Ten things I learned in Sud Tyrol and beyond…

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I always do these “ten things I learned” posts to remind me that travel is a good teacher and to sum up why the trip was worth taking. This particular trip was very special because it was the first one Bill and I have done since the pandemic started. I was a bit nervous about taking the plunge, and to be honest, I am a little worried that maybe we might get sick. On the other hand, we had a great time and saw a lot of cool stuff. So, here goes with my top ten list of things we learned in Sud Tyrol and beyond.

10. People in Sud Tyrol are much more likely to speak German than Italian, even though Sud Tyrol is in Italy.

It’s true. Everywhere we went in Parcines– as well as in Merano and Bolzano and the little towns around them– people were speaking German first. I knew that it was a German speaking area because I had visited Bolzano before, but I didn’t realize that German really is what you’re likely to hear among the locals.

9. Agriculture is huge in Sud Tyrol.

Everywhere we looked, there were acres and acres of apples, pears, quinces, and grapes. I think there were a lot more apples than grapes, actually.

8. It is possible to have a bad meal in Italy.

Okay, so I kinda knew that… I was just sorry that it was proven to me on more than one occasion.

7. I probably shouldn’t do half board options in most places.

Half board options are very popular in some resort hotels. They’re not a good choice for me, though, because I’m a bit picky about a lot of things. And some things make me throw up. If you’re not a picky eater and you’re budget conscious, they’re a better bet.

6. Right now, Europeans are a bit leery of Americans… even more so than usual!

Actually, it seemed like Germans were leery. We did get a few side eyes during our trip because Americans aren’t supposed to be in Europe. But if you live here, you can travel as if you were an EU citizen, as long as you can prove you’re a resident. Still, people will look sideways at you if they hear an American accent.

5. But after a few days, they’ll relax…

4. The Parcines waterfall is not very accessible right now.

I wish we’d had the chance to visit the waterfall. It’s obviously a tourist draw. Too bad the landowner felt the need to block off the area around the waterfall. I wonder if she did it because of people being bad guests and leaving trash and COVID-19 was just a convenient reason to fence it off. I don’t know…

3. COVID-19 rules are different in different countries.

Seriously– we had to wear gloves in Austria, but no mask. We wore a mask at the buffet in our Italian hotel, but no gloves. And in Switzerland, we weren’t required to wear a mask OR gloves, even when we went to the grocery store.

2. I really need to visit the Reschensee area.

I was on the right track back in 2009, when I was looking at booking a hotel there. It’s a beautiful area, and I’d love to get a closer/better picture of the partially submerged church tower.

1. Austria is AWESOME.

I knew it was awesome from previous trips, but it had been four years since our last Austrian visit. We definitely need to visit there more frequently. I think, overall, our time in Austria was my favorite. It has stunning views, excellent food, laid back people, and many natural wonders, along with beautiful accommodations. I hope we’ll have another opportunity to see more of it. I also have a new appreciation for Switzerland. We need to see more there, too.

Sud Tyrol and beyond… part twelve

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Home at last!

I managed to get up in time to take a couple of pictures of the sunrise over Lake Konstanz on Sunday morning. It was a little sad to think of leaving the lovely Oberwaid Hotel, but I was definitely ready to get home and start writing. I have a few folks who genuinely look forward to reading these posts and it was time to dish!

We enjoyed another fine breakfast in the restaurant, albeit for a hefty price tag. Then we loaded up the car and Bill checked out. The receptionist kindly offered us bottles of sparkling water for the journey. Once again, as I left a hotel, I found myself saying “What an amazing place.” I would come back to the Oberwaid for sure. Next time we need a short break from Germany, it’ll be on our list! Hopefully, by then, the COVID-19 situation will be better controlled. But if it’s not, I’d still feel very safe in that hotel. I noticed they have a huge team of housekeepers, all of whom wore masks and keep the place sparkling clean. Here are a few parting shots before we got on the road to Wiesbaden.

We had a choice of several ways to get home. If we still lived near Stuttgart, we would have driven through Switzerland to the familiar border at Thayngen, which ultimately leads to A81 and past our old stomping grounds. But since we now live in Wiesbaden, Bill decided to get on A7 on the other side of the lake. From there, we passed through Baden-Württemberg and Bayern (Bavaria) until we finally reached Hesse. We hit a few staus on the way, one of which was pretty obnoxious and took some time to get through.

Against our better judgment, we stopped at a McDonald’s for lunch, but decided against eating in the restaurant due to the high number of people there. It wasn’t even a good restroom stop, since patrons could only go one at a time and there was a line. So we ended up peeing at a nearby rest stop. We should have just gone there to eat, too.

This came from the little market in Leutasch, too. Everyone is making gin these days! We should have spent more money… and we definitely should have bought more wine.

Arran stayed at the Birkenhof until Monday night. I wish we could have picked him up on Sunday, because I really missed him. But we weren’t sure when we’d be back on Sunday and the Birkenhof only allows a short window for pickups.

I’m really glad we took this trip, especially as the news about COVID-19 gets bleaker. There have been more cases in Europe lately because people are traveling. I didn’t feel particularly unsafe when we traveled, but there was definitely no chance of forgetting the pandemic, even in Switzerland, where things seemed the “slackest” (and that really surprised me). I’m not sure when we’ll get to do another lengthy trip. I hope it won’t be too long. For now, I’m glad we took this opportunity to change our scenery and get new pictures. I hope you enjoyed coming along for the ride!

