About Me

3 months ...................................... adventure - explore - challenge

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Behind the wheel…………………

View of Alpbach from our apartment balcony 

Time to move on again, homeward bound. With the car packed, our picnic prepared and satnav programed, we headed out of Alpbach and began our two day drive back to England. Our two-day journey would take us via German, The Netherlands, Belgium and France. But for today, we drove for eight hours in the blazing sun and finally got to our Hotel at 6pm.

Yet another fantastic piece of planning from Sonja, it pains me to admit. She found us a great hotel in a quaint little square of a small town called Bad Honnef. Adjacent to the hotel was a lovely bar / restaurant which had a terrace in the prime time evening sunlight.  And so, on our final night of the tour, we sat back in the sunshine, tucked into dinner, sipped beer and chatted about our wonderful last eight weeks.  

Friday, 25 May 2012

Our balcony.

This morning we woke to beautiful sunshine again. The lush green mountains beckoned, and before too long we were off on another picturesque Alpbach walk.  We followed a great new unfamiliar path out of the village centre, along a stream and then up through the forest on a steep ascent leading us to Rossmoos, the venue for our wedding ceremony four years ago. The balcony, where we made our vows was free from other people, so for a minute or two we took a trip down memory lane in the peace and quiet. Over a coffee, we chatted to the owner and reminisced over our special day and remembered all our friends who’d come out to join us.

We then head off to continue our walk along mountain roads, soon turning to paths . We slowly meandered our way to Inner Alpbach cheered on by cows, horses and our new favourite animals, the goats.  We made it to the bus stop and looked forward to a lift back to Alpbach only to realise that we’d just missed one and the next one was in forty minutes. No sweat, we’ll walk!!!! With the sun still beaming down on us, it was always going to be a pleasant walk. We got back to the village before the next bus would have arrived…result!

On our final evening in Alpbach, we decided to eat at the Rossmoos. The sun was shining on ‘our’ balcony like it did four years ago, and we enjoyed delicious long overdue salads, served by the busty blond waitress in her Austrian attire! On that note, we shared a Germknodl for dessert. If you don’t know what it is, look it up on the internet! Our long journey home would start tomorrow and so we headed back to the apartment for an early night, very content with our time in Alpbach.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

A stroll down memory lane.

There was need to race to breakfast this morning as it’s our own apartment and we call the shots! After a leisurely wakeup and yummy breakfast, we headed for a walk. The plan was to do a 2-3 hour walk taking in the Bischoferalm, a fantastic, seriously cute mountain restaurant with views to die for. However, the walk ended up being 6 hours, and it was our favourite walk ever. We made it the Bischoferalm after 90 minutes and enjoyed a well-deserved coffee whilst enjoying the views.

After a breather and a long debate with the map, we headed off on a rather treacherous circumnavigation of the Gratlspitz mountain. This entailed walking on paths ready to land-slide down the ravine and snow filled gullies, requiring a steady foot and nerves of steel! Any negative thoughts were erased as we were looking forward to the famous Zottahof pancakes that Sonja’s Mum talks of. 

On our descent, we came across a very familiar, tiny chapel on the mountainside. There are loads of them dotted around the mountainside, but this one we recognised with good reason. We’d been to it on one of our previous snow-shoe walks with Sepp Lintner, an old family friend. We finally arrived at the Zottahof and, you guessed it, it was closed. The main Summer season was till a week or two away!! Oh well, onwards!!

We finally arrived back into the village just as a funeral was taking place for a local who’d passed away three days earlier. It was an incredibly moving experience with most of the village community attending to pay their respects whilst following the coffin around the village in a procession led by the brass band. Family, community and tradition are central to everything that goes on in the village and we felt very privileged to be part of it. 

