A Travellerspoint blog

Day 14 – 31 May (Sunday)

sunny

We leave Italy today for 5 nights – 3 nights in Lauterbrunnen and 2 nights in Munich – we then return to Italy to the Dolomites for 3 nights. I have loved Italy – its scenery and its culture and the food. Andrew planned the itinerary very well – it worked out just great – we didn’t stay too long anywhere and have seen a lot.
Andrew went out and bought tasty pastries for breakfast and Bill made some coffee. After packing up, Andrew and Bill went to pick up the car from the garage. We then packed the car and left. It was very overcast when we left and when we got into Switzerland (less than 10 kilometres from Como) it started to rain. The mountains were obscured by cloud cover – so there was not much to see. However as we got further north the weather cleared and it was sunny again – I was thankful for that. The motorways in Switzerland are amazing – they make a lot of use of tunnels – some of them quite long. You pay 40 Swiss Francs for a sticker on your car and this means there are no tolls. However it is quite stressful as all the signs are in Swiss. We got bushed once but were soon on the right road again. The scenery is beautiful with lots of lakes and of course the high mountains. It is a very well ordered country (a bit different to Italy).
We arrived at Lauterbrunnen at about 1.30pm and were able to check in early (normal check is 3.00pm). It was sunny – I am so thankful that we have had good weather for the whole time so far. The room we have is modern and a good size and we have the use of a lounge and also a verandah which looks south and includes a great view of Staubbachfall – Europe’s highest free fall waterfall – the water falls 297 metres from the top of a massive cliff with a sheer face. The scenery is just magnificent. Lauterbrunnen is located in a deep valley between steep mountains or at times massive cliffs. It is wide enough to allow plenty of sunlight – in reality the town is located in a broad gorge. The view from our room is beautiful. We look out on green meadow with chalets, there are forests and the cliff face and behind the cliff face more mountains. A swift flowing river flows through the town.
Andrew suggested we go for a walk to Schilthorn a peak of 2,970 metres (Mt, Kosciuszko is 2,228 metres). This would mean walking from Murren which is only 1,638 metres (a climb of 1,332 metres). Well it was worth a try - although I doubted my ability to climb such a height, We got the cable car up the steep mountain and then caught a tram which runs along the top of the cliff overlooking Lauterbrunnen to Murren. The scenery at Murren is most impressive as you look down into the deep valley and then at the towering mountains (covered in snow) on the other side. We could see para gliders floating along over the valley. They must be game.
We then started our ascent. At first it was quite easy but got steeper as we got higher. We came to a ridge which overlooks Blumental a vast bowl covered in grass which in winter is a popular skying place. Andrew and Bill managed well but I struggled from here on due to the steepness of the climb. But the views were breathtaking looking over the valley to the snow covered mountains on the other side – the mountains were above cloud level – a few clouds floated alongside the mountains – this added to the view. We came to snow drifts and as we got higher the snow drifts became bigger and deeper. In some cases the snow was well over our ankles. We saw a herd of wild goats which soon scampered after seeing us. We only had shirts on and I started to feel the cold and put on my rain jacket – I had my sleeveless jacket as well and offered it to Bill but he did not need it. I must be soft! I found a knoll beside the snow covered in grass and lichen which was so springy and soft – so I lay down and told Andrew and Bill that I would wait until they came back. I really enjoyed a comfortable rest. We were now about 2,500 metres high – still about 500 metres higher to go. Andrew and Bill started up a big area of snow but Andrew became concerned about an under-snow stream and the danger of falling through the snow into the stream – also clouds were starting to descend. So they decided to give up the quest and so we returned. It was more dangerous going down than up as the path was gravelly – very easy to slip! It was a wonderful experience even though we did not get to Schilthorn – but maybe next time.
It was much easier coming down as the slope eased. And indeed looking back we could see the clouds had descended.
We caught the tram and the cable car back. The tram driver found I had left my hat in the tram and brought it to me. I lost my London hat in the London Museum so have been using my auxiliary hat (the one Hope does not like).
It was about 6.00pm when we got back.
We tidied up and went out for dinner at the Oberland Hotel. We all had Rosti (a Swiss dish based on potatoe) – I had “Truckers”, Andrew had “Lauterbrunnen” and Bill had “Oberland”. They were nice meals but very expensive (as are most things in this town – quite a change from Italy).
Bill went out for some photos after this. Later I went for a walk and came to the graveyard. It was the prettiest graveyard I have ever seen. The graves were so neat, all had well-tended flowers growing on them and the grave stones where all much the same size and the wording was uniform. I was quite impressed. I looked at the ages of the deceased and they were all at least 80 years when they died apart from a few cases!!! This must be an area of great longevity!
Switzerland is such a neat place – even the weeds are neat (and I am not joking)! They must have trained the weeds to conform to the culture.
Another great day.

