A tunnel, a dam, and an Italian restaurant

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Christian and Janine took us for dinner to a restaurant in the most unexpected of places.  You would never find it if you didn’t have inside knowledge…  Just drive through this one-lane tunnel.

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And park your car.  Then walk across this dam (the dam is Swiss and the lake is Italian)…..

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That is the restaurant across the lake to the left of the Swiss flag.  In Italy.  It felt like a covert mission.

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A family-run Italian trattoria which is remote and has incredible views.  Where you just sit and eat for three or four or five hours.

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The grandson of the owner walked us through the kitchen to go outside and look at the viper they had found.   Mum, dad, the kids, the aunties and uncles were all working away in the kitchen.

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Where you scour the countryside for deer or mountain goats…. and watch the interesting characters that come to this gem of a place.

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Olives, antipasti (cured meat and cheese), bread, il primo (the first course which was pasta), il secondo (the second course which was slow cooked beef and vegetables) and il dolce (dessert).  Champagne, red wine, and to finish arancello (which is the orange version of limoncello and is delicious).  The food, the company and the location were excellent.

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Then, after many hours, we walked back to the dam to go home.

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And enjoyed the beautiful sight of the moonlight on the water, framed by the lovely Swiss and Italian mountains.  Not just another night out.  This is living.

Sirmione

DSC_0507Sirmione is at the tip of a peninsula that juts out into Lake Garda.  At the very tip we headed to the Roman ruins.

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This castle had military importance in days gone by because of its strategic position at the southern end of the lake.   It is worth a visit for the views from the top alone.

DSC_0516And I especially loved the finish on the torretta (or turrets).

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From the top of the castle you can see other borders of its walls which would have enclosed a small village.  Now there are many shops and restaurants here.

DSC_0562There are also small areas of beach, but even on such a nice day the water was too cold for us!

DSC_0580The lake is incredibly clear.  It was so clean and inviting.

DSC_0588We walked along the lake and then followed some of the small streets back through the village.  There was a vintage car rally in progress and I definitely would have liked to bring the red one home as a souvenir.

Lake Garda

DSC_0485We had originally planned to head to Slovenia on this trip and drive home via Austria but we were all feeling like a bit of quiet time so we changed plans and headed west to Lake Garda.  It is the largest lake in Italy and the perfect spot for a family holiday.

DSC_0474We stayed at Sirmione on the southern tip of the lake and as it was out of season we got upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment with lake views.  Perfect.  I loved these trees.  They reminded me of those little troll dolls (with the hair that stood straight up) you used to get at the Ekka.

DSC_0486We did a lot of walking and Claudia scootered everywhere.

DSC_0487It was so lovely by the lake.

DSC_0492And at the dock.

Just a short post today.  I am feeling a bit unwell with a cold.

And as it is ANZAC Day in Australia I am thinking of all the men who have fought for our country over the years – Lest we Forget x

Bologna and Venice

DSC_0388We stopped into Bologna on our way to Venice to go to the Ducati museum.  This is as far as we got.  Apparently you need to make a reservation at least a week in advance to stand a chance of getting in there.  Who would have thought it would be so hard on a weekday?

DSC_0471So off to Venice we went.  Some people love Venice, some people don’t.  I could take it or leave it.  Admittedly we were only there for a day.  There are lots of places away from the main tourist area that looked like they would be interesting to explore if we had more time.

DSC_0464Some of the buildings have beautiful patinas from years of water damage.

DSC_0432Urs noticed something very interesting.  I was wearing a stripey shirt so could possibly pass for a gondalier…

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Come on guys, I could get a boater hat…  Most of them didn’t look that happy anyway.

DSC_0404Nor did these ladies who grunted out “no free photos” at everyone passing by.  I think they could have at least smiled for their paying customers….

DSC_0443There is a lot of renovation work going on in the main piazza but the buildings are beautiful nonetheless.

DSC_0451Our main fun of the day was impersonating gondaliers and tour group leaders (most of the real ones had bright coloured umbrellas they were holding up in the air).  It was just one of those days when the pushing and shoving of the crowds made us all a little silly.

DSC_0407For me the most interesting part of Venice was watching the non-tourist boats go about their daily business of getting around town via water. I wondered what life must be like to live in a place that is constantly flooded with tourists.

Florence part 2

DSC_0321The Ponte Vecchio – the most famous of the bridges that goes across the River Arno in Florence.  This Ponte is famous for the cluster of shops that lines the walkway – mainly jewellery and souvenirs.  My travel tip – don’t buy anything here.  You can get everything at a much cheaper price in other parts of Florence.  We stayed in one of the buildings just to the left of the bridge.  It was an excellent location – so close to everything including a tardis-like supermarket that looked tiny from the outside but opened up to a veritable trove of everything you could possibly need for a gourmet picnic.  And at a very good price.

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You can get some great photos from Ponte Vecchio but go early in the morning because it quickly fills with swarms of people and stays like that for most of the day and into the evening.

DSC_0308The view from Ponte Vecchio.  If you want to get into the Uffizi Gallery you basically have to camp there overnight.  The line was miles long even early in the morning.  We decided to wander around Florence instead.

DSC_0313We saw a copy of Michelangelo’s famous Statue of David in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.  And a bronze copy at Piazzale Michelangelo – I didn’t get a photo from up there as we stumbled across it by accident when we were driving around lost  looking for our hotel but would highly recommend a visit.  It is situated on a hill with an amazing view of the city.  It would be magical up there at sunset.  The real Statue of David is housed in the Accademia Gallery.

DSC_0314Claudia was quick to recognise this statue of Poseidon – from reading the Percy Jackson series of books.

DSC_0378We also took a stroll to the Piazza Santa Maria Novella – it was being renovated last time I was in Florence so it was good to see it mostly finished now.  Many of these exhibits have an entrance fee so if you travel on a tight budget like we do it is best to choose the ones you desperately want to see and just view the others from outside where you can still appreciate the gorgeous architecture.

DSC_0322I snapped these pizza delivery bicycles in a hurry while we were tailing a tour group.  One of the things we have discovered on our travels is that if we want to find something quickly we just attach ourselves to the end of a tour group and they usually lead us in the right direction.  There are many many tour groups at all the major sights in Europe and by the time we got to Venice (our next stop) we had formed one of our own just for a bit of fun……

Florence part 1

DSC_0352In the middle of Tuscany is a city that is special to us.  Those of you who have known us for a long time know that we met here in Florence.  What were the odds?  We came back to Florence to show our daughter the city where we met and to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.

DSC_0368It was raining in Florence last time we were here and umbrella sales were flourishing this time too!

DSC_0316The magnificent Santa Maria del Fiore (Our Lady of the Flower) or as it is commonly known Il Duomo.  This is perhaps one of the most recognisable cathedrals in the world.  And in person it is breathtaking.

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See the people standing at the top – they deserve a mention because they struggled up 463 steps in a small circular staircase to get there.

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We also struggled up the steps and I can vouch that it was hard work.  It is totally possible that I said “are we there yet?” a hundred or so times on the way up.

DSC_0329And then saw this.  Everyone stopped and stared in wonder at the fresco on the ceiling of the duomo.  I studied a bit of art history at school and university so for me there was some background but even without having that it is mindblowing – I can’t think of a better word.  This ceiling is higher than you can imagine and trying to work out the logisitics of how it was physically painted (without even taking into consideration getting the proportion and scale correct) makes you truly appreciate what a masterpiece this is.

DSC_0366The beautiful city of Florence.  I love everything about it.  Ok maybe not the beggers in the piazza (who can apparently afford mobile phones).  The architecture and art are incredible.  The people are welcoming – I am especially thinking of Ryana our vivacious hotel host and Franco the friendly waiter.  The food was simple and delicious….

DSC_0350The scooter filled streets. The colours, the light.

DSC_0357And the crazy photo of us taken by our daughter (she has a lot of me in her :)).  Who would have thought we would be back here with her almost 14 years after we met?  Love those two xx

Pisa

DSC_0260It wouldn’t be a complete trip to Tuscany without a visit to Pisa to take a cheesy snapshot holding up the Leaning Tower.  At least not if you are nine years old 🙂

DSC_0291We didn’t have a map and our GPS was having a bad day so we used our time-tested method of driving around hoping we were going in the right direction, seeing a sign with a tower on it, and the navigator (that would be me in this case) yelling out “quick, take a right, I think I see something.”  Yes, we live on the edge.  Let’s not even talk about how we managed to find somewhere to park the car.  Trust me, it was nothing short of a miracle.

DSC_0287Pisa is a busy little place, especially near the Leaning Tower.  The line to climb to the top was long.  Very very long.  “Yeah, it looks fine from down here.  Anyone want to wait in line for a few hours?  No?  Good”.

DSC_0299There it is.  The Tower that leans.  Claudia gave us a quick history of it – how does she know this stuff?

DSC_0264Tower straightened by knowledgeable child.  Smart and strong – what a winning combination!

DSC_0286I am not your conventional traveller.  I take photos of other people taking cheesy photos.  Because that is how I see the world.  Because that is how I will remember Pisa.  Hundreds of people standing on posts, or lying on the ground with their feet in the air, or with their arms up (often with a grimace on their face) to get a good shot of them ‘holding up’ the Tower.  So funny.

Have a fantastic weekend!

Happy birthday Robyn, mwah xxx love you xxx

Cinque Terre – Corniligia & Manarola

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Taking the boat was so worthwhile not only for the amazing views but to hear the crew calling out the names of the villages with their melodic Italian accents.  It is no secret that I could happily sit and listen to Italian all day.

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We only caught glimpses of Corniligia as the boat is not able to stop there.

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But we were told by the crew of the boat that it would take 365 steps to get from the beach to the village – one for every day of the year.

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Manarola then quickly comes into view.

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Getting on and off the boat is also a bit of fun.  The gangplank rolls around while you are walking on it and it feels a little like going across a suspension bridge that is swinging from side to side.

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There is a tiny path through and alongside the rocks to negotiate to get to the village.

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So many pretty streets to wander around in Manarola.

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This street is part of the hiking trail – the red and white stripes point you in the right direction.

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A hillside nativity -the figures are huge.

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Looking down towards Manarola from a nearby hill.  There were a few daredevils doing cliff jumps from the rocks in the centre of the picture.  One guy had a pair of flesh-coloured swimming trunks on…. so wrong on so many levels.  He was happily parading around in them afterwards.  There is a reason we love boardshorts in Australia!!

Cinque Terre – Monterosso & Vernazza

DSC_0088I love this photo – it is so Italian.  Bicycle casually thrown on a hedge.  Oh, right where was I?

DSC_0082Monterosso.  The most northern village in Cinque Terre.  It is the most resort-like village and a good spot for families.  We spent quite a while here feeding our craving for the ocean and some beach.  The beach is quite rocky (not soft white sand like we are used to in Australia) but an amazing setting.

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DSC_0092Claudia would have happily spent all her time here.

DSC_0102We all climbed to the top of this rock.  Some more (ahem) gracefully than others.

DSC_0103Most people sat on the promenade under stripey umbrellas and ate gelato or drank coffee.  I was inhaling the ocean….

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We took the boat from Monterosso to the the next village, Vernazza.

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Vernazza was the worst damaged in the 2011 floods.  Some of the photos we saw in a local shop were horrendous.  Down these little alleyways you can buy large slices of pizza that are inexpensive and delicious.

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It was such a gorgeous day that most people were sitting on the dock enjoying the sunshine.

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And some just couldn’t resist the lure of the rocks.

Part 3 tomorrow…

Cinque Terre – Riomaggiore

DSC_0245We drove to Cinque Terre.  I wouldn’t advise taking a car there.  The five villages of Cinque Terre are set on very steep ground and the winding roads (that often allow only one car past at a time) are not for everyone.  Luckily I am married to a European so he is used to driving in small spaces.  Riomaggiore was the village we stayed in and parking was tricky.  The main road runs down the middle of the buildings in the photo above.  You can’t drive all the way down there (you have to walk most of it).  All the parking is crammed up the top and is co-ordinated by a somewhat flustered man in a little control box…..  I say no more.  Take a train.

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DSC_0250These photos really don’t capture just how steep the main road is.  I was huffing and puffing dragging a suitcase up there.

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It is incredibly beautiful.  The colourful buildings.  The blue blue sea.  The breathtaking cliffs.  The food.

DSC_0038The gelato.  How much gelato can one family eat on a trip to Italy?  Lots…..

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These villages were badly damaged in flash floods in 2011.  Riomaggiore is recovering well and there is a strong tourist trade even though it wasn’t high season when we were there.

DSC_0079Like many places in Europe, people put padlocks on bridges or gates or anything they can find to declare their eternal love.  This is taken at the entrance to the hiking trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola…

DSC_0080…which unfortunately was closed at the time we were there.  You can see the trail running along the cliff.  I have long dreamed of hiking these trails but it wasn’t to be on this visit.  Instead we caught a train to the furtherest village and then took a boat back, stopping at most of the villages on the way.  I highly recommend the boat – such a nice view and different perspective from there.

More to come…