After a quick shower and change we headed out for a pre-dinner drink at the Jakober.  Many of the locals were still around and we were lucky enough to bump into a few old acquaintances. Adi Moser (the registrar who had married us), Sepp Lintner and Frans Larch (who runs one the ski schools). There were plenty of other faces we recognised and it was great to see a smile back at us in recognition. A few beers and a Wienersnitzel later, were headed back to the apartment and a rest before tomorrow’s walk.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Arrivederci Italia- Guten Tag Austria

Although new adventures await us over the next few days, today marked the end of our Italy experience as we were heading off to Austria. With the German influences in Lake Garda, this transition would be smoother than we’d imagine. We’d both grown very fond of Italy, particularly the Tuscan lifestyle and were sad to be leaving. Having said that, we were moving on to a very special place in our hearts, a small village in the Austrian Tirol called Alpbach, where we were married 4 years ago. 

Another beautiful sunny day waved us off from the tranquil waters of Lake Garda and we were back on the road again.  Three hours of driving took us through more lush, green mountain passes and snow covered mountains. We soon passed seamlessly into Austria where my first mistake was to say “Grazie” to the Toll lady, oops!!   It wasn’t long before we started spotting signs for familiar Tyrolean towns and villages and then finally, Alpbach. 

Arriving into the village, it was just how I’d remembered it, but this time so much more beautiful. This was my sixth visit to Alpbach (and Sonja’s 14th) but my first outside of the ski season. You can instantly tell why Alpbach has won numerous awards for its picturesque appeal: Lush, green mountains sprinkled with snow left over from the winter, wild spring flowers grow on the meadows, beautiful flowers line the balconies of all the houses, bell-ringing cows roaming the hillside. It’s truly like something out of a fairy tale. In 1958 a local law was passed decreeing that all new houses in the village be built in the same traditional style as all the others. This has ensured that Alpbach has kept its individual Tyrolean look intact where other villages have failed. It really is a place time forgot.  

Our apartment had stunning views overlooking the village and mountain across the valley. Seeing snow left on the mountain top and the gondola in the distance we felt like donning our ski kit and going for a board, but not this time. We went for a stroll around the village taking it all in. With the sun still beaming down on us, each corner we turned took us back to previous visits and to memories of our wedding. The village was very quiet (being out of season) but that’s how we wanted it. To have it to ourselves, just for a few days.

After a shower and change, we headed into the centre for our evening meal. The Romantik Hotel Boglerhof, where we held our wedding reception beckoned, but not tonight. Tonight we kept it simple and went to one of our favourite places, the Jakober. A bar/restaurant that has been serving Alpbachers for hundreds of years. This is where we held our pre-wedding party. Without even looking at the menu I ordered the Tiroler Grostl. Bacon, onion, potato fried up with a fried egg on top. Healthy it is not, delicious it definitely is. When in Rome as they say. Sonja couldn’t resist either and we both tucked in with a local beer to wash it down.
Off to bed feeling so pleased we’d chosen to return to this lovely place.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Giro D'Italia

Am I dreaming? Looking out at the incredible lake views from our balcony, I was presented with blue skies, lush green mountains and a warmth that made me smile. The holiday is back on track!! With the Italian Cycling competition, Giro d’Italia, kicking off in the morning and a lovely mountain walk planned, we headed off to breakfast with a skip in our step. As we passed the prosecco table (as we had every morning) we decided today was the day to indulge. Two large glasses of bubbly to help wash down our salami, cheese and bread etc.

After breakfast we dashed down to the waterfront not wanting to miss the start of the race, got a great view on a bend in the road and sat,  waiting with anticipation.   We waited and waited and waited. Two hours to be precise! We got the time slightly wrong, but hey, who’s counting, the sun’s out! Besides, both of us were enjoying the view of the many athletes cycling past in their stream-line kits!! Eventually about 200 cyclists headed off past us and started a hill stage up the mountain.  A sight to watch which made me think of sleeping with a super model: Well worth waiting for, but over all too quickly!

As the crowds and back-up  teams faded away, we set off away from the town centre in search of a waterfall Sonja’s mother had mentioned. The other reason for this mini adventure was to check out the Hotel La Limonea. This is a huge hotel complex that both Sonja and her parents have stayed at in the past and currently has been on the receiving end of some damning trip-advisor reviews.
We found the waterfall which, as promised, provided magnificent views of the lake. We then had a sneaky look around the hotel.  It is massive, dated and full of rather old, German residents. It could be something quite special and probably once was. It is located in the best spot on the North side of the lake and has some spectacular views.  A good project for someone though!!

