The hotel had a really nice breakfast selection which included cakes. We left quite early as all the on ramps to the A7 are closed in the area. We took the back roads towards Milan and had an easy drive. There is a petrol station at the entrance to Linate and our total fuel cost for the holiday was €70. The airport is not very well signposted and there was a long queue for check in. Once that was sorted we had the last of our cheese and biscuits before going through security and into the business class lounge. Once we were on board the flight was delayed half an hour as Schipol was too busy for us to land. We flew over glaciers and lakes in Switzerland and as we got over Holland all you could see is water and some windmills. Mark met us at arrivals and as the train was delayed we could leave nearly straight away. The best way to get to the barge basin at Loosdrecht is via train to Hilversum and then the 121 bus to Mijnden stop in Loosdrecht. We walked into the park, got the barge sorted and managed to leave at a reasonable time. The first lock is right at the basin and cost €5. After the first lifting bridge we tied up at the last bollards on the left. We walked down the side road to the first main road and turned right. A short walk later we were at the Jumbo store. We did the shopping, came back and three lifting bridges later Dave realized we didn’t have pasta for our supper. He and Mark walked towards where Google maps showed a shop but the bridge keeper said it was too far, and the rest would be closed. There are lots of really pretty houses and everything is well maintained. We moored up at 19:15 and Mark had a few beers and we had a South African cinsault, ruby Cabernet blend. Dave made burger patties with mushroom sauce and we had strawberries and cream for dessert. After a limoncello each we went to bed.
La Spezia to Piava
After breakfast Dave went to the market to get rolls for lunch and we packed up and left by 9:30. We made use of the cars built in satnav and headed for Cinque Terre.
There are olive groves and grape vines clinging to the slopes of the mountains. We passed a little open car train that takes you up into the park, and moving carriages that take the harvest baskets down the mountain. The road at Vernazza is closed due to needing repairs after the flood! We drove on a very narrow mountain pass for a 20 minute detour and joined the ‘main’ road which was just as narrow but with no barriers. We eventually got onto a double road about 10km before Levanto. We stopped in Levanto for coffee and fuel. From the top of the mountain it looks like there is a nice beach in Levanto. We passed a man filling up water bottles from the fresh mountain water that’s freely and easily available through most of Italy. The scenery here is unreal. We drove into Sestre Levante, past via Baden Powell and headed toward Pavia. It was very built up most of the way with plenty of speed traps. We stopped in Calvari for espresso and had lunch on the side of the road. We drove through Tortona, across the 45′ parallel and the River Po. In Pavia there was a market blocking the one road we were meant to go down. We drove to look at an agritourisma place but it didn’t look good and was way out of town. We chose an hotel in the old city but the car’s satnav also doesn’t know the one way streets. After close to an hour of driving around we discovered the hotel doesn’t exist. We chose one close to the station, found parking and the Hotel Aurora had a room for the night. After relaxing for a bit we walked to the old city and got gelato. Pistacchio for Dave and cioccalato for me. We went to the Duomo which was commissioned by the Sforza family in 1488 and finished in 1930. We had prosecco and snacks behind the Duomo at Loft10 Lounge Caffe and walked back to the hotel.
We decided to walk to Riatorante Peo for dinner which is right next to the hotel. I had ravioli di brasato Gatto di Peo alla Piemontese and Dave had the baccalà con vongole veraci, gamberetti e julienne di zuchine. I had storica torta al cioccalato di Peo for dessert and Dave had an espresso. We enjoyed a bottle of Pino Grigio from a local estate and had artisanal grappa after our meal. The man who makes it makes six or seven bottles a year. It was a straw colour, smooth after dinner drink. The bill came to €61 without gratuity.
La Spezia and Porto Venere
Our morning started at the market buying lunch and dinner. Dave and I have taken to using the lift to come up two street levels and walk down half a flight to the apartment.
We then caught a very crowded bus to Porto Venere and sat with our feet in the sea while eating lunch. We went for the most expensive espresso we have had so far. €3 at Bar Gelateria Doria. We walked up to the Church and down to Grotto Byron and Dave swam. Our plan was to go to Lineri for a swim in the afternoon so I decided to wait till then. We walked the the old city, stopping for gelato. Dave had cinque terre and I had porto venere.
Our bus back was less crowded and went via La Grazie. On our return trip we could clearly see the acqua culture and how large the naval base is. We went back to the apartment and changed our plans for the afternoon. First we went to check whether the parking meter was still broken. Sometime during the day it had been fixed. We fed the meter and took a walk to Castello di San Giorgio but chose not to go in.
Instead we walked back to the old city for gelato. I had cream stevia nocciola gentile and Dave chose stracciatella. We walked in a new direction, stumbling upon a stunning Church. This time we had our Prosecco at Caffè Centrale. €10 for two glasses and a large variety of snacks.
