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Aug 21, 2006 | Part 3 of 3 – Roadtrip Italia

8/6 Portoferraio – Livorno – Pisa
Leaving the island at 10, we headed north, along the shoreline toward Livorno. Finding a rather desolate and emptied town (due in large part because it was Sunday and we had arrived in the afternoon, when most stores are closed), we left Livorno and moved to Pisa, where we figured we would be able to find a place to stay. we were rather fortunate in finding a reasonable place to stay, and took the opportunity of a beautiful afternoon to take a walk around town.

Hotel La Torre €90 w. bf

8/7 Pisa – Tofori
A brief visit around Pisa’s most memorable monuments, including the leaning tower and the cathdral next to it (though the lines of tourists made going inside an impossibility) and then we headed to the estate of my father’s collegue, Mr. Bassani, now retired but once a high-ranking WHO diplomat, a medical doctor and long ago an official of the Italian navy. His farm/estate, located on the hills of Tuscany near Lucca, remind one of the typically Italian atmosphere of beautiful trees covering equally exquisite hills with a breathtaking view of the countryside.

8/8 Tofori – Lucca – Tofori
Voices echo unintelligeably in the vastness of it’s interior, and the sound of feet rearranging the gravel competes with the barking of a dog somewhere far away and the klaxon of a car as its owner drives hesitantly down the narrow gravel pathway.

I count five bug bites on my right arm, now a bumpy hill punctuated by mounds created by beasts underground like moles. Golden Bond is worth its weight in that precious metal, but I’m too lazy to get up.

A bit of Yann Tiersen (from the movie Amelie) adds atmosphere to the scene, but I turn it off in favour of the calm. Perhaps it’s time for me to go back to the dusty and sandswept world of Joad and Jim Casy. Maybe turning on the fan would be nice.
Ah, but that would disturb the mood.

We visit Lucca, another time-capsuled city with ancient walls encircling the centre. Many churches have strange towers that reach up into the sky, standing high against the blue sky.

8/9 Tofori – Firenze (Florence) – Prato
Leaving the comfort of the estate in the morning, we headed towards Firenze, arriving there just after 1. Given just about an hour to walk freely through the city and it’s attractions, I went to the Ponte Veccio, filled with jewel store after jewel store, the Duomo, with its green-black and white marble façade, and the Palazza Uffizi, with a long line of tourists snaking out the front door. I had pizza by the weight before heading back to the car.

From Firenze we headed to Prato, a quaint town whose hexagon-shaped city centre contained picturesque churches and palaces dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, with even paintings by Donatello on the walls.

Hotel San Marco €80 w. bf

8/10 Prato – Parma
To my horror I discovered, when my father brought the car to the front of the hotel, that all four hubcaps of our wheels had been stolen, leaving behind the ugly black color of the wheel, unsightly with the shiny frame of the car it supported. We could do little but hope the insurance that came with the car’s rental would cover the cost of replacing them. We briefly covered ground in the city centre in our morning walk, and moved on before noon.

Our next stop would be Parma, famous for its ham and it’s proximity to Regio, where Parmeggiano cheese is made and shipped out worldwide. A typical afternoon, where I spent time to walk through town before resting, then having a hearty dinner with pizza (Pizza Parmigiana, with ham and eggs) before setting down for the night.

Astoria Executive Hotel €100 + 10 (garage) w. bf

8/11 Parma – Genoa (Genova)
After a torturous 10-hour car drive, of which fully half was spent looking for hotels along the Italian riviera, from La Spezia, using the via Aurelia mountain road winding from, to Genova, following the coastline, we arrived in Genova, exhausted and tired, and found a reasonable hotel in the city centre. Most hotels along the beaches were either fully booked or exhorbitantly expensive, and I got tired of going into hotels and repeating the same question:

Chè una camera per tre persone per questa sera? Cuanto costa? É aria condizionata?

(Do you have a room for three flr this evening? How much does it cost? Is it air conditioned?)

