Tagged in: Italy

Market Place Restaurant, via Borsieri 21/a, Como, Italy

We picked this restaurant from a recommendation on eating out in Como in the New York Times; sent to us by an American friend.  It is not a classical Italian Restaurant by any means but the service is very good and professional and food is definitely different.  It is intimate with about a dozen tables and for this reason it is advisable to book.

There is an  à la carte menu or two “Tasting” Menus, one “Classic” and the other  “Gourmet”.  “In for a penny in for a pound” we chose the Classic: 

Market Place Menu

This started with Marinated Bream and Panzanella, a Tuscan Salad and was followed by A pochet egg (a poached egg yolk) on spinach with chanterelles and Parmesan foam. Believe it or not it was really tasty even if the pochet was lost in translation)

Then came the really Italian course: Lasagna with potatoes, leeks and a Parmesan pesto – Yum.

There was a choice of “mains”, the meat option being a rack of pork with roasted peppers and endive cream or a Trancetto (if you can find a good translation please comment on this page – my best guess is “slice”) of barbecued Umbrian fish. We chose the pork which was delightful.

To finish off there was shortbread and chocolate and vanilla ice cream.

I have included the menu above as some of the courses are, for me, quite difficult to translate, but I am sure there are some cunning linguists who can offer an explanation.

We had a very nice bottle of Italian Red, a Trentino Pinot Nero DOC 2009 “Forte di Mezzo”, Maso Cantanghel Pinot Nero which is a very fine sounding name and probably explain the price tag of €28.

The evening was wrapped up with an espresso and a grappa as usual.

An interesting experience at €110.50 but probably a little way out for our tastes.

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, Oct 2012

The Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Naples is the ideal take off for a trip to far south of Italy.  Just over three hours in the air and one is an hour and a quarter bus ride from the centre of Sorrento.  This is the Curreri Viaggi bus which stops right next to the airport and runs every hour provides a  pleasant ride around the Bay of Naples with some wonderful views and all for €10 a head.

We arrived at Sorrento station with the sun shining and 24ºC.  The most important thing on our minds was food as an early start had precluded a proper breakfast!

Jhonny’s Pizza & Sfizi

We set off down the road and just around the first corner we happened on Jhonny Pizza & Sfizi House. Definitely a find with lots of locals, great Pizzas and Peroni beer at very reasonable prices

Our hotel has a regular shuttle bus but as we had no real idea where it ran from in relation to the station we decided to take a taxi.  How much will it cost I asked.  It’s on the meter said the driver.  It was! 3km for €22.50!  Well we should have known – this is Italy.

We arrived at the Grand Hotel Aminta, perched high above the town, and booked in.  Our room, as we had requested, looked out over the bay to Capri although the island remained shrouded in mist during our whole stay.

Room with a view, Capri

Whilst out on the balcony I got into conversation with our neighbours, only to discover that they were from Hillsborough. They gave us the low-down on the path that runs from the hotel down into the town, originally the main road.

Harbour from the old road

Having had a bit of a rest we decided to try it and set off down the path.  It takes about twenty minutes using the stairways which cut off the U Bends.  better than waiting on buses although a bit heavy on the knees.

 

A picturesque town

We would recommend the town to anyone who like pottering about.  There is a wealth of architecture, shops of every sort from  tatty to ultra chic, innumerable restaurants and bars which cater for every taste and pocket and generally an ambiance of  pleasant indolence.

We had been recommended to dine at the Ristorante Sorrento and, whilst the food was excellent, it took 45 minutes to arrive.  In this period we engaged a couple at the next table in conversation and found them to be teachers of English as a Foreign Language to Chinese students in Milan!! To cap it all the  gent was from the Donegal Road in Belfast and had attended Inst in the 70s.

After dinner we discovered that we had missed the 9.30 shuttle to the hotel and there was not another until 11.30 so we decided to retrace the path back to the hotel. This turned out to be a bad idea!!  Not only were there no lights and it was easy to miss the short cuts but it was a lot steeper than we remembered.  When we finally made it and told the receptionist she was horrified and ordered us never to try it again.  We had no intention of so doing!!

Circuvesuviana

After an excellent breakfast with proper Italian coffee (Josephine is now converted to latte when in Italy) we  caught the shuttle to town and thence to sample the delights of the Circumvesuviana, the local narrow gauge train that serves all the stations between Sorrento and Naples, and which stops at Pompeii, our destination for the day. About €4.20 each return. It is quite an experience being packed with not only tourists but people going about their daily business.  It is reminiscent of the London Tube with the exception that one gets to hear peoples life stories and a host of other interesting, and not so interesting, facts about life as the passengers babble on to one another.

Arriving at Pompeii it is a short walk along to the site.  Unfortunately we had forgotten our passports as, at all national monuments in Italy, EU pensioners get free entry!!  There are plenty of guides about if you wish to hire one but we decided to buy a guide book and do it ourselves.  There are various recommended tours, broken down by the amount of time one intends to allot to the experience,from 2 hours to 5 hours.

“Zebra crossing”

Thermopoleum (Fast food shop)

I do not intend to dwell on all the sights as it is perfectly well documented elsewhere.  It is an experience not to be missed and we found the simple things like the “Zebra Crossings” to allow people to cross the road without stepping in the muck whilst allowing carts etc.  to pass by were as interesting as some of the more spectacular relics. One can listen to guides  as one goes about and some of the patter leaves one wondering if they really do know what they are talking about.  I would hasten to add that some of others are obviously very well versed.

Happy Snappers

Brothel advertisment

One of the most amusing episodes was the appearance of  a Japanese film crew, the ultimate in Happy Snappers, complete with the ubiquitous face mask.

