Italy vs. Germany…

Well, folks, the time has come to decide what to do next.  Bill’s job ends in 56 days.  A few days ago, he got a tentative job offer to move to Vicenza, Italy as a GS employee.  That would mean he would no longer be a contractor.  Instead, he’d be working in the government service, something that I think would make him happier in the long run.

It’s a good job.  We love Italy.  I hate moving, but I’ve done it plenty of times… If we moved there, it would be my fifth overseas experience and my fourth country.  But…

I think it will take a long time to arrange moving to Italy.  We may or may not get an overseas living quarters allowance.  And while we could live on what the government would pay, it would be hard to move to Italy without help from the feds.  And… did I mention that I HATE moving?  I have done it many times and don’t enjoy it.  And I am perfectly happy staying here in Germany, even though Italy is lovely.

Compounding matters is that we have a Scottish/Northern Irish cruise planned for September.  I will be going on this cruise regardless, even if Bill can’t come.  I can’t buy plane tickets or plan for a hotel room, because we don’t know where we’ll be.  And we also have our dogs booked with Max at Dog On Holiday.  Although this trip is after Labor Day, I worry that we won’t find care for them in Italy.  From what I’ve read, it can take time to get approval to live in Italy, which is a big problem.

A week ago, we were worried about whether we could stay in Germany.  But now, we have a choice between two appealing places.  Both have their plusses and minuses.  I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but it does appear that we won’t be leaving Europe.  That suits me fine.


A whirlwind trip to Austria, Italy, and probably Switzerland, part 9

Bill came back from his final meeting in Vicenza by 10:00am.  That meant we were free to pack up and leave.  I was pretty ready to go.  Don’t get me wrong.  Vicenza seemed like a nice town based on what little I saw of it.  I was just really looking forward to our hotel in Switzerland, which I had been eyeing for years.  That, and it seemed like the air quality in and around Vicenza was really terrible.  I noticed a lot of smog around Vicenza and Verona.

I hadn’t realized how long it was going to take us to get to Vevey, Switzerland.  For some reason, I think of the countries in Europe like states in America.  Like there will be big interstates connecting them easily.  That’s definitely not always true.  As it turned out, it took all day to get from Vicenza to Vevey.  We were forever stopping to pay tolls, too.  I think we paid about 50 euros worth just to get out of the country.  Then we had to take St. Bernard’s Pass, which was almost another 30 euros.

Our drive to Switzerland introduced me to the Auto Grill phenomenon.  Sure, I’d seen truck stops before, both in the United States and Germany.  For some reason, when Bill and I travel, we rarely stop at them.  We learned our lesson in Italy.  When you drive on the autostrada in Italy, you take a ticket at the beginning of your journey, then pay when you get off.  We got off the autostrada in Bergamo, searching for a place to have lunch.  We found no easy options, so we got back on the road.  I told Bill we should just stop and eat at an Auto Grill.  The first one we stopped at was just a snack bar.  The second one had a full service cafeteria style restaurant.

And, as to be expected in Italy, the food was pretty good.  I had chicken with fries.  Bill had salmon and potatoes.  I had a piece of yummy chocolate pie for dessert and Bill had some kind of delicious custard.  I know we have truck stops in the States, but this was pretty damn impressive.

The one and only Italian beer I drank in Italy.  Wine is ridiculously cheap and good there.  Beer is not their speciality, though this one wasn’t too bad.

The outside.  We had a lot of sun.


Auto Grills also offer relatively clean places to pee for free.  They also sell lots of stuff… stuff that I might even consider buying.  Seriously, they have all kinds of high quality Italian foods there, everything from sausages to dried mushrooms (yecch).  And you can get gas for your car, too.

Cool looking bridge as we headed toward Turin.  The following pictures are of the magnificent scenery, kind of ruined by the poor air quality.

When we had to pee again, Bill ended up at an Agip station.  We walked in and I was shocked to see a Confederate flag.  Yes, we were in Italy, not far from the Swiss border.  An Italian friend commented that perhaps the owners of the gas station were from southern Italy.  Who knows?  But you can buy your olive oil there, too.

I took a photo of these cheesy looking Italian liqueurs because they reminded me of something else.

