Two Ways to Explore Walled Medieval Lucca in Tuscany, Italy

 Lucca is a captivating medieval walled city located in Tuscany, one of Italy’s most visited regions.  The selection of a destination city can be either measured in hours or in days… day tripper versus slow traveler.

We encourage the latter whenever possible… so stop and smell the pizza!

The Day Tripper’s View of Lucca

With a relatively tight timeframe, the challenge is to see as many highlights” as possible during a brisk march through town and checking off the must-see sites within the city’s walls such as…

puccini-n-houseStatue of Puccini and his home/museum  

img_8308Church of San Michele in Foro

img_8335Cathedral of St. Martin

amfatherPiazza dell’Anfiteatro (Roman Amphitheater)

89331264Torre delle Ore (Clock Tower)

flickr_3142234250_4985a2195fTorre Guinigi (Tower)

OK… you have just “seen” Lucca!

If time permits the day trippers may add a brief walk (up one ramp and down the next) on the tree lined pedestrian promenade known as the city walls… yep, been there done that…check the box and take a few pictures with your cell phone.

You can see them all in a one day visit… but have you?

 The Slow Traveler’s View of Lucca

Lucca is a fascinating city with a history dating back into the Etruscan and Ancient Roman times.

On our first visit to a destination, in addition to the normal research, one of our go-to options is to arrange for a private orientation tour.

We were fortunate to find Wanda Martinelli (www.luccatours.com) who met us on our first day and set our tourist compass for the rest of our visit.

wanda

We enjoyed a four hour walking history lesson which was enhanced by this talented storyteller who loves her work and is very proud of her ancestral roots.

Through Wanda, we were immersed in the real vibe of this area and were now armed with a list of the best restaurants, shopping, museums, concerts, must-see churches (there are nearly 100!), and sources for survival provisions such as wine, bread, pasta, cheese, and deli.

Views along the Walls of Lucca

Bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation inside and on the walls and, fortunately for us, our apartment rental included two bicycles.

We rode numerous times on the 2 ½ miles long, flat, garden-like pedestrian promenade situated on top of the ancient defensive walls that were actually designed by…. Leonardo di Vinci no less!

Run, walk, ride or simply stroll along this elevated structure with amazing views of the entire city below… very much worth the time and effort… and a little exercise doesn’t hurt. 

img_8787 Pedestrian Promenade on the City Walls

path-traffic-peopleWalk – Peddle – Ride along the Walls

parklikkebikesOur “Wheels” and One of Many Playground Areas

path-with-towerPrivate Gardens along the city wall promenade

priv-gardenPalatial Residences All along the Path

refreshmentsRefreshments after a “strenuous” Bike Ride  

 A Few Colorful Local Scenes Along the Way

 carosaulA Carousel in the park for all ages to enjoy

funghi-girlsThe Local Porcini Funghi Sales Team 

local-colorWhat is a town without — The Dude

A Surprise Find….An Exceptional Photography Exhibit

j-steps-photo-exh

photo-art-surprise

Sculpture Installations Displayed Throughout the City – created by Rabarama 

bozzolo

trans-calare-2004

tadashii-2011

bluenwhite

 Pizzas We Have Known and Loved

As a slow traveler you can simply…. stop and smell the pizza!

chickpea-pizzaPizza da Felice – specializing in chickpea crusts

pro-pizza-feliceThe Perfect Prosciutto Pizza
img_8539Artichokes and Porcini Mushrooms Pizza

tunna-onionsOnion and Tuna Pizza

A Few of the Amazing Meals

The Gli Orti di  Vialisa is a renowned sidewalk café and has been a staple of Lucca for over three generations…

img_8579Bruschetta Lucchese

img_8576Polpette di Nonna Bianco (traditional fried meat balls)

img_8577Sformatino  di  Verdue con salsa di Fegatini (vegetables pudding/chicken liver sauce). 

Lunch at Ristorante Giglio

giglioapptomatoTortino ai Funghi in crosta su vellutato di cecci

 (ricotta cheese and mushrooms in a pastry crust with chickpea sauce)

octopus-appPolpo Croccante sedano  il Olive Nere (grilled octopus with celery and black olives)

 

risotto-musselsRisotto Zafferano e Cozze (saffron risotto with mussels)

porcini-parpaMaccheroni Lucchesi ai Funghi Porcini (squares of fresh pasta with porcini mushrooms)

Lucca’s Favorite Native Son – Giacomo Puccini

 img_8383

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in Lucca on December 22, 1858 into a very well-established musical dynasty dating back to his great-great grandfather.

He grew up in Lucca and developed into what has been noted to be “the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi”… and that is saying a lot!

His birth home has been restored and turned into a small museum, but more importantly, his musical legacy is presented throughout the area in venues ranging from the Annual Summer Opera Festival to daily recital concerts held in various locations in the city.

We were fortunate to enjoy an intimate recital of “Madame Butterfly” in the Church of San Giovanni which was also the church where he was baptized.  The setting was stunning and the acoustics were perfect.

The performances are varied from day-to-day and best of all the tickets are reasonably priced and readily available.

img_8630

img_8634

 

The Cathedral of Saint Martin

The legend goes something like this… in the 14th century the powers-to-be held a “contest” among a group of well-known artists tasking each of them to sculpt a support pillar for this Romanesque cathedral with its elaborate marble exterior.

When they were finished  no winner was  declared and no one was even paid for their efforts…and the powers-to-be got away with it, too.

img_8583Cathedral of St. Martin (note the different pillar designs)

img_8584Breathtakingly Beautiful Workmanship

The Cathedral also contains the most precious relic in Lucca…Volto Santo di Lucca is a wood crucifix with the image of Christ and was carved by Nicodemus, a disciple of Christ.


img_8590
Volto Santo di Lucca (Holy Face of Lucca)

 

Summary

The medieval walled city of Lucca can be seen in one quick day but the essence and warmth of Lucca requires the investment of days rather than hours. Think of it like consuming a special meal or a good bottle of wine… savoring rather than gulping makes the difference between a memory and a digital image.

