October 31, 2012 · 10:00 pm
4th June 2012
Had a great nights sleep in the castle, think I must have been switched at birth or something – I felt right at home!
Typical view in Venice
Did a bit of a panic this morning because I couldn’t top up my phone credit to answer a text from work. I tried to use iMessage instead on the iPad and couldn’t get that to work either, I then tried the email app I usually use to try and email instead but it wouldn’t send so I gave up and went for breakfast – got the priorities right there didn’t I?
Used the good old Hotmail after brekky and it worked a charm so I hope they got the invoices imported they were having trouble with but I guess I will find out eventually.
Off to Venice this morning bright and early, arrived about 10’ish and transferred to St. Marks square by boat for a guided tour of the Basilica and other bits and pieces. Had a great local guide again, this time a woman who liked to give our tour leader a hard time. We toured the Basilica then walked through the back streets to the Rialto Bridge and then on to the Rialto square (I think that’s what it was called). The church bit left me a bit cold but I guess you can’t visit Venice without seeing some of the famous religious things. The Rialto Bridge was a bit the same, they had a couple of advertising banners hung over one side and the other side had graffiti on it so not sure where all the beautiful pictures come from or when they take them.
I feel bad that I’m not more informed but have really caught the travel bug and hopefully next time I travel I will be brave enough to do my own thing so will be able to spend more time finding out the stories of the places I go.
You could hardly move for people but it is a long weekend in most of western Europe and great Britain so there were hordes of holiday makers. Absolutely loved the rest of the day walking the streets either gawking like an idiot at the buildings or looking for gifts for some of my nearest and dearest. Was a bit difficult at times trying to juggle the umbrella, keep my handbag in front and protected, get the camera in and out of said handbag (always remembering to zip closed after each extraction or replacement), take photos and carry above mentioned gifts. I really don’t think the gypsies or pickpockets were out today because I would have been the ideal target I’m sure…
The condom lookalikes??
A lovely couple who I have been spending a bit of time with had pastel pink and blue rain cover-ups with hoods that had little peaks on top. I thought they looked a bit like a pair of cute little gnomes but one of the men christened them “the condoms” – it was hilarious when he said it totally dead-pan. The whole group then had to take photos of course. They took it all in good fun but we reckoned it was just karma for teasing me so much for being late on Isola Bella!!
We caught a couple of water taxis back to the bus, this time going along the Grand Canal which was great fun and just how you imagine it to be, lots of noise and boats going everywhere and buildings looking like they are just floating on top of the water. I took miles of pics but I think Tony took even more than I did. Back to the castle with just enough time for a soak in the bath and to get dressed for dinner – its a hard life! Another excellent dinner tonight with new table mates, Margaret and Ron, Jan and George and Rita and Tony. We are off to Tuscany tomorrow for, I think, a five night stay which I’d say will be just excellent. It’s almost 1am so I’d best put the next lot of stuff to be charged on the chargers and get some sleep.
I am really having the time of my life and every day at least once I find myself just sitting quietly taking it all in and I think how fortunate I am. I keep finding it hard to believe it’s me having all these great experiences, but I’m sure making memories I’ll look back on happily for as long as I can.Ciao all!
October 29, 2012 · 8:03 pm
Sunday 3rd June 2012
We left Stressa on Lake Maggiore today and headed for Lake Garda for lunch. I have a new ritual now, each time we stop for morning tea I have a cappuccino and a chocolate brioche, they are a croissant filled with chocolate the consistency of say nuttella and are the yummiest things around. Some of the service stations here are amazing, they are like a servo, general store, deli and bottlo all rolled into one. I keep thinking if Merv got in one he’d never come out.
Lunch behind the loo on Lake Garda!!