The drive to the huge pass between Italy and Switzerland was absolutely beautiful.

I ran out of juice in my phone in the big tunnel.  I had just enough to tell people we made it to Switzerland before the damn thing conked out.


All in all, we had a nice time in Italy.  I’d like to go back, though maybe not to Vicenza… or maybe to a different hotel.  Don’t get me wrong.  I see why people like Hotel Victoria.  It’s great if you’re doing business or moving to Italy.  It’s also great if you want to shop, which is what I ended up doing.  But to see the actual town or do things without taking the bus or driving, you need to be located elsewhere.

I guess if Bill asked me to go back with him, I’d go, though.  We had wonderful food in Italy and I did pick up some great stuff for the kitchen and my wardrobe.  I didn’t spend a lot of money, either… except on the tolls!


A whirlwind trip to Austria, Italy, and probably Switzerland, part 8

I decided to go to the mall and have pizza yesterday.  I mainly did it because I didn’t want to accidentally order too much wine.  The lady who helped me didn’t speak much English and I, of course, know very little Italian.  I managed to get a slice of cheese pizza and a bottle of water.  It was only 3 euros.

Bill came back from work early, so we decided to hit the store and stock up on Italian goodies.  I have to say, it may be worth it to come to Italy just to go shopping for food and wine.  For 115 euros, we bought two new serving dishes, a new scarf, several bottles of wine, a bottle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lots of pasta, canned tuna (for some reason Italy and Spain have awesome tuna), chocolate, cheese, and sausage.

Afterwards, we drank some wine from Sardinia, then had a fantastic dinner at the hotel restaurant.  I may not love Hotel Victoria’s charmless location, but it sure does have a fabulous restaurant.  The food is amazing and cheap.  And yes, shopping is also good, especially for staples that are easy to take home.  I’m really glad we brought the RAV4 instead of my little Mini.

Today, we head to Switzerland.  I look forward to beautiful mountain and lake views and a very plush (and expensive) hotel.  We’ll spend a couple of days there, then go home to Germany, pick up our dogs, and get ready for Christmas.

The front of the hotel…  hedge blocks the front.

And the neighborhood…

The mall, backlit by the sun.


The place where I had cheap pizza!

Got Parmesan?

Last night’s dinner.  We started with fried cheese, onion rings, and meat and olives.  

Bill had a sausage pizza.

And I had an enormous t-bone.  It wasn’t trimmed so well, so I didn’t eat all of it…  but this was huge!  The grilled vegetables and polenta were delicious.  Wish I could have taken it home.  I need to juice or something to get rid of all the good food I’ve had in Italy.

Bill’s sleepy smile.  Maybe he was a little drunk, too.

The restaurant was very busy last night.  Look at that parking lot!

Breakfast buffet.  I will sort of miss this.  I would have liked to have tried a few pastries.  Where we are going tonight, breakfast costs 39 Francs a person.  


All in all, it’s been a good week in Italy.  I wasn’t wild about this hotel, but it kind of grew on me.  I have a feeling we could be back, so if we are, I will make more of an effort to see more of the city.


A whirlwind trip to Austria, Italy, and probably Switzerland, part 5

I’m going to be very honest.  My initial impressions of the Hotel Victoria in Vicenza were not good.  This very large hotel is located in a rather depressing outskirts area of the city, next to a huge, half empty shopping mall.  When I compare it to the patrician beauty of Seefeld, it definitely falls short.  I was in a cranky mood when we first got to the hotel.  The room smelled a little funny and looked dated.  The view from the window sucks.

My view of Vicenza from the hotel.


And yet, it gets great reviews on Trip Advisor.  After being here a couple of days, I can sort of see why.  The staff is very pleasant and service oriented.  Breakfast is included and offers a number of different items, all of which are of good quality.  It’s got a fantastic restaurant with great food at low prices.  There’s a large pool for the hot summer months and an exercise room.  Parking is free and the mall, while depressing and decaying a bit, is very handy.  It’s especially nice if you like good quality wine for not many euros.  I do.

But anyway, Monday night, I was in a mood.  It was cold outside and I wasn’t feeling that great.  We needed to find some dinner, so Bill got a recommendation from the front desk guy who checked us in.  He recommended a place downtown.  Off we went in search of it.

