Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Mountain Miracles

You may have seen in our last post a picture of a tiny little deer fawn. He (Paolo named it Alfredo) is just one of the many beautiful small miracles I have seen these last few days in Val di Fassa. 

Yesterday, we went mushroom hunting. While we found no mushrooms (at least, none we could eat), we did find something much, much better! Alfredo lay in the tall grass just off the trail, in a small, steep, and pristine mountain meadow. None of us had ever seen a young deer, and this one didn't move a muscle, even though we were close enough to touch him. He was so young, he hadn't even learned to be afraid of people yet. We were surprised to find it without its mother, and wondered if maybe it was sick, or hurt, or something had happened to her. But we took pictures and went on our way. An hour and a half later, on our descent, the little guy was still there, in the exact same spot. We started to get a little concerned for him, so after some discussion (we weren't sure what was the right thing to do, and thought maybe we might need to take him to the forest service people or something), I picked him up and we carried him to a little restaurant that was nearby off the trail.

Yep, you read that right. I got to hold a wild, baby fawn. Judging by his size, he was probably about a week old. Maybe a foot long, with tiny, delicate, spindly legs ending in miniscule black hooves as shiny as patent leather. He had huge liquid black eyes framed with long eyelashes and a velvety black nose, that was wet on the tip and twitched whenever he took a breath. His tiny pink tongue darted in and out every now and then, and he had huge, alert ears. He was soft!- this surprised me, as the fur of adult deer is pretty coarse- and his back was mottled with the speckled white markings to act as camouflage as it lays in the grass, though we had spotted him quite easily. I could feel him breathing and his tiny heart beating very fast. In other words, he was absolutely perfect in every way. 

While all this was going on, we got the guy who rain the restaurant, or baita, (he wasn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer) to call the local forest service, who, in typical Italian fashion, failed to answer, and then the mayor of the town. (Not sure why the mayor, but I guess he thought he might know what to do.) Anyways, the mayor thought we should just leave him where we found him. So we put him in a box for the trip back (he had been struggling quite a bit earlier) and left him in the grass under a tree, further from the trail this time, but near where we had found him. We were a little worried about him, but Dad decided that we could come back in a couple of hours and if he was still there, then maybe something really was wrong and we should take him to get help. Give nature another chance to do its thing, which it generally does very well. Dad was quite concerned, but I was pretty sure his mother would come back for him eventually.

Well, we went home and told the rest of the family about it. Mom and Emma, who had not been on the hike, were very disappointed to hear that they had missed such an adventure. In the meantime, we called the forest service again, who did answer this time, and replied that this was the period when new fawns were born, and it was quite common for the mothers to leave them for an extended period of time while they went to graze or whatever, since they weren't very strong yet. Trusting their natural camouflage, I guess. After lunch they went back with Dad to see Alfredo. Much to my relief, when they returned, they reported that he was gone- a bit of a disappointment for them, who would have loved to see such a marvel of nature close up, but really the best case scenario in the end, since it meant that his mother must have come back for him. (We were not on a very well-used trail, we had put him in a more out-of-the-way spot, hunting was prohibited in the area, the restaurant had been empty, and the guy who ran it was certainly not the proactive type.)

So while I admit that picking up a baby wild animal may not have been the most LNT-friendly or prudent decision (although it being a deer, the risk was relatively low), and we disturbed the poor little guy unnecessarily (the lesson is: if you find a baby deer in the grass, observe it from afar and take pictures, but leave it alone, because nature and its mother know what they're doing), it was certainly an extraordinarily special experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. 

Some more mountain miracles... including the great-grandpappy of all snails (I do love snails), some gorgeous butterflies, and a mushroom so perfect and round and white it almost sparkles!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Val di Fassa

Just a few more shots of what we have seen... No comments from us this time. We'll let you enjoy the views.


