The Retirees go Abroad – Verona Onto Salzburg

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We discovered that we did not have any maps in our GPS for Austria or Germany. Alarm bells! What were we to do, we were half way to Salzburg and our host was expecting us at 15.00. We also realised that we had not experienced a German speaking country before. We decided that in respect of the GPS we would do it the old fashioned way and buy a map, and in respect of the language we would play dumb (which we were) and hope to find English speakers.

The road to Austria and through Austria has some of the most spectacular scenery we had seen so far. High mountains followed us throughout the day. Large castles appeared among the villages springing up throughout the valleys and sometimes perched precariously on the mountains. The .weather was threatening rain most of the day but the scenery made up for it. We even passed through the Dolomites which are a mountain range located in north eastern Italy. They form a part of the Southern Limestone Alps. The name “Dolomites” is derived from the famous French mineralogist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu who was the first to describe the rock, dolomite, a type of carbonate rock which is responsible for the characteristic shapes and colour of these mountains.

Before entering Austria we called in at a services area to get our map. By now we were satisfied that the cord for Kerry’s IPhone was broken as her phone was not charging so when we bought the book of maps we also bought a new cord. 45€ later we were walking out of the service station office when I notice a sign in Italian with the Austrian two headed eagle on it and other ominous looking words and so I thought I better enquire. It turns out Austria has a road tax and before entering the country you need to buy and display a vignette. Of course the servo sold them and a ten day pass cost 9€.

Well with Kerry’s phone recharging we realised that we could use it for directions so the book of maps was unnecessary. Then we realised that it was not Kerry’s cord but the power outlet in the car – the fuse had blown for our auxiliary outlets on which we ran the phone and the fridge. Just one of those days.

We also encountered an extraordinary number of tunnels and bridges; too many to count although I think I got up to 28 tunnels before losing count.

Well when we finally arrived we were dismayed. The house was surrounded by scaffold (my picture is of the back of the house which is more flattering). Petra the owner was quickly at the front door and showed us inside speaking very good English. She explained that she and her father were renovating whenever she had the money to do some more, but the flat we were renting was complete on the inside. It certainly was and had every comfort. She gave us a run down on the buses and other things and then showed us her part of the house inviting us to call if we needed anything. So we unpacked and headed for town. As we walked to the bus we noticed a huge castle on a nearby hill which turned out to be Hohensalzburg in the centre of Salzburg. We passed a red phone box which had been converted into a community borrowing library, passed over a canal and noted that Austrian houses had a distinct Swiss appearance or vice a versa.

Not much else happened that first day but as the photos show we were in Salzburg.

The Retirees go Abroad – Day #4 the old city of Lucca

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It was time that we spent some time looking at Lucca. So I prepared an itinerary and after breakfast lead the band down to the railway station parked the car and lead the band through a different gate into the old city. Once inside we visited Lucca’s grandest cathedral Duomo San Martino which boasts that it holds a cross according to the legend, was carved by Jesus’s contemporary Nicodemus, and miraculously conveyed to Lucca in 782, giving the world the only likeness of Jesus created by an eye witness and contemporary of Jesus as to his appearance. This cedar-wood crucifix and image of Christ called the Holy Face of Lucca (Volto Santo di Lucca) or Sacred Countenance, is in the nave in a small octagonal temple or chapel shrine.

Additionally the cathedral contains Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Madonna and Child with Saints Peter, Clement, Paul and Sebastian; Federico Zuccari’s Adoration of the Magi, Jacopo Tintoretto’s Last Supper, Fra Bartolomeo’s Madonna and Child (1509) and the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto by Jacopo della Quercia of Siena, commissioned by her husband, the lord of Lucca, Paolo Guinigi, in 1406.

By the way you will see the ladder above. This would be to change the lightbulbs in the aisles; there is no way it would reach the ceiling in the Nave.

Outside of the Duomo is a large square, in fact Lucca is full of churches and squares. We visited Piazza Napoleone which includes the Town Hall, then Chiesa di San Michele in Foro with it unusual confessional set into the walls of the church and its false front and the Basilica di San Frediano with its large fresco on the front of the church.

