Italy Travel Journal

This travel journal is from 2004. We went back to Italy in 2010.

> How it all began...

It was July 2002 when we were spending our holidays in Italy for the first time. We rented a caravan for one week on a campsite in Toscolano at the Garda Lake.Gardameer We loved the environments and went for many daytrips to all kind of places next to the lake, like Riva del Garda, Varone, Saló and Arco. The best was our trip all around the southern part of the lake. Early in the morning we left for the beautiful peninsula Sirmione, at the most southern part of the lake. Unfortunately we were not the only people with the brilliant idea of going there early, so it took us some time to get there. But the sunny views over the lake didn't bore us for a moment, so we didn't mind that it took us almost 2 hours to get there. The castle in Sirmione (Scaligeri) is very well captured and still looks beautiful. The Grotti di Catullo, Roman baths, are really worth visiting as well. After a few hours we moved on to the quiet, small village of Garda, waiting for us in the hot sun. Some moments later we were sitting at a café for a delicious Italian lunch. After a short visit at some of the small, Italian (and very touristic) shops we went on to Torri di Benaco, with its own beautiful castle.Garda Lake Here we took the ferry back to the other side, where we only had to drive a few minutes to get back to the campsite again. We were only at the Garda Lake for one week, but because of this trip to the southern part of the lake, a walk in the mountains right behind Toscolano (a great landscape with fishermen, a river, old watermills and a waterfall) we decided to come back once. Many people say they loved Verona, well... we didn't. We were there for one day, liked the arena and the panoramic view at forum Romanum, but the Romeo and Julliette story is just to much for us, the sight of all these hysterical tourists just made us smile.

> The Plan

When we came home from our fantastic holiday to Croatia in 2003 I was still in the holiday-mood. That's why I started surfing on the internet: what would be a nice destination for the next year... and that's where our Italy-plans came back again. Venice, Pisa and Florence were on top of our list.Venice So it probably had to be at least a few days of Venice and a week in Tuscany. When we saw that there was the possibility of renting a caravan for a week at the beaches nearby Venice itself, this seemed a great opportunity (later on it turned out to be a very bad choice, but more about that later). Eventually we decided to book the caravan at campsite Scarpiland, close to the ferry to Venice. It was a few days later when I saw this cute cottage in Tuscany on the internet, and it was clear that it had to be this one. It was a detached house, in the Apuan Alps, in the middle of the olive trees, with a magnificent view over the Mediteranian Sea. This was the house that had to be it. That's how we decided to do one week Venice/beach in a caravan and one week Pisa/Lucca/Florence/Apun alps from the house of our dreams. It made sense to drive back to the Netherlands via Milan, so we also booked a few nights in hotel Monopole in this fashion capital of Europe.

> Journey to Italy

Now that we arranged all the accommodation we were ready to go! Like we did last 2 years, when we also went to the South of Europe, we stay in the Ibis-hotel in the Southern German city of Ulm, after a whole day on the autobahn. In the medieval city center there are many things to do, every time we are here. The second part of our journey goes really quickly and by the end of the afternoon we are close to Venice...but...when we have to drive only 10 more kilometers we end up in queue. It almost seems like half of the world tries to visit the most romantic city of Europe. It takes us 90 minutes to find out that the toll-gates cause all of this misery and we are happy when we finnally cross those gates. After that we can continue our journey to the exit in the direction of the Venetian beaches. From this exit it would be 35 more kilometers to our campsite, a 30-minute-drive, under normal circumstances. But not on this saturday, or any other saturday in July or August. Another queue shows up, lasting all the way to our destination, about 4 hours later! Eventually we can check in just before reception-desk-closing-time, while we were so early at first.

