2002 - Italy
Saturday 19th October
Leaving Heathrow at 3.30 p.m. we arrived (via Munich) at Verona in a 48 seater twin prop plane at 8.30 p.m. local time.
The girl at the Europcar desk was wanting to get home and did not give us a map other than one of the whole of Italy.
After 2 hours of driving with increasing stress we had extended the 12km journey to about 60km and still had no idea of where the hotel was. Adrian went into a hotel Ibis and asked but decided to throw in the towel and we stayed there that night - just as well as it happened as the directions given by the staff were wrong!
Sunday 20th October
We joined the autostrada (by mistake) and passed the hotel but had to go about another 5 miles to turn round.
The hotel Tryp was fine - a 4* hotel in an industrial area 5km to the south of Verona.
Once settled in we drove into the centre of Verona and visited the Arena (1st century amphitheatre now used for opera in July/August - a great improvement on its Roman use). It was highly impressive even though the three tiered arched curtain wall had gone from 9/10 of the circumference. We stayed in the Piazza Bra for a pizza in the warm sunshine bore taking the Via Mazzini to the Piazza delle Erbe and then the house of Juliet - a fascinating 13th century 3 storey house with the famous balcony of Shakespeare's play and inside the decorations and furnishings of the medieval period together with a temporary exhibition of contemporary furniture.
Having walked back to the Piazza Bra a different way and sampled an ice-cream there we returned to the hotel with only one wrong turn. A couple of hours reading an attractive looking but rather indifferent meal in the hotel restaurant before we went to bed.
Monday 21st October
Today Lake Garda reached via the autostrada along which Jill kept her eyes closed - the many lorries would pull out slightly and only then signal.
We left this toll road (about £1) at Desenzano del Garda which was a small town with attractive harbour and lake front as well as narrow streets. It has Roman remains but like much else this was shut as it is Monday.
We followed the lakeside to a fascinating village (Sirmione) built on a very narrow peninsula. It is reached through a narrow gateway after crossing a small bridge. The gateway appears as if it belongs to a castle but this late 13th century structure in fact lies on its own adjacent island - highly defensive. It was built by the Scaglieri family who also built the village. A few narrow streets and attractive buildings occupy this strip of land which is only a few hundred feet wide in places.
Having had a pleasant lunch (Jill pizza and tiramisu and Adrian trout and apple pie we moved on to Peschiera del Garda. This seemed a bit of a disappointment. In fairness the narrow streets and the late 18th century walls and moats were attractive but not as much as Sirmione, and the grey cold weather of the day plus the gradual onset of the evening did not show it at its best.
We returned home on more local roads, but heavy with traffic, joining the transenziales to bring us the last 10 miles to the hotel for just after 5pm.
Tuesday 22nd October
A stormy night plus Jill beginning a heavy cold led us to choose a day in Verona. First the Castel Vecchio built in the early 14th century and now housing a museum. Several rooms of sculptures were succeeded by paintings of the 14th-18th centuries mainly by Venetian or Veronese artists.
A fairly indifferent snack lunch in the Plaza Bra and then quite a lot of walking (!) to the Roman bridge (Ponte Pietra) and Roman Theatre. This latter seemed a typical Roman amphitheatre and was particularly interesting as such. Then a visit to an adjacent museum in a former convent. This was packed with Roman sculptures and inscriptions. There were also bronzes, glass and ceramics from that time. A few brilliant mosaics completed the exhibition.
Then a long walk back to the Arena, a quick tiramisu and coffee and then home.
Food has been very largely indifferent to poor, both inside the hotel and out. We therefore stopped at a supermarket and bought bits for our evening meal.
Wednesday 23rd October
Awoke to fog. The sun kept threatening to break through but it was lunchtime before it did so and the haze never cleared. Nevertheless it was a beautiful afternoon with sun and a temperature of >70
We went up the east coast of Lake Garda stopping at Garda and Torri del Benaco. The former clearly attracts a lot of tourists but not in October. We sat by the harbour and then had a pizza lunch. Jill still felt rough and returned to her bench to read whilst Adrian walked around the town. Garda is very attractive but Torri del Benaco is even more so being smaller and quieter. We walked around the harbour and visited the Scaligeri museum in the remains of the castle. This comprised local trades of fishing, boat building, olive oil production and citrus fruit growing. Of greater interest to us were the pre-historic engravings found on local rocks.
We bought an English newspaper and then set out for home. Will we never master these roads? We spent almost an hour from the time we saw the hotel until we reached it. Wrong way decisions on motorway type roads plus poor signposting and confusion over where signs pointed left us much more stressed than when we started our journey back after such a pleasant afternoon.
Thursday 24th October
The day dawned ...we believe. The fog was so thick that we could only just make out the cars 6 floors down, but no lorry transport compound (next door) nor any of the roads. Over the course of an hour the fog gradually cleared and the whole day was one of unbroken sun. The wind was a little cooler but it was still a fabulous day.
We took the autostrada to Desenzano and on then to Salo. Jill still felt very rough. We stopped just north of Salo and spent a couple of hours at the Vittoriale - a palace built by the Italian poet Gabriele d'Annunzio in the 1920's. It includes a large ship, part real and part concrete looks out over the lake from high up the hillside. There is also a large circular mausoleum on the highest point on the site. We did not go into the house but did see a video on the site and a bi-plane that d'Annunzio had flown whilst a soldier. A smaller boat that he had sailed was also displayed in its own building. The final unusual item was a Roman style theatre in the grounds. A very interesting garden and series if sites.
We moved on 2-3 miles to Toscolano-Maderno where Jill sat and read whilst Adrian walked a little around the town.
We stopped again on the way back at Desezano for a short walk around the shops.
We had decided to take the national road 11 back as we had successfully negotiated this route home before. After a while Jill noticed that a van in front came from San Giovanni Lupatoto and we followed him for perhaps 20 miles!!
Friday 25th October
Weather not at all bad considering poor forecasts. Dry with broken sunshine.
We did a dummy run to the airport to ensure we get it right tomorrow. Then to the hills (3000+ feet) and a visit to a fossil museum at . This showed us the Ponte Vija - a natural rock arch perhaps 20-25ft in thickness and 30-40 feet wide. We struggled a bit to find it but eventually did so after finding our first route blocked apparently by a rockfall.
Then a visit to some caves at Prun which were very large and, we conclude, man -made. On our way back we stopped at Lasize but could not find the attractive walled town referred to in the guide book - perhaps it was not Lasize after all!
Finally our usual tour of the area as we sought to find the Tanzensiales sud which is our road back to the hotel.
Having (again) not eaten we were forced to select the hotel restaurant but were pleased to enjoy our first good meal there. A fitting end to a week of pretty indifferent food. A good and varied week otherwise.