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Cortina and Florence, Italy

Date: Feb 1-12, 2014
Trip Leader: Steven Krapes
Trip Assistant: Eric Oberer

(Pictures are clickable for high-res images)

The HSC trip was popular from the start, quickly selling out with 60 people signed up. And it proved to be all that anyone could have hoped for. Virtually everything associated with the trip was flawless. All flights and transportation were on time, no luggage was lost or delayed and no one sustained injuries. And there was no lack of snow in Cortina.


The trip began at a civilized hour with an early evening flight out of JFK with the usual available bus pickup from Piscataway NJ. The flight to Venice with connection through Paris went smoothly with the entire group making it through the maze of corridors, passport control, security and the like at Charles de Gaulle airport for the connecting flight to Venice. Our bus pickup in Venice awaited us and the trip starting in the rain had turned to snow by the time we reached Cortina. And snow it was, lots of it, a fresh 4 ˝ feet two days prior to our arrival with yet more prior to that. Reaching Cortina mid-afternoon, we all got expeditiously checked into our Concordia Parc Hotel rooms and most set out to pick-up our discount reserved rental skis at the nearby Snow Service shop in time to be back for our evening welcome party which featured some very nice local wines. Our first dinner at the hotel was outstanding and set the standard for the high level of cuisine and service on succeeding evenings.

  

Our first ski day began Monday morning after a plentiful breakfast buffet. Now we learned that our skiing choices were limited due to the heavy snow fall which was still continuing, closing most of the higher areas due to blocked lifts and avalanche danger. Virtually all skiing that first day was at Socrepes, a short bus ride from Cortina. The snow conditions were excellent, but the visibility quite limited affording no views of the surrounding mountains. By now the true extent of the incredible snow fall had become apparent; in Cortina, the Italian army had been mobilized to clear streets and walks and shovel roofs. It was truly a winter wonderland. Some might have felt it was too much snow, but as skiers, we knew better as there is no such thing as too much snow. Some began exploring Cortina which had much to offer, wonderful patisseries, coffee shops, and bars in addition to incredible shopping opportunities including the Cooperative (a multi-floor department store) which was immediately adjacent to our hotel. By Wednesday the snow was letting up and we caught our first fleeting glimpses of the majestic Dolomites surrounding us on all sides.

As the week continued more areas opened, Faloria and Rio Gere were popular destinations reachable by walking to the cable car from our hotel. Now the Dolomites were revealing themselves in all their glory from every vantage point in the town and on the slopes. It was as if their true splendor had been concealed, only to be exposed as a reward for our patience and perseverance. Towards the end of the week more areas opened including Cinque Torri, a fifty minute bus ride from Cortina. The name means “Five Towers” for the magnificent chimney like rock outcroppings which dominate the area. This is about as far afield as most got, as the snow and avalanche conditions precluded reaching Lagazoui, Alta Badia and the Sella Ronda. Ah well, we have to leave something for the next trip.



As the week in Cortina progressed, some spent a day walking and hiking around Cortina or took a one day side trip to a Venetian winery, and others traveled to Venice for a day, all with good reports of a great outing. By week’s end the army had made great progress in snow clearing operations, but not before one evening at dinner in our hotel when an avalanche of snow from the roof of an adjacent building came crashing through our dining room window. Fortunately no one was seated in the area, and other than a mess of snow and glass on the dining room floor, no real harm was done. Every evening, the hotel had a reduced price “happy hour” for us before dinner and the bar and comfortable lounges were a great place to reminisce about the day’s activities and exploits. By the end of the week it was with heavy heart, but great anticipation that we packed for our Sunday morning departure by bus to Florence.


We reached Florence late that afternoon and checked into our comfortable rooms at the Hotel Athenaeum located within walking distance of virtually all the sights in this historic city. Many took the evening to view Michelangelo’s masterpiece “David” (and other “minor” assorted works) at the Galleria dell'Accademia. Click here for more info on Michelangelo and his "David". The following morning, after another great breakfast buffet, most set off on the included morning guided walking tour of Florence sights. Our guide was outstanding, not only covering most of the important historical sights, but also giving a passionate lesson conveying what it was like to live in Florence during the renaissance when the city was the second largest in Europe and its capital of culture and the arts. After the tour folks went to various open museums (most major museums are closed Monday), churches, shopping or eating. The restaurants in Florence were numerous, varied and virtually all provided great dining at all price levels.
 

  

In the evening seeing the magnificent Duomo, its marble glowing and the surrounding square lit up with the moon flitting between the clouds provided a sight not to be forgotten. By Tuesday, many were off to tour the Uffizi Gallery or the Pitti Palace (or both for those who had the stamina) neither of which could be seen thoroughly in a day. Others simply wandered the streets of historic Florence, soaking up the architecture, the squares, churches or shops (not neglecting to stop to eat or drink at the numerous coffee shops, pizzerias, and patisseries). Some intrepid souls climbed the 463 steps leading to the top of the Duomo for a magnificent view of Florence. By Wednesday morning, the group assembled for the flight back to JFK (again connecting through Paris). The return trip was perfect until Wednesday evening when our bus reached the Piscataway Ericsson parking lot where we discovered our cars were entombed in snow and ice accumulated from storms during our absence. Where was the Italian Army now that we needed them?


 

Steve and Eric would like to thank everyone for being such a great group and making it a memorable trip for all.  The abundance of smiling and laughter by everyone on the trip was reassuring that the Club had yet another spectacular adventure.

 

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