After about 15 hotels, it became slightly repetitive and tiresome. All in all a very tiring day.

Hotel Della Posta €87.5 (€175 for two nights) w. bf

8/12 Genoa (Genova)
A late morning as testament to our fatigue, we took our car (ticketed for parking in
a handicapped-persons area, though we thought otherwise because the line on the pavement had been erased at the spot where we were) and headed northward to Arenzano, a picturesque oceanside town bustling with people despite the less than ideal weather, which has cooled significantly in the past few days. Had foccacia pizzas for lunch, and headed back to Genova.

Walking around the area of our hotel was particularly interesting because of the immigrant population, making for an eclectic mix of people walking down the streets, though admittedly some sections were rather, pardon the term, ‘sketchy’. Telephone centres were occupied with people eager to call home, and others clustered around stalls selling clothes, sunglasses or DVDs.

Dinner consisted of the most delicious, plump and juicy ‘moules’ cozze alla genovese, that I had ever had on this trip.

Hotel Della Posta €87.5 (€175 for two nights) w. bf

8/13 Genova – Torino (Turin)
Heading ever northward as we head back to Paris, we left Genova in the early morning and took the highway to Pavia, where at its outskirts lies Certosa di Pavia, a cluster of churches and monasteries known for its herbal concoctions. The church, in which we attended midday Mass, was beautifully carved out of marble, and the monastery was quiet and peaceful, where one can easily meditate on God’s word.

After a brief nap we headed to Torino, where, without any intention, we stumbled upon the hotel we had stayed at twice before when visiting Torino, the Dogana Vecchia, where we were to learn that Mozart himself stayed for two weeks in January of 1771. I recognized the lady there (who apparently also remembered us).

Hotel Dogana Vecchia €120 w. bf + garage

8/14 Torino (Turin)
I had the opportunity to visit the Cathedral of Turin where, in a glass case 5 metres long and 1.6 wide (hidden from view with another magnificent piece of heavy cloth), the famous shroud of Turin, upon which is traced the shadow of a man that many believe to be that of Jesus. His features, including his face and hands are clearly visible on the photograph that is mounted on a display in the right sept of the church. It’s amazing to have a tangible element of the Bible, kept securely and safe from harm for centuries, though I can’t say anything certain about its origins and I dare say it shouldn’t be considered ‘proof’ of His existence, because we needn’t such devices to prove He existed.

I have visited many a church on this mega-car trip, but I have to say all are different in their own way, and yet all are similar in anither different fashion. The upper tier includes notable and oft-visited monuments like that of Assisi, the Duomo of Florence or Turin, but one cannot omit visiting some of the lesser known ones. I particularly liked the church of St. Theresa, here in Turin, because of its warmth despite the dark, and because of the amazing architecture that allowed cupolas to be built on top of magnificently painted domes.

I also went to the crowded market at Piazza Republica, where I managed to procure a belt for my fire uniform at a ridiculously cheap price.

With tomorrow being the Italian national holiday, ferragosto, many stores were shut, and walking downtown was somewhat strange in that there were many people walking about but very little to do or visit.

Hotel Dogana Vecchia €120 w. bf + garage

8/15 Torin (Turin) – Chamonix – Martigny – Montreux
Leaving Turin, we headed towards France, putting behind us the Italian cuisine, the unbeateable fashion sense of passerbys, the delicious gelato, the unforgetable historic monuments and churches, the rolling hills and the beautiful ocean, the smooth Italian language…

Just after passing the Mont Blanc tunnel (at 11km long and costing €31.90 to pass, no doubt the costliest passage around) we stopped for lunch near a valleys edge. We saw paragliders descend from the skies near the mountaintops and observed, with morbid horror, a paraglider circle uncontrollably, let go of something, and descend rapidly towards the bottom of the valley and the city of Chamonix. The other paragliders were visibly concerned as they approached the flailing flier though with no success. I’ve tried to reassure myself that he or she arrived without injury as there was a hint of recuperation, but I can’t be too certain. It was harrowing to watch and horrifying to not be able to do anything.