It was dark, windy, and very chilly.  Traffic was utterly horrendous.  Bill was stressed out trying to avoid having an accident with drivers more aggressive than he’ll ever be.  He had a hard time finding parking until he finally parked on the side of the street.  We went looking for the restaurant, which we couldn’t find in the dark.  I was getting decidedly pissy because I just wanted to eat, get into my nightgown, and go to bed.  Bill had his mind set on finding the obscure restaurant out in the dark and cold.

Finally, he acquiesced when I said I just wanted to get out of there.  We headed back to the car, walked another block, and ended up at a place called the Pullmanbar.  It was dark and they were playing dance music.  I think the theme was vaguely train-like, though I didn’t see any train decor in there.  We were escorted to what looked like a glass enclosed outdoor patio.  It was heated by a masonry heater of some sort.  I see it used to be an “average bar”, but is now an upscale restaurant.  Indeed, the food we ate there was upscale.  So were the prices.

I was feeling very moody and I think the waiter must have sensed it, since we were seated in the back room.  It was no big deal, though.  I had a seat next to the window, where I could watch the brook/river rush by, lit up by streetlights.  I bet it’s beautiful on a sunny day.

An amuse from the kitchen.  Basically a salad on a crostini.

My starter.  A salad with little mounds of a spread made with cod fish.  I’m pretty sure the yellow things are crackers made of polenta.  They were light and airy, kind of like Bugles (the snacks).  The cod fish dip married well with them.  

Bill had a quinoa salad.

We both had the special, which was a local fish served with zucca (squash, though it tasted like sweet potatoes to me) and a radicchio cream.

This was pretty good for 15 euros.

And a lovely but somewhat overpriced bottle of wine…  35 euros!

I had creme brûlée for dessert…  

Bill had what amounted to an apple and raisin crumble.  


Total bill came to 105 euros.  It wasn’t the most expensive meal we’ve had, but it was probably more than we meant to spend.  Still, the food was very good and the service attentive and professional.  I’d go back again.

The outside.  I took this photo as we were passing.

I was in a better mood after dinner and the drive back to the hotel was not bad at all.  That put me in a better frame of mind for yesterday, when I finally started to write about this trip.


A whirlwind trip to Austria, Italy, and probably Switzerland, part 4

Yesterday morning, we got up, again our joints creaky from the mattress and our increasing ages.  We packed up all our stuff and put it in the car.  I was excited about the prospect of visiting Italy again.  Our last visit was in May 2013.  We flew to Venice, then took a train to Florence and Rome before we picked up a weeklong SeaDream cruise in Civitavecchia.

The visit before that one occurred in July 2009, when Bill, his mom, and I literally got stuck in Italy.  I had published the story on two different Web sites that have since gone *poof* or I would link to the story.  Long story short, Bill and I decided to take his mom on a whirlwind trip through five countries.  We ended up getting stuck in Italy after a summer storm flooded the autostrada near Lake Como.  We did manage to get out, but not before we spent the whole night trying to find an opening to the Swiss border.  It was a bit of a disaster.  We still talk about it a lot, though…  It’s not often that you can see Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Italy in less than 24 hours.  And on the way home, we went through France and had lunch, just so my mother-in-law could say she’d been there, too.

I think it’s safe to say that we like to travel by the seat of our pants.  So I was definitely ready to venture back to Italy and see this place called Vicenza, which I have heard so very much about.  Bill has a conference all week, so I pictured myself wandering around the city and making discoveries.  But first, we needed to stop by the Spar again.  I needed toiletries.

I picked up some toothpaste, lotion, and conditioner and we went to the checkout.  A strikingly pretty and surprisingly chipper young lady with dark brown hair and big expressive eyes was working the register.  We didn’t even have to open our mouths before she switched to English, with an apology, no less!  She asked if we were British people on holiday.  We said no, we came from Germany…  Then added that we are Americans.  She smiled, displaying two rows of perfect white teeth and said, “Oh, so you’re Americans who live in Germany and have come on holiday to Seefeld?”

“Yes.” I said…  That about summed it up, alright.  She wished us a pleasant day as we gathered my toiletries and headed for the door.

