Posts Tagged ‘italy’

There are going to be a lot of pictures and not many words this time. At least the first half…

On our last day (apart from the flight home) we drove from Geneva over the Alps to Turin. We knew the only way to go was through the Mont Blanc tunnel and we were very excited about it! Imagine driving 7.25 miles through solid rock. Awesome, right? Well, it went by pretty quickly. I tried not to pay attention.

On the French side of the tunnel we wanted to stop and take some scenic pictures, so we pulled off at the first turning. Small town called Courmayeur. Well, they had a gondola ride thingy where you could go up the mountain. So we bought tickets, just to see how scared I would get riding up in the tiny, dangling box. We had no idea it went all the way to the top.

Let me say that again. It went all the way to the top. 11,371 feet up.

This is where I stop talking.

Mont Blanc itself:

Do you see the glacier?

The smallish, triangular peak in the middle distance is the Matterhorn.

I could go on and on, but I won’t bore you. It really is something you need to see in person. We stayed up there for four hours. It was amazing and awesome and an absolute must see. Go there. Seriously. Or, just go HERE and look at the rest of our pictures.

After we travelled back down the mountain (by the way, I don’t like heights and I did NOT like this journey!!) we drove onwards to Italy and Turin, where we were staying the night.

Now, I am going to try to make this brief as well. I LOVED Turin. It was my favourite stop on our tour, I liked it better than Venice and even better than those mountain views above you. Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the picture.

We were there for only a few hours but we got a lot done. We had an excellent map and actually found everything we were looking for quickly. It was already dark when we got there, but my camera takes great pictures in the dark, which is lucky!

We saw museums, palaces, churches, all by the light of the moon. All of our pictures can be found HERE. My favourite part of the city was the original Roman city wall and gate.

If you know me at all you know I am a sucker for Roman history, monuments and the like. This was like accidentally walking into a dream. Honestly, I pranced around for a good half hour touching bricks and going, “Look how old this is! How long it has been here!!”. S gave up on me and wandered off on his own after a while.

I must have walked in and out the gate five or six times pretending I was a chariot. Why a chariot, you ask? Because you could see the chariot wheel marks in the stones on the ground. Maybe not chariot wheels, but wheels of some kind, anyway. See?

If you go to Italy, go to Turin. OK, go to Venice and Rome and Pisa if you must, but I would skip all that and just go to Turin. Every building in the old town was more beautiful than the next. It just seems like every single person who has ever lived in Turin and had any money or influence used it to make the city a better, more beautiful place. Honestly, it was fantastic. I would go back again in a heartbeat. I would spend weeks there. I would live there, probably, if I spoke any Italian…

Although if I did live there then I’d probably weigh about 20 stone because we had dinner that night in a Ristorante on the Via Plana and it was, hands down and by far, the best pizza I have ever eaten. The place was called Rubirosa and this is a picture of it in case you are ever in the area:

As usual, the rest of our Turin photos can be found HERE.

Well, it may have taken a long time for me to get here, but that is the end of our trip to Europe. I know I have said this before, but I would go back again. I would go back again tomorrow if I could. We had a great time. We saw everything we wanted to see and more. We drove a long way. We ate a lot of Italian food.

My favourites? Venice, Mont Blanc and Turin. Where wouldn’t I go again? Milan or Zurich.

So, there you have it folks. Italy, Switzerland and France. Hope you liked it!

Day 6 – Lausanne & Geneva
Day 5 – The Alps, Rothrist & Zurich
Day 4 – St Moritz
Day 3 – Milan & Nembro
Day 2 – Venice
Day 1 – Airplane & Selvino

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Sorry for the hiatus, folks, but I’ll try to tie up this Europe trip blogging ASAP.

On the fifth day of our journey we checked out of our hotel Italy and drove over the Alps to Switzerland. We had planned to take the Furka Pass over the mountains which, if you are a fan of James Bond, you would recognize from the film Goldfinger. We left quite early in the morning, but not before we’d stopped in at the café down the street for a cappuccino. There is also a glacier cave there which you can walk into, which I was very much looking forward to.

