Archives for the month of: July, 2017

We stayed with Margarete and Philipp in their newly reconstructed house and the weather stayed good for the week we were there. They are a short walk away from the centre of Scwetzingen and it’s amazing castle and vast and beautiful gardens. Maurice’s daughter in law Yuko and her parents were also visiting Heidelberg (only 20minutes away) so we picked them up and had a lovely day together. We had a brunch in Huben and Maurice and I ate for two days running at a Turkish place which had the freshest and tastiest food.

We again took secondary roads over to Claudia and Niels in the tiny but gorgeous town of Gappenach west of Koblenz. We met Claudia at the Ayurvedic centre in Kerala with her friend Melanie so she joined us for dinner one night. Claudia is a photographer but she and Niels open their Cafe-Kostbar on weekends and the odd other days for special functions. I was able to help out with a spot of waitressing when she had twenty ladies from the next village come for coffee/cake and drinks on the Monday. Claudia makes wonderful cakes, food and desserts and they have a lot of repeat customers from all over the place to sample her cooking.
Claudia took us also to an area where we left the car and walked for a couple of kilometres to come upon Bad Eltz, an 850 year old castle which still belongs to the same family. Unlike most Schlosses it lies in a valley surrounded by mountains and is a spectacular sight
when rounding the corner down below.

The long evenings were perfect and we could sit out in the cafe until after 10.30pm when it got dark. Sebastian, a very energetic Spanish neighbour kindly let us use a field next to the barn he was reconstructing to park the van and supplied us with electricity.
We met a very interesting character – Hartmut Wiesner an artist from Wilhelmshaven who was going to go with Niels to cycle around Belgium for four days. He is 73 years old with an 8year old and 3year old child as well as two older sons from another marriage.
He had fascinating stories from his travels all over the world.

The countryside around the whole area was undulating hills covered a patchwork of crops and forests. It looked all the more beautiful in the sunshine when we took all day to drive up to Celle where we camped for the night after the tom tom got us a little lost down another goat track. This time there were two very vicious dogs to greet me (on the other side of the fence) until their owner came and gave us directions to the campsite. In the morning we went into the old town of Celle which was full of nicely restored houses from the 1600’s. Maurice had a slight altercation with a rude woman who was parke behind the van who thought we should not be allowed into the town because of our size. Very timely a large semi trailer went by which doused her argument slightly but she made Maurice move the van so that she could leave – she had plenty of room and Maurice did ask her whether she had a driving licence as there was more than ample room for her to move her car. He always seems to encounter problems when I’m not around.

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We travelled through the beautiful mountain scenery from Garmisch and then along Lake Constance on the eastern side and then detoured to Salem to see where our old friend Margaret von Perger lived and taught in the school there. We continued on past the end of the Lake and around to the Gaienhofen Horn on the Untersee which is a part of the Rhein that flows into Lake Constance from the north west.
We met up with Maurice’s cousin Margarete and her husband Philipp who shares my birthday at the “Hirschen Horn” a beautiful hotel on the banks of the Untersee where we had terrific breakfasts and dinners and wonderful service. We had a lovely three days walking around the area and spent one day travelling from Gaienhofen on the ferry down the Rhein to Scaffhausen and then caught a bus and a train back via “Stein am Rhein” in a pocket of Switzerland on the north side of the Untersee. The weather was hot and humid, such a contrast to the last few years in Germany and last year in Switzerland but there was a nice breeze blowing when the ferry was travelling down and across the river to both banks to pick up more passengers. There were terrific storms with torrential rain on two nights which did clear the air the next day. The province around Lake Constance gave us through the hotel free transport passes for the days we were there and it was preferable to driving around ourselves and we could all enjoy the scenery. On the 10th July Maurice and I took all day to travel the backroads up to Schwetzingen. It was holiday season in Germany and there were many traffic hold ups, some for hours so we were glad to take the secondary roads which were not at all congested.

