Friday, July 24, 2015


First of all, I need to brag about this girl. She is a delight to take to Balboa Park. She sits up in her stroller and looks at everything. I think it's the eyes and the cute pudgy cheeks that cause dozens of “how cute she is” comments from passers-by. She takes everything in and is clearly having a good time.
On this visit, the first stop is the rose garden that happens to be at its peak on this 23rd day of March. I don't think this is her favorite event for the day, but she is content looking around while I thoroughly enjoy the spectacular Inez Grant Parker MemorialRose Garden at its best. With more than 1,600 roses and 130 varieties, it is easy to see why the display has been the recipient of many awards, including the Great Rosarians of the World Rose Garden Hall of Fame in 2014.
Next, we meander over to the Prado restaurant where I decide to take a chance on the table at the entrance so there will be lots of activity for Mila to observe. I am a little uneasy about putting her in the highchair and trying to enjoy a meal with her in this restaurant, but it turns out fine. My salad comes quickly and she is intrigued by the ice that I put on the table (this was suggested by another customer as she walked by). Thank you, lady, whoever you were.
Black doll Exhibit
The Mingei International Museum is featuring an exhibition called: Black Dolls—From the Collection of Deborah Neff. I have been looking forward to seeing it with Mila and this seems like a good day to give it a try. There are 125 handmade dolls on display and I'm not sure what Mila thinks about them, but her eyes are big and it's fun to be with her. I hope she enjoys playing with her dolls as much as I did when growing up. I heard that little girls aren't playing with them as much as they used to. (This exhibition has ended, however, there is an interesting book featuring the collection entitled: Black Dolls: Unique African American Dolls, 1850-1930 from the Collection of Deborah Neff.)
The volunteer guard at the exhibit said that he enjoys his grandchildren too. He said that he enjoys them more than his own children.
I agreed, it is quite different. I told him that I hope I did ok, because I can't remember that much about raising my own kids.
He said his turned out well so he must of done a good job.
I guess I will have to settle for that because mine are doing well too. I told him that when I am with my granddaughter I totally focus on her—that is different than with my own, when there was always something else that needed to be done at the same time. Grandchildren and children are a blessing.
I stop for a coffee-to-go and the young man comments that Mila looks like she is a fun child to be with and he is right on. She just enjoys everything. He asks how old she is (nine months), and said that he finds it interesting to think about the new generation and what their future might be. We agree that there will be some good and bad that she will have to deal with. I guess that is about as optimistic as anyone can be about the future of this world.
Fortunately, Mila fell asleep in the stroller for her much needed afternoon nap. It also gives me a chance to read and relax in the park.
                          * * * * *
It's July, and I am still bringing Mila to the park on Tuesdays. Things have changed now that she is walking and is not always content to sit in her stroller. I guess you could say it's a little more exhausting. She moves fast and I have to hold on to her. However, when she walks and waves at people along the way it's precious. She doesn't discriminate—everyone is her friend, including the dogs.
On other visits we've watched the Merry-go-Round, however, today I decide it's time to take her for a ride. We ride on one of the horses together, and I hold her tightly on my lap. Around we go.It makes me dizzy, but she has fun.                                         
There is always someone singing or playing an instrument in the park, which is another great source of entertainment for Mila. Today she sees another little girl standing up and dancing to the music so she decides to join her.

We sometimes visit the WorldBeat Center, and today there happens to be a children's summer camp going on. Watching all those kids drumming, chanting and moving is probably the highlight of Mila's day.
She doesn't fall asleep in the stroller like she used to. Instead she falls asleep in the car seat on the way home. Then I relax in the parked car outside her home while she finishes the nap.

Friday, July 17, 2015


It's Sunday evening, May 24th, and we were about to board the bus in Bolzano for our trip to Castelrotto, Italy (elev. 3,510 ft.), where we have an apartment reserved for the week. It is located in South Tyrol (pop. 511,750), a province in the mountainous northern region of Italy, bordering on Austria to the north and Switzerland to the west. The alps in this region are called the Dolomites which rise to over 9,800 feet and cover 548 square miles. The spectacular gray vertical peaks and sheer cliffs are enhanced by the dense green forests, and narrow-deep valleys below. The dolomite rock is a unique variation of limestone.
We chose Castelrotto for our base because it was known for easy hiking and reasonable prices. Rick Steves Italy book describes Castlerotto as the “ideal home base for exploring Alpe di Siusi, Castelrotto . . .has more village character than any other town I know in the region.” The 50-minute bus ride involved dozens of hairpin turns which the bus driver took at a pretty good clip. I soon learned for future trips that it was more pleasant to sit in the back and enjoy the scenery, forgetting about approaching cars and near misses.
Our small studio at the Villa Tanya was booked seven months ago through (420 per week). Once again we were at the mercy of the website for our lodging which provides numerous photos and descriptions; however, there is always that little bit of doubt that it will not be quite what you had hoped for.
It is nestled in the mountains with a lovely mountain view, a patio for my morning coffee, birds that never stopped singing and a short walk to the town center. We were pleased with our choice. The proprietors were friendly and invited us to their home for a visit when we arrived. They showed a genuine interest in us and were extremely helpful in directing us to the easier hikes in the area. We also had fun neighbors from Stuttgart, Germany, whom we had brief conversations with using our limited German and their limited English.
On our first day, we headed out for a casual downhill walk to the neighboring town of Siusi/Seis. We would have been satisfied walking along the sidewalk and taking the bus back, however, the proprietors advised us to take a more scenic path through the farmlands and meadows. It was uphill to start, but then a gentle downhill walk along a dirt path which we thoroughly enjoyed. It was our first hike in the area. I returned on many late evenings to leisurely walk the beginning of the trail again.
I enjoyed the small town of Castelrotto/Kastelruth (pop. 6,500). Most of the people spoke German. The town was hilly and had a lovely main square called Piazza Kraus with a church and free standing bell tower with bells that ring on the hour. There was a small cemetery next to the church where the locals take great care in watering the plants and keeping the place perfect. There was always some activity here, even during the early morning when the rest of the town was empty. The sparkling gold crosses on the grave sites were impressive. I couldn't help but wonder how they keep them safe. Perhaps a bit of utopia exists here.
We purchased a one-week train, bus, and museum pass (34) for the entire South Tyrol area. It was great value and provided unlimited access to hundreds of miles in the region. Each day we picked out a place to visit or hike. We took day trips to the world famous ski resort of Cortina in the Venteto region of Italy, and to the South Tyroleon Wine Road for tastings and sightseeing. We also rode the bus to Brixen with its medieval old town and Val Gardena, famous for woodcarving and skiing. It was also convenient to visit nearby Siusi/Seis for hiking and the cable car to Europe's largest high-alpine meadow, Alpe di Siusi (elev. 6,500 ft.). On our day of departure, we used the bus/train pass to get all of the way to Brenner, on the Austrian border. Here, we purchased a ticket (8) to Innsbruck where we spent the next three nights.
Hopefully, we can return to South Tyrol again someday. I would probably chose to base in Castelrotto again, however, Ron might prefer a larger city like Bolzano. I guess I'm realizing that a small town in the mountains, where I can walk out the door and enjoy a mountain hike, is very much to my liking.  I was glad we had another week ahead of us in Gunten, a small town in the Swiss Alps.
                             Bridges of Ljubljana
                             Anticipating a Month in Europe
                      Hay Baths in the Dolomites, Northern Italy



