Wallenrod's ED Adventure
I'm back! I've actually been back since Saturday but was too tired and then too busy to write anything that would make sense. I also wanted to be pretty detailed. So here it it. Enjoy. Pictures to follow soon.
Day 1 – May 8
We arrived in Munich from San Francisco on Lufthansa at about 5:30 – 6 PM. Finding our way from the airport, getting money from the ATM and buying subway tickets was very easy. We got on the S and off we went to the Hauptbahnhof (Central Station). From there we got on a bus (I think it was 58) and after a very short ride we arrived at Uhland Hotel. You can actually see it from the bus stop. It is located in a nice and quiet residential neighborhood. I really, really like staying in these smaller places if I can. It is so much more rewarding and personal experience. The hotel was great, it’s actually a very nice building, very clean and well organized and probably the best hotel breakfast I had on this whole trip.
After a shower, a little unpacking and maybe an hour of rest, we headed out to the Old Town area for dinner. I really don’t get why someone would end up taking a subway there. It’s really a nice and short walk to Karlsplatz and then the area you want to be walking starts anyway all the way to Marienplatz. Plus on your way back you can burn all these calories. We ended up having dinner at Andechs am Dom, perfectly located right behind the cathedral. The atmosphere was typically German, shared tables, great beer and good traditional food. Their sausages are excellent. There must have been some game going on as the streets were packed with German “tifosi” all yelling and drunk but completely non-aggressive under the discreet yet watchful eye of the man and women of the polizei. We made it back to the hotel and fell asleep like stones dropped in deep alpine lakes.
Day 2 – May 9
The day before I pick my car. Naturally that’s all I could think of but Munich made me forget about it for a while. We woke up quite early, still not so well adjusted to the time change. We must have been one of the first people at the breakfast buffet. The breakfast is really good. That’s one of the things that make staying at places like Uhland worth it. Fresh breads, cold cuts, cheeses, spreads, eggs and on the lighter side great yogurts, musli, cereals, jams. All this accompanied by juices and coffee/tee. You even have a little machine to mince your grains into your yogurts or cereal. There were quite a few Americans at the breakfast but all kept their conversations quiet. They look very Rick Steves types. That’s another good thing about places like that. People come to experience another culture and immerse.
We spent the whole day mostly walking around the Old Town: Neuhauser Strasse, Marienplatz, Frauenkirche, beautiful Town Hall, Im Tal etc. The Old Town is pretty compact and lends itself very well to casual strolls in all the side streets, finding a little cafes for a great pastries (try one past the Old Town Hall, the extension of Im Tal towards the river – tons of Germans picking great and dirt cheap pastries for Sunday lunch/dinner) or a place to have another beer. We ended up having dinner in Augustiner on Neuhauser Strasse. It is worth it for the room itself. Keep ordering the beer as this will give you a natural chance to raise your eyes towards the ceiling – it is a work of art. The portions are HUGE. You can easily order one dish for two people. We made ordered two and had essentially half of the food left on our plates. Both goose and pork were very good and came with wonderful sides. More walking for us after this great dinner, one more beer at Andechs and off to bed. Tomorrow is an exciting day.
Day 3 – May 10
I get to see her! I get to see her! Ok, first things first. We have our great breakfast again, we check out paying what seems to be a joke for this great accommodation (we got a special of 130 Euros for 2 nights all-inclusive) and head to Hauptbahnhof to catch a U6 to Freimann. It rains. BMW directions, as all things German, are painfully detailed and wonderfully accurate. It’s kind of funny actually. After we get of the U we keep meandering through this post-war residential housing development and keep joking that we will probably end up in someone’s little apartment, having another breakfast and picking a beemer from their little garage. We end up finding a place, buzz in and a nice gentleman lets us in. Oh, the secret password is “European delivery.”
Just a short wait and couple espressos and mineral waters later, we are greeted by The Man himself – the always-smiling Bernhard Hausmaninger. We joke and small talk a little and then we go over the paperwork. It’s all super fast and familiar if you spent some time on this board. We actually end up talking more about our trip and ask him about driving tips, directions etc etc. After that, it’s off to see HER. And there she is. The star of the show. All clean, shiny and smelling nice. Better look at her now and take all the pictures you want because she won’t look like this after two weeks!