I’m amazed at all we were able to do– hike through a gorge, look at a waterfall, go to the top of the Zugspitze, see several beautiful lakes, eat good food, visit Lake Konstanz, and enjoy excellent hospitality. Overall, it was a very special and memorable trip. I’m glad we did it, even if I’m now slightly worried about exposure to the virus. But I’d rather live life than stay locked up, drinking wine in the backyard with the dog.

Sud Tyrol and beyond… part eleven

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Pool time and the beautiful Bodensee!

Saturday morning, I woke up and noticed the sunrise peeking through the curtains. Because I was enjoying the bed so much, I didn’t get up to take a picture of it. Instead, we slept in until the sun was up, then we went down to breakfast. Unlike the other two hotels we visited, Oberwaid isn’t doing a buffet right now. Instead, you sit down at a table and a server brings you bread and a tiered plate stand with fresh fruits, cold cuts, cheese, smoked fish, and horseradish sauce. You can then order eggs, bacon, porridge, fruit juices, or rosti if you like. Naturally, you can also get coffee and tea, although prosecco is an extra charge to the 25 franc breakfast.

After breakfast, we decided to check out the pool, which was one of the amenities that attracted me to booking the hotel. Due to COVID-19, the hotel requests that people change in their rooms instead of the locker room. That was fine with me. We went down to the indoor pool area and enjoyed swimming some laps. I noticed, with much amusement, that on the ceiling, there was a warning about the pool walls. I suppose that’s for people doing the backstroke so they don’t hit their heads. I have never seen that at an indoor pool anywhere before, but I definitely appreciated it. I have hit my head more than once while doing the backstroke (explains a lot, I know). There was also a backboard by the wall. I definitely felt like this was a health and safety inspired operation.

There was just one other couple in the pool area with us. They left and went outside to the hot tub. I must say, the hot tub at Oberwaid is very impressive. It rivals what we experienced in Gothenburg, Sweden last year at the Upper House hotel. Only four people are allowed in it at a time right now. There’s a rack where you can lie while the water bubbles, pressurized water spouts for massaging the shoulders, and my personal favorite, stations in the corners where you can get an all body massage from jets that surround you as you hold on to a circular bar that surrounds your body. There’s also a very nice walking park around the hotel, and a fully equipped fitness room, which of course we didn’t bother with. 😉

Indoors, there’s a Turkish bath, steam room, massage rooms, and a sauna. We didn’t opt to use the facilities indoors because of the whole COVID situation, but it appeared that everything was open. They also had water and a very comforting hot tea available. Spa services were available, although they required mask use for the therapist and the client.

After about an hour in the pool, we decided to visit nearby Rorschach, which is a town right on the Bodensee. If we had had another day, we would have made a point of visiting St. Gallen itself, which is very charming. But I was especially interested in getting to the lake, because even though we lived in the Stuttgart for six years over two different stints, we had never managed to visit the Bodensee up close. I got some very nice pictures after we had Italian food for lunch. We happened to stop into a pizzeria about a half hour before their pause. The waiter was kind enough to serve us anyway, although he told us in his Swiss style German that the pause was imminent.

After we walked around Rorschach for awhile, we decided to go to the COOP store– that’s a Swiss grocery store chain that we have encountered a few times. No one in the grocery store wore a mask, at all. There were markings on the floor showing where people were to stand and the cashiers were behind plexiglass. Other than that, it was pretty much business as usual in there. I must say, it was quite a surprise to see that.

We picked up some Swiss wine, dental floss, and sparkling water. Then we went back to the glorious hotel room and I watched What’s Love Got to Do With It on my computer. That is, of course, the 1993 movie starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne as Tina and Ike Turner. I was inspired to watch it because Tina Turner is now a Swiss citizen and lives near Zurich with her German husband, Erwin Bach. We didn’t bother with dinner, although housekeeping did bring us a couple of chocolates for our pillows.

I definitely would have liked to have explored St. Gallen and its surroundings more, but the trip was winding down and it was time to focus on the journey back to Wiesbaden on Sunday. I’ll wrap that up in the next post. I hope we can get to the Hotel Oberwaid again, though. It’s now one of my favorite hotels in Europe. I’m developing quite a list!

Our sojourn in Sud Tyrol and beyond… part one

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Bill and I are finally back after our ten day road trip vacation, which took us from Wiesbaden to Leutasch, Austria, to Parcines, Italy, and finally, to St. Gallen (Rorschach), Switzerland. For the most part, we had a wonderful trip. Yes, there were a few minor annoyances, but on the whole, it was a fantastic journey outside of Germany for the first time (for me, at least) since February. It was great to get away, if not because we needed a change of scenery, then because it was very interesting to see how different countries are doing in this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic situation. Each country/region has a different way of operating right now and, at this point, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland have all done a great job of getting things back under control.

My digital camera can do fun tricks sometimes.

Although there are still a lot of places I would like to see before I die, and we had been to the Tyrol/Sud Tyrol areas before, it was nice to take a trip there, stay in different areas, and do different things. We even did a few things we never got the chance to do on previous trips. For instance, Bill and I used to visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen fairly regularly when we lived in Germany the first time together (2007-09), but those trips were always work related for Bill. So I never got to go to the top of the Zugspitze before last weekend, and I had never before seen the beautiful (and terribly crowded) Eibsee. Ditto for Lake Konstanz (Bodensee). We used to live somewhat close to Switzerland, so we didn’t visit there much– we would just travel through to get to Italy. Until this past weekend, I thought Switzerland was beautiful, but dull. I have since changed my opinion about Switzerland.

