|After some fairly hectic tours we have spent the past ten days relaxing on our own and driving through Italy and France.
We flew from London into Venice and drove via the fast road up past Trento into the Trentino region and the Dolomite mountain range area. It snowed on the tops while we were there.
As we drove up the adjoining valley on our left contained Lake Garda and we were later to cross the mountains and drive down the lake.
The area has a fascinating political history. Yes it was also part of the old Austro Hungarian Empire and Trento and the cities above it were handed to Italy in 1918 at the end of World War 1. The Austrians speak German and you may recall that the deal for Austrian independence at the end of World War 2 was that it always had to be neutral in future and it became the 3rd base for the UN after New York and Switzerland.
We remember studying this empire a lot at school. All these countries we had seen that had connections to that empire talked about it. We asked lots of questions about it.
There was an empress called Sisi who was talked to us about when the empire is raised, in Italy, in Hungary and in Austria.
Elisabeth of Austria was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and thus Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Queen consort of Croatia and Bohemia. Wikipedia
Born: December 24, 1837, Munich, Germany
Spouse: Franz Joseph I of Austria (m. 1854–1898)
Assassinated: September 10, 1898, Geneva, Switzerland
Children: Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, more
Siblings: Duchess Helene in Bavaria, more
Parents: Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria, Princess Ludovika of Bavaria
This link tells her story a bit unfavourably
But her story is fascinating. Her husband was a bit of a shocker and she spent a lot of time away from him. Going to bed with beefsteaks wrapped all over your body sounds interesting but it gave her youth apparently. People in all these countries talked about how she liked their county the most and would stay there the most. She had a remote castle we saw hanging over the Danube and would wave from the balcony to people passing on boats. She had another castle in Budapest where the Hungarians loved her and the guide talked a lot about her. Then we go to Italy and at the top of the Mendola Pass where a cluster of large Austrian spa type buildings exist they said she used to come there every year and had stories about her. It was her Winter SPA apparently.
Remember beef steak can be good for you ladies just as much as a bad husband in her case can be bad for you.
As we mentioned last blog this is a big apple growing area and it looks fairly prosperous.
We stayed in the mountains near the Mendola Pass. This is a road that zig zags down the mountain in spectacular fashion and is quite a feat of engineering. A hairpin bend every 200 metres and it takes about fifteen minutes to navigate that section. Great venue for a James Bond movie chase we would think! One way in parts and don’t look down!
We drove down it to Bolzano. Low and behold we see street signs in German and Italian. Italians say if you speak to an Austrian living there in Italian they will ignore you. That might be a bit rich to say but the main square contains a large statue of a German Poet right in the middle.
This story is the stuff centuries of earlier European war emerged from. In years gone by the Austrians would have invaded this area again and claimed it back. Strasbourg swapped many times between Germany and France and Alsace Lorraine likewise. Hitler’s first moves were to reclaim territories like the Sudatenland that were rightly German in his view.
The conclusion is these people seem to struggle with their identity and the fact that Austria is now independent and neutral and staying part of Italy seems their fate. German Street signs, house designs, food and clothing seem likely to stay. It makes sense geograpically at least that it is part of Italy.
The northern Italian people often sneer at the fun loving partying southern Italian people who create no wealth and harbour the mafia etc. Northern Italian people have more European connections and we were told of strong German connections. Most of the economy of Italy is driven in the north.
When leaving we drove over the mountains to the beautiful Lake Garda and to the town Riva Del Garda. It is a great spot to visit and if you like windsurfing there are schools all along the shore. Many German people have holidayed here for a long time. The fast highways make the trip easy now. They stayed in the hotels and accommodation but according to a guide we spoke to they have over the past ten to twenty years been buying holiday homes and apartments right along the lake.
We drove down the Lake to the beautiful town of Garda. Travel writers say this is one of the best lake areas in Italy and we agree. The mountains overhanging it are beautiful. It is a large long lake with ferries moving back and forward connecting towns dotted around it.
From Garda we drove inland to Verona where we had accommodation booked for 5 nights.
We stayed at a place in a commercially successful vineyard and spent an enjoyable 5 days there. We learned a lot about local winemaking and in particular the Valpolicella and Amarone wines. We spend a few hours in a winery doing a tour and getting a run through on what makes the areas wines unique.
