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Aug 20, 2006 | Part 1 of 3 – Roadtrip Italia

7/20 Paris – Nancy
3 suitcases, a bag full of books, another full of food, my backpack, and a few other minor things packed into our rented beige argent Renault Mégane and we’re off, blasting the AC at a fresh 19°C. At around 6pm, we’re in Nancy, and finding the Hotel Americain, we’re comfortably settled. Nancy is a fabulously beautiful town, une ville élégante, apparently one of the cleanest in France. The Place Stanislas, named for the ex-Polish king whose daughter Marie married Louis XV, giving him the role of Duc de Lorraine, is considered the most beautiful royal square in Europe. The old town is full of history, with buildings dating back to the 14th century.

Hotel Americain €63

7/21 Nancy – Luzerne
We leave for Aarau. We change plans and go forth to Luzerne, where we stay at Hotel Alpina, in the city centre. The lake’s close by, but we leave visiting the famous Chapel Bridge until morning, for we are exhausted. It’s nice to be in Switzerland, for the Swiss are fiercely patriotic, with even the most remote mountaintop chalet proudly showing the tell-tale square red flag.

Hotel Alpina 180 Sfr w. bf

7/22 Luzerne – Milano (Milan)
A brief stop at the bridge, rebuilt in eight months after a destructive fire in 1993. I penned the following while I was there:

With a backdrop to Luzerne’s famous wooden bridge and the swans basking comfortably in the morning sun that washes the clear lake such that it shimmers turquoise and blue, I hear the Swiss-German that dances around the market as it fills up with the crowd eager to procure fresh goods.

Later, the highway comes to a standstill as patrols control the flow of traffic with signals. Fearing that our car’s engine would overheat, we rested for a bit on the sidepaths, coming across by chance a route that led to a passage up a mountain and over the San Gotthard tunnel we were waiting so long to pass. On the way we stopped at a panorama point that offered a breathtaking view into the valley below. The tap water for washing our hands was truly glacial.

Our stop that night was in a rather luxurious hotel that, very ironically, we stopped at last in our search of at least ten different (and excessively expensive) hotels for a place to stay. A Robbie Williams concert nearby had caused such an influx of fans into Milan that most hotels were fully booked. That night’s rest was one of amazing luxury.

Hotel Atlantic €150 w. bf

7/23 Milano (Milan) – Verona
After a brief visit to Milan’s Castello Sfsorezzo, we headed east to Verona. Our rented Renault, with a mere 1899km on its dials, gets a flat tyre right outside a paytoll, and we replace it in the inhospitable heat. We assume it’s due to the heat and excessive wear; I’m still rather wary. Arriving at Verona in the early afternoon afforded me to take a bit of a tour around town. The crowds were many, but I nonetheless did get to see Juliet Capulet’s residence, with the famous balcony and two walls in the entrance covered with declarations of love between couples. The Arena, under renovation in certain parts, is still an imposing structure in the middle of town. I also got to go to Saint Peter the Martyr’s church, with frescoes dating from the fourteenth century still visible on the pale walls. Pizza and spaghetti to wrap up the evening made for a splendid dinner, with accordions playing in the background.

Hotel Cavour €136

7/24 Verona – Venezia (Venice) – Ferrara
Savagely awoken by a group of people talking loudly (the doors are thin) in the lobby, we decide to take advantage of it and leave early, visiting the Castellvechio and Juliet’s grave on the way out of town. We’re headed to Venice, and I’m excited, for it’s the one place I’ve always wanted to go to. Arriving at around 10:30 we hop on a ferry, upon which I penned the following:

Standing precariously close to the waves that rise next to me on the ferry Fusina 2000, I see the first glimpses of Venice as the smell of the Adriatic washes over, the odour of sweet amaretto biscuits. Three wooden posts tied together serve as guides on either side of the invisible ‘road’ that the boat follows, like a skier’s slalom path or a plane’s landing lights. A lone seagull stands upon post #60, another on #62, #64, #65, and #66, as though contemplating the passage of a group of human beings on a small boat.

Up ahead, to the left, three large cruise ships wait in port, their upper-most cabins much higher that Venice’s tallest spires.

The water gets choppier as we slow down, a myriad of ships, big and small, speed boats and lugboats, carrying passengers and cars alike as we enter the Canale de Giudeca.

This is what I’d imagined Lyra’s world (from The Golden Compass) among the gypsies would be, though it’s my first time here.

After visiting the pigeon-filled and crowded, yet splendidly elegant Piazza San Marco and taking a glimpse at the gondolas on the canals, we took the ferry back and drove towards Ferrara, to the south. It’s what they call the City of the Renaissance, and rightly so, as I later will discover. Apparently the entire city and the delta upon which it is located is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site. We come across a simple yet adequately supplied hotel, and take up camp there.