And yes, I know traveling right now might be seen as frivolous, tacky, cruel, risky, irresponsible, or whatever other adjective the worried and jealous can come up with. I don’t feel guilty at all for going away, though. There were many times in the past when we wanted to travel but couldn’t, mainly due to not having the time or money. Now, we have the time and the money, and there are people whose livelihoods depend on travelers. We have the good fortune to live in a place where government and public health leadership and disease transmission prevention tactics have been strong and cooperative. So we are going to embrace our good luck and enjoy traveling while we can. Because there will surely be a day when we can’t anymore.

It’s good to be home, if only because I was running out of clean underwear and I have really missed Arran. I also always enjoy writing about our trips, and it’s easier to write about them on my big desktop instead of my laptop. I hope you will enjoy reading along as I relieve our ten days of vacation bliss.

So… on with my blow by blow of our trip through the Tyrol and Sud Tyrol regions.

And the winners are…

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Well… we ended up scrapping the idea to go to the Piemonte this year. I never heard back from Marla, although since it was a Facebook message I sent to Bella Baita’s Facebook page, I can hardly blame her. If you’re not friends with someone, it’s easy to miss Facebook messages. I guess I could have contacted her through her Web site, but I kept thinking about Bolzano and how I’d like to visit that area, too. So finally, I just decided to scrap the idea of visiting the Piemonte again, at least for the time being. We needed to go ahead and book, since our trip begins in a week. There are so many places we haven’t yet been to and want to see, and where we booked our “anchor” town would determine the “sides” of the trip, on the ways down to Italy and back up to Germany. (Edited to add: Today– Sunday, August 2, Marla responded and said Bella Baita is temporarily closed due to the many rules related to COVID-19. But when the pandemic is less of a threat and there are fewer rules, she and Fabrizio will be ready for guests again.)

We spent a couple of hours looking for places last night. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. There are so many hotels! And it’s hard to choose what is most important. I’m definitely lured by nice amenities and don’t mind paying a premium for comfort, but not at the expense of being in a crowded, impersonal, overpriced place. I saw a bunch of places that looked really nice, but I suspected were slickly marketed. I saw other places that were reasonably priced, but didn’t have much character and weren’t particularly comfortable looking.

I finally decided to book a place in Parcines (Partschins), Italy, which is not far from Merano. My German friend had recommended Merano, but it appeared to be more of a city. I didn’t know it when I booked, but Parcines has a waterfall. It also has a very nice looking Alpine hotel, family run, with lots of mountains around it. There are also castles nearby… I think we’ll find enough to do in four nights. Our hotel comes with half board, which is sort of hit or miss. I like to try different restaurants, but it looks like this resort is kind of in an isolated area. Hopefully, the food will be as good as the hype.

Once I was finished booking our “anchor” town, we decided where we would spend the rest of our time. I had been looking at hotels near the Eibsee, in Germany, which is an absolutely gorgeous lake near the Zugspitz. But I didn’t find any hotels that were appealing to me, and we have been to that part of Germany more than a few times. I would not be averse to stopping there for a break or something on the way to the town we ultimately chose– beautiful Leutasch— which isn’t too far from Innsbruck. I had also looked at Seefeld in Tyrol, but we’ve also been there before. It’s a beautiful place, but touristy and resort oriented. Leutasch may be the same way, and in fact, it’s in the same area as Seefeld is, but at least we’ve never been there. The featured photo was taken during our last trip to Seefeld, in which I took a picture of the stunning mountains. It was winter at the time and colder than a witch’s tit. It will look different when we visit next week.

And then, I must admit I was getting pretty tired… the hotels were all blending together. I asked Bill which way he wanted to go home. Was he wanting another journey through Austria? Or was Switzerland more appealing. He said he wanted to go through Switzerland, which would add an hour to the journey back. However, we have two nights to get from Italy to Wiesbaden, so we will be stopping in St. Gallen, near the town of Rorschach, which is on Lake Constance/Bodensee. Yes, I know, we could stay in Germany or Austria and pay less to see the lake, but we wanted to go to Switzerland. So that’s where we’re going, and we’re going to stay in a hotel that reminds me a little of a 60s era hospital.

Yes, Rorschach is also the name of the Zurich born Swiss psychiatrist, Herman Rorschach, who came up with the famous ink blot tests. But Herman Rorschach grew up in Schaffhausen, which is a town in extreme northern Switzerland, right by the German border. We’ve passed it more than once when we used to live near Stuttgart and were able to come and go from Switzerland easily.

I’m not sure how we will get back from Switzerland. Rorschach is close enough to the Austrian border that we could just cross back over and go up that way, rather than driving through Switzerland. A lot of people think Switzerland is extremely beautiful, and it is… but it’s also very expensive and, in some ways, kind of dull. I still like to visit when I can, though, because even though it’s kind of dull, it’s also kind of different. It has four official languages and isn’t part of the European Union… and I discovered that I have a little bit of Swiss heritage, too. Just a little bit.

The other region in Germany is Bavaria, but I know from research that I had relatively recent relatives (within a couple hundred years) who came from the Rhine, as well as a couple from Karlsruhe. Maybe we can visit Grisons someday.

Apparently, someone from my ancestry was from the Canton of Grisons, which is the largest and easternmost canton in Switzerland. That may be why my first DNA test indicated Italian ancestry. Actually, it was probably Swiss– from Italian speaking Switzerland. But it’s just a tiny pinch– enough to make me slightly more interesting, I guess. I have a pretty boring DNA makeup. It’s about three-quarters British and Irish. The next largest part is German, then Scandinavian, which Ancestry.com further narrows down to Norwegian. That makes sense, since parts of Scotland were once part of Norway. And then, I have a tiny dash of Native American ancestry. So, based solely on genetics, I could totally be European, even though I’m definitely American.

