Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Into the Alps and Italy

September 24, 2007

Monday morning our schedule called for leaving the hotel at 8:20 to head for the train station. I zipped out early for a buchhandlung that opened at 8:00. I was hoping to find a dictionary of or grammar on the Rumantsch language before we left that part of the country. Luckily for me, the folks at Wega St Moritz were friendly enough, and spoke enough English, to send me on my way with Schweizer Sprachen, a conversation guide to all four Swiss languages, and Romansh: Facts & Figures, an English-language book about the language and its speakers. I also hurried by Hanselmann's to see if I'd left my clip-on sunglasses there the day before (I had), but still made it back to the hotel before the bus left, though Cristian had told me I could just walk to the train station and meet them there.

Our train ride, leaving St Moritz and ending up in Tirano, Italy, aimed to introduce us more closely to the Alps and to let us catch sight of three glaciers: Monteratsch, Cambrina and Palü. But don't ask me which one this is: in a pinch, I'd say Palü, but I might be wrong.

In this photo, you can see part of a glacier in the background, and the train curving around a bend in the tracks in the foreground:

For part of the ride, we traveled through the Poschiavo Valley, which had been a battleground (I'm not sure how literally) in the past between Swiss Catholics and Protestants. The highest point on the trip was 7403 feet above sea level, at one of the depots. The sign outside the depot gives the elevation in Italian, German and English. Given that all of these shots were taken from the train, generally while it was moving, I don't think this one turned out too bad:

Our last town to pass through before crossing the Swiss-Italian border was Campocologno, which we reached about 11 a.m. We stopped afterward in Tirano, Italy, not too far over the border, for a lunch break and, for those who wanted, a visit to the Basilica di Madonna, whose tower you can see in this photo. Note also the hillsides, terraced for the vinyards.

If I recall correctly, Cristian told us that the organ inside the church has 2000 pipes. Here's a photo of some of them:

After visiting the church, Janis, Debbie and I made our way back to Ai Portici, the restaurant Cristian recommended for lunch. The "girls" were able to eat real Italian food of course, while I had an order of plain French fries to supplement my packet of tuna. Sigh. By the time we finished it was time to scurry back to the bus for our drive through some more of Italy before returning to Switzerland to spend the night in Lugano.

We skirted the shirts of Lake Como, including a town called (I believe) Dongo where Mussolini was apprehended while trying to escape to Switzerland with his mistress. He was shot here. When he was later hanged in disgrace in public in Milan, he was already dead. As we passed, Cristian pointed out the square where the former dictator was shot. Cristian also told us that left-wing dissidents had been hiding in the hills in this area throughout the war. We stopped in a smallish town, whose name escapes me, on the shores of Lake Como and had our afternoon break, most of us using the time to have gelato, as Cristian suggested.

We reached Lugano about 5. Our hotel here was the one, I think, which most of us gave the strongest (or perhaps only) thumbs-down to. Right in the center of town, the hotel has one wing built directly over the tracks of the funicular which goes from the town center up to a higher point on the mountainside. Some of our fellow tourers had rooms in this wing. My room did not, but it did look out onto the "square" where the funicular ran and which had cafes at the bottom with outdoor tables. Too noisy!

Most of the group took an "optional excursion" here--an evening lake cruise and dinner. Avoiding meal events as I do, I instead strolled the town center and took care of my supper myself. I walked along the shore of the lake, around toward the Church of Santa Maria degli Angioli, which Cristian said we should see for its frescoes. (Unfortunately I don't remember the artist's name.) Here are two shots from the inside, the first being, I assume, St Sebastian:

The structure of the church is quite simple and the walls are mostly undecorated. I'm not sure if this makes it Romanesque or not, but it's definitely not an elaborate and "soaring" Gothic structure. Unfortunately the facade of the church is currently covered in plastic sheeting to protect it from work going on at a high-rise next door.

Across the street from the church, on the lakeside, is a park featuring a number of sculptures scattered about--a sort of sculpture garden--but it was too dark by the time I reached the park to take photos without flash.


Sheila Ryan said...

So did you not visit Sils Maria (or, rather, 'Sils' -- I gather the two Sils are now conjoined in some fashion)?

Cooper Renner said...

You got me! I guess I didn't visit Sils Maria, or if I did the name escaped me. I'm not sure, for example, if the town on the shores of Lake Como where we had ice cream is Dongo, or if it's some name I've forgotten. What is Sils Maria? You have to keep in mind that I often snoozed on the bus while the guide was talking.

Was "our" Heidiland in Maifeld? I don't know. It was a rest stop, more or less, on the side of the freeway. Does that help?

Sheila Ryan said...

No reason why you should have been aware of Sils Maria unless you are a Nietzsche devotee. It is where he spent a number of (relatively) happy summers. The 'Nietzschehaus' in Sils Maria features art exhibitions in addition to exhibits concerning Nietzsche and has a nice website.

The location of 'your' Heidiland (not to be confused with 'my' Nietzschehaus) is a mystery to me, as is that of 'my' Heidi's village. I just found it amusing that I included in my cluster-posts featuring ersatz Swiss tit-bits a link to the website for something that sounds awfully like a place you visited in the Real Switzerland.

A favorable omen, perhaps, for a collaborative "History of Oak CLiff" . . .

Bryce Wesley Merkl said...

This is such an interesting blog about your travels. I enjoyed reading it.

I noticed that early in the post you mentioned finding a Rumantsch grammar book. Here is a great website I found that is in 300+ languages, including Rumantsch and it might give you some decent practice:

Rumantsch wiki browser