Valentine’s Day in Courmayeur to end the winter between adrenaline, taste and solidarity

Slalom in Courmayeur to spend these last weeks of winter in the enchanting scenery of Mont Blanc. The first event, twice good, starts tomorrow with the return to the Valle d’Aosta pearl of Chef in common , the social table of Courmayeur that sees master chefs involved in an important charity project that until February 17 offers eight dinners for 16 guests in a unique setting, the Council Chamber of the town of Courmayeur that turns into an exclusive restaurant wrapped in an enchanted forest.

The table has always been a place of sharing, exchange and comparison. Through food we share passions and emotions, knowledge and flavors, “because cooking is first of all a gesture of love”, as Massimo Bottura likes to call it, godfather of the first edition.

Love that in Courmayeur takes on a special meaning at the next party of lovers. Known above all for being the gateway to an iconic and spectacular territory such as that of the granitic Monte Bianco (the highest peak in Europe, 4810 meters) and a sports destination par excellence, it heats up in a particular way for San Valentino that is the winter patron of the town. Starting from next Wednesday, February 14th, in fact, with the sunny days that stretch and begin to light up the country (usually in the afternoon darkness during the winter) even in the afternoon, passing high above the summit of Crammont, Courmayeur offers to lovers a series of dedicated events.

What is more romantic than a picture in the snow to take a hug on the “selfie station” bench in the shape of a heart? Enjoying one of the theme desserts created for the occasion by the pasta factories of the center? And more passion in the themed parades of the folklore groups Badoche and Beuffons, typical of the tradition, in addition to the romantic proposals for two of shelters, hotels and restaurants.

Love and solidarity towards the children then season the “good” dinners on stage from tomorrow with the initiative Chef in common, whose proceeds will be donated to the association Dynamo Camp onlus that offers free recreational therapy programs to children and teenagers from 6 to 17 years old, suffering from serious and chronic diseases, their families and healthy brothers and sisters.

Guest chef of the 2018 edition is the Australian Dave Pynt of the barbecue restaurant of Singapore Burnt Ends among the 50 Best restaurants of Asia and winner of the “Chef’s Choice Award”: the waiting list to taste his specialties on the grill it’s a long month. Dave offers a balanced cuisine centered on cooking on the grill and in the wood oven, strongly convinced that the fire and smoke give a magical touch to food, an added value that can hardly be explained in words. In fact, in this edition of “Chef in common”, Pynt will valorize with its personal techniques the food and wine excellences of the territory provided by local producers, such as goat meat, trout, hazelnuts, vegetables accompanied by craft beers and bubbles.

Cycling along the disused railways: 5 itineraries in Italy

San Remo town and coast, italian riviera landscape, Liguria, Italy

The decommissioned railways in Italy are dozens. The train no longer passes over over 7,000 kilometers of tracks. However, more and more initiatives are being put in place to recover these assets and turn them into green tourism destinations . So far, the projects, realized or to be realized, concern about 1,300 km of disused railway line. In these places, where the train first whistled, today we hike or cycle.

There are many examples of railways turned into cycle paths. Among these there is the line that connected Spoleto to Norcia , in Umbria. The route is among the routes mentioned in the ‘ Atlas of travel along the disused railways, published in the autumn of 2017 by the State Railways. Closed in 1968, the railway that connected the two Umbrian towns was considered a small jewel of railway engineering. Along the route, nowadays dedicated to bicycle lovers, there are 19 tunnels and 24 bridges and viaducts.

From 2016, once a year on this circuit is organized Spoleto-Norcia Mountain Bike , an event open to anyone who loves to ride a bike. In fact, the routes are four and have different levels of difficulty. One of these, the Family , can also be done by children with their parents.

A shorter and less known route than Spoleto-Norcia is the one that connects Fiuggi to Paliano , in Lazio. The bike path traces a stretch of the Rome-Fiuggi-Alatri-Frosinone railway line and is part of the EuroVelo circuit , a network of about 70,000 km that allows you to discover Europe by riding on two wheels. The path winds, on a slope, between the white of the limestone rock walls and the green vegetation.