Dave made dinner and we played back gammon, enjoying a bottle of San Giovese and the rest of our blue cheese.
La Spezia and Quinqe Terre
After breakfast and hanging up the laundry we walke down to the market. We bought soft Gorgonzola and some sweet Parma ham from a very nice young gentleman. We also bought sausages from a lovely lady.
We then walked to the Statue of Gatibaldi and down to the marina. Our walk back through the old city included a gelato stop. Black Forest for me and pistachio for Dave. The tourist area is extremely clean. We walked out of it to do some grocery shopping and then went back to the apartment to put the food in the fridge and prepare lunch. We caught a train to Riomaggiore, the first village in Cinque Terra. It was so crowded and very commercialized. We ate our sandwiches, gazed at the view which is stunning and headed back to the station.
From there we went to Vernazza which was flooded in October 2011. The village was packed with people. Dave and I sat with our feet in the water and finally ate our apples. We walked up to Ristorante Belforte for espressos. They charged us €2 and we could sit down and drink them, and use the bathroom. Absolute bargain.
On the train back we met a young couple from Pretoria travelling on Bus About. I’m going to look into this as it sounds amazing for young people. We showed them where the market was and then made our way back to the gelateria we found this morning for a second choice. Caramello for Dave and caffè for me. We sat down in the piazza to enjoy our ice cream before heading for the Naval Museum. As our luck would have it, the hall Dave wanted to explore is closed for renovations. No holiday on Italy would be complete without that happening. We walked back to the marina and then into the old city. We had prosecco at Gatto Bleu. Same price as last night but a better quality prosecco and no snacks. After that we went in the lift instead of walking one flight of stairs and back to the apartment. Dave cooked dinner and we played back gammon, enjoying our wine and the cheese.
Heading to La Spezia
We had a relaxed start to the morning with a fantastic shower and a good breakfast. When we left we discovered we were very close to a small village. We drove to Sabbioneta which is an old walled town. We started with an espresso before walking around the streets. We had gelato for the walk. Pannacotta for me and nocciola for Dave. We discovered a fresco on the ceiling, a Synagogue and a covered walkway.
We bought home made pasta for dinner and bread rolls typical to the region for lunch. After Mantovani we crossed the river Po and then drove through Parma. We stayed off the main road, travelling the Via Frangencina, a pilgrim route still in use today. We stopped for a picnic lunch and made contact with the owner of the apartment. He was on the road to Genoa and asked us to contact his son. The coordinates on the booking form were incorrect and as we are staying on the side of a staircase, Garmin had no clue where to take us. Dave drove around for half an hour trying to remember the place off street view. We found the stairs, and Giacomo but made a mistake leaving him to wait for us one flight up. An hour later we got to where we needed to park. Mostly to do with not knowing the road name and because the one way roads and road works went against us. We got the keys, paid and went to do grocery shopping. We drove the round about way back and found parking which is at a premium. All the apartments up and down the staircases have people who need to park! Luckily for us we have a space and the machine is broken. We bought all our stuff into the apartment and walked down two flights of stairs to the piazza. We had prosecco at Bellavista wine bar and gelato for the walk. Gianduja for me and amarena for Dave. As he liked the cooked cherries in the ice cream I have a great recipe to try when we get home. Dave made dinner while I unpacked. The owners of the apartment gave us a bottle of wine. We enjoyed a few glasses before heading to bed.
Heading to The Alps
Nothing like fresh air and exercise to encourage sleep! After a shower and breakfast we packed up and walked to the Moto Guzzi shop to get some spares for Dave’s bike. We then headed for the top of Lake Como stopping at Colico for gelato. Biscotto for me and limone for Dave.
Then to Conad to buy lunch. They had a large sign showing pictures of the fresh produce in season. We drove through Traona where they have terraced grape farming up extremely steep slopes. We drove up into the Italian Alps on a very narrow road, and then back down again. The river water is a stunning clear green colour. We stopped at Tirano for coffee and drove into Switzerland to see the Brusio viaduct that the Bernina Express train goes over. We had a picnic lunch before heading towards Brescia. We stopped at the side of the road to buy apples and the lady kindly gave them to us free of charge. We drove through amazing tunnels under th Alps, one being 5km long. At Aprica we were the highest for the day at an elevation of 1.2km. Our next gelato stop was in Edola. Bacio scuro for me and vaniglia for Dave. Our plan was to head for Lago di Granda but instead we ended up at Lake d’Iseo. In Marone we stopped for Prosecco and then drove past Pilzone where there is a copy of the Statua of David at the train station. We drove through the very narrow streets of the old city of Iseo to try and find a hotel for the night, but both were fully booked. Our next expedition was down narrow roads looking for a hotel using the Garmin as our guide. We ended up at a four star hotel, the Iris Hotel in Franciacorta. We have a garage and private lift to our room. It really is stunning. However, after checking in we discovered that the pizzeria in front of the hotel is closed. We were given the name of another pizzeria and after driving there, narrowingly missing going onto the Autostrada in error, we discovered that it to was closed. We ended up at the local shopping Mall and had dinner at Augustiner Bräu München. Nothing fancy. Just a mixed salad and tagliatelle primavera.
