Lugano & Cinque Terre
This time we didn't go to far away continents, but we stayed in Europe and drove via Switzerland to Italy. Our first night we spent in the very nice hotel Nidwaldnerhof in Beckenried at the Vierwaltstättersee (Lake Lucerne). The hotel is directly at the lake, has a wonderful view over it and serves a great dinner, either in the restaurant and/or on the terrace, depending on the weather.
From Beckenried we drove to the very conveniently located hotel Walter au Lac in Lugano, a beautiful city at lake Lugano in the south of Switzerland, north of Milan. Lugano has an old, sometimes steep city center with many stairs, and a nice boulevard. There are also many famous and expensive shops. Because Jaap has problems with walking, he used a small foldable bike. The steep streets forced him to use the brakes a lot :-)
Over the Roman Via Aurelia we drove along the Italian coast to the Cinque Terre, five small areas or villages between Genoa and La Spezia. The villages can best be reached by train using a Cinque Terre one or two day rail pass. The pass can be bought at the railway stations and at some hotels. We stayed in the friendly hotel Palace in Levanto and from there we took a train first to the most far away villages Riomaggiore, Manarola and less touristic Corniglia. To reach the villages you have to walk through a long tunnel or take a bus to the center. These buses are free with a rail way pass. The villages are built against the hill and consist of colourful houses, lots of boats and sometimes a very tiny beach. Streets are narrow and often steep. The villages and the trains are very crowded most of the times, so it is wise to start a visit as early as possible.
On our second day in the Cinque Terre we saw the villages of Vernazza and Monterosso. Especially the last one is much bigger than the others, even has a large beach, and is more flat. But also in these villages you will find a lot of pastel painted houses. And of course many tourists though you won't say so on our pictures.
The province of Tuscany is famous for its old and beautiful cities and for its tasty food. And Pisa of course for its leaning tower. But Pisa has more to offer, e.g. nice squares like Piazza Garibaldi and Piazza dei Cavalieri with the nice Palazzo dell'Orologio and the Palazzo dei Cavalieri.
The leaning tower or Torre Pendente is leaning about 40 degrees and is the cathedral's bell tower. After many years of restoration the tower is nowadays open to the public again. The cathedral or Duomo is very impressive and has a beautiful, unusual round baptistry. All these buildings are on the Piazza dei Miracoli, one of the most beautiful squares of the world according to the Pisans. As to the earlier mentioned buildings we completely agree.
From Pisa to the walled, old Etruscan city of Lucca is only a short drive. Try to get a hotel inside the walls, like Albergo Diana. This hotel is very near the white cathedral and Piazza San Martino, has it own parking places and has nice rooms, especially in the annex. If you are by car and have a reservation it is allowed to enter the Traffico Limitato or Traffico Vietato area. We liked the small hotel terrace very much and it was nice to sit there to take a little rest.
All Lucca's places of interest inside the walls are on walking distance and can easily be visited in one or two days. The narrow streets, the gates, the small canal and the circular Piazza Anfiteatro are all definitely worth a visit. There are a lot of lovely restaurants on this square where you can have a nice (pasta) dinner. The square is very close to the medieval main street, the Via Fillungo.
And don't forget to make a stroll over the walls, e.g. from the Porta San Pietro, which is very near the hotel Diana. From the wall there are nice views over the inner and outer parts of the city. Over the wall it is possible to walk all around the old city center, whereas at several places there are ways to come down to the common streets.
We preferred to stay on one place during our stay in central Tuscany and stayed in the nice Park hotel Chianti. Florence can be reached in about half an hour by bus if you like and Siena is only 45 minutes by car away. Besides the Chianti area is just "around the corner".
The village of San Gimignano is also nearby and attracts a lot of tourists. It is just a small, walled, once Etruscan village, and it is famous for its towers. Information differs on the amount of towers; nowadays there are 7 to 13 depending on the travel guide you use. Once there were even 72 towers. The towers are high and impressive. In early morning the Piazza della Cisterna and the Piazza del Duomo are still rather quiet, but later on the day the streets are crowded with people.
Florence, on the banks of the river Arno, is a nice and of course old city. From the view point at Piazza Michelangelo the view over the city, the bridge and the Duomo is splendid. We parked our car a bit far away from the Ponte Vecchio and therefore had a splendid and again and again closer view on this bridge.
Once reached the bridge the city center is nearby. The famous Uffizi museum has a copy of Michelangelo's statue of David in front of the entrance. At this Piazza della Signoria there are many other statues. Where-ever you walk in Florence it is like an open air museum. The Duomo is impressive but is on a relatively small square, so it is difficult to see the whole building. The baptistry has eight corners and stands very close to the entrance of the cathedral. If you like to get rid of the crowds, go to the Franciscan Basilica di Santa Croce at the east side of the city center. It is a very nice church and the area is much more quiet.