Alfredo... found on a tiny mountain trail

Monday, June 27, 2016

Gardeccia hike

Guess what! We do have (very limited) internet in the mountains!! Surprise!!
So here's a few pictures. Since we have to pay for all the internet we use, I'm going to do this as quick as possible.
Our whole family agrees that coming to the mountains is our favorite part of coming to Italy. The Italian Dolomites are absolutely spectacular. They're so different from what we're used to- intensely steep, dramatic, narrow valleys, wet, green forests, and a unique culture that results from our location, only about 20 miles, as the crow flies, from Austria. Almost everything here is written duplicately in Italian and German, or else Ladin, the local dialect, which is kind of a mix between the two. It's incredibly picturesque and quaint- tiny little villages, all the buildings with white and pastel plaster walls and dark wood roofs and gingerbread trim, windowboxes full of colorful petunias and geraniums, miniscule churches that look as though elves might live in them, fields full of wildflowers, communal fountains flowing with clear, fresh mountain water, so clean you can drink right out of them.
When you get above the valleys, the views are stunning. The trails are plentiful above treeline, connecting numerous rifugios- tiny inns or hostels where trekkers can stay while they explore the Alps.

And then there's the European Cup, going on as we speak, where Italy just beat Spain 2-0, and Iceland is currently beating England as we watch (hooray for the underdogs!) Things haven't been perfectly smooth with the family, but all things considered we're having a great time. :)

Ciao for now,
The Contolinis

Friday, June 24, 2016

When in Rome...

My humblest apologies to all... I have not been able to post for the last week like I'd hoped. Dad forgot his camera cable, so we couldn't upload the pictures to the computer. And his laptop does not have an SD card port, because it's old. And what's the use of a blog post without pictures? However. Now we are at Nonni's house, so that is about to change!

We spent three days exploring Rome and seeing all the sights. While there is a lot of really awesome stuff in Rome, I didn't particularly enjoy the city itself. The streets are tiny and confusing, it's very dirty and covered in graffiti, and it's absolutely packed with tourists. St. Peter's was so crowded that I couldn't enjoy it properly, and I wanted to leave after just a few minutes. The other basilicas that we visited- St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran- I enjoyed a lot more simply because they were less crowded!

Other highlights included the Vatican Museums, Mass in the Pantheon, and my personal favorite, the Roman Forum. I loved being able to walk among all the ruins that had been there since before Jesus was alive. You felt so close to the history, and history so much more ancient than most of the stuff we have in the US. Despite all the people milling about, I could kind of half-close my eyes and imagine the people who lived there thousands of years ago, going about their business. We also got to go inside a Paleo-Christian (early Christian) church in the forum, where all the remaining frescoes and mosaics had been restored. It was absolutely the highlight of my time in Rome!

After leaving Rome, we stopped for lunch in Siena, then for night in a hotel in the hills of Tuscany. We spent a pinch-me-I'm-dreaming-perfect evening eating dinner on the terrace as the sun set over the city of Florence and the surrounding countryside. I swear, the place looked like the set of a movie- it was hard to believe I was actually there, experiencing it in real life! I can see why people go gaga over Tuscany. Most cities completely obliterate the surrounding landscape, or at the very least are a blight on it, but Florence is another story. The red tile roofs against ivory and pale yellow buildings. The tall, dark cypress trees silhouetted against the landscape. Little castles and villas dotting the hillside. The Duomo (cathedral), its handsomely enormous red brick dome rising proudly over the city, a perfect centerpiece. There are flowers and greenery everywhere, and the soft breeze smells faintly of jasmine. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen... this is as close to paradise as it gets!

One more thing. I have noticed that Italians have a serious issue with space and size. I know I'm a spoiled American who's used to having plenty of room for everything, but it is really starting to get on my nerves. Take, for example, our rental car. It is supposedly a "minivan." I mean, it seats seven people, but that is where the similarity ends. The thing has as much legroom as an airplane (which is to say, hardly any), and close to zero trunk space. Then there's the sizes they sell food in. The biggest container you can buy milk in is one liter. Which is the size of a Nalgene. In a family of six, we go through that much in one meal! You simply cannot buy things in bulk here.

