Lake Garda

Lake Garda

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Oh no ! The final day.

Lake_Garda_10.JPGWe had a bit of a lie in, apart from being awake from an early hour as a result of being really itchy. The hotel’s breakfast was really good, which confirmed my theory about the pattern – the dull, drab, characterless business hotels do much better breakfasts.

We got out of the hotel by 10am but our flight wasn’t until evening, so we’d planned to waste a bit of time on the shores of Lake Garda. Our first choice of location was Sirmione. It’s a town on a long peninsula which sticks out into the south side of the lake. On paper it looked great, but in practice it wasn’t so good. We’d neglected to take account of the possibility that some other people might want to go there on a warn summer Sunday. It was flippin’ heaving. There was nowhere to park. We found one place with spaces but then left after realising you could only park there for an hour. Then we found another place but realised we were at least 3km away from the bit we wanted to be in, and anyway after we’d stood in the queue for the one-and-only ticket machine for 10 minutes without actually moving we gave up. By this time the police blockade on the road down to the end of the peninsula had gone, so we decided to try our luck. Our luck was out. There was a bit of driving around and then a bit of argy-bargy involving a couple who were standing in a spot waiting for their mate to turn up in a car, but eventually we decided it wasn’t worth it, so we just left and decided to go somewhere else instead.

On the way to somewhere else we stopped at a service station on the motorway so we could find a geocache and colour in the Province of Brescia. We sat in the car for a while there playing with phones and trying to decide what to do. Nothing really appealed to be honest, as we were starting to get “going home” fever. Eventually we decided to go for a lakeside walk at Desenzano del Garda, which was only a couple of miles away from where we were. We probably had somewhere between 2 and 4 hours to kill at this point before needing to head back to Linate Airport.

We found a car park easily enough, which was nice after Sirmione, and then for a bit of a walk around attempting (and failing) to find geocaches. Half an hour of that was enough to persuade us to go for ice cream instead, and then we let the girls go for a plodge in the lake for a few minutes while Kas and I sat on a wall contemplating our navels and playing “good-bit, bad-bit” for the holiday. There were definitely a lot more good bits than bad ones.

Lake_Garda_24.JPGIt was supposedly a couple of hours or so back to Linate from here, and although the flight wasn’t until 8pm we’d basically had enough at 3pm and decided to head off. The drive back was uneventful except for a heavy rain shower on the edge of Milan and me completely missing the turn into the airport. Once we’d driven out a couple of miles and come back again I found the entrance on the second attempt, and then after driving round fairly slowly, we managed to find a fuel station to fill the car up before returning it.

I have to say it was a complete miracle that we’d had that car for 16 full days and hadn’t bumped or scratched it at all. In total we’d done about 2,500km in it.

We were a little too early to check in for our flight, so we relocated to McDonalds to have some dinner. It’s not as bad as it sounds, because the one at Linate does pizzas as well as the usual burger-based offerings. And they have beer.

Once we managed to check in everything went very smoothly. We were kind of ready to get going but made the mistake of going down to our departure gate. At Linate the gates are through a security control that you can’t return through and there’s absolutely nothing there, so we had a very tedious wait at the gate before boarding. Once we did get onboard, the flight was on time and our bags came out fairly quickly at Heathrow. The valet parking company had fetched the car and it was waiting for us a few yards away from where we’d parked it 15 fays before. Here we hit upon the only real problem – we’d managed to leave Izzy’s bubblebum car seat in Milan. Ho hum ! No way to ge another one here, so we just drove home without. Her height is pretty much enough now to not really need a booster anyway. I’m pretty sure Ami gave up using them at about the same age and height.

The drive home was uneventful and the house was where we left it. We got the bags out of the car and emptied the dirty laundry onto the floor, put one load in, and then went to bed. After all, it was well after 11pm.

Verona

Verona

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Saturday again. On a normal fortnight holiday the Saturday two weeks after you arrive would be the day you go home. We’re not normal, though, so we’d booked an extra night and as a result Saturday could be parkrun day again.

