Day 71: Verona

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For once we did exactly as we said we would do. We went to Verona on the train. The weather was bright but chilly so we wrapped ourselves up in warm clothing and walked to the station. Mary prepared a big speech designed to elicit 2 returns, Peschiera to Verona and back, rattled most of it off in excellent Italian then crashed and burned. Why? Because at the vital moment, with head full of modal verbs plus infinitives and adjectival agreement….. she forgot where we were going! I of course sped to the rescue, said 4 ungrammatical separate words and got the tickets. Now it is perfectly clear why she hates me. This incident reflects accurately on where we have taught and the style in which we have both had to teach.

The train took all of 13 minutes to get us to Verona and interestingly it neither left nor arrived on time. I leave you to make the necessary comparisons with my beloved Deutsche Bahn. Upon exiting from the station we found ourselves quite disorientated by the bus station right opposite and no obvious direction to follow for the town centre. That always makes arrival in a new place that bit more difficult. This time Mary took the initiative and bought 2 day tickets for the bus network then dragged me onto the number 11. My ego was hurting now and I secretly hoped it would be the wrong bus. My face was shut! Five minutes later we were standing outside the Arena plum in the centre of Verona. She was lucky!

Having seen the inside of the Coliseum in Rome as well as the very impressive “les arènes” in Arles in southern France we felt no need to go into the arena so just wandered around the outside then made our way in the direction of “centro storico” just as we had done yesterday in Sirmione. Verona was not a town we had researched so we just read the signposts to find out what there was to visit and there was plenty to keep us busy for the following five hours.

Being Mary & George, the cathedral was one of the first things on the list but on the way to “il duomo” we chanced upon a wonderful piazza (no, that’s not the thing with 4 cheeses) with a market in the middle so we spent a fair bit of time wandering around the stalls, Mary eventually buying me a stripy scarf to make me look more Italian (as if my nose doesn’t do that already!).

Piazza Hut!

Venue of the 54 A.D. World Cup Final

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As is always the case, we kept stumbling on interesting little squares and churches, eventually blundering upon a bridge astride the river we didn’t even know Verona stood upon. Too hard to set as a question for you readers, this was the river Adige, a name totally new to us at least. We had lunch at a café near the big square, spent some time window shopping in the pedestrian sector, then went in search of the basilica. Unfortunately it was just further away from the centre than my sore feet were willing to be sacrificed but we did find a really beautiful footbridge built rampart style which was full of photographers trying every possible angle to get THE shot as the sun began to set.

View from a bridge

View of a bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We don’t normally walk around towns after dark except for the immediate tourist centre so we went back to the cute square for a while before jumping on a bus back to the train station. By 7 o’clock we were back in Peschiera and managed a brief food shop at “Penny” before returning to the campsite. Mary conjured up some pasta in tomato and basil sauce smothered in parmesan which we married to a bottle of Chianti and on went the telly!

Mother Nature ruled the rest of the evening as we slumped back and enjoyed the delights of “Autumn Watch” from Scotland then a fantastic programme about scientists investigating glaciers and icebergs. Those made us feel cold so we went to bed.

Day off tomorrow.

Here’s a clue for one of the answers to the Shakespeare question a couple of days ago.

Wherefore art thou?

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Day 70: O Sole Mio!

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When we woke up it had stopped raining. Completely. The clouds had disappeared overnight and now the sun was shining again. Like we knew it would. Eventually. Oh ye of little faith! You somehow know that rain can’t go on forever but while it’s happening it can be difficult to see an end to it all. That’s how we felt yesterday when Lake Garda swopped places with the sky. God it was wet! We thought we were in the wettest place in Wetville, Wetonia, Wetland. It was so wet yesterday even the ducks had brollies and wellingtons. But no longer.