This brought us to the Amphitheatre, Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. The amphitheatre, built in the 1st century AD under the Emperor Claudius and concluded in the Flavian period as the centre of entertainment outside the Roman town. In the Middle Ages the Roman structure was transformed into fortification and when this use ceased terraced houses were built on the surviving ruined structures and this area became a unique elliptical-shaped plaza. It is today the centre of town life and the very symbol of Lucca. Now filled with restaurants and shops, the old arena is still used for less violent entertainments like music.

Next on the itinerary was the Torre Guinigi. The Torre Guinigi is one of the few remaining towers within the city walls. Its main characteristic is its hanging garden on the roof of the tower. The tower has been donated to the local government by the descendants of the Guinigi family former Lords of Lucca. There were over 200 hundred steps to climb to the roof top garden but the views of Lucca were spectacular.

On the way back to the walls of the city we encountered a little church dedicated to St. Egidio with unusual grotesques over the door of a lion pouncing on I presume St. Egidio. So I have included the photos and a little research.

From Wikipedia “The Community of Sant’Egidio (Italian: Comunità di Sant’Egidio) is a Christian community that is officially recognized by the Catholic Church as a “Church public lay association”. It claims 50,000 members in more than 70 countries. Its main activities are:

prayer, centred on a reading of the Bible

spreading the Gospel to help people who are looking for a sense to their life.

service to the poor, which is free and unpaid

commitment to ecumenism (the Community of Sant’Egidio is also ecumenical, though rooted in the Catholic Church)

dialogue with members of other religions and non-believers.”

There you go nothing to do with the lion.

It had been another hot day so we sought the shady portions of the city walls and the free fountains that are found regularly in Italian cities. Under the shade of the trees we recovered our composure but Mother Nature was brewing a storm to relieve us of the heat so we head for home a cooling shower and hot meal.

The Retirees go Abroad – Viareggio and a day at the beach

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Florence had been such a hot day and we had enjoyed our swim at Monterosso al Mare so when Kerry learned of a beach at Viareggio from Robert’s sister in law Jane, we knew how we would be spending that day. Jane has been living in Lucca for a number of years and when we called upon her, her sister from the UK was visiting. Jane will be moving back to Australia and her sister was quite upset that distance would make their catch ups less frequent. We had a relatively peaceful drink at the Mercato Cafe of the dead chook except when any one squeezed the “dead chook” which then emitted a squealing sound. Kerry learned about Aperol, ginger ale and prosecco that afternoon.

Our drive to Viareggio was very pleasant. We avoided the toll roads and saw some of the villages on the way. There were pleasant river crossings, typical villages and reminders of the past along the most circuitous route imaginable. Nevertheless we got to the beach.

Along the road in front of the beach was an enormous market then a line of shops then the little kingdoms. Again the beach was divided into little kingdoms. The day was hot and getting hotter so we wasted no time in selecting Narcisa to set up camp. Narcisa is a family run business with lovely flower gardens to greet you and grandma on the front desk who “no speaka de English” but her son does. The son, grey haired and about our age, comes over in his DTs (dick togs) and gardening gloves and gives us the sales pitch and throws in some extras (two lounges instead of one) which was very nice. We agree to rent the umbrella and go to the designated change rooms (a store room most of the time) to change into our swimming gear.

We made our way to the designated umbrella and settled in. The beach was sandy and at least 100m wide with umbrellas as far as the eye could see. We were comforted to see the life guard at his post. We strolled into the water. It was a little warmer than Monterosso but not as clear and not as deep. We walked out about 20 m and the water was barely above my waist. Even so we were in the water for about 5 minutes and a fish jumped from the water. It looked about a kilo in size and the shape of a mullet. This was to happen at least half a dozen times whilst we were paddling and lolling in the water. Then I noticed that something in the water was bumping into us. Jellyfish! Blue with a small black fringe, they danced between our legs. Some the size of a twenty cent piece and others up to the size of a man’s fist. I managed to catch one or two for a closer look.