As we drove in through the industrial area outside Verona we passed many commercial premises with large overhead cranes and huge blocks of stone and marble. The area specialised in cutting and shaping stone and marble. Those blocks in some cases would have been over five tons each.
Highlights in Verona
this is quite a big city with close to a quarter of a million people but as with all European cities most tourist time is spent looking at the historical areas.
We got a local guide to take us around for two hours and that was invaluable even though we had been there briefly once before. This is the second oldest Roman city, after Rome itself and was in the centre of important trade routes. Roads to the South to Rome, West to the port of Genova and North were very important. Merchants paid their taxes at the gates of the city and this was a very wealthy area going back well over 2000 years.
We enjoyed walking around a rather unique local cemetery that we found ourselves. Families and religious order burials are done there. If you pass away in Verona and you were born elsewhere you go back to your town to be buried the guide told us.
We toured the usual local sights in Verona and because many have been there we won’t talk about it but it is a very beautiful and historic place.
A day drive down to the Borgetto next to Vallegio and then on to Mantova was really enjoyable. Mantova is a university city now built on an island and quite charming. We had a great afternoon there. There were some ordinations of priests happening and a large crowd was there. There were cardinals in the procession and it was a big event for the town.
We then left Verona and drove down to Parma for three nights where we have the Maserati Master GT program over two days. We will do a separate blog on that.
We only spent one afternoon in Parma and did self audio guided tours of the Cathedral, Baptistry and the Diocese Museum. The artwork including the entire walls, dome and ceiling of the Cathedral and Baptistry is absolutely remarkable regardless of whether one has any religious interest. It was absolutely fantastic to study this and to hear the stories. These are "must see" places if in the area and the electronic guide was good. To build these required massive wealth in those many centuries ago and they are there to be enjoyed today.
On the 2nd of October we drove from Parma down the fast roads to Aix-en-Provence France. It was 565 kilometres but these were all minimum two lane roads and sometimes three lanes. The speed limit in Italy on those roads was 130 kmh.
When we got close to Genoa which the Italians call Genova the road runs through dozens of tunnels and over high bridges which span valleys. The most amazing storm blew off the mountains blowing out into the Mediterranean. The wind was on a par with Wellington in NZ on a bad day and it became a battle to keep the car steady especially on the high bridges. There were electronic warnings and local council and roads staff were out on trucks picking up debris. When we thought it could not get worse the rain began. After an hour it became torrential and with the wind it made driving a real challenge. The safest place was the fast lane where no other cars or trucks were and the road markings and the wall gave better visibility. There were sheets of water on the road but we kept our momentum up as best we could. The wind dropped as we got into France but the rain remained. A fun day to say the least. We had a coffee and baguette in the hills above a saturated Monte Carlo and got to Aix by 2.30pm. The Maserati driving practice had helped.
We have had a nice two days in Aix. The old town is very beautiful and although it rained and thundered constantly we have enjoyed ourselves.
Last night in Aix the weather broke again and wind was strong with torrential rain. The power went out in the hotel and cars were stranded in water on the main roads. We got up early to drive to Paris. No hot water and lots of chaos.
We have discovered tonight on arriving in Chantilly that 16 people died in these floods, mostly drowned in cars trapped on these roads. Yes we were lucky.
We did these France road trips to use up some Villa accommodation we bought at a Charity auction
Today grumpy with no showers and leaving some hotel chaos we drove to stay north of Paris for two days in a town called Chantilly and then two days in Brussels.
We messed up a bit and thought it was about 550 kms. Turned on the GPS in Aix and it said 841 kms. It was a big day getting here including an hour on the Paris ring roads. We got in at 5.30pm after three stops and no harm done. The rain left us and fog was the main problem. The sun came out eventually and France looked stunning as we drove along. This town of Chantilly has a beautiful castle and set of buildings that we will take photos of.
We then fly back to Newcastle in the UK to hopefully see an improved NZ rugby performance. They are looking a bit ordinary. The Wallabies look great and we are disappointed the English are out. They needed to beat the Welsh earlier.
We had a fantastic time at Parma and as we said earlier will do a separate blog on that. there are some videos we will try to link in.
The overall trip has gone really well and we are enjoying ourselves.
All the best for now.