Tomorrow we leave for a week in the Dolomites. No internet there, so unfortunately you'll have to wait another week before hearing anything from us. :( But that's OK; these should be enough pictures to tide you over until then!

Ciao for now,
The Contolinis

Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Gallery of Maps) in the Vatican Museum. Obviously this was a favorite of yours truly.  

 Another favorite fresco, by Raphael- showing the Church Militant (on earth) and the Church Triumphant (in Heaven). Beautiful symbolism and imagery.
 Taking a break from walking. In the center are Mom's friend, Anne, and her daughter, Keely, who met us in Rome.
 The Swiss Guards! To become one, you must be a) male, b) unmarried, and c) Swiss.
 La familia in front of St. Peter's
 Gelato break
 Billowing azaleas
 Drinking fountains, Italian style

 Trevi Fountain with #flatfrancis
 Fresh Italian produce
 My favorite statue from the Galleria Borghese, by Bernini. I just love David's facial expression. So real!
 Having lots of fun together

 Visiting the Disciple's house in Rome. Felt just like our chapel back home! 
 Lunch in the main piazza in Siena
 View from the terrace of our hotel in Florence... yeah.

 Inside of the dome in the Duomo in Florence. It's like the Grand Canyon- so big you can hardly wrap your mind around what you are seeing.
 Fa├žade, baptistry, and bell tower of Duomo

Repairing cobblestone streets

Friday, June 17, 2016

We made it!

Well, after four flights and almost sixty straight hours of traveling, we arrived safely in Rome last night! We are tired but excited and ready to explore the culture and history of this beautiful city. Today, we are going to the Vatican- the seat of the Church. The Catholic nerds of the family (Pietro and me) are stoked to visit the four major basilicas of Rome, the Vatican museums, and hopefully walk through the Holy Doors during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. And maybe even catch a glimpse of Pope Francis!
By a lovely little coincidence, we happen to be in Rome at the same time as my mom's good friend and roommate from college, Anne, and her daughter, Keely. (Her son, Will, was supposed to come as well but broke his leg playing rubgy so got to have surgery instead. Emma and I were rather disappointed about this, as having a good-looking guy around always makes things more interesting!) But we are all excited to meet Anne, who my mother describes as very lively and funny.
We are staying in a little apartment we found with Airbnb. It's small, but has enough beds/couches for the six of us, two showers, and a (very small) washing machine. Dryers are nonexistent here; everyone hangs their laundry.
Longer post (and pictures) later!

Ciao for now,
The Contolinis

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Stage One Status: Complete

Howdy friends!! Isabella here, the one who will hopefully be providing you with entertainment and updates during the next three weeks as we journey to (and around) Italy. We have now completed stage one of our 48-hours-in-transit party, and are currently sitting in the airport waiting for stage 2 to commence. More specifically: Yesterday, we took our first two flights- from Denver to Calgary, via Salt Lake City. Tonight we set out on our second, and considerably more grueling, leg of the journey, from Calgary to Rome, via London. Currently it is 7:40pm. Our flight is scheduled to leave at 10:30pm. And we have been here at the airport since 4:30. What better way to pass the time than to share our escapades of the past twenty-four hours or so with you?

So, you ask. You obviously flew into Calgary last night. And you are flying out tonight. What on earth did you do with all that time?
Answer: Dad and I took the opportunity to make a quick visit to Banff National Park. The rest of the fam, being exhausted from the previous day's ordeal, decided to stay at the hotel, watch TV, go swimming, and chill. But there was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to see one of the most beautiful places in the world, especially when who knows when I'll get a chance to again? Plus, now I can actually say I've been to Canada, because I have experienced (if only a small piece) of it. :)
Those of you who know me know that I'm a diehard Colorado fan, but I have to admit that it now has some serious competition. The Canadian Rockies are absolutely stunning. From a geological perspective, I would guess that they are younger than the mountains we have in CO, because they are more dramatic, more rugged, and much steeper. I would describe them as somewhere in between my beloved Colorado Rockies and the Italian Dolomites (stay tuned in a week or so for pics of those!)
Located in Banff National Park is the town of Banff itself, which is strikingly similar to Vail, but less modern and polished. It's a resort town, but retains a feeling of cozy, homey comfort- like it's not trying too hard to be perfect.  I appreciated that a lot.