We use the little map provided by Bernhard to get out of the place and off we are on the open road in our new Bayerische Wunderkind. To the Autobahn, to the Autobahn – like these new born turtles in frantic quest towards the see, that’s all we (ok, at least ME) can think of. We finally hit A95 towards Garmisch and have some well-deserved fun…in the right lane. It’s sort of funny going constantly around a 100MPH and being one of the slowest cars on the road. The bahn is very clear, not much traffic and we can already see the snow covered Alps coming towards us (at 100 MPH).
We are in Fussen earlier than we thought we would be and check into Hotel Kurkafe. The place ends up being another great choice. We get the room on the top floor and from our mansard windows we can see the quaint little town of Fussen and the mountains. By the way, the parking is great and just to the right of the hotel in a private lot. We rest a bit and go out to explore the town. The place feels like a dream little Bavarian town with its little streets, signs, businesses, and churches. It’s almost like a set to the movie “Where Eagles Dare” and yes, we are going to be in the castle tomorrow. We did not come prepared when it comes to our dining options so we do a little exploring on our own and find a great place – ok, don’t laugh, it’s called Adler! It seems like a fairly recently renovated cellar-like space and the food ends up great. It’s a regional cuisine with a modern twist. We have some great cheese appetizers, I also have a cheese soup and I end up having a fantastic allgau veal dish with spaetzle. Coming back to the hotel through the dark small streets of Fussen adds to the experience.
Day 4 – May 11
We have a very breakfast, again buffet style, in a gorgeous dining room of the hotel (which by the way is also a bakery and pastry shop) and head for the castles. It’s really a very very short drive out of Fussen. We are going to only see Neuschwanstein. We park in almost empty lot and pick our reserved tickets for the castle and take a hike up. The walk is nice and fairly easy and you get some nice views of the castle and the surrounding area as you get closer to the top. We hang around in the castle’s main courtyard and enjoy the views of the Marienbrucke and, at least imaginary, breeze from the waterfalls. It’s quite warm. Our numbers are displayed on the board, we insert our tickets in the gates and we’re in. The tour is nice and informative given by some German high school student with a better command of English than me. It’s fairly short but interesting. The views from the windows are of the castle are worth it alone. There is also a nice video at the end so don’t miss it.
We’re out and in about half an hour back on the rode. This time all the way to Lugano, Switzerland. All right, this ended up being probably the most difficult leg of the journey from the point of view of directions. Especially the whole Germany/Austria/Switzerland switch put our marriage to the ultimate challenge. Via Michelin directions are for sh*t. The map is not detailed enough and the road signs simply suck. Do remember to buy the Austrian and Swiss vignettes. They are available almost everywhere, for sure every gas station will have it. The Swiss one, as everything Swiss, is on the expensive side.
Once we figured out all the directions, the driving in Switzerland itself was very nice and very picturesque. Bregenz towards Chur and then straight following directions towards San Bernardino pass. It gets a little hairy around Splugen when the road gets twisty and everyone drives it like there’s no tomorrow. By the way, I wanted to make a little detour and stop at Splugen to try their famous beer but was the silent majority (I mean my wife) voted against it. So, after a little wait before being given a green light, we entered the tunnel and came out in the Italian part of the Switzerland. Finally I was able to read the signs rather than guess what they mean. The ride right after the tunnel is pretty twisty all the way to Mesocco. Nice prelude to the twisty drives of Tuscany, if not a little too crowded. The car is in its element.
We head straight for Bellinzona and there we put our first tank of senza piombo. I wish I could stop to see the famous castles of Bellinzona but it is getting late and we just want to get to Lugano and have some warm meal. By the way, the lovely Italian “efficiency” shows already in this part of Switzerland. We stop at a rest stop and use a bathroom. There is a card on a wall which lists time and person who last cleaned it. The last signature was made about half an hour ago. The place looks like it has not seen a detergent since the Napoleonic wars.