There is a very good self service restaurant on the site and it provided a welcome break after about 3 hours of walking.

At the forum

Temple of Jupiter

Overall we spent about 5 hours exploring and then made our way back to the station and thence to the hotel for a wash and brush up before venturing into the town for dinner.

This time we made sure we caught the shuttle bus.

Octopus Salad

We decided to try a different restaurant rather than risk another prolonged wait to be served and settled for the Taverna dell’ 800 on the Via de 11′ accademia. Their Octopus Salad starter was a masterpiece. The rest of the meal lived up to this standard as did the wine of the region which we had discovered on the previous evening; Lacryma Christi, literally Tears of Christ. Have not seen it outside the Neapolitan area, but if you do come across it it is worth a try.

For our second day we decided to just potter about the town and to this end we took a leisurely walk down the harbour and discovered that there is a “Mini Cruise” which leaves Sorrento harbour around ten in the morning and calls at Capri, to go swimming for an hour, Positano and Amalfi and, at €24 each, this seemed a pleasant way to have a relatively stress free and restful day.

San Antonino Abbate

Taking it easy under the carving

Cold cuts

Tickets are only available on the morning from 9.00 so we took the lift (€1 each) back up to the main part of the town. We shuttled it back to the hotel for the afternoon and then braved the town again for dinner.

This time we were railroaded into the Blu Water on Via P R Giuliani by a vigilant maître d’hotel.  It turned out very well and I can recommend the affetato misto (cold cuts) as a good way to start.  Josephine took the spaghetti i mare and I had pan fried anchovies, all topped off with another bottle of Lacryma Christi.

Great craic in the restaurant with the head waiter chasing people who sat down got a menu and then one goes to the loo and on return they both try to disappear up the street.

We were getting used to our evening routine and were back on the 11.30 to the hotel, thus ending another day.

We were up early in the morning for breakfast to prepare for our cruise.

We had checked the times of the local bus as the shuttle did not make its first run until 9 a.m., however, due to either the vagaries of the timetable, or incompetence of the receptionist to read it correctly, nothing had appeared by 8.30 and once again we ended up taking the footpath down to the harbour.

Cruise ship

The “ship” would not be much competition to Royal Caribbean but proved to be adequate for the purpose.  There was a choice of polypropylene or traditional deck chairs on the top deck. We cast off and headed for Capri.

Capri coast

The request for numbers who wished to go swimming returned a null so we sailed around the northern tip and then headed off along the coast towards Positano.  It is a pleasant run up the coast with villages and farms dotted along the cliffs.  One has a choice of disembarking at Positano or continuing on to Amalfi, the latter being our choice.  Quite a few passengers boarded for this leg of the journey. We finally arrived and went off to explore the town.  It is hard to believe that around 1000 AD it was a major maritime garrison with around 70,000 inhabitants.  In 1343 it was more or less wiped out by a tsunami that caused a huge landslip which slid most of the town into the sea  and it never recovered.

Alamfi Cathedral

It is a picturesque town with an imposing clock tower on the cathedral and, really, one main shopping street that winds it’s way up through the centre.

Main street

Street scene

There  was the inevitable wedding in the town and, as is the Italian custom, the bride and groom paraded up and down the street.

happy couple on walkabout

We were not persuaded to actually buy anything except for some locally made gelati.  Then it was time to reembark and head back to Sorrento.

At least they can get Sky

By this time the breeze had a chill edge to it so we found a corner of the deck under the lee of the superstructure.  The sun continued to shine and we had a pleasant run back along the coast picking up the Positano group on the way.

We finally arrived back in the harbour at about 5.30 and caught the shuttle bus to the hotel for a session in the Jacuzzi and change of clothes.

Once more into town for dinner and we returned to the Blu Water as the previous evening had been such a success.  We were not disappointed.

For our last day we planned to go to Vesuvius and possibly Herculaneum.  This involved taking the Circumvesuviana once again , this time to Ercolano.   One can buy a ticket for the bus transfer from the station to Vesuvius at the ticket office in Sorrento so we dully opted for this.  The all in price for the two of us was €28.  The train was as crowded and noisy as our previous trip, but this time buskers hopped on and off at various stations along the way.

The long walk up

Pandemonium reined at the destination.  We were told we had to “change” our transfer tickets for the bus at the little office in the square and were also asked to pay an additional €8 each for entry into the Vesuvius National Park! There were two organised tours and many more freelancers like ourselves, around 50 in total, but no buses.  Then a 12 seater arrived and there was much jostling for position.  You may guess how much as there were Italians and Germans amongst the throng, neither of whom has a reputation for understanding the principal of queues!! A 27 seater then appeared, followed by another minibus and again there was much rushing about until we all managed to get aboard. Our 10 seater had 13 squashed in but I was lucky enough to get the front passenger seat to myself.  The driver explained that the previous day they didn’t fill one minibus from that train so had not bothered to bring all the drivers in.

The crater at last

The drive up to the crater is quite spectacular with wonderful views over Naples and also the lava path from the 1944 eruption.

One does not get to the crater by bus; one gets to a shack selling drinks and various knick knacks and a stall hiring sticks intended to help one on ones way up the 800 metre lava dust track to the final destination. We did not invest in the sticks considering them more a hindrance than a help.

We made it eventually and Josephine’s comment on looking into the depths was, “is that what we struggled all the way up here for!!” Well there wasn’t any fire and brimstone to view!! Needless to say we did not circumnavigate the rim of the crater which is an option for the more intrepid walkers.

The buses allow just over an hour and a half to make the pilgrimage and this worked out about right;  35 minutes to get up, including rests on the strategically placed benches at the hairpins, and 25 down, avoiding ending up on ones backside on the volcanic shale, plus time for a well earned Peroni.