To fully make use of the day’s glorious sunshine, we headed back to the hotel and hit the pool. Well, not strictly the case. The pool was too cold for anything more than a toe dip. We did however read our books on the loungers and kind of feel like we were doing the pool thing.

After a quick shower, we cracked open our very own bottle of bubbly and sipped away on our balcony whilst nibbling nuts and playing backgammon. Our delightful evening was completed by another delicious meal at our local restaurant (where we watched Chelsea play) and a sensible half litre of wine this time! A fantastic day was had with the most welcome return of sunshine.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Blogging Rain!!!!!

So, the plan for yesterday was to chill, read our books, do a few blogs and re-charge. Everything went perfectly to plan, apart from the fact somebody forgot to let the sun in on it. We woke to find rain galore. No need to go swimming to get wet! Also, “Who’s stolen the mountains!?” we asked. For our gorgeous mountain views across the lake had turned into mist, cloud and greyness.

 Still determined to having a relaxing day, we spent it catching up with some blogs in the hotel bar, reading and moaning about the weather as only Brits do! For dinner, still raining, we ventured an impressive 50 metres up the road and had a quick beer and pizza before having an early night and watching a movie.  Living the dream!!!
We struggled to get out of bed this morning. Not just because it was so cosy and luxurious, but because it was also bloody raining again. After a late breakfast, we hopped in the car and headed south around the lake destined for Sirmeone and all the towns before it.

At this point the rain was not too heavy and the windy, lakeside roads were a real joy to drive along. We were looking forward to a coffee and wander around Sirmione. However, not long into our journey, the rain got harder and harder and our smiles got lower and lower. Our dream of coffee and strolls, slowly turned to dreams of returning home and getting back into bed. We battled all the way to Sirmione and then, having run out of motivation, decided to drive back home. We’d not seen Sirmione properly but at least we were safe and dry. The high point of the drive was stopping off at a lakeside cafĂ© / restaurant / hotel just outside of Limone with spectacular views of the lake. We had coffee and Tiramasu to lift our sprits before returning to our hotel and a hot bath.

With the evening came clearer skies and a moment of optimism. We headed off into town with promises of parties, music and entertainment (all part of tomorrow’s Giro D’Italia race). We decided to eat at a restaurant that tempted us on a daily basis and unfortunately it wasn’t as good as it appeared. Maybe just because of a few bad menu selections, maybe due to the lack of atmosphere or maybe because the staff had as much personality as a dead fish. Or maybe a combination. Un-perturbed, we headed off down to the promenade in search of the festivities. There were none. Well, one load speaker playing music, but nothing else. Probably the rain killed it off!!!

We headed back for bed and dreamt of sunshine and warmth.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The earth moved!!!!

We woke up this morning to find the sun was out, just!  Breakfast was yet again delicious, with the option of prosecco and tonnes of salami and cheese (very German).  We moved our bags to our new hotel room (or should I say suite) which was amazing.   There was a roll-top bath in the mezzanine bedroom and a great balcony with views of the lake. 

Walking down to Limone harbour we found the ticket office and took the boat over to the other side of the lake to Malcesine.   Mooching around the market, shops and promenades was very pleasant and then we headed to the world’s first revolving gondola up to the top of Monte Baldo.   It was a bit chilly at the top of the mountain but the bracing wind was very refreshing.  As we walked along the top of the ridge, there was evidence of the tiny ski resort with a chair lift and a couple of drag lifts. 

We had seen the parascenders flying above the mountain from Limone and now we were able to watch them take off from the top.  As we sat down on the grass we watched dozens of people unpack their giant backpacks, sort our their parasails and then take off over the edge into a graceful descent.  Amazing.

Back at the hotel we spent an hour or two relaxing with a book and a bath in the roll-top and playing a round of backgammon with beer on balcony. Dinner was a short walk up steep hill where we enjoyed good food, a  LITRE of the quaffable red stuff and the footie.  It was an interesting experience watching Munich v  Chelsea surrounded by Krauts.  Sonja had to be stopped from cheering too loudly as her team won on penalties.