We get to Lugano a little after 6PM. The feel of the city is very Italian. The spoken language and all signs are in Italian. The only things betraying its affiliation to another country are the Swiss flags. We check into the Walter Au Lac Hotel (yeah, probably the only place in the city not bearing an Italian name). It is perfectly located though. In the heart of the city, on the main lake promenade right at the Piazza Rezzonico. The parking situation is complicated. It is free from 7PM to 7 AM. Then from 7AM to 10AM one needs to purchase a little 3 hour parking pass (sold at the hotel for your convenience – 2 Swiss Francs) and then one needs to go to the police station (in our case conveniently located across from our hotel) and buy a parking pass (I believe it’s 10 or 12 Swiss Francs) for the rest of the day (till 7PM.) We are tired and end up having dinner at a crowded pizzeria in the old town along with a nice bottle Ticino Merlot. We stroll the beautiful streets of Lugano, the heart of the Ticino region, for another half an hour and end up having the first decent espresso since the beginning of this trip right off the main square, Piazza della Riforma. The espresso does not help us much, we are getting really sleepy and the wind from the beautiful lake is getting colder and colder – it’s time to call it a day.
Day 5 – May 12
The rising sun over the mountains surrounding the lake wakes us up. The views from our windows are worth million dollars. You really have to see this. The lake is so quiet and peaceful and the morning sun brings all its beauty to life. As we slowly get ready (hey we’re on an almost Italian schedule now!), the city itself wakes up to a brand new day. The stream of motorinos and Alfas fills up the streets. I hear and unmistakable wail behind a window, almost like a cry of an annoyed Italian child – yep it’s a Ferrari rolling through the street. It’s time to have breakfast. The hotel itself is very nice if not a little old. I mean the building itself is a typical fin-de-ciecle architecture but the interior décor is a little, how shall I put it, circa 1970s. It’s all nice, clean and functional though and we got a room with our private balcony facing the lake. The big breakfast room is on the second floor. The breakfast is what gives away the fact that we are at the border of two cultures here. You can just have your espresso and a brioche with a little jam the Italian style or you can still cling on to the northern way of doing things and have breads, cold cuts, cheeses, and eggs. Talking about cold cuts, if you are a salami fan (I know I am), you are in the right place. Ticino is known for one of the best salamis in the world. There are more kinds than you can try and most importantly, they are all good.
After dealing with whole police/parking situation (do they do anything other than that there?) we are off to exploring the city. We walk along the lake promenade and eventually end up in the narrow streets of the old town. The place is bustling in the typical Italian way. We are getting hungry for lunch and decide to pick up some goodies and have it on our own balcony facing the lake. We head to the best deli in town, every one you ask will know it and you can see it from far by the line formed outside around the lunch time, the Gabbani shop right in the old town. We get some serious supply of different kinds of salame, prosciutto and their fantastic vegetable sides like zucchini slices and sundried tomatoes cures in herbed olive oil. In a store next door we pick up some cheeses. Now, each village in the Ticino area makes their own cheese and they are named after these villages. It’s amazing how different one cheese is from another from a village just stone thrown away. We buy some freshly baked bread and of course, last but not least, we pick a nice bottle of the Ticino Merlot. We feast on this bounty and we look at the lake now in its full glory, strong sun reflecting from the water and highlighting still some snow on the peaks of the mountains. We watch the ferries slowly move across the surface of the lago and we ourselves just sail off into the oblivion (helped in part by the wonderful Ticinese Merlot!) We are woken up from our semi-somnambulist state by a warm May rain.
It gets sunny again in about an hour and we leave our room to explore more. Tired of walking, we get on the ferry and sail across the lake. The boat stops at all the little villages around the lake and we get off at Gandria. It’s an old fishing village that dates back to Roman times. Extremely narrow stone streets climb up high away from the lake and towards the hill layered with terraced olive and vine groves. The village used to produce its own olive and wine and along with the bounty from the lake was probably pretty self-sufficient. We dine at the most known place there, Locanda Gandriese. A relatively new inn, built sometime in the 16th century. The food is great and worth the trip alone. There’s local fresh caught fish and a lot of polenta dishes. Mushrooms are also very evident. It’s the forest meets the lake type of cuisine which is actually very typical of the Ticino. We take the last ferry back to Lugano.