Some define it as the most beautiful cycle path in Lazio; there was, however, also those who complained that maintenance was scarce along the way . Other cyclists who have crossed the Fiuggi Paliano, however, recommend to follow it , even to enjoy a unique view, along a circuit that is far from the most frequented routes by those who love green tourism .

In Liguria, however, there is a cycle path, built on a former railway track, which runs along the sea. This is the western Ligurian cycle path . Born along the route of the San Lorenzo – Ospedaletti railway , it covers 24 of the 60 km that once were crossed by the tracks.

The Telegraph exalts the Via Francigena: “Tuscany is as beautiful as a photograph: Central Italy is full of treasures”

Country house in Val’Orcia (Tuscany). Italy, 2017. Landscape format.

“A land full of treasures”: this is how the Telegraph defines Central Italy in a long report explaining to Anglo-Saxon tourists how to enjoy a nice holiday on the Via Franchigena with their own bicycle. To convince Adam Ruck, journalist who mainly deals with travel, it is above all the natural beauties of the Peninsula, as well as the possibility to go mountain biking a route of almost one thousand kilometers that crosses as many centuries of human history. We do not struggle to understand why the English correspondent has been enchanted by it.

GOOGLE MAPS
From the hills of the Great St. Bernard to Rome, the Via Francigena was traced in 990 AD by the Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury and led the faithful on a pilgrimage to the Papal States, constituting for centuries an almost inevitable obligation for every Christian. Despite the passage of time, the route has preserved all its charm, also enchanting Adam Ruck, but he wanted to take a much shorter path than that of the pilgrims of the past, starting from Tuscany to head in the heart of Lazio.

The journalist has relied on a travel agency to let himself be immersed in the magic of the Via Francigena and in his article describes in detail every detail of the trip, from the equipment of the bike companions to the meals. Instead of the Alps, the group moved from San Gimignano: “Tuscany is as beautiful as a photograph”, the correspondent writes in what can be defined as a real travel diary. “The meadows are uncultivated and not yet dry, the spring fills the landscape with green and poppies.The cypress trees trace the road line and adorn the horizon like a Renaissance painting”. These are the words of a tourist in love.

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“Tuscany is full of wonders and our arrival in Siena is anticipated” continues Ruck in his story. “We have pushed our bikes on the most beautiful non-square in the world, piazza del Campo”. But the journey of the journalist and of the other cyclists has not stopped and, after the wonders of the UNESCO site of the Val d’Orcia , for Adam it’s time to enter Lazio. The Lake of Bolsena, for the journalist, is a “resplendent mirror”, while refreshing itself on Montefiascone’s belvedere becomes a real panacea.

Even if the holiday at the Via Francigena was not perfect – the correspondent, for example, felt a moment of discomfort when the carabinieri prevented the group from having lunch in the historic center of Viterbo -, the majesty of places like the Etruscan amphitheater of Sutri have repaid it all.

A RELAXED ATMOSPHERE

The city has suffered greatly from the clashes for independence, the subsequent defeat of the Indonesian army that was out of control, and the violent political tensions still present not too long ago. The buildings bombarded the city. Some colorful houses of the Portuguese colonization are still present.

At the moment the city is very quiet, we feel no danger even late at night and the atmosphere in the streets is frankly relaxed, no reason to worry.

On Sunday I go to the beach protected by a huge Christ savior on his hill. I meet naked torso soldiers in Rip-Curl shorts and the rifle slung over my shoulder.

STUCK IN THE VORTEX

Small depression

Here there are things to do: visit the villages in the mountains, see the beautiful island of Atauro, scuba diving etc …
But it is very hot, everything seems so expensive after Indonesia and the transport system is not really practical.
So in this hotel we are all caught up in Dili’s sluggish vortex.

While waiting for the Indonesian Embassy to renew my visa, I spend my days hanging out at the hotel, walking the streets of the city, going to the beach, and shopping. Nothing too tiring. My evenings are spent around a drink with the guys from the Backpacker hotel or exceptionally in a bar of expatriates who work here.

While I had to return September 11 permanently in France, the rebound of my personal life prompt me to cancel this return or rather to shift it to April 29, 2009 as originally planned. Finally not enchanted by this change of plan I sink a little more in the vortex of Dili. It is good in this hotel after all and the Indian restaurant next door has even delivered me directly to the hotel in the living room.
The calecon days of scratching my balls in front of the TV and drinking beer are rather depressing and go slowly.
10 days of vortex in Dili are enough for me, finally I decided to kick my ass and go away from here. I have a new Indonesian visa in my pocket. Once again I leave for Kupang where I am waiting for a plane to Sulawesi.