At 4am we awoke to the room shaking rather dramatically, "it must be an earthquake" we decided.  I have never seen Rob jump out of bed so fast and we were faced with the interesting prospect of getting out of a building quickly whilst stark naked.  Luckily it stopped after a minute or two, but we were pretty shaken and wondered if there might be another quake.  It was a restless night after that.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Grappa and beetle pies

Finally no hangover today!! M14 delivered again with an excellent breakfast and a slick check-out. We hopped back into the car and started our 2 and a half drive to Lake Garda. And what a lovely drive it was via the mountain passes, mountain tunnels. We arrived at the north end of Lake Garda in  town called Riva and then continued a short drive further to Limone via stunning lakeside road. 

With the sun still shining, we dumped our bags and headed off to the town centre, located on the water’s edge. We walked along the man-made pebble beach, through quaint little streets and into a variety of small shops selling anything and everything with a lemon logo on it. What surprised us were the amount German tourists and the menus and buildings having a German / Austrian influence.  Our Italy experience was changing.

Stunning mountain and lake views
I think I've missed the boat!

Suddenly the heavens opened so we headed back to the hotel for a rest and change for the evening. Later on, we headed back out to the waterfront and found a lovely little restaurant and tucked into some yummy pasta and wine. Why do most Italian restaurants insist on having the television on? Thankfully by now the rain had ceased. After dinner we headed to the lake front and watched an amazing FREE concert. A Beatles tribute band called the Beetle Pies played to about 1000 people under the stars until 11pm. They were very impressive and Sonja, as only Sonja can do, danced the night away aided with a glass of grappa.

A fantastic night and welcome to the beautiful Lake Garda.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

From lily pads to a fantastic pad!

I can’t believe where the last three days have gone. This morning we headed off from this amazing water-based city destined for a short one hour drive to Padua (Padova). With hangovers again, albeit not as bad as the previous day, we headed off to our boat stop and low and behold, Lee and Kristy joined us again. Unsurprisingly they’d not managed to get the earlier boat as planned and as we got back on dry land, found our cars, we bid the goodbye as they headed off to Lucca to continue their fantastic 6 month travelling experience. 

Beautiful stained glass at the hotel
We checked into our new hotel at around lunchtime.  Despite M14 having a silly name it was a fantastic choice with parking, central location to the city and neat modern rooms making it good value for money.  A five minute walk to took us to Prato Della Valle, a small, manicured park inside a huge roundabout with a lovely central fountain and numerous marble sculptures.  We sat on the grass and sun bathed taking in the surroundings. 
At last we were allowed to sit down!!

To cool us down, we tucked into another gelati before visiting the Basilica di S Antonio. It is a huge church with a real mix of styles making up the exterior.  Afterwards we walked to a set of markets next to the Piazza Dei Signori and then waited in the sunshine for the Baptistery to open.   It contained amazing frescoes from floor to ceiling including many well-known biblical stories and scenes. Following the Baptistery we headed next door to the Basilica Del Duomo. This church was quite different from most of the others we’d previously seen in that it had quite a modern feel and contain a lot of contemporary artwork.  

You'll start to look like a gelati!

Our final site for the day was the Botanical gardens. Although they weren’t the most impressive gardens we’ve ever been to, it did give us the opportunity to sit down relax and learn some facts about various plants (meaning that Sonja was teaching me things I should have already known).  “What’s that flower on the lily pad?” Must have been the stupidest questions of the day!!

Perfect peonies
Don't spike your bottom on the cactus

To kill an hour before dinner, we returned to the park and watched the world go by whilst taking in the last drops of sunshine. We found a great restaurant for dinner and enjoyed pizza and beer before heading back to the hotel for a well-deserved early night.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Murano, more Vino!

We woke today to find the weather was in as bad a shape as our heads. Hangovers from last night’s session and rain!!!With our British resolve we battled on and stuck to our plan of taking a boat to Murano which is is famous for glassblowing. If you want to buy anything made of glass, head to Murano.  So much value did the Venetians hold for their glassblowers, at one time none of them were allowed to leave the island and were forced to continue their trade. The cold, wet and choppy boat ride took 30 minutes and still no sign of the sunshine. 