Anyway… this isn’t interesting to most people, except that it’s obvious the people who went into making me were pretty clannish. They all fucked among themselves. It wasn’t until recently that family members started branching out and adding some spice to the mix. My sister, for instance, married a man who is half Jamaican, half Chinese. He looks like Tiger Woods. And they have a son. I’m surprised there aren’t more genetic diseases in our family, besides depression and alcoholism.

Well, I’m glad to have all of this stuff decided. Hopefully, it will go off without a hitch, especially since coronavirus is still a problem. I look forward to posting a lot of pictures from our upcoming road trip. It’s been much too long since the last one of any length.

Planning a proper vacation in the midst of a pandemic…

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Love my tongue twister title today… Jeez! I’m on a roll!

Bill wants to take some leave. Both of us need a break from Germany. Since COVID-19 appears to be on the rise again, winter is coming (and probably more cases and lockdowns), and we’re hoping to have a new dog in a few weeks, we figured now is the best time to get away for awhile. And although Italy was among the hardest COVID-19 hit nations a few months ago, it’s supposedly got things a bit more under control.

Bill and I both love Italy. We also love Austria, and we haven’t been to Austria in ages. Our last couple of trips to Italy involved driving through Switzerland.

I was looking at booking a place near Bolzano or maybe Meran. But the places I was finding seemed like a lot of slickly marketed, overpriced spots for young people looking to hook up. I suddenly remembered an absolutely wonderful bed and breakfast Bill and I visited in May 2008, when we were in Germany the first time. We found it because we wanted to go to Turin. I think Bill wanted to see the Shroud of Turin or something… I don’t remember what exactly prompted him to want to go to Turin.

A little shrine near Bella Baita in 2008.

Anyway, I started looking at places to stay and I found an ad for a place called Bella Baita, which is not in Turin, but on a mountainside near Pinasca and Pinerolo. It’s run by an American woman named Marla and her Italian husband, Fabrizio, both of whom are chefs. The price was right. In 2008, they charged 50 euros a night. I couldn’t help but notice that at that time on TripAdvisor, they didn’t have a single rating of less than five stars. Today, Bella Baita still gets mostly five star ratings (if not five, then four), and is still inexpensive at about 60 euros a night.

Marla had also written a blog post about the then new food superstore, Eataly, which opened its flagship location in Turin. Eataly is now a bonafide chain and there are at least 40 locations around the world, including six in the United States. Bill visited the one in New York City in 2014, when he was there for a job interview. I have only been to the first one, opened in 2007 in Turin. It’s a really fabulous place.

The Dom in Pinerolo, circa 2008…

I was intrigued, so we booked four nights there. We ended up having an unforgettable experience. I have never stayed in another place like it. It was like visiting old friends… and the area is absolutely beautiful and uncrowded. We took a cooking class, went to the market in Pinerolo, and Bill learned how to prepare rabbit, although we haven’t ever had that at home. We also prepared a beautiful fruit tart.

I remember having an incredible dinner in Pinerolo at a brand new restaurant called Perbacco, which I see is still running today. We found it while looking for lunch. They weren’t open for lunch, but grandma came out with a business card and strongly encouraged us to come in for dinner. I remember it being excellent, and the sommelier (who was also probably the owner) asking us why we’d be visiting Pinerolo when we could be in Rome, Florence, or Venice. And we told him that in those places, we would be among too many Americans. We then proceeded to have the most wonderful dinner coupled with lovely wine, and music from a video channel starring Duffy.

At another place, where we had lunch, Bill earned the dismayed groans from a bunch of Italian men because he ordered prosciutto with cantaloupe for himself while I had nothing. They ended up bringing me a plate so I could share, even though I don’t like cantaloupe much. Italian men love women.

I remember Marla telling me that we were staying in the “John Malkovich” room. Turns out the actor’s wife is from that area and he stayed there while visiting her family. Back in 2008, there was also a restaurant within Marla’s and Fabrizio’s house. It was called The Ant and The Giant (translated from Italian). It was an Italian couple– tiny wife with large husband. Marla said she didn’t think they’d stay in business long because they weren’t drawing much interest from the locals. Bill and I ate there, and I distinctly remember the “giant” expertly deboning a branzino (sea bass) fish for me at the table.

Last night, as we were trying to figure out where to go in Italy, I asked Bill if maybe he’d like another trip to Bella Baita. There’s a lot to do in the area. It’s not far from where the ski events for the 2006 Winter Olympics were held. It’s also not far from France, where we visited a lovely town called Briançon, which has the distinction of being the highest city in France.

This was taken from a paddle boat cruise on Lake Thun. It was so pretty, but so expensive!

I sent Marla a message to see if things are operating down there where she is. If they are, we’ll probably design a road trip not unlike the one we did in May 2008. We drove from Stuttgart to a tiny Italian commune very close to Lake Como and the Swiss border called Pellio Intelvi. Pellio Intelvi, according to Wikipedia, no longer exists as of 2017. It’s now a “frazione” of Alta Valle Intelvi. We spent three nights there, about twelve miles on a mountain above Lake Como, then drove to the Piemonte region of Italy to Bella Baita, where we spent four nights. Then, on the way back to Stuttgart, we spent two nights in Lake Thun, Switzerland. Lake Thun is very beautiful, but it was my least favorite part of the trip. The Swiss didn’t impress us with the same style and warmth the Italians did… plus, it’s a hell of a lot more expensive there.

