Sunday, 18 September 2011

Back in the Dam

So for a short time only, we swung through Amsterdam with exciting things like our tax returns and the registration on Fred to do ... but of course there was enough time left over for catching up with many old friends and hanging out with our gracious hosts, Em and Kees, in their beautiful apartment.

On Saturday night, all four of us - Em, Kees, Mark and Jen - put together a dinner party ... starting with fresh artichokes with garlic butter and champagne, then pear and gorgonzola risotto with an Australian red and followed by fresh blueberries with a crisp dessert wine. Delicious!

Monday, 5 September 2011

A scenic drive ...

To travel from Livigno to Bolzano, a distance of less than 200km, it is most likely easier to drive back to Switzerland through the one-way tunnel and around on flatter roads... but it's much more interesting to head over the Passo Stelvio.

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The aeriel view provided by Google Maps does not do the road justice - sure, it looks more like a scribble than a road, but this still doesn't show the avalanche tunnels only wide enough for one car that curve around the mountainside (sound your horn, and hope a bus doesn't beep back ... it's not much fun reversing around and down), or the constant hairpin bends back and forth across the steep terrain. It also doesn't show the masochistic cyclists, working their way slowly up the turns through wind and rain ... why?!

And whilst Fred is fabulous ... next time we do this drive, it's going to be a sunny day and we're going to be in something a little lower to the ground, with a few more horses to pull it and perhaps no roof ...

Livigno ...?

So, hands up if you've heard of a place called Livigno?

With the weather less-than-optimal for climbing, we decided to take the scenic route from Basel to Bolzano - and this took us through the tiny valley of Livigno, squished up against Switzerland, right at the top of Italy. The wiki page describes a history of poverty, smuggling and inaccessibility during the winter months, and even now there are only three roads which head into the region (and one is a long, narrow tunnel).

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We were pleasantly surprised to find out on arrival that Livigno has no goods tax. NONE! In fact it has been exempt from paying a variety of taxes since the Middle Ages.

So everything is much cheaper ... we left the valley the proud owners of new Grivel crampons and with a full tank of premium diesel - bought for under a Euro a litre! Bargain!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Climbing with the Opti Kids

So five of our old mates from Amsterdam (mostly from Mark's old work) drove down to Basel for some outdoor climbing. Hot and humid, with a late Saturday night thunderstorm, it was the warmest weather they've had all summer - perhaps that's the penalty for staying in paid employment in Amsterdam! For some, this was the first time climbing outside of a gym, others did their first lead climb and everyone seemed to enjoy the weekend ...