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We had been through the Brenner Pass a couple of times – once on the Autostrada and once on the secondary road so we decided to take another route up through the mountains and through South Tirol which was our favourite mountain and valley scenery. We felt as though we were on top of the world at the top of ‘Rombo Pass’or as the Austrians call it “Timmelsjoch-Hochalpenstrasse” where it had cooled to 9degrees – a bit chilly for us but the sun was out intermittently so the van was nice and warm. Maurice liked driving up and down the mountains
with scores of switchbacks except when an Italian driver (the Italians all drive on or over the white line) clipped our side mirror with a huge bang. Very luckily for us we had purchased mirror guards after we bought the van (new mirrors would have been 700pounds)so the bang just disloged the bottom mirror which we could push back in. I think the other car may have had a bit more damage but as there was nowhere to turn around we would never know.

When we arrived at “Camping Erlebnis Zugspitze” we had an uninterupted view of both the Zugspitze and Alpspitze although the top was covered in a bit of cloud. We were very blessed the next four days with perfect weather – 30ish degrees with blue skies. It was cool at night which made for good sleeping weather. A change from Italy where we had the air conditioner going at night.
The campsite was about ten minutes out of town in Grainau but we were given a bus pass to use while we were there which was very handy as we went into town every day and walked through the town and up into the mountains for some lovely walks. The sales were on in town so we took advantage of them. A great little roadside cafe called “Pano” served great coffee and drinks so we stopped there every day.

There were many hikers in town and more seemed to favour the mountains on the Garmisch side of town. Partenkirchen town has been preserved with it’s beautiful painted buildings whereas the former has been modernized to a large extent. I took a photo of Juwelier Stoekel in Garmisch. My mother’s first boyfriend about 80 years ago was the owner’s grandfather and it felt moving to sit across the road in a bakery which dated from 1930 and imagine the place such a long time ago. We even found the house where my mother had a flat on the first floor when she lived there from 1943 to 1948 after moving from Berlin.

It was hard to leave Garmisch on a picture postcard day but we were due near Lake Konstanz to meet up with Maurice’s cousin Margarete and her husband Philipp on the 7th July for a luxury weekend to celebrate my and Philipp’s birthdays. We had driven up the Swiss south side
of Lake Konstanz the previous year so this year we decided to take the secondary roads on the north side to Gaienhofen Horn on the Untersee where we were to stay.

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We changed our plans a little to be back for Aida in Verona on Friday so on Wednesday we left early and stopped to see Juliet’s tomb and to see the amazing frescos in the museum there. We then drove via Bergamo and had a look around the old town for a few hours before heading for Milan. The weather changed dramatically from 32degrees in Verona to 22degrees in Bergamo. We took the steep funicular up to the old town which was very atmospheric with beautiful architecture and lovely shops and restaurants. It took an hour in pouring rain to reach Camping Milano so we stayed put in the van for the rest of the afternoon and evening as the rain continued. At least it wasn’t cold.

We set off early from our good campsite to get the bus and then metro which arrived at the ‘Duomo’ right in the middle of town. The cathedral was very imposing and there were many tourists waiting in long lines to get in. We chose the visitor’s entrance or those wanting to pray where there was no queue so we went in and lit a couple of candles and were able to see the cathedral. Most cathedrals that require tickets allow you in if you are going to pray. The piazza is enormous and adjacent to the cathedral is the Galleria with all very high end shops like Louis Vuitton and Gucci. The structure itself is magnificent. We wandered down the Via Dante to the
Piazza Castello with it’s large tower and high walls and through to the beautiful enormous gardens behind the castello. The day was warm and we had no rain in the morning.

