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Report 2015: Alpine Adventures and Other Travels in the Rhone, Rhin and Rhön

By wendy lynn from California USA, Summer 2012

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Page 5 of 21: Valle D'Aosta: Donnas, Aosta and Two Things Lost

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Joe and Julia in Aosta, Italy

We woke up at 8am. Completely over jet lag! The day looks fantastic. Donnas is situated in a picturesque valley (Valle D'Aosta) with beautiful, jagged Alps on either side.

The Valle D'Aosta is a mountainous region in north-western Italy bordered by Rhône-Alpes area of France to the west, Switzerland to the north and Piedmont area of Italy to the south and east. The pale and shallow Dora Baltea River runs through the middle of the valley.

Breakfast at La Maison des Vignernons is served in the charming back courtyard. The breakfast is a bit disappointing after the last two places, but the setting in the garden is nice. There's local bread, pane negro, cheese, a few meager slices of meat, local cakes (that the kids didn't like) and yogurt. Breakfast is served by Lea at your table, rather than buffet style, which means no return visits for second portions.

We head first for Fort di Bard, ten minutes away and strategically placed on a rock cliff above the narrowest part of valley with the river running below. This is where the Italians kept Napoleon, with a full army, at bay for two weeks. There are numerous funivias (cable cars) that take you up to the Fort. There are a few people taking a look but the place is definitely not crowded.

We take a funivia to the next level of the fort where we buy tickets for the Museum des Alpes, not really knowing what the museum is. The museum begins with an artsy, modern installation, then shows the various aspects of the Alpine landscape as well as Alpine civilization over time, ending with the transformation into the modern era. We find the museum a bit odd at times, but also interesting.

We walk around the fort for awhile and eventually take the long walking path (rather than the funivia) down to the bottom where we can visit the medieval village that sits immediately below the Fort. Another charming, stone town! More artesian wells and a few places where we can buy postcards.

As we stop for a break. Julia loses her wallet after allowing Margaret to play with it while we rested on a bench. The wallet will be the first thing lost on this day. Later, Lea will call the Fort di Bard to see if they found it. We try to tell her the wallet was lost outside a restaurant in the small medieval town beneath the Fort, but the language barrier prevents any real understanding. We know that the wallet -- and Julia's 60 dollars -- are gone forever. Julia is quite sad.

The day is hot but sunny and clear with gorgeous blue skies. Off to castles or should we check out the view from a mountain top? The sky is so clear, we opt for the mountains. In retrospect, we wished we had driven to the relatively close Matterhorn, but instead we head for the closer and hopefully easier Pila, near the city of Aosta. But it's unusually hard to find Pila's parking area. The signage isn't the best in Valle d'Aosta -- and we keep wasting time going in circles. We eventually figure it out and buy tickets that take us first on a cable car to Pila and then on an open ski lift to Chamole.

Julia has a fear of heights and becomes a bit stressed. Plus, we are so cold! We didn't plan this out ahead of time and hadn't brought coats. The altitude makes a huge difference in the temperature, even in summer. At the top, Joe takes the little kids on a walk to a lake. Mom and Julia sit in a restaurant and enjoy the strange and cool cloud formations. Julia has excellent lasagna made with local fontina cheese and ham -- no red sauce. It feels like autumn at a ski lodge up here, even though it's the height of summer. The rest of the family meets us for a drink and then we head down into warmth.

We next decide to explore nearby Aosta, a decent sized city that looks promising. Aosta is an ancient Roman city located strategically at the conjunction of two valleys. It's an atmospheric town with a vibrant shopping district. Hardly any non-Italian tourists here, although we do spot one tourist train. But overall, it's easy to park and we set off to see some of the Roman ruins. We visit a cool church with a crypt where we can see ancient Roman mosaics under the church floor. Alex and Margaret get in trouble for running in church.

We meander through the long shopping area and have the lowest point of our trip. We lose Margaret.

This is how it happened. Mom and Julia have Margaret and stop to look at a shop window. Margaret wants to walk up to meet Dad and Alex; they are only ten feet ahead. Mom sees Margaret begin to walk toward Dad and then turns again to look at the shop window. But the boys don't know Margaret is coming, and Margaret somehow misses them and continues walking down the street.

After just a few moments, Mom turns around and asks Dad where Margaret is. No one knows. A terrible feeling. A sinking, sick stomach kind of feeling. We run ahead, run back, call her name. She's nowhere and panic sets in.

A nice shop owner notices our distress and tells Wendy the town is very safe and she's probably just lost, but offers to call the police. He suggests looking "just a bit longer." A small crowd gathers. A British couple ask what she looks like and say they will keep a look out as they walk down the street. Mom feels as though she is in a movie.

We continue running ahead while Joe screams Margaret's name. Ultimately, the British couple find her first. Margaret has heard Joe calling her name and she apparently wimpers "Daddy." When the British couple see her crying and ask her whether she is Margaret, they begin to walk back toward us. Mom was about to walk in another direction but Alex spies them walking back to us. He says, "Mom. I think I see Margaret!"

Mom runs ahead and gathers Margaret in her arms. Mom, Julia and Margaret dissolve into tears. The shop owner offers the kids water and candy. Mom hugs Margaret tight and then hugs the shop owner. Terrible moments and we are so relieved. We try to recover and grab a gelato and sit down at a cafe for drinks. Lemonade soda is a big bit. Mom and Dad need something stronger.

We walk some more and see the other Aosta ruins. The theatre in particular, is quite interesting. We head back for Donnas, still feeling a bit odd after the afternoon.

We need euros and dinner. The kids want pizza and we're getting a bit desperate. Wendy spots "New York Pizza" but Joe is skeptical since by American standard this place looks a bit sketchy. But Wendy has faith in Italy, and Donnas is definitely not a tourist trap kind of town. So despite the rundown exterior and cheesy name (no pun intended), the place must cater to locals.

Wendy grabs some euros from a bank and the family walks to the balcony and finds a table. The weather is warm and outdoor seating is great. Pizzas are large and €7 each. We over order and get one Calamari pizza, a Classico (fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes), one Lardo (a local specialty), and one four-cheese (the fourth cheese is a local fontina.) Alex loves his calamari pizza, although it's not the family's favorite. They are all good, though, and just what we wanted. Local red wine hits the spot. We are all feeling grateful and happy to be together.

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