We were duly returned to the station where the driver informed us that the site of Herculaneum is only about a ten minute walk down the hill.

This time we had ensured that we had our passports and so saved ourselves the €11 each entry fee.

Mosaic decoration in the Neptune & Amphirite House

Taverna di Priapo

It is amazing to walk onto the site at roof top level and look down and see the ancient town laid out below.  It is nowhere near the size of Pompeii but, due to the manner of its submersion in a mud slide, two and three storey buildings remain standing as they were. The interiors are also better preserved and one can see the evidence of restoration work which was in progress from a previous earthquake.

One could have spent a day there but exhaustion set in after a couple of hours and I think we had covered the major works so we climbed our way back up to the station and train back to Sorrento.

For our last evening we went up market for dinner and settled on the Sedil Dominova where we ate inside and actually had tablecloths. The service and food were exceptional and we were serenaded by an Italian guitarist. An altogether well spent day.

Serenade

Next morning we were up and away and on the but to Naples and our flight back to Dublin.  The last view of the bay!!

Quick link to all the Photos

JHONNY PIZZA & SFIZI, CORSA ITALIA, SORRENTO

Jhonny Pizza & Sfizi

If you are just off the Naples bus or the local train  and dying of hunger then Jhonny is the place for a snack and a beer.  Walk down from the station, past the  Hotel Nice on the corner, turn left, and there it is.

Small pizzas

Nothing pretentious, vinyl bench seats and wooden tables, but with friendly staff and a sensible menu, in English if  you so require.

The Pizzas are out of this world and, unless you have a massive appetite, go for the small version. Judging by adjacent patrons, the other offerings are equally delicious.

Throw in a couple of 660ml bottles of Peroni and you have a perfect meal for two for around €14.00.  One really cannot do much better!

Grand Hotel Aminta, Serrento

We selected the Grand Hotel Aminta as appearing to be the the best value for money, its general rating on TripAdvisor and the fact that that one could get a sunset view room across the bay towards Capri.

We arrived mid afternoon and one could not fault the welcome we received in reception, having got over the shock of a €22.50 taxi bill for the 3 kilometre drive from Tasso Square (it’s on the meter the driver had told us – and it was).

The promise of  a stunning view from our balcony out across the Bay of Naples was fulfilled, everything was clean and tidy and the double bed extremely comfortable.

Room with a View

The hotel have a free shuttle bus that runs every hour into the town centre starting at 9 am with a last run back at 11.30 pm. It misses a couple of hours at lunch time and again thre is no 10.00 p.m. down or return.

It is also possible to walk down the old road into town which takes about 20 minutes if one utilizes the steps which cut off many of the hairpins. Coming back up is a bit of an effort and it it easy to miss the turn off to the hotel .  The staff were horrified that we had done it after dark and advised against a repeat performance.

The Breakfast Room

Breakfast is buffet style although it is possible to order from the waiters who circulate with coffee and tea.  Personally I preferred to mix and match continental and crispy bacon.

We did not eat in the restaurant as there was such a good choice in the town at exceptionally reasonable rates.

The bar was comfortable and it prides itself in the number of whiskeys available – apparently over a hundred including a number of Islay malts. They also have an enviable selection of Grappa without which no Italian holiday is complete.

Cons?  We could hear the television in the next room even when the volume was turned down.  They have them back to back on wall mounts and I suspect that the power boxes are shared between the rooms.  Also any movement in the corridor was clearly audible. We had to request additional shower gel twice before it appeared and our towels were removed but not replaced on one occasion.

Pros?? Spotlessly clean and pleasant helpful staff . Beautiful views from the 2nd and 3rd third floors at least.

There were a number of regulars, who had been returning for a number of years, staying  so it  obviously has a great appeal for some.

Perhaps we are too picky but we will return to Sorrento but not the Aminta.

GIULIO PASSAMI L’OLIO, ENTOCENA, ROME

Giulio Passami L'Olio

We came across this restaurant on our way from Castel Sant’Angelo to The Trevi.  Tucked away on a small road, Via di Monte Giordano 28, it looked typically rustic and there were a few locals under the awnings. The billboard outside offered Pizza/Pasta, side salad, bread and water all in for €12 which, by Rome standards seemed pretty reasonable.

Whilst not being exactly enthusiastic the service was competent and we ordered a Pizza and a spaghetti carbonara. The salad proved to be leaves with a few slices of tomato but the carbonara was as good as I have had anywhere, and a reasonable sized serving.  Josephine ws less impressed with her pizza but she had been spoiled with the one form the evening before!

We ordered a couple of glasses of the house red, about which one could not complain at al,l and at €3 each was well within budget.

The owner was obviously well known as there was a trail of local businessmen and women calling in and chatting over beer or wine.

Whilst one could not say it is top of the range it certainly provided a pleasant meal at a reasonable price and one cannot complain about that. The loos were clean as well!

ROME IN TWO DAYS, OCTOBER 2011

Just want to see the pictures – scroll to the bottom

Arrived in Fiumencino without incident and spent and then waited half an hour for the the bags to arrive on the carousel.  Could be worse. Caught the shuttle into Rome Termini, on time, clean, pleasant staff –  cheers Mussolini!

Hotel (Best Western) Ambra Palace about 10 minute walk away, would have been less if we had known the side streets. Really pleasant front desk staff. They actually still have a light meal menu available at 9.30. Previous experience of Italy told me we’d be lucky if they had a bar open.

