Rotwand

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Rotwand, from the bottom of the hiking path.

After a year here, I finally had the chance to visit the actual dolomites and to do a via ferrata. Last weekend, during what seemed to be perhaps the last warm weekend of the season, we headed up to the Rosengarten range, to Rotwand (Roda di Vaèl), the peak of which lies at around 2790 meters.

A via ferrata (literally “iron path”) is a hiking path with additional metal rebar and metal cables running up it. You can use climbing gear to hook into the cables, and pull yourself along. It’s not as hard as mountain climbing, because you have the cable and often also rebar ladders cut into the cliff face, but it’s harder than normal hiking, where you’d just be walking. Actually, I wouldn’t say the climbing harness makes the via ferrata feel particularly safe. The thing is, you hook yourself to the cable, but the path beneath you is often steep and slanted over the rocks. If you were to fall, you will slip quite a ways along the cable. You wouldn’t die (especially with the helmet on), but you could injure yourself pretty badly anyways, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be climbing back down a mountain bruised and bloody. In any case, the Rotwand one wasn’t a particularly difficult one, so that was alright.

We started the trip from Rovereto around 8am. The drive to Bolzano, where we would rent the gear, was around an hour, and then it took another half an hour to get to our parking spot in the mountains. By the way, we rented the gear from Base Camp Dolomiti, which is actually located inside the train station in Bolzano, like basically off of platform 1. The place was open on Sunday, and the people there were very nice and understanding when we were unable to return the gear the same night, so although they were small and their gear selection was tiny, I can’t complain about the service.

Anyways, after picking up our gear, we headed up to Rifugio Paolina, in the Dolomites. From there, we rode a ski lift up to Rotwand, and hiked in a circle around the rock formation, until reaching the beginning of the via ferrata. The ride up the ski lift was only around 15 minutes, but it covered a wide stretch of ground, a little under 2km in length.

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View of the valley below, from near the start of the via ferrata.

The day started out chilly, and there was a mist in the air. I was afraid I’d freeze in only my Patagonia sweater, but thankfully, it warmed up quite a bit in the afternoon. The mist never quite dissipated, though, instead floating back and forth over the peak as we ascended, giving the excursion an ethereal feel. The hike around the peak was not too bad. It took just around 1.5 hours, and it was only moderately steep.

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This peak was behind us the whole time we climbed.

I was very excited to finally do a via ferrata. I’d heard of them all year, but had never gotten around to renting the gear and finding a way to go. It was fortunate that a big group decided to go this time around, so I was able to tag along. The Rotwand via ferrata wasn’t much more difficult than the hike up to it. There were many times that I felt the ferrata gear was hardly needed, and was just slowing me down– but then again, there were also times that I was happy to have the peace of mind. This via ferrata didn’t have a lot of exposed areas, which is one thing that I had hoped for, but once again, maybe it was all the better to cut my teeth on a simpler climb. In any case, the view from the top was absolutely spectacular.

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On the way back, we caught the setting sun, as we made our way down the mountain. It’s warm rays cast the mountain behind us in a ruddy bronze, which is where the name Rotwand (literally “red wall”) must come from, I suppose. Unfortunately, we were too late to catch the ski lift, meaning we had to walk an extra hour all the way down the ski slope. By the end, my knees were hurting, and my thighs burned the next two days, whenever I tried to walk down the stairs. Such is the hiking life I guess? I’m definitely going to miss these exquisitely breathtaking hikes when my stay in Italy is over (the end is very soon now), and I wish I had started on the via ferrate much sooner in the year!

Weeks 93 through 97

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View of the castle in Malcesine.

The last month has been a whirlwind of work! I somehow managed to submit nearly everything that was due. I never quite wrote the outline for the thesis for my UniTN adviser. Instead, I sort of started rolling all the reports I had written into a preliminary thesis outline, and then worked on fleshing parts out while my models were running. It’s still not entirely clear to me how much detail I should go into on certain aspects of the thesis, so I am just writing what I can in the meanwhile, and hopefully, I’ll manage to flesh it out better once my results are in.

Unfortunately, I’ve hit some snags in my code (i.e. nothing runs!), so I haven’t been able to get the type of results I’m looking for (i.e. any results!). I still have results from the internship portion of my work at FBK, but they aren’t well organized or complete. I think because of how long it takes to train models on our hardware, I’m going to have to sacrifice having an interesting and novel work to present, since I have to finish running all the baselines and the different data combinations. Basically, I won’t have any time to play around with two thirds of the things I would have liked to play around with, and that’s just sad. I guess I could theoretically extend my thesis until December, but I really would prefer to graduate in October.

I don’t want to drag this out, partly because I am looking forward to moving elsewhere. It has been a good learning experience to live here, but in the end, there are certain aspects of life here that I find incredibly exhausting. Bureaucracy is, of course, the main thing. It’s possible that I would become accustomed to it over time, and there are certainly aspects of life here that are wonderful, so I’m not totally against staying, but in any case, I would want to move out of Rovereto, which is simply too difficult to travel to/from.

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Light show on a building in Nancy.

The LCT meeting happened last month in Nancy, and just like last year, it was an absolute blast to meet so many awesome people. Nancy was practically impossible to get to from Rovereto, so I actually traveled back to Saarbrücken for the week. I met with my University of Saarland adviser there, to present to him the proposal for my master’s thesis. I had a lot of slides prepared on the math and the models and such, but, of course, he is an expert in my field, and so for those, he just said “skip it.” I was happy to hear that, because I didn’t want to talk about it anyway! Overall, I think the meeting went pretty well, because I was able to anticipate most of the questions that came up, and he did have some good advice for me as well. Apart from that, I got to see a bunch of folks from last year, which was of course the best part.

