Thursday, September 17, 2009

On the recommendation of locals

Hotel Internazionale in Domodossola - it was nice knowing you, but we hope that we never have to see you again. The rain has stopped and the air is so clean and clear. There is plenty of water still around - some of the waterfalls are still running, but most have dwindled away by this morning. There are however, still plenty of clouds snaking through the valleys. And those big fluffy cottontails just don't want to leave. Even though they have emptied their watery loads, they love these mountains and now frame them beautifully against the clear blue sky.

So we're off on the road to . . . Milano - yet again, ughggh. Thankfully this time we are skirting around the northern edges. We seem to be doing the groundhog day thing again, and we are feeling a little crazy (hehe hoho haha) and so here are some of the songs that remind us of Milano as we head across the motorway to the north:
I Can't Take my Hands off you, I Put a Spell on You, Ring A Ring A Rosie, Route 66, Devil Gate Drive, Highway to Hell and finally Under my Skin!

We are not un-happy as we turn on to yet another motorway and head for Venezia. But its not too far down the road when again we are caught in a Milano special - a traffic jam. But wait, far far ahead, we see a thick column of black billowing smoke. Hhm - something major going on up there. We hear a siren and along comes the fire tender, screaming up the highway verge - just as well - there was nowhere for any of the other cars to go. It takes us the better part of ¾ hour to reach the source - a truck fire. Poor bastard. Luckily the driver has been able to disengage the prime mover and move it away slightly. Plumes of acrid black smoke were followed by the lingering white smoke that showed no signs of abating. Looked like it might have been car parts or maybe even crushed cars in the back of the pantech, but we will never know - they were too charred and still smoking heavily (obviously no-one had told them that smoking is bad for their health - ha ha). Once passed, it is open those engines baby and lets keep moving!

We start to get sneak previews of regional villages appearing beyond the boundaries of the motorway guard rails. Lots of church clock towers and the gelati colours of painted houses under their terracotta tiled hats. Very picturesque. We rush through the outskirts of Brescia - separated from the busy life that is apparent by the motorway walls. There are big marble factories in lines along the roadways with the mountain sides raped of their precious innards in the distance beyond them. Life here looks very industrious. And in the centre distance, the domes of Brescia, while on the hills surrounding the city there is the Via Musei which was built atop the earlier Roman forum. Brescia was also once known for it's high quality furniture industry.

At the base of the peninsula into Lago Garda, ran a Roman road connecting the cities of Verona and Brescia and Sirmione was a stop for travelers with a number of mansions built there. Today, Sirmione is at first glance flat and touristy. Dry and uninteresting. BUT once we got down to the peninsula that joins the mainland and could first smell and then see the water, all that changed. We enter the peninsula through a residential area that has palatial homes and a road divided by trees and garden beds. It is amazing how much cooler it is when you get off the autostrada and under some trees. Its not long before we get down on the waterfront, past one of the marinas with millions of dollars at rest, waiting for some elusive breeze and their keen weekend sailor owners. Here come the hotels. Not one, not two, not even twenty - more like 200! But do you think we can find Hotel Le Paül? Kate assures us that we "have arrived at our destination" but we can't see it anywhere. Takes us a little while to work out that the street numbers are at the high end where we are, whereas we need no. 26. Oh, be quiet, the street numbering is far from great!

Hotel Le Paül seems a bit special at first with lots of spa-type promos in windowed boxes and even in the lift - you know the sort, the perfect beauty of a well aligned back with the stones tracing the spine, or the oil-sprayed, liposuctioned and sculptured body that suggestively poses the massage services. Hmmm. What have we got ourselves in for? A lovely relaxing massage? No - they are not at the hotel, but at another centre in town. Bugger, oh well. Our room overlooks the pool where there is a man lying legs askew on a sun lounge below us. The room is comfortable enough, but hey, we are not here for the room. I enquire as to dinner only to be told that the restaurant is full for the night! There are a whole heap of scout leaders here, so maybe we should blame them!

