Italian Stars

Milena and Sergio on top of the world

Milena and Sergio on top of the world

We’re in the Dolomites.  We are surrounded by towering, jagged, snow dusted mountains.  Specifically we are staying outside of Cortina d’Ampezzo in northern Italy with friends from Perugia who come here during their winter vacations. They are giving us the red carpet treatment.  We are seeing things, tasting foods and visiting places we would never have experienced on our own.

Milena and Sergio found a hotel for us near their cabin.  We are tucked in the woods. We wake up to coral sunrises on the powdered sugar mountain peeks.  It’s a fairy tale.  During the first day here, we rode a chairlift to a nearby sledding park.  The kids were required to wear helmets which turned out to be a good thing because Tom took off before mastering the the lesson on “brakes.”  Moments later we watched the second biggest wipe-out of the day.  Matt raced down quickly and put the pieces back together.

less than a minute before the crash

just before the crash

I hung out with the less adventurous where we watched the sledding and joined in the tradition of drinking cups of “bombardini” (little bombs) which are a delicious mixture of hot rum, eggs, sugar, and cream.

Our friend Chiara serves a round

Chiara serves a round.

Over one of these bombardinis, we met a good friend of Sergio who lives here year-round.  He and Sergio share a passion for astronomy.  We got to talking about stars and quickly came to recognize that their shared passion extends well beyond a hobby.  Alessandro devotes much of his time to Cortina’s planetarium and mountain-top observatory.  Sergio started working with him about 12 years ago.   Then in 2009, Sergio created a computer program that allows anyone in the world to manipulate Cortina’s impressive telescope via the internet.  Through this program, one can search for  planets and supernovas at home (with the understanding that all findings be reported back to the observatory, of course).

Sergio asked Alessandro how things were going since they last spoke.  Alessandro announced that on December 24 he discovered another supernova.  Congratulations were given, and then plans were made to take all of us stargazing that night.

We started at the planetarium in downtown Cortina where we watched replicated views of the night skies ranging from 500 BC to the future.

We started at the planetarium in downtown Cortina where we watched replicated views of the night skies ranging from 500 BC to the future.

But the highlight began with our moonlit walk to the Col Druscie Observatory.  After a short drive up the mountains from Cortina, we left our car and hiked 30 minutes up a snowy trail to the peak.

View of Cortina from the observatory.  (Photo courtesy of Alessandro Dimai

View of Cortina from the observatory. (Photo courtesy of Alessandro Dimai

We entered the control room and ascended to the dome where the equipment is housed.  One by one we then climbed a ladder to peer through the lens of the telescope.  Alessandro pointed it first to the moon and cautioned us to take short turns so we didn’t damage our retinas with the brightness.  Then we looked at Betelgeuse and finally Jupiter and its moons.  Between visual destinations, we asked hundreds of questions ranging from the magnitude of the universe to the age of stars to the composition of comets.  My uncle showed such aptitude for astronomy that Alessandro and Sergio took a break in the stargazing session to open an account for him on Sergio’s on-line program, “Sky on the Web”.  It turned out to be just as interesting to observe the workings of this website.  And now my uncle can aim Cortina’s telescope anywhere he wants and download his own pictures of the heavens.

Col Druscie Observatory (Photo courtesy of Alessandro Dimai

Col Druscie Observatory (Photo courtesy of Alessandro Dimai

Sergio, Matt and Alessandro  in the observatory with the kids

Sergio, Matt and Alessandro in the observatory with the kids

The control room:  a tutorial on

The control room: a tutorial on

It wasn’t until 9:30 pm when we finally recognized how hungry we were.  We slid down the mountain on our coats and ended up at the coziest restaurant imaginable warmly perched on the secluded mountainside.  We tasted three northern Italian specialties including beet ravioli, bread balls in broth, and deer gnocchi.  The kids stuck with buttered noodles and then started falling asleep.  We were all in bed by midnight.

While it seemed impossible to compete with the rare opportunity of the night before, Sergio and Milena succeded.  On our last day in Cortina, we met for lunch at Malga Misurina, a dairy farm outside of town.  The driveway was so snowy and slippery that we needed a forklift to rescue us and bring us the top of the hill where everyone else was waiting to order lunch.

the snow tow

the snow tow

The six of us at Malga Misurina

The six of us at Malga Misurina

Everything we ate had been grown or raised on the farm.  We shared ten plates of cheeses, salami, sausages, pork ribs, polenta, bread balls with speck, and cabbage salad.  Later, we took a snowmobile–pulled sled beyond the tree line to the summit of Tre Cime and then rode individual sleds down a 1-mile course. It’s hard to describe.  It was fast.  It was fun.  It was incredible.

At the peek

At the peak

The ride down.  Tom steering with his boots

The ride down: Tom E. steering with his boots

That night we peeled off our snow layers and caravanned to Venice where we will stay until New Years.


8 thoughts on “Italian Stars

  1. What an unforgettable and indescribable experience! Most of us, no matter how many visits to Europe or Italy, will ever have an experience quite like this. You are so fortunate to have local friends that are willing to share these special times. Loved this post & photos. Happy New Year!

  2. What an incredible adventure for all of you! Thank you for sharing. Have a great time in Venice ringing in the New Year. Jill you will have to write a travel book about your adventures in Italy. Love you all. Happy New Year!

  3. Incredible experience. Tom and Ray will cherish these times. As I am sure you all will. Happy New Year. Love, Grandpa John

  4. Out of this world! Each experience seems to top the previous. Did you ever imagine your one year in Perugia would include such masterpieces? And now you ring in the new year in Venice! And they call ‘Jersey Shore’ a reality show! Carpe Diem Jugulum!

  5. Oh my gosh!!!!! Just as I’m sending an e-mail to comment on some of “my favorite moments” I open up the blog to “re-cap” and see this post! Fantastic! Trip of a lifetime to say the least. So happy to see your family having so many amazing adventures! Wendy

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