 After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar, tourisminitaly.info, armchairtravelogue, tripomatic.com, lucca-italy.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip’s End: Road Weary & Homesick in Stuttgart

 

Stuttgart-cityview

Our “ultimate European road trip” terminated in Stuttgart, Germany where we dropped off our once brand-new Macan S, named Max, at the Porsche Factory for its shipment home.

After being on-the-road for almost thirty days driving through Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland there comes the time when you realize… enough is enough… it’s time to go home!

And on this vacation, we brought back quite an unusual souvenir!

The Last Drive Segment and the Factory Drop Off

Autobahn to Stuttgart 

Leaves Turning to the Fall Colors

The drive from Konstanz to Stuttgart was smooth and everything went as planned.  But as we drove into the parking area in front of the Zuffenhausen complex the stark reality hit us… this was the official end of the trip and we will be going home tomorrow.

We were greeted by the same Porsche Delivery Consultant that we initially met a month ago but this time we gave him the keys and he gave us a folder of paperwork.

Saying goodbye to Max was strange after all the time we spent together and especially not knowing exactly when we would be reunited.

Our reflections as we enter the Factory Collection Building

Red Temporary Registration Tag    

We Logged 2,150 Adventure Miles

 As we walked through the building we glanced into the Delivery Hall and observed a collection of new Porsches all lined up, awaiting their owners and reflected on how excited we had been the night before we picked up our new vehicle.

Waiting for their New Owners

 Last Night in Stuttgart

Our journey began and ended at the Althoff Hotel am Schlossgarten which is an excellent hotel with a warm and welcoming staff.  Upon checking in, they upgraded us to a magnificent suite with two balconies.  The views were outstanding and added a fitting end to our visit.

Scenes  of Stuttgart

You Know it’s Time to Go Home When…..

In spite of a lot of pre-trip planning at home there was still a great deal of “local” logistics to work out every day…which gets old after a while.

Simple things become taxing…. Sightseeing and side trip decisions versus staying put and taking in the local vibe at a small café.  Even the question of what to eat and where becomes challenging.

As we neared the end of the trip, packing became a stuffing event… just roll it up and keep the clothes for the last few days separate and neat.

Craving a Steak and Baked Potato

We actually had a weird craving for basic, plain-old American food… like a steak and baked potato of all things.  Finding a steakhouse proved to be a bit of a challenge as there were not a lot of choices, but we found one with decent reviews and it was in easy walking distance.

The street scene was very different from a month ago when we appreciated warm summer-like weather with hordes of festive people enjoying the Stuttgart Wine Village Festival with over 150 wine arbors and food vendors.

Now we are experiencing a cool, early Fall evening with a light throng of locals in the vast pedestrian plazas.  This new perspective had us slightly lost so we asked directions from what turned out to be a patient, friendly woman.

“Could you direct us to the Block House Steak Restaurant?”

She replied, with a slightly puzzled look and said, “Why would you go there when we have exceptional Swabian restaurants for you to enjoy?

“We know, and we have enjoyed, but we’ve been here for almost 30 days and are going home tomorrow.”

With a smile of understanding and said… “Oh, okay, then go three blocks that way and turn right.”

Comfort Food of Steak and Baked Potato and a Glass of Wine 

Max’s Journey Home

We dropped Max off on September 29th, emptied everything out of the car down to the owner’s manuals and maps, and he went on to the German port city of Emden on a transport truck where he was then loaded onto the Goliath Leader a car carrier vessel which holds over 18,000 vehicles.

Goliath Leader Car Transport Ship

 View of the VAST storage capacity of the Goliath Leader

 The ship stopped at a few more ports before heading out to sea.  We were able to keep track of it as it crossed the Atlantic, passing through the Panama Canal and making its way to the port of San Diego where it went through customs and a final check over by Porsche.

We were finally reunited at our local dealer on December 3rd…. just over two months later.

So Would We Do It Again?

Taking delivery of a new car is exciting and punctuates a significant financial decision, but when you add a European delivery to the chemistry it results in a totally different and amplified experience.

Driving a performance vehicle, that you custom built, for a month long vacation through breathtakingly beautiful European countryside and the freedom to go anywhere with no rental car restrictions or expenses has an enormous upside.

On the flip side…. Driving a new car in a totally foreign environment, coupled with the associated paranoia about dents and dings as well as finding “perfect” parking spots adds a little stress to the once-in-a-lifetime euphoric undertaking.

Add to the equation the fact that…you will be paying for a car that you will not even see for over 2 months while it is in transit to your home port.

But you know….you only go around once and if you were going to purchase it anyway, why not step out of your comfort zone.

The whole thing makes for a great and unique story that gets enhanced each time we tell it!

As outlined in our “ultimate European road trip” series we had an amazing adventure and exceptional memories to reflect on in the years ahead.

Summary

In retrospect we had a vacation in Europe, were catered to by Porsche with reduced airfares and hotel rates, special meals, personal guided tours of the factory and world class museum, and a lot of personal, as well as, very thoughtful touches.

The driving experiences and the freedom to pick your own destinations and timeframes cannot be assigned a numeric dollar value… priceless comes close!

All we have to do is look at all of our pictures, read our travel article series and look in our garage at Max….

  

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

 

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar, Clyde Dickens, W.v.d.Waal, fleetmon.com, expedia.com

 

 

Grounded in Konstanz, Germany

Our “ultimate European road trip” started in Stuttgart, Germany after we picked up our brand-new Porsche Macan S from the factory, now heads back north to Stuttgart as we conclude our extended vacation.  Our car named Max will be prepped for his long boat ride home where he trades in his lederhosen for a surfboard rack.

Our adventure continues as we explore this beautiful and historic lakeside village.