I find Canada fascinating. Leaving Calgary, a reasonably-sized city of about 1 million that hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, the landscape quickly transforms into gently rolling farmland dotted with forested areas. It bears a strong resemblance to Pennsylvania, except quite a bit cooler, less humid, and considerably less populated. Another significant difference is the mountains rising dramatically in the background. From my experience, these two features seem diametrically opposed (I'm used to them being on opposite sides of the country from each other!), so seeing them in such close proximity was fascinating and really made me feel like I was in a foreign country.
Calgary itself reminds me of a midwestern city- small downtown with a few tall buildings, limited suburbs, kind of industrial, and mostly older and slightly run-down buildings and businesses. It has a very lived-in, well-used feel. It's not new, but that's OK- it doesn't need to be.
As for the Canadian people, they seem incredibly friendly and genuine. The ones we have met are very open and kind. I didn't expect Canadians to have accents, and not all of them do, but you can definitely tell that they're not speaking American English. The closest I can describe would be a distinct Minnesotan way of speaking, with a bit of a British accent mixed in.
The other thing I've noticed about Canada is that it's very ethnically diverse, much more so than where we live in Denver. I have seen lots of Indians (from-India-Indians, not Native American Indians, who are called First Nations here), Sikhs, Muslims, Chinese, and Vietnamese people. And yet at the same time very few Hispanic people (which I guess makes sense, geographically.) I expected this trend towards the coast, but less so in the Canadian interior, yet it persists. I am enjoying it.

Overall, I feel my time in Canada has been much too short. I never really thought of it as being a cool place to visit, but my short 24 hours here have proven me very, very wrong! The fact that it's not an extremely popular tourist destination, like Mexico and Hawaii, combined with the friendly people and cultural diversity, makes it a place that I am now determined to visit again. Until next time, Canada!

Mountain goats shedding their winter coats along the shores of Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park. This lake is not as famous as the iconic Lake Louise, but is still very beautiful, with the added benefit of being much closer to the entrance. Will have to save Lake Louise for the next visit. :)

McDonald's poutine, a classic Canadian dish consisting of french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. (Cheese curds are the solid parts of the soured milk left after cheesemaking, and pretty much taste like very chewy cheese.) It's pretty good but SUPER high in calories. And also kind of gross if you think about it too much.

Selfies to pass the time during our 4 hours layover in Salt Lake City

The skyline of Calgary, approaching from the west (on the way back from Banff)

Johnson Lake in Banff NP. A smaller, lovely lake with a 3km loop trail around it that my dad and I hiked. It was great to have a chance to be outside and stretch our legs in anticipation of a very long flight tonight.

Another snapchat from Salt Lake. Not sure why the computer didn't put the pictures in order. GROAN.

An outflow of Johnson Lake. The water was impressively clear and clean. Canada's doing a good job with their national parks.

View from the highway of Calgary Olympic Park, where the 1988 Winter Olympics were held.

The rocky beach of Lake Minnewanka. No swimming... the water was COLD!

Mt. Rundle, one of the most famous mountains in the park. This massif is absolutely enormous and breathtakingly beautiful.

Another view of Mt. Rundle from Lake Minnewanka. Climbing most of these mountains would require a lot of mountaineering skill and technical ice and rock climbing... much harder than Colorado's 14ers.

Obviously we saw a lot of this Mt. Rundle. No complains. The snowy bands that go along with the mountain's rocky striations are gorgeous.

The waters of Lake Minnewanka were a beautiful and impressive shade of turquoise. It reminded me of Chasm Lake in RMNP, except much larger and at a much lower altitude.