Sunday, 16 April 2017

A Fun Week in Italy

It's been a while since I added to the blog, I haven't had much time for it so far this year, which is a real pity as I really enjoy doing it.  Life is crazily busy at the moment, I've been working full-time again since we moved a year ago (yeah a whole year already!) so the blog has had to take a bit of a back seat.  I've been taking lots of video though so hopefully find time to edit those soon.  You can find our You Tube channel here

We recently enjoyed a holiday to Italy, it was so much fun and one of the best holiday's we've ever had.  The weather was perfect - not too hot and not too cold, around 22-24 degrees most days, lots of lovely Italian food and drink and plenty of strong Italian coffee.  Here's a blog about our trip:


We flew into Bergamo from Manchester around midday on Sunday.  The view out of the window of the plane has to be the best I have ever seen from an aeroplane window in my life and can you believe it I had an aisle seat!!  I nearly always have a window seat but we usually fly at night so hadn't really thought about it, it was very hard to get any decent photos and Mark had to lean over the woman in the seat next to him to get this one...

Flying over the snow capped Alps

After whizzing though security we went off to fetch the hire car.  We were drawn to this particular company as they were really reasonably priced but unfortunately we had to be driven to an off-site hire centre which is not unusual but normally would have a number of hire companies located in one place but this was just a single isolated business.  The ‘shuttle’ bus was just some bod who appeared in a car, as he sped off up the road he promised to get us there in 5 mins to which we replied 'no you're ok, 10 mins will be fine!'

Once we finally picked up the car we headed to the first location on our itinerary which was Sirmione at Lake Garda but we decided to hop off the Autostrada to get a much needed coffee at McDonalds.

The Italian Autostrada are generally toll roads and involve picking up a ticket when entering the  motorway and then paying at a toll booth when leaving. Although there appears to be an automated system people seem to use cash mostly and it can be very time consuming waiting to get through the barriers. When we left the Autostrada the second time we were in the queue for nearly an hour and that included a bit of queue jumping (shhh).

Solid traffic
Our first impression of Sirmione was that it was very much like Sandbanks in Dorset, large expensive houses and well kept gardens on a spit of land and with it being a major tourist resort in Lake Garda the traffic was nose to tail along the whole peninsula.

We had planned to do an interesting looking EC which involve parking and walking the final half mile but as there weren’t any parking spaces Mark dropped me off so I could make a start and he finally caught me up some time later when he found a parking space.  By which time I’d managed to test the temperature of the lake in two places, got my feet soaked and had a swan try to peck the thermometer from my hands. All good fun.

Due to all the hold ups it meant we didn’t have as much time as we’d have liked in Sirmione and it was soon time to rush on to our next destination – Verona.  We were starving by this time as we hadn’t eaten all day so stopped off at Lidl for Calzone, pizza and salad from their bakery

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… mmmm very tasty. Fortunately Lidl seem to stay open until quite late on a Sunday.

By the time we got to Verona it was dark, having been stuck in yet more traffic jams – we think this heavy traffic may have been due to it being Palm Sunday as we find it hard to believe that this is normal traffic for a Sunday. Let’s hope this isn’t what the rest of the trip will be like otherwise we won’t be seeing much.

I really wanted to visit Juliet’s Balcony in Verona so we navigated the VERY narrow streets until we got fairly close and as parking was tricky I jumped out to go an find it on my own – annoyingly it wasn’t accessible and you could only see it from a distance behind gates.  Very disappointing and barely worth all that effort.
Juliet's Balcony
We then continued on to our accommodation for the night.  Finally arriving at 10.20pm, a couple of hours later than intended.  The hosts couldn’t have been more welcoming, such lovely people, we were offered wine, bread and salami and we sat with them and their little dog in front of a lovely open fire, chatting for an hour or so.  The B and B  Tenuta Maraveja was in a beautiful location set in a vineyard which has been in the family for many generations and was built in 1462!


Up at 6 am for breakfast at 7.  Lovely fresh bread, salami, cereal and espresso.

Then it was time to say goodbye to our fabulous hosts Gildo and Lorella and continue on towards Venice.

We arrived in Venice at 12.30 and parked at Tronchetto and took the People Mover to Piazzale Roma where we walked ‘directly’ to our hotel, which in actual fact was a five mile walk with our cases once we’d navigated our way around the canals and walkways.

We finally arrived at our hotel only to be told that they’d cancelled our reservation the day before due to a problem with the card we’d booked with. Totally unacceptable as we’d booked the room back in February using the same card without any problem and we were intending to settle the bill with cash as advertised on the website.  Anyway they’d moved us to their ‘sister’ hotel which was another 15 minute walk away!  Finally arrived at our hotel and checked in. Although we hadn’t initially chosen this hotel, once we’d settled in it did seem like a better choice as there was a relaxing outdoor courtyard which the previous hotel hadn't had.

We were keen to do the Death in Venice multi so we made a start on that straight away as we’d read that there was a lot of walking involved to complete it.  So we thought we’d get as much as we could done today and finish the rest off tomorrow.  Coincidentally it was Geocache of the Week on the blog recently.