We stopped for a light lunch at the buzzing ‘Bar Mauro’ and then walked to the church of “Santa Maria delle Grazie” where Leonardo’s painting “The last Supper” is housed. We unfortunately did not know that tickets to see the painting had to be bought in advance so we left and did some retail therapy instead and walked around the interesting streets. We were luckily in a boutique when it started to hail and then rain very hard until there was a river running down the street so we waited out the storm until it was only
spitting with rain and made our way back to the Piazza del Duomo. I had spotted the “Aperol Terrazza” earlier in the day so we installed ourselves there overlooking the Duomo for me to enjoy a couple of Aperol Spritz’s euros 13 for the first one and euros 9 for the second one. Maurice had a couple of mocktails and enjoyed them. The storm and torrential rain was unusual for the time of year and we managed to get back to Camping Milano with only a sprinking of rain as we were walking back from the bus stop.
The transport system in Milan was excellent with buses every 10-15minutes and metro every few minutes.

There was heavy local police, carabinieri and military presence all over the centre of the city at the major tourists spots.

Across the Lombardy plains were widespread wheat, corn and rice fields. We took the secondary roads which made for a much more relaxed drive back from Milan.

We left Milan on the last day of June back to Verona to get to our campsite again and have a rest before going to the Arena for the performance of Aida which did not start until 9pm. We arrived at Marta’s spa to pick up the tickets (we had met her in India 2years before)she had for us at a discounted euros 20 each and then went back to our favourite ‘San Nicolo” bar for aperitifs and arrived an hour early to the Arena which was already filling up. The performance with four intervals continued until 1am and we were lucky to have been told to go across the park to the taxi rank where we managed to get one in 15minutes. It was quite cold by then and we were back in our van by 1.30am.
Aida was an amazing spectacle in such a wonderful setting. It was a modern adaptation with comic aspects as well and was an incredible feat in choreography and technical aspects. The orchestra and singers were wonderful and we were very glad that we changed our plans so that we could attend the performance.

After a necessary sleep in we headed on a clear blue sky day for Pieve di Ledro’s Camping Azzurro where we had stayed last year.
The secondary road wove through the mountains and large areas of vineyards and over the north side of Lake Garda to lake Pieve just to the west of Lake Garda. After the hot and humid weather in Verona the previous week, the mountains offered a much cooler 24 degrees and some spits of rain. We arrived in Ledro to a large contingency of cyclists who were competing in a triathlon the next day. A very loud party only started at 9.30pm which is one of the only drawbacks of travelling in Europe in Summer with all the events and school holidays and activities for children. The loud music ended at 11pm which was fine and that was the only disturbance we had so far this year. As we drove through the mountains the views were spectacular to the lakes below. Up into the Dolomites and on the way to Bolzano the fruit growing area was enough I think to feed all of Europe. We passed enormous sheds and thousands of packing cases in several areas as well as hectares of grapevines, a lot of which were trailed horizontally instead of vertically.

As we got closer to Bolzano most signs were in Italian and English and the storekeepers in Bolzano definately favoured speaking in German although we were still in Italy. It was 28 degrees when we arrived at our campsite for the night. We got an early start to park in town and have a short look around Bolzano which had beautifully decorated houses and buildings.

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We found a good camping supply shop just south of Florence and purchased a few items before driving the hour on to Lucca and our Camping
“La Valle” 4 kilometres from the centre of Lucca. It was a relatively new and very well laid out campsite complete with excellent facilities and a pool.
It was about a 25minute walk to the tiny station of Ripafratta and then only 7minutes by train into Lucca.
Lucca reminded us of the small village of Pingyao in China which is also a small walled city. We walked around the wall in Lucca in about an hour to get our bearings. Some of the wall dates back to the 9th century. Most of the wide walkway was lined with avenues of trees where people were walking or cycling. On our friend’s Vicky and Mark’s recommendation who have visited Lucca many times we had good aperitifs at “Santa Zita”,a delicous meal at “Da Pasquale” where we were given amuse bouche and unlimited bread and mineral water and delicious chocolates before we left. The locals were suffering being hotter than normal so early in the season but we were enjoying the heat.