Just as Bill was about to climb into the RAV4, he realized that he had forgotten to turn in the hotel key.  He went back to the lobby, where the hotel owner had just arrived.  In German, he said he’d forgotten to give back the key.  The two snickering ladies who had been making fun of us for two days suddenly realized that Bill spoke some German.  I wasn’t there to see it, but Bill said their eyes got big and mouths dropped open in shock.  It was probably a fine Kodak moment.  All told, our two nights at Hotel Diana, including beer bath, two bottles of wine, and half board, came to about $450.

We got on the road and I entertained myself taking lots of pictures of the beautiful scenery.  As I mentioned before, Seefeld is up in the Alps, making it great for those who wish to ski.  However, good brakes are an absolute must because they will be taxed coming down the mountain.  There are many emergency escapes on the way down that are no doubt there because people have died or been hurt by brake failures.  I would not want to try driving up there in snowy or icy conditions, though I know people do it.  I can’t even imagine what it must be like for truck drivers bringing goods to the two Spars in Seefeld.  Must be a nightmare in the winter!  Anyway, the following pictures were taken on the way down.

One of the more obvious emergency pull offs…

Innsbruck in the distance.

I had to take a photo of this WC.  Back in 2009, I took a couple of tours through Edelweiss Lodge.  One was to Innsbruck and Crystal World and the other was to Bolzano and Vipiteno.  I see they have changed up some of the tours since then.  Anyway, we did stop at the rest area and I did use the bathroom with the big sign.  It was closed yesterday.  I noticed a sign in the restaurant next to it that read that anyone not eating or drinking has to pay 50 cents to pee.  


The area around the rest stop is absolutely stunning.  The mountains are very dramatic and gorgeous. But they do get you with a nine euro toll…

Italian border.

We stopped a little ways into Italy so I could have a pee break and we could both enjoy a cappuccino.  Sud Tyrol is as lovely as its Austrian neighbor.  And I was very impressed to see what was being sold in the convenience store.  There was bacon, ham, wines from the region, and cheeses.  I didn’t see any of the usual crap sold in truck stops/convenience stores.  I did get a kick out of the old guy who was collecting money for the freezing cold toilet.  Bill said he even patted him on the back because he managed to get the hand dryer working without assistance.

About an hour or so later, we decided to stop for lunch.  We were in a little town called Avia.  To get to the town, we had to go through a tunnel which allowed traffic to go one way at a time.

We were stuck behind this guy, who waved to a couple of folks passing by.  I figure he probably knows everyone in the town.

We had lunch at a trattoria called Statzione.  It was located right by the train station, hence the name.  We walked into the place and it was clear that it was full of locals.  Everybody stared as we took a seat in the corner.  It turned out it was one of those places where they serve a special and a couple of other choices.

Bill ordered a half liter of house wine… and a bottle of sparkling water.  The wine came in the pretty carafe.

Bill looks handsome as heck.  

I had a plate of penne pasta with bacon cream sauce (hello arteries) and Bill had penne pasta with cheese sauce, kind of like Alfredo…  We could have also had salad, but opted not to.  The cost for lunch was just 18 euros!  Cheap!

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the colorful toilet seat in the ladies room.  The men’s room also had one.

A shot of the outside of the trattoria.


We got back on the road and headed further south.  From Austria to Avia, we paid 13 euros in tolls.  We got another ticket for the rest of the way, making only one last pee stop at an Autogrill.  It was free to pee, but they made you walk the gauntlet past all the shit they were selling.  Everything from wine, to chocolates, to dehydrated mushrooms!  I didn’t mind, though.  In fact, I was a little tempted.

We arrived at Hotel Victoria in the mid afternoon.  I had already read some disturbing reports about this hotel.  Now that I’ve been here a night, I see it’s basically a big PCS hotel… the kind of place where Americans stay while settling in Vicenza.  It’s not far from the US installation.  Still, it’s not the kind of place I would have booked.  We are here because it’s convenient and what Bill’s work will pay for.

This picture is over our bed.

The furnishings are dated and a bit depressing, but the hotel has a self service laundry, a nice restaurant with good food, decent breakfast which is included and, in the summer, there’s a big pool with lifeguards.  More on this in the next post…