Day 6 – May 13
La Bella Italia! We are finally close to the peak point of our trip – Italy. We leave Lugano, get on the freeway (after getting a little lost initially) and very shortly cross the border to Italy (evident by presence the blue and white polizia Alfas and…E46 tourings). We head for the Lake Como and specifically the town of Bellagio. The drive from Como to Bellagio is great if there are not delivery trucks schlepping in front of you. It’s very narrow at times and E46 feels big. Some turns are designed for one car and you need to honk to make sure people on the other side know you’re coming. I remember this road from many many years ago – as a passenger of a motorcycle driven by a completely crazy Italian teenager – a truly scary experience. We pass a lot of little towns along the way and finally get to Bellagio. It’s very resorty and touristy but if you stroll into little side streets it gets less so. The views of the lake Como and little towns clinging to its sides are beautiful. We have a quick lunch, walk a little and head back to the car. The drive towards Lecco is really fun. It’s still narrow and twisty but less traffic and less little towns and I can open her up a bit
We finally get on a highway and head for Milan, then Piacenza, Parma, Modena , Bologna and finally straight south towards Firenze (Florence). We stop in one of the Auto Grills to use bathrooms and have a rejuvenating sip of un café. Auto Grills are actually not bad places to eat if you have to. The food is fairly decent and there are some fresh options (and I don’t mean McDonalds salads type of fresh.) Once we leave Emilia-Romagna, the drive towards Firenze is crazy. Tunnels after tunnels at insane speeds and tons of completely unpredictable truck drivers. Nice views from the autostrada though. We finally get off at the Florence exit. Make sure you use an exit booth with a live person (usually on a side) where you can just give them the ticket and pay cash.
Now’s the fun part. Driving in Florence. To get to Fiesole, you need to drive through the city. Just forget about any directions you might have. They are useless. Simply follow the signs, as ambiguous as they may be. You will eventually, sooner or later, end up where you are going. The driving in an Italian city resembles a scene from Dante’s Inferno. There is absolutely no method to it other than save your life and your car’s paint without killing too many motorino riders. There are no lanes. Or rather, there are some imaginary lanes in the minds of other fellow drivers. No one bothers to use turn signals. Motorinos zoom on your sides, in front of you and stop the last moment half inch from your rear bumper. Yet, I have not seen a single accident. People don’t really honk. After a while you sort of get it and become and Italian driver. Decisive to the point of being aggressive but watchful of the road and determined to get to your destination in the quick but alive.
Finally we are out of the dense tissue of the city and climbing the hills north of Firenze. We have no trouble finding Villa Fiesole in the old Etruscan settlement of the same name and are instantly rewarded by the postcard view of the seat of the powerful Medici – Florence. Remember this scene from “Silence of the Lambs” when Dr. Lecter says to Starling: “It’s the Duomo seen from the Belvedere.” I don’t know why but that was the annoying line I had in mind when we got there (although it would be a different hill.)
We park, check in and get a great room with a view (no pun intended). Since we are on Italian time here, we are in a perfect shape to have some dinner as noone dines here before 8 – 8:30 PM. We refresh, buy bus tickets from the concierge and take an autobus to the city (1 Euro). Now, when driving up to Fiesole from Florence I wondered how on earth can it take only 20 minutes for the bus to make this trip. I found it soon. And it didn’t really matter it was down the hill, it was exactly the same up the hill. No wonder this country breeds so many Formula 1 drivers…
Florence in the evening. What can be better. We had dinner in the San Lorenzo area which has one of the best and real restaurants in the city as opposed to the places near the Piazza della Signoria which by nature tend to be more touristy. The food was great. We had fantastic assorted crostini and cold cuts (wild boar salami baby – more about it later) as an appetizer. My absolute favorites were with liver pate. Just melts in your mouth. For primo I had pappardelle alla lepre (hare ragu sauce) and secondo coniglio ripieno (stuffed rabbit). My wife had pici all’anatra (thick, buccatini like noodles except no hole in a duck ragu with porcini). Good and cheap house wine too. After dinner we ended up strolling back to Piazza della Signoria and getting some gelato (frutti del bosco is my all time favorite) on Via dei Calzaiuoli. Palazzo Vecchio looks so beautiful and so menacing and austere at the same time, especially at night. We walked up on the Ponte Vecchio, always crowded at any time with some musician always playing in the middle of it. We took our bus back to Fiesole around midnight.