Breakfast became a rather hurried affair as we sensed we ought to be out there seeing Garda in the sunlight, the way we saw it the last time we were here. Limone was where we had had our hotel so Limone was our target, up the west bank near the top. The Audi obeyed my every command and swung us along the south side of the lake before I casually asked Victoria how far away was Limone. She indicated 58 kilometres. What?? I pulled into a lay-by and double-checked her data. No mistake, it was that far away. OK, change of plan, what does that signpost say is close by? Sirmione. Fine, today we will visit Sirmione.

When I’m driving hundreds of kilometres between stops, I have no intention of driving long distances to see things once we have set up on a site. No no. Short is the new long. For distances over 20 kilometres we have buses and trains, not the car. The Audi takes us to each succeeding campsite then goes to sleep for a few days. That’s how it’s been and that’s how it will continue to be.

So Sirmione it was. Two false starts later, having unsuccessfully parked then walked to where we thought things were, I used an old Indian trick and followed a tour bus around some twisting roads which led to a giant car park by the lakeside and full of brown signposts pointing to “centro storico”. That’ll do us nicely, grazie!

Sirmione turned out to be a beautiful lakeside town, full of lovely shops and restaurants and with a “via panoramica” which we followed around the edge of the old town. Along a boardwalk, we came to a jetty sticking out into the lake with shoals of fish chasing themselves on both sides. The lake was gorgeous and the blue skies emphasised the high, snow-capped mountains beyond. Take a look.

Garda at its best

Doesn’t she know it’s rude to point?

An ice-cream was called for, but don’t forget we are in Italy, the home of ice-cream and gelateria.  We could have bought from any of a hundred of them but chose one pretty much at random and it did not let us down. While Mary stayed conservative and got the mint chocolate-chip, I dipped my toe in the less-well known waters of extravagant flavours with a double cone of tiramisu-amaretto! Well it is Italy! My choice was to-die-for and Mary was soon trading wee cones with me just to get some of the amaretto flavour.

We bid “Arrivaderci” to Sirmione and drove back to the campsite to find we had new neighbours from Austria, Charlie and Belinda. Our previous German neighbours had also left us a present of a large plastic carpet to put in front of the caravan in the event of bad weather and rather smart it was too. Vielen Dank, Deutschland! That’s now 3 or 4 presents we have had from people who were moving on. Maybe we just look poor!

With all auxiliary tanks now emptied, we were ready to walk into the town of Peschiera to check things out. 30 minutes later we bumped into Charlie and Belinda taking their Retriever for a walk in town and that was that. We ended up having a drink in a nice café and then we walked back to the campsite, us practising our German and them practising their English. No-one spoke any Italian (except the waiter).

Tea was a modest affair, books were read and we were in bed by 11. Unheard of! We plan on visiting Verona by train tomorrow and I think the weather will be fine although not particularly warm. Did you know Shakespeare set 3 of his greatest plays there? See if you know which ones. But no Google!

By the way, Happy Birthday to Gavin. Have a lemonade on me, son!

Best suggested name for the caravan so far…….. Marigold. Because it keeps the water out.

Day 69: Spectacles

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We did nothing today as it rained non-stop. The clouds sucked up the lake and dropped it on our heads. But we had the magic caravan to shelter in, and shelter we did. Sightseeing meant the toilet, that’s all. Inside, we had TV, Internet, DVDs, Kindles, fiction books and reference books. The lights were on all day, the heater was on most of the day and the gas cooker helped me make the tea. “Sausages and onions, they’re the boys!” as Auntie Katie Broon used to say with delight. I believe it was an ancient form of endorsement of a food item.

Last night as I was walking along the pavement on the opposite side from the marina, I passed a shop selling spectacles. It was clearly open, given the bright neon light pouring from its four large display windows. Within, I could see a thin man walking around making fine adjustments to a wall of gleaming spectacles, moving the odd leg slightly to the left or lifting a lens slightly higher than before. He would then step back and continue his inspection of the massed ranks of his army, glaring critically at them with the withering stare of a sergeant-major from hell.