Mother Nature Deflated Our Zeppelin Adventure

All the planning in the world is no match for Mother Nature and the fickle winds on Lake Konstanz.  Months ago we had booked and paid for a ride on a real Zeppelin airship which departed from the city of Friedrichshafen, the birthplace of the Zeppelin.

The email the night before warned us of the conditions and we awoke to tree bending winds and a lake full of whitecaps…. clear skies but blown out, cold conditions.

So we now have an unplanned, open day to explore the town… Plan B.

Lakeside Elegance

We selected the Steigenberger Inselhotel because of its location (and the ever important private, gated parking facilities).  Situated on a small private island (albeit a small canal constitutes its “island” status) on Lake Konstanz, the hotel is a short walking distance to the “old town area”, the train station and the ferry docks for trips to other lakeside cities and sites.

moatish

What makes an island…. water

moat

The hotel was originally a Dominican monastery and fortunately the management maintained the legacy of the property and incorporated updated décor throughout their 100 guest rooms and 2 suites hotel.

interior wallA touch of the Dominican monastery past

lake view bLakeside vista 

lake w railing

 Wandering Around Town…. The Backup Plan:


courtyardCourtyard entrance

bakery       One of many village bakeries

building sceneTown Hall buildings

 cathedral

Cathedral of the Diocese of Konstanz

 statue in park“Karl Steuer Brunnen” fountain dedicated to a popular and cherished local humorist

street artWhimsical street installation, “Unbridled Thinking” 

imperia02-mendeThe Most Visited Landmark – the Statue of Imperia in Konstanz Harbor 

Council of Konstanz

In 1414 the Roman Catholic Church had three popes and no unity so the most dominant King in Europe got the powers-to-be together and said…pick one… which is why we have only one pope today.

Courtesans and the Papal Elite

During the 15th Century the courtiers of the Papal court were clerics and were not allowed to marry, but at the same time they had the habit of hiring well educated, intelligent and sophisticated female escorts to accompany them at formal court assemblies and to add an element of femininity to the gatherings.

Imperia was a famous representative of this new class of courtesan.

Fanning the Flames of Notoriety

Around 1830, Honore de Balzac wrote a fictional short story entitled “La Belle Imperia” which was a satirical swipe at the Catholic clergy’s morals and, as his story goes, our girl Imperia seduces the cardinals and assorted royalty that attended the Council of Konstanz and ultimately had them all under her… um, power, shall we say.

Peter Lenk, Joins in the Fun in 1993

Peter Lenk is a German sculptor who is based in Bodman-Ludwigshafen on Lake Konstanz and is well known for the controversial sexual content of his public art such as a relief sculpture in the town square that depicts various German politicians engaged in sexual play… Angela Merkel being one of the nude caricatures.

He was inspired by the Balzac short story and created the Imperia statue which portrays a voluptuous woman, scandalously attired, holding a nude man in each of her hands… the right hand holds King Sigismund (the power broker of the council) and the left hand holds Pope Martin V (the “true” pope selected by the council).

Needless to say, there was a lot of media hysteria, with major pushback from the town council because of the way the pope and king were portrayed and the bishop of Freiburg was quoted to have said it was “without taste and could disturb the religious peace”.

But stimulating tourism prevailed over the church and the town council.

According to the promoted “legend” the 30 foot tall 18 ton statue was clandestinely (supposedly in the middle of the night) erected on a revolving pedestal, on land owned by the German Rail company… pretty good trick but once again the show must go on!

Imperia revolves in three minute cycles

In Search of a Casual, Authentic Meal

After exploring the village we had a craving for some “comfort food” in the form of authentic German cooking and excellent German wine.

winebar sign

TripAdvisor suggested the Weinstube Zum Guten Hirten which translates to the “Wine Bar of the Good Shepherd“ and indeed it more than lived up to its name. Stepping off a cobblestoned street we entered a wine bar cellar alive with the buzz of happy people with a buzz on from the wine… of course.

So here we are with weak German language skills trying to navigate the crowded entrance in search of a table and it must have been obvious to the wait staff because out of nowhere Janine (also noted in the TripAdvisor review) comes to our rescue.

Our “famous” American waitress took over and cold wine and hot, delicious food showed up… all is good.  Coincidentally we shared a communal table with a traveler from our hometown of Los Angeles who was with his German relatives that live in Konstanz. Great conversation and a memorable dining experience.

wine glasses big pourLarge wine goblets with a generous pour

menuThe evening menu, written on a paper plate

 pizzaDunnele (German pizza) with sour cream, speck and onions (no cheese)

 pork plateSchautele Mit Kartotffelsalat (pork shoulder slices and potato salad)

In Summary

Our planned visit to Constance was rearranged by Mother Nature and resulted in an exposure to a picturesque city with many historical sites, museums, and a collection of  vibrant shopping all along its cobblestone streets.

Definitely could be worth a three night visit… when you have three diverse countries making up the shoreline of this lake the options are wide open for a fun and interesting adventure.

Please follow us as we complete our “ultimate European road trip” by returning to Stuttgart and dropping off Max of for his boat ride to his new home.

 

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

 

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar, katatonia82/Shutterstock, Achim Mend

 

To Konstanz, Germany – Both Under & Over the Alps

 

zeppelin 2

Our “ultimate European road trip”, started in Stuttgart, Germany after we picked up our brand-new Porsche Macan S from the factory, now heads north from Lake Lugano (Italy/Switzerland) back to Germany, at Lake Konstanz.

The lake has many attractions, but the two most important to us were that the city of Konstanz is an excellent jumping off point for the final leg of our journey, and the city of Friedrichshafen is the birthplace of the Zeppelin airship as well as the base camp for Zeppelin sightseeing tours.

The adventure continues with planes, trains, automobiles and now a Zeppelin!

Getting There Proved to Be, Shall We Say, Interesting!

Getting out of the city of Lugano was challenging due to the narrow, twisty roads and the somewhat cryptic signage making us more dependent on our GPS to navigate the maze… eventually it overloaded both our GPS and ourselves… and we wound up on a service road to the A2 North and an hour delay added to the drive.

