesque influence with vaulted windows, latticework, etc from years as a Byzantine vassal state and as an active trading republic with the Levant and China. (remember Marco Polo?) Of course, the incredible network of canals and watching how the transport of goods and people and the daily business of a city was conducted without the use of busses, trucks or cars was really interesting. We toured the Doge's Palace (the titular head of the Venetian Republic) which, while it didn't rival Versailles, was really beautiful in its' own right. There was also an exhibit of ancient Islamic art there, and seeing the intricate metalwork, gold jewelry, hand illuminated Korans, paintings and rugs, some of which was thousands of years old, up until almost modern times made you realize how young our country really is. This trip has really makes you rethink ideas of what constitutes an 'antique', that's for sure.

We stayed in a campground across the lagoon from the city of Venice, at Punta Sabbioni on the Adriatic Sea. They have a great deal for tourists where you can buy a pass for the ferryboats for periods of 24 or 36 hours or more, and can then just ride all the ferryboats you want, as well as the canal water buses. And did we get our money's worth! We rode the ferry to the neighboring islands of Burano noted for Venetian lace and Murano noted for Venetian glassware and beads. We rode the canal boat through the Grand Canal which runs the length of the main city area of Venice. We watched folks being ferried around in gondolas, but at about $140 a pop realized that we could enjoy watching them every bit as much as riding in one ourselves, looking as silly as the people in them did to us. We spent the difference eating seafood in little sidewalk cafes along a canal watching the world go by.
You just don't realize how much noise and pollution cars and busses cause in a city until you find yourself in somewhere like Venice, where it's quiet, even with the bustle of people and commerce going on about you. It's also clear that global warming and sea level changes have made quite an impact on the folks here, too. All around is evidence of an incredible construction effort to build up a seawall for the lagoon in which the 118 islands which constitute the "city" of Venice occupy. There will also be a raisable seawall like in the Netherlands which can be deployed to protect the city from tidal surges during storms, which have become more of a problem in recent years. Venetian citizens are being asked to reduce their energy use by 30% to do their part as well. A very interesting project operating in the background of region that makes its living from nearly 20 million visitors a year!

At any rate, it was hard to drag ourselves away, but the clock is ticking, the road is long heading northward and we have a plane to catch in a few weeks. It was much more scenic coming this way north, through the Italian Alps, than it was coming through the Alps southward through Switzerland because not so much of the road is in tunnels (although there are still plenty). Although there are a lot of hairpin turns and steep drops, at least you can see some spectacular scenery. In Switzerland, it was almost all tunnels, with the road just emerging from one tunnel for a few hundred meters only to plunge into yet another. This was much more scenic, and more hair raising, too!

Some observations from our travels thus far: every country we have been in, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy has had much more serious recycling programs than we usually find in the states. In the campgrounds, so much is separated for recycling (including all your organic waste, banana peels, veggie trimmings, etc, for compost), that hardly anything is left to be landfilled. There is much less excess packaging on things such as foodstuffs and household supplies in the stores as well, and you just don't seem to produce even a fraction of the trash that we do in the U.S. We first noticed this in the fact that the trashcans are really small, and then we realized that you recycle so much, there just isn't much left. Here in Italy, you can even take your glass wine bottles to a faucet in the grocery store and fill them with your choice of wines for everyday use, using the same containers over and over. In many stores you are charged for a grocery bag(s) to carry home you purchases if you don't bring one of your own. It makes SO much sense.

The food is really high quality with much less prepared and junk foods than we're used to, even in highway quickie-type markets. Europe allows no genetically modified foods, no growth hormones in dairy business, much of the agriculture is organic, and the small farmer and livestock raiser appears king rather than huge agribusiness corporations. Yet food does not seem to be a bit more expensive than at home, and often is even cheaper. Eating out in restaurants is expensive, but buying food in the market and stores and cooking your own is inexpensive, yet quality is amazing. People tend to buy food more often, in smaller amounts and the food must be fresh. The consumer probably won't stand for red rock tomatoes and tasteless peaches, and what is offered reflects that. It's just a pleasure to go into a market, a real feast for the eyes and as well for the palate. We've also noticed how present agriculture is in village and city life here. We were surprised to see crops growing within 10 kms of downtown Rome! All the cities and villages are abutted by fields of cereal crops or vegetables, and in dairy areas, cows are in pastures.

Another thing is litter. While we have seen quite a bit of litter in Italy, especially in the big cities, compared to the rest of Europe, even in Italy, the litter and graffiti is much less than we've observed in the States. In the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, we seen none at all. Also, the almost complete absence of billboards on the highways makes a pleasant relief from the constant bombardment of advertising we get at home. There are signs, yes, and advertising, but it is much less obtrusive than here, and the highways are mostly blessedly free of signage other than the road signs.

It's hard not to form the opinion that, I hate to say it, but it just seems more civilized somehow. It's an older, more "mature" region in many ways. People seem to have more of a great sense of community responsibility and of taking responsibility personally for maintaining a clean and wholesome space, and yet a very open and tolerant attitude to differences. There is a huge diversity, with lots of new people from North and West Africa, the former Eastern European nations, India, etc. coming into the European Union; unfortunately, too, there is a growing nationalist backlash in some areas, just take a look at the outcome of todays vote in Switzerland.
And, of course, there are public transporation systems everywhere, even in Italy, which is a relatively poorer country compared with much of the rest of Western Europe. Practically anywhere, you can stand on the street corner and within a very few minutes, a bus, tram or train will appear to take you wherever you want to go. In Italy, the trains may be older but the system is still worlds better than most anywhere in the U.S. with the possible exception of New York, etc. (Although France has been having it's problems the last day or so with a transportation workers strike....SO glad that wasn't going on when we were in Paris).
That's it for this update. Let us know what you think and any suggestions of places or spaces always appreciated.
Happy trails from the tom and nancy roadshow.

1 comment:

ourbusandus said...

I guess I didn't know you were going to Venice, I would have told you Tom & Jill Mohr, fellow Boomers, are living in Venice right now. You could have met them for a few hours or something. They got there in August and will be living there for a year. They are enjoying it so far. Meanwhile, I am enjoying your travel blog very much, makes me want to go over there right now!

Hugs, Sharon & Ron