After we unload the car at the hotel, we head down towards the old town. Despite the main tourist season being officially over, there are still plenty of people and groups on buses moving through here. We park just back from the waterside and head further down the peninsula on foot. At this point there is quite a heavy covering of trees and we don't see very far up the street. At the end of the road, we finally get our first glimpse of what Rosaria was getting excited about - a small walled city complete with Castle just inside the bridge through the gate. Helen goes very quiet. Took us a while before we realised that she had not seen a walled town before - LET ALONE A CASTLE!!!! And the place is absolutely crawling!

A quick stop at a local cafe called The Bounty for a snack before we go exploring, and Helen is as happy as a pig in mud. Finally she gets someone to make an iced coffee - Australian style, on milk and not just on ice. It looks and tastes so good that after a while I order one as well. The service however is terrible - all the wait staff are disdainful of the tourists. Pity, because the food was tasty.

And so over to the Castle. The Sirmione Castle (also called the Rocca Scalgera) sits on Lago di Garda. The castle was constructed in fits and starts from the 13th Century - yep, about 800 years ago. It has unusual crenellations - probably the most decorative that we have seen in our travels to date. And yet this was a defensive working castle, built to protect the town from attack from across the Lake. The castle was built by a rich family from Verona to show off their wealth. The castle is said to be one of the best, if not possibly, the best preserved castle in all of Italy. Its ideal location on the peninsula has offered the castle the protection that it has needed over the years. Michael and Helen climb the donjon - the sightseeing tower for fantastic views of the walled ravelins that bring the lake into the castle as well as out over the roofs of the town to the lake itself. It really is quite a view and for Helen, a new challenged conquered. There are about 150 steps up - firstly to the battlements on the wall and then up inside the tower through the two rooms that once would have housed the noble family.

Back on ground level, Public Art abounds in Sirmione at the moment. There are a mob of bright Meerkats in the main square that takes our fancy and I made sure I got a photo of Helen 'doing the meerkat!' Later in the afternoon when we are wandering the back streets of Sirmione, we see this 'Kiss ... Please' sign in a very picturesque corner looking out of the Lake and Michael and I are compelled to obey! Its also nice to see that i this old old town, where the locals have such beautiful places to sit and chatter, that modern technology keeps them connected to a much busier place beyond te walls.

Those back streets hold amazing jewels shining on the shores of the Lake. There is Church, lots of upmarket shops that obviously cater to the well-to-do tourists who come to enjoy the spa waters as well as the fantastic setting, gelateria after gelateria all vying for the trade - most sell a good variety and at this time of the year, the cones are piled high as people enjoy not only the weather but also exotic ice cream flavours. We follow suit and take our cones out across the plaza to the ferry mooring point. The late afternoon is beautiful. There is a soft breeze wafting off the water that tempers the warmth of the slowly dipping sun. The water glistens, broken only by the occasional ferry or fishing boat that cuts across our view. Children and adults alike feed ducks off the pier and the flags of the nearby marina wave in the breeze. Ah, what better can there be to do than enjoy a fresh ice cream in a crisp cone by the water - nothing I suspect.

We hear before we see a number of rally cars arrive. Hels gets excited. Michael and I don't!! We must be such bores to not get excited by cars - she can't wait to get home to her bright green Ford GTP - something XR or Z or Y or whatever. Ah - my friend the petrol-head! Michael is however interested in the Jaguar 4 that parks down near the water.

And after an afternoon exploring the town, we head back to the hotel where we are given directions to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The Ristorante Erica is as busy as. They cater to groups and there is a bus group of Italian pensioners off to one side as we enter. Despite being busy though, our waiters are pleasant and helpful. Michael began with Polpo caldo con patate (warm octopus salad with potatoes). Helen and I forgo entrees. For Mains we order:
Luccio de Garda alla piccole verdure (Lake Garda pike with vegetables) Michael
Trancio di salmone alla griglia (Grilled salmon steak) Helen
Medaglioni di filetto di maiale al pepe rosa e pinoli (Medallions of pork fillet with pink peppercorns and pine kernels) Maria
To share we also order Patate rosolate (browned potatoes) and Verdure alla griglia (grilled vegetables).

All yummy - and it is nice to taste the local foods. So we head back through the haze that are clouds of midges with me scratching my head to the hotel. Tomorrow will be a big day - through Verona for a little while before we hit Venice.

1 comment:

SJ said...

great shots. liking the clear blur sky.

From me to you, suejean =)