Category Archives: Italy 2013

The Lakes Get Posher

They get a better class of busker on Lake Como!
Camera: Canon EOS 550D | Lens: EF-S17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM | Date: 09-09-2013 15:36 | Resolution: 4883 x 3255 | ISO: 100 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 83.0mm (~134.5mm) | See map | Lens: Canon EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM

Day 9

Early start for long drive to Lake Como, which involves crossing another couple of mountains. Getting out of Riva Del Gardo complicated by one way system and tunnels, and we end up half way down western shore of Lake Garda before we realise we’ve gone wrong.

Last mountain pass, the Passo Croce Domini proves a tricky sting in the tail. All other mountain roads have been well surfaced, a good two cars wide, and with barriers in all the right places, even if shown with a thin white line on the map. Despite the thick yellow line which normally denotes a “good secondary road” on the Michelin map, the pass is more like something out of The World’s Most Dangerous Roads, with a crumbling surface, few barriers, and long stretches only a single car wide.

Although Italy is full of speed monitoring warnings, we’ve seen few cameras until we get to the bottom of this pass. Then the next 15 miles is completely saturated with them! The funny thing is that each has a symbol which looks remarkably like a British bobby in his pointy helmet – not obviously an Italian icon at all.

The remainder of the drive is faster but boring: the industrial towns to the north of the Italian lakes are completely dead on a Sunday, and the main road down the east of Lake Como now runs the whole way in a tunnel about a mile inland.

Finally get to Varenna on Lake Como. Very elegant hotel at La Villa Cipressi, with private gardens overlooking the lake. Great view from the room, but how is it vaguely acceptable in 2013 to light the room with a couple of dim bulbs in opposite corners, and have no power socket accessible for clients without having to unplug one of those few lights?

After dark we get all sorts of weather, sequentially. First continuous thunder and lightning almost like a light show over dinner, then torrential rain, but still no wind. The wind starts when we’re in bed, and threatens to loosen the shutters. I told Frances the story of how a similar storm on Lake Geneva provided inspiration to Mary Shelly and she christens it The Frankenstein Storm.

However Day 10 dawns beautiful and clear, with blue skies and none of the haze we’ve been battling at other locations.

Food: 7/10
Photography: 7/10
Weather: 4/10 (for interest)

Day 10

Spent the day “ferry hopping” around the centre of Lake Como. We would have covered more ground but for a staggering display of Italian administrative excellence which left all the passengers for the lunch-time ferry from Belllagio queuing at the wrong pier while the ferry left from the other one.

Anyway, we had a nice wander around Belllagio, which is very elegant, followed by a longer than expected but excellent lunch. We managed a flying visit to Mennagio, which is more touristy, and we got great shots of Varenna, which has the most interesting architecture, from both land and Lake.

Photography: 7 /10
Food: 8/10
Administration: 1/10 (and that’s being generous)

Day 11

Relatively straightforward drive back to Linate airport, despite a minor map-reading panic. Another enforced long lunch, this time due to computer problems at check in. Oh well…

10 minutes before boarding spot green trousers exactly the right shade, my size and on sale at otherwise hideously expensive designer “duty free” shop. Typical Italy – just when you think the administration is over they have a problem with the till! Managed to make flight, but light one receipt…

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Down to the Lakes

Arriving in Style! Bride being delivered to wedding in Riva Di Garda, Italy
Camera: Panasonic DMC-GH2 | Date: 07-09-2013 12:51 | Resolution: 3084 x 3084 | ISO: 160 | Exp. bias: -66/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/250s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 42.0mm | Location: Bw Hotel Europa | State/Province: Trentino-Alto Adige | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO PZ 14-42/F3.5-5.6

Day 7

A somewhat less exciting day dominated by the long drive down (well strictly up down up down down up down) from Cortina to Torbole on Lake Garda. Lunch at a tiny local pizzeria a mile off the main road, but which sported an international menu in multiple languages including Turkish, Russian and Finnish as well as the predictable English and German.

Alfa’s dashboard starts showing a warning symbol. We stop at garage and consult the manual, but cannot identify it. Later Googling returns disconcerting number of matches for “Alfa Romeo dashboard unknown symbol”.

Hotel Lago di Garda in Torbole is very modern and pleasant, but car park about 1/2 mile away, and sun deck provides lake view only to those over 6ft or under 2!

Food: 7/10
Hari Kari Motorcyclists: – 5/10

Day 8

Excellent breakfast, probably the best so far with an amazing array of cheeses, hams and fruits.

The north of Lake Garda consists of two towns about a mile apart – Torbole where they keep the tourists (think Blackpool in Italy), and Riva Di Garda where they keep the old buildings and posh shops.

Fortunately it’s a pleasant and quite short walk along the shore between them – you just have to dodge the ever-present cyclists.