Day 7 – May 14
Just exploring Florence. Usual suspects. Duomo, Piazza della Republica, Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio, Bargello and along the Arno river venturing a little bit into Oltrarno towards Palazzo Pitti. All this with breaks for another quick espresso as you stand in countless bars of the city. We had lunch in what is in my opinion one of the two best lunch places in the city: Palle d’Oro in San Lorenzo district close to Mercato Centrale (central food market). It’s a place off the way always crowded by locals at lunchtime. You can just stand at the counter and have a quick bite or sit down in the back room. I had a fantastic ribollita – it’s a very Tuscan dish, a thick brothy soup based on cabbage, beans and other vegetables flavored with herbs. It literally means re-boiled. It makes it thick and hearty. We had couple typical contorni (side dishes): fagioli all’uccelletto (small beans in a tomato sauce) and mista. I was really craving trippa alla fiorentina (tripe the Florentine style) at this point but knew better to wait and get it at the best place possible the next time – Mercato Centrale (more about the market later.)
After lunch we went to Uffizi and to our surprise we only had to wait maybe 20 minutes with absolutely no reservations. It is not a big museum, the top floor with Renaissance masters is what you are really interested in, but it has one of the most important works of art which define the western civilization as we know it. The Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera are just a few to mention.
The rest of the afternoon in Florence, doing really nothing – dolce far niente, as they say. The weather was great and we had decided to have a dinner al fresco. It’s almost always inevitable going to be a touristy trap but there is one place (again San Lorenzo) in Florence that is a solid choice. Za Za is a little touristy but the food is for the most part good and it takes half of the square on a side of Mercato Centrale. One great thing they always have there that’s consistent is bistecca alla fiorentina – the most known Tuscan thing (or as Italians simply call it la fiorentina) – it’s a huge T-bone steak with all the fat on it that you want smothered with herbs and olive oil and grilled over fire. It is priced by grams and ordered per person and comes on a huge cutting board. It’s just you, big knife and a dead cow – much to the delight of Misters Creuzfeld and Jacob!
Day 8 – May 15
It’s our field trip day. We are going to the heart of Tuscany today – the Chianti region, just south of Florence. To get there we have to drive partly through the city but hey, we’re Italians now so watch out crazy Alfa drivers! We take S222 south once we get out of the city grid and head straight for Chianti. It’s best to follow signs for Greve and Castellina in Chianti or occasionally for Siena itself as it is in the same general direction. You all might have seen the very similar itinerary in Roundel, I believe April 2003 issue, where Satch Carlson tests out a new then 330i ZHP on the same roads. S222 is great, mild turns, great scenery, we’re entering Chianti area. We then finally hit S429 at the level of Castellina and take it West towards Poggibonsi and San Giminiano. Now the drive becomes insane. S429 along with S 408, more about which later, are the best driving roads in Tuscany. It’s crazy. It is insane. It absolutely rivals the best driving roads of northern cali. The turns and switchbacks are awesome and we only have to watch out for occasional motorcycles overtaking us even on the blind curves. It’s a lot of fun but we take it easy and I get to know the car. I’d say it’s more about my wife’s limits rather than anything else. We finally get to San Giminiano and park and walk up to the city. Entering San Giminiano is like entering another dimension, like moving back in time to pure middle ages. The town, in a word, is stunning. It is an absolute must if you are going to visit Tuscany. It is the best small town of the region in my opinion. We stroll down the main Via San Giovanni towards the Piazza della Cisterna and finally Piazza del Duomo. The stone towers of the city surround us. We walk up to the Rocca, build in mid 14th century, the fortress really with its own well and olive and fig trees. After climbing the steep medieval stairs to what appears to be one of the defending towers of the structure we are greeted by an unreal skyline of the whole San Giminiano (and the vineyards around it). When you look at it you truly understand the sharp contrast between renaissance parts of cities like Florence, Siena and this. The cold, austere, plain and closed yet so deeply beautiful in its simplicity. All right, we need a drink. Conveniently, right at the exit from the Rocca, there is a whole medieval house now turned into a cellar promoting the pride of the region – Vernaccia di San Giminiano. It is the most wonderful and delicate white wine made from the grapes grown in vineyards surrounding the city. For a small fee, you can try different types as you sit on the medieval walls and admire the views. And you can see very far all the way to Colli Senesi – the valleys of Siena where another great Chianti is made.