> Venice

We are happy to see our maxicaravan, very complete and with airco, and only a few minutes walking distance from the sea. Reasons enough for a relaxing day on the beach the next day. But we're not such a beach addicts and after that day we find it time to visit Venice. The lady at the reception desk of our campsite tells us that there is a busstop at the road in front of the campsite. This bus brings us to the ferry in only 20 minutes.Venice The boat-trip to Venice will take 45 minutes. After about 30 minutes we stop at "Lido", the beach of the city, and we can already see the famous view at one of the bell towers of the city: the Campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore. Some time later we get off the boat somewhere very close toSaint Mark's square. This square has its own bell tower and we decide to get in line to go on up and admire the city from up there. The line moves quicker than we expected and in less than 30 minutes we're on top of the tower. The view is fantastic, the tower much too full for us. So we go down pretty soon again.Venice We think it's much better to avoid the crowd a bit and leave the baroque San Marco church and the Palazzo Ducale just where they are. We walk around a bit to find the nice and quiet hidden-alleys described in our travel book. The typical, truely Venetian alleys where the "o sole mio" still sounds like long ago. We find out that these alleys really exist and have a lovely walk, but in the end we get lost in this labyrinth. A friendly man walking a little to fast for these high temperatures shows us the right direction by walking a few blocks around with us. We hop on a bus-boat that smells really bad and makes too much noise and from this boat we first see the world-famous Rialto bridge. Crowded, in the middle of all the chaos on Canal Grande. We like to get on top of it for a moment, but find this enough for the day and go back to the ferry and to our campsite.

For the next day we plan a trip to the city of Padova. On the map it seems like this city is very close to our place, but the reality is a bit different. Because of the traffic it takes us 45 minutes to reach the highway and another 45 minutes to the exit of Padova. The cathedral is very beautiful on the outside, but unfortunately it's not allowed for me to go inside, as I wear a dress with the shoulders and knees uncovered. But we have a great time on our citytour passing all these famous churches, cloisters and even an astronomical observatory.

Back on the campsite we realize that there is not much more to do or to visit in within normal distance. And after a useless drive to the next village, Jesolo it is totally clear for us. Everything in the whole wide area is just there to please the tourists and to make their holiday at the beach and their visits to Venice as pleasant as possible. We only visit this much too crowded city once more and on this day we just try to find the quiet places. San Michele MuranoWe spend some time sitting on the small square of the Jewish Getto-area, where people still walk by in costume and the bakers and butchers still prepare their food like ages ago. After this we go to the "burial island" San Michele by bus-boat. This is definately the most quiet place in Venice. What a beautiful cemetary, completely surrounded by walls and water. The church and the cloister on the island are really peaceful places, where we take some great photos. Even better for taking photos are the colorful islands ofMurano, glass-island of Venice, and Burano, the fishermen-island. Both very nice places to spend some time, also because most tourists stay at the "mainland"(haha) and that gives you the idea of visiting a special place, still as beautiful as ages ago.

In the evening we go back to Saint Mark's square, but the sight of this magical square at night is almost a bigger disappointment than the first sight during day-time: they never even heard of enlightening the wonderful, old buildings that they are so proud of. Just the Santa Maria cathedral is beautiful enlightened. Even the average police-boat has more lights on board than there are at the entire Saint Mark's square. Advantage of this stay in Venice at night: now we missed the daily ritual of the childrens' disco at our campsite (and the campsite on the left...and the one on the right...and the one from further along the beach)! After some more days in our caravan we can finally leave for promissing Tuscany.

> Tuscany

The best of all, there is no doubt possible, is the cottage. It costs us some time to find it, but when we first see it we fall in love immediately. The map and description of how to get there are incomplete, so we end up on steeper and smaller roads all the time and we go up on a mountain like hinnies (24 percent, only 1 car at a time possible) to a small village and back again. Lucca However, we can't find the right exit...none of the 5 times. Eventually we try to conversate with one of the inhabitants of the village, which is quite a challenge, especially with the few words Italian that we speak and the kind of Italian that he speaks. I don't know why, but after about 15 minutes he can make us clear to take the exit that looks like a private road, almost impossible to drive at. To make sure you won't hit another car the locals hit their hooter at all of the 30 curves. And there, in the middle of the olive trees, with a splendid view over the Mediterranean Sea to Elba, is our lovely cottage. Everything in the house, from the cupboard with plates and things for at least 20 people to the black and white television from the 50s, looks like time stood still for at least some decades.