Hotel San Paolo €80

7/25 Ferrara
A nice breakfast at a cafe started off the day on a good footing as I visited with the Palazzo dei Diamenti, so called because of the more than 8000 pyramid-shaped stones on its outer walls, and the Castello Estense, which dates from the 14th century and is apparently one of the few castles in Europe that still has water in its moat. A visit to the Cattedrale di Ferrara of Saint George the Martyr, a 12th-century monument, also afforded an awe-inspiring view of the ceiling and the delicately arranged designs on the walls. It’s churches like these that make a person truly feel small. After a hefty lunch and a brief rest I borrow a bike and ride northwards towards the brick and stone walls that still stand, forming a semi-circle around the city like it did ages past. On the way I stop at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Vado, another amazing church that leads me to the conclusion that belief is a very powerful source of creation, inspiration, and sustenance. I get slightly lost in the one-way roads of the city, and finally resort to barelling down the wrong way down a one way road, then following other bicycling Ferrareses to the city centre.

Dinner was at the place we had yesterday’s dinner and today’s lunch at – Pizzeria Woodpecker – and the person we assume to be the owner does us such a service that we feel compelled to tip rather generously. Graciously, he refuses, but we come out of the restaurant not only filled and satisfied (Limoncello aside) but also realising the true geneosity and kindness of some here in this beautifully untouched city.

Hotel San Paolo €80

7/26 Ferrara – Ravenna
We leave the comfort of our hotel and head south towards Ravenna in hopes of visiting a city much like Ferrara, but Ravenna proves to be a bit different. The city, though comparable to Ferrara in population size, has its centre spread out over a wider area, so accessing each monument is difficult, and though a lot of the city is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the evidence of it on the streets is scarce. I do spend the afternoon walking through, including the duomo. The hotel is rather spare in its amenities, so we cut short what was to be three days here to a single night. The dinner at Trattoria Rustichello is blissfully homemade, pure and unadulterated Italian capelletti and tagliettes.

Hotel Ravenna €98

7/27 Ravenna – Ancona – Perugia
It’s amazingly hot so we decide to wake up early (we = my parents) and leave town. Our plan is to go to the seaside port town of Ancona, the place where cruise lines depart for Croatia and Greece, according to our now entirely unreliable Guide Vert from Michelin (we had reserved the prior evening’s stay via the guidebook). Not finding any hotels in the areas we were most interested in, we decide to change plans and move ahead to Perugia, a hundred kilometers or so inland (I silently lamented the loss of opportunity in going to the beach on the Adriatic, but I’m hoping there wasn’t much to regret). Arriving in Perugia in the early afternoon, we come across a fairly reasonably priced four-star hotel and are convinced enough of it’s qualité de prix that we decide that it’s worth staying a few more days. I stroll the steets in the evening, scouting for good restaurants and interesting monuments. The evening’s meal, at a place I had found, was simple, adequate, yet very good.

Sangallo Palace Hotel €110 w. bf

7/28 Perugia
The morning was spent visiting various monuments and going through the narrow alleyways of Perugia’s centro storico. In a rather curious mix of modern technology and the relics of the past, one can reach the hilly historical centre by a series of escalators, four in number and climbing into a passageway carved by an ancient fortress. A tune accompanies visitors over a PA system.

Sights to see include the Palazzo dei Priori (13th century) and the Duomo/Cattedrale di San Lorenzo (14th century), though parts of the cathedral are under repairs right now. There’s also the Fontana Maggiore (1277-78), which stands rather inconspicuously between the two imposing previously-mentioned monuments. Just strolling through the streets is amazing, and some structures, old as they are, seem to be barely capable of standing upright were it not for supports and curious metal bars that extend outwards through the exterior walls and keep the building from collapsing. A quiet afternoon preceded by a quick swim at the hotel’s deserted swimming pool and a reasonable evening dinner made for a nice Friday.

All the while war is raging in the Middle East, what the news media craftily and somewhat hesitantly calls the “Middle East crisis”, just short of the dangerously loaded word, “war”. But if senseless politicians are sending armies to kill others, including innocent civilians, I find it hard not to call it a war. It’s also interestingto note that the two major news network, BBC and CNN each take different stands on how they report the conflict. CNN is very subtly supportive of the American government (and with good reason), preferring to broadcast it from the perspective of the Israelis. BBC, on the other hand, takes a more or less balanced view, taking care also to reportthe suffering that the Lebanese must bear in the conflict. My respect for CNN hasn’t been significant in the pasr, but it’s diminished further in recent times.

Sangallo Palace Hotel €110 w. bf

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