It’s a shame Timor-Leste looked like a beautiful country but I have to leave to escape the vortex. I’ll have to come back one day.

IN DILI, EAST TIMOR, THE MOST RECENT COUNTRY IN THE WORLD

East Timor or Timor Leste is a bizarre strange country that has just gained independence. I have to go there for visa reasons. I am told only bad things about this country still politically unstable and occupied by the UN forces. Only 4 tourists return by day. Come on, with me it will be 5! Here I am at the capital Dili.

WHAT IS EAST TIMOR?

East Timor or Timor Leste is the youngest country in the world. It is located on the “eastern” part of the island of Timor the other part is part of Indonesia.

It’s really different from Indonesia, you can not eat it the same way, people speak a lot of languages ​​but Tetoum is the official language. It looks like the Portuguese. And it is a Catholic country while Indonesia and majority Mulsulman.

Timor Leste was a Portuguese colony for 4 centuries and was then occupied by Indonesia for 25 years. He gained independence from Indonesia in 2002 alone.

But Indonesia has not easily accepted the situation and the withdrawal of Indonesian soldiers has been in a bloodbath. 25% of the population died there.

THERE ARE NOT MANY TOURISTS HERE

My hotel is run by an Australian. It’s quite like a youth hostel in Australia with the dormitory, the kitchen and the common room. There is even a small bar in a pretty outdoor courtyard with colorful lights.

Yes, there are very few tourists here but they are all in this hotel which is the only cheap hotel in the city and the atmosphere is nice.

Everyone here comes from far away and has some very interesting stories to tell. among them 3 travelers around the world are there, including 2 who travel by bike.

And then there are two others who have seized the opportunities of a country that is rebuilding itself to find a job. One as trainer to help a magazine to be created and the other was engaged by the UN to work on a website.

DILI OCCUPIED BY THE UN

The economy completely deregulated by the occupation of the UN

The number of foreigners working for the United Nations is staggering. 1 / 5th of the inhabitants at sight of nose. UN vehicles are ubiquitous on the streets.
In this very poor country, the economy revolves around them. There are supermarkets with all you can want. After Indonesia it’s a dream. The products are imported and the prices are higher than those of France sometimes even exaggerated (5 dollars pepper). UN guys are spending their huge salaries without counting. The locals assume that all the whites work for the UN which drives up the prices disproportionately for us poor tourists.

I can not help thinking that when the UN leaves, it will be a huge economic crisis for the country.

Toraja is a special place in Sulawesi and Indonesia

It’s still the season of funeral rites. The Torajas wait for the summer and have enough money to organize funerals. Before that, the dead are placed in the room reserved for them in the traditional house. Everything happens in 5 days and is very codified. Platforms have to be built around a central square to house the hundreds of guests but also for the day to follow the show.
I attend many of the ceremonies, families in traditional clothes welcome tourists and treat them as guests.

In the first days the families of guests are present and each one must bring pigs and buffaloes as an offering. Buffaloes are sacrificed in the central square. For the richest families it is sometimes a carnage of dozens of buffaloes. The smell of vicerals, blood, excrement and mud meles is not really good.
On the platforms have brought us, the, to eat and betel nuts for the older ones. These nuts make a juice that mark the teeth in red definitively, scary!

In addition to ceremonies, buffalo fights or roosters on which paris are organized.

On the last day, the dead man’s family sings and dances in a circle around the coffin. In the form of Toraja house. The strong men then carry him to the cemetery.
It’s a moment of joy. The spectators throw mud on the coffin and the carriers who shake the dead man with all their strength (he must be awakened). Everyone shouts, laughs and has fun, it’s the end.

I enjoy my last day to taste the local culinary specialty in my usual little restaurant. It’s meat, rice, coconut and funny black spices, all cooked over a wood fire in a bamboo tube. Its good!
A last goodbye to my scooter owner and his family who invited me several times to take the tea at home in the evening and I went away to the north. Direction Toggean Islands.