We arrived at the ski resort of Chamonix a little later and we had a bit of a break before deciding that we would be best to head on rather than spend the evening there.

We passed a giant propeller rotating slowly and heavily in the valley, a sign of wind power being experimented with. It’s rotation was surprisingly intriguing.

The mountains are imposing, snowcaps covering the tips, and impressively magnificent.

We crossed the border into Switzerland and headed to Martigny, where we found little and thus decided to head towards Villeneuve, where the Chateau de Chillon, a Swiss postcard staple item. The hotels overlooking the lake Leman were a bit too expensive so we followed through to Montreux, where we found a reasonable establishment. It is here where the Montreux Jazz Festival is held annual.

Hotel du Parc et Lac 180 SFr. (€180) w. bf

8/16 Montreux РLa Vrine РBesan̤on
It proved to be a very interesting morning. During breakfast we learned that the man in charge of the hotel was exceedingly rich, having met royalty and earned much by way of his wife. To assuage our initial doubts, he showed us a room that had antiques and treasures fit for a museum. An 18th century French clock worth at least a couple tens of thousands of dollars, rugs and carpets that could be exchanged for apartments, a painting by Rafaello (!), antique Italian tables, an exquisite vase apparently offered by an emperor… enough to blow a person to the moon and back. Though the man had many things to say and share with us (apparently he likes Japanese people very much), we had to make leave of him and head to France.

After Lausanne we stopped at La Vrine, having lunch there before moving towards Besançon, the birthtown of Victor Hugo.

Hotel du Nord €56

8/17 Besançon
Visiting the town’s old town centre, the Citadelle, involved going up a steep hill to the east of town, and though the going wasn’t easy, it offered a splendid view of the hills and town beyond. Another quiet afternoon and evening promised a good and restful.

Hotel du Nord €56

8/18 Besan̤on РBeaune РAvallon
Leaving Besançon, we headed deeper into Bourgogne country towards Beaune, but failing to find a suitable hotel and realising that the city was much too touristic for our liking, we had a brief lunch of sandwiches and Tex-Mex chicken wings and took the car again on the narrower roads, driving just fast enough to appreciate the scenery and slow enough to annoy those other drivers keen on getting somewhere fast.

We stopped for a few moments at Saulieu, where the famous French chef Bernard Loiseau has his restaurant, a highly rated, expensive Michelin-rated place that, having lost a star from the Michelin raters, sufficiently dispaired the cook that he took his own life. Apparently you need to make a reservation months in advance even now to have a meal there.

Arriving at a quaint town by the name of Avallon, we promptly found a reasonable place and settled down, leaving in the evening for a nice dinner of Brittany cuisine.

Hotel Avallon Vauban €90

8/19 Avallon
With a gloomy and rainy morning, we had little choice but to visit a bit of the market at walk around, before buying takeaway lunch at a Chinese restaurant. I procured a firefighter magazine called Soldats du Feu to while the time away, but it proved unnecessary when the morning clouds gave way to a beautifully clear afternoon. A bit of an afternoon walk led me to a nice and empty park, and also the town’s small stores, but there was very little that I could entertain myself with.

The evening, however, was a surprisingly entertaining one, since we were able to attend an outdoor concert of “Emile & Images” who were there for the evening. There singing was both catchy and rhythmic, and though the crowd was noticeably tepid towards the beginning, when other less-known people were singing, they were soon clapping and singing along, as though trying to ward off the unconfortable cold that started to seep in towards the later part of the evening. We were finally treated, at the environs of 11pm, to fireworks that went on for a surprisingly long time, and it proved to be a wonderful culmination to a wonderful trip the likes of which I’m pretty sure won’t happen for a while in my life (though I will make every effort to make a similar adventure a reality).

Hotel Avallon Vauban €90

8/20 Paris!
Lost: a hot water kettle.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 21st, 2006 at 6:36 pm, EST under the category of Travels. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.