In Italian terms you’re kind of spoiled for choice in Mirano, because it’s halfway between two different parkruns – Treviso and Farfalle (in Padua), although I thought Farfalle was a kind of pasta – you know, the one that’s like little bow-ties.

The desire to do parkrun meant getting up and out of the hotel fairly early. We grabbed a very quick breakfast and got out by 7.45am, setting off in the general direction of Treviso. We picked this run because it’s a 2 lap course, whereas Farfalle is a 4-lap course. The fewer the number of laps, the better.

Verona_25.JPGThe drive there was uneventful until we got into Treviso. It then got very eventful when it turned out that the postal code on the parkrun website is essentially the whole of Treviso, so Violet very diligently took us right into the town centre. We basically had to drive round in circle for a while until we found somewhere I could pull off the road while we pulled up google maps on the phone and navigated the way to parkrun that way. We still managed to arrive 20 minutes before the start, and there were a few people there already.

The parkrun itself was a couple of laps around a long, thin loop in some woodland, running on gravel road on the way out and woodland path on the way back. There were sufficiently few people taking part that I knew my finishing position well before actually finishing. I got 7th place running round on my own. At the turn on lap one I was still in 4th, but I got overtaken on the return leg and was in 8th at the end of the first lap. I ran the second lap more or less solo – I could no longer see the guy in front, and whilst I could hear the people behind I managed to maintain about a 200m lead over them. I was happy with 8th place and 27.30 minutes (ish) even though only 24 people finished. In fact, one sixth of all the finishers that day were us. Kas ran round with the girls and they were a little bit slower. One of them had the now mandatory trip and fall. The other key feature of the woods was the apparent prevalence of insects. It felt like bitey-city all of a sudden.

On the way out of the car park I discovered that the nearest geocache to us was right by the road, about 500m away in the direction we were travelling. Province of Treviso – tick.

As we’d rushed breakfast and because it was hot, we decided we needed cooling drinks before heading anywhere else. It was going to be a bit of a drive over to the evening’s resting place in Verona, so we googled McDonalds and found one within a short distance. They had milkshakes and clean toilets, which is kind of what we wanted them to have.

Verona_78.JPGViolet took us along the motorways towards Verona, and that proved very handy because there was a geocache in a motorway service station near Padua. Another province done then. The motorway also passed through the Province of Vicenza but there weren’t any caches by the side of the motorway and we weren’t really in the mood to divert away from the journey to look for one. Instead we continued on our way to Verona, or more correctly to the Airport Hotel Verona Congress & Relax, which is a bit of a mouthful of a name for the place we were staying. Our room was ready when we arrived at 12:30, so they allowed us to check in and we had a quick shower and change of clothes before heading out to see what the city had to offer.

It was a 20 minute drive into central Verona from the hotel and we managed to find a car park pretty easily. It was branded as the car park for the Verona Arena but was actually a decent walk away. That helped though, because it meant we could get a late lunch at a nearby “Eataly” before doing anything else.

By the time we’d finished lunch it was already mid-afternoon, and as we walked over to the Arena we were aware of a bit of an event looking like it was in preparation. It was a night where there was going to be a big operatic performance in the Arena, and as a result they’d started putting out the crowd control measures and had also limited last access to the Arena for non opera-goers to about 3pm, which meant we’d missed it. A quick adjustment of expectation, then, and we headed off in the general direction of the supposed Juliet Balcony. Once you were “in the zone” it was pretty easy to find the house with the balcony without using maps or signs. You just have to elbow your way in through the massive crowd. It’s really in a tiny space and the packed feeling is enhanced by there being souvenir shops and a ticket office inside the courtyard as well as the famous balcony and a statue. Apparently you have to have your photo taken with the statue. We had to queue for a while before getting anywhere near the statue.