Threw cases into room, chucked passports etc into safe and went down for a snack and a drink. Bar full of German ladies! Got complimentary drinks and ordered pizza, only thing available, 12” margherita arrives and is to die for. Have a couple of glasses of the house red and decide to call it a night. Set up free wifi with reception.

Get back to room to find case opened and cameras and lenses stolen. Report same to reception who are obviously used to this sort of complaint and tell us to report  it to police. Reception ring local station about  a km away and assure me that the English section is open. Walk to station to be told by wpc (or pretty Italian equivalent) to come back tomorrow.

Despite all the hassles we slept well and were down for breakfast around 7.45. Restaurant crowded with Germans and a spattering of Asian and Italian faces.

Could not complain about the food, plenty of fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon and a continental table with cheese, ham and salamis. Being Italy there was also buns or various types.

Following this we made another foray to the Carabinieri, only to be told that there was no officer available and to come back in the afternoon.

We walked round to the Termini to change our internet voucher for the Rome 110 Trambus.

Italians and other European tourists are not good at queues!  The first bus took on about a dozen and was full, twenty minutes later the second bus took 5.  The third bus, which was right behind, took us; having side stepped a couple of heavyweight ladies of indiscriminate origin and elbowed an attempt to muscle past. Unfortunately it was full on top so we watched the traffic from downstairs.

A crowd left at the Colosseum so we made it up the stairs for the journey to St Peter’s Basilica. The commentary seemed to be offset from where we actually were which made identifying sights a little difficult.

basilica san pietro

Basilica San Pietro

We finally arrived at the square, were suitably impressed and went off to find the queues for the Vatican museums where we were informed that the Sistine Chapel is not open on Sundays excepting the last in the month when it is free (but the queues go on for ever).  We decided to give it a miss and to came back on the morrow.  So we filled our water bottles at the fountain at the end of the square and set off to walk to the Colosseum by way of the Tiber footpath.

looking towars Iosolo

Looking towards Isolo

It is a pleasant walk along the river down to the Isola.  There is a two way cycle path and an expanse of cobbles running alongside the river and well away from the city traffic up above.  There was a charity run taking place so lots of “fit” people were jogging or walking in the opposite direction.  Never did discover exactly what they were running in aid of.

We departed the river without finding the bridge so nobly held by Horatius against the Etruscan hordes and headed for the Circus Maximus, the ancient athletics field; the Palatine which, according to Livy, was the home of the original Romans, and the Colosseum.

maarket cafe

market cafe

By this time we were starving and passing by a rather dodgy looking Taverna on one corner and a pizza takeaway on the other we discovered what proposed to be a Agora Touristica but without any tourists.  It was a small market with stalls selling all kinds of produce, with trestle tables in a corner dispensing hot food and wine out of a 5 litre demijohn. In the courtyard to the rear there was a covered seating area and a fountain.  We indulged in a huge cold roast pork bap, Italian sausages, cauliflower and 2 plastic beakers of wine, the lot coming to around €10.

Thus refreshed and having replenished our water from the fountain we headed for the Palatine box office to get tickets for the Colosseum.  I produced our Belfast Senior Citizens bus passes and was given free entry to all the sites, happy days.

Colosseum

Colosseum

The Amphitheatrum Flavian as the Colosseum was originally designated is definitely not to be missed. I will not go into the details but it was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire and could hold around fifty thousand; every seat being numbered.  The engineering expertise to raise and lower animals and people from the lower levels directly into the arena is staggering. It says something that this was built to stage gladiatorial combats, mass executions and the slaughter of animals for the delectation of the masses, and the aristocracy of course. Click here for in depth info. We spent nearly two hours inside with the aid of audio/visual handsets rented for €6 and well worth the money.

Michaelangelo's Moses (with Horns)

Michaelangelo's Moses (with Horns)

From here we decided to wend our way back towards the hotel and lo and behold around a corner we came across San Pietro in Vincoli, Literally St Peter in Chains, a church that not only displays the chains which bound St Peter in Jerusalem but also a massive Michaelangelo statue of Moses, complete with two small horns (these being the subject of a piece by Freud apparently) and a couple of throwaway pieces by students of the master.

Josephine buys a hat outside and when we tell the girl selling that we are from Belfast not Dublin she says we must be good protestants???

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore

From here past Santa Maria Maggiore and thence back to the Carabinieri and;  success at last – there is actually an officer there. Fill in form get it signed and stamped and am summarily dismissed as Lazio are in the process of beating Bologna!

Walk back to hotel and collapse into chair in bar with a cold beer.

Retire to room to recuperate in shower – nothing missing!

gelato

Gelato

Out for another walk around the Giardini Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II with it’s florists stalls. Meander back down to the Piazza Maria Maggiore  and get no further than the Antico Caffe’ Santamaria. Good move; bruschetta to die for and they do a spicy pasta and bacon beyond compare.  Josephine not so taken with the Lasagne. The wine was good and we followed it up with an ice cream and coffee.

 

And so endeth the first day.  For the interactive map of our days walk click here

 

Day two – Assignment:  Visit Vatican museums and the Trevi fountain.

According to the concierge there is public transport strike so we elect to walk. It is about an hour and 20 minutes across the city and far better than the bus anyway.  There are bits of ancient Rome  around almost every corner. Also quite a lot of buses and trams!

We finally arrived at Basilica and are told that there is, approximately, a two hour queue to get in. We were accosted by various guides offering immediate access and a guided tour for anything from €70 – €35 each.  We finally gave in to a nice girl called Antoinette from Sligo! She settled for €35 each as we are pensioners. The set up was run by two Serbs – enough said!