Little Miss Misery
Moody skyline

We took shelter in glass shop after glass shop and then found a furnace where we actually watched glassblowing. This was both very interesting and a great opportunity to dry off and warm up using the furnace’s heat. Soon afterwards the rain stopped and we continued to wander around, enjoying the quaint streets. We then visited a very interesting glass museum which described all the different varieties of glass styles.

Glass sculpture

Waterways of Murano

When we finished in the museum we got back on the boat to Palace Ca Rezzonico via St Mark’s square and the Grand Canal. The palace has numerous stately rooms holding a huge collection of artefacts from 18th century Venice as well as paintings from artists such as Canaletto.

On the boat with better weather.

Following a quick shower and change we headed off to a recommended restaurant in the Santa Croce area. We headed there along the Grand Canal again (using our 12 hour boat pass) only to find the restaurant fully booked!! We did however find another lovely restaurant where we had a delightful pasta and glass of red al-fresco. After dinner we met up with the Auzzies again and did what you do when Auzzies hook up with Pohmies, drink!!! We found a lovely wine bar and proceeded to drink red wine, eat some nibbles and chatter away until 1am. Another fantastic night with our new friends and a big improvement from the day’s wobbly start!!

Boozing with Lee and Kristy

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

“and all that jazz!”

We woke to an early start today in order to beat the crowds at the Doge palace. After a scrumptious breakfast overlooking the Venice lagoon we headed off to the palace which is pretty much next door to our hotel.

The palace, which was the home of the Doga (Duke), contains numerous magnificent rooms displaying amazing frescoes, stone carvings and artwork. As well as the Doga’s private quarters, the palace was also used for council purposes. A huge room where the council met, (stated to be the largest in the world), has beautiful wooden carvings in the ceiling and massive paintings on the walls. This palace certainly did things on a big scale! 

The palace also conducted judicial affairs with magistrates dealing with a variety of crimes. Venice, being a republic, had its own laws. Below the court rooms, via the famous Bridge of Sighs, was the prison. The Bridge of Sighs was named as such because when the prisoners were lead from the court, they got one last glimpse of the outside world through a small window on the bridge. This sight, they say, induced great sighs from the condemned.  There is also an armoury museum in the palace displaying antique weapons, armour and as well as other things, a rather painful looking chastity belt. Chafing is a word that comes to mind!

After the palace we went into St Mark’s Basilica. Now pretty experienced with Italian churches, we needed something special to wow us. This Basilica did not disappoint. The entire interior is covered with gold mosaics.  The walls, ceilings and pillars all glisten as you wander around this magnificent church. It’s a shame there are so many tourists as churches need peace and tranquility, but still well worth visiting.

Next on the agenda was the Correr museum, located at the other end of St Mark’s square. Ancient paintings and statues filled all the beautifully decorated rooms. “Why do all the male statues have their willies removed?” we wondered! Feeling a little tired, we sat down on the edge of the St Mark’s square for a breather. Mistake! The ‘square police’ told us that we weren’t allowed to sit in the square and promptly moved us and other visitors on. Another blip on the square I’m afraid.
We completed the day’s excursion with a long walk to Santa Maria Salute church. It’s just on the other side of the lagoon from our hotel, but took forever to get to as there is no direct route on foot.  It has amazing domes on outside but unfortunately was a bit disappointing on the inside.

For the evening we had pre-booked tickets to a local Jazz Club. Food, wine thrown in with some great music, sounded like something we couldn’t refuse. We even managed to persuade Lee and Kristy to join us. We met them for a pre-gig beer in a nearby piazza and exchanged tales of our day’s sightseeing. The Jazz Club was small and intimate with only about 30 people watching the four piece play. Bosa nova and Latin Jazz was the style and it was enjoyed by all, apart from the old German bloke who told us off for talking to loudly!! We finally got to bed at 1am, not looking forward to another early start!!!