We were worried about driving over the border because in Switzerland you require a paid pass to travel on the motorways and this is not something we had. The pass cost about £40 (for two days worth of driving on the highways, seems to me that Switzerland has the right idea here, people!).  It turns out that we had nothing to worry about – if you were without a pass then as soon as you went through passport control you were waved into a separate queue where you could purchase them before continuing.  Lucky for us!

The drive through the countryside was beautiful, and you could see yourself getting higher and higher by the amount of snow on the ground. The weather was pretty cloudy, but the views were still wonderful.

Beautiful village in the valley.

Unfortunately the Furka Pass was still closed because of snow.  We were very sad about this because, while we hadn’t planned much before we left the UK, we had really been looking forward to this drive and seeing the glacier.  This also meant another hour or so of, comparably dull, highway driving.  We ended up taking a detour to another pass – according to the board at the side of the highway it was the only one that was still open.

It was not.

Snow, and, in the background, the red & white barricade across the tunnel entrance.

We stopped at a turn-around at the top of the mountain and had our lunch overlooking the valley.  The views were spectacular, you could see right down into the village and, across the valley, a frozen waterfall standing out a stark blue against the black/brown rocks.  It was quite surreal, but wonderful. We were parked there for a long time just enjoying the views and listening to Idlewild’s The Remote Part (which seemed extremely fitting).

The road, up to the pass and back down again, was very narrow, as usual, and the edge of the road was a sheer drop, as usual. Neither S nor I are big fans of heights and, as you can see by the picture below, we weren’t given much hope by the guardrails in the area:

In case you can’t tell, that 1/3 inch thick metal rod in the middle of the picture is supposed to be a guardrail. Awesome.

After driving back down into the valley and rejoining the motorway we drove on towards Rothrist. We were staying the night  in a roadside hotel in the car park of a truck stop, which turned out to be absolutely perfect.  It was clean and comfortable and the staff were very friendly.  The first thing we did when we got there was ask at the desk how long it would take to drive to Zurich, and the woman just said, “Why would you want to do that?”

At first we were both questioning whether she was telling the truth or whether she just wanted us to stay local and spend our tourist money there.  Well, it turns out she was right. Zurich was awful.

I hate to bring judgement down on the entire city based on our half-hour drive through, but it was awful. The entire city was under construction (in fact, the entire country was under construction – there should be a warning sign when you enter Switzerland!!) and everywhere we turned was a derelict building or a horrible hole in the ground surrounded by wooden hoarding covered with graffiti. Awful. Add to that the fact that we got lost and the fact that it was pouring down with rain so hard we didn’t even bother getting out of our car, and you have an unsuccessful trip.

A picture of Zurich in the rain.

I am glad we went, though, because now I can say I have been somewhere that starts with a “Z”. Excellent.

We drove back to Rothrist for dinner and I am happy to report that the town is more than a car park. In fact, we had a lovely meal there  afterwards took a fine walk in the crisp air. The main street is extremely beautiful, as you can tell by the picture below.

There was a river junction in the town and I was so impressed by the diamond-clear quality of the water that it was basically all I could talk about for days. No, seriously, I was wandering around going “Look how clear that water is! Isn’t it amazing?”

So, not the best day of the trip, but taking into account the fact that Zurich was such a disappointment, the Furka Pass was closed, and we took an hour-long detour up a mountain only to turn around and come right back down again, the day was entirely enjoyable!

If you would like to see the rest of the photos from Day 5, you can find them HERE.


Day 4 – St. Moritz
Day 3 – Milan & Nembro
Day 2 – Venice
Day 1 – Airplane & Selvino

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We went to Milan on the third day of our trip. Due to crazy Italian drivers and undoubtedly high parking costs in Milan we decided to park in Bergamo and take the train to Milan. It was lovely and not too expensive, especially when you consider how comparatively expensive rail travel is in the UK.

I don’t want to ruin the rest of this post for you, but my favorite part of Milan was the train station. Seriously. I love train stations and this one was beautiful:

We decided to forgo the underground and walk to the city centre. This was probably not a great idea. Italian drivers, as I have mentioned, are CRAZY. Crossing the streets, even with a green light, was treacherous and I did not enjoy it.