IMG_8597Clear Roads and Sunny Skies on the A2 Motorway

The GPS also warned us of a 45 minute delay somewhere ahead and advised that we needed to exit the roadway and take a different course.  After the last experience we opted to ignore it and stayed on the A2.

Several miles further the traffic came to a dead stop and we watched people actually turn off their motors, get out of their cars and casually walk around like this was an everyday occurrence.  We had no idea what the problem could be.

 The Everyday Traffic Delay Known as the Gotthard Road Tunnel

About 45 minutes later we edged our way up to a TRAFFIC LIGHT right in the middle of the roadway which was two lanes in each direction, now merging down to one north and one south… creating a classic bottleneck.

Unbeknownst to us we were about to enter the second longest tunnel in Europe which measures over 10 miles.

The Gotthard Road Tunnel was certainly an engineering feat for Switzerland when it was completed in 1980 significantly reducing the travel time over the Alps.

Unfortunately in October 2001 a collision of two trucks caused a fire inside the tunnel and the smoke and resulting gases killed eleven and injured 128 people.

After this horrific tragedy multiple safety standards were introduced as well as a number of “flow” measures such as limiting the number of trucks to no more than three per minute with about 500 feet between each vehicle.

So when you have a classic bottleneck, combined with flow controls and heavy traffic patterns, especially in the tourist season, you have a recipe for a mess and two to four plus hour delays become the norm.

For us it was a very intense drive along a roadway with emergency exit doors every few hundred feet … going where was a question we opted to ignore… just get us out of this tube under the Alps!

gotthard tunnel

The southern entrance to the Gotthard Road Tunnel under the Alps (photo: Wikimedia)

The Alternate Route Being the St. Gotthard Pass

st gotthard pass

The St. Gotthard Pass over the Alps (photo: Wikimeida)

The GPS suggested the Pass Road which is about 16 miles long and peaks just under 7,000 feet above sea level.  This option is passable only seasonally and would be fun for adventurous drivers that like hairpin turns and lots of great alpine scenery.

But, and there always is a but… if anything causes a delay (breakdowns or traffic) on this road you are stuck with limited options.  Playing it safe on the tunnel versus the pass comes down to the weather, length of the traffic delay and making sure you had a pit-stop before you got close to the area.

 Through the Alps and Onward to Lake Konstanz, Germanylake constance

An interesting thing about Lake Konstanz is that this is the only area in Europe where no formal / legal border agreements have been established between Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

The Swiss believe the border runs through the middle of the lake, while Austria believes the borders are along each of their respective shorelines and of course Germany has its own variant of what makes up a border.

It all seems to work…. so leave it alone.

 Arriving in Konstanz, Germany

We selected the Steigenberger Inselhotel because of its location on the lake, being close to the “old town area” and the proximity to the ferry docks and, of course, their private gated parking facilities.

IMG_8787A well-deserved glass of wine after a long drive

IMG_8602Weiner Schnitzel…we are back in Germany!

The planned four hour drive turned into a grueling six plus hour endurance experience but as we settled in to the Steigenberger with a beautiful lake view room, a cold bottle of wine and a good meal… all is well that ends well.

 In Summary

We had booked and paid for the Zeppelin tour months earlier in order to reserve two seats for the second day of our visit. The plan was to take the ferry over in the morning to Friedrichshafen, tour the factory and museum and go aloft in a real zeppelin around noon and return to Konstanz in the afternoon.

Uh-oh… just got an email from Zeppelin NT… need to reschedule the flight due to high winds projected for tomorrow… we did not have the extra day in our schedule and had to cancel… well that was deflating!

Please follow us as we continue our “Ultimate European Road Trip Series”, exploring Konstanz, the drive to back to Stuttgart and dropping off our car – which we named Max – for his boat ride home to the States.

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

Exquisite Lake Lugano, the “Little Lake in the Middle”

Our “Ultimate European Road Trip” heads north through Italy’s lake country, stopping in Lake Lugano between Garda and Maggiore.

About two thirds of this lake’s shoreline is in Switzerland and about one third with Italy, resulting in a blending of their respective cultures which creates a unique as well as charming destination.

Flanked by two much larger lakes, the lake in the middle still outshines both with an intimate, private setting surrounded by majestic mountains and many picturesque and inviting villages for you to explore.

 

 lugano map

 

Why Lake Lugano?

When we planned this trip in our brand-new Porsche Macan S the routing was a round trip from Germany: into Austria, then Italy, a short romp in Switzerland, back into Italy and returning to Germany.  We added as many new destinations as possible while still having acceptable driving distances with lots of breaks along the way.

Logistically Lugano was a good fit with a pretty much straight shot from Sestri Levante and lined up with one more stop before returning to Stuttgart, Germany and the Porsche factory drop off point.  This was our first time to the lake and what a surprise it turned out to be.

Why the village Porlezza?

The city of Lugano is in southern Switzerland in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino bordering Italy.  The many hotel options range from simple to luxurious, but we were fussy about location and the always important parking options.

We were also focused on driving time and the ease of continuing our northern route back to Germany. So we chose a hotel for a two night stay on the northern end of the lake, near the village of Porlezza.

Porlezza is a commune in the Province of Como in the Italian region of Lombardy with a population of only 4,400 people with 43 hotels ranging from understated to elegant.  Being more remote from the “big” city and at the upper, less touristy end of the lake we found the amenities were more generous and the prices more reasonable.

     IMG_8535 Parco San Marco Lifestyle Beach Resort – a destination hotel

As soon as we arrived we realized that we made a mistake as this property could easily be a one week destination… two nights was not enough!

Parco San Marco Lifestyle Beach Resort has everything… contemporary architecture, large suites, unrestricted lake views, four excellent restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining, inviting indoor pool,  three outdoor pools and a lake-side beach/dock area, excellent, secure underground parking, and the list goes on and on – check out their website at http://www.parco-san-marco.com/en/resort/.

