Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Hills Were Alive

Not that it has taken me this long to realize it, but I am NOT a blogger. BUT, seeing that our time here in the UK is now limited (Heading home to WASHINGTON in the spring!) we are set on seeing as much as we can while we can. So, over the summer break we took off for a nine day road trip in the Alps. Here is a little of what ensued...

Day 1, 16th August- Home to Treviso, Italy
Hopped a Ryan Air flight and wandered across the street to our dive of a hotel to sleep in the sultry heat.

Day 2, 17th August-  Treviso to Verona, Italy to Lugano, Switzerland
Placing our names outside Juliet s Balcony in Verona, Italy
That morning we woke up, got the car (an Alfa Romeo, ha!) and headed to our first stop, Verona. After adjusting the dash sat-nav's tendency, we were able to get there, park and wander around to see a few sites. We followed the Adige river around into the historical center. We did see "Juiet's Balcony" and scrawled our names on the premises. It was PACKED with tourists, so Olive didn't get to grope Juliet for a photo op, but she did get to dance about in the tiny square a bit instead.

We had a picnic lunch of pizza in a small park. Entertainment included a male couple shaving each other, a group of surly individuals a few boxes of wine down, and a man in short running shorts bathing in the fountain. Once one of them sat next to Josh, and put his head on the table; it was time to quietly leave and make our way to the next destination.

After a 'bit' in the car, we skirted Milan up to Switzerland. A 40 Euro vignette later, we were road ready. Our stop for the night was in Lugano. That evening we wandered the town in the balmy 30 oC temps and marveled at Lake Como.
By the Lake Como in Lugano, Switzerland
The Hotel we stayed at was the Hotel Victoria. Family run by some obscure branch of Russian Royalty. The little prince had some lovely portraits around the hotel of him growing up. Now he runs the front desk. Maybe he had something to do with the unique decor.
Hotel Victoria- note the Gnomes
That evening's dinner was in a plaza where Olive got to get her dance on again. This time is was to an American Rockabily/Bluegrass band.

Day 3, 18th August-  Lugano, to Chocolate Factory, to Lodrino, Switzerland to Vaduz, Liectenstein to Garmish, Germany

First stop on this day was the Alprose Chocolate Factory. It was a quaint little factory that was asleep for the weekend. We took the self guided tour, watched the video, and hit of the gift shop. (For the rest of the vacation I was trying to keep chocolate from melting- not such a good choice for souvenirs!)

Onward we traveled North to the small village of Lodrino, Switzerland, the homeland of my mother's grandfather. We easily found the church in town which was located between the quarry and a valley with a waterfall. Inside was an organ my great-grandfather help raise funds for. There wasn't anyone around to talk to, but we spent some time in the cemetery looking at the Genzoli's tombstones. No doubt some of our handsomeness comes from those ancestors. 

Grape Picking
Not ready to hop in the car yet, we took a walk about. On the side of the Church was an arbor of grapes that Olive and Josh kept eating in atempt of finding a tasty one. The opposite direction was a natural stone built area used like a restrurant. Apparently that night there was to be a festival held there, but alas, we needed to be in Germany by nightfall. So off we were.

Lugano, Switzerland

Somewhere in Switzerland, we all needed out of the car. After a fabulous family meltdown, we all had a bit of a splash in the fountain. Also they drank a bit of the water as well. Luckily, all was well after that. Did I mention it was HOT?

On our way to Germany, we took an hour or two to see Liecternstein. We stopped in Vaduz, the capital, for our first passport stamp of the road trip, for which we had to pay (very bummed that we didn't get all the countries we visited in there!)

No offense to the Principality, there was nothing wowing about it. A very expensive drink stop later, we were back on the road through the Alps taking in the sites when we were not in tunnels.

Eventually we ended up in Garmish, Germany to stay at the Edelweiss resort- an American run military hotel. It was a great room at a great price for the region, however, God Bless America.   We had taco bar for dinner. Yes, we did.

Day 4, 19th August- Bavaria

A day in and around Garmish was all we wanted after all the driving. We started out the morning going to the Partnachklamm Gorge for a cool hike between dripping walls a silty azure stream.  It was the first and only time all trip that we needed longer sleeves. When we arrive to the other side we were faced with the delema of turn around down the gorge and find lunch, or trust in a sign saying there was an inn along this mountain trail. Equipped with some water, raisens, and a banana we hiked forth hoping that it was true that there would be food at the top. Sure enough, we plod on to be rewarded with a the Hotel Forsthaus with a resturant overlooking the Alps. Schnitzel, Curry Worsts, and Weizen was happily ordered and eaten. We weren't the only ones hiding from the heat and and enjoying our beers. There was another family next to us as well whom we then recognized later that evening...

