Sunday, August 31, 2008

Merdeka 2008

Today, August 31st, celebrates Malaysia's 51st Independence Day. I am proud to be a Malaysian!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rifugio Cristina

Today's hike was in Valmalenco, from Largone where we left the car, to Rifugio Cristina. The nice thing was that it wasn't such a long walk so we didn't have to wake up at 6am (yay). And even better, Stef's sister Valeria and brother-in-law, Marcello, joined us.

It was another beautiful day. We passed several meadows with grazing cows. Watch out for the cow patties!

And views of the surrounding mountains.

Then Rifugio Cristina came into sight, right underneath Pizzo Scalino.

We found a nice spot to lay down and have some lunch.

Admiring the view of the peaceful green meadow in front of us.

We continued on our way home, passing another rifugio, Ca' Runscach.

It was in such a pretty spot that we just had to stop to have some tea.

We each had a glass of milk, freshly milked from the cows that day. We also had some fried apple fritters, sprinkled with sugar. They were really good; must've been something about the fresh mountain air.

There was also an agriturismo, Il Cornetto, nearby. We stopped by to check it out. The dining room and kitchen looked really clean, and the people running it were friendly.

This agriturismo was pretty authentic. They had all their own farm animals: cows, chickens, ducks, turkeys, even pigs. This was the first time I'd seen pigs running free.

It was a really nice day out on the mountains, with good company.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pizzo Tre Signori

This Sunday, our friend Massi suggested we meet at the peak of Pizzo 3 Signori. This peak is accessible from Bergamo, where he lives, and also from Valtellina where we were for the weekend. He wanted to meet at the top at 11.30am, but I wasn't sure if I would be able to make it up there by that time. It was going to be quite trek and I was nowhere near expert status yet. In the end, Massi changed his plans but we decided to go ahead anyway.

We left the house around 6.40am and started at the trailhead at Pescegallo around 7.40am. It was turning out to be a beautiful day, with clear blue skies.

We passed two lakes, lago di Trona and lago di Inferno.

We also passed a house inhabited by caretakers of the dam at lago di Trona, and outside there were these really pretty horses. They looked straight out of some fantasy movie.

And there was other wildlife to be seen. Way up on the mountain, mocking me, 'look how much higher I can climb'. hehe

And up close. These are ibex, I was told, a species of wild mountain goats. We saw quite a few of them and they didn't run off at the sight of humans. I guess they knew they were safe in this protected area.

The ibex offered some distraction. But then it was time to get serious and make the last push at the formidable task ahead of me. (Steep, rocks, steep).

We arrived at the top a little after 11am, ahead of schedule!

We took a short break and admired the panaromic view.

We could make out Milan city in the distance, see a glimpse of lake Como, and the other mountains like the Monte Rosa and Bernina, in the distance.

We made our way down on another trail, going towards lago Rotundo. Here is the view looking back at the peak where we were at just 1/2 hour before descending.

We had to climb up to reach another pass to get to this lake. At the top of the pass, there were more ibex grazing.

The lake looked really pretty from where we were. The problem was getting down. The 'trail' was very steep and made up of midsize and smaller loose rocks. It was literally crumbling beneath our feet. There were some hairy moments. (Don't think we'll be back this way for this reason!)

But we finally did make it down and I was ready at this point to take a breather. Lunch time!

After that the trail back was very pleasant and enjoyable. We passed by lago di trona again, this time from the other end.

The water was so incredibly blue and clear.

And finally, we passed some cows that looked pretty happy chewing grass in the sunshine.

It was a fun hike, minus the 'memorable' experience getting to lago rotundo.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bocchel del Cane

This weekend's hike started at San Giuseppe near Chiareggio in Valmalenco. The day before there were thunderstorms, leaving a dusting of snow on the mountain tops. It was also pretty chilly that morning.

The first part was up the mountain on a wooded trail until we reached this pretty lake, lago Lagazzuolo.

Above the lake was the way towards the Bocchel del Cane pass.

But first we had a river to pass, which happens pretty often on all our hikes. It really helps to have waterproof boots and the trekking poles to help keep your balance.

The view looking up as we started the ascent. The trail is pretty rocky.

The view looking down was not bad at all.

It's a great feeling to finally get to the top of the pass and look over to the other side. We took a quick breather and admired the view of the mountains and the lago di Pirola.

Then we started to make our way down on the other side. Turns out the trail passed through a bunch of huge rocks.

The 'trail' wasn't that well defined at all. It seemed like the red-white trail signs were just painted on some random rocks and it was up to you to just go at it. It took me a while to get past those rocks, using my hands and sliding on my butt quite a bit.

At one point I looked back and saw this sign. Not sure where to go? It's up! I was glad we were already on our way down.

Luckily it was time for lunch. We found a nice flat rock with a nice view.

Our panini tasted really good.

After a quick rest we continued on the trail back down to Chiareggio.

The trail we took was pretty interesting. It passed through a number of small streams and waterfalls. At one point, we had to climb down a small waterfall holding on to a metal rope attached to the rocks.