Sirmione on Lake Garda was our next stop for a couple of hours. Went off on my own for a while then ran into Dale and Val so we had lunch together, right on the edge of the lake. We didn’t realize until after we’d finished that we were sitting right behind the public toilets – what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you I guess! Had yummy antipasti dishes to share and of course a glass of Proseco which has also become a ritual now.Dale had the brilliant idea to go for a paddle as we were walking away from lunch and went to walk down a little boat ramp. Val and I just kept walking slowly and next thing we hear this little voice calling “ladies, ladies”, it didn’t sound like her so neither of us stopped until she called again. We turned around in time to see her scrambling on all fours trying to stand up, absolutely saturated to her waist and laughing her head off. All I could think was good thing I didn’t join her as I had thought about it. They went straight back to the bus and Andrea got her suitcase out so she could get clean clothes and change on the bus before we all arrived. She ended up with a couple of whopping bruises but was okay and had another story to tell.I didn’t wear the crown for being late for long thank goodness. We waited for five minutes at the meeting point for Pam and Bill but they didn’t show so we headed back to the bus. Along the way they apparently phoned Gilberto to say they were on their way, they had been at the wrong place – they got back a bit more than five minutes after us and were mortified as they are really quiet people but it took the heat off me.
View from my room in Castelbrando
Next we drove towards the Dolomites and our home for the next couple of days above the village of Cison do Valmarino – CastelBrando. It’s an old roman fortress and looks out over the valley. It was in the Brando (I think) family for centuries. There are a couple of different parts to it but when it was sold and converted to a hotel they haven’t altered the original and have kept things very authentic. The bus stopped in the village below and we caught a funicular to the castle, like a cable car but runs up the side of the mountain on the ground not in the air, was a long way up. Our rooms were tiny but gorgeous and mine had a most amazing view, I couldn’t stop looking at it and taking photos.We had a great tour around with a lovely girl whose English was very hard to understand. I couldn’t work out what she was talking about half the time but I must have done better than some because there were lots of blank looks and shoulder shrugs and hands in the air – not just confused but practicing our Italian gestures! Once I worked out she was pronouncing ‘swords’ as it is spelt and not as we would say it some of her story made a lot more sense. We had our welcome drinks on the terrace and a beautiful dinner in one of the dining rooms. It was another great day!
Lunch behind the loo on Lake Garda!!
Dale after her Dip in Lake Garda
Siirmoine on Lake Garda
Funicular to Castelbrando
View from my room in Castelbrando
Castelbrando weapons & armour display
October 29, 2012 · 4:33 pm
Mottarone Cable Car
2nd June 2012
We had about 5 minutes after we got back from the islands to drop our gear and meet back in the lobby to head to the cable car station. Only 14 of the 30 in the group came along but I’m so glad I went as it was great fun. The cable car station was about 15 minutes walk from the hotel and it took close to half an hour to reach the top via 2 cable cars and a chair-lift. There was once a tram from Stressa to Mottarone but it last ran in 1963 and all the tracks were demolished not long afterwards
On a clear day you can see 7 lakes from the top of Mount Mottarone but there was a lot of mist and cloud around so we didn’t get to see them all but what we could see was spectacular.
Our tour guide had told us about a toboggan ride we could take while at the top so we all ended up having a go, terrific fun, just like a litter roller coaster ride – without the loops of course. The toboggans were double but I went on my own. You just controlled your speed with the brake/accelerator handles. At the bottom of the ride you were supposed to stay on and it then pulled you back up the hill in two stages. One of the guys had got off his and was standing there looking very lost when I came along so I offered him a lift not thinking what it would look like with him sitting between my legs when we got back to the top. He was really worried that his partner would find out so among the hilarity of it all everyone decided “what happens on the mountain stays on the mountain” – even though it was totally innocent.
