II - The long road journey from Basel, south to the Italian Lakes
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I - The Long Journey from the UK to Kas, Turkey begins.
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III - The Long Journey from Venice to the east.
Log Entry Thursday 2nd May - We call in at Sirmione on the south of Garda on our way to Venice.
We are leaving Lake Garda today and making for Venice, en route we are driving around the north of the lake down the west bank and stopping at Sirmione on the south shore. Sirmione sits on a peninsular with protrudes a couple of miles out into the lake, should be of interest? It takes almost two hours to cover the 50 miles, plenty of scenery to keep one occupied.
It is claimed that the settlement here has been in place since the stone age, pictures of the castle featured in most Italian holiday brochures.
A gruesome history: Scaliger Castle, this fortification, surrounded by water, was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. Although the struggles between the Ghibellines and Guelphs featured largely in the history, the original military adventure onto the peninsula was to wipe out the population of Sirmione, who were heretic Cathars and 2,000 of whom were subsequently burned at the stake in the Arena in Verona. The castle was maintained and extended first as part of the Veronese protection against their rivals in Milan and later under the control of the Venetian inland empire. After another fortification was built at nearby Peschiera, the castle lost its importance and was used as a storage depot. It was taken into government ownership at the start of the 20th century.
Today it is a pleasant peaceful place spend a couple of hours at least, the surrounding castle moat fed from the lake is full of fish feeding from the tourtist's offerings.
The structure has survived well through history, and has developed further around the tourist industry today, magnificant hotels and restaurants squeezed inside the old walls without too much impact on it's character?
From the castle walls we walk behind the old town and visit the church of San Pietro in Mavino, built in Lombard times but renovated in the 14th century. It has frescoes from the 12th-16th centuries, while the Romanesque bell tower is dated from 1070
The picturesque town and it's interesting past is well worth a visit we are glad we stopped by, we now leave the town to make our way to Venice, a further 100 miles on.
Log Entry Wednesday 1st May - We visit Malcesine on the central west shore of Lake Garda.
Malcesine is a ski resort during the whiter months and as the snow clears it operates as an "Panoramic View Centre" and rightly so, we found it well worth a visit.
There are two stages to the cable car system which was updated in 2011 to the modern version of today.
As you climb all around becomes an attraction even with our slightly reduced visibility, Malcesine gradually disappearing into the distance.
As you enter the second stage it is clearly people do actually live at this altitude all year round, dwellings serviced by single dirt tracks fed to a single narrow tarmac road surface winding up the mountain side. The lift system takes you to the top of "Monte Baldo" 1760 meters above sea level.
Once at the top the views into the local mountains and into the Alps far off are excellant, a very busy attraction to all nationalities.
The ski lifts on the slops now clearly shut for the closed skiing season, not being a skier it is difficult to image how people glide down slopes of this magnitude without killing themselves, or others too often anyway? The degree of vegetation surprised me, even at this altitude, snow drop type flowers could be seen.
The whole area was quite breath taking, in all directions, some individuals could be seen walking for miles into the distance, we had even passed two chaps walking up the mountain side under the cable car, cyclists could be seen on the narrow lane feeding the mountain and dwellings on the hillside.
Ann obviously had to make a snowball? One sad reminder of the strength of nature was a small church/shrine, dedicated to those that had fallen on the mountain over time. The summit area was well serviced with small bars and restaurants, most quite busy?
After a warming coffee, we had taken fleeced which were needed on the peak, it was time to return down and look around the town of Malcesine itself.
Malcesine is definitely a town of two parts, the outer area modern and quite empty but as you pass through the archway under the castle area it opens up a busy, very industrious area full of bars, cafes small shops etc, and of coarse lots of people?
Once inside the old walls every where seems busy, outside we must have walked past numerous cafes and small shops, most empty?
Every narrow street seems to lead you down hill towards the waterfront of Lake Garda, the nearer the water, the busy it becomes. One eventually ends up at a small quay where the ferries drop off and pickup almost continuously depositing cash into the town.
Once finished in the old town being fed and watered, we make our way back around the base of the castle back to the car and make for home.
Log Entry Tuesday 30th April - We head north into the mountains to Verone and further north to Bollino for lunch. (148)
Our day is governed by the rain, we are sick of hearing "this is not normal for May?" We will head into the mountains and visit "Grotto Cascata Verone" to the north, it boasts a magnificant waterfall, the water originating further north still from "Lago Trento" and finishing it's flow into Lake Garda. We drive from Torbole, through "Riva Del Garda" and on towards Trento, eventually reaching Verone.
The drive to the grotto is quite a challenge, narrow winding roads most at a significant rate of climb, it takes us almost an hour to cover the 17 miles, beautiful scenery to the eyes even with the low cloud. Eventually we reach the grotto and find it very easy to park, to front of the caves is a restaurant, and gardens. The history of the development of the attraction began in the 1870's, it is clear to see the time and effort put in place.
A section of the waterfall has been captured to create a private power plant to service completely a small paper mill down below.
The waterfall is set at three levels but the spray is so heavy one dares not use the camera in most of the area. It is wetter in the caves than outside in the rain!
It's gardens are well set out in "different countries" of vegetation all clearly labeled, a pleasant pathway created full of colour all year round apparently. The strange this is the restruant is entirely outside, one cannot even have a coffee in the dry - still they do sell waterproof ponchos!
We decide to venture further into the mountains to gain more of an in site of the terrain, as we climb we meet a crew of German cyclists from our campsite in Torbole - amazing?
We drive through a town aptly named "Castallo", it's centre a grand castle converted into a large restaurant not yet open, or at least at lunch time?
Our drive takes us to Bollino, a small town with the road narrowing and winding through, we stop for coffee and decide on a light lunch.
The food was good the staff spoke a little English which helped, it was amazing as to how many guests they had, two trucks of workmen had passed us earlier, and here they were for lunch. every one seems to know each other? It must be a little bleak in the winter?
Our return was just as pretty, amazing country side.
Log Entry Monday 29th April - The rain stops enough to allow us a look around Torbole. (132)
We arrived here late last night, today seems a lot brighter this morning. Torbole is at the very north of Lake Garda where the Rio Garda deposits into the lake. It is clearly an outdoor area, primarily "