I finally had a more successful day’s shopping. This included the purchase of lilac trousers a size too small, followed immediately by trouser-hostile ice cream.

Nice meal at the hotel, another tasting menu although arguably not up to the standard of Verona or Cortina.

Food: 8/10
Shopping: 7/10
Photography: 7/10 (windsurfers)

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Finally, in the Mountains

At the top of the Passo Giau, 2236m
Camera: Canon EOS 550D | Lens: EF-S17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM | Date: 05-09-2013 15:07 | Resolution: 4764 x 2977 | ISO: 100 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/80s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 35.0mm (~56.7mm) | Location: Forcella di Giau | State/Province: Veneto | See map | Lens: Canon EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM

Day 6

Started the day with a trip up to the high point above Cortina, Le Tofane at 3244m. Frances opted to stay at the cafe slightly lower, but I took the final cable car and then completed the final scramble to the summit. Superb views looking down into three separate valleys, including several impressive backdrops used in Cliffhanger. I was looking down on rising mist and low cloud, so superb photography.

After lunch we drove up to the lake at Misurina, another strong recommendation from the tourist office. This is a beautiful clear lake surrounded by high mountains, and very photogenic despite the other tourists.

Our plan was to finish the day with the last of the “must do” recommendations, the cable car to the Cinque Torre (5 towers), but we were running too late. However a spot of map reading suggested an interesting substitution – the drive up to and view from the Passo di Santa Lucia. As we arrived the sun was going down and storm clouds gathering, producing fascinating light.

Back to the hotel, and a very good “Gala Meal” well above my previous experience of half board fare. The Francesci Park Hotel gets a very high recommendation.

Food: 8/10
Photography: 9/10
More bloody cyclists: -5/10

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Through The Dolomites

The hills are alive, with the sound of Frances!
Camera: Panasonic DMC-GH2 | Date: 04-09-2013 15:14 | Resolution: 4752 x 3168 | ISO: 160 | Exp. bias: -66/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/2500s | Aperture: 3.5 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Location: Rifugio des Alpes | State/Province: Trentino-Alto Adige | See map | Lens: OLYMPUS M.12mm F2.0

Day 5

Our long drive to Cortina D’Ampezzo started with a gentle drive on the old road to Trento, most remarkable for the very erratic roadsigns showing remaining distance. Warning: the value of your roadsigns may go up as well as down.

We had been lulled into a false sense of security, and the main road through Trento was truly ghastly – two lanes between high, unyielding steel barriers with zero room for manoeuvre either side. The signage was also appalling and we ended up having to cross back over the valley on very small local roads. Fortunately after that we turned off up into the hills and things improved.

Lunch was non-trivial. The first little restaurant we tried wasn’t doing food. The second had just been filled by about 100 cyclists. The third was actually the local gourmet restaurant, but they were happy to sell us two courses off their very interesting menu. The venison carpaccio was excellent!

Finally we were into the mountain drive. You can’t get to Cortina from the west without doing at least two 2000m+ passes, and our route included three. It was a stunning drive, but sadly on quite busy roads plagued by a menace of vast numbers of cyclists. We think it’s bad in Surrey…

We did like the various convoys of cars clearly being driven by owners clubs. The group of black Porsche Carrera GTs was impressive, but the best fun looked like the long convoy of original Fiat 500s, pooping horns at everyone they passed.

Coffee and strudel at a beautiful chalet café at the top of a pass truly excellent.

We finally arrived in Cortina about 6, and went out to look in shops and find dinner. Only when we got back did the hotel receptionist remind us we had paid for half board..

Note to self: if all else fails, read the instructions!

Food: 9/10
Photography: 7/10
Driving: 8/10 apart from the cyclists

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From Bergamo to Verona

Inside the Torre dei Lamberti, Verona
Camera: Panasonic DMC-GH2 | Date: 03-09-2013 15:41 | Resolution: 4752 x 3168 | ISO: 1600 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/30s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 14.0mm | Location: Arche Scaligere | State/Province: Veneto | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO PZ 14-42/F3.5-5.6

Day 3

Ghastly first hour driving from Bergamo to Breschia along the motorway, with heavy traffic, narrow lanes and roadworks frequently eliminating the minimal existing room for manoeuvre. We got off as soon as possible and drove gently towards Verona on the old road around the edge of Lake Garda. Slightly slower, but dramatically more pleasant.

This did mean approaching our hotel via the centre of the small town where it’s located. They really don’t expect you to do that, and signage was almost non-existant.

The name Hotel Antico Termine (=”old terminus”) summoned up an old station abandoned by Beeching-like cuts. The old station building was exactly as expected, but not the fact that the line is still very much in use, with high speed trains thundering through every few minutes. Oh well…

We still managed a relaxing afternoon by the pool, but it wasn’t quiet 🙁 At tea time we set out for Verona, which turned out to be unexpectedly easy, between a very direct back road from our hotel, and a very good recommendation on car parks.

