Friday, October 9, 2009

The Italian Alps

In August when I recapped my summer vacation in France, I mentioned what a treat it was to get away--just Alan and me--for a couple of days. Suddenly, we were a childless couple, free to do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. And leaving a two-year old in the capable hands of his grandmother is much easier than leaving a helpless infant. For the first time in ages, I truly relaxed.

We left the Chartreuse Mountains, drove through the Mont Blanc region, and a short drive later ended up in Aosta, Italy. It was my first time in Italy, and I don't care if it's the Italy so close to the French border that both languages are spoken, it was still Italy. The scenery was stunning and the food has been written into my memory with indelible ink. My only regret is that the batteries in my camera died the morning we were getting ready to ascend the Pennine Alps on the boundary of Italy and Switzerland. Therefore, the photos chronicle our trip leading up to the hike--highly annoying since it was an incredibly arduous journey and I have nothing to show for it...except what's in my head. That's okay but it would have been nice to share and, I'll admit it, brag a bit. The next time you climb 4000 feet in a day, please share! I'll be the first one to congratulate you.

In order to reach Italy we took the Mont Blanc Tunnel which runs under Mont Blanc and links France and Italy. It's length is impressive: 7.5 miles. It might not seem that far, but it's a heck of a long time to drive in a dark, dank tunnel. It didn't help that as we were driving through Alan was recounting the tunnel fire of 1999 that killed 39 people. But there is an upside to the tragedy. The tunnel closed for three years following the fire and was outfitted with all sorts of safety measures that should prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. That's not to say that truck fires won't occur, just that the tunnel is better equipped to deal with them. Phew.

I hope you enjoy the photos. There are lots of them, but not enough of the food, darn it...guess I was swept away by other things for a change. The first set of photos are on the drive there, including Mont Blanc and the French-Italian border. Then it's pastries and gelato - the round, yellow cake doesn't look all that impressive but it was at least 20 inches in diameter! The Roman theater was spectacular and even more so with a backdrop of blue sky and mountains. There was an open-air art exhibit that included all sorts of hand crafts from residents of the Aosta Valley. The wood carvings were unbelievably intricate and real-looking.

We enjoyed a photography exhibit and art exhibit at different galleries; and couldn't help but smile when we saw the larger-than-life tribute to Pope John Paul II. I captured the adorable little boy standing next to the priest; situated on the other side of them was a decades old graveyard recently discovered and unearthed for archeology purposes.

p.s. I just read my post to Alan who commented "Sounds good, but what about the pizza?!" He's right. It would be ridiculous to NOT mention the pizza. After our hike down the mountain, we drove to Aosta and enjoyed the most amazing, thin-crust, wood-oven-baked, pizza ever. Did it taste so good because of the hike? Perhaps, but surely there was more to it than that. Mine was topped with mushrooms and some sort of cured meat. I savored each bite with a glass of very cheap but very good red wine.

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