We managed to find all but one of the stages as one of the stages couldn’t be accessed at night.  A very enjoyable stroll around Venice, stopping off for Aperol Spritz and pizza on the way – also picking up a couple of other caches en route.


Up for breakfast at 7 and set off soon afterwards to find the remaining stage of the multi.  It’s no secret that the final is on Cemetery Island but without the final co-ords it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.  So once we’d worked out the final co-ords we set off to the vaporetti water bus.

We’d figured out we needed to get onto water bus 4.1.  4.1 takes a circular route virtually around the entire perimeter of Venice including out to Murano and back again.  Unfortunately, what we didn't realise when we boarded the bus was that it had just come back from Murano so 2 hours later we finally made the ‘short’ hop to Cemetery Island having travelled around 12 miles!  But hey, it was nice to go on a tour of Venice seeing all the sights from the boat.

Finally approaching Cemetry Island
After all that we were relieved that the final cache was an easy find.  Thoroughly enjoyed doing the Death in Venice multi and would highly recommend it. 

After wandering around the Cemetery for a short while we boarded the boat and headed off to Murano, ensuring it was heading in the right direction this time.  Murano is a series of islands linked by bridges 0.9 miles north of Venice and measures about 0.9 mi across with a population of just over 5,000 and is famous for its glass making.


There was a virtual on Murano we wanted to do and it was a lovely place to wander around.  We stopped for lunch at a cafĂ© bar and then headed back to the boat to continue on to Burano as I was really keen to see all the colourful houses. 


Would love to paint our house this colour!

The colours of the houses follow a specific system originating from the golden age of its development; if homeowners want to paint their house they must send a request to the government, who will respond by letting them know which colours are permitted for that particular lot.  Which explains why no two houses together are the same colour.

Once back in Venice, we returned to our hotel to drop off a few things,and headed back to the water bus; this time to go along part of the Grand Canal we hadn’t yet been along by boat.

Being watched

My new friend

This waterway is crazily busy with water buses, water taxis, private boats, gondolas, water ambulances, police boats and cargo boats all going back and forth.

Over the 2 days in Venice we walked just over 26 miles!  Crazy amount of walking. 

Definitely a place that’s more enjoyable in the evening, once the day trippers have gone home, the beauty of the place really comes into its own at this time of day, truly magical and if only visiting for a day you would definitely be missing out.

One thing is for sure, I really didn’t miss the car and it was lovely being in a traffic-free environment but it did seem strange that were no bicycles.  I would miss my bike but could happily live where there were no cars allowed.


Our plan today was to drive from Venice to San Marino.  Originally we had planned to take the coast road but we soon realised this would be totally impractical for the time we had available so took the Autostrada instead.  We covered about 160 miles on the Autostrada and we paid 19 Euro in toll fees.  We arrived in San Marino at about 11am. 

The first cache on our to-do list was La FerroviaFantasma - The Ghost Railway.  My attention had been drawn to this one as it was Geocache of the Week on the blog recently – when I mentioned it to Mark he said that it was already on the to-do list as it was the only multi in San Marino.  At first glance, It looked like it might be too much to do for our short visit but after reading the blog and some of the logs it began to look more doable.  We went equipped with head torches and spare batteries and without giving too much away we had completed the whole thing in just over an hour. 


It was really good fun although at the final stage the cache took a while to locate but perseverance paid off and we were able to add our names to the list of people that have done the most favourited cache in San Marino.


Next on the list was a Puzzle and a Letterbox before continuing on towards the old town which was quite an ear-popping steep drive. 

The scenery and landscape was totally surreal and so beautiful, the views were amazing all the way up.  Once at the top we checked in to our hotel and set off immediately to explore.  We were keen to fit in as much as possible as we only had one night here.


We were able to complete the Earthcache whilst exploring as we had to visit several locations. 


The weather was fantastic and the views were stunning.  Our event was planned for 7.30, we hadn’t had any ‘will attends’ logged so we weren’t expecting any other cachers.  It was a shame but completely understandable due to the location and the difficulty to get to it. 

Event : Cake, log book and trackables

The location was absolutely fantastic for an event and a real pity that others couldn’t experience it with us.

We watched the sun go down and Mark attempted a live video on Facebook but unfortunately it was buffering too much and didn't work properly.

View from our hotel
We were up bright and early for breakfast at 7 then it was time to check out and head towards Florence where we’ll be staying for one night.

We arrived in Florence just after midday, and headed through the horrendous traffic towards the hotel. While looking for somewhere to park, a friendly chap stopped us and asked if we were looking for a hotel car-park. We said we were and he ushered us to an attended car park where you leave the keys with the car and say when you want to collect it again. We have experienced this sort of set-up before but leaving the car with a random stranger...?  Anyway, no time to ponder whether we'd ever see the car again, now straight to our hotel to leave our bags and head off to explore.  

I had really hoped to go into the cathedral and also visit Michelangelo’s David but we had completely underestimated the crowds and the queues.  So instead we enjoyed wandering around sightseeing and playing the Wherigos and finding a few caches that were on our to-do list.  

