Monday, September 28, 2009

Family Reunion in Italy

"So happy together..." This classic tune was ringing in my ears as the Catlin, Blue, and Clough units descended upon Italy for a bombastic end-of-summer reunion in bella Italia. Although the four days flew by much too quickly, we succeeded in family togetherness and fun while traveling to four different cities in the Veneto region.
Prior to meeting up in Italy, Laurel and Jason spent some time with us in Wiesbaden. Unfortunately, Jon was not back from the States during the first three days of their visit, but we still managed to have a great time attending a medieval festival in the ruins of a castle, touring a wine village along the Rhine and enjoying the incredible weather with a swim and picnic in the park.
After Jon arrived, we headed down to Munich where we spent one day seeing the sights on Mike's Bike Tour and of course, a necessary stop at the world-famous Hofbrauhaus. As we sat there enjoying our monster sized beers, surrounded by boisterous tourists and raucous oompah music, we pondered hos in the world Char and her AA friends DID get kicked out of the Hofbrauhas those many years ago. I'm not quite sure we totally believe the "we were simply singing Texas our Texas loudly" explanation, considering singing is a welcomed expectation there. I guess we will never be as cool as you Charm!
The next day we embarked on our scenic journey through Bavaria, the Austrian Tirol and into Italy. In order to allow Jason the opportunity to experience Austria (not just drive through it), we stopped for lunch in the charming town of Hall, near Innsbruck. After admiring the picturesque town surrounded by mountains, we continued our trip across the Europa bridge, through Brenner Pass and into Italy.
Our meeting point was the town of Bolzano, nestled between the hills of the Dolomites. Although the town looks Italian and the food tastes Italian, you wouldn't necessarily know the people are Italian considering the casual greeting "Gruss Gott" is actually Austrian and everyone there speaks both German and Italian. Only a part of Italy since the 1920s, Bolzano is very much a fusion of both cultures, which may be why I feel in love with it immediately.

Castles are scattered around the pristine countryside, yet pasta and prosecco are plentiful. Beyond enjoying the town itself, we toured the Archaeological Museum where the famous 5,000 year old Ice Man is kept. It was an interesting first few hours of our family reunion being surrounded by mummies - going back in forth between reading about the mummification process and catching up on what everyone's been up to the past few days.

The following day, we caravaned to our next destination, Cortina, via the dazzling, if not somewhat daunting, Great Dolomite Road. This winding road snakes through the Dolomite mountains escalating higher and higher to a point of 3,300 meters. The views were unbelievable, but those of us not driving had to deal with some queasiness during the 2.5 hours of sharp turns. Nausea or not, it was completely worth it and was an unforgettable experience.

Our hotel for the night was technically 20 minutes and 2,000 meters above Cortina in the Passo Giau. Nestled between two peaks at what felt like was the top o the world was our hideaway.
We had quite an awakening when we stepped out of the car and felt the gushing, freezing wind. I'm not exaggerating - it was a far cry from the warm and humid weather we experienced a couple hours earlier in Bolzano. We assessed our wardrobes and put on as many layers as possible before descending the mountain into Cortina.
When we arrived the temperature warmed and we enjoyed strolling around the quaint town and admiring cars entered in an old car rally. That night, we celebrated Lar's birthday over a delicious dinner.
The next morning, we awoke in our mountain hideaway hotel to crustal blue sky and the most gorgeous views of the Dolomite mountains surrounding us.
Although I had intended to do some running, a quick jaunt up the first hill provided me a reality check as my lungs felt as if they were about to burst. A run turned into more of a photo shoot and a chance to enjoy the surreal beauty.
Later that morning, we caravaned out of the Dolomites to Castelfranco. It just so happened that this medieval city, complete with fortress walls and a moat in the town center, was celebrating a medieval festival.
We had a wonderful time exploring this event complete with night guards, flag throwers and even a village idiot.

Also that night, we enjoyed an incredible gourmet dinner with friends, Al and Cristina. After four courses and three different types of wine, we were sufficiently stuffed!
The following day was bittersweet as it was wonderful to be Venice on such a perfect day, but sad it would be our last day together.
Despite the multitude of tourists that invade Venice every summer weekend, the weather was magnificent and we once again stumbled on another fantastic local event that day.
The Regata Storica was taking place and is a race for gondolas through the Grand Canal.

Pizza for lunch, buying a painting as a memento, coffee in St. Mark's Square and wandering through the narrow alleys and canals added up the the perfect day. But then again - being with my entire family anywhere would be the perfect day. This was yet again an unforgettable vacation that I will always treasure (at least until the next one comes 'round). Grazie mille to Italia and my familiga!