After swimming we went back to the office to get money for lunch at the café on the premises. We ran into the son again and told him of the sighting of the fish jumping and he looked at us in complete amazement and said “what out there – fishes jumping”. He then said “I don’t know nothing about fishes you ask my brother the life guard he knows about fishes”. Well I thought it hilarious. The astonishment that something lived in the water and the fact that the life guard was as old as us – not that there was much rough surf for him to contend with.

After lunch we thought we would go back to the markets and stroll through and eat an ice cream. No such luck. The markets had finished and the shops had closed for lunch time siesta. But we got to witness some pretty incredible technology in the way in which these stalls were set up. Most had vans with a large box on the roof. In this box was the awning and using just a remote control the stallholder opened and closed his shop. Oh and there was some other equipment caught my eye. See if you can find it in the photos.

We had heard that there was a free concert on in the amphitheatre in Lucca so that night we made our way into the amphitheatre by bus. Surprisingly the bus was free so a good start to the night. I made an error of judgment as to which stop to get off and we ended up walking through the city where we encountered a shop with a weaving loom in the front window and the weaver hard at work. No sale items though the price tags all had three digits.  We selected our restaurant Bistro Bar L’Emiliana and settled in for dinner and the show at 9.00pm. Well it was not much of a show – a jazz trio playing classical music (Puccini) – not to my taste.

We finished about 10.00pm and knowing that the last bus had long since gone we asked the waiter to organise a taxi. No problems. He told us to wait at our table and the cab would come into the amphitheatre to collect us. The amphitheatre was wall to wall restaurants, jazz band audience and kids playing on bikes etc. This I had to see. As I expected the cab was a no show. The waiter clearly embarrassed by the no show went in search of the taxi with us in tow. We found our cab with the driver trying to explain to an American with pins through his left leg that he could not just hail a cab when it had been booked. The driver made the Yank sit down and told him he would be back to get him.

We piled into the cab, gave the driver the address and settled back but not for long for this fellow took off at enormous speed through the narrow streets filled with pedestrians and bikes and then raced a scooter and another car to be the first out the city gate. Even though I sat in the front with the driver, I could feel Kerry’s grip on the cab door growing ever tighter and nervous laughter coming from Kerry and Veronica in the backseat. The taxi driver explained that he hated “romantic drivers” – people casually driving because they did not have timing issues and a family to feed from driving a cab; he said he had already had 4 expressos and there would be many more before the night was through. Well we made it home but felt like we had just got off a ride at Disney World. So the night ended on a happy note – we were still alive and on holiday.

The Retirees go Abroad – Cinque Terre

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We had heard it reported that Cinque Terre was the place to go in Tuscany. So we did.

It all started with leaving our flat and taking the car to La Spezia where we parked under the train station. We then caught the train to Riomaggiore along with thousands of other tourists. Our arrival at Riomaggiore coincided with at least half of those tourists on the train – the others were going to the beach judging by the towels and sun screen.

The village is sitting on the edge of a rocky outcrop and each house seems to be either clinging on or dug in. Enquiries with the information office gave us two options – take the tunnel to the main square and the harbour or do a tour of the village by walking around the hill and down into the main square. When we stated that the stroll through the village sounded nice the assistant at the information office came to life and produced maps and information about “her village”.

Outside the day was starting to warm up. The sky was clear and there was very little breeze. A very tired mural on the wall outside of the office told the story of the hard work and life endured by the locals and set the scene for the village we were about to explore.

The walk started with a steep climb past some “high rise” and then higher up there were detached houses with gardens growing fruit and vegetables in all possible spots. We were about half way to the top and the sea came into view. The sea was a deep blue and dotted with ferries, and the vision affirmed our decision to travel to the next village by ferry. We could see the ocean path leading to Manarola (the next village) and we could also see the rock slides that had closed the path thank goodness. It meant our decision was between the ferry and the train. It was too hot to walk across the top of the hill.