Siena is another walled city, perhaps of Etruscan origin. To be certain that you can leave your car somewhere it is wise to be early in Siena. We were lucky and could park our car near one of the main gates. We walked over the Via del Camollia down to the center. Siena has a medieval center with narrow streets and nice squares. People were exercising with drums and flags for the twice-yearly festival, Il Palio, that was held on 2nd July this year. At Piazza Tolomei we saw a statue of the wolf feeding the twins Romulus and Remus, which is a symbol for Siena as it is for Rome.
In the middle of town is the huge shell-shaped square, Piazza del Campo, that can be reached from the north going down the stairs. The square has lots of restaurants and many people like to relax either there with a cup of espresso or cappuccino or to sit on the square itself after a busy day in the city.
The gothic Duomo at the large Piazza del Duomo is one of the nicest cathedrals we have seen this holiday. It also has a huge campanile or bell tower made of black and white marble. The interior of the cathedral has a beautiful marble floor with nice inlaid paintings. The outside of the cathedral has many fresco's and ornaments.
From Siena we drove to close by Monteriggioni. It isn't a real village, more a fortress with more or less two parallel streets, a few connecting alleys and a square, but it is a very nice place to visit, to have lunch or to make a short walk over the walls. It is clearly signposted at the streets from Siena, but isn't mentioned in the Italy Lonely Planet we have. For us it was a nice and quiet place after the crowds of Siena around noon.
To have been in Tuscany without having visited the Chianti area would be a shame. The nature is beautiful and for a very early wine tasting you can go to Greve in Chianti. For us 10.30 hours was a bit too early. We visited many other little places and finally had a lovely and very tasty lunch at the agriturismo Villa Curina. Good food, nice relaxing music, great atmosphere and very kind service. Really a place to remember and to recommend.
Via Cassia & Bolsena
The old Roman road from Florence to Rome was and is named the Via Cassia. From Siena it is easy to follow along small and old, walled villages like Buonconvento and San Quirico d'Orcia. We were not in a hurry and didn't want or need to take the highway, so the Via Cassia was a fine way to go south for us. The road leads all the way to Bolsena and further to Rome.
Bolsena at Lake Bolsena, west of Orvieto and north of Viterbo, is not known to many people though the city is really interesting. The view over the city and the castle, the castle itself and the upper part of the town are beautiful. A tour around Lago di Bolsena is interesting too. At the west side the lake is more accessible with small public beaches and at the south side there is Montefiascone, more or less famous for its view on three small islands in the lake and for its Est! Est! Est! wine.
When we entered Rome it was amazingly quiet. It was Ascension Day, but we couldn't believe that this was the reason. Around the Via Cavour, however, it was much more crowded with people, police and cars and we really had problems to reach our hotel Colosseum, between Via Cavour and Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore. Later that day we learned that it was some kind of Liberation Day and that many streets in the center were only free to pedestrians, that many VIP's were in town and that therefore the rest of town was so peaceful. Our car was even one of the very few in Via Cavour that evening.
The following day everything was back to normal. With our Roma pass, which is available through the Tabacchi shops, we could enter the Colosseum via a special gate without spending much time in waiting lines. If this monument is one of the first two visited museums or archaeological sites it is even free with this card. For the other monuments there is a reduction. Also the public transport is free, though not the hop-on hop-off busses. These busses are handy to go all around the center and they stop near most of the places of interest. There are many companies and only bus 110 gives a 15% discount on a one-day pass. Three-day tickets are also available. Near the Colosseum and the Forum Romanum is the old Roman Arch of Constantine.
We took a bus from the Colosseum via Vatican City to the Piazza Venezia with the huge, white Palazzo Venezia and the statue of Victor Emanuel. From there we walked/cycled to many interesting places like the Pantheon with its hole in the roof, the Trevi fountain and the Spanish steps. It was quite a walk, but the hop-on hop-off bus doesn't go there since the streets are too narrow and the crowds too thick. Piazza Navona at the contrary is large and has beautiful fountains, but the restaurants and bars are extremely expensive, even to Roman standards.
On our third day we visited Vatican City with the huge St. Peter's basilica. We were there rather early, 09.30 hours, but even then the line to enter the basilica was so long that it would take more than an hour to get in. We decided not to do so and to see the basilica only from the outside. We didn't go to the Sistine chapel and the museums, but if you have time and energy (it is a very long walk) try to go there.
The Swiss guards are the men who protect the pope since centuries and they are very proud on their archaic costumes. Don't think that they are comic or show people; the selection is very hard and they are highly trained soldiers. Castel Sant'Angelo had many functions in the past; mausoleum, fortress and museum. Between the Vatican palaces and the fortress is a wall and a passageway so in former days the popes could escape to the fortress whenever necessary. The view on the river Tiber near the Castel is very nice.
Trastevere is a special part of Rome. As the name already mentions, this part of the city is at the other side of the river Tiber. There are many narrow streets, squares and a lot of tiny restaurants. In one of them we had a lovely gamba meal.
The Palatine hill is the founding place of Rome. In those early days of Rome wealthy Romans built their houses here, one of them being emperor Augustus. Unfortunately most of the houses and buildings are ruins nowadays. Here and there we had to climb some stairs and that was difficult for Jaap and his bike. But it was worth the trouble.
