A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

La Lupa

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We take off this morning for Italy and drive a long, long way. The rains have continued with gusto and our little Fiesta eventually becomes an ark that carries us across the border into Italy. Off in the distance, huge bolts of lightning are striking the top of the Dolomites and the thunder rocks our car. Scott appears to feel no fear as we cruise on what is now called the Autostrade at speeds of 160 kph. The monasteries and churches we pass cause me to briefly reconsider Catholicism and I wonder whether there is a safety saint upon whom I should be calling.

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Scott has a friend who has arranged for us to stay in a bed and breakfast an hour outside of Venice. We arrive around 5:00 but spend an hour trying to figure out how to locate their home. Finally, after three unsuccessful requests for directions, I spot an intelligent looking fellow coming out of a municipal building. I show him the address and he points to his Audi and indicates that he will drive me there. Desperate, I slip in beside him and gesture for Scott to follow. He might be an ax murderer but at this point, we no longer care.

As it turns out, he is actually the mayor of this town and he tells me in a wonderful broken English about his community and the people with whom we’ll be staying. We travel down multiple winding roads and then he gestures to a small sign that indicates we’ve arrived. Dogs bark, and two sweet people who could be our parents come to greet us and let us into the gates of the home. “Problemo?” she asks. We nod wearily and she opens her arms and welcomes us. They speak just us much English and we speak Italian but Langston with his ten years of Spanish serves as an interpreter and we do very well communicating with one other.

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After serving our entire family glasses of local Prosecco (which causes the eyes of both Analiese and Langston to water profusely), they send us back into town for dinner where we have our first pizza and our first chianti. We return that evening to sleep on linen sheets with the window open to the warm evening breezes. Our room looks over the region and we can see red tiled roofs, olive trees, vineyards, and a beautiful river that flows through the valley. Tomorrow we will take the train into Venice but for tonight, we sleep soundly and gratefully.

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Posted by Queen Anne 14:12 Archived in Italy Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Rignano sull'Arno


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We reluctantly leave Franco’s home around 10:00 this morning and head west. We are planning to take few days simply to relax and have found a place to rent in Rignano Sull'arno– a small village thirty minutes outside of Florence. The landscape has changed dramatically – Scott compares it to San Francisco except that it is dotted with tall pines and crumbling villas that let you know you are unmistakably entering Tuscany.

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We learn that it is almost impossible to get a building permit in Tuscany so new construction is invariably a remodel of an existing structure. In our case, we end up in a 15th century farmhouse that has been converted to apartments. There is a pool and shutters on our windows to keep the heat of the day out and we settle in to read books, play games, and swim.

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I’m delighted to have a kitchen and Lang and I head to the local grocery store and come home with tomatoes, olive oil, wine, bread, and a huge block of parmesan. Herbs are planted around our apartment and I concoct an easy meal that we enjoy under umbrellas out of doors. My children have rarely experienced sun like this and they can’t stop getting in and out of the pool just to feel the seductive pleasure of the water on their skin being absorbed by the heat of the day. Scott and I have discovered Stieg Larsson and have stopped talking to each other except to negotiate who will replenish the wine.

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We decide that we’ll head into Florence tomorrow. Or the next day. Or maybe the next…

Posted by Queen Anne 14:49 Archived in Italy Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Salzburg

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Salzburg is a gorgeous little town that was lucky enough to have the family of Mozart take up residence within its city walls. An entire industry has developed around Wolfgang and it is impossible to pass a store without seeing some reference to the famous composer. We try his chocolate, spray on his perfume, visit his birthplace, admire his violin, wrap our necks in scarves with his image, and eventually cover our head with an umbrella imprinted with his music.

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It’s initally sunny in Salzburg but begins pouring by midafternoon and Analiese and I decide to hide out in a pink and white coffee shoppe serving saccretorte and merengue while Lang and Scott make their way to yet another castle. We have grown weary of castle hopping and are delighted to spend the afternoon people watching and drinking coffee. Around us, we see people scurrying to concerts, cellos slung across their backs and violins poking out of their satchels. The Salzburg Music Festival is in full swing and musicians and patrons from around the world are in town to participate. Through the open windows of buildings, we hear the strains of Mozart in the air.

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One curious thing that both Scott and I keep encountering is standoffish-ness bordering on rude in the people who provide services. It is our first experience on this trip with feeling unwelcome and eventually I ask a friendly bookstore owner if she can help me understand. She explains that the patrons of the Salzburg Music Festival descend on the city each summer with lots of money to spend and a high degree of expectation for service. In no time, the shop owners and waiters and hotel clerks are feeling like servants. As well, the tickets for the Festival are very expensive and few in the city can afford to attend, so there is a resentment that grows during the summer as the city is overtaken with thousands of tourists enjoying a Festival that your average Salzburgian will never hear. She explains that we are seen as part of this crowd and are getting the treatment. But she assures me that the Austrians are actually a very warm hearted bunch who might be initially a bit guarded but will quickly open their hearts when they sense your appreciation. We thank her for the insight and we double our efforts to be gracious and appreciative.

The last time I was in Salzburg, I was with my sister-in-law, and I find myself thinking about her all day. Since entering this part of the world I’ve seen reminders of her everywhere – JOOP perfume, orange picnics tables with folding green legs, beer coasters, and wool clothing. Linda had a remarkable eye for spotting and collecting those things that gave pleasure to everyday life and I am struck by how much I miss her. I have wished all day that she could be with us and I feel her presence so strongly, that I wonder if she is.

