Saturday, March 17, 2012


We left early morning from Madonna di Campaglio on a smaller bus from Venice making many of us crowded and wanting more leg room.  Not everyone on the ski trip journeyed on to Venice accounting for the size reduction of the bus.  The 3 hour trip was extended by a rest stop as there was no bathroom on board, plus time for the driver to stop at his depot to ask direction, and we finally arrived at our hotel where we were acquired to check in individually. As you might image, when with a group, one does not stay at one of the more expensive hotels.  However, the Bologna Best Western is a fine hotel it just is a long way from the center of Venice or access to the canal buses. 
I roomed again with Vladimir, who turned out to be an excellent roommate and companion as we managed to see most of the main tourist sites in Venice. Our room as not ready when we arrived to the hotel gave us complementary coffee and snack while we waited a short time.
Finally we were ready to leave for San Marco Piazza at 4:30 and having secured bus and water bus tickets for 48 hours from the hotel, we were off.  The bus stop was right around the corner and after a 15-20 minute bus ride we arrive at the Grand Canals, found the correct water bus.
Keep in mind that it is winter and Venice is in Northern Italy, so it is cold out and most people huddle inside.  My priority however, it to take photos, so I am at the bow of the boat with my camera out ready to take a photo of anything interesting as long as I can compose the  delete it right then. So here goes.
The last photo is of the Rialto Bridge and all were taken from the Grand Canal.
As the light fades, some good shots are still available.
And here is San Marco Piazza and one of the adjacent shopping streets.

We get an early start the next morning and find out there is an express water bus to San Marco.  We hit the Doge’s Palace first.  Venice was once a city state and the head man was the Doge.

There is a prison in the building and the bridge across to the prison is called the bridge of sighs.  Here is Vladimir with the bridge in the background.  By the way Vladimir is a happy guy most of the time but I think they teach them in Russia to pose with a sober face.

We go St. Mark’s Basilica and go inside.

We take the elevator up the campanile bell tower and capture some great vistas.
We travel to another island to see the Murano Glass Works home of Venetian glass where we witness one of the glass masters at work, from start to finish.
I mention that I had been through Corning Glass Works so one of the owners took us upstairs to see many great glass art and I was indeed tempted to buy something but I declined.  I did buy a small crystal vase at another shop as it was easy to pack into my suitcase.
These were all made out of glass.

Some other photos
And I shot this model doing a pose for her camera.

The last day we took a walking tour and learned much about how the city was founded, how it was built, how the sanitary system works, how the city is sinking unevenly, and that the city is so crowded in the summer that you can barely walk through some of the narrow walkways.
Pisa is not the only place where there is a leaning tower.
We made it back to our hotel just as our bus tickets were running out.  We left very early next morning and the hotel supplied us with a breakfast bag.  I had a great time in Italy.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Skiing the Italian Dolomites

About 32 Chicago area skiers, traveled to Madonna di Campiglio, in northern Italy, near the Austrian boarder, by way of Verona and a 2 ½ hour bus ride from there.

Being Italy is extremely Catholic, the name of the town did not come as a complete mystery and sure enough, the first buildings there included a church and part of the church is still standing. 

After checking into the Hotel Rafael, many of us traipsed off to rent some skies at this obscure shop following a rough map of the town and after walking through most of the town, we managed to find the sign.  We took the small elevator down one flight wandered into this small shop, the size of a studio apartment, filled with skis of several makes and sizes.  The owner and one assistant waded through about 15 of us, adjusting our bindings, sticking labels with our names on the skies, which then thankfully were delivered to the ski room of our hotel which freed us of the necessity of toting them through the town and up the hill.

Great, I thought, all set to ski in the morning.  In Europe, the dining room opens about 7:30 so we didn’t missed dinner after traveling overnight to Frankfort, having a significant layover for our flight to Verona, and the aforementioned bus ride, we all thankfully filled our appetites and turned in early.

The trip was organized by CMSC (Chicago Metropolitan Ski Council).  My club, Lake Shore Ski Club, is a member of CMSC as are all the other ski clubs in the surrounding area so the trip was filled with members of various ski clubs.  However, there were other members of Lake Shore on the trip and we formed a natural clique who skied and ate together.  Claude and Yann, two Frenchmen and Vladimir, a Russian and I skied together until the last day.  Both Claude and Yann are chefs and it is routine for them to make connections with chefs wherever they eat.  So soon were receiving a modicum of special attention mostly by receiving recommendations on the nightly menu.

The food was the best ever for me for a ski trip.  Nightly dinner began with a salad bar, appetizers followed, pasta next, then the main course, topped off by dessert all of which were better than average.  And throughout the week, the menu changed giving us plenty of variety to choose from. This is a lot of food, but we were burning enough calories by skiing that we devoured everything, every night. 

Instead of requiring passport size photos for a laminated ski pass, my photo was taken at the ticket window and my image was put on a credit card size ski pass which used Radio Frequency ID technology to permit entry through the gondolas turnstiles.  This system is far superior to having a paper pass with a bar code which requires scanning by an operator from the viewpoint of the skier in that RFID can be scanned through clothing.  So if you are bundled up, there is no need to unzip your jacket and dig out your pass.   

Like many European ski areas, there were a number of interconnecting slopes which all provide a route down to a village or town and a gondola back up.   
Madonna di Campiglio, in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy, is a large resort with 19 lifts (5 gondolas, 12 chair lifts, 2 surface lifts) that offers skiers an incredible 1000 meters (3281 feet) of vertical descent. It has 35 pistes with a total length of 60 kilometers (38 miles). The majority of the pistes at Madonna di Campiglio are covered by snowmaking.

And there are many spots at higher elevation to stop for a drink or food at family owned establishments.  In fact this is one of the more pleasant aspects for skiing in Europe.  It’s almost like eating in someone’s home.  Locals always seem to know where the best places are and it is best to come in early for lunch or after 1 PM to avoid the crowds. We did a very good job of skiing the entire area. 

Here are my three skiing companions, Claude, Yann, and Valdimir.
And one of me with a great background.
The ski trip included a 2 ½ day trip to Venice which my roommate Vladimir and I went on which the two Frenchmen departed for the states.  We hope to ski together in the future.