We slowly stroll back to the city in search for a place to eat. We head towards Via San Matteo at the opposite side of town, known for its great shops selling Vernaccia and Chianti wine and well as another specialty of San Giminiano – the wild boar salami. We do not hope on finding a great eatery as the town thrives on tourism but as we stroll into one of the side streets (lured purely by the natural beauty of the narrow steep street) we come across a really nice looking and tucked away ristorante of a luring and straightforward name – La Mangiatoia. We hear some Italian voices at couple of the tables (always a good sign) and a completely familiar American English coming from a middle-aged gent who clearly had too many Vernaccias (always a bad sign.) We look at the carta and it is priced definitely more than the places on the main drag. We decide to give it a try. I’m glad we did. It turned out to be the best place we’ve eaten in Italy. Who would expect. We of course have a some appetizers. Wild boar cold cuts and baby artichokes with delicately flavored olive oil. So simple but the quality of ingredients just shines through. It’s lunch and I end up having only primo – pappardelle all’cinghiale (pappardelle noodles with wild boar ragu) – the dish was simply unreal. I wish I could just order another one to keep eating. For those from the Bay Area, the pasta dish that comes any close to it would be a similar pappardelle in wild rabbit ragu at Tra Vigne restaurant in Napa Valley. If that dish on a 10 scale would be 9 in my opinion, the Managiatoia’s creation would have to have a new scale built for it entirely. Needless to say, everything else was delicious as well. What a great find!
After buying some serious supplies of wild boar salami and wine we head back to the car and drive to Siena, cutting straight through the heart of Chianti. The roads are a blast. We park in a lot right past one of the gates to the city and walk towards the heart of the city – Piazza del Campo (where the famous Palio horse race is held every year). We spent some time exploring the city and wonder why it seems so much less busy than Florence. We have dinner in a nice and decent restaurant but it seems mediocre given our most recent culinary experience. We get out on the street and immediately understand why Siena seemed so quiet. It simply comes to life much later. Being on a street is like being in the middle of a beehive. It seems like the whole Tuscany came over here to perform their nightly ritual of the compulsory after-dinner passegiata (street strolling.) The young and the old all walking, talking, and laughing. We get taking in by the river of people and end up easily burning all the calories acquired through both lunch and dinner in a couple hours. Tired but satisfied, we head back to the garage only to discover that everyone left for the day and left the it all open – we get out without paying a penny and head for autostrada to take us to Firenze.
Day 9 – May 16
More fun in Florence. Nothing in particular, just enjoying the city. We end up finally having lunch in Mercato Centrale. Right at the entrance there is a great spot that serves up all the good stuff. I can’t remember the name (does it have one?) but it has a big green sign and bunch of guys serving dishes right on your tray. My wife has fantastic porchetta sandwich and I get the tripe. It is the most delicious dish. The tripe is soaked and then sautéed in some tomato sauce and herbs. It is so tender and wonderful. You sprinkle some parmiggiano on top and have it with a nice crusty country bread. They also have a fantastic capponata (stewed vegetable) with a local salsiccia (the sausage actually has its own proper name which I can’t remember now). All this with some nice 1 liter of vino della casa and a bottle of water ends up to be a bargain of around 16 Euros.
After lunch we do some shopping, apart from some stupid presents like chocolate, olive wood cheese grater and vacuum packed porcini, I need to do some serious wine purchasing. I already got some Chiantis (both from Classico as well as from Colli Senesi areas), obviously some Vernaccia and now I just need some serious stuff: Rosso di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and more importantly couple really good Brunellos. I stumble across this Enoteca Lombardi right in the Mercato Centrale and I see that the owner seems to have some new shipment of grappas which he opens and tastes with some clients/friends. I buy couple bottles of wine and other stuff and we start talking about wines, the whole thing goes for an hour or so (my wife’s obviously out in town shopping for herself). He invites me (probably to soften my defenses and make me buy more) to taste some grappa with his buddies. I always thought it’s a pretty harsh drink but hay my belly is full of nice fat tripe – I can handle it. Yes, your grappa turns out to be burning and strong sort of like cheap American vodka except better rounded (it’s not made of corn after all!) but the aged stuff is like an elixir. It’s really smooth and buttery with grapey and floral notes. I buy a bottle and we go back to wines. After some haggling and bargaining and more grappa, I buy 2 great bottles of 1997 Brunellos for what turns out to be a very good price for the US but something I’d rather not reveal here for the fear that my wife might ever check this site.