We climbed further into the village following the stony paths that passed for roads and encountered picturesque views of the village and its houses with “altanas” – (Italian roof top patios) and its community church. After the church the main street ran from the top of the village down to its square. Busy with tourists, we quickly moved through to catch the ferry. From the harbour I was able to photograph some of the more beautiful sights in Riomaggiore. We lined up along with a few others (busloads of them) and caught the ferry for a five minute cruise to Manarola and a meeting with our own Italian Roberto the bus driver from Bribie.

The landing at Manorola was a little more harrowing than Riomaggiore due to the narrowness of the access but the village was just as enchanting as Riomaggiore. Roberto was waiting breathlessly with his travelling companion to greet us and to whisk us away from the tourist highlights of the village to a more traditional (or so he said) part of the village and his chosen restaurant for lunch- Nessun Dorma. I must say we did have what appeared to best the best vantage spot to view the village and the restaurant was quaint with its vegetable gardens growing throughout the restaurant.

After lunch he showed us the toughest way back to the village, but in the course of doing so I met this lovely iron maiden who insisted on wearing her birthday suit to the beach and a quaint place of rest overlooking the sea. In the shade of the umbrellas and with the sea breezes kissing our cheeks we had not realised how hot the day had become until arriving in the village main street. Enclosed by houses and protected against any breeze it was stifling. So we bid our farewells to our Italian Stallion and caught the train to Monterosso al Mare.

The northern most village of the five towns making up the Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare has beaches rather than rock walls. But the beaches are all segregated into little kingdoms of umbrellas and deck chairs. For a fee you get your own piece of the beach for the day with access to showers toilets and change rooms. We had a choice – walk to the old city and see the town or get our own piece of beach and go for a swim. The sun made up our minds – swim it is.

For 11€ we got two sun beds and an umbrella. For the four of us that was fine and relatively in expensive. A change into our swimmers and a dash across the sand we were pulled up short when entering the water. The sun decided to hide behind a cloud and the water was bloody freezing. I was delayed about a nano second before diving in “to exercise my injured tendon”. It took Kerry a bit longer but she got in pretty quickly for Kerry standards. So refreshing! There are no waves and no current and the beach drops away fairly quickly so that floating around in the water was the way to go as every time you dropped your legs into the deeper water a cold current “freshened” you up again. We spent the rest of the afternoon refreshing and forgot about the village and the other two villages – next time maybe.

Around 5.00pm we headed for the train and home. The crowds got the same idea. Even so we managed to get to the carpark and home by 7.00pm for dinner and a few hands of cards.

The Retirees go Abroad – Florence

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The hot weather has continued. Even as we awake we can tell it will be another stinking hot day, but we have booked our tickets and we are going to Florence – home of David. Not David Colch; the real statue of  David by Michelangelo. We arrive at the station and the train turns up if not on time a little ahead of time. So un-Italian!

Arriving in Florence our plan of action was to catch the hop on hop off bus and determine what sights we wanted to see. We knew that the bus station was “just outside” the railway station but the railway station was large and very busy. In addition there were a number of entrances. We made our way to the front and watched as one of the Hop on buses sailed passed the station. Kerry skilfully tracked it down and we managed to catch a Blue Line bus – you have a choice of blue, red or yellow each with a different route.

Our tour took us past the river and up onto a hill overlooking the city where we got fabulous views of the Duomo, the Palace and a look alike statue of David above the Acadamie where the original stands (and you can view for a small fee around €30). We thought we would see what else was on offer.

The next point of interest was the Ponte Vecchio – a bridge similar to the Rialto Bridge in Venice – covered with shops. However this one had an additional feature. It provided a secret path between the Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Vecchio for the lords to pass without the commoners knowing. The bridge is covered with jewellery shops and tourists. We walked across rather quickly trying to keep to the shade and on to Palazzo Pitti. I found this to be a large colourless building and as it was too hot lunch beckoned.