From here it’s a short walk to the Piazza delle Erbe, which seemed to be a buzzing heart of the town. It wasn’t frightfully busy, but that’s maybe just because everyone was round the corner, having their photo taken with the rather statuesque Juliet. We took a few photos in the square and then continued walking towards the river, arriving on the bank just to the south of the Ponte Pietra. We were starting to wane a bit by this time and I was getting a bit frustrated about not being able to find any of the geocaches on the route either. I hate urban geocaching. So we didn’t spend a huge amount of time at the riverside and we didn’t walk out onto the bridge either, but contented ourselves with a few riverbank photos before turning around and heading back in the general direction of some ice cream.

We passed (and actually found) a couple more geocaches on the way back, and stopped at a gelateria on the north side of Piazza delle Erbe. Its speciality was to hand-shape the ice cream into petals so that each cone looked like a rose. Very pretty, but a little time consuming to construct when there’s a big queue. The girls loved them though.

Verona_80.JPGWe walked along in the direction of the Arena again whilst eating the ice creams, and a little way along the road we had a pop at a geocache that required us to find a fossil ammonite. Initially we were on the wrong side of a crossraods junction and couldn’t find anything, but then Kas crossed a road and after a small distraction caused by an ammonite in the wall she spotted the one that we believe we were supposed to find. The cache description said to take photos of others that we passed in Verona, and once you start looking for the things you see them absolutely everywhere. Then someone started humming the Muppets song – “an ammonite, do do do do do !” I can tell you quite confidently that once you begin to hum that, it is very hard to get it out of your head.

We’d about had enough by this time, so we plodded back to the car and drove back, reaching the hotel at about 6:30. None of us was really hungry enough for a proper dinner, so we contented ourselves with some crisps and other snacks with beer in the hotel’s “American themed” bar. It was kind of quiet in there.

We gave up on the day pretty early and just went to bed. We couldn’t get the room’s air conditioning to go very cold, so we opened a window instead, and as a result a couple of us got absolutely bitten to hell by insects that came in through the window. It’s a good job we still had a tube of the Bergamo itchy cream left over.

Mirano

Mirano

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After 13 days of industrial strength tourism we decided we’d earned ourselves a day off, and this was it.

I think when we were planning the holiday we’d thought we might go to Trieste on this day, but somehow the idea of spending four hours in the car wasn’t very appealing once we were on the ground. We also didn’t really fancy anything that either Padua or Treviso had to offer for a half day out, and we certainly weren’t going back into Venice again. So we decided during the day on Thursday that we’d spend Friday not doing very much.

We had a late breakfast and then the kids got down to the serious business of not doing much. In their case, that involves going in the swimming pool. Kas was alternating between mucking about indoors and lazing around outside. I had a bunch of geocaching logs to do after the previous day, including about 6 earthcaches that required reading, research and multiple answers as well as logging and photographs.

We dragged the kids out of the pool for a snack based lunch at around 1pm and forced them to come indoors at about 4pm, when they were starting to turn a bit pink.

It took me pretty much all day to do the caching logs as I couldn’t find the hotel’s wi-fi and my phone signal was pretty poor. I got them done eventually though.

We had a couple of hours snoozing in the room before getting ready to go out. You can’t rush a good day of doing nothing in particular.

Mirano_22.JPG Mirano_23.JPG Mirano_24.JPG

For dinner we returned to Mirano again and returned to the restaurant we used on our first night there, the Fabbrica di Pedavena. The food and beer were good again but for some strange reason we had trouble attracting enough attention to order puddings, so eventually we gave up and I queued at the indoor bar to pay, and we left.

The kids still fancied pudding, so we wandered around a while and ended up in a gelateria not far away, where we treated ourselves to some really good ice creams. I think Izzy had a marshmallow-flavoured one, which was basically just sugar. Ami and me both tried a lush looking chocolate fondant flavour. They did also have beer-flavoured ice cream, but none of us was brave (or insane) enough to try it. A pleasant quarter of an hour was then spent sitting on the edge of a public fountain eating ice cream and watching the world go by. There are worse things in life.

Back at the hotel we made quick work of a couple of glasses of Baileys and amaretto before retiring to the room to pack our bags and get some sleep. Tomorrow promised to have us back in the “busy” zone.