This time, I’m thinking maybe we’ll drive from Switzerland, spend a night or two, then head to the Piemonte for at least three nights, then drive east to Bolzano or somewhere near there. Then, on the way back to Wiesbaden, maybe we’ll stop in Austria for a night or two. I think we have ten nights to play with for this trip. We’ll see what happens. I want to throw some money the Italians’ way, though. They could use the business, and we could definitely use the change of scenery. I also want to take a lot of pictures. In 2008, I didn’t take nearly enough!

Wish us luck!

Labor Day weekend in lovely Lesa, Italy on Lake Maggiore… Part four

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All too soon, Monday morning arrived and it was time for us to head back to Germany.  After breakfast, we cleaned up the Rose Apartment and I sent a message to the property owner, who came by to pick up the keys and the six euros of tourist taxes we had to pay.  In Lesa, the office of tourism collects one euro per person over age 14 per night.  There are a few other exceptions to this tax, which the owners had posted in the kitchen.  Apparently, Lesa is pretty serious about collecting this tax and will supposedly hunt you down and charge interest if you don’t pay.

It was nice to meet the owner, who advised us that next time we want to visit, we should simply give him a call and bypass Booking.com.  This is not the first time a property owner has told us that.  I guess Booking.com charges a lot of fees for finding guests.  I would definitely not be averse to going back to Lesa if we have the chance.  It’s a nice place to unplug for a few days.  I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a place to go if you want to stay super busy, but if you’re looking for peace, quiet, good food, and relaxation, it’s not a bad place at all…  and it’s definitely less hectic than tonier Lake Como is.

We got on the road at about 9:30am and reached Unterjettingen by 4:30pm or so…  Here are a few photos I took on the way back.

Here’s a view of where the lake is compared to where Rose Apartment is.  As you can see, it’s only steps away.

Goodbye Italy… until next time!

Some guy was parachuting over the highway.  I was glad when he managed to cross it without landing!

These are pictures of Lake Lugano, in Switzerland.  Lugano is also gorgeous and worth a visit.  There are too many places to see in Europe and not enough holidays!  I had to take these as we were passing through.

A bird’s eye view of Switzerland?

Our drive back was pretty uneventful.  We stopped at a couple of Swiss rest stops for pee breaks.  Word to the wise.  It’s a good idea to have Francs for the rest stops.  Just like in Germany, you have to pay to pee, unless you stop at one of the more rustic (and disgusting) public toilets.  The ones with restaurants and such usually charge.  However, they are generally very clean and well stocked.

Against our better judgment, we stopped at that crappy Burger King again in Altdorf, but this time, Bill got chicken strips and mozzarella bites.  No mayo!  It always amazes me that such a crappy Burger King could be by such beautiful country.  Right after the fast food break, you enter a tunnel and come out in insanely beautiful Sisikon, Switzerland on the shores of Lake Lucerne.  I keep meaning to stop there for a photo break and lunch.  Look at these pictures!  Maybe sometime, we’ll rent a house there and spare ourselves the pain of traffic.  Sisikon is probably around the halfway point to Italy.  I have actually tried to find places near there but so far, I’ve not been lucky.

Anyway… that pretty much does it for this short series on Lesa.  I can’t say it was one of our most exciting road trips, but we did enjoy our too brief time in Italy.  I really would like to go back again.  If anything, this trip reminded me that it’s usually worth it to book one more day than you think you’ll want or need on a long weekend.  I could have used more than two Italian lunches.  Oh well… there’s always next time!

Labor Day weekend in lovely Lesa, Italy on Lake Maggiore… Part one

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Bill and I usually go somewhere for the long Labor Day weekend, although last year we didn’t do anything because we had a cruise planned for Scotland and Northern Ireland.  This year, we hadn’t really talked too much about it, since Bill had a big business trip to Morocco the week prior.  We also just found out that we might have to move and the need to secure a job and potentially new housing has kind of dominated our thoughts.

I got to thinking about it, though, and decided I did need a short break from Germany.  So, a few weeks ago, I casually asked Bill what he wanted to do for Labor Day.  He said he wouldn’t mind a quick trip, despite having to travel to Africa the week prior.  I had been looking at going to Ticino in southern Switzerland, which is near Lake Lugano, but I knew we’d need to bring our dogs with us and I wasn’t finding any appropriate self-catering properties.

Then I looked at all the places I had saved on Booking.com and most of them were already booked.  Suddenly, I remember that my German friend, Susanne, had recommended Lake Maggiore.  This lake is close to Lake Como, which we’ve visited a couple of times, but was rumored to have a quieter vibe.  Also, although I had been looking at Ticino, Switzerland, when it comes down to it, Italy is much cheaper.  And if you’re going to be that close to Italy, you might as well just go there.  So I searched Lake Maggiore on Booking.com and found the Rose Apartment in Lesa.  Bill flipped a coin; it was between the Czech Republic and Lesa.  Lesa won.

The word “apartment” is kind of a misnomer for this property.  When I think of apartments, I think of small rented quarters sharing walls with other people.  The Rose Apartment is, in fact, a good sized house, complete with a huge fenced in yard.  I noted that it was very close to the lake and the price was right, so I booked it for three nights.  In retrospect, I should have booked it for at least four nights.  Our break in Italy wasn’t long enough.  However, we were in Lesa long enough to get a feel for the low-key town.  I now know that I don’t have much of a reason to go back to Lake Como.  Lake Maggiore is definitely more my style.  It’s less flashy and more homey.