So we found a restaurant. Walking back to the Ponte we encountered Hotel Scarletta. They offered a two course plate for 15€ and we decided to splurge. The sign directed us into a passage and then into a chamber where the sign told us the restaurant and reception were on the third floor. A decrepit old elevator edged its way down and on opening the following notice appeared – “two people only and no unaccompanied baggage”. The girls got in and Veronica was concerned that she would lose her breasts as the cabin was so small. David and I walked the 96 steps to the reception.

The restaurant was located on an “altana” above reception and had fabulous views including the Observatory where Galileo’s astronomical instruments are kept, Palazzio Pitti and the houses that surround it. But most impressive were the fans with the misters. This cooled the atmosphere noticeably and the waitress who had been rather terse. After lunch, which was very tasty and a lot more expensive than the 15 euros we had planned to spend, we ventured to the “altana above the restaurant and got a view of the whole city – Palazzo Vecchio and the dome of Duomo.

Finished with lunch we visited Palazzo Vecchio and the statutes that adorn the Palazzo.

Next was the Duomo.

We made our way back to the Hop on bus stop outside the station and caught a yellow line bus just as a large storm hit the city. The yellow line includes all of the blue line stops but then it goes off into the mountains to Fiesole, a small village often the summer home to Florentines over the centuries. It was then that my battery died so there is only the one photo from the hills.

The Retirees go Abroad – Lucca and Pisa

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We thought that yesterday was hot. Well, our trip to Pisa on Sunday proved to be been hotter. The weather although fine and clear was extremely hot.

We left early our apartment early in the morning to organise our tickets for the trip to Florence and fortunately we drove down as we learned the best place to park in Lucca. At the Stazzione Kerry and Veronica entered into world negotiations with the ticket seller over two return tickets to Florence. Everything including sign language was employed. I kept well out of it by parking the car in a legal parking spot and photographing the station, the park in front of the station and the bees busy at work in the Magnolia Trees.

We decided to use the village roads to Pisa and avoided toll roads. This meant we drove through the villages between Lucca and Pisa which included travelling through a tunnel and once we exited the hillside we had a complete view of the plane on which Pisa stands. Even its famous tower was clear on the skyline. Tommy even had the co-ordinated for the leaning tower so it directed us to the very gate in the walls of the city and to a kind African peddler who pointed out a free car park and held it for us (for a few shekels of course).

We were expecting a crowd in Pisa even though it was a Sunday. We were not disappointed. In less than 5 minutes we had walked into a crowd of tourists all taking their cliché photographs of the Tower.

It was about 11.00 am by then and Veronica found out that Mass was  being held in the cathedral, so she and David went in the adherents’ door whilst the non-believers were directed to the other door. A big sign greets you “Silence whilst in the cathedral and no photography”. That is water off a duck’s back to the gaggle of tourists, many Italian, tramping through door. Cameras and IPhones were clicking and a cacophony of voices rumbled as the Priest went through the Mass. So against my better judgement I clipped off a few shots of this magnificent monument.

Beside the cathedral is the Baptistery, equally as grand and 5€ to enter so you only get shots of the outside. Similarly with the Campanile we were not spending money to enter as we had hopes of catching the hop on hop off bus. These buildings are surrounded by the ancient city walls and where there once stood other buildings of the town now is only grass and the best lawn mower I have seen – air-conditioned cab and vacuum collection of the cut grass.

Once Mass had finished and we had refilled our water bottles at the communal fountain (frequently found in towns and villages of southern France and northern Italy), we head back to a restaurant with a special for lunch. The girls were using Veronica’s fold up umbrellas as well as hats it was so hot. We had turned down an African peddler this morning selling fold up umbrellas but now seeing the value we traded with one of them beating him down to 6€ for two umbrellas. Lunch was filling and cheap after which we made our way through the African peddlers back to the tourist information centre. One peddler was doing the silent act and we have no idea how he could do it in the heat. Kerry thought he deserved something for his effort and was rewarded with a photo opportunity.

We walked across the plaza of the leaning tower to catch the bus outside the opposite gate. It was extremely hot standing waiting for the bus and when it did arrive it was very uncomfortable on the top in the sun so the tour was a bit Ho hum for me but here are some pictures.

