Touring In Northern Italy with our Guide Jim & dear friends
27.4.16 - 5.5.16 18 °C
For those of you who know us well, you will know that we have an aversion to 'organised' bus tours. We prefer the more 'relaxed' form of travel where we stumble along ourselves and pick up day trips etc. Why then is there a 12 Day Cultural & Culinary Tour of Northern Italy poked into our itinerary, we hear you say?? We were asking ourselves the same question until we settled into our 9-seater van with two Western Australians, Glen & Mary-Anne and our driver/guide/Italian speaker/great Aussie bloke called Jim. We have not had a dull moment since then!
Jim runs these very small group tours from his home base in Melbourne and brings folks to these parts of Italy that he knows so well. He grew up in Australia but has a strong Italian heritage. His dad grew up in a little town not far from here called Varzi. He has a huge love of Italian culture & cuisine and loves sharing it with us.
(Note to the Duggan family: there are times in our recent travel in this spacious van with only 5 occupants, that we remember with great fondness our 8 incredible days with you all and miss the warmth & commerardery of being sardines in the one can (oops.. We mean van!)
It sounds very easy; 'meet me at Time Cafe outside the train station at Melpansa Airport between 12.30-1pm...'. Sometimes we make it harder than it needs to be! We both needed to go to the only toilet on the station where we left from in Milano which happened to be at the exact opposite end of this massive station. Then we thought that Platform 3 had mysteriously disappeared when we eventually made it there... Note to fellow travellers.. Sometimes Italian train stations have TWO numbers on the ONE platform.. No-one told us!! Needless to say, having run around lugging our bags like a pair of old boilers (this included shouting at each other rather bewildered suggestions!!!), we missed that train.. Thankfully, someone put us right about the situation on use of platforms and we caught the next one out to the airport. This, however, made us later than we expected and so, when we got the the airport we thought we'd make it easy on ourselves and just politely ask a random airport employee where this Cafe was!! Well, we ended up asking 3 different employees, seeing most of the airport, went up and down the lifts to the suggested places a couple of times.. Nearly gave up hope.. Then happened upon this Time Cafe... About 20 metres from where we got off the train.. We could have kissed this tall, warm Aussie bloke called Jim when we found him... Right on Time.. 1pm!!
Best Bits so far..
A dusting of snow on the Italian Alps over a gourmet lunch in Castillo Toblino..
Now, remember we ARE on a rather 'la-de-da' sort of tour.. But, to go to a 12th century castle in the middle of Lake Toblino and be treated to heavenly food in the warmth of one of the renovated rooms then to look up and see snow falling from the heavens and covering the mountain tops was very special..
We were 'on top of the world looking down on creation'
With apologies to the Carpenters
You hear about the Italian Alps but to actually SEE them, not just from the valley looking up but from the top of the world looking down and across is a rare sight. When we arrived at the cable car station in Machione alongside Lake Garda, we could see clouds over the top of the mountains like a blanket so our expectations were low. But, as we rose up the 2250 metres, the clouds dissipated and we felt that we could see forever..it was -3 degrees up there so our exhilaration almost turned into hypothermia!!
Australia is an ancient land but such a young country when it comes to much physical evidence of past culture so to experience Roman ruins over 2000 years old is always a treat. On the shores of Lake Garda on a peninsular, there are remains of an aristocratic Roman family villa which would have made some of those Gold Coast mansions pale in comparison in it's era. It was a magnificent photo opportunity for us: blue sky, glacial blue lake and lots of rubble.
'Where for art thou, Romeo???'
With sincere apologies to Shakespeare !!!
Juliet would have had great trouble locating Romeo amongst the sea of faces on the day we visited the scene of that great tragedy in Verona. The quantities of people trying to stuff themselves into the small courtyard under the balcony was crazy. The purported location of that famous scene has almost a cult following with love messages being left all over the walls of the area as well. Shakespeare never walked the marble pathways and alleys of Verona but we are sure that he would 'rollover in his grave' if he could see the effect this love story still has on so many centuries later!!
Was that in Cremona or was it Verona, no it was Mantua...
We have been trying not to let all the amazing cities and villages that we have been visiting in the last few days to blur into one big melting pot of
elegant palaces, architectural masterpieces, gob-smacking frescoes, and awe-inspiring duomos (cathedrals). Our photo collection will certainly help! Our memories of some of these places may fade but our memories of a friendship forged will never fade. We have loved sharing our lives with Mary-Anne and Glen. They are warm, genuine people, both educators, both retired, both very well-read. We have created some very special shared memories.
Did we mention that this is a cultural & CULINARY tour??
Where do we start with the culinary delights we are devouring?? Jim loves his Italian wines and foods and we are attempting to keep up our side with experiencing some of this region's best. To be brutally honest, we are taking more in via our stomachs than via our brains. Was that salami, prosciutto, pancetta or just sausage? Was that tortellini, ravioli, cannelloni, fettuccine or just spaghetti? We are also becoming accomplished at the wine varieties from each region we have been in... tasting them is not a problem.. remembering their names is more of a challenge!!
We have had SO much fun with Glen & Mary-Anne
Time (and your interest levels) is not sufficient to tell the stories of our days with these two wonderful people. Suffice it to say that we know a LOT about each others' lives... and mainly for our memories:... 'don't mention the war!', 'I left him over the garden hose', 'we called him Giovanni, why didn't he tell us he was Gustavo?', 'we thought Counte Moretti was going to eat you, Mary-Anne'!!
Agony Aunt is here to help...
Dear Agony Aunt:
We have left this to the end of this particular blog because we couldn't really get our heads around what was wrong and how anyone could fix it but we are sure that, if anyone can sort us out, you can!! Now, we mentioned that we are surprised to find ourselves on an organised tour... the truth is, dear Aunty, we have come to the point where we are still asking ourselves the same question. You are probably wanting more information to flesh out the issue. It's hard to put it into words or pictures and we think that's it!!!! We have found that we are not the type of travellers who are happy to 'blink' at the destination we have been so kindly driven to then happily stuff that spot into our memory bank or photo bank, then move on. We are more the 'sit & ponder' variety... hence the dilemma. We are being brutally honest here but we need help.
Ah! We humans are so slow to learn who we are and how we best operate... and that learning goes on our entire lifetime. All i can say to you both is.
.. value the wonderful aspects... you didn't have to negotiate those mad Italian highways, you met two people who will always be your friends, you have seen places that most people could only dream of seeing, you have tasted local cuisine of the highest standard and.. you are still willing to learn life's lessons.
She has been quite sick these last few days with a cold that has turned into infected sinuses (thankfully, we have antibiotics to hit it!) However, she was already overwhelmed with all the photos we have taken and need sorting through but, with her not feeling great, she is far behind with selecting some photos to put up on her site...
Teddy turned 3 on 29 April.. Can't wait to give him a birthday hug!! And Isabelle a great big little sister hug