Day 10 – Day 17
My day of driving. My wife decides she does not want to go on another driving expedition but rather stay in the hotel and maybe go shopping to Florence later. I decide to drive down to Gaiole in Chianti and from there to Cortona. Some of you may remember Cortona from the recent movie “Under the Tuscan Sun.” It is a really beautiful picturesque city in the South Eastern part of Tuscany. I head the same way on S222 towards Greve and Castellina except this time I make a left at S429 fork and head East. I drive through Radda in Chianti and beautiful and peaceful Gaiole. The driving is great. I’m able to push the car more and more. It feels so wonderful in tight turns and responsive. Shifting is so much find and barreling from the turns while making the rear twitch under acceleration is exhilarating. All this in the beautiful Chianti. These roads were truly made for driving. I stop at Badia a Coltibuono, an old abbey away from the main road and overlooking a peaceful untouched valley. Right next to it is a vineyard and restaurant of the same name. The food is light and satisfying, the views are to die for. Off I go now towards Montevarchi and Arezzo and then straight towards Cortona. The city of Cortona is very high upon a hill overlooking the gorgeous Tuscan planes below with its scattered vines, old villas, solitary trees and the most wonderful windy roads in the world. I find a really tight parking spot along the ancient walls of the city and walk up. Cortona is sleepy and relaxed. It is not as touristy as San Giminiano, it is a little more off the way. The main piazza has a beautiful duomo and I just hang around sitting in a café and sipping my drink. I walk up and down the steep old streets and after maybe an hour and half I head back. More driving awaits me. I take some random routes and detours and just focus on the car. It feels great. I have no passengers and no luggage and only one quarter of the gas tank and the car feels light and nimble. The roads are almost completely empty. I want to stop and make some pictures as the views are just incredible but I don’t want it to detract from my driving experience.
I get back to Fiesole in late afternoon and we go up to the main part of Fiesole for a drink. We sit on a terrace overlooking the city from the highest point of the hill and enjoy the sunset as we sip our Bellinis…
This night we end up having dinner at the hotel restaurant located on a beautiful terrace with Florence in the back. The food is actually very good. The Poliziano wine is excellent and I end up buying two bottles of it before we leave.
Day 11 – May 18
We leave Florence and head for Trento, our last stop in Italy before crossing the Alps to the Austrian side. The drive is uneventful except for a half an hour backup near Modena right before the turn towards Verona. The road near Trento is nice with mountains surrounding us and little old castles popping up here and there along the way. We get to Trento and check into the Boscolo Grand Hotel. This is probably the biggest hotel we’re staying in on this trip. It has all the luxuries including a spa. We end up getting massages there and all rested go to the town. It is really nice. It’s like an Italian equivalent of Fussen. I’m really glad we stopped there. It has a fantastic main piazza with a beautiful duomo and little streets filled with cafes and bars. The impressive castle of Buonconsiglio towers over the town on one side and the mountains on the other, right across the river Adige. The city is the capital of the Trentino area which together with Alto Adige forms Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy. Trentino is more Italian while Alto Adige has more Austrian influences. Both places are know for excellent white pinot grigio white wines and extensive apple orchards. No wonder one of the most typical deserts you can get there in almost any pastry shop or restaurant are apple strudels. The town gets really crowded and people eat late. First they go to bars and have couple bicchieri of local wine. And so did we. We ate that night at a little trattoria called Al Tino. It serves very regional cuisine. My primo was great: it was this crepe like pasta dish stuffed with radicchio and local cheese. It was really a great combination. It was puffy and light and flavorful. As my main I had a trout which was so fresh you could almost taste the river if was taken out of. It went just great with the light, dry and citrusy pinot grigio from the neighboring Alto Adige.