As evening closes in, we spend the night in a restaurant just outside the main shopping district of Salzburg. Since we enter Italy tomorrow and will no longer have easy access to Bavarian beers on tap, Scott reluctantly agrees to order two or three more steins. We’re the only ones in the back part of this restaurant and our host is genial, so we take out a deck of cards and play until our food arrives. One of my tacit goals on this trip has been to impart the fine art of card playing to my children and I’m delighted to find that they both have a talent for calculating strategies and counting cards. Sadly, the beer has done nothing for Scott’s ability to track what’s been played and he loses badly (but cheerfully.)

Dinner over, we open our Mozart umbrellas and make our way back to the hotel in the rain. The concierge snarls at us as we enter the hotel but we smile kindly, hum a little Mozart, and head to our room.

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Posted by Queen Anne 14:38 Archived in Austria Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Castle Neuschwanstein

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Several years ago, someone gave us a coffee table book with a picture of Castle Neuschwanstein inside and Langston has had a hankering to go ever since. We decide to delay Salzburg for a day and head south to visit the famous castle of King Ludwig.

I first encountered Mad Ludwig when I was studying music as an undergrad. Because of his influence on opera, a picture of him – raving and cartoonish – usually appears in music history books of this period. The second son of Maximilian the II of Bavaria, Ludwig took the throne by default when his older brother was deemed mentally unstable and incapable of ruling. Forced into this position at age 18, Ludwig was more artist than ruler and one of his first acts was to summon Richard Wagner to his courts and to commence commissioning works. Wagner's operas were the pinnacle of artistic expression for Ludwig - vast enough in score and scale to capture his romantic vision. And for Wagner, Ludwig's patronage was the perfect solution to the weighty debts he had accumulated in his early years. This partnership influenced 19th century music in a powerful way, making it possible for Wagner’s massive works to come to fruition.

Ludwig's Neuschwanstein is a shrine to Wagner. Each room depicts themes from his operas and the sheer level of thought with which he pays homage to his hero is awe inspiring. Swans from Lohengrin are carved into the woodwork, an actual grotto from Tannhauser with a plans for rainbow creator connects two rooms, and a massive chandelier in the shape of a Parsifal crown hangs over one of the most gorgeous mosaic floors ever created. For not the first time, I regretted not knowing more about this period of opera as there were references just waiting to be decoded almost everywhere we looked. The castle, though never completed, amazes. Even more amazing, it’s just one of the castles he had built during his short reign.

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While building elaborate castles at tremendous public cost is probably not the best way for a King to endear himself to his subjects, his determination to carry out an artistic vision left the world with these glorious monstrosities that have more than paid for themselves many time over through the 6000 tourists who visit them daily. But at the time, they probably cost him his life…he was found floating face down in a body of water not too long after his advisors accused him of insanity. A cross is planted in the water where his body was found.

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Langston commented that you can't help but be a little bit happy that someone with his eccentric interests and taste held the country’s purse strings long enough to create these architectural wonders. It made us think again about the artistic decisions we make in our daily lives. Practicalities are usually the rule for us but every once in a while, we throw caution to the wind and invest in something for the sheer joy of owning that which brings us aesthetic satisfaction. We agreed that they are decision we rarely come to regret.

Hopefully, Ludwig felt the same.

Posted by Queen Anne 14:08 Archived in Germany Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Munich

Beer is the Sister of the Sausage -- from our menu in munich

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As we were planning this trip, at least one of my friends suggested it best to skip Bavaria altogether due to its food which she deemed bland and unimaginative. But I disagree. I love this food – it reminds me of a cool Autumn night – and I keep my ear tuned all day as we walk the streets of Munich, for the sounds of accordion music that signal we are approaching another restaurant churning out schnitzel with noodles. Fortunately, the whole family seems to share my taste and we stumble happily home each evening full of sausages and pretzels with resolutions to cut back the next day.

Somewhere in Munich

Somewhere in Munich

Breakfast

Breakfast

But satisfying cuisine is not all that Munich has to offer. We do all the typical tourist things – the Glockenspiel, the technological museum, and our fair share of walking the streets to admire the architecture. Analiese and I are taken by the shopping and we spend an afternoon cruising through stores where I repeatedly wonder whether the sturdy Bavarian clothing that I so admire would look peculiar in Seattle. As I’ve lost all perspective, Analiese takes the reins and convinces me that there is no really no way to work a dirndl into my wardrobe.

On our last day, Lang and I take a trip to Dachau. We head out on the train -- it is a sunny afternoon and there are tourists from all over the world who are sitting near us, their conversations, like ours, lively and animated. But it is different on the ride home. The cognitive dissonance that such a place creates leaves us troubled and we and our fellow passengers ride the train back to Munich, quiet and contemplative. It is impossible to make sense of such a despairing place but our minds nevertheless wrestle with how such a failure of empathy can occur. DSCF6204.jpg

We are leaving tomorrow for Salzburg and we spend our last night sitting outside enjoying a music festival. The festival is taking place on a back street in Munich and appears to be attended only by locals who share their sausages and local riesling with us. It is a warm summer evening and the people are lighthearted and joyful. The men are flirting with their wives and the musicans, all in lederhosen, sing and invite us to dance We are grateful to be part of this summer happiness but we are also looking ahead to next week when we will be in Italy with books and Chianti. We dig out the sunscreen when we get home and get ready again for the Autobahn.

Posted by Queen Anne 10:52 Archived in Germany Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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