Torino and the Bernina Express

Why visit Torino, a charming little town close to the Swiss border?  How about vineyards, apple farms, lakes, mountains, a beautiful cathedral, archaeological sites, cobbled streets and a train station from which you can board a single gauge train?  Are those reasons enough?

Enroute from Milan, we stopped at Orrido di Bellano, to view the gorge and waterfall,then headed to Varenna for lunch alongside Lake Como.  Dinner was in the wine cellar of a restored old Torino villa.

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The first two days were great and action packed, but the BEST day was the third, when we boarded the Bernina Express.  Theoretically, we could have ridden it all the way to St. Mortitz, but instead we disembarked in Diavolezza to take a cable car part way up the mountain to a terrace and restaurant.

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The view was spectacular from there, but some of us wanted an even better glimpse of the glacier, so off we went.   I was very glad I had packed my hiking boots, because  we had to get past a couple of icy patches to reach the summit.

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From left: me, Ellen, Julie and Elisa.  Can you figure out which one is the guide?

What a great place for a photo op!

The Divine Duomo

See how happy she is, wearing her new dress?

We’ve all been told you have to dress appropriately if you want to tour the Duomo.  That isn’t entirely true.  If you happen to be wearing something a bit too revealing, no worries.  The Duomo staff will give you a lovely, suitable outfit to wear.  Best of all, you get to keep it when you leave.  Take a look.

If you have been following this blog, you’ll recall that I toured the Duomo a few days ago, while in Milan on my own.  I am now on the OAT trip, which started with a walking tour of Milan, including a guided tour of the Duomo.  I’m glad I did both, because different tour guides emphasize different things, so YOU, dear reader, get the benefit of both, without having to endure an overnight flight.

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Both guides cited identical facts and figures: when construction started (1386), how long it was under construction (centuries), and on and on.  The main fact I retained was the Duomo has 52 columns.  Bet you can figure out why.

As you can see, each column is topped with statues of saints, but I have no idea who is who, and neither guide (quite wisely) bothered to tell us.

Only one called our attention to the beautiful marble floor’s embedded sun dial, with figures of the zodiac appropriately placed.  Check out Aries the Ram.

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As usual, the Duomo showcases art representing saints that died horrific deaths.  Catholics seem to have a deep appreciation for pain and suffering.

I missed the portrait of St Agatha on the first tour.  We had seen many portraits of her in Sicily, in the process of having her breasts chopped off.  In Milan, the painting isn’t quite so graphic.  St Agatha is shown being healed by St. Peter, who visited her in prison.  As you can see from her bloody garment, he is just starting to work his miracle.

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BOTH guides made sure we saw the statue of St. Bartholomew.  HE  was skinned alive and HIS statue leaves little to the imagination.

In case you’re wondering, that’s his skin draped over his shoulder.   Look to the right of his elbow.  His face managed to stay intact, and every hair on his head and beard is still in place.   Pretty terrifying for young Catholic children, wouldn’t you say.  No wonder we grew up so twisted.

Those Romans certainly dreamed up creative ways to launch Christians into the afterlife!

While touring the Duomo terraces a few days ago, I noticed what looked like a rooftop restaurant.  I figured it was probably super expensive and rather exclusive. 

What a nice surprise when  our OAT guide brought us over there for a drink and cookies.  We enjoyed yet another view of the Duomo, while sipping our cappuccinos. Here’s Elisa, our guide, explaining where we are going next.  Check out the chocolate shoes for sale  at gourmet chocolate shop inside.

 

Time to stop blogging and start experiencing…so I leave you with some Milan highlights.

 

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The Roads to Stykkishólmur and Akureyri

Growing up, I remember watching  an old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movie entitled “The Road to Morocco”.  It may have been the first “buddy” road trip movie ever made.  It was a comedy that got its laughs from the strange costumes and mishaps that the two “buddies”encountered during their travel.

You’re probably thinking “yeah, so what’s the point?  Well, unlike my usual digressions, there actually IS a point, that point being that at times I FEEL like I’m in a buddy movie.  Perhaps that’s what happens when you travel with 14 of your friends.

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We haven’t had as many mishaps as Bing and Bob, but we HAVE had our share of comedic moments.

Those of us who didn’t feast on fermented shark were greatly entertained by the facial expressions of Sam and Nancy.   Believe me, they definitely weren’t acting.

SOME of us hiked to a nature reserve in a volcanic crater, on the coast.  The hard part was SUPPOSED to be the climb down to the “flat”area, except the FLAT area was actually a bed of mud with rocks poking up haphazardly.

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At times, it felt like elves were hiding below the surface, trying to suck the boots off our feet.

We, however, were undaunted.  A bit muddy, a bit wet, but definitely undaunted.

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Look, we are still smiling .  Helen is using Sam as a wind shield.  It is difficult to get a good group photo while standing in mud, being buffeted by wind.

Odd  costumes? Yep, we had a few of those.

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The Galapagos have blue footed Boobies; WE have blue footed buddies.

If YOU had been experiencing misty, windy weather, would you want to get on a boat to go chasing after whales?  Neither did 10 of us.  Instead, we elected to have a leisurely breakfast, a stroll through the botanical garden, and lunch in town.  No mishaps and no funny costumes for us.

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The whale watchers, on the other hand, had both.  Sorry.  No photos of them in their bright blue jump suits.  All we got were very vivid descriptions of the experience from our participants.  Sharmon reported sighting “two whales and nineteen puking passengers”.  Fortunately none of our five were in her head count.  Even more fortunate, the sea sick whale watchers had the foresight to come equipped with plastic bags.  That presents another question.  If you thought you were going to need them, would YOU get on the boat?

In the afternoon, eleven of us (including four from the morning adventure) decided to try our luck riding Icelandic horses.  I’m happy to say that there was not a single incidence of motion sickness.  We DID manage to model some pretty funky outfits.

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Karen, Diane, Sam, Kathy, Carol, John, Helen, Sue, me.  (Sharmon and Luis were still getting suited up). 

Is it my imagination, or do some of us look like we are on our way to fight a fire?

Our ride took us through magnificent scenery.  The air was clear and fresh smelling, unless you happened to be riding behind Diane.  HER horse was desperately in need of the equine version of bean-o, emitting noises that would have had most third graders in hysterics.  (Okay, so WE laughed too. )

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But he looks so innocent!

Because we took so long getting fitted with helmets, choosing our trusty steeds, mounting and dismounting, we were running late for our dinner reservation.  Modern technology came to the rescue.  A google search for the restaurant phone number and a quick call via cell phone, and voila, problem solved.

We ended our “buddy movie” on a high note, having a great dinner at Strikiò Restaurant.

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Does this look like a rowdy group?