First thing’s first.  How do you pronounce Lesa?

No, it’s not like “Lisa”.  It’s more like lay-zuh.

Bill got home from Morocco late Thursday night.  Friday morning, we considered waiting to pick up the mail before starting our journey south.  Fortunately, I realized that waiting for the post office to open would really put us behind.  We set off from Germany at about 9:30am or so, expecting to arrive in Lesa by 4:00… maybe 5:00 at the latest.

The drive to Italy through Switzerland is very beautiful.  You pass through stunning mountains and lakes that will take your breath away.  I probably should have been enjoying more of the scenery, but I also got to try out the cellular capability on my new iPad.  I signed up for a month of data from GigSky for 50 euros (5 GB).  It worked very well and I only used one gig to and from Italy.  Sometimes I’m surprised I was born in the 70s.  You’d think I never had to live without Internet access.  But for a small country, Switzerland takes a long time to get through and since it’s not in the EU, roaming charges are a bitch.  Gig Sky worked well enough that I’d use it again.

This lake is so beautiful.  We need to stop sometime so I can take proper photos.  We had sun on the way back today and the lake was even more gorgeous.

Sadly, because we had our hoodlum dogs with us, we ended up eating lunch at a Burger King, where we both had sandwiches that were sodden with mayonnaise.  I don’t know why, but fast food restaurants in Germany and Switzerland really overdo the condiments, especially mayo.  Next time, maybe we should pack our own sandwiches.

Way too much mayo!!!

Then… fate conspired to keep us on the road much longer than we originally planned.  First, we hit a ton of traffic in Switzerland near the Gotthard Tunnel.  It took awhile to get through the 16.9 kilometer passage.  Once we were through that, we hit more traffic in Italy.  We got there just as rush hour was starting.

Just over the Italian border.  It was like this the whole way.

And then, we hit a section of the autostrada, really not that far from Lesa, and ended up sitting for in traffic that was pretty much at a standstill.  We were stuck there for well over an hour and, when Bill honked at a young woman who was apparently asleep at the wheel, she flipped him off.  In Italy, it’s not illegal to flip people off like it is here in Germany.  I wouldn’t ordinarily do something like that, even though we were really tired and our tempers were very short.  When you’re sitting in traffic that has come to a standstill after you’ve been driving for hours, you tend to have less patience.  Bill was amused and surprised by her vehement response.

We paid just under three euros in tolls to drive on the autostrada.  Bill remarked that it was very cheap.  I turned to him and said, “You would have wanted to pay more for that experience?”  He had a good laugh at that.  While we were stuck in the Stau, we managed to stop into an Autogrill (Italy’s rest stop chain) and the gas station attendant pointed out that the back wiper on our RAV 4 was slightly cracked.  The attendant offered to replace it for us.  Bill got the sense he might have cracked the wiper himself, looking for extra euros.  We’ve been to Italy enough times that we’re seasoned when it comes to small time scams.  Unfortunately, this was not the only calling card our car brought back from Italy.  More on that in the next post.

Bumper to bumper traffic.  Turned out the holdup was a very bad accident.  My mouth dropped open as we passed what appeared to be an overturned truck.  I’d be surprised if the driver walked away from that with his or her life.

 

First view of the lake.  I was so glad to see it!

 

By the time we got to Lesa, it was about 7:30pm.  Since he and his wife had dinner plans, the host sent his two very beautiful and charming teenaged daughters to give us the keys to the house.  They got to try out their English skills and our dogs, Zane and Arran, got lots of welcoming pats.  I don’t think I could have picked a more dog friendly rental!

Below are some pictures of the inside of the Rose Apartment.

Huge chestnut tree in the yard.  There are swings.

 

Sliding board next to a pavilion where you can grill.

Crib in the master bedroom.

 

Master bed.  Fairly comfortable mattress.

Laundry room in the basement.  There’s a washer and an ironing board.

 

Hall bathroom.

 

Kids’ bedroom has four beds.  There’s also a twin bed in the living room and in the basement.

 

Basement bed.

 

Basement half bathroom.

 

Couches in the living room and another twin bed.

 
 

Nice sized kitchen.  Opens to a lovely terrace with an awning.

We were too tired to go out to eat, so Bill found a local pizzeria and got a margherita pizza and tortellini with sage.  

Then he tried on the hat that was left behind.  I’m not sure the Italian look is for him.

This is a post office we passed in a big town on the way to Lesa.  I thought it was an interesting mix of dramatic art and 60s kitsch.

  

We didn’t stay up long after we had dinner.  The drive down was very exhausting.  I was kind of bummed, since we might have found a nice restaurant if we’d had a little more time on Friday.  Food, wine. and a change of scenery were pretty much what this trip was all about, anyway.

I should mention that the Rose Apartment has old style Italian three pronged L outlets, which means that our regular electronics didn’t fit.  However, the owners did provide a power strip in the kitchen that gave us enough outlets that we could charge up our phones and such.  Also, WiFi worked great, which is more than I can say about our experience in the last Italian rental we stayed in last year.

I will continue this series tomorrow, after I’ve had a good sleep.  The drive back to Germany today wasn’t quite as exhausting or obnoxious, but I could use a drink.

Fancy in Annecy… Time to go home! part eight

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Yesterday morning, I woke up bright and early.  Bill managed to sleep a little bit longer, although he wanted to get an early start.  We packed everything up to load up the car, not realizing that the lobby of the hotel is locked until approximately 8:00am.  Remember, I mentioned the times for breakfast?  Turns out they are rather strict about it at Hotel Les Grillons.  We came down the stairs to find this…

The doors were locked.  There is a night door that has a code.  We didn’t know the code, so I held the door while Bill loaded the car.  Then, we sat on the steps and waited for the doors to open.