Out of curiosity I paused to check my watch. It was nearly half past six. On a Saturday night. Perhaps you are beginning to sense my discomfort with the object of my observation. The question “why?” invaded my brain and set off a firework display of synapses. Could Mr. Al Forno really be contemplating taking the love of his life out to buy a pair of spectacles after a heavy week slogging over a hot stone oven? Was I standing outside Peschiera’s wildest hotspot where the “bellissimi” flock to swop stories of broken legs (spectacles not human) and cracked nose supports over a  glass of lens cleaner?

There just had to be a good reason why this shop was still open at such an hour on such a day in such a quiet street, but I absolutely could not think of one, so, scratching my head in bewilderment, I went off to shop at “Penny” supermarket which was also open, but for far more obvious reasons. My backpack filled with many an Italian treat (pasta and wine), I made my cheerful way back to the campsite by the same streets I had taken earlier.

Outside the spectacle shop, movement caught my eye and I turned in pity to see what the poor owner was busying himself with now. A stray hair on the floor, a label off-centre, or, God forbid, a fingerprint!? My jaw fell to the pavement. Inside, there were eight customers (yes, I counted them) all engrossed in the selection of different pairs of spectacles while the owner was rushed off his feet, running from one customer to the next to provide information and advice.

So, what do I know? Clearly very little as far as the racy world of optical supplies is concerned. However, this incident caused me to consider another aspect of the sight industry. For example, what has been the impact of the boom in laser surgery on those trying to make a living selling spectacles and contact lenses? Let’s take a closer look (sorry!). Using Mary as an example of someone whose life has been turned round by successful laser surgery, although I still maintain the boob job would have been more beneficial, there we have one person who no longer requires spectacles or contacts because she can now see everything perfectly well without these expensive aids.

I do however believe that laser surgery has been a major boon to lawyers throughout the lands. My reasoning for such a forthright proposition comes from the evidence of Mary’s own eyes. This morning in bed, she turned round and quietly said she still finds it wonderful that when she opens her eyes first thing she can see me and the other objects that surround her in the caravan (monocycle, bucket & spade, trapeze, cuddly toy).

Naturally, therefore, the corollary must be true. How many husbands and wives waken up in the morning with brand new vision and their eyes fall on the person they have been sleeping with maybe for decades? But now they can see them in clear focus! This would undoubtedly account for a sharp rise in the divorce rate attributable purely to the wonders of laser eye surgery.

This musing carries with it the inevitable health warning. If you were not anywhere near the front of the queue when the looks were being dished out or you are puzzled by your innate ability to scare babies and young children just by looking at them, then never allow your spouse to have eye surgery. It could ruin your relationship!

Day 68: Where did the sun go?

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Lake Garda is renowned as a place of particular beauty with its attractive edges tucked timidly below high hills on both banks and the panoramic mountains pushing up into the sky beyond those very hills. That is, if you can actually see them. We are placed not 100 metres from the southern edge of Garda and yet today we have seen about 50 metres of lake and 2 swans. That’s it, the sum total of Italy’s offering to the winter tourist in Lago di Garda.

I’m not really complaining. I am merely pointing out to you all that these other countries have weather as well, and not always the hot and sunny weather you kind of assume when you think of foreign places in general. I suppose we all suffer from the rose-coloured spectacles effect when we’re at home and the snow is blowing around on freezing pavements and icy roads. If I say Italy, you think of eating ice-creams in front of the leaning tower of Pisa and even we had to buy frozen water there just to keep us alive as the thermometer threatened to burst when we were in Tuscany a few years ago. Our best memories of Cattolica are not about swimming in the sea although that was an excellent part of the holiday. It is the evening walks around the town after the sun had gone down, strolling through streets thronged with tourists and locals accompanied by the whole family, babies pushed in prams and toddlers on mummy’s hand or daddy’s shoulders.