Posted by Tomheasley 12:17 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Day 13 – 30 May (Saturday)

sunny

We had breakfast this morning in the square of the Church of Saint Fidele (dedicated to Saint Fidelis – a martyr who died in 304). The church had its beginning in 1120, so there is a presence to it. We had our usual – coffee and pastry – as we watched the world go by – only today Como was quiet.
Today we are going to spend our time around the lake and enjoy its magic. We took a fast ferry first to visit the village of Bellagio – a village for the rich and famous (apparently George Clooney has a villa there but its location is secret). It was a sunny day but there was a lot of haze again this morning and this obscured the views. However the mountains on both sides are still impressive.
The village (or actually “commune” but that does not mean much to Australians) is very beautiful with a lot of trees and rich green grass and appealing buildings. I can understand why the rich and famous would want to live there. We disembarked and walked around a bit. . It is quite evident that wealthy people live in Bellagio. The houses are very nice (and the cars are flash too)and the gardens are luxuriant. Actually it is quite luxuriant all around Lake Como.
We then caught a slower ferry to Tremezzo on the western side of the lake. From here we did the Greenway Walk – a walk mainly along the shore of the Lake past luxuriant gardens attached to villas - some quite magnificent. We walked north to Griante and then south again. The gardens and villas are a joy to behold – I can understand why Lake Como has had such a huge appeal for hundreds of years. The path then led inland (with steep ascents) past a very historic village with very narrow streets. I expected the contents of a chamber pot to be poured out of a window on top of us. Apparently that happened in days gone by in these cramped villages – people would empty chamber pots out of the window on to the street!!Thankfully it doesn’t happen now.
This then led us down to the village of Lenno. Some of the villages are so close together that they adjoin as does Lenno and Tremezzo. We had lunch in a Hotel on the shore – a very nice spot. We had a light lunch. Next to us sat an English couple who had been snared by a “bore” who sat on the table next to them. The man (who was English) talked and talked about things connected with himself and was an expert on everything. His wife pulled her chair round to join in the one sided conversation in support of her talkative husband. The ensnared couple just sat with a polite look of long suffering on their faces. This provided some entertainment during lunch.
After this we visited the garden of the Villa del Balbianello. It is located at the end of a forested peninsula. The peninsula rises from the shore into a hill and then drops down to a point. There was a bit of a walk through the beautiful forest – then came the gardens. Bill had read that this was one of the highest rated places in the Como area. Whatever my expectations were, they were blown away by the sheer beauty of this garden. Its location on the point of the peninsula with the steep mountains on the other side of the Lake, the villa in the garden, the design of the garden, the plants, the trees, the green were an amazing combination. This was a place of perfection – nothing was out of place. It cost 8 euro to get in but it was worth every penny of it. There is a history to the place as well. The capacity of human beings to create beauty is amazing.
We left there and caught a slow ferry back to Como. The haze had lifted and the scenery was just wonderful. The bad thing about the slow ferry is that it is a slow trip but the good thing is that the ferry calls in at numerous villages on the way. We stood in the bow of the ferry and photographed away. I would recommend a visit to Lake Como to anyone. The mountains, gorges, cliffs, forests and villages that surround the Lake each contribute to the great experience. The trip took nearly two hours – but every moment was enjoyable.
We enjoyed watching the ferry men at their work. There is such a relaxed attitude and a lot of banter (in Italian).
We got back to Como at nearly 6.00pm (we started out at about 8.30am – it was a big day). The city was crowded with people. It was a great atmosphere. Our piano busker was playing to a crowd – he finished as we went by and took a bow with great aplomb before the crowd. We passed two young men playing Pachelbel’s Canon to the accompaniment of music. I thought they were worth a donation.
After relaxing a bit we went out to café just round the corner from the apartment and had dinner. I had pizza again (I love the pizzas in Italy – they don’t put as much on them as in Australia).
A great day.