Sfera con sfera

Josephine at the Sfera con Sfera

It turned out to be money well spent.  We were an eclectic group of eight, a Danish couple, a Dutchman with his Columbian partner and a pair of Israeli lads. Our guide was a diminutive Roman girl named Ava whose enthusiasm and vivacity were infectious. It is a pretty slick operation, the guide and party have short range radio so that you do not have to strain to hear or worry about getting lost.

It is not possible to describe the wonders on show – starting in the square dominated by the golden “Sfera con Sfera” by Arnaldo Pomadora. An enigma of a piece as its meaning is open to interpretation.

Vatican ceiling

Not the Sistine but!

It is a two and a half  hour walk through galleries of Greek and Roman statues with amazing ceilings,, tapestries, frescos and paintings by the masters. Like the Taj Mahal no photographs can do it justice – you have be there.  I liked the touch that the major artists painted each other into these huge masterpieces so that each one has Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello and daVinci appearing in windows or watching from the periphery.  The culmination of the tour is the Sistine Chapel (link is a interactive 3D panorama). I did not know that the ceiling is not painted it is a fresco made up of coloured plaster. The chapel is smaller than one would expect or maybe it is just that it is so crowded it feels claustrophobic.

From the Sistine through the back door into the Basilica San Pietro, the largest Christian Church in the world.  A huge cavern of a building with innumerable side chapels and monster sculptures and paintings. Really impressive. One ends up with a sore neck from looking upwards.

Castel san

Castel Sant' Angelo

Next stop, or rather saunter past, is the Castel Sant’ Angelo a papal fortress, originally built as a tomb for Hadrian (of the wall fame) about 15 minutes from the square. We take in an ice cream on the way. Across the Tiber again and head down the side streets in the general direction of the Trevi.  We stop on the way to take some sustenance in a taverna.  Main, salad, bread and a bottle of water for €12.  This looks good after some of the prices we have seen in passing. Once again we are pretty lucky and the pasta with chorizo is 1st class. Josephine reckons her pizza is 2nd class, but she is not a pizza fanatic anyway. The water is OK but we wash it down with a glass of house white at €3 a glass.

Suitably refreshed we walk on down the calle to discover a veritable plethora of trattoria with single course from €5, we have arrived at the the artists centre on the Piazza Navona.  This is a huge oblong square, originally Domitian’s circus, hence the shape.  It is considered one of the most beautiful piazza in Rome and is enhanced by the Church of Sant’ Agnese in Agone.

pantheon portico

Pantheon Portico

From here on to the Pantheon, originally a temple to all the pagan gods, it was converted to a Christian church in 609.  The huge portico is made up of 3 rows of 8 columns, each 60 tons of Egyptian granite (as if there wasn’t enough in Italy). The interior is 40.3metres diameter and the same height with a single hole in the ceiling for light.  The floor is concave to let the water flow out through a central drain. More impressive statues and altars and not as crowded as I expected.

From here on towards our last must see destination – the Trevi fountain. It takes one by surprise as you meander up the narrow streeets, suddenly there it is in all its glory, hemmed in by shops and alleys! Another sight that photos really do not do justice.

Troubadours

And so we made our way somewhat wearily back to the hotel.  Passing the Quirinale Palace, the official residence of the President of Italy, which is situated on the highest hill in Rome – we know we climbed it!  Also en route was the 4 fountains crossroads. We stopped for a cold beer at a small taverna and were serenaded by a couple of troubadours with fiddle and a xylophone – well worth a couple of euros.

So endeth our whistle stop two day tour of the sights of Rome

We had our last meal out in a little restaurant recommended by the hotel and about 5 minutes walk away, the Trattoria Cecio. It says something about it’s popularity that there were turning away casual diners – no booking no table. Josephine had the sea bass and I the squid – not a hint of rubber. We shared a massive Ice and Chocolate confection for dessert. Josephine asked for an Irish coffee which brought howls of derision from the waiter and, beleive it of not, it arrived in an espresso cup – I had a coffee and a grappa. On his way back I explained to the waiter about Tesco’s “BOGOF” and was rewarded with a free grappa – a fine way to end the evening.

Oberammergau Passion Play September 2010

Oberammergau 2010

 

Oberammergau, a small village in Bavaria, has staged the passion play every 10 years (with 2 exceptions) since 1634. It plays to audiences of 4,900 five days a week from May to October and you will be very lucky to get a cancellation. Even for the non religious it is an experience not to be missed.          

Our tour started in Dublin on 15 September where we were originally booked into the Clarion at the Airport.  By a quirk of fate we were transferred, all expenses paid, to the brand new Gibson Hotel opposite the Point, sorry O2. As we were not flying until 5p.m. this was a veritable godsend.          

Which way?

 

Our companions had never visited Dublin as tourists so I inaugurated a crash tour starting with the Luas to Jervis and then walking up through Temple Bar, Grafton Street, the Green and then back down to Dublin Castle.          

We had lunch in the Cow’s Lane branch of Queen of Tarts whose home made cakes and, believe it or not, tarts are something to wonder at. Click here for Dublin photo show.          

Schneerose Guesthouse

 

An uneventful flight saw us in Munich around 8pm and from there it was a two hour bus journey to our hotel in the village of Oberau in the Wildschöenau area of the Kitzbühl Alps region of Austria.  It turned out that the 3* Hotel was actually a 3* Guest house which was somewhat disappointing as it certainly lacked the facilities of a hotel. One could not fault the family running it as they were very accommodation and were only supplying that for which they had been contracted.          

Arriving at Fugen Station

 

The following day, Friday, we started our tour of the Austrian Tirol, Driving to Fugen in the Ziller Valley and taking the narrow gauge steam railway on the one and a half hour journey to Mayrhofen.  The weather was not perfect but the drizzle managed to stop when we were out and about so really could not complain for the time of year. It is obviously a popular ride as  about 5 or 6 other coach parties arrived. The train meanders at a maximum of 32 mph through the valley, pulling into sidings here and there to let the diesel service through.          