After that, I headed to Nancy for the LCT meeting. Although Nancy was nice, it didn’t compare to last year’s destination of Malta, of course. Also, unfortunately, we couldn’t all have a nice dinner together either, due to some organizational issues. But we still managed to hang out a lot. The city had a nice vibe, with plenty of buildings decorated in the art nouveau fashion. There was a river that we hung out at one of the evenings. They also had this awesome light show at around 11pm on the buildings in the main square. Actually, it was probably the coolest light show of this type that I’ve seen.

In any case, this year, the meeting was shorter. As a second year, I had to present a poster on my internship/thesis work. It wasn’t that great, because I don’t really have good results or conclusions to make from my thesis work, but it was still a good experience. I had to present the same poster at a mini-conference at work the next week, so I was happy to have the whole thing down pat by then. There was one pretty good invited speaker, and the others, I don’t know, because this time around, I had the good sense to sleep instead. However, I still got pretty sick at the end of the week. I guess travel, and late nights will do that for you. The worst part was that one of the days I was walking home, late at night, like around 2am, and suddenly, from a window above me, someone threw water, and it hit me. I got splashed with dirty who-knows-what water, out of a French window– just like in the movies, but in a bad way! Anyways, I spent the next week coughing and sneezing, but luckily got better in time to enjoy the next few weeks of summer.

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View of the Dolomites from Kolbenstein, a small town above Bolzano.

So then, apart from work, I’ve had a nice summer, full of aerial silks performances, and friends visiting. More friends are scheduled to visit soon, and I’m very much looking forward to that. The only trouble is that I haven’t had much time to travel to the places I would like to travel to, since every time friends visit, we go to the same big touristy places that they haven’t seen yet. Maybe it will be possible for me and my husband to plan something over a couple of weekends in the next month, but time is wearing thin to make plans; the rest of Italy is going on vacation in July and August, and things are basically getting booked out. In any case, I will be very busy with work, besides. So I’m not really optimistic about getting to see much more of Italy this summer, I’m afraid.

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Ducklings in Lago di Garda, at Malcesine.

Nevertheless, I’ve very much enjoyed spending time with friends! Last weekend, we went to Malcesine on Lago di Garda. The weather was lovely, so we walked around the town, and then rented some stand-up paddle boards. I managed to get on my feet on the thing a couple of times, but I found that controlling it, and especially, having any power to move against the wind and the waves, was pretty difficult while standing. I was able to move easily while standing on my knees though, and it still felt great to just be on the water. It reminded me of the times I used to go to the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Oregon. If I have a free day again this summer, I just might come back here.

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Little birds (swallows?) were swooping all around the castle in Malcesine.

Costs:

  • €225 – rent
  • €55 – internet
  • €85 – phone (for 2 months)
  • €320 – travel (including some tickets and food)
  • €260 – clothes (including new sandals)
  • €60 – medical expenses, including routine blood check for hypothyroidism levels
  • €8 – video games
  • Total: €1,013

Weeks 61 through 65

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This month has been all about hunkering down. My husband had to go back to the States for a bit while waiting on the stay permit process, but got to come back sooner than expected. In the meantime, school got busy, with tons of presentations and reports to do.

We both had a lot of good news in terms of work-related things, as well. For one, my husband’s gig is becoming salaried at the start of January. This is something he’s been working towards for a very long time, so we are both super excited. In addition, I have already started preliminary work on my internship (and hopefully master’s thesis) with FBK, a local research institute. This also becomes paid starting in January.

All of this is fantastic news, but it does mean I am about to become much busier than I have been. I may not have time to hike or loaf around as much as I have been. In the next two weeks, I also have to finish the last things left for my courses to get the last few credits I need. I have 3 presentations and 4 short reports to write up, and I have to study for a hard final in machine learning that will take place in January. I’m also headed back to the US for three weeks over the winter holidays, which I am really excited about. I can’t wait to see my family and hopefully many friends too!

In terms of exciting activities this month, I only went on one hike, but it was a breathtaking one. We went to Strada delle 52 Gallerie, just after the first snow. It was the longest hike I’ve done so far (6.5 hours and 12km I think), but it didn’t feel as difficult as some previous ones.  The hike snaked through some old tunnels built during WWI, up to the very top of the mountain. The views were spectacular, perhaps even more so with the snow. (I’m afraid these phone pics do it no justice though.) I look forward to returning another time, maybe in the spring.

By the way, the Christmas markets have also started up here. Rovereto has gone on some sort of fanatic Christmas spree: they spent over a week building wooden houses for the stalls, they brought in the most giant real tree I have ever seen, they put up projectors to light up the buildings with Christmas decor, they put up speakers playing Christmas music, they have live bands walking through the city on the weekends, and they have a red fucking carpet spread out through like half the city center. It feels really over-the-top for such a tiny town. In terms of the Christmas market itself, though, they don’t serve nearly as much hot spiced wine as they should, and they don’t pass out adorable mugs the way they did in Germany, which is a shame; however, the fried dough treats don’t disappoint.

Costs:

Splitting costs (and cooking duty) with a second person really helps.

  • €225 – rent
  • €22 – internet
  • €136 – utilities (electric/gas) including installation costs and stupid TV tax
  • €234 – groceries
  • €135 – dining out/ snacks at markets
  • €90 – last health insurance payment to AOK back in Germany (ugh)
  • €47 – phone
  • €16 – extra aerial silks days
  • €30 – fancy bike tire pump
  • €8 – misc for the apartment
  • Total: €943