Best of all was their staff of sincerely friendly, courteous, and pleasant people that actually enjoyed working at this outstanding resort.  We did a short TripAdvisor review and ranked it the overall best hotel of our vacation.

Again, our only regret was that we only spent two nights… maybe next time.

IMG_8262Welcome to Parco San Marco

IMG_8269A Full Suite… lake view and large balcony included

IMG_8356A Happy Anniversary Gift from the Hotel with a hand written note… Classy Touch

IMG_8324Balcony View of Lake Lugano

IMG_8313Private Beach Area

IMG_8257 - CopySecure Spacious Parking

Village Porlezza Market Day

With only one full day to explore this area we opted to stay close to the hotel and utilize their bicycle rental to ride along a flat, paved bike path into the village. Slow travel at its best and the scenery was spectacular and a little exercise goes a long way.

 

IMG_8523 - CopyBike Path Tunnel

Shoreline Views

IMG_8511 - Copy Creating a Memory on Lake Lugano

IMG_8435This ain’t Macy’s but it works

IMG_8424Sweets

IMG_8414Gastronomic Delicacies

Flower Markets

IMG_8489Porlezza Shopping Area

Street Art Installations

So much to see and do if only……

Cable cars, funiculars, lake cruises, mountain top panoramic vistas, grand mansions and museums, Swiss history, Italian history, add a little gambling casino activity for an adrenaline rush and top it all off with chocolate from the largest chocolate manufacturer in Switzerland at the Alprose Chocolate Factory.

Hiking enthusiasts can check out Monte San Salvatore and the village of Carona and on to Morcote and Monte Bre’. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Monte San Giorgio is also worth the time and effort.

EU VAT Free Shopping

We missed the fine print when we did our research and were unaware that the Italian waters of the lake and specifically the commune of “Campione d’Italia” are considered, by Italian law, as “non-territorial” and enjoy a special tax status as a duty free area and are exempt from EU VAT tax (19% sales tax on everything).  Happy shopping!

 

In Summary

Our visit to Lake Lugano was simply too short.  Convenient to our road trip logistics… yes… but vacation travel is more than logistics and the lesson was learned.

Onward to Germany and Lake Constance for a few nights before we drop off the car.

Please follow us as we continue our “Ultimate European Road Trip Series”.

 

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

 

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

 

Excursions on Italy’s Coast: Cinque Terre, Liguria

 Cinque Terre… A Fair Weather Friend

IMG_7978 Angry seas    

The Cinque Terre (Five Lands) is a collection of five hillside villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are part of the Cinque Terre National Park and have the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of Italy’s most beautiful and colorful collection of picture perfect villages embedded in the cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea… stunning is an understatement.  Along with all of these adjectives comes all of those tourists.  The merchants try their best to provide a value for the tourist dollars but the volume of traffic stretches that premise and reality is not in the tourists favor.

The scenery is the main attraction and the best way to appreciate the beauty of the coastline is to take a day trip cruse between each village.  The views from the ferry are breathtaking and the crowds are restricted to the capacity of the vessel.  If you decide to visit a specific village, simply get off and walk around… then catch the next ferry to complete or continue your journey… watch the schedules carefully.

There are two other options… the train which is convenient and speedy or, for the avid hiker, there is a well maintained trail connecting all five villages… imagine the scenery from that perspective!

The following is one of the many webpages that you can peruse for more details: http://www.cinqueterrevillages.com/

Riomaggiore al Mare

This quaint fishing village was literally craved into the face of the cliffs and the houses made of stones meander up the steep hillside through a series of streets, until they wind their way up the mountain amongst terraced vineyards and olive tree orchards all of which date back to the 14th Century.

This town is the “usual” starting point for the exploration of the Cinque Terre and most travelers arrive by train or ferry.  Rough seas can and do shut down the ferry system (like on this visit) so plan accordingly.  The train station is centrally located and the promenade walk along the coastline to the actual city center affords great photo opportunities.

IMG_7960Promenade from the train stationIMG_8101Stormy seas and the breakwater at the mouth of the portDSC_2148No fishing or ferry service today IMG_8026                    Riomaggiore viewed from the castle towerDSC_2150Note the size of the wave and the people on the rampIMG_8064Riomaggiore is an active fishing villageIMG_8106-001Some of the locals enjoying the afternoon

Another Tunnel

There is a tunnel (yes another tunnel) that is the route to the train station and we were treated to this impromptu concert… enjoy!       https://youtu.be/jsykMtZjxCU

 Reflections

It is hard for us to image how different our previous visits were compared to this one and the blustery sea conditions.

Perhaps it was that warm mid-September day so many years ago with beautiful, sunny skies, crystalline water, or swimming in the Ligurian sea, then reclining on the sun- heated flat stone platforms that surround a side of the port and maybe… just maybe finding a great pizza and a cold beer to top it off…

In Summary

This side trip out of Sestri Levante was by way of the train system as the ferries were shut down by “Mother Nature”.  Once again, being independent travelers with a flexible schedule was our passport to the freedom of choice.

Please follow us in the next article… The road trip continues to Lake Lugano which is situated between Italy and Switzerland and shares each of their unique cultures.

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

Excursions on Italy’s Liguria Coast: Marble Capital Carrara

We established our base camp in Sestri Levante and settled into an 8 night vacation rental in the center of town.  On previous trips to this area we saw the white mountains surrounding the village of Carrara and made a note to someday add it to one of our itineraries… today is the day! 

Tunnels and Caves in the Hills of Carrara, Italy

The drive from Sestri was less than 2 hours and when we arrived in the town of Carrara we were taken aback by the quiet mining village situated at the base of the craggy, saw-tooth ridge line which flowed into a mountain range and disappeared into the clouds.

As a tourist, we expected stores selling finished products, slabs of polished marble to order and a miniature statue or two on display for that impulse purchase.  The actual mines were miles away, up these steep mountains and the route was clearly marked by road signs… all pointing up.