Venice

Venice

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Day 13 was one of the “big ticket” days of the holiday – Venice day.

Venice_008.JPGWe got up early (at 7am) and grabbed a nice if simple breakfast at the hotel before jumping on a bus. We’d originally planned to go into Venice on the train but the hotel convinced us that the bus was a better option than driving for 10 minutes and waiting for a train. Fair enough. Anyway, they were able to sell us the bus tickets and the bus stop was literally across the road from their front gate. We got the bus at about 8:40 and it took an hour or so to drop us off in the Piazzale Roma. It was already rather busy and rather warm by then.

Our first stop (after a quick geocache) was to go find toilets and drinks in the station. To get there you have to cross the new Constitution bridge, which has attracted its share of controversy. It was famous in my mind mainly for the fact that it appeared on a National Geographic programme about terrible engineering mistakes. The mistake was nothing to do with the placement, construction or accessibility of the bridge. It was entirely to do with the fact that it was originally faced with glass, which looks pretty when dry but becomes very slick when even slightly wet. It was, by all accounts, a major health hazard. It looks OK, albeit rather out of character with the rest of Venice’s architecture, and as it was a dry day we were OK walking across it. Once we made it to the station we fought our way through the crowds but were eventually able to find both the toilets and a shop to buy drinks.

From here we crossed the Ponte degli Scalzi and ducked out of the traffic flow for a while to photograph the San Simeone Piccolo church. From here we rejoined the throng following the marked walking route to San Marco, taking occasional diversions to grab geocaches as we went. The marked walking route obviously takes you right over the Rialto Bridge. No tour of Venice is complete without elbowing your way over here. There were more geocaches here anyway. The throng of people following the marked walkway was, if anything, even busier this side of the Rialto. It was starting to get a bit draining and it was pretty much lunchtime anyway, so just before San Marco we stopped in a little streetside cafe and had some sandwiches and drinks. The sandwiches were good and the prices were surprisingly reasonable.

Venice_070.JPGPiazza San Marco seems to be pretty much the destination of everyone visiting the city. The walks from the bus and train stations (like what we did) are signposted to here only, and presumably there’s a fair amount of traffic from people who didn’t walk, or who’ve arrived by boat from outside the city. What can you say ? It’s busy. Although, having been in Florence on the previous Saturday we were feeling like this really wasn’t too bad. We decided not to bother trying to get tickets either to enter the basilica or the campanile because the queues looked large and anyway, we’d been into loads of them by this point in the holiday. So we mooched around the square taking photos and doing earthcaches (there’s 4 or 5 of them just in the square). From here we made the short walk around the outside of the Doge’s Palace for the mandatory photo of the Bridge of Sighs. It was pretty busy there too.

We decided to head back via a slightly different route, partly to get out of the crowds and partly to find a few more geocaches. Our route took us past La Fenice theatre and then onto the rather wonderful Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo (otherwise known as “the Snail”), where we paid a token few Euros to go climb to the top. Technically, we paid for a museum there too, but the girls weren’t especially interested in that (nor was I, but don’t tell them that). The Snail was actually the only thing we paid an entry fee for all day, unless you count the toilets. That was a refreshing change for this holiday.

Venice_221.JPGWe grabbed an ice cream break near there and then had a look at getting some tickets for a Vaporetto back to the station, but when we found one they were really busy and really expensive, so we decided not to bother. This meant, however, that we had to walk back through the crowds over the Rialto Bridge again and then back to Piazzale Roma. All of us were getting a bit hot, tired and grumpy by this point. Kas was struggling in particular, because as well as the heat she also had an aching ankle to contend with.

We’d managed to stay in Venice up until 4:30pm. On the original plan we were going to stay all day and have dinner here, but I think we all decided that the prospect of staying for 2 more hours, having dinner, and then spending another hour riding home on the bus was more than we could be bothered with. We were lucky enough to get onto a waiting bus as soon as we arrived at Piazzale Roma and so we got home again before 6pm.