Lunch Break during the Hike
After a deserved rest and splash about in the hotel pool, we went out to find the local Festwoche. We walked into this huge striped tent, sat down at an empty bench and wondered what next. The American family we saw earlier in the day were decked out in their dirndl and lederhosen- Josh went over, said hello, and then we had company and help to guide us through. A woman came over took our order and returned with our giant mugs of beer.
Beer Lady
Dinner at the Festival... we were there a bit early :)

Day 5, 20th August- Up the Zugspitz

Another day in Bavaria was spent traveling up Germany's Highest peak, the Zugspitze. We didn't hike it. Instead we took the train from Elbsee and headed up the mountain to the Glacier. Although it was over 33C/91F when we left, we were able to go sledding on the glacier!

To get to the summit we boarded a cable car for the last bit of the journey. It was a clear day and you could see 360 degrees around the summit into the Alps and into the valleys below (that's the part Josh didn't care for too much, look how happy he is)

Whilst we were up there, we traveled back and forth from Germany to Austria because we could. Once down off the mountain we had a snack of apple strudel, weizen, and a pretzel before renting a paddle boat and taking a swim in Lake Eibsee. It was lovely clear, cold glacier lake. Fantastic to swim in. Frightening to watch Olive go off the boat's slide into Josh's arms since she can't really swim. But we all made it out alive and smiling.

Because we had to get a little more in this day, we headed next to Oberammergau which is known for it's wood carvers. Very Bavarian Kitch, but nice to walk around. Ended up getting a few tree men to go along with our ever increasing collection German wood art.

Day 6, 21st August- Garmish to the Hallein Salt Mine, to Salzburg, Austria

It was finally time to leave Bavaria and get on to what O was waiting for - The Sound of Music! However we took the more speedy route (aka ALL tunnels) to get there. Just outside Salzburg is the Hallein Salt Mine. No longer operational, but once was the source of riches for Salzburgh. The tour started out by getting kitted up in these special hooded scrubs and then waiting outside with your cave worthy fuzzies on underneath *Sweating.* To get into the cave itself was a train. Imagine sitting one behind the other on a low balance beam. One got very cozy spooning the person in front and behind you.

Umpa Lumpa
Once in our tour guide walked us through a series of sights in German, Italian, and English. Olive and Josh kept licking things to see if they were salty. Did get to have a Willy-Wonka ride in a boat across a briny underground lake. And, the best part, two old wooden slides which you'd stradddle that zipped you down 42 feet at some 60 degree angle. The first one was fun, but Josh and I were both fearful of running into the kid who wouldn't get off the bottom- we would have bought the photo, but to say Olive was grinning maddly, my face had that squished in ouch I'm going to hit a wall look, and josh's just said *&^k. Couldn't part $20 for that, so the memory will have to do.

We emerged from the mine 2 hours later and made our way to our hotel in Salzburgh- the Golden Ente. We wandered the town, walked past the Fesenreitshule, Josh tried on and fell in love with some hand made goat skin Leterhosen (a mere $680 steal!) traversed the Getreidegasse - Salzburg′s busiest alley, and lit a candle at Dom zu Salzburg. Dinner was spent under the large leafy trees in the Augustiner Bräustübl. A liter of ale can be bought direct from the cask. What you do is grab a large ceramic stein from the shelf, pay for a ticket, *wash you mug in the fountain (Josh didn't since he wasn't in the Rick Steve's know), and then hand your ticket over for your mug to be filled. Food was bleh (think meat/starch for drinking) but the beer was lovely.
Lighting a candle in  Dom zu Salzburg
I've got Confidence in Confidence Alone- Residenzbrunnen Fountain on Residenzplatz Square
A Liter of Beer at the Augustiner Braustuble
 Day 7, 22nd August- The Sound of Music Day

Epic day of touring. If you haven't seen Roger  and Hammerstein's creation, you might not see the signifigance all these places, if you have, well, we almost got them all!

Olive dressed in her special Sound of Music costume that Oma made, and was determined to wear it all day despite the oppressive heat. Trying to find the Do-Re-Mi stairs we started up the hill along the Monchsberg Walk to Hohensalzburg Fortress.