 

Bill was perturbed about the closed lobby, since it meant we pretty much had to wait to check out.  There is no night clerk, which is probably not a problem for most people.  This is a very old fashioned hotel, though, right down to the weird room keys that look kind of like Phillips head screwdrivers.  So when you check out, you have to present your credit card.  I paid a 30 percent deposit when I booked, so I thought maybe they had my card on file.  Nope.

The doors opened at about 7:30am or so, giving us the chance to eat before we got on the road.  We were the only ones eating that early.  I’m glad they let us go ahead and take care of it before the prescribed official 8:00am opening time.  Bill was convinced breakfast started at 7:00.  I told him it was at 8:00am and he insisted it wasn’t… then he checked it and had to admit I was right for the second time in less than 24 hours.  Sometimes, he just won’t listen.  I love him anyway.

Bill and I enjoyed one last breakfast, then checked out.  We said goodbye to the adorable pregnant proprietor, who was so warm, gracious, and personable.  Her hospitality and the fantastic food made Hotel Les Grillons truly memorable.  The final bill, minus the deposit, plus the wines and drinks, came to about $800.  I’d say it was money well spent, even if I have stayed in fancier digs.

I should mention that Hotel Les Grillons is dog friendly.  If my two were better behaved in public, I might consider bringing them along.  As it was, I’m kind of glad we left them in Germany.  It gave us the chance to do some unhindered exploring as well as the ability to take my convertible.

This place was obviously for bikers and included some friendly looking goats.

On the subject of Mini Cooper convertibles, I have this to add.  We saw I don’t know how many people trying to hitch a ride.  Some were rather pointedly thumbing at us.  A Mini Cooper convertible is definitely NOT a car that handles more than two adults at a time.  It’s always funny when hitchhikers think they’re going to fit in the back seat.  Not unless they are super tiny people!  There’s a reason they call it a Mini.

Our drive back through Switzerland was uneventful.  This time, we were able to stay on the main highway and were mostly spared the ugly industrial areas we came through on the way to France.  We stopped in Winterthur for lunch and a potty break.  I was actually very pleased by the Italian restaurant where we found ourselves.  The place was called Santa Lucia and it boasted really nice homemade pastas and wines by the glass.

Bill gazes outside, where there was a terrace accommodating smokers.

I had an order of tagliatelle with salmon.  The pasta was excellent.  It tasted housemade.  Also, it wasn’t too much!

Bill had rigatoni with basil, garlic, and pinenut pesto.

 

And this restaurant was a bit less expensive than the one we stopped at in Bern.  Total bill for this was about 65 Swiss Francs– still not cheap, but not as pricey as it could have been.  Switzerland is expensive, I tell you!

Yeah, a corporate looking sign…

But good food and nice, friendly service.  This restaurant is located very close to the Bahnhof in Winterthur.  It’s also near a large shopping area and parking garage.  I’d eat there again.

 

We got back on the road again and before I knew it, we were back in good ol’ Germany.  Bill pulled off at Neckarburg (near Rottweil) to get some gas.  I happened to take note of the very tall structure in the distance.  Actually, you can’t miss it.  I had been wondering about it since I first spotted it on a trip down south via Switzerland.

Notice the “phallic” looking structure in this picture?

 

Well, I finally looked up that structure and found out what it is.  That, my friends, is the world’s tallest elevator testing shaft.  It was completed in 2017 and stands at a massive 807 feet.  While Bill was gassing up the car, I read up on why it was built and what made the developers choose Rottweil as the site to host it.  There is an observation deck at that tower that is higher than the one at the television tower in Berlin.  And yes, you can visit!  Tickets are 9 euros for adults.  You can also get a family ticket good for two adults and up to three children for 26 euros.  Pretty cool, huh?  Now, you know.

That about does it for my Annecy series.  I will finish up with my customary ten things I learned post, which is probably all most people care about anyway, if they care at all.  If you’ve been following along in this series, I thank you for reading.  I like to write detailed posts, not so much for readers, but for myself.  There will come a day when I no longer get to travel like this and I don’t want to forget anything.

Fancy in Annecy… but first, a little Swiss piss… part two

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The weather on May 3rd, 2018 was looking kind of cold and dismal.  It was chilly enough in Germany, and it appeared that we might have some bad weather in France, too.  In fact, The Weather Channel was even predicting avalanches for the Annecy area.  Because I wasn’t sure what to expect, I packed clothes for every occasion.  I ended up bringing more than I really needed to, especially since after the first night, we had absolutely glorious weather.

A couple of weeks ago, Bill and I got stuck in a horrendous traffic jam on A81 when we decided to go to the ADAC office at Breuningerland in Sindelfingen to pick up a couple of Swiss vignettes.  For those who don’t know, here’s a brief explanation.  If you drive through Switzerland, you need a “vignette”, which is basically a sticker that proves you paid the yearly toll.  It costs 40 Swiss Francs or 35,75 euros.  The 2018 vignette is valid from December 1, 2017 until January 31st, 2019.  The stickers are available at the border, or you can order them and have them sent in the mail.  Most of the time, it’s very easy to just go to the mall and get them, although we may think twice about that next year!