We arrived in Mayrhofen, a noted ski resort in the winter, in time for lunch and, in accordance of our guide’s, Julian, advice, headed into the Neue Post hotel for lunch.          

Following this we spent some time exploring the town by way of the Mayrhofen 1, a tractor thinly disguised as a train.          

Maids (& Elmer) in Mayrhofen

 

It is a fact that towns such as this really come alive during the winter sports season and unless one is on a walking holiday they lack the this vitality during the autumn. Maybe I am biased having spent a lot of time in the general area during the ’80s. We re-embarked on our coach and headed for home, stopping off at the small town of Rattenberg on the  River Inn.          

Finishing the swan

 

This is famous for its crystal and we were given a demonstration of glass blowing in one of the major establishments. For a slide show of the photos of our first days excursions please click here .          

I will not dwell on the repast at the Schneerose but we managed a few beers and some great craic in the dining room later in the evening.          

On Saturday after a breakfast of cereals, salami, cheese and ham we were to cross the Brenner Pass and enter the Italian Tirol (Südtirol) and the border town of Vipiteno.          

Zwölferturm

 

For those who don’t mind a bit of history this area of Italy was originally Austrian and the predominant language remain German, or Austrian.  It is an autonomous state within Italy. I first crossed the Brenner in 1971 on my way to Venice; then there were queues of lorries miles long waiting for customs clearance.  Now there is not a sign of  a customs post. It really is not possible to get photographs from a coach that do the views of the the bridge and the pass justice so I make no apology for omitting them.          

The Town Band

 

The Europa Bridge, opened in 1963 was a feat of engineering and took pressure off the original pass road which still meanders along 180 metres beneath it. Vipiteno, or Sterzing in German, is a typical border village which dates back to the 10th century. It has seen its fair share of history being a staging ground for various Nazi generals on their way to South America.          

Robi tries a hat

 

There was a official municipal  function taking place in the square, complete with the inevitable local band which added an element of local colour.  Of course we also got shepherded to the major tourist shop, which, it must be said offered a great line in wines and spirits.  I succumbed to the temptation of a bottle of excellent Grappa!          

The Golden Roof

 

The statue takes a break

 

From here we made our way on to Innsbruck, which is at the confluence of the Inn and Sill rivers and is the capital of the state of Tyrol. It was the home of the Hapsburg’s, one of the most important royal dynasties in Europe and who ruled for over 500 years.  It is a wonderful city and well worth a visit. It’s most notable attraction is the “Golden Roof” which was built in 1500 by Archduke Friedrich IV to honour the second marriage of Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor.  In more modern times Innsbruck has hosted the Winter Olympics twice and is due to host the 2012 winter paralympics in 2012.          

We had an excellent guide who met us off the bus and took us round the city starting through the Hofgarten.  We also had an extensive visit to the Hofburg, the Imperial Palace which contains much of the history of the Hapsburg dynasty.          

Click here for the photos for day two of our adventure          

Mystic Mountains

 

Sunday morning saw us on our way again, this time for for a boat trip on at Zell am See and from there to the well know resort of Kitzbühel. Well, it’s well known if you watch Ski Sunday or you indulge in winter sports.          

Enjoying the breeze

 

The weather held for us and we drove through the magnificent scenery up into the alps and the mountain lake.  The boat duly arrived and we found seats outside on the upper deck.  The speciality of the day was coffee and apfelstrudel with cream.          

Wouldn’t you know it; they ran out at the table before us! In a fit of self denial we decided to give food a miss and wait until we disembarked for lunch.          

Zell Town Band

 

Amazingly enough there was a band playing in the town square. The recommended eating house was the Sportstürbel, which it turned out, offered among other things an amazing home-made bratwurst with sauerkraut.          

Following a leisurely walk round the town and the lake side promenade we were shepherded onto the bus once more and set off for Kitzbühel.          

It being Sunday there were no shops open. The continent has not succumbed to great British seven day week and shops close on Saturday at around 2p.m. and do not open again until Monday. This is a good thing! Another good thing is that HGVs are not allowed on the roads on Sunday which makes for a more pleasant journey.          

100 years of Mountain Rescue

 

Even out of season Alpine towns do have an atmosphere and Kitzbühel is no exception. My only gripe was that the restaurant at which we stopped for coffee had run out of Sachertorte, the inimitable Austrian chocolate cake conceived by Franz Sacher, a kitchen apprentice in the court of Prince Metternich in 1832.          

Not the best place to land

 

On our way back we passed the ballooning festival.  The best picture I have is of the NASPA balloon sinking slowly into the village.          

We arrived back at the Schneerose for our last evening and in good alpine tradition partook of a few beers before calling it a night and packing our cases.          

Photos for the day can be seen by clicking here.          

I had been intrigued by the statues used to mark the footpath from Oberau to Neiderau, a distance of about 5 km and decided to walk it before breakfast on Monday morning. Thus I rose early and set off for the round trip.          

The Sun Song - beginning of the path

 

The Wildschoenau Dragon

 

The statues and their accompanying stone plaques are a philosophy of life and guide one along the route.  They are lit at night so as to make the going easier. Also along the route one comes upon the Wildschonau dragon who reputedly cleft the valley in it’s death throes, having been slain by a farmer. A slide show of the statues is here.          

I got back to the guest-house in time to shower and change for breakfast, which was really needed after the walk, and to get our cases down ready for our excursion to Achensee on our way to Oberammergau for the final stages of our tour and of course, the passion play. Once breakfast was over our mover and shaker, Anita, organised everyone for the group photo.          