After completing the bus ride (the bus seemed to develop a fault so we got off  it was too hot to wait for another bus) we split up as Veronica had found some shops. Kerry and I took a slow walk back to the car via the tourist information centre where we cooled off in the air-conditioning. There was a display of scooters in relation to an old Cary Grant movie (cannot recall which one) and so Mrs Young had to pose for the camera.

A very hot Veronica and David returned to the car shortly after we arrived. With all windows wound down we drove home via the Carrefour Shopping Centre for some groceries and a cold drink. We sat in that shop for some time with the car underneath to cool it down. Cold showers all round once we got home.

The Retirees go Abroad – Lucca on a hot day

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We set out early for Lucca from Nice (that is if you call 9.00am early). The car is now loaded to the gunnels but is still travelling sweetly. We can tell this is going to be another hot day and this is soon confirmed with Autostrada information – the temperate is 32C.

Leaving Nice is a task with its winding highway through the centre of the city but once clear of the city it is plain sailing. The sky is clear and the sun is starting to burn. With the air conditioning pump disconnected its windows down and head into the breeze. Fortunately the E80, A10 and A12 must be the world’s most tunnelled stretch of road. Not aware of the immense number of tunnels to come we did not count them but it would have to been in the order of 50+ as we journeyed through to Lucca. Most were over 600m long and every one had its own name as did the bridges stretching to cross the immense gulfs of air between mountains. There were equally as many bridges as tunnels.

We pass many hilltop villages and the landscape is mountainous to our left but pretty coastline and villages to our right. But both are hot as the notice board on the Autostrada continues to inform. On we fly hot wind in our hair and sweat running down our backs.

We stop for a cuppa underneath a radio satellite station on top of hills looking like moon stations. We pass Carrara and the scar on the mountain where they drag out the huge blocks of marble. The toll gates await as we turn off the Autostrada into Lucca.

Finally we arrive at our apartment. Kerry’s IPhone says “no service” so we cannot contact the landlord to let him know we have arrived early. David to the rescue and we make contact. No English! Okay the Italian lessons start sooner than expected.

A young woman arrives with a determined haste – it is Valerie with our key. Escape from the sun is now at hand. We have a lift so in go the suitcases but the apartment is a bit weird. Valerie is in such a hurry she does not ask for the bond and is gone before we can finish asking our questions – like where is the kettle?

David studies the apartment information and I have a shower to cool down. Cold water all around. Meantime we plan a visit to the old city via bus. The stop is across the road from our apartment block and the driver “no comprendi” but had a good idea of what every tourist wants. When we arrive at Porta de Pietro (a gate in the city walls – yes the wooden gates are still hanging in place) even the old chap sitting at the bus stop gave us a sign – no not the finger but pointed in the direction we had to go. We are such obvious tourists!

Finding the Tourism Office was quite a task. The map given to us by the landlord showed two offices and of course we chose the one that had closed. David interrogated two young kids kicking a football and got nowhere. I asked a signor outside some dodgy looking establishment and we were on our way. At the other end of the town we found the office in what looked like an old fort near the ramparts.

We then moved back through the town to a small square (Plaza del Puccini) where we settled in Madama Butterfly for some drinks. The breeze was starting to rise and the temperature was cooling. Some local beers and a half carafe of wine and Lucca was looking not too bad. We had settled so we looked at the menu. Two pizzas to share and another round of drinks and the girls were giggly. The waiter was young and handsome and the girls were feeling like flirting so we ordered desert. Then the band started in the square so we ordered coffee. Our budget was blown!

As we made our way back to our bus stop Pallazio Napoleane was being invaded by people dressed in white. Veronica ever the chatty one asked what was going on and found out that there was a fund raising dinner happening in the square and everyone brought their own plate and dressed in white. Meanwhile I had spotted a boxing match in an adjoining square. So I stayed to watch a couple of rounds until dragged away to catch the bus. On the way I was able to snap the old city gates still hanging by their ancient hinges, two interesting balconies and the Italians love of scooters.

Tomorrow had immense promise; we head for Pisa.