The roads leading to the quarries were semi-paved and hard packed dirt with no traffic direction signage – is it a two-way road or one-way?  This was not a real concern until we rounded a corner and came face to face with gigantic trucks carrying humongous chunks of white marble… got our attention really fast!

IMG_7868This is not the time to play “Chicken” 

We eventually figured out the system; there is one main road up which continues on down, all with a one way traffic pattern… except near the actual mines and the construction areas.  You have to figure it out…cross your fingers and just drive.

The Marble Mines

IMG_7894Tours into the mines are availableIMG_7865A mountain of raw marbleIMG_7892Gigantic trucks carrying tons of material

 Mining Tools of the Past

IMG_7879 Handsaw used to cut the marble about 3 inches per day using two menIMG_7872Hand tools on displayIMG_7876Early Use of Power Tools to drive the cutting cables

Mining Tools of the Present

Marble has been used for thousands of years and over time the mining tools evolved from “primitive” hand tools to high speed diamond stone cutting tools and tungsten carbide steel band saw blades… but all methods are still labor intensive and expensive. 

IMG_7864One of the monsters working the minesIMG_7863Note the size of the carsIMG_7866BIG heavy duty equipment – they look like toys

 Before and After

David Photo Credit: Michelangelo Gallery

In 1501 Michelangelo (Buonarroti) was presented with a damaged block of Carrara marble and created the magnificent Statue of David about three years later.  For more information about Michelangelo please go to the “Michelangelo Gallery” webpage… http://www.michelangelo-gallery.com/david.aspx

Driving in the Mine Area has its Moments

We had to literally “feel” our way along the unmarked, semi-paved roads.

IMG_7867Road signs indicating the names of specific caves… aka MinesIMG_7901One of many tunnelsIMG_7903Can you see the end of this one?

The following “YouTube” video represents a brief clip of the view from within one of the many tunnels that we had to traverse in order to get back down the mountain of marble…. add some volume and enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryGe_FSCnwM&feature=youtu.be

We made it back to Sestri and actually washed our road warrior SUV complete with dirt and marble dust from the mines of Carrara.IMG_8138                                                                      Marble dust

 In Summary

The side trip out of Sestri Levante was filled with adventure and exposed us to incredible scenery as well as a few sweaty palms while driving in assorted tunnels on unmarked roads.  Worth it?  You bet and being independent travelers was our passport to the freedom of choice.

Please follow us in the next article… Excursions on Italy’s Liguria Coast: Cinque Terre

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ultimate European Road Trip, Part Ten: Sestri Levante & Liguria Italy

The road trip continues from the Lake Garda area in the north of Italy to the west coast and the Italian Riviera. Our decision to stay in Sestri Levante, just south of Portofino, came from an inspiration after seeing a photo of an unknown beautiful seaside village several years ago, and researching until we found it… let’s go there!

liguria

 Photo Credit: MKB-DESKKART

The mystery village was perfectly situated in the middle of the Italian Riviera and had easy access to the major roadways thus making day trips conveniently easy.  To take advantage of the area we booked an 8 night stay in an apartment in the center of town.

Road Trips Anyone?

Portofino / Santa Margherita is 20 miles (42 minutes);  Cinque Terra (#1 tourist attraction in the Italian Rivera) is 44 miles (1 hr 13 minutes);  Carrara Marble Mines are 44 miles (1 hr 40 minutes);  Pisa (that tilting tower thing) is 72 miles (1 hr 25 minutes);  Parma (Home of Prosciutto) is 98 miles (1 hr 51 minutes);  Maranello (home of the Ferrari and related museum) 140 miles (2 hr 40 minutes)…. just to name a few!

First Things First — Establish the Base Camp

So we booked an 8 night stay through “Homeaway.com” (be aware that they have just implemented a 4% to 10% service fee) that satisfied our must-have check list… a good kitchen, at least two bedrooms and outdoor space with a balcony and in the center of the city… we even scored with a unit in a pedestrian-only zone.  Time to park the car in a secure location, and enjoy the relaxed vibe of this laid back beach town.

We were within easy walking distance to the beach (there are two of them), a great variety of restaurants (ranging from snacks to fine gourmet dining), shopping, street markets, and even a few nights of live music and dancing.  A surprisingly lively town!

 The ApartmentIMG_7501Lots of Space  and LightIMG_8246Second Bedroom Loft AreaIMG_8244Outdoor Space for alfresco dining and sunsets

Mangia…Mangia…Mangia… Che Buono Italian Cuisine

The foodie part of our travel is important to us so we prefer a vacation rental to keep our culinary options open and flexible.  Staying in a hotel limits you to restaurant dining which isn’t the worst thing but, oh, what you are missing!

Exquisite Fine Dining Options

There are at least 120 restaurants in town and we easily sorted them out by using “Yelp”, “TripAdvisor” and “OpenTable” albeit Italian-style.  Wi-Fi is your friend and we used it every day… how did we survive without it!   We selected “Balin Cuisine” for one of our special dining experiences and were well rewarded for our research. sestritablebalin

Neighborhood Restaurants

The simple neighborhood restaurant, “La Osteria Mattana” provided us our first night’s meal as it was a long day and we were very hungry… nothing fancy, low prices and everything exceptional.  Travel hint: keep your eyes open for the local crowds and eat where they eat…be spontaneous and enjoy the experience.

mattantadoorsestriThis is Local

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The Daily Menu at a Neighborhood Place

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Linguine Sugo Palpo (Octopus Sauce)

IMG_7520

Spaghetti alla Brezza

IMG_7518

House Wine served in water glasses (true family style)

IMG_7522Genovese Chickpea Flatbread

Purchase Prepared Food and Cook at “Home”

You are in Italy and have the kitchen to cook world-famous delicacies… so we started at the “Pastifico Moderno” pasta shop which is ranked by “TripAdvisor” as the #9 best out of 120 restaurants in Sestri… and it is not even a restaurant!