The group - click to get the name tagged version

 

Having achieved this not unremarkable feat we bade farewell to the valley and headed of to the village of Pertisau on the Achensee, the largest lake in the Austrian Tirol. This village was the favourite of the Emperor Maximilian who based his hunting and fishing expeditions here. From here we embarked on our boat, the oldest in the fleet of 4 that are licensed to cruise the lake.          

Pertisau and the Karwendel Mountains

 

The sun shone in an almost cloudless sky and yet again we were presented with a series of amazing mountainscapes. the pictures say it all. We returned to Pertisau and had plenty of time to explore. The Parish church from which Ave Maria, in a multitude or vairiations, is broadcast to village at midday and 6pm each day is one of the many delights and we duly listended to that days rendition.          

The Parish "Ave Maria" church

 

It’s other claim to fame is the extraction of mineral oil from the local slate which is said to have all healing medicinal properties. They even have a visitors centre the “Steinöl Vitalberg” given over to it.          

“Steinöl Vitalberg” Center

 

This area is not only a winter resort but caters for walkers, climbers and paragliders, of whom we saw many, throught the summer. It also boasts the oldest golf course in Austria. The lake itself has drinking quality water and views are stunning. It is certainly an area I’ll consider revisiting for a pleasant walking holiday (and maybe a round of golf, but don’t tell Josephine).  We had lunch in the Christine and this proved to be another excellent hostlery. Try their fried eggs on fried potatoes!          

The photos of the lake and village are here          

It was a shame to leave such an idyllic spot but needs must and we headed off on the road to Oberammergau.          

Zum Kirchenbauer - Our guesthouse

 

Tour coaches are ot allowed into the centre of the village so they are all directed to a holding park where one is  then collected by taki or minibus and ferried to the selected accommodation.  As most of the guesthouses are relatively small, taking up to about 4 couples at most, we were split up for the first time on the tour.          

Do not expect lifts; do expect steep narrow staircases and sloping ceilings. Also expect to be greeted with a friendly smile. We were allocated, together with David and Vicki, to the Zum Kirchenbauer adjacent to the main church so we had no problems finding our way back.          

The wood carvers

 

Having deposited our bags we set out to explore.  The main occupation of the village is woodcarving and every other shop displays this art in various forms.  The ones that attracted me were either far to expensive or would certainly not have looked at home in NI. As to be expected there were throngs of tourists of all nationalities roaming round.          

We returned for our evening meal and found that our table companions were a South African couple which made for interesting conversation. The other table also had a South African couple and two ladies from the States.          

Ettal in the morning mist

 

We retired fairly early and in the morning I made an early start and walked the footpath to Ettal about 4 km up the valley.  What I had not realised was that I should have taken the footpath on the other side of the river and which followed the valley.          

My choice of route went up the side of the mountain.  Ah well, one lives and learns.  I also found, having nearly reasched my objective, a signpost saying “Ettal 1 km”. Greatly encouraged I pressed on and about a kilometre further came across another on offering the high pass to Ettal 1 km and the other the alternative route – stall at a kilometre. I picked the high pass as this was more or less on the flat.  Then round the corner there it was nestling in the valley in the misty morning. Task accomplished and only the walk back to negotiate.          

At 10 o’clock we went to the theatre and attended the pre play seminar given by Otto Hüber, the deputy director.  It was an excellent lecture and gave a great insight into the the production of the play and its evolution from the first performance is 1634. The auditorium holds just under 5000 and the acoustics are good enough that there are no microphones required by the cast. iT is impressive!  The stage is open but they have added the facility of a sliding roof in case of inclement weather.          

The Stage - Passion Play Theatre

 

Act one started at 2p.m.  I will not attempt to describe the passion play; it is awesome both in scale and presentation. The narrator and choir of about 30 provide the continuity betwen scenes and “living sculptures” are used to as flashbacks to the old testament stories.  The clearing of the temple scene sees over 500 people, dogs, donkeys and doves on stage at the same time. It is impossible not to be enthralled by the majesty of it.          

The first act, which lasts about 2 1/2 hours finishes with Jesus being arrested. Then there is a three hour break for dinner and the second act starts at 8.  This lasts up to 3 hours depending on who plays Jesus (all the major roles have two actors who play on alternate nights), one taking half an hour longer than the other. One would not see the time going in and suddenly it was the resurrection and the end of the play. My advice to anyone who has not been is to make it one of their “must do before I die”  events.          

Click here for photos of the village and area          

The next day we set off for Munich and the last visit of our tour.  Had I been able to afford the time I would have rearranged my flights and stayed on until the weekend.          

The route follows part of the Via Claudia Agusta, an ancient Roman road, now a cycle track, linking Ostiglia in Italy with Donauwörth on the Danube in Bavaria.          

Nymphs of the Nymphenburg

 

Our first stop was at the Nymphenburg palace, a 17 century masterpiece of baroque architecture. From there we went on into the city and were left off at the Marienplatz. They have brought the Oktoberfest forward a couple of weeks as they have had such bad weather in Bavaria for the past few years, so the city was alive with tourists.  The temperature was around 23° so their optimism paid off!          

Hofbrauhaus Munich

 

A party of us decided that we would forgo the wonders for a while and headed off to the famous, or notorious, Hofbrauhaus for a litre or two of Bavarian beer and something to eat. After that we headed down into the open market to watch the world go by and get a bag of the ubiquitous frites and mayonaise.          

We finished our day over a final beer in the Marienplatz and then it was back to the airport for an uneventful trip home!          