Wednesday, July 8, 2015



It's sunny, 70º F, and it's the end of May in South Tyrol, northern Italy. Ron and I have just finished a pleasant hike through green alpine farmlands. We passed by 500-year-old farms, animals grazing, wooden bridges, a mountain lake, wildflowers, and flowering trees—always surrounded by the jagged, gray-colored and snow-peaked Dolomites. We ended in the charming farm village of Fiè allo Sciliar/Vőls am Schlern* at the foot of the Schlern Mountain and seven miles east of Bolzano. It also happens to be home to the famous hay baths that this area has been famous for since 1902. I had heard about these baths previously, and had hoped to experience them—I guess this was my opportunity.
Fiè allo Sciliar/Vőls am Schlern
We stopped at the tourist information office, and I inquired about the possibility of getting a hay bath. The nearby Hotel Huebad offered them (33), and I could get an appointment right away. Ron had no interest and was happy to return to our apartment in Castelrotto to do some work, while I took advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I walked up a hill to the old hotel which had a pleasant lobby with a garden view; I sat down to wait for the appointment. I was quite excited about this, and it didn't occur to me that it wouldn't be a pleasant experience. After all, I enjoy saunas, and I did like the one mud bath I had in Napa Valley many years ago.
Perhaps adding to my interest is the story that goes back over 100 years and explains how the idea of hay baths came to be: the local field workers who, after a hard day of work, would fall asleep in the hay, and wake up the next morning refreshed and pain free from the previous day's labor. This unique hay was from the local Seiser Alm/Alpe di Siusi area—the same area where the hay for the bath comes from. It is the largest high altitude meadow in Europe and popular with skiers and hikers.(Refer to future post for our hike in this area.) According to the hotel brochure, it consists of 40 different types of grass and flowers and it is harvested once per season, between mid-July and early-August. Next, it is carefully dried and stored.
It is time for my bath. I'm asked to remove my clothes and lay down on a pile of hot moist hay that is sitting on a heated water bed. Next, the female attendant covers my entire body with hay (except my face, thank heavens). It is heated to 104º F. The bed is lowered and then I am covered with a heavy quilt. It is the hottest I've ever been—they achieve the goal of getting me to sweat. The hay feels prickly and itchy on my skin and its earthy smell doesn't help. I am miserable and almost quit before the required 20 minutes is up, but I am still curious to see what the final results will be. The attendant comes in a couple of times to wipe the sweat from my forehead and, no doubt, to see if I am surviving.
The twenty minute bell finally rings. She lifts most of the hay off my body and has me get up to walk to another room. The remaining hay falls all over the place—cleaning up this room would have been almost as bad as the bath I just took. Next, after I decline her offer of hot tea, it is time for a 30-minute rest which I thought I might enjoy. However, I still have some itchy pieces of hay on my body and then she covers me with a sheet, a blanket and a heavy quilt. I am still hot and sweaty—just less hot than before. Once again, I count the minutes until I can get up and out of the place. I thought perhaps a final shower when this was over would make it all sort of worthwhile. Unfortunately, she told me to wait two hours before taking a shower in order to get the most benefit from the bath. This meant I needed to rub all the remaining hay off my sweaty body with towels, and then put my dirty hiking clothes back on, which is all I had with me anyway. Fortunately, I had a hat to cover my less than attractive, wet matted hair.
I headed back to the apartment and waited two hours for the much needed shower. That evening I felt a little better—but not better enough to have gone through all that misery. The next day, no difference. In thinking this through, the only way that I would consider another one of these hay baths is if I were freezing cold and hurting from a day of skiing on the nearby mountains.

*Interestingly, all of the signage in South Tyrol is listed twice, one in Italian and one in German. South Tyrol was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but was annexed to Italy in 1919 at the end of WW I. Many people here are native German speakers. 

PATH TO Fiè allo Sciliar/Vőls am Schlern