PisaOur first day we spend in Lucca. Unfortunately the weather is kind of grey and the town is not as interesting as we expected it to be. The San Michele, San Martinus and Torre Guinigi are certainly worth visiting, just like the old , small streets, but somehow we expected more. Just like Pisa, which we visit later that day. We love the leaning tower and the beautiful buildings around it, but within an hour you've seen it all. Especially when you don't like the idea of spending 25 euro per persoon for seeing the insides of the 4 buildings and the tower itself. We even try to check out the town itself, but there is nothing more to see than a small church and some residential quarters. We spend a lot more time in Florence the next day.Ponte Vecchio The Cathedral is really magnificent. We walk through the medieval city center via Piazza della Signoria with the huge Neptune-fountain and the Palazzo Vecchio to the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge. We check out this wonderful bridge on every side and walk to the Pitti-palace on the other side of the river Arno. Unfortunately the guy at the entrance missed his class "being friendly to customers", so after a short conversation we are sure that we don't want to visit the Palace anymore. What we do visit are a few old churches and a very special fountain on one of the many piazzas.

Another trip that's really worth doing is a ride through the Apuan Alps. If you pick a good route you have wonderful views on the mountains and you have a good chance to see one of the many marblequarries. We interrupt our tour for a view in the Grotta del Vento, where you can choose for the 1 hour, 2 hour or 3 hour guarded tour. But also for a walk in the mountains the Apuan Alps are very suitable. There are many hiking paths, of which we try just one. For us that's more than enough for one vacation.

But the best day of this week in Tuscany is the day that we visit national park Cinque Terre. Fortunately we arrive early in the morning, because you don't have to get bored when you're here for the whole day. And even for a holiday of a week there is enough to see and to do. There are Cinque Terremany hiking paths in these environments and lots of activities on the water, like a tour on board of a ship. The 5 villages belonging to Cinque Terre are connected by a railroad and a hiking path following the coastline. You have the best view on the blue coastline when you arrive from the direction of La Spezia on your way to the first village (Riomaggiore). We choose to park our car first and then walk back to the top of this panoramic hill. After taking several photos we start our walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola, the easiest and shortest part of the route, following the Via dell'Amore. You have the best view on the colorful village on the rocks (Manarola) if you're just past the village itself, on your way to Corniglia.Cinque Terre This part of the walk is pretty flat and boring, untill you reach the rocky hill on which Corniglia is built. You have to climb many stairs to the top of the hill and we are very happy with the peaceful market square of the village when we are up there. We sit down and have some cold drinks to cool down again. But the best thing is: the shadow! The most spectacular part of the hike is the path from Corniglia to Vernazza, where you climb the cliffs of the coastline: higher and higher. You'll be surprised by the many wonderful views over the blue sea and the villages. It takes us about 5 hours to walk from Riomaggiore to Vernazza and after a short stop in this cute little village we go back to our car by boat, which takes us... 5 minutes. This is our last day in Tuscany, so back to the north again, heading for Milan.

> Milan

During any week-end in the summer months this European capital of fashion is less trendy than you'd expect it to be. Nevertheless we have a great time Castello Sforzescoby watching the much too expensive clothes behind the windows of the luxurious shops. The Castello Sforzesco is very beautiful and even bigger than you'd expect, the castle is preserved very well. Don't feel bad when you have bad luck, just like us, by visiting Milano when the famous cathedral is covered with scaffolds. Just go on up, from the roof you have a magnificent view all over the city and the cathedral itself. You can also admire all the church's nice details from this place. Milano One thing that we don't like at all on the cathedral's square is the great number of salesmen that try to get your attention on many ways and tell you that you get lucky bracelets and food for the pigeons for free. And once you've been talking to them you have to give them lots of money to get rid of them. And when you don't give a reaction they even get very aggressive sometimes. Nevertheless it's a very nice city to stay for a few days. When you're there you certainly have to visit the Cimitiro Monumentale. It's a pretty exhausting walk from the city center, but worth every step to it. Some families have themselves built small churches and have several statues on their graves.
In brief: we had a great time in Italy, there are many nice things to see and to do....but Croatia still rules for us.

> Meer Info

Also check our Italy info page, where you can find a lot of information about Italy and come see our Italy Photos.