TORAJA COUNTRY AND ITS INCREDIBLE FUNERARY RITES

Another two days in Kupang waiting for my plane to Makassar, the capital of the very large island of Sulawesi is so strange. The wait goes well in the company of Sue, an Australian meeting in Dili with whom I visit around by scooter.

For me, Makassar is just a transit point. The city is huge and modern with shopping centers, Mc’Do and even Carrefour.
The very evening of my arrival I take a night bus which must take me to Ranteipao. It is very comfortable, in the European standards. It is surprising to see this type of bus in Indonesia, it’s even the first time I see one in fact.

At 6am I arrive at Ranteipao. A pete fart dances into the Homestay that indicates to him. The pete is a scooter taxi that is only found in Sulawesi with a small egg-shaped cabin at the front.
Ranteipao is a pretty rural town of 30000 inhabitants I think. But it is especially the capital of the country Tana Toraja. Here the Toraja maintains a very strong and lively culture.

At the bottom, I rent a scooter as usual. Everything is green and lush. I cross beautiful rice terraces where I observe the peasants wash and buffalo their buffaloes with love. Here buffaloes have a real cultural and symbolic value.
Many villages are more beautiful than the others, the countryside. They are essentially beautiful traditional Toraja houses in the form of boats still built today as they were centuries ago. The legend tells that the ancestors of the Torajas would have arrived in boats that they would have pulled in the grounds to make their houses.

It rains a lot here and when the sun breaks, the sounds and smells of nature, the lights, the little hill roads that overlook the rice fields and the incredible villages of another time … Everything combines to create an atmosphere relaxing of pure zenitude.

IN SULAWESI, LAKE PENDOLO AND THE SMALL PORT CITY OF AMPANA

In the direction of Togean Islands I stop at the edge of Lake Pendolo which makes me directly inside an Impressionist painting of Matisse. Another stop in the small port city of Ampana in the middle of Ramadan …

I take a good old Indonesian bus from Rantepao. I find a couple of French meeting in my little restaurant a few days earlier.

Julien and Doriane are institutes and the French system allows them to travel 6 months a year. With them I spend a few days traveling to the Toggean Islands north of Sulawesi. The road is long and we stop a day at the village of Pendolo. The evening is spent around a fire on the beach with Indonesians who eat their meal in the lake and sing like pans.
We get up very early to attend the sunrise. The sky is overcast and the landscape is worthy of an impressionist painting by Monnet.

Another bus day and a night in the city of Poso. The next morning at the reception of the hotel we exchange a few words with another Indonesian client. He offers us to take us to our next destination: Ampanna at 5am.
I spend a good part of the road to discuss in Indonesian and English with the businessman, dressed in jellaba and Muslim hat. We arrive without worries and thank our kind drivers. They send us a big smile: “Tida apa apa” (no problem).

Ampana is the small port city from which boats leave for the Toggean Islands. It’s Ramadan and it’s very hard to find food. Even non-Muslim restaurants close out of respect and no one smokes in the street.
In the city I meet some interesting personalities. I discuss with a policeman a weekend that shows me pictures of him posing with a gun like king of the trigger. I meet a group of shemales and finally in the hotel we spend part of the evening with a Indonesian decided to learn French with us.

The most hallucinating concentration of luminescent plankton

Couples are mostly here. Fortunately, I am very convincing and I can get everyone to party. Evening after night, the alcohol reserves are empty until exhaustion.
One evening not really sober around 2am, with the survivors of the evening, I go on the big pontoon and listen to Lami play the guitar.
The surface of the water sparkles with bright plankton. We jump on the spot. Our vibrations light up, a second, a large circle of bright light below us.
It’s incredible ! The concentration of plankton is huge! We repeat the experience a few times and finally we all throw ourselves in the water.
It’s millions of particles that light up with each of our movements. Like shooting stars we swim with a trail of light behind us and a halo around us. It is magic. I have never seen anything so beautiful to this day. The night after, the phenomenon is no longer there. It was unique!

 On this island, after more than a week together, I made good friends, the German Swiss, Christin and Mike, or Julien and Doriane, the couple of French teachers.I finally leave Kadidiri a little before the others, after a last party that includes everyone. These people and this place will miss me!