For photos of this final leg click here          

The following are links to the @trip maps of our travels.           

Ziller Valley          

 Vipiteno & Innsbruck          

Zell am See & Kitzbuhel          

Achensee          

 Oberammergau to Ettal walk & Munich          

The Husky Years, 1980 – ’84

Heinsberger Volkszeitung 21 Feb ’83

Exhilarating, definately;  terrifying, sometimes: the most vivid memory of my husky racing period is bouncing down a mountainside near Bernau, in the Schwarzwald area of Germany, underneath the sled and with no way of getting the team to stop! It was probably one of the fastest runs I ever made!

How to start a team

To the questions:  “Are you still racing” and “Do you still have Siberians”, the answer is no.  The former is because one needs to live near the snow and to be extremely fit and the latter because, although huskies of various breeds are now common as pets, they are essentially working pack animals.

Press cutting from “The Field”

Having said this it was a wonderful period and I will be ever grateful to the support I got from the Royal Signals in particular, the Intelligence Corps and the army in general for sponsoring the vets bills and giving me the time off to train and race my team for the European Championships as well as a number of other club races. I should also include the REME whose workshop I borrowed to build my 8 dog travelling kennel which was based on a mini sun frame.

Playing Father Christmas in Helmstedt

Not only did I get a great thrill out of racing but there was also some great sidelines, the main one acting as Father Christmas taking presents to schools on the last day of term.

A little bit about Schlittenhundrennen, Sled dog racing:

All races take place over two days and results are based on the combined times for the two runs.  For the three dog class the distance is normally between 5 and 6 km and for 5 dogs 10 – 12 km.  The big teams, 7 – 12 dogs run over around 20 km. Most of courses are round mountain tracks so one spends a great deal of time running behind the sled rather than standing on it.

The Nugget Trophy

Trail Club of Europe – Championship points ’04

 

For anyone interested the European championships were staged at 4 venues, Tannheim in Austria, Bernau in the Schwarzwald, Bruneck in the Italian Tyrol and Saignelégier in Switzerland.

The Wire – March 81

One starts in the unlicensed class. To obtain a licence you have to compete in a number of races and finish within the average time set by the licensed teams. I got my licence after winning the Austrian and Italian 5 dog “Digger” class races in ’82. From there on one is competing for the Nugget Trophy against teams who can train on snow for most of the year.  The best 3 results out of the four races count towards the trophy and one receives 1/10 gram of pure gold for every minute one is better than the average race time. e.g. If the average time for all runners over two days is 65 minutes and your time is 55 minutes you earn 1 gramme of gold.

My best placing was 9th out of about 22 teams and for this I won 3 grammes of gold (worth about £80 at today’s gold price).

It was quite a wrench when I left Germany for the last timer and had to sell my team, but they all went to other kennels so I knew they would be well looked after. Christine took Bambi back to the UK as he was really too old to go to a new team.

Intelligence Corps Magazine 1981

In ’83 a reporter from The Soldier came to Bruneck and wrote an article on my achievements. This was after I had qualified for my licence and hence the 7th place in the licenced class

Soldier article

The Soldier Mar-Apr ’83

 

I would pay tribute to my ex, Christine, without whose dedication I would never have achieved the success I did and whose love of the dogs (and taking them to shows ) knew no bounds.

Antico Martini, Campo San Fantin, Venice


We were recommended to eat at the Antico Martini by the concierge at the Hotel Kette, it being less than a stone’s throw across the bridge from the entrance.  In better weather it must be stunning, but even in the rain the ambience is not to be faulted.  The staff collected our umbrellas, waterproofs and hat and ushered us to a table under the rainproof awning looking out on to the small square which still sported a smattering of tourists braving the weather.

The menu and wine list were duly provided together with a complimentary hors d’ouvre in the shape of a miniature kilner jar containing a parfait of basil sauce and a whole prawn.  Exquisite!

Helen and Josephine chose the giant scampi with courgette; I opted for the tagliatelli with prawn and wild mushrooms whilst Trevor decided on the veal. Helen chose a glass of rosé and the rest of us shared a bottle of the local red, Rosso del Veronese, which proved to be eminently drinkable.

You are probably fed up with me using superlatives but, if you are eating in Venice, this is a restaurant not to be missed. The scampi would have been lobsters in another life, the tagliatelli sauce was as delicate as (good taste leaves me speechless) whilst Trevor’s veal melted in the mouth.  I speak from firsthand knowledge.

Somebody slipped in the sweet menu and, having gone a whole day with very little sustenance, we were caught in another trap.  The girls settled for the fruit tart and the boys for the baked crepes stuffed with vanilla sauce (and raspberries and blackcurrants). I got a share of Trevor’s as well!

We (Trevor and I) decided on a coffee and liqueur to end the experience.  The grappa is a must, although Trevor disagrees on this and settled for Benedictine!

The price tag of €326, including 14% service, reflected the quality of  both the cuisine and the service so we have no complaints.

Italy visit Oct 09

The pictures below are from a flying three day visit to our major Italian furniture supplier, Las Mobile, who is based in Tortoreto on the adriatic coast between Ancona and Pescara. The town is major holiday resort, especially frequented by Germans, between April and September. It boasts a long beach which extends to the neighbouring fishing port of Guilianova.

Our objective was to see if there had been any major developments in manufacturing technology and to meet with the designers and manufacturers to see if could find a machine particular to our needs. Unfortunately the only one which had the operational scope was not only extremely expensive, approx €200,000, but would also have taken up half my warehousing space. Back to the drawing board but with a couple of possible simpler solutions. Having completed our business and being taxied back across the Appenines we spent half a day sightseeing in Rome.