Posted by Tomheasley 13:35 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Day 12 – 29 May (Friday)

semi-overcast

We out for breakfast to a café near the gate to the city. We sat on the street and enjoyed coffee and croissant. This is something I have consistently enjoyed in Italy. Bill has heat rash on his feet and wanted to rest his feet today, so he decided not join in the activities.
Andrew suggested we walk to Rifugio Mennagio (Refuge above Mennagio). It is a point to which people walk. We walked about 2 kilometres to get the car and then commenced our drive going north along the western side of the lake. It is a slow drive as the roads are generally narrow – in some cases the traffic can only flow one way and lights are set up to control this. It was a beautiful drive along shore of the lake. We drove through numerous very appealing villages. This is one of the appealing things about Lake Como – there are numerous villages all along the shore and often up higher as well. You see the same thing on the eastern side of the lake as well. The mountains beside the lake get higher, and even more rugged, as you travel north. In some cases they were massive cliffs. In one case there was a ledge about half way down a cliff and a little building of some sort was perched on this ledge. The Tom-tom did not work all that well as there were a few lengthy tunnels and also the steep mountains can hinder the signal – so we made a few wrong turns. When we got to the village of Menaggio we left the main road and started to climb up the steep mountain (there were so many hairpin bends and the road was very narrow) to the little village of Breglia where the walk starts. We set off up a steep pathway through very nice forest. I noticed a lot of birch trees and a variety of other trees. I noticed the sign at the start stated 1.00 as the distance. I thought “good – it might be steep but it is only 1 kilometre!” A little further on the sign stated the distance to be 0.5 – which seemed to me I had gone ½ a kilometre in a short time. I must be going well I thought! However the steep climb seemed to go on forever. I thought it was the longest ½ kilometre I had ever done! I passed some other walkers and asked how far to the Refuge and they said another 20 minutes. I then realised that the 1.00 meant one hour and the .5 meant 50 minutes! It was a tough climb – it gave my heart a good work over. There was a lot of haze which obscured the view of the lake – but it was still good. As we got higher we could look up and see the peaks above – they were very impressive – very rugged. Near the end the path levels out with a steep drop on one side and a steep rise on the other (you would not want to fall) – it was a quintessential mountain track – very enjoyable on the flatter parts.
Andrew got to the Refuge first – I came a bit later. There was a spring water fountain at the top – the water was cold and very sweet – it was wonderful to drink from the fountain. The views all around and up higher were magnificent. The Refuge is a building were hikers can stay but it is not open at present – too early in the season. We relaxed, drunk the cool water, took photos and then walked back. The walk back did not take nearly so long. But I was glad to get back to the car.
We then had the drive back. Italian drivers are often very relaxed about road rules. When we were in La Spezia a man stopped his car in the middle of the road and went into a shop to buy a paper. He got his paper and then drove on – he did give us a wave when he got back to his car. When they park they will often have quite a bit of their car jutting out onto the road. If the road is narrow this can pose a hazard. Getting back to today, at one of the one way traffic parts, a four wheel drive towing a boat in the opposite direction went through a red light controlling the traffic flow. There were only inches between us when he passed! We are thankful we got back safely.
Note for David - a lot of cyclists use the road round the lake. It would be a very scenic ride and lots of places to stop for refreshments.
I was reminded today about “The Barchester Chronicles” and the Stanhopes. Madeline Stanhope, the daughter with a dark past, had lived at Lake Como. As I remember, Doctor Stanhope had taken leave of his responsibilities in the Church due to a sore throat and had been living in Italy for 12 years – spending his time there collecting butterflies! To her credit Mrs. Proudie put an end to that! I think Lake Como came into Doctor Stanhope’s travels as well. This is a bit of trivia about Lake Como. It is funny how things come back to you when your memory is jogged. I was reminded of a Seinfeld episode about Tuscany when we were in Siena (Siena is located in Tuscany). I laughed at it again.
We got back it was about 4.00pm
Bill spent the day sorting out photos (he has taken a lot of photos), going to the supermarket and generally relaxing.
After we relaxed a bit in the apartment we out to the square in front of the cathedral and had dinner. We all had pizzas – a nice meal in a very pleasant location. The piano busker came along pushing his grand piano (he has it on wheels) and entertained us – very nice.