After a couple of days we headed north to Rapallo along the Autostrada in the end after our Tom Tom tried to take us down some country roads which were 2metres wide and 2.30metres high (not for Van Mauriceson).
The seaside town of Rapallo has some interesting old buildings and is full of harbourside cafes and restaurants and is a starting point for boat trips up to Portofino, Cinque Terre and various other places along the Ligurian Riviera.
I asked a local to recommend a good fish restaurant and he kindly walked ten minutes with us showing us three of his favourite ones. The Italians are passionate about their food and it is a big part of their general converstation (whether they are men or women).
We had bought tickets on the ferry the previous day to take us to Portofino ( a place I had wanted to visit since seeing it in a brochure when I worked on the tours desk at Qantas in the 80’s). It a very reasonable fare euros 13 each return for the 1/2 hour trip each way. It was unfortunately a dull, cloudy day but at least there was no rain.

Portofino is a very picturesque small town built around a bay where a couple of very luxurious launches were moored. We climbed up to the church where we got a good view of the town from above. I had a cappuccino euros 7 which confirmed Portofino as a high category tourist destination! We decided after a couple of hours to return to Rapallo and have lunch at the recommended restaurant ‘Eden’. We thought that it would be hard pressed to surpass the delicious prawn tempura and spaghetti marinara that we had had at Orbetello but we were pleasantly surprised and enjoyed every morsel of our meals with a large amount of the freshest seafood and delicious basket of a variety of breads and it’s national award wining ‘Agazan’ Ligurian olive oil made from the ‘Taggiasca’ olive.

One sad aspect of so many places in Europe are the abandoned houses in villages and abandoned farmhouses and their land. In places like Roccamandolfi as the old people die their houses remain vacant because in most cases their offspring have moved into a city or off the mountain and down to a more level area without so many steps and with vehicular access.

Our next stop was to be Verona and we took the Autostrada so that we could stop in the city of Cremona famous for it’s ‘Torrone’ or nougat and it’s beautiful architecture. Cremona’s other claims to fame are it’s violin makers (still 140 in the city) and the ‘Tramezzino’ or soft white bread (no crust) sandwiches with various fillings. We sampled a couple tasty ones for lunch.
The hot and humid weather continued as we made our way to Verona and the amazing camping site of ‘Castel San Pietro’ built amid the old walls of the castle which was destroyed by the French centuries ago. The terrace of the campsite overlooked the city of Verona with the river ‘Adige’ winding around the old part of the city.

The ‘new’ Castel San Pietro which was only 100metres from the campsite had even better views of the city and 200 steps connected it to the road below and then a short walk over the bridge to the old town. We managed to ascend these steps a couple of times and then opted for the funicular which had only be reopened a month before, after having been in disuse since the 1940’s.
After wandering around the city it was a welcome respite from the steps. On Sunday the church bells started early and the city was overrun with tourists – foreign and local but on weekdays we could wander the streets admiring the beautiful architecture and piazzas without throngs of people especially in the early morning or later in the afternoon.

We visited the popular ‘Juliet’s balcony’ from below and the ‘Museum of the radio’ which was extremely interesting as well as Juliet’s tomb and a wonderful museum of Cavalcaselle’s frescos in the same complex. We had a coffee with Marta who we had met in India about 18months ago at the Ayurvedic centre. She part owned a very nice spa so Maurice had a hair cut and I had a spa treatment. She also had a couple of tickets for ‘Aida’ in the Arena of Verona which she couldn’t use so we bought them from her. We were given the tip to take a cushion as the marble heats up during the day and the steps are extremely hard.

We enjoyed a meal at the ‘Osteria dei Signori”. I had the spaghetti with shaved truffle which was delicious. Truffles seem to be used far more in the north. Specialites of Verona were Donkey and Horse meat dishes which we definately were not going to try.
We bought a lot of very tasty Summer fruits – peaches, nectarines and melons from markets in various towns.

I managed to have a few of my favourite Aperol Spritz’s and at ‘San Nicolo’ winebar they were very reasonable and the nice waitress opened another couple of red wines and gave me generous portions to taste. On the bar was more or less a meal with abundant nibbles to accompany the aperitifs. We wouldn’t get any of that in Australia.
Verona was one of our favourite Italian cities so far.

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