They make fresh pasta and sauces daily and the townspeople line up to select from dozens of pasta choices and at least 5 different sauces.  We learned to order in the morning and go back in the late afternoon to pick up our selections (a little local secret). This is where we bought the BEST pesto EVER… remember that this region of Italy, Liguria, is the birthplace of the famous basil sauce.

You buy it by weight, take it home, cook and serve… in your own place you can even be wearing baggy, comfy clothing and flip-flops… and enjoy lots of wine too.

IMG_7632Gift wrapped bundles… like a present

IMG_8151Friendly and Patient Staff

IMG_8150The Selection Changes Daily

IMG_7821Liguria is FAMOUS for Pesto… note the fork

Go All In and Do it Yourself

All this requires is a Pasta Shop, a Green Grocer, a Butcher and of course good local wine.  Italians usually shop daily for their ingredients and it becomes part of their everyday activity and we emulated their routines… relished them is more like it.

The Ingredients for a Delicious Meal 

IMG_7815Accompanied with Great Wine  

Immerse Yourself in a Small Italian Village

As if you really need a few more justifications… how about practicing your “Italian” and communicating with the local merchants?  After a repeat visit or two they actually greet you and occasionally add a little taste of something “on the house”.

The warmth of the Italian people and the adventure of “living” in the village makes an indelible, positive imprint on your travel memories.

A Neighborhood BakeryIMG_8159

IMG_8164

 A Neighborhood Cheese and Salami Shop

IMG_7758 Late afternoon aperitif

IMG_7785Outdoor Music Venues

 Two Tranquil and Colorful Beach Options

 Baia del Silenzio (Bay of Silence) is a public beachIMG_7536

Popular with the Locals

IMG_7537

IMG_7567Houses are right at the water’s edge

There is a peninsula separating the two beach areas which contains a great many historical sites dating back to the middle of the 12th Century and the “The Grand Hotel dei Castelli”.   The area is preserved in a park like setting, with panoramic views and definitely worth the time to explore.

IMG_7589  Private Residence

IMG_7586 Church circa 1151

 Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fables) has public and private beach areas

This is the main beach of Sestri IMG_7710

IMG_7714Water Toys for Rent

IMG_7718Private Beach Accommodations and Services

In Summary

Strategically located on the Mediterranean Sea, in the middle of the Italian Riviera, is this vibrant and beautiful seaside village.  Sestri Levante has much to offer… all it takes is the time to savor the moments.

Please follow us in the next article… Cinque Terre and the Carrara Marble side trips.

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

 

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Excerpt: A Ferry Ride Back in Time to the Roman Villa Ruins on Lake Garda, Italy

When we planned this vacation, the Sirmione Peninsula and the Roman Villa Ruins became a magnet and we scheduled a day trip back into history to visit an ancient vacation site of extremely wealthy Roman Citizens.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…but we choose the Ferry System

About 15 minutes from our hotel is the village of Salo’ which is the location of the ferry service docks.

The ferry system offers scenic lake steamers or the more time efficient hydrofoils; all depending on your time constraints and budget.

 

IMG_7428

The “Rapid” Ferry

We opted for the hydrofoil and caught the noon boat with two other stops before our destination.  As we pulled away from the dock we began to notice white caps and a slight swell in the water which once again reminded us of the vast size of this lake…an hour later we were pulling into the docks at Sirmione.

A Brief History of Sirmione

The peninsula has a very long history, but we will spare you… in summary it went from a fishing village in the stone ages, to a vacation destination in the 1st century for very wealthy and powerful families from Verona, to a strategic military defensive position with a fortress in the 13th century, to an obsolete castle fortification in the 15th century that eventually became a storage facility by the 19th century.

Lemons into Lemoncello

After all that turbulence the inhabitants of Sirmione settled down to an idyllic agrarian life filled with olive trees, fruit orchards and lake fisheries.  But at the end of the 19th century some enterprising individuals, using a metal pipe, figured out a way to tap into a thermal spring on the peninsula.

Let’s see… we have hot (158* F) mineral spring water, a castle, a collection of old churches, a piece of land with beautiful vistas on the largest lake in Italy topped off with a fairly intact Roman Villa/Bathhouse Ruins… a new tourist attraction was reborn on the peninsula.

A Stretch but Marketing Wins Over Accuracy

Their creative, entrepreneurial minds went into overdrive and the main attraction was now named the “Grottoes of Catullus”.

They took some liberties as there was actually no grotto but only a series of rundown buildings with collapsed walls and some caves.  In addition, as far as the Catullus part goes…the villa was created circa 150 AD and the famous Italian poet Catullus had died almost 200 years before the villa was built…but that did not stop the show.

Once again tourism finds Sirmione and the crowds return to this ancient village…now complete with a medieval castle, three churches, spa hotels, thermal baths, restaurants, shopping areas and of course the famous Roman Villa/ Bathhouse Ruins.

First Impressions of Sirmione

IMG_7409

Port of Sirmione

IMG_7404

The Main Plaza near the dock area

The main plaza is right off the dock area and lined with souvenir shops and the more or less usual tourist dining options….

 IMG_7401

Traditional Favorite

IMG_7403

Alfresco Dining

After working our way through the ever present crowds in the old town area we spied an electric train that offered rides from the thermal spas to the entrance of the ruins.

IMG_7342

The Electric Train

For one euro per person in each direction… a good deal as it is over a one kilometer walk up hill.

Grottoes of Catullus (Grotte di Catullo)

IMG_7347

Photo Credit: Museo di Sirmione Display

The grounds around the old villa ruins are about five acres in a park-like setting with wonderful vistas in every direction… finally we found the “it was worth the trouble to get here” moment and none too soon.

The entrance to the area was through a very well done archaeological museum that had exceptional displays in a multi floored structure.