There were lovely views of the city while we climbed, but we didn't find the stairs. Instead we found ourselves at the back gate of the Castle and decided since we were there, we might as well go in. Olive liked the canons and trying out the marionettes in the museum. We were able to glimpse the house used for the movie out one of the windows.
Canon at the Hohensalzburg Castle
"Von Trapp" house from the Film
We took the funicular down the hill for lunch. We strolled through the St. Peter's cemetery and through the west end of town. Going up hill again we fount the Nunnery and visited the church attached.
St Peter's Cemetery with view of the Castle
 Nonnberg Abbey- Where's Maria?
Mirabell Garden's was our last stop before resting for the afternoon. There Olive was sure to re-create all the things the Von Traps did in the movie- skipping, running, hoping steps, seeing the gnomes, and plenty of singing.
Skipping Around the Fountain - Do-Re-Mi
Do-Re-Mi steps at Mirabell Gardens
Mozart Balls
Dinner was at St. Paul's Stube'n Beer Garden. A relaxed little artsy beer garden that served food in a cast iron skillet.

Day 8, 23rd August-  Salzburg to Slovina to Treviso, Italy
Bakery at Kapitelplatz
Bread- it's about 6 pounds!

Woke up and ready to drive, but first we had to go to the bakery at Kapitelplatz. There were 2 choices early in the morning- medium or large. We ended up with a large, heafty, hot stone of a loaf which could have fed a small army. When people lived off bread and beer, this is the stuff that did it.

 After several tunnels, tolls, and a "why-not" later we were lined up outside the Slovina border at a tunnel. When we got to the other side, what beautiful mountain sites there were. 
Picnic lunch in Solvina
Drying Hay
More Driving. More random stops and we arrived back in Treviso, Italy to tour the town, get some pizza, and a some rest before heading out early to Venice the next day.

Day 9, 24th August- Treviso to Venice, Italy

Said goodbye to the bread and the car to board a bus into the city.  Once there, we took the water bus into our hotel. Now instead of 33 oC it was 35 oC. Near melting temperatures that wore on us while slogging our luggage and tired offspring an extra few "blocks" (alley ways, staired bridges, and through tourist crowds) to get to our newly re-done hotel the Dimora Marciana. Air conditioning for the first time on the trip! Having a room hover 10oC cooler was lovely.

Once rested, we went off to explore the city. Rounding corners, over bridges, through allies we wandered finding wondrous shops with masks, marzipan, and glass.  After buying several severely overpriced water bottles, we gave in and starting drinking from the spigots in the squares. After exhaustively walking for hours in the heat, we happened into a nice neighborhood eatery for dinner. St. Mark's Square on the return to the hotel was lit up by cheep LED helicopters being hawked to the tourists, but it was lovely never the less.

Where we ate dinner

Day 10, 25th August-  Venice, Italy

St. Marks Basilica
Teal Pigeon in St. Marks Square
St Mark's
First thing in the morning we lined up in the Piazza San Marco with our covered knees and shoulders waiting for a turn to walk through the Basilica.  The mosaic work over every surface was very impressive. Once out, we headed back to the hotel to get into more summery wear for the rest of the day.

Olive's Mask
Olive's Olives
Sign speaks for itself
We saw many interesting sites while traversing Venice. One such one was The MOST Beautiful Book Shop in the World. Greeted by such a sign and obviously irritated cat, how could you NOT be a little curious. Inside was the proprietor- a man who looked like the comic book store dude from the Simpsons, but aged, and of course Italian. The shop was his own private hoarding piles of books, cards, art, boats, porn, cat beds, more books, and some very interesting kitsch. But the books that were used as stairs and decorative walls were a hit with Olive. 
Stairs at the Most Beautiful Book Shop in the World, Venice

Alley at the Bookshop
That afternoon we made it over the Rialto bridge and back over the Accademia bridge and then walked all the way to St. Pietro's island. Lots of walking. Things we saw along the way included: walked past the building Indiana Jone's and the Last Crusade was filmed, the fish market, the produce market, and...  We ended up having dinner in the center of the city where the wait staff were very kind to Olive and played games and joked with her. Josh chose to eat cuddle fish- doesn't it look yummy? Since it was the last night of our vacation we stayed out late and Olive got to dance to the bands playing in Piazza S. Marco.
Don't you just love the presentation of the Cuddle Fish?
Day 11, 26th August- Venice to home
AND, as a filler of the past few months of not writing: we had traveled to Provence, France, seen the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Camped in the Lake District, had a few novel experiences in and around Cambridge, celebrated Olive's 5th birthday, welcomed and toured around with guests, Castle visit with Knight's Tournament, and sent Olive off to her SECOND year of school!