Mottarone chair-lift and toboggan ride
Another of the men had his tripod and I showed him how to set the timer so we took a couple of group photos which turned out really well. It was a great few hours and I think we all loosened up quite a bit with each other after the toboggan ride. There was a little inn where you change from the chairlift to the cable car so we stopped there for a drink. I had a shot that was a bit like Bailey’s Irish Cream except it had an eggnog type taste. It also had peach in it and was served warm – it was called something like “fille de fleur”. I asked the guide about four times and still couldn’t understand what he was saying so thought the best solution would be to just smile and nod! We almost missed the last cable car back down, we only made it by seconds – but then that’s where half the fun lies when you’re travelling isn’t it?
Lake Maggiore islands from cable car
About 20 of the group went to a restaurant for dinner that night that the tour guide organized for us. It was just a normal Italian place where they passed around heaps of different dishes for first course, really rare beef and veges for second course and strudel for third. It was good to have proper Italian food instead of Americanized hotel food. I had my first taste of Italian red wine and loved it, no headache either! Dale’s captain turned up for a drink and a few more compliments, he didn’t get far with her – but he was entertaining. It really was the best day so far from start to finish.
Oh wow, the wonders of the internet! I googled the drink I had that I couldn’t understand the name of earlier and found this site. It’s called Fil da Fer so I wan’t too far wrong I guess – except I don’t know where on earth I got the bit about peach – must have been dreaming again!!
October 25, 2012 · 12:47 pm
2nd June 2012
Wow, this was a fantastic day! We visited 2 of the islands on Lake Maggiore, Isola Bella & Isola Pescatori for most of the day then some of us took the cable cars and chairlift to the top of Mount Mottarone after which some of us went to dinner at one of the local restaurants.
It was like going on a school excursion, we were all excited to catch the boat and the captain on our boat played an operatic version of the Australian anthem at full blast. He was like an old-fashioned Lothario gone to seed but was gorgeous. As we got off the boat I got a “bella signorina” but Dale did even better and received a wishful marriage proposal!
The palace and gardens belong to the Borromeo family and work to transform the rocky island began about 1630 and continued on and off well into the 19th century although the palace itself was basically finished in 1670. The palace has an amazing amount of ornate furniture, paintings, books and musical instruments to just touch on a few of the sights we saw.
We had a guided tour of the palace which was another adventure because the tour guide was an absolute crack up He gave us a running commentary of the history and stories with jokes the whole way through. He was really informative but fun as well. Val sat down on a chair at one stage and just as if it was part of the commentary he told us to look at this lovely statue of a 600 year old princess, very well-preserved, and gestured to Val who was turning around looking for the statue. It was totally hilarious!
It was just how I imagined Italian palaces would be – over the top, very ornate and gorgeous. It’s not my style but to see it in real life is just amazing and I can’t really believe I’m here at last. We then had some free time to walk around and I thought it was just the gardens so I was a little disappointed to find out there was a lot more to the island other than just the palace – all the more reason to come back again!
I sat and had a drink with Margaret and Ron and started to go back to the meeting point fifteen minutes before we were due and found all these interesting laneways, houses and markets. Just before I got back I saw some really nice tops so stopped and quickly bought two tops and a scarf in about two minutes – then I was late, and of course I copped a fun ribbing for the rest of the day. It was worth it though, both tops fitted and nobody was seriously upset as I was only just late.
We then caught the boat to another little island called “fisherman’s island” or “Isola Pescatori” which was much smaller but quite lovely. Apparently there are about 50 full-time inhabitants and their main source of income these days is tourism. I had my first piece of Italian pizza there for lunch and it was another pinch me moment. It was all laneways and apartments and shops in the middle with a promenade all the way around. Had a great time and bought some canvas bags for the scrapping girls and a calendar on heavy paper with watercolor prints of the island.
When it was time to leave the island the younger of the two captains was waiting but the older one was nowhere to be found and was getting an earful on the phone for
Outdoor eating Isola Pescatori
being late – very voluble and animated and quite amusing to watch and listen. He eventually came speeding along in his boat full of loud chatter and laughter, not in the least upset or chastened by the phone call.