Watching the Formula 1 Race at Monza
Had a good nights’ sleep on a very soft bed. We both took an allergex which helped for sure. I knocked my espresso over so was not pleased with myself. It landed on my book, and the bed. We got up and showered and Dave told me he wanted to get the 10:07 train from Lecco instead of the 10:30 train from Madello del Lario. The mad rush involved looking for his cap we bought at the airport, packing the back pack and finding where to go in Lecco. We also had to stop at the shops. We parked with no problem but went into the station directly onto the platform, missing the ticket office. We also missed the train by one minute. We decided to go for coffee and a walk and I discovered the battery for the camera was still in the charger. We went back to the station and saw the train we had tickets for but enquired first if it was the right train. The conductor told us no! He told us to get the direct train for Monza. On the train we met a couple going to the circuit and the let us know about the black bus / bus nera. This takes you straight to the main entrance of the park.
We walked to where our stand was and had a picnic lunch before making our way to our seats. We could not have asked for better ones. They are allocated as people book and we were right on top next to a couple from America. The race was amazing to watch live! Leaving however was chaotic. Thousands of people all trying to get back to the station. Taxis were making a killing. I would recommend waiting till the crowds thin out and then getting back to the bus line as we were pushed around like crazy.
We got back to the B&B and had a shower and then walked down to Lake Como for prosecco. After that we went back to the same pizzeria for supper. We shared calamari fritti to start. Dave had a capricciosa pizza and I had Sicilliana con carciofi. An early night as we were exhausted. We walked 12.07km!
Getting to Mandello del Lario
Breakfast on the plane was pancakes with berry compote, croissants and two cups of mediocre coffee. At the airport we had macarons from Ladurêe. The gentleman was none to pleased to serve us being too early in the morning for him. Dave had pistachio and I went for salted caramel. We then had a decent espresso before buying two books for our library. We had croissants and coffee on the plane before landing at Milao Linate. Europcar did us a huge favour consolidating our free rental with our paid for rental. So we’ve got a larger car for an extra €2. What a bargain. We then went to Ikea where the staff were rude and unhelpful. We finally found the two things we were looking for and walked forever to get out of the place. Never again!
We drove to San Pellogrino Terme, driving through some exquisite villages on the way. We stopped and had ice cream. Pistachio for Dave and specialita cremo for me. We bought lunch and drove to Taleggio. We drove over a very narrow bridge on the way there. The narrow road was unbelievable with the most amazing vistas and absolutely perfect for motorbikes. We stopped and had a picnic lunch and then drove on to Lecco climbing higher than 1.1 km just after Bergamo. The road had no railings at some places and a seriously steep drop. We headed for our B&B and first things first unpacked and had a shower. Not that you can call it that. We got wet under water. And my cleanser broke so we need to go shopping. Quite a bugger on a Saturday afternoon in Italy.
Dave, Gianni (the owner of where we are staying) and I sat down in the courtyard to enjoy a bottle of wine. We were reciprocating his hospitality from the last time we were here. We were soon joined by another guest who is from Australia and a local young man. We had a great conversation with my translator app helping with words I don’t know. We then walked to the shops so I could get cleansing wipes and went to Pizzeria Rosalba for supper. We started with antipasto di mare and Dave had spaghetti alle vongole and I had spaghetti al regù. After our meal we went to the local bar to buy our train tickets to get to Monza. We had made sure there’s a direct train on Trenitalia but from here we need to use Trenord and that goes in to Milan which isn’t suitable. We decided to leave it till the morning and went for gelato for dessert. The pastry shop was just closing but they kindly served us. Pistachio for Dave and hazelnut for me. We walked back to our accommodation and checked the trains again. After that we both fell into bed and went to sleep.
On the 2nd of September we leave for Italy. As usual we are flying Air France and we land in Milan on the 3rd. From there we head straight to Mandello del Lario where we will spend two nights. On the 4th you can look out for us if you watch Formula 1 racing. On Monday the 5th we will head north from Lake Como and spend a night where ever we decide to stop. From there we head South to La Spezia where we will spend 3 nights. Then one night somewhere south of Milan – probably Cremona before heading to Holland. We fly there on the 10th of September and meet up with Dave’s son. Mark is flying in from Newcastle Upon Tyne to join us on the barge. We will barge around Holland for 6 nights before spending one night in Hoofdorp. on the 17th we fly back to Cape Town. This will be the first day time flight I have been on when the time zone doesn’t change. If you want to know what we are up to each day then check back here on the 3rd.