Today we said ‘au revoir’ to the farmhouse in Grimaud. We had spent 3 months there, and it was time to move on. As always, all our stuff fit into the car, but it was much tighter. We have accumulated ‘stuff’ – more clothes for cold weather, art supplies, books and notebooks, food staples for cooking, and we also have our winter gear for skiing in Austria. In December, Gigi travelled home with a suitcase full of Christmas gifts and returned to France with a full suitcase of our ski clothes. We also bought snow boots here for everyone. We were set to spend a week in the Alps.
Justin had his last group tennis lesson in the morning, and we picked him up and left straight from the courts. We had one other quick stop to say goodbye to the only friends we made in Grimaud, Anita and her two kids, and we were off.
The A8 eastbound has become very familiar to us and in a few hours we were in Italy on the Autostrada Fiori towards Genoa. This was the way we had taken to Lucca in October for our first trip to Italy. At Genoa, we turned east towards Venice. After less than an hour we were across the mountains and into the Po river valley. After driving through the Cote d’Azur and Liguria, the absolute flatness of the river plain was quite astonishing. The freeway also straightened out and became mostly 3 lanes with a constant 130 km/hr, which made driving much easier. When we crossed the Po River, we were all surprised that such a small river had created this expansive floodplain/valley. I wonder how big the Po was in times past, before the demands of agriculture and cities pumped away its water. When we passed through Verona, Jordan made the comment that ‘it looked like California.’ He was commenting on the 6-lane freeway, the concrete overpasses and modern office buildings flanking us. Funny, we are going to visit Verona later because it is a well-preserved historical city, but here we were seeing the modern Italy.
We ended the day’s journey in the city of Udine, which placed us about a 3-hour drive from Obertauern the next day. We stayed in a Best Western hotel outside the town center for easy freeway access and gated parking since our car was packed with all our stuff. For dinner the clerk recommended a pizza restaurant 2 blocks away next to a VW dealership. The neighborhood was definitely drab, and we doubted the restaurant would be any good. How wrong we were. The place had a modern interior and was packed on a Wednesday night, of course only with locals. It was called ‘Anconadue.’ We had the best wood fired pizza! Justin still claimed that Speederia pizza was better. He always does. Apparently, to him the fresh Italian ricotta cheese on this pizza did not match the flavor of the ricotta on Spederia’s Whitestone pizza. Jordan and I disagreed, this pizza was exceptional.
The next morning we headed north through a fog. It felt like driving on HWY 80 in the winter with the Tule fog. The land was still completely flat. Justin kept asking where the Alps were. Maybe 20 minutes out of Udine, with the land still flat, we could discern mountains through the fog. The southern front guard of the Alps jutted like teeth from the gums of the plain. They were steely grey, as the mountainsides were steep to the point of being cliff-like, and there was very little soil on them for trees to grow. We entered a river valley with a wide, gravelly floodplain. The river water was a milky aquamarine. This alpine landscape was all so sudden; there was absolutely no prelude of rolling hills, and with the fog we were in there was no chance to see it from a distance. The freeway was beautiful and looked almost new. We travelled through several tunnels, and until we reached Villach, we had the northbound lanes all to ourselves. At Spittle an der Drau, there was still no snow on the ground, and we were only 40 minutes away from Obertauern. We could see snow on the mountain peaks, but at the moment I was wondering what kind of snow conditions we would find in Obertauern. What a difference we found in a short time. We climbed 1000 meters (3200 feet) from Spittal to Obertauern and found ourselves in a winter wonderland. We checked in at the Aparthotel Steinadler before dark and got our ski rentals squared away for the next day. Two gondola lifts are 150 meters from our apartment. We were going to ski – and snowboard (Justin) – in the Austrian Alps tomorrow.