When we eventually got to where we wanted to be, the Brera Art Gallery, I felt extremely harassed. The gallery itself was impressive but unsatisfying. I knew most of the artwork was Italian and religious but there are only so many different paintings of Madonna With Child you can handle before getting bored. By the end of it I was saying to myself “If I have to see one more floating cherub head with wings instead of a neck…” Like I said, it was impressive, but I got very bored very quickly. Which was a shame.

Then we walked towards the actual city centre and discovered much more impressive sights. Which, due to us not doing our homework again, we didn’t really know existed. First, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which is a 19th Century glass-vaulted arcade that has been transformed into a high-class shopping centre. It was pretty fancy!

Then, on the other side of the Galleria, we walked out into the Piazza del Duomo and found this:

Which, again, I didn’t know existed. It was phenomenal. Absolutely stunning and very, very busy. It was actually the only part of town that was overcrowded, but I certainly wouldn’t want to go there in the middle of the high season. The queue to get into the cathedral was massive.

The Milan Cathedral was outstanding from afar but, if possible, even more impressive when you got closer. For instance:

After standing in awe for a good ten minutes and then taking a dozen pictures we walked towards the Santa Maria delle Grazie which is the church where The Last Supper is. We knew that tickets to see The Last Supper were expensive and sold out months in advance but we thought we’d go and see for ourselves. Well, it was expensive to get in and besides, the tickets had been sold out for months. I was a bit miffed because the three groups awaiting their entrance times were all under the age of seven and wouldn’t have appreciated seeing what is, arguably, the most amazing mural painting in the world, while S and I really would have enjoyed it, but what can you do? I wasn’t going to knock the wee kids over and steal their tickets… So I had to make due with taking a picture of the outside of the building. Like so:

On the way back from Milan we forgot to validate our rail ticket and were fined €50 on the spot for being ignorant tourists. The best advice I can give you if you are travelling to Italy is drink a lot of coffee and GET YOUR TRAIN TICKETS VALIDATED before boarding your train. It was an aggravating end to a disappointing trip, but it was our own fault and so we had to deal with it. Although I am working on an angry letter…

That evening we arrived back in Bergamo around 5:00pm, which is FAR too early for dinner.  Most restaurants we saw opened  at or after 7:00!  We drove to Nembro, the small town at the bottom of the mountain we had to climb to get to Selvino, and decided to have dinner there.  Except we had an hour and a half to wait before anywhere was open.  We didn’t fancy driving up the 7 mile twisty road and then back down again for no reason, so we walked around the town and discovered that it was quite lovely.

The main church in the centre of the town is the Church of San Martino, and, according to this website, dates back to the 15th Century and was refurbished during the 18th. It was nearly time for Mass, but we poked our heads in anyway and it was an absolutely beautiful church on the inside.  There were quite a few people praying so I did not take any pictures, but I would have liked to.

There was also a tiny church tucked away down a side street which I have since found out (thanks to the website above) is the Church of Santa Maria del Borgo. I noticed two frescoes on the outside of the building which were very cool and obviously very old and are, according to the above, from the 15th and 16th Centuries.

There were two paintings in the town centre devoted to St Martin of Tours and a plaque quoting 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

So, a fairly religious town, then.

We had a tasty dinner at the Ristorante Giardino on the Via Guglielmo Marconi, which is, by far, my favourite street name, ever. It sounds like a toy for small children – Get your Googly Elmo here!! I loved it!! The bathroom in the restaurant, however, I did not love:

So, that was day 3. A disappointing trip to a disappointing Milan followed by a lovely and memorable evening in Nembro. If you would like to see the rest of our pictures from Day 3 you can find them HERE.


Day 2 – Venice
Day 1 – Airplane & Selvino

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On the second day we went to Venice. I’ve wanted to go to Venice since I can remember and I am very glad to say that it did not disappoint. It was another lovely sunny day, but not too warm which was perfect.

It was quite a drive from Selvino to Venice Marco Polo airport, three hours each way, actually, but it was worth it. We parked our car at the airport car parks and then took the Alilaguna boat from the airport to Venice. We ended up getting the more expensive ticket but that was a longer, more scenic route, so we didn’t mind.

The boat ride took over an hour and it was wonderful. I am not a big fan of boats in general, but the views from the canals were amazing and very much worth it. We got off at Piazza San Marco, which seemed like as good a place as any to start the day. It was mobbed with tourists… Absolutely crawling with them.

