Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Hi-Yo, Silver, away!

I'm a westie, not a pony!

Slowly, but surely, Miss Maddie the alpine westie is gaining back her strength and stamina on these brief walks that we take around the mountainside. The hot summer temps are fading away, maybe too fast for my liking, but in the coolness of digits less than 70°F, the dogs handle it much better outdoors. We came across an old hotel over the weekend, its exterior still in good shape even if the property was no longer in operation. Along the outside wall, iron rings were firmly attached for way back in the days when people traveled by horse. An iron boot remover/puller was firmly embedded right next to the entrance. I've never taken riding lessons, but now I'm thinking, wouldn't it be fun to go on a vacation through the italian countryside only on horseback? I believe there are already these types of eco-tourism here, and I've read about one where you travel by donkey instead. The dogs would probably prefer to walk it themselves, as long as the pace was kept to a trot.

Boot remover

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Hiking a little piece of the Via Francigena

Kid #1. Alpha female. The senior dog. You can't imagine how excited she gets whenever the word "hike" is mentioned. Maddie lives for outings such as these, and there is no place that she won't go without that fearless westie bravado. I think it turned out to be the highlight of her trip, being that for Maddie aka the alpine westie, a vacation isn't a vacation unless you muck about in a forest.

The Via Francigena of today is probably a lot more hospitable than it was centuries ago, and it is truly incredible to think that this route was once used by pilgrims on their way to Rome. The segment that we did is more of an easy [T - touristic] route, much of it gently winding through shady forest, hugging the course of a waterway. The trail is left of Hotel La Clusaz (midway between Etroubles and Gignod) and leads to the town of Gignod. It's a piece of cake for persons/dogs of all hiking levels, and popular with runners and mountain bikers. Just remember to take a left at the fork; signposts are well-signaled and hard to miss. We took 2.5 hours total, allowing Maddie and Mr B free run of the place when it was clear.

Maddie goes to Gignod Can't we just jump on an innertube and ride? La Clusaz to Gignod

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Monte Bianco and the Giant's Tooth

Monte Bianco and Dente del Gigante
Panoramic view as seen from the charming town of Pre-St-Didier in Valle d'Aosta.
Monte Bianco on the left, the Giant's Tooth on the right, signaled by an arrow.

3rd day, Courmayeur — The big alpine blue. It just takes your breath away. The sun is very harsh at this altitude, and the mighty Monte Bianco has easily got to be one of the most impressive of natural wonders in Italy. We were nearing the region's northern border again, avoiding the mountain tunnel (Mont Blanc) leading into Chamonix, France, and getting up close enough to gaze in wonder at what is known as the 11th highest peak in the world. She is absolutely stunning (rising 15,781 feet above sea level), thus necessitating climbing skills way, way beyond our experience. Not born for the slopes, we'll probably never visit during winter's busy ski season but there is one unique feature that's a hit with nature photography buffs like myself - il Dente del Gigante - the Giant's Tooth. Second in popularity to Monte Bianco, this "tooth" is surrounded by myth for which I share an adaptation of the original. The giant in this case is Gargantua (of François Rabelais lore, not the japanese version). Upon his death, arrangements had been made for his tooth to be thrust into the icy white of Monte Bianco. Legend has it that within the tooth malicious spirits are desperately trying to escape. Let's hope they never do.

Monte Bianco Dente del Gigante Dente del Gigante (zoom out)

Once upon a time evil spirits roamed free in the Valle d'Aosta. Desperate to be rid of such miserable trouble, the populace sought help from a magician in a faraway land. Moved by the people's distress, the magician went up into the valley uttering strange words, luring the attention of the unholy beings. They swarmed down the mountainside in large numbers: from the ravines, from the forests, from streams and rivers formed by the melting snow. Unable to resist the magician's pull, they followed as he led them all to Monte Bianco. Once there, the spirits were thrown into an icy abyss by an unseen force, to be imprisoned forever with the door of the Giant's Tooth. [That there tooth is one bad cavity.]

Eastern range - Monte Bianco
A section of the Grandes Jorasses, northeastern range of the Monte Bianco massif

Waterfalls at Grandes Jorasses
Three waterfalls cascade from melting glacial snow