These things are possible when the climate is kind enough to leave behind 20 degrees of warm air after sunset. A stroll in town at 11 at night is a hugely pleasant thing to do with the family. I remember discussing this with Scott and Mary and realising that in Scotland we all put our children to bed at 7, 8 or 9 o’clock simply because it gets cool and dark in the late evenings and it’s no longer pleasant to stay out, whereas in Italy and other places there is no great reason to stay indoors so you go out and the kids come with you.

But that’s April – September. As November approaches, the comfortable skies only appear now and again to give you a reminder of how good it can get. Clouds frequently hover above you with the threat of a soaking even though the temperature is quite acceptable for most of the day. And that can change as well, with a sudden drop catching you unawares and leaving you hurrying to dig out the heater back at the caravan.

It really felt like an autumn day today in Garda. The rain was on and off throughout, blue sky was enjoyed only by those in aeroplanes and visibility never increased beyond a couple of hundred metres. For all that, when we went for a walk into town about tea time the temperature was surprisingly comfortable, tempting us to remove our rainwear and settle for t-shirts or cardigans. Most diners were still outside having their meal under huge awnings attached to the restaurants and any outdoor gas heaters we saw remained encouragingly unlit.

It’s nice in the caravan when it rains. It reminds us of days gone by in cosy homes and the fascination of watching snow fall outside while wrapped in a blanket next to the window, breath fogging the glass and providing a sketch-pad which small fingers could not resist. The magic caravan has its own protective bubble around it, keeping the bad rain out and its two travellers dry. This is one of its main jobs and it does it really well. When the rain stops and we go outside again I’m sure I can see it smile with pride at not letting us down.

Maybe it would be sweet to give the caravan a name. Any suggestions?

Day 67: Downhill

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These people in the mountains sure know how to forecast the weather. They told me there would be no more sun until Monday with mist and rain replacing the warm stuff and the temperature dropping like a stone. That was good enough for us. We packed up and left after breakfast, heading directly south towards Lago di Garda (or Lake Garda as we call it). Victoria scoffed as she announced “Follow the road for 167 km towards Modena.” Easy for her to speak, she doesn’t have to drive for 2 hours behind a 1960s Volkswagen camper van from Andorra while a frustrated lorry driver from Rumania blasts his horn at it from directly behind me.

You see, I was not going to make the same mistake twice. The signs clearly stated (via a kind of child’s drawing) that between 08.00 and 22.00 caravans were not allowed to overtake on the motorway. So I stayed tucked on the inside lane and let the person in front of me set the pace. The pace was unfortunately just over 45 mph and the queue of HGVs behind me was not at all amused. We resolved the situation by pulling into a service area and relaxing over a coffee and hot Panini, leaving Andorra to play Rumania in the Italian Grand prix.

The rest of the journey was done on auto-pilot and we were soon off the motorway and heading for the south tip of Lake Garda, to a small town called Pescheria lying on the very banks. Now this site made an instant good impression on us despite the pouring rain and we were relieved to have chosen wisely again. We parked up opposite the wee shop and soon had a cup of tea to warm us up. The rest of the day was spent inside the caravan as the rain got heavier and heavier, but that was perfectly fine by us as we needed a chill-out session after the mountains.

The Internet is telling us that it is snowing in Dundee (on the 26 October). I don’t recall the last time it snowed in October but I assume it must have been a long time ago. The temperature here by the lake in the rain is actually quite reasonable and we only had the electric fire on for half an hour earlier in the evening. We have been warned however that single figure temperatures are on their way so we probably won’t dilly-dally longer than a week around here before moving further south where it appears to be milder. If we go crazy and drive all the way to the “toe”, i.e. Sicily, we are told that they very rarely fall out of double figures the whole year long, so that augurs well for anyone with stamina and adventure. It looks a million miles away on the map to us!