Still, in the end, once you got past the teeming masses, it was beautiful.

St. Mark’s Campanile & St. Mark’s Basillica:

I really wish I had done my homework and figured out exactly where in Venice I wanted to see, because apart from St. Mark’s I had no idea what there even was to see in the city. In fact, it wasn’t until we’d actually gotten there that I remembered I wanted to see The Rialto Bridge:

And then I also remembered about The Grand Canal. How do you forget about The Grand Canal? Well, I did.

View of the Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge:

Mostly we spent the day wandering lazily down the wee streets and crossing over small canals on gorgeous bridges.  Everywhere we turned there was something beautiful to look at, something different and unique around every corner.  It was truly amazing.

For example:

And this beautiful stained glass lamp which I just thought was fantastic:

Really, once you got away from the crowded Piazza San Marco and Rialto Bridge there weren’t many crowds and mostly Italians. The streets and cafés  were quiet. We had a wonderful cappuccino on the Campo Dei Frari and sat on the edge of a dry fountain outside an 11th Century church to have our lunch.

We got lost, of course, trying to find the boat stop to get back to the mainland. We’d been given a map by Alilaguna which had no street names written on it. Who makes a map with no street names on it? We finally found our way, though, and with a half hour to spare. We sat at the edge of the water trying to avoid the 20 or 30 North Africans walking the pavement in a big group carrying, and trying to sell, fake designer bags and sunglasses – looking like nothing more than P. Diddy’s Entourage.

Predictably the boat ride back to land was less exciting, but it traced the same exact route and it was all stuff we’d seen before, including the wooden pier in the middle of the water that had a sign nailed to it saying “Free Wi-Fi”. Awesome.

Would I go back? Yes, I would love to spend more time there, especially now that I’ve discovered this website and found something worth going to see. It was an amazing day and I am very glad we went. Venice gets a huge thumbs-up.

If you would like to see the rest of our photos from Venice you can find them HERE.


Day 1, Airplane & Selvino

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I thought, rather than try to cram all of the fun we had last week into one long, long post, that I would split them up and do one post per day. This way I can be detailed enough but also you don’t have a novel to read.

So, here we go – Europe Trip, Day 1

Basically all we got to do on the first day was take a flight, pick up our hire car and drive to the hotel. But, if you can believe it, this was all very exciting!

The flight was calm and quick, only two hours. There was some turbulence on the landing but I was too busy with my normal OMG I Hate Flying panic to notice.

We did get to fly over the alps, though, and S took some great pictures:

We bought a Sat-Nav before we left and we had it with us, and even though we had set the correct address for the hotel and we were following the directions to the word, we got LOST. A lot. We drove in the same small circle down the same side streets and alleys three or four times, and never went the same direction to get there.

Our hotel for the first four nights was in a town called Selvino which was 21 miles away and up the side of a mountain. There was a twisty road on the way with 19 hairpin turns. I thought it was terrifying. S did not. He loved it. Even driving on the wrong side of the road and having to shift with the wrong hand he still flew up that road. Honestly he must have been going about 3 miles per hour, but my seat in the car was closer to the edge of the road and therefore, TERRIFYING. The only thing I had to cheer me up was the fact that this was the one and only road to the hotel and we had to drive it twice a day for the next three days. Awesome.

We stayed at the Hotel Del Corso which was a budget hotel and we got exactly what we paid for. I am not sure whether the high season in Selvino is winter or summer, but either way the hotel (and the town) was dead. Seriously, the second night at the hotel we were the only guests.

This is our hotel:

This is the view from the hotel:

We had pizza for dinner. It was tasty, tasty, tasty. Yeah, OK it was from the take-away down the street which was run by an Egyptian, but it was cheap and delicious and exactly what we needed for the end of first day in Italy.

This is our pizza:

So, there was our first day in Italy. We had a flight, we got our car, we got lost, we drove up and very twisty road and then we found our hotel. We ate pizza. Our bed was comfortable, the water was hot and, all in all, it was a great day.

Tomorrow: Venice.

If you want to see the rest of the album, you can check it out at this link: HERE.


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