Sunday, September 29, 2013

Val d'Aosta Castles

The Valle d'Aosta boasts more than 150 castles. We have looked at and photographed several in prior passages, but actually stopped at the Castello di Fenis and photographed a couple others...
The Castello Aymaville

The Castello di Fenis, which we toured (in Italian; no fotos);
13th-15th century; major restoration in the 1930s

Well, I got a few

In the courtyard; frescoes everywhere by Giacomo Jaquerio;
not world-class paintings, but very interesting and relatively

View from inside the curtain

Tower view

Not a castle: the round-about that leads up to Breuil/Cervino:
the Matterhorn, or Monte Cervino, as the Italians call it; we
visited there a few years back

Further down the valley, Castillo Bard

Aosta; Mostly The Roman Bits

From Cogne we drove back to Aosta, the capital of region, a small but nice city we have driven through or past numerous times. This time we stopped, primarily in search of a Wind store, in order to buy a SIM card for our old Wind dongle, and thus have improved communications with the outside word. This we accomplished (the buying part) before the 12:30-4PM siesta closure. We spent another several hours looking around the town, which was, of course, mostly closed. We find that we buy far less when the stores are closed. Aosta is literally at the foot of the biggest of the Alps, and thus it still surprises us to find Roman ruins in such an apparently impractical place. But the little St. Bernard pass is not too far away, and indeed the Romans were here. In force, and with all the comforts of home, as usual.
Mountains in the distance beyond the ruins...Monte Rosa?

Triumphal arch/entry

Bridge; the river moved (and for once was not moved by
the Romans themselves)

Aostans do marvelous things with chocolate; and with wine,
cheese, meat, you name it

And with grappa

St. Anselm of Canterbury was born nearby and, legend has
it, did some time in this house (which makes it 12th century)

One of several commemorative plaques

"That than which no greater can be conceived..."--although
not in a league with Giotto or Newton, who have their own
shopping centers, Anselm at least got a cafe/bar; the German
guy in the pink shirt is saying "Yes, my friend, but existence
is not a predicate..."

More Roman arches

And ruins integrated into modern buildings

And arches

Pretty main square and hotel de ville

Some Art Nouveau

But, of interest to us, mostly more ruins, here in the theatre


As the mountains look on

Gran Paradiso; Or, Cow Clashes Of Cogne

I had seen Gran Paradiso, the mountain, a couple times from the Mt. Blanc environs, and wanted to see it closer up. It is Italy's 7th highest and the highest completely within its borders. It is also the hub of a large national park, Parc Nationale Gran Paradiso, originally King Victor Emmanuel's royal hunting grounds, which he gave to the nation (Mussolini) in 1922, ostensibly to provide for the preservation of the nearly-extinct ibex. It is also Italy's first and possibly largest national park. Anyhow, its gateway is Cogne, scarcely an hour from Courmayeur. We drove over on a Sunday afternoon, quickly satisfied my curiosity about the mountain, viewed a local spectacle, stayed overnight in Cogne's large sosta (aire), and then drove the next morning to Lillez, a nearby village, to see its waterfall.
Cogne's big sosta, room for perhaps a hundred campers; fewer
there now at season's end

The Big Mountain from Cogne

Church tower in Cogne, which apparently has
the same affliction as San Capistrano

Cogne is one of those civilized Italian towns
that has an elevator or escalator from the
big sosta or parking lot up to the town proper;
here, we were reminded that Bovine Culture is
Very Big in the Val d'Osta (from which we get
Valdosta, GA, USA, a place no more like
alpine Italy than, say, Mars), a fact that would
be indelibly impressed on us as soon as we
viewed the fields west of the town...

At first we thought we had wandered into a livestock auction

But no, these are the Reines des Alpes, the cow clashes,
the bovine battles of Aosta

With preliminaries in every little town, quarter-finals in bigger
towns, and...well, as you would expect, it's very much like
March Madness or the Super Bowl

Thus; I have a pretty good video of all this which I'll upload
to YouTube and link here; someday, probably not in Italy,
when we have decent internet connections

Reines du Mont Blanc; in the guidebooks it is described as

Last year's losers

Anyhow, the entire affairs is fueled by a variety of carburants

Another view of the mountain 

Schist happens

In the geological park in Lillez, next morning; well, para-schist,
the sign said; but the gneiss was nice

Lower bit of the waterfall

Other mountains look on; it was 36 degrees
overnight in Cogne; we felt the need to move
on, further south, lower down...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Courmayeur, 2013

The last time we did the Mt. Blanc tunnel transit, it was Courmayeur that had the awful weather and Chamonix that was sunny and dry. Just the opposite this time. But the same in one respect: Courmayeur too is shutting down. Already no bus service up to the Val Veny where we'd planned to do some hiking. Rifugio Elisabeta closes this weekend. None of the lifts is working. Well, the Funivia is, but it's not for hiking. Bus service up the Val Ferret only goes as far as Planpincieux. There are still a number of tourists around, but they are all indies, quite a few on foot doing the TMB or some stretch of it. On a hike up to Rifugio Bertone we met a couple from Alaska doing the TMB who had already had a few surprises about diminished or closed facilities. No other camping-cars at all in Courmayeur.
View from our "campsite," Parcheggio Il Forges, about 300m
from the TI and station in Coumayeur (pictured later)

Us at the trailhead to Rifugio Bertone in the Val Ferret...a new
and much better route for us

Monte Bianco from Val Ferret

Grand Jorasses

Looking up the Val Veny, the Miage Glacier and its moraine

Lots of construction going on on the Italian side; I think
this is going to rival the Aiguilles du Midi telepherique and
provide a shorter and more direct route to the summit

From the Val Ferret trail we actually had to drop down a few
hundred feet to Rifugio Bertone...where we lunched, had a
glass of wine, watched a couple of toddlers play...

In the center there is our camper, at Parcheggio Il Forges,
which on Wednesdays becomes the city market

Still blooming here and there, and a few raspberries remain,
but the leaves on the birches are starting to turn, and there
is a distinct chill on the air; people are splitting and chopping
firewood all around

Last view of Monte Bianco this year

Friday night we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our
relationship...teenage flirting at a church camp in
Miami...with an Aostan repast at our favorite Courmayeur
restaurant; above, the crepes Mont Blanc  

A sweet occasion