I should point out that more people are signing up to follow the blog and we have recently had record hits on the site for days 64 and 65. We had two hits yesterday from Nigeria but we’re unclear as to the logistics of that. The hits total is now beyond 1500 and we are well pleased with that. Keep your comments coming (especially if they tell of you sitting in Britain huddling over a candle with teeth chattering).

Bedtime.

Day 66: Italian German

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When I opened the door of the magic caravan this morning, I found we had been transported to a little perch on the side of a Tyrolean valley, a monastery perched on a steep hill to the left and the Autostrada slicing through the hills immediately above us to the right. Trip Advisor had warned of noise from both road and rail nearby but as usual we had slept like two logs. By 11.00 the sun was peeking over the road above and filling the campsite with its warm rays just as had been forecast: 18 degrees and unbroken sunshine. Bummer!

We decided to leave exploration for later so, after ablutions and breakfast, we set about putting some detail on our next couple of weeks. We knew that Lake Garda, Venice and Trieste lay ahead on the original plan and we saw no reason to change that, as the order of the day was south. After that we had written in Croatia and Dubrovnik in particular, followed by the ferry overnight to Bari in south-east Italy (just above the heel!) and then 4-6 weeks driving back up for our homeward flight from Milan.

Imagine our disappointment when the Internet slowly revealed that the Dubrovnik – Bari ferry stops for the winter on 3 November with no reasonable alternative crossing or alternative means of getting there except by bus. Would you believe it, there is no train link to Dubrovnik, possibly because the last bit before the town travelling south is actually in Albania. We checked flights from Rome (too dear) and via Easyjet (don’t start till next summer), so, added to no train, a bus that we wouldn’t risk and a couple of thousand kilometres of driving and diesel, you will not be surprised to learn that we scored Croatia off the adventure. We’ll go back another time.

That left us with a simple decision: stay in Italy or stay in Italy. We chose both. Fortunately, about 2 in the afternoon, Butterfly campsite at Lake Garda confirmed our home for the next 3 days so that will give us time to plan a bit more. We may well chase the sun after Venice as the weather is wintry in the mountains already and we have probably ridden our luck on that one as far as we can go. We’ve had sun almost every day since Heidelberg and not one drop of rain to speak of, so we are not complaining about the expected dip in temperature and general deterioration of the weather. By going south, however, we may yet keep the sun on our faces for a few weeks even though we may not see the thermometer rise above 18 degrees, say.

At half past three we left the site and strolled into the town. What a lovely surprise to see such a beautiful wee place (photos later) with a river of clear green water running through. The streets, cafés and shops were incredibly cute and tempted us in oh so easily. Refreshed, Mary forged on up the hill, her sights set on the site her insight had sighted, the monastery at the top of the hill. Now, if you have ever walked up Whinny Brae in the Ferry next to eastern Primary School (as was), you will have a fair idea of how steep the path became as it wandered round and round up the side of the hill, finally penetrating a tunnel under the convent before steps led us up the final few metres to the crowning glory that was the monastery.

As you can imagine, the views were extraordinary but so was the church itself atop the rock, a beautiful cupola with a painted ceiling worthy of the Sistine Chapel itself. The doors appeared original and must have been very old, even older than Cissie! Maybe I’m exaggerating. On the way back down we met a wee woman who lived in a cottage just off the path. She looked like Heidi and spoke a type of Germano-Romano-Chinese which Mary appeared to understand given all the smiling and head-nodding she was doing. I was waiting for the “here are some weeds I’m selling at 50 euro a bunch” but it didn’t come, so we bid her farewell and watched as she flew off on her broomstick.

Going down was sore on the knees as usual but the lungs were having a party by then so no complaints. Mary continues to surprise me with her fitness (stop it!) and she really is one of the pluckiest girls I have ever known. Her image of “un garcon manqué” belies a serious determination to succeed in the face of adversity and she doesn’t let people or things get in her way, I assure you. Remember the workers at the Deutsches Eck in Koblenz?