Anyway, after Bill took the dogs to Max’s and put the sticker on my Mini Cooper convertible, we were ready to go.  The Mini Cooper is another reason why I wanted to leave the dogs in Germany.  Annecy is the kind of place that just begs for a convertible.  My car doesn’t get driven enough and it’s super fun to take it on the Autobahn, even if my husband’s RAV 4 is somewhat more comfortable and roomy.  When I saw the clouds in the sky on Thursday morning, I was afraid the trip might be wasted in my little car.  Luckily, as you’ll see as this series progresses, we had perfect convertible weather.

I guess these things had to come from somewhere.

Our trip south started off relatively uneventfully.  We headed down A81, passed the big phallic looking tower near Rottweil, and crossed into Switzerland.  I always get a kick out of the area near the border, since there’s a big Wunderbaum factory there.  Wunderbaum is the company that makes those “trees” you hang in your car to make it smell “fresh”.  Other than that, the Swiss/German border is a pretty boring place.  Actually, I was hoping for a beautiful drive like we had last year when we drove through Switzerland to get to Italy.  Unfortunately, the GPS sent us a different way.  Apparently, the main highway was closed for some reason.  Consequently, we went through some truly ugly parts of Switzerland… very industrial and not at all picturesque.

As the morning continued, I started getting hungry.  Bill agreed it was time for lunch.  He went into a town and then, inexplicably, decided that it wasn’t a suitable place to find food.  Time went on… I got hungrier.  Then I had to pee.  For some reason, Bill kept driving.  He was hoping to find a nice local restaurant, rather than a fast food place or highway restaurant.  Usually, when we travel with the dogs, we end up eating fast food.  Since we didn’t have them with us this time, he wanted to avoid that.  Good plan.  Except I get super bitchy when I’m hungry and have to pee.

Finally, as we got closer to Bern, I told Bill I didn’t care where he stopped, but I really needed to whiz.  At that point, I’d been holding it for a couple of hours.  It was also getting pretty late for lunch. Just as restaurants in Germany close for “pauses” between lunch and dinner, so do they in Switzerland and France.  It was about 1:30pm when he finally started searching for a place.  We passed an Italian restaurant that had parking out front and was curiously co-located with an Indian restaurant that also sold saris.  I kind of demanded that Bill stop there.  Drei Könige to the rescue!

Bill, being the sport he is, took the liberty of ordering a half carafe of house red while I took care of business.  Then, he took his turn.

See that look on Bill’s face?  I wasn’t the only one who needed to pee.

 

There was only one other guy in the restaurant when we visited and he was finishing up.  We had the waitress’s undivided attention as we decided on pasta dishes.

I had Spaghetti Carbonara, a dish I’d never had before I started dating Bill.  It’s pretty rich, since it’s made with egg, cream, and bacon.  The waitress brought me a huge serving, too.  It looked like they’d dumped a whole box of spaghetti into the pot.  I didn’t come close to finishing this and we couldn’t take it with us.  I will admit that it hit the spot, almost as well as the surprisingly good house red was. I don’t know what the house red was, but it was excellent.

Bill had spicy penne pasta that came in a more manageable size.  I liked his dish, with its sassy little peppery kick.

This was in both the men’s and ladies’ rooms.  It’s basically a natural aid for guys with large prostates.  I don’t know why this was in the ladies room, but I couldn’t resist sharing it.  I love this kind of stuff.

 

Switzerland is expensive.  This simple lunch set us back about 88 Swiss francs– that’s roughly akin to the same amount in US dollars.  However, the waitress was very kind to us and even mistook us for Germans.  I was surprised about that, since although we were speaking German, it was pretty terrible German.  She seemed genuinely surprised that Americans were dining in her restaurant.  She asked if I wanted to take the rest of the pasta, but it wasn’t feasible.  She agreed that it was a very large portion of pasta, even for a “truck” like me.  (“Truck” is a nickname a chef at a restaurant where I once waited tables gave me because I could carry up to nine entrees at a time.)

I snapped this photo as we were leaving…  just in time for them to take their “pause”.  Yes, I would eat there again.  The food was good, even if it was a bit too much in terms of quantity and price.

 

We got back on the road and promptly hit traffic as we approached the French border…

I was a little slow on the draw, but you can see we were nowhere near Paris.

This was a bummer…

But I got a kick out of the change kiosk.  They don’t have one of these fancy ones at the German border.

Yea!

 

Okay… so here’s about where Bill started getting really antsy for Annecy.  There was a lot of traffic.  We had to pay about 7 euros in tolls and Bill didn’t get close enough to the machine to collect his change.  Then, we were in one of many confusing traffic circles.  Some guy honked at Bill when he was trying to figure out which exit to take, causing him to take the wrong one.  He started cussing and I told him to chill out.  And then, blessedly, we got on the right road to Annecy, although it was not the most direct route.  I started to see why so many people fall in love with this area.  The scenery is just stunning.

Suddenly, I saw misty mountains by the crystal clear lake…

I snapped pictures while Bill pissed off all the people behind him, including one woman who was very animatedly showing how exasperated she was.

But I’m glad Bill slowed down so I could get a few shots.  This was our only totally cloudy day.  We only had a few clouds on Friday.

 

Talloires is a world away from Annecy, which is a true city in every sense of the word.  There are several hotels in this area, as well as a large campground and a place that appeared to rent “tiny” houses by the lake.  We didn’t take the time to explore the camping or tiny house options, but I wanted to mention it for those who are into that kind of thing.  Here’s a Web site for one place we noticed last night.

We pulled into the parking lot at Hotel Les Grillons at about 5:00pm… just in time to freshen up for dinner.