We gave the kids a good 90 minutes in the swimming pool to cool down and unwind and then got cleaned up and went down into Mirano again for dinner, this time finding a very nice place off the central square called La Taverna. We had a quick drink from the hotel bar when we got home and then retired to bed. During the course of the day and the evening we agreed that the following day was going to be the “do nothing” day.

Bologna

Bologna

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The breakfast at the Grand Hotel Elite was pretty good, so we managed to get checked out feeling in fairly good condition, although Kas was obviously still suffering after hurting her ankle while running the previous day.

Bologna_12.JPG We loaded all our bags back into the car and checked out of the room but agreed with reception that we could leave the car in their car park until mid-afternoon. There didn’t seem much point in moving it. We jumped onto a bus down to the city centre, taking a mad guess at where to get off. We did so fairly close to the Piazza Maggiore, which was a pretty good guess.

We took a wander around the Piazza doing touristy stuff and attempting a few geocaches. One feature of the square (and one of the geocache subjects) is a fountain dedicated to Neptune. It’s a weird one because of the numbers of jets of water squirting our a stone-sculpted willies and boobs. Anyway, moving swiftly on….

From here we moseyed along to the famous Two Towers of Bologna. We saw a queue for the taller of the two and determined from the guy on the door that we needed to go back to the tourist office in Piazza Maggiore to buy a ticket. So back we went. They had plenty of tickets available for the 1:30 climb, so that’s the one we went for. It was another tower where the staircase is narrow (and wooden, in this case) so a batch of people is allowed up all at the same time, and are then given 15 minutes or so at the top before needing to come back down again. Two-way flow on the staircase is not really possible unless it was a party of bamboo canes or stick insects. We were among the first few onto the stairs in our wave, and we climbed them really quickly, meaning that the top was practically empty for about 5 minutes when we got there. That allowed us to take a few relatively unhindered photos before everyone else arrived. It also allowed me time to ask the assistant at the top if he knew where the geocache was. He did. It was back down one level of staircase. Province of Bologna – tick.

Once back at the bottom we needed a drink / ice cream, so we raided the gelateria across the road and then started picking our way back to the car. We decided to walk all the way rather than figure out the buses. It only took us 15 minutes or so.

Bologna_38.JPGIt was much easier to get the car out of the hotel’s car park than it was to get it in, and Violet did a good job of getting onto the correct road for heading north to Padua.The drive up there was all hunky-dory until we got to the south side of Padua. Here we encountered a proper thunderstorm. It was loud, and dark. I couldn’t really see the road and I couldn’t really hear the sat nav, and as a result I missed a turning and we ended up driving on a provincial road around the west side of Padua rather than on the motorway around the east side. Never mind.

Our destination was Mirano, a small town on the mainland that is relatively well connected for Venice – more of that in the next post. For today’s post, Violet was attempting to get us to the Park Hotel Villa Giustinian. She did an adequate job of it and we arrived at the hotel just after 4pm, having left Bologna well after 2pm.

The hotel room has to be described as spectacular. In fact “rom” doesn’t really do it justice. It was half of the middle floor of the main building, and consisted of a massive bedroom, a decent sized entrance hall with a double sofabed, and not one, but two separate bathrooms, one of which contained a shower with a marble trough beneath that could probably have doubled up as an Olympic sized swimming pool. The whole thing was very ornately furnished and the walls in the entrance and bathrooms we head-to-toe in polished wood. Very nice, but all of that was subsidiary to the fact that the hotel had a swimming pool. The kids were in it within 30 minutes of our arrival, which is probably a bit slack by their normal standards. They stayed there for a good two hours, and were joined for a part of that by both adults.

For dinner we were going to try the restaurant right over the road, however they were closed (permanently, by the look of it), so instead we jumped into the car and headed into the centre of Mirano town. We found ourselves in a tidy little town square with a few restaurants and bars. We chose the “Fabbrica di Pedavena” – a food-serving bar which had a varied menu including a selection of burgers. They were good.

And that was the end of another day. We needed a good night’s rest because the following day was one of the expected “biggies” of the trip – our planned day in Venice.