Tomorrow we leave for Garda, hoping to hear people speaking Italian which we haven’t heard so far, despite being 40 kilometres into Italy. It’s weird with all the signs in two languages (like the north of Scotland) but German predominates here completely and the food and drink etc. all make you think you are still in Austria. Our town even has two names, Chiusa and Klausen.

Prossima Fermata, Lago di Garda (Campeggio Farfalle)!! No, not pasta.

Why are they always on the top?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 65: Hannibal

October 24, 2012

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So we woke up in Buchs, in Switzerland. I think. Yes, that’s right, it was a definitely Switzerland. Maybe. Over breakfast we double checked the weather in the mountains and it still said it would be sunny and warm with no chance of precipitation. That was good enough for me. By midday we were out the gate and Victoria was primed to take us into Italy, to a wee town called Chiusa whose campsite had reserved me a place within twenty minutes of enquiring.

The first thrill was to discover we had entered Liechtenstein after only 5 minutes’ driving. After 6 minutes’ driving we were in Austria! If Mary hadn’t told me I would never have known I’d been there, honest. Check Google maps for directions from Buchs to Feldkirch and you’ll see how much of Liechtenstein we saw.

Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, which all the Robertson children knew.

Now that we were in Austria we needed another bloody vignette so we pulled up at the first petrol station we saw and I went in to buy the said permit. They were sold out! The young lady did however tell me in her best Austrian (that’s German as spoken by a Muppet character) that the next petrol station had them and it was just ………. Well I’m not sure what she said as I fear I may have switched off halfway through her lilting speech, but I took from what she said that I was not to turn left onto the Autobahn but carry straight on and the petrol station would be just round the corner.

It was! So I got my vignette and even some diesel. I got involved again when I asked the attendant what OMW meant above the diesel word. I thought it was maybe a special type of diesel just for lorries or something. Several moments of “affy hard German” later she finally got me to understand that OMW was the petrol company. What a redder! But at least we were quickly on the motorway to Innsbruck with a full tank of diesel.

For the next hour or so it was uphill through tunnels and mist until we popped out of a particularly long tunnel into bright sunshine and a clear blue sky above huge rock mountains whose teeth bit fiercely into the azure overhead. Mary started snapping everything in sight (that’s with a camera, folks!) as one escarpment fell away and was quickly replaced by one even more stunning.

 

Quite nice up here!

Is that Schiehallion?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right at the top we pulled into a rest area and had a coffee and a bowl of Goulash before wandering around outside admiring the panoramas, including a mist-filled valley ahead which secretly held Innsbruck under its ghostly white sheet.

God’s shaving bowl!

Twenty miles of downhill took us through the mist again to the ski resort and then we started the slow climb south, up out of the valley and through the pass at Brenner high in the mountains. For me it was an unforgettable experience, driving up steep motorway pulling a caravan and accompanied by hundreds of HGVs. Just before the top we crept out of the mist again and rejoiced in a blazing sun that welcomed us into my mother’s family’s homeland, Italy (from the Italian “Italia” meaning “Italy!”)

Victoria told us we were a mere 30 minutes from our campsite at Chiusa and as usual she was right. But she didn’t tell us it was steep downhill all the way although limited to 50 mph. That was probably more fun than the slog up the other side. We found the site with n’er a problem, settled in, Mary fixed up some Internet provision while I set up the satellite, we watched Pointless and the News and then had a Spag Bol as we were in Italy. Interesting that everyone in this italian village speaks German and not Italian. I anticipated it being a mixture, but no, it’s pretty pure German and not a single Italian word (although I’m sure someone said “spaghetti!”)

On a sad note we were both shocked to hear of the death of the wonderful Michael Marra, one of Dundee’s finest, a hugely talented man, an outstanding lyricist and a great supporter of all things Dundonian. Michael, te salutamus.

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