Excellent food at a gourmet restaurant recommended by Pauline, resplendent in the name Il Cenacolo, or “The Last Supper”.

Back at the hotel discovered some more failings. The rooms have mirrors and lights, unfortunately not in the same corners. One power socket does not suffice to charge a modern set of gadgets. Oh well…

Food: 9/10
Roads: varied from 1/10 to 6/10
Hotel: 3/10

Day 4

A surprisingly good night’s sleep, as our room was at the opposite end of the hotel from the railway, and we’re used to the odd train noise at night at home. However breakfast was a complete failure – we got down just after 9 and there was nothing left but cake! Not even a jug of water. There was one waitress trying to replenish supplies, but facing a full, large hotel just couldn’t keep up. We packed for the day, and headed into town, where the guy at the local sports bar had some warm pizettas and nice coffee. Then back into Verona.

We spent the day gently wandering around Verona’s shops and tourist centres. The ancient arena is fascinating, and we watched the stage crew installing the most enormous set for that evening’s performance of Aida. It might have been nice to try and get tickets, but the performances run until about midnight and we had a long drive the following day. Maybe next time.

I downloaded an excellent little book for the Kindle app on my phone entitled “Verona in One Day”. Despite the odd linguistic oddity (e.g. “ewe” for the second person) it did what it said on the tin and routed us round the “must dos” in an efficient way. Meanwhile Frances was doing well on shopping, although I have seen rugby scrums less energetic than the almost competitive purchasing going on at her favourite Italian blouse shop, where one woman attempted to grab a blouse Frances was already paying for! (Frances would not be beaten…)

Photography: 6/10
Shopping for F: 7/10
Shopping for A: 0/10 (almost no men’s stores, and nothing I was looking for)

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Back to Italy!

Sunset on the Piazza Vecchio, Bergamo
Camera: Panasonic DMC-GH2 | Date: 31-08-2013 17:17 | Resolution: 5111 x 3195 | ISO: 160 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/160s | Aperture: 11.0 | Focal Length: 14.0mm | Location: Excelsior San Marco Hotel | State/Province: Lombardy | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO PZ 14-42/F3.5-5.6

For 2013 we’ve come back to Northern Italy. It’s a place we both love. Frances has long harboured a desire to visit Verona, and I wanted to revisit the Dolomites through which I took a fleeting drive many years ago, so we built both into a short loop from Milan.

Photographically this is an experiment, as for the first time for about 6 years I’m travelling without my full-sized Canon camera. Unfortunately the new Panasonic GX7 didn’t turn up in time, so the primary tool will be my existing micro four thirds GH2, with the Canon 550D as backup.

Day 1

Travel from Heathrow to Milan works flawlessly, a good start. Hire car is an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, with a 2l turbo diesel engine, which should be fun.

Short drive to Bergamo, and found hotel after minor panic. Parking in square behind hotel behind big doors in shopping arcade, just like in The Italian Job.

After settling into the hotel, we went to explore the old town of Bergamo Alto, (= “high”). There’s a funicular railway to the main town, and a second one which I thought went down the other side. Wrong. It’s a long way to the top of the hill on foot! However, had wonderful meal in restaurant recommended by our friends Pauline and Filece (who happens to be an Italian restauranteur).

Note to self: just because restaurant has Pizzeria in name doesn’t mean it is not posh and I shouldn’t arrive soaked after walking a mile up a steep hill!

Food: 9/10
Hotel: 10/10
Map reading of funicular railway: 1/10

Day 2

Further exploration of Bergamo. The low town is mainly big Lombardy bank offices and modern shops but worth a wander. Hotel Capello d’Oro is right in the centre. Bergamo Alto is the real tourist centre. We had a great lunch at the cafe run by the Bergamo micro brewery – excellent stouts and bitters completely contra to normal expectations of Italy.

We did all the normal tourist sights, then headed back to the hotel for a quiet coffee break. After that we headed out for dinner, to find the main square setting up for a big festival. Dinner, a club sandwich, was a bit disappointing, but the free rock concert was very good, we enjoyed watching the glamorous Italian ladies, and I got another pint of the local brew. Very good ice cream too.

Bergamo really is the home of beautiful people. We followed one young couple with three very young children, she in a spotless white linen dress, he in beige trousers and pale green polo shirt matching his suede shoes. I don’t have toddlers, but if I did I would probably go around in a level 4 hazmat suit, visor down.

Note to Italian musicians: pop music really does work better in English.

Beer: 9/10
Music: 7/10
Tourist stuff: 7/10
Fashion: 10/10

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