The Forum Romanum is in the valley between the Palatine and Capitoline hills. It was the economical, political and religious center of old Rome. The streets are mostly too crowded and the stones are far from each other which makes walking difficult. Many buildings are ruins here too, but some remains can still be recognized, like the temple of Vesta and the statues of the virgins in the House of the Vestal virgins. When you leave the Forum through the exit near the Colosseum you will pass the white marble Arch of Titus.
On our way to Venice we visited the birth place of St. Francis of Assisi. A nice old city in Umbria. The Basilica is standing high up the hill. Downtown at the Piazza del Comune is the Temple of Minerva, now a church but once a Roman temple.
We stayed in the lovely agriturismo Oasi Verde Mengara in Gubbio where we got a nice room with views over the Umbrian fields. There is a nice swimming pool and a good restaurant where we had a nice dinner. From the west it is about 10 km before you reach Gubbio.
Along the Adriatic coast we drove to Mestre, north of Venice, where we had a lovely time in the park hotel Ai Pini. The hotel in situated in a park area, is close to the highway and the bus to Venice stops in front of the hotel and will bring you to the city in about 25 minutes, depending on the traffic.
Since it was still early we took such a bus and in Venice at the Piazzale Roma we changed our vouchers for the Venice Connected transportation cards into real tickets, so we could jump for free on every waterbus we liked. We thought we would go through the Canal Grande, but we took another waterbus that crossed the much larger canals between the main part of the city and the smaller Isola della Giudecca. The waterbus made many stops and Zattere is one of them, a lovely quiet place in busy Venice. After a lunch at the waterfront we went on by direct waterbus to the stop near Piazza San Marco. From the bus we had a nice view on the Campanile, the bell tower opposite of the San Marco Basilica.
Due to some kind of silly "art festival" the Bridge of Sighs was wrapped in blue plastic. Horrible. Also many other buildings were being restored. Luckily there are still gondolas going to and over the Canal Grande and the splendid basilica of San Marco is (still) free of "art" litter.
The next day the weather was cloudy and it was a bit chilly. No more blue skies but dark clouds. Nevertheless we decided to rent a gondola and let us peddle over the Grand Canal and the smaller ones. It is expensive but we had a great time. We crossed the Rialto bridge, saw the house where Marco Polo was born and the house where Casanova lived. But that is all a long time ago. History and modern times are now going hand in hand, whether you are a business man of a gondolier :-)
erona and Lake Garda
From Venice to Verona is about two hours drive. In Verona you find one of the few still standing Roman arenas. In the pink arena every year performances of some of the most popular operas of e.g. Verdi, Rossini or Puccini are held. Verona is also well-known because of Shakespeare's story about Romeo and Juliet, the famous young couple that gave their life for eternal love. People believe that Juliet's balcony still exists and it is near the Piazza delle Erbe. The Piazza delle Erbe used to be the Roman forum, but now is the busy heart of town with a day market, some nice palaces and houses. And if you see the kind of clouds we saw at Piazza delle Erbe, hurry to a dry place, since it will start to rain heavily.
Lake Garda is a very nostalgic place for me. I often used to go there on holiday with my parents when I was young. This time Jaap and I stayed in hotel Du Parc in Colombare, a suburb of the peninsula of Sirmione. The hotel has a shuttle service to Sirmione itself. This lovely village has a castle in front of which lemons and chilies are sold if weather is permitting, nice narrow streets and the lovely Piazza Carduzzi where we had a lunch with orange Spritz Aperol, chips and olives. This also is the place where you can catch a ferry across the lake.
A tour along the lake takes a lot of time, since the road is only two lanes wide, the mountains are close and there is a lot of traffic. In Porto di Brenzone I immediately recognized the house where I stayed with my parents and grandparents when I was five. The little port was more or less the same as I remembered. Remarkable that some things hardly change.
On our way back to the Netherlands we visited some more places where I/we have been in the past. First we drove to Lago di Caldenazzo and Calceranica, where my parents and I camped at camping Fleiola for the very first time in 1963. The lake still is quiet and relaxing. Quite a difference compared to Lago di Garda. And camping Fleiola, just after the railway bridge, still exists.
Our overnight stay in Vipiteno in the former Austrian part of Italy was the last one in this country. The Mondschein hotel was very close to the village center where we saw the funny Zwölfterturm.
Westendorf, the village where we spent so many winter holidays, was our last stop. Pension Hirzingerhof is a nice place to be, though there are many nice places in the village. From the balcony of the pension we had a nice view on the green fields of the Alpenrose or at the village and the Hohe Salve. A visit without a ride in the gondola up to the Talkaser, where we saw some hang gliders, wouldn't have be complete. To us Westendorf still is a nice village, especially in the winter, but also in summer, though it then is much less touristic than in winter time.
A lovely and very interesting holiday is over again. We already look forward to the next one :-)
26 July 2011
Marion & Jaap Fahrenfort