When we arrived at Chiareggio, it was still another 6 kms (3.7 miles) to the car. It was a rather boring walk along the river but along the way we found bushes and bushes of wild raspberries. It was fun eating straight from the bush.

We ended the day with a stop at a gelateria in Sondrio for some gelato. We earned it!

A Wedding in Campania

This happened in mid-June but I've only now gotten around to writing about it.

First we had to get there, which proved a little tougher than originally thought. We were going to drive down to south so that we would have the convenience of having the car. We planned leave Friday morning for the 800-km (500-mile) drive from Milan to our destination: a small town about an hour away from Naples. Well, the night before, Stef had to stay up late finishing up work issues. I can't remember what I did exactly but between packing and checking work email, it was past 2am by the time the lights went out.

The next morning, we still had some last minute errands and didn't get on the road till noon. It turned out to be a long, long day. We hit thunderstorms all along the way, one was so bad that we could barely see out the windshield and cars were going only barely 30 mph. We actually only stopped once for a bathroom break and coffee. By the time we finally arrived at the hotel, it was 10pm and we were too exhausted to do anything else but ignore the hungry tummies and go to bed.

In the morning, bright and early, we met up with the other out-of-town guests staying at the hotel and drove over to the groom's house. We were friends of the groom and there we met him and all his relatives. There was a spread of cookies and sweets set up in case anyone was hungry.

Then we walked over to the bride's home while the groom headed to the church to await his bride. Her family own's the butcher shop, 'macelleria', in town and they live upstairs. Inside, more sweets to be found.

We were standing on the street outside with other friends and family when the bride appeared on the upstairs terrace with her parents and sister. She waved while we applauded and then proceeded to toss out confetti (sugar-covered almonds) and coins to the crowd. The confetti was good stuff and not cheap either. I was sad to see them fall on the ground and go to waste. The kids went to work picking up 1 euro and 0.50 euro coins from the ground. Stef even picked up 1 euro. I found a 0.50 euro coin and a lady told me to keep it for good luck.

And then the entire wedding party formed a procession following bride and her father walk through the town towards the church. There were neighbors standing from their terraces tossing more confetti and coins towards the bride. It was quite the spectacle.

The church bells were ringing when we arrived at the church. The groom was standing at the doors waiting.

The religious ceremony started at 11am and took about 1.5 hours. Outside someone had created some artwork with grains of rice.

When the newlyweds exited, we were all waiting with handfuls of rice. They made a lovely couple.

Now it was time to celebrate and party. Everyone got in the cars to drive over to the reception, which was held at the hotel where we were staying.

When we arrived around 2pm, there was an appetizer buffet spread set up. We were served sparkling wine and there was all kinds of good things to eat like prosciutto, cheese, shrimp, grilled oysters and other shellfish, and other fried goodies. We were all starving at that point and the other guests were cleaning out the platters real quick. I was enjoying the food but Stef warned me not to eat too much. The bride's father was carving out slices of prosciutto himself, from a whole leg of ham that probably came from his shop. The 'slices' were more like hunks of meat, much more generous than what you would usually get. These two guests pondered making off with the leg.

Little did I know that the real meal was just about to start. After we were all seated we were served... appetizer dishes... again! I had a bad feeling about what was to come when the waiter placed the first appetizer dish in front of me: prosciutto with mozzarella di buffala. This was all for me.

The second appetizer dish: bresaola with mushroom and something else - I can't remember what.

The third appetizer dish: mixed seafood of mussels, octopus and squid. And I thought we already had our appetizers outside earlier!

Then came the first first dish: a seafood pasta with clams and shrimp.

Followed by pasta with a mushroom tomato sauce.

Phew. Luckily the courses came slowly. In between there was lots of dancing and even karaoke singing. Who knew.

I think it was almost 7 pm when we were served the first 2nd dish: steak and potatoes with rucola and grated parmigiano cheese.

There was more dancing in between. I know we stepped out to the terrace to get some fresh air. At some point the guests were even served coffee outside on the terrace. You know, to keep the stamina up for the ongoing party.

To clean the palate before the second 2nd dish, a sorbetto with baba al rhum pastry.

Then the 'final' 2nd dish: grilled fish and shrimp, and fried calamari.

There was also the customary bouquet and garter toss. I managed to avoid catching anything.

Then we all headed outside for the cake cutting, and the couple's very own fireworks! Her dad had proudly bragged to the guys about the fireworks earlier. It was quite the show. It was shot off really close to the terrace where we were all standing so the fireworks were exploding over our heads very close to us. It lasted a good 15 minutes. Afterwards, all the menfolk congratulated the father of the bride for a job well done.

Oh and I forgot to mention that besides wedding cake, there was a dessert buffet spread as well. I couldn't resist sampling a little of everything even though I was very full at that time. There was chocolate mousse and Sicilian cassata and all kinds of other sweets.

At around 11.30pm, the father of the bride announced it was time for the customary late-night spaghetti to end the night. Yes, I partook and it was good and spicy. Here I am with the beautiful bride.

The festivities ended at midnight when the DJ finally wrapped things up. Stef and I had stuck it out to the end with the newlyweds. It was only 13+ hours since we first arrived at the church!
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