Archive for September, 2010
Assisi was our next stop. After staying in the ACSI campsite near to the town we caught an early shuttle bus in to visit the sights. The town has many churches, the most impressive being the Basilica. We arrived just in time to observe the somber experience of morning mass. Christine had to hire a shawl to cover her outrageously naked shoulders!
Assisi is bizarre. One the one hand it is very spiritual and focused on relinquishing personal belongings. On the other it is packed with shops trying to sell you tacky religious paraphernalia. It’s fascinating to see Jesus salad tongs, cathedral shaped pasta and mini crossbows, all for sale under the same roof.
Italy is a land of crazy drivers and our taxi driver was no exception. You’d think it impossible to gesticulate madly at passing cars with one arm, while the other flits constantly from hooter to radio to mobile phone, all the while constantly ignoring the steering wheel, but somehow our driver made the impossible a jaw-clenching reality.
We made a quick pit stop on our way to the Valnerina, in Norcia. This town is famous for its salami (apparently the best in Italy) and truffles. Wild boar heads stare out at you from the numerous butchers on the main drag, an unsubtle reminder of what the sausages are made from. We bought both and were not disappointed. Boar and truffles squashed into cylinders is a most delicious treat!
Perugia, a hill top town in Umbria, Italy was our destination for the day. Much to my dismay I was unable to organise a tour of the local chocolate factory. Such factories should be open 24 hours per day by law! I had to console myself with a delicious organic lunch of freshly made pasta and wild boar sauce. We made an effort to work off our indulgent lunch by marching up and down the many Perugian staircases, some of which ultimately lead to nowhere. The town has many pretty sights and plenty of photographic opportunities.
After our feet could take no more traipsing around we made a quick detour to Deruta, also in Umbria. This little town is famous for its handmade ceramics. The main street is riddled with shops selling their wares. Many allow you to observe the artists as they create their beautiful ceramics, but photography is strictly forbidden so the only shots Dave came away with was of tiles laid into the pavement.
Firenze, the beautiful heart of Tuscany. A city steeped in art, culture and beauty. And tourists. Hoards of tourists, fresh off cruise ships, even in low season.
My forward planning had been somewhat sketchy (some exhibits need to be booked weeks in advance) and with the added complication of Odie, who often barks if left alone for more than a few minutes, our gallery and museum options were limited. However, there is much to see on foot; the architecture and stunning squares with their replica sculptures are truly impressive.
In typical adventurous spirit David decided that the best way to avoid the throng of people was to cycle next to the river. A steep muddy path led us down the river bank, and was followed with much bumping and cursing (on my part) as we muddled our way along a narrow concrete walkway. It wasn’t long before I was rather too skeptical about our route to continue, and sent David scouting ahead to check that we might actually reach our destination without needing to swim. He returned shortly, with shoes and wheels caked in mud, to report that most of the river had flooded and in any case we didn’t have enough climbing rope to scale the massive wall at the end of the path.
A highlight for us was the hilltop view point overlooking Florence as it gave us a chance to appreciate the stunning architecture from above. The Duomo is particularly beautiful; every inch of it covered in stone inlays and carvings. What a magnificent sight.
Our stay in the Dolomites started at the Dolmiti camping village. They have a camperstop option of €19.50/night if you stay for 3 nights. A bit of eyelash fluttering got us the special price for only two nights. Alternatively, there is an area di sosta just next door for about the same price. In the end, we forgo rafting (the river did not look very wild) and opted instead for a mouton bike route. It turned out to be quite a climb up some very steep Dolomite slopes, but our hard work was rewarded with a fantastic downhill stretch. Near the top is a fantastic waterfall crashing to the rocks far below. David was keen to get a picture but after climbing over the barrier fence it soon became clear that he’d have to do some rather perilous climbing among the pine trees jutting out over the sheer drop. A stern look, followed by several agitated shouts and promises of pizza forced him back to the safety of land. No photos for our trip, but an intact husband, phew.
Today we stopped at Bolzano to see its most famous archeological discovery – the Iceman or, as he is locally known, “Otzi”. He was mummified 5300 years ago and is now kept in a freezer and visible through a small window. The find in 1991 has given archeologists a clearer idea of how man lived in those times. They have Otzi’s clothes on show; it is incredible how much has survived, and quite amazing to see how advanced man was, even back then. There are some English translations on the displays but if you want to get the most out of the museum your best bet is to rent an audio guide for €2.
After leaving Bolzano we had a very scenic drive to the Val di Non – apple country! We had timed it perfectly as the apple season has just started and huge bags of delicious fresh apples were available for bargain basement prices. Many food items had to vacate the fridge so that a massive carton of apple juice could be shoved unceremoniously into its depths 🙂
Our most urgent task was to find a replacement gas bottle before we end up living permanently in a pizzeria with ample food and warmth available next to the wood fired ovens. Several stops at various garages got us no further than learning the Italian word for gas bottle (bombilo) and how often to hoot when performing a u-turn. Lady luck had not forsaken us, but instead sent two Italian motorhomes to park up right beside us just as we were giving up. Chris has become a master of mime, and within a few minutes of performing the gas-bottle act to bemused Italian crowd we had an address of a gas company firmly in our grasp.
We managed to purchase a new 11kg bottle for €25 and refill our small blue Calor bottle for €12. Hurrah, our dinner options now include those of the non-takeaway variety. If you need gas in Italy you may struggle at service stations but try and find out if there is a ‘Liquid Gas’ supplier in the area.
On we trekked to the nearby town of Bolzano. The MMM (Messner Mountain Museum) looks at man’s relationship withmountains. The exhibits are displayed on many levels, and at some point you will find yourself hiking up or down steep stairways. There is an eclectic mix of religious (mostly buddhist), artistic and spiritual displays. I felt inspired by the exhibits as they give an insight into the impact mountains have on humans which is, in many ways, unconnected to the physical world. A word of warning though, the museum does not accept any form of bank card so you will need the €8 entry fee in cash.
Ironically the mountain museum is parked right next to a municipal dump where a man-made mountain of old car tyres grows larger by the day. The strangest part of all was hearing the bhuddist meditation bells being imitated by the loud beeps of reversing rubbish trucks.
Last night we experienced the coldest night of our trip so far in a campsite which is home to humans and a variety of forest dwelling gnomes. The temperature in Austria plummeted to zero, and, in a bitter example of irony, our gas (and therefore central heating) spluttered and gave up the ghost right in the middle of cooking dinner. Chopped garlic and onions had to be hastily stashed in the fridge, followed by frantic scratching around for spare blankets and jerseys. Brrr!
The highlight of Austria (for us at any rate) was the High Alpine Road of Grossglockner. This toll road is expensive by toll road standards at €28 for the day, but as it kept us gasping in awe for hours it was well worth the price. At one point there are 30 mountains over 3000m in view; perfect scenes for postcards and chocolate boxes.
We got up at the crack of dawn and enjoyed a quiet road to start with. The northern ascent (from Salzburg) was dramatic with impressive peaks at every turn. The road quickly racks up many metres above sea level via some very sharp hairpin bends. We stopped frequently for photo opportunities (or sniff-and-pee breaks in Odie’s opinion)
The day was clear and bright (a welcome change after weeks of annoying rain), and consequently the road started to get very busy. By the time we reached the peak there was a constant stream of traffic behind us. We had a very quick look at the glacier at the top, but decided to pass on the visitor centre and surrounding tourist hubub, dragging an frantic Odie away from the marmots he was eager to devour. A quick descent down the other side of the mountain range led us to a beautiful stop for lunch at a restaurant featuring an alpine waterfall as a backdrop. Next stop, Italy!