Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Travel Report as We Leave Bolzano for Florence

Dear Readers,

A travel report: we made it safely to our first destination, Bolzano, on Sunday--or was it Monday? The days blur when you are in a jet over the ocean for . . . a day, two days? . . . don't they? By my reckoning, it's now Wednesday.

Bolzano is beautiful, nestled into the Alps* with high peaks just outside the door of our hotel, seemingly, when we look from the windows on either side of the room. An interesting mix of German (Austrian) and Italian cultures, where people can one moment be speaking German and the next switch to Italian. For Steve, it has been a particular treat to be here, given his roots in the city centuries back in time.

We've very much enjoyed walking through the old part of the city, where it's possible to see a faded mural almost anyplace on the ceilings or walls of the medieval arcades, and where narrow pass-throughs from one street to another are now lined with cafes and interesting shops including one where Steve found a taste of heaven yesterday in the form of smoked sausages, the local Kaminwurst. He selected ones made from goose and venison and enjoyed them for supper last evening which I had bread and some of the equally delicious local cheese made with nuts and herbs.

When we chose one of the pass-throughs that looked especially interesting, we were surprised and happy to find it opened onto a farmers' market in which stands selling fresh vegetables, fruit, sausages, cheese, local breads and pastries, dried fruits and nuts, flowers, etc., lined the street on both sides for a number of blocks. We bought a rye bread that's typical of the Ulten valley near Bolzano, according to the very nice German-speaking man staffing the booth at which it was sold, who insisted we pocket several of his apples, the last of this season's crop, he told us, as we talked to him. Many of the local breads, including the Schüttelbrot that's typical of the region, are spiced with caraway and fennel seed, and contain a mix of wheat and rye flour.

And, of course, we couldn't fail to visit the Christmas market, which is the most famous in all of Italy, and where we ate farmers' sausages with sauerkraut and bread for our supper when we arrived the evening before last--and shared a cup of hot chocolate in the crisp, cold Alpine air as night fell yesterday.

Today, we take the train to Bologna and from there to Florence, where we'll be staying at one of the convent guesthouses I mentioned earlier. On our journey from Milan to Bolzano via Verona on Monday, we had the good fortune to sit next to someone on the train, whose roots run deep in the history of the city, and who had fascinating stories to tell us about its history and culture. A kind of travel angel, as it turned out, since he kindly grabbed several of our bags as we exited the train and helped us shlep them to the street outside the train station, pointing us to the cathedral, near which we'd booked lodging.

At one point on the trip, as I noticed a ruined castle high on a hill overlooking the train tracks and pointed it out, this travel angel mentioned to us casually that his grandfather had owned and sold a castle. Steve jokingly said, "Oh, so that means you're one of the von families," a remark to which the man replied with a wry shake of his head.

As it turns out, though, Steve was exactly right, since we have seen his surname (we exchanged names as our trip ended) as we walked in the old city, marking a street in the city, with von attached to it. Angels can come in all shapes and sizes, it appears, and some have titles, too, of the sort the nobility used to use.

And, finally, proof that I'm sending this brief travel report from Bolzano: yesterday, we toured the city museum, where there's currently a fascinating exhibit of Krampus masks, masks worn by the mythical Krampus man whose purpose is to scare the devil out of children as they receive presents from St. Nicholas on 5-6 December. A Flickr user, Lazzo, took great photos of the exhibit in October.

At the exit of the exhibit, there's a Krampus mask hanging on the wall behind an empty picture frame, with an invitation to take one's photo wearing the mask. The picture at the head of the posting is yours truly qua Krampus. Though some folks might well say that in my case the devil mask is entirely superfluous . . . .

I'll see if I can send more reports as we travel, if we happen on spots where we can go online. Meanwhile, my best wishes to all readers in this period when the year's light dwindles and a new year approaches.

*Technically, the Dolomite area of the Alps.

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