Out of all the places we’d been to in Italy Florence was my favourite.  I really loved the feel of the place, our hotel was only a short walk from the centre and there were some great places to eat.

One place we’d highly recommend for lunch on the go was All'antico Vinaio they sell large flat-bread sandwiches  We had read in a guide book to go to the places that looked busiest with the locals and you won’t go far wrong – well this place had a long queue out the door.  They had proved so popular that they'd opened another place just across the street and the queues met in the middle – people were lining the pavements eating enormous ‘Sacchiata’ from here and all for only 5 euros each.  The guys that run it were really friendly and real characters.

Time was rapidly heading towards 7:30 when our Event was planned so we made our way there walking past the house where Galileo lived from 1610 until 1633.

Galileo once lived here
When we have a Meet and Greet Event in another country, we try and choose a local landmark.  While Googling for locations, I spotted this location and knew at once it would be a great place for an event and a great spot to watch the sunset over Florence at the same time.... hmm so did several hundred other people along with an array of market stalls and and live music playing! We managed to locate the other Event attendees and had a lovely chat for well over half an our before heading back towards our hotel.

At the bed and breakfast we’d stayed at on our first night we had been given a bottle of wine by the lovely couple that ran it, we knew we wouldn’t’ be able to take it home due to the baggage allowance so of course we had to drink it – it was easily the nicest wine we have ever tasted!  Hic!


Time to check out and head off towards Milan.  This was the longest leg of our trip and we were breaking the journey by stopping off in Pisa and Cinque Terre before arriving in Milan for the final leg of our holiday.

First stop was at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Incredibly, it's possible to park just across the road in a pay and display car park for a couple of Euros, and walk across to the tower and cathedral.

3.99 degrees from vertical doesn't sound much but in real life the tower's lean is quite surreal. Once again, the queues to climb the tower were huge so we contented ourselves by taking crazy forced perspective photos - just like every other visitor!

We knew Cinque Terre would be a beautiful place and as the weather was so gloriously sunny it was hard to tear ourselves away.  The picturesque little villages get more visitors than they can cope with and parking is an issue so Mark dropped me off to explore before seeking parking elsewhere.

Back on the road again, we had intended to visit another village further along the coast but after several miles of winding roads we came to a point where the road was closed due to severe flooding in February.

The diverted route was along lanes even narrower and windier than the ones we were on so we decided to abandon that plan and head straight to Milan.
After a long drive (and another 20 euros or so in toll charges) we arrived in Milan at about 7 o'clock and headed straight to the hotel. Once again, there was no official hotel parking but we were able to park right outside with a pay and display for Saturday but free for Sunday and evening.

Once we'd checked in, we headed on foot though the newly developed office area to the fashionable Corso Como to find somewhere serving Aperativo.  Aperativo is a a bit like 'happy hour', where you buy  drink and then have access to a bar buffet. We had read that what's on offer can variy greatly so we chose a bar which looked fairly busy on the assumption that it would be a good one.  It was, We had a huge Aperol Spritz each served in funky jars and a vast array of food was available to choose from.


The cache right at the top of the to-do list for Italy was the only remaining webcam cache in the whole of Italy and once we had filled up on the amazing hotel breakfast, we headed straight to the published co-ordinates for the webcam about half a mile from the hotel ... only for it to dawn on us that it had actually moved last December to an alternative location somewhat closer to where we had just been. Doh! Oh well, we'll have to do that one later, We then headed to the cathedral and bought our tickets for access to the roof as well as inside the cathedral itself.

Milan cathedral is impressive. It is the fifth largest Christian church in the world and out of the five largest it is also the oldest.  With over 3400 statues, it has more than any other building in the world.

The nearby Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping 'mall' is a magnet for label-obsessed consumers and it was hilarious watching shoppers posing for photos with their new purchases outside the entrances to the shops.  Strangely, we don't get that at the Trafford Centre :)

Another building of interest in Milan is the Vertical Forest. Inaugurated in October 2014, Bosco Verticale (or Vertical Forest) is a pair of residential towers in the Porta Nuova district of Milan.They have a height of 111 metres (364 ft) and 76 metres (249 ft) and host more than 900 trees (approximately 550 and 350 trees in the first and second towers respectively) on 8,900 square metres (96,000 sq ft) of terraces.


After consuming vast amounts of breakfast, we walked up to Milan Central Railway Station have a look around and find another letterbox cache before checking out and heading towards Bergamo.

The hire car was almost out of diesel and today was Easter Sunday. Not a good combination as a lot of garages were shut, The feeling of panic subsided a little when we found a little unmanned filling station consisting of two pumps on the kerb-side. The panic returned when Mark's credit card was refused! Luckily he found a 20 Euro note in a pocket and, even luckier, an elderly Italian gent pulled up to use the pumps and showed us how to use the damn things!


We finally got back to the airport and left a week of amazing glorious sunshine to land in heavy rain in Manchester....


We loved Italy and can't wait to go back again.........