IMG_7349

IMG_7385

IMG_7368

IMG_7374

IMG_7384

IMG_7390

The Boat Back to Salo’

Forming queues for anything in Italy is always an interesting experience.  The tourists usually maintain something like a line and the Italians simply merge at the gate.  So when the ferry approaches the dock all forms of discipline go out the window… some refer to this as chaos… we just smile, tighten the ranks and shuffle along.

In Summary

For the “complete” story please go to our webpage:

http://www.inspiredtravelitineraries.com

 

A Ferry Ride Back in Time to the Roman Villa Ruins on Lake Garda, Italy

 

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

 

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

 

A Ferry Ride Back in Time to the Roman Villa Ruins on Lake Garda, Italy

When we planned this vacation, the Sirmione Peninsula and the Roman Villa Ruins became a magnet and we scheduled a day trip back into history to visit an ancient vacation site of extremely wealthy Roman Citizens.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…but we choose the Ferry System

About 15 minutes from our hotel is the village of Salo’ which is the location of the ferry service docks.

The ferry system offers scenic lake steamers or the more time efficient hydrofoils; all depending on your time constraints and budget.

IMG_7428

The “Rapid” Ferry

We opted for the hydrofoil and caught the noon boat with two other stops before our destination.  As we pulled away from the dock we began to notice white caps and a slight swell in the water which once again reminded us of the vast size of this lake…an hour later we were pulling into the docks at Sirmione.

A Brief History of Sirmione

The peninsula has a very long history, but we will spare you… in summary it went from a fishing village in the stone ages, to a vacation destination in the 1st century for very wealthy and powerful families from Verona, to a strategic military defensive position with a fortress in the 13th century, to an obsolete castle fortification in the 15th century that eventually became a storage facility by the 19th century.

Lemons into Lemoncello

After all that turbulence the inhabitants of Sirmione settled down to an idyllic agrarian life filled with olive trees, fruit orchards and lake fisheries.  But at the end of the 19th century some enterprising individuals, using a metal pipe, figured out a way to tap into a thermal spring on the peninsula.

Let’s see… we have hot (158* F) mineral spring water, a castle, a collection of old churches, a piece of land with beautiful vistas on the largest lake in Italy topped off with a fairly intact Roman Villa/Bathhouse Ruins… a new tourist attraction was reborn on the peninsula.

A Stretch but Marketing Wins Over Accuracy

Their creative, entrepreneurial minds went into overdrive and the main attraction was now named the “Grottoes of Catullus”.

They took some liberties as there was actually no grotto but only a series of rundown buildings with collapsed walls and some caves.  In addition, as far as the Catullus part goes…the villa was created circa 150 AD and the famous Italian poet Catullus had died almost 200 years before the villa was built…but that did not stop the show.

Once again tourism finds Sirmione and the crowds return to this ancient village…now complete with a medieval castle, three churches, spa hotels, thermal baths, restaurants, shopping areas and of course the famous Roman Villa/ Bathhouse Ruins.

First Impressions of Sirmione

IMG_7409

Port of Sirmione

IMG_7404

The Main Plaza near the dock area

The main plaza is right off the dock area and lined with souvenir shops and the more or less usual tourist dining options….

IMG_7335

Lost in Translation Dining IMG_7401

Traditional Got Our Vote

IMG_7403

Typical and Wonderful Alfresco Dining

 The Scaliger Castle (Rocca Scaligera)

After a short walk from the plaza we found the advertised “fairy-tale-like-castle”… the 13th Century Scaliger Castle.   The castle is surrounded by a moat and can be entered by two drawbridges.  The drawbridges were built for defensive reasons to ward off invaders and also the locals.

IMG_7313

IMG_7315

Main Drawbridge

IMG_7321

Distinctive “Swallowtail Merlons” Adorn the Castle Walls

IMG_7322

Interior Wall and Docking Area

Twelve Euros ($15) and about twenty minutes later we had “seen” the castle and walked the walls… onward to the next landmark… in search of the ruins as the signage was quite limited.

After working our way through the ever present crowds in the old town area we spied an electric train that offered rides from the thermal spas to the entrance of the ruins.

We observed that the crowds focused on the old town shopping and restaurant areas, the Scaliger Castle, and the three small churches (Sant’Anna della Rocca, San Pietro in Mavino, and the Santa Maria Maggiore).

The further we were from those locations, the sparser the crowds.  So going the extra mile paid off as the ruins were pretty much empty of foot traffic.

 

IMG_7342

The Electric Train

For one euro per person in each direction… a good deal as it is over a one kilometer walk up hill.

Grottoes of Catullus (Grotte di Catullo)

IMG_7347

Photo Credit: Museo di Sirmione Display

The grounds around the old villa ruins are about five acres in a park-like setting with wonderful vistas in every direction… finally we found the “it was worth the trouble to get here” moment and none too soon.

The entrance to the area was through a very well done archaeological museum that had exceptional displays in a multi floored structure.

IMG_7349

IMG_7385

IMG_7368 IMG_7374

 IMG_7384

 IMG_7390

The Boat Back to Salo’

We returned to the dock area a little before our scheduled ferry back to Salo’ as it was the last one for the day and we did not want to miss it.  There was an alternative ferry service called the “Taxi Boat Sirmione” but it came with a premium price tag.

Forming queues for anything in Italy is always an interesting experience.  The tourists usually maintain something like a line and the Italians simply merge at the gate.  So when the ferry approaches the dock all forms of discipline go out the window… some refer to this as chaos… we just smile, tighten the ranks and shuffle along.

In Summary

Our adventure on Lake Garda was coming to a very positive conclusion and our last dinner at the Hotel Bolsone Dimora was an exceptional culinary treat and perfect ending to our visit.

We are departing for Sestri Levante in the morning and heading further south to the Ligurian Coastline and the Mediterranean Sea.

Please follow us as we continue our “Ultimate European Road Trip Series” – Part Ten – Sestri Levante / Liguria Italy.

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

 

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar