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Sappada / Cortina, Italy

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Trip in Dec/Jan 2002/2003. All "facts" are how things seemed to me at the time.

Well. Not entirely successful would be an understatement to describe this. A six night holiday by coach from the Czech republic to the Italian alps, with skiing at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Sappada and Ravascletto, with meals and New-Year entertainment provided by the hotel/guest house sounds perfect doesn't it? - But that's without reckoning on a crap tour operator, (Fede, a Czech company), crap weather in parts, and of course, the Italians themselves.

Where to begin? The bus, which arrived 30 mins late into Brno to pick us up, was just that. A bus. Not a coach. True, it was a luxury bus, but a bus nonetheless. International travel obviously needs no toilets or any of that crap, it's only a 10 hour ride. We looked like paupers next to the Polish bus in the car park in Italy, and 10 hours is a long time to discover that the heating system doesn't work properly, (it was boiling), and that the brakes smelled like burning when the bus was reversing. Awesome.

Next, the Hotel, or Hostel, as we referred to it later. We were supposed to be staying in a Penzion, (Guest House), but somehow that got changed without us being told. The room we got first looked like some sort of bed storage room, containing 5 beds rather than the more usual 2. Also, it was very warm, as both radiators were turned up to the max. For some reason probably only known to the hotel, outside our room on the wall in the corridor was a warm air hand-drier, without any buttons, noisily running itself nonstop. I hadn't thought to bring my pliers with me (!), so I couldn't kill it, or turn down the radiators, which had been thoughtfully supplied without thermostat knobs. There was mould on the ceiling of the bathroom. We complained, quietly at first, then quite directly to our weak-willed guide, Krystina, who had failed to say anything apart from Hello on the bus. At first we were told there were no more rooms available, but after much more complaining the miraculously "found" one which they put us in. It was a damn sight better than the first, but nowhere near the quality of other hotel rooms that I'd stayed in. Later we discovered that the warm-air drier outside the other room had burnt itself out, which is one way of stopping it I suppose. The hotel itself was way too warm all over, so we made our way down to dinner. Meals were included with the trip, but we soon wished they weren't. The food was of a sub-school dinner variety, being served up in a que-with-a-tray canteen style. There was not much choice either, and it wasn't quite the traditional Italian food thet I had dreamt of on the bus either, expecting Pizza, Lasagne and other Italian delights, but being confronted with chicken burgers, fish fingers and intentionally cold potatoes. Hmm. Breakfast extended to two slices of meat (cheap luncheon meat that is, not Parma ham or anything), bread rolls, a single-service of jam and a bowl of tea or coffee. (A bowl? Were all the cups broken?). I'll pu the name of the hotel in here if I ever find out what it was. True enough the hotel had a nice swimming pool, but they had a rule about wearing a swimming cap, and only sold ones which were too small for anyone with a human head, so we gave that a miss.

Despite all this, and more disasters which I'll get to, we still managed to have quite a good time out there, due in a large part to the snow in places we needed it, and the other people on the coach tour, who managed to bond quite well after a string of complete disasters on the part of the tour operators. (Which I'll mention again - fede.cz - rubbish)

The first full day involved a trip to the ski-resort of Ravascletto, which for us meant going to see some rainy hills and a non-functioning cable-car. The rest of the day was spent in the hostel. People started complaining a lot. The next day was a trip to Cortina d'Ampezzo, which was much more like it. A bigger town further away, it had been fortunate and high enough to escape the rain of the previous day, and the skiing could begin in earnest. Or at least it could for those on the trip who could ski, which was most of the people except me. My sliding uncontrollably down a hill to end up on my arse began in earnest. Probably 2450m up a mountain in a top-class ski resort is not the best place to begin, but the map showed some "easy" slopes, which were way too daunting to someone whose never skied before. We eventually made our way down by cable car to something a bit more manageble, during which I mastered the out of control slide. Cortina is a strange place. It's populated entirely by beautiful, rich posers, showing to each other how rich and beautiful they are. Either at the top of the mountain with a "See how gorgeous I look, standing in the sunlight with long wavy hair, sunglasses on head talking importantly into a mobile whilst wearing an expensive tailored ski-suit" or a "It's New Years day, so I'll put on my most expensive fur coat so I can parade around town showing people just how rich and important I am" - and no doubt the unspoken "I'm really important, honest. Not a little bit insecure about my status or anything". I'm not a big fan of wearing animal-skins, so this looked doubly bad to me. Posing *and* cruelty. The posing wasn't limited to the women either, but there were certainly a few old prunes at the top of the slopes, shriveled and frowning at anyone who stood in the way of their precious sunlight, probably completly unaware of what it had done to them.

Leaving Cortina, a massive traffic build-up caused us no end of problems, both for people caught up in it trying to return to the bus, and for the bus itself after it got into town. We were many hours late getting back to the hotel.

The next day was spent in Sappada, a much closer and smaller town, with much more beginner-friendly slopes, and an excellent Pizza restaurant, serving the sort of stuff we thought we'd get at our hotel/hostel. An incredulous waitress asked me why I'd come to Sappada of all places, rather than Austria or something. I was beginning to think the same, but I explained that all the Austria resorts were full. She said the skiing was getting worse by the year in Sappada, as it wasn't quite cold enough, and the snow wasn't as good, or it just rained. We saw evidence of this later.

Because of the no-show snow at Ravascletto, and after much protesting by all the people on the tour, we were "generously given" (Krystina's words) another trip to Cortina by the tour company, whom most people were throughly sick of by this point. It was really big of them(!), considering the crap hotel/guide/food etc. Most of that day was spent relaxing on the top of a high mountain next to a restaurant, as I was all skiied-out by that point. The mountain top had rentable deck chairs and was like some bizzare moon/beach, only with white cold sand instead of golden warm stuff. Many of the photos in the photo section were taken from this viewpoint, which is pretty awesome indeed. Planning to leave Cortina on time this time, we left at 4:30pm. Unfortunatly, some cretinous Italian bus driver had left his bus in a really inconvienent place in the car park, causing our poor bus driver to squeeze between it and a line or parked cars. Oh dear. The back end of our bus caught the tail end of a parked and occupied Audi. 500m down the road, we stopped to get some Diesel, and the Audi driver caught up, very het up about some blemish on the trim of his Audi's back bumper. Talk about not making a drama out of a crisis - this guy wanted to make an opera out of it. Enter stage left - Italian Police. Cue falsetto about driver being taken away in a police van for some serious beaurocracy. Two policemen and their Alfa remain behind, posing occasionaly. Completly unrelated to our incident, I noticed the Police Alfa had a machine gun casually and no doubt stylishly placed on the back seats. Several hours later, whilst we had been idling away the time in the only way a bus load of people can on an Italian petrol-station forecourt - ie standing in the way of motorists, our driver returned, and we pulled out into another traffic jam. We were late back to the hotel by over 3 hours, and although they had kept the canteen open, they had managed to run out of food halfway thorugh our que of hungry people.

On New-years eve, the Hotel really pushed the boat out with the food, and it wasn't too bad. Most of the rest of the occupants of the hotel were either Polish or Hungarian, and during the course of the night, they showed their contempt for the hotel's quality by kicking the crap out of a set of electric sliding doors and letting off all the powder fire extinguishers in the hotel corridors, after first ripping them from the walls. I thought British holidaymakers were bad. The Poles/Hungarian could teach them a thing or two, like how to make a cruddy hotel look like Beiruit. There was a New Year disco downstairs, allowing the heavily made up chubby Hungarian wome to strut their stuff.The people from our bus were good company though, and made it a much better time than you would think the hotel and circumstances would permit.

I might go skiing again. I might go to the Alps again. I might even go to Italy again, but I'll be sure not to combine all three at once.

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Copyright © M.F.Hughes 2003

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