Day 12 – May 19
We woke up late and strolled quickly to town for some morning coffee and pastry, bought some fruit on our way, checked out and headed for the Brenner Pass. Goodbye Italy! We’re in the land of Wiener Schnitzel and Goulash now!
The driving was as easy as it gets: towards Innsbruck and then straight towards Salzburg. Oh, and did I mention that the car has just last its virginity somewhere past Bolzano. 1250 miles. Hard to believe we drove so much. Anyway, we go to Salzburg and got totally lost in the city. We finally made it to the correct side of the river and entered the old town through the gate and parked under the mountain. We didn’t even bother to drag all our stuff to the hotel. Just what we needed for one night. We stayed at the Golden Ente hotel which is right in the old town where you want to be, has Spartan but adequate rooms and very nice management. We had a very friendly conversation with Ulrike who gave us few good tips. Salzburg was nice and there was a market day and the square was filled with merchants selling fruits, veggies, meats and sweets. We watched the world around us as we sat in the pub located in the Mozart’s birth house (!) and sipped our pilsners. We had a great and super cheap dinner in a place filled with equal amount of local drunks having their fifth (or tenth, who knows) Spiegl and cigarette smoke. The food was hearty and good. The beer cold and filling. Yeah, we made it back north, no mistake about it.
Day 13 – May 20
I actually called Harms, as instructed by Bernhardt, to let them know that I will be dropping my car tomorrow. The guy picked up the phone immediately only to inform me that it’s a holiday there and he’s sitting in a beer garden and enjoying a cold one. Didn’t I know? What is called in American? As a typical American pagan I said something to the effect that maybe they have it in some other state and you know the US is all state by state basis and we are California are bunch of weirdoes anyhow or something to this effect. Apparently satisfied with this explanation, he told me to stop by tomorrow around 11 am and all will be good.
We spent more time in Salzburg. Walked around, took pictures, bought some Mozart chocolates and finally it was time to leave for good old Munchen. On our way, we could see tons to traffic towards Salzburg. I guess it was all these Germans trying to go to Chimsee on a day off. It was not pretty. The road opened up and I was finally able to open her up. But not completely. We were coming to the slow traffic points on and off. The best I managed was I think 145. We got to Munich and checked into Uhland. Did anyone say that they parking spaces were tight? I don’t why you would think that and where you drive but they were not tight at all. No one had to direct me and I parked in one of them with no effort whatsoever. As a matter of fact the parking in my condo is much tighter than this. If you can’t park there for some reason, there’s plenty of street parking available.
Our last night in Munich we did some beer garden hopping. We had dinner at Andechs where we engaged in some rather interesting sociopolitical conversation with a German couple sharing our table (we dined outside as the weather was great.) We also had a chance of witnessing some rather interesting cultural phenomenon of bunch of drunk (and still drinking) guys on a horse carriage being driven around from beer garden to beer garden and soliciting more drinks from patrons. I’m sure there’s some name for it and it is somehow connected with the holiday but I am completely ignorant as to what it was all about. It looked fun though. We went to bed late after we said goodbye to the capital of Bavaria.
Day 14 – May 21
We fly back to the US. I did not have time (nor desire, nor energy) to clean the car but we still had to pack, remove all the stuff from the car etc. The dropoff was very smooth and took maybe half an hour . We got a cab to the airport and spent the rest of the time waiting for our flight. We left ourselves quite a bit of buffer time “just in case.” We forgot that this is Germany and the notion of system slack does not really exist. We boarded the plane with a bunch of Italian tourists going to see “the wild west” and off we went back to the good USA. We were of course randomly selected for a customs check which made me a little worried about probably 10 bottles of wine and other “forbidden” food items which could contaminate our soils and stomachs forever. As usual, I underestimated the “thoroughness” of our airport customs eagles. He actually scanned the bags and then picked two for a more detailed check. He opened both of them, took out bunch of dirty laundry, examined it carefully, opened our toiletries and completely ignored all the bottles of wine, sausages, mushrooms etc contained in each of the bags. One would only hope they are a little more “thorough” when looking for dirty bomb for example.
Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Pictures to come very soon.