Posted by Tomheasley 13:40 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Day 11 – 28 May (Thursday)

semi-overcast

We leave today for Como in the Italian Lake District. It will be interesting to compare it with the English Lake District – although such comparisons are often like comparing apples with oranges. I said good bye to our hosts and we left at 9.00am. We are getting good at driving on the windy road (or at least Andrew is) so it is a pity we are leaving. The drive north took us through very mountainous forested country which was exceptionally scenic – the mountain peaks were very sharp. Italy is quite a mountainous country which means it is well watered – the mountains attract rain. We then came to the fertile Po valley where we skirted Milan and drove to Como. We are staying in the old part of Como – so it has narrow streets where cars, pedestrians and cyclists all use the same road. Again the tom-tom help us – but we weaved through narrow streets, missed a few turns, avoided hitting pedestrians who believe they have absolute right of way and cars are a dashed nuisance. We finally arrived and our host Irene was there to meet us. She was very friendly and promptly picked up Bill’s case and led us up two flights of narrow steps. Bill felt guilty so he took mine – so I was the beneficiary of her helpfulness. The apartment overlooks one of the narrow streets and is made up of a dining/sitting room, bedroom, bathroom and a very small kitchen. One of the first things I did was open the window and look down on the street – that is so Italian. Bikes are also provided free of charge with the apartment. The car is housed in a locked garage about 2 kilometres away. Irene took Andrew to park the car and Bill and I settled in.
We then decided to see Como – especially the lake which is very famous (Lake Como). We walked through the narrow streets to the old tower which was once a gate to the old city and stands beside part of the roman wall. We had lunch at a little pizza place just outside the old city – it was recommended by our host. We ordered pizza. I quite enjoyed mine (although it had too much cheese), Andrew thought his was ordinary and Bill didn’t enjoy his at all (raw ham apparently). We continued our journey, however we took a wrong turn and so had an extra-long walk – good exercise. We finally came to the lake. It is a very deep lake – it is up to 400 meters deep – at its deepest point it is 200 meters below sea level. It was a mainly sunny day – but quite hazy – which spoiled the views somewhat. The lake is surrounded by steep mountains generally covered in trees. Houses, villas and hotels etc. line the shore line and you see buildings and villages higher up in the midst of the forest clinging to the steep slope. At the very top you can see the substantial buildings of the town of Brunate. A cable car (actually called a funicular) runs up the mountain from Como to service Brunate. There are walkways alongside the lake and we followed the walkway on the eastern side for a few kilometres. You could see carp (about a foot or so long) swimming in the clear water. There are a lot of tourists – but not as packed as Siena – probably because it is a much bigger area spread around the lake. There is a very relaxed atmosphere which is enjoyable. We walked back to the apartment past Como Cathedral. It is another impressive Church. We went in and the pipe organ was being played. We were at the end of the recital – but it was majestic. The powerful and beautiful sound filled the cathedral which had great acoustics for the organ.
We relaxed a bit in the apartment and then went out again. A busker was playing a grand piano in the street. He was pretty good – we came along as he brought a piano piece to a grand climax and then stood to receive applause.
We walked along the western side of the lake. We went through nice parks and passed some grand buildings. Some of them were once the homes of wealthy families. It is an area where there is a lot of wealth. We passed one palatial dwelling in which apparently Napoleon once stayed. There was still a bit of haze but the softer light of the late evening made the place more photogenic. I lost count of the photos Bill was taking.
So is the Italian Lake District better than the English. Well, they are quite different. The Italian Lake District is much grander and filled with interesting buildings. The English Lake District is softer and gentler. We will be doing a walk tomorrow and I will have a better idea then.
We stopped at a square and had dinner at a restaurant – we sat at a table on the street. That is always interesting. Andrew and Bill were still getting over their pizza lunch so they had salads. I had another pizza which was very nice.
And so the day ended – it was getting dark when we got back to the apartment.

Posted by Tomheasley 13:18 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Day 10 – 27 May (Wednesday)

sunny

Andrew and Bill slept well. I woke up in the early hours of the morning and watched an Italian slapstick humour film. I could not understand a word spoken but I did follow the movie – it was quite funny in that old fashioned slapstick way. It passed the time.
I saw a very large cruise ship dock at La Spezia from the vantage point of the apartment this morning. So I guess there will be a lot of visitors in the area today. We left for Riomaggiore at about 8.00am. It is on the famous Cinque Terre Coast. Cinque in Italian means five. So it is an area of 5 villages located on this stretch of rugged coastline. We took a wrong turn on the way and it took us forever to get back to the right road – it is the problem of the steep hills in the area. Nevertheless the diversion was very scenic – the hills are forest clad and very scenic. We eventually came to our destination. As always parking is the problem. Andrew takes responsibility for this. He drove back up the narrow steep road to find some parking beside the road. Bill and I waited at the village of Riomaggiore. When he got back we went down the steep road in the village to the Train Station. Here we spent a while trying to work out the time table. We eventually get the hang of it and waited for the train. There were a lot of pigeons in this area and the gulls (the big gulls you see in Europe) attack them quite viciously. We had planned to walk from Riomaggiore to Corniglia or if we were energetic enough to Vernazza. However the track from Riomaggiore to Vernazza was closed. So that is why we caught the train to Monterosso al Mare. The day had started out partly overcast but was now sunny – we had a brilliant blue sky. Monterosso al Mare is a beautiful place – bounded on the west by Point Mesco and by a whole series of inlets on the east. The sea was brilliant blue and a translucent azure near the shore. The steep hills behind are covered either in forest, vineyards, little orchards with houses clinging to the side of the hills. There was a wonderful array of colour. We watched a helicopter bringing loads of concrete to a house being constructed about half way up the hill. I guess that is the only way to get to the house.
We then started the walk on the track to Vernazza. It is a rough track with many many many steps. In some places it is so narrow only one person at a time can pass. Usually there is a steep drop at the side. But the views along the way are simply superb. It was like peak hour traffic due to the number of people doing the walk. They were of all ages. Some quite elderly (that is older than me)! There were a lot of Americans. I put that down to the cruise ship. It is actually quite a strenuous walk due to all the up and down. But everywhere you are rewarded with great views. We eventually came to a point overlooking (and I mean overlooking – the hills are so steep) the village of Vernazza. What a sight! Then there was the walk down steep steps to the village. The village was crowded with people. You can come by train, by boat or walk in as we did. All the cafes were packed with people. It is hard to realise that this was once just an ordinary fishing village were normal life went on.
We found a spot in the shade on the rocks next to the harbour and had refreshments. Andrew and Bill went for a swim. Surprisingly not many people were swimming – probably because water is still quite cool. I enjoyed sitting in the shade watching the goings on.
We then walked back. There were even more people on the track so there were a few hold ups. But as long as the holdups were in the shade you didn’t mind. It was quite warm in the sun – but beautiful in the shade. There were also a few dogs on the walk! Vanessa would like that!
When we got back to Monterosso al Mare we sat on the beach and Andrew and Bill had another swim. This time they swam up to a small sea cave and jumped from an overhanging rock into the sea. They enjoyed the crystal clear water. A great swim they agreed.
We then caught the train back to Riomaggiore. We found out we could have caught the train at Vernazza and saved ourselves the walk back. But we were glad of the extra exercise and of the opportunity for another swim at Monterosso al Mare. The train back was packed There is a chaos in Italy to most things but underneath there is also order. Once you see the order it makes it a lot easier. I think it gets back to the more laid back life style.
We visited the pretty little harbour of Riomaggiore before waking up the steep road to the top of the village. Andrew then walked up to where he had parked the car and brought it down to us. This would have been quite a climb. We then drove to the shopping centre in La Spezzia and got a few things and then back to the apartment. We had a closer view of the cruise ship on the way back – it was massive.
Andrew made us another great pasta dinner tonight which was a great ending to a great day. Bill took some photos in the softening evening light from the vantage points around the apartment. While taking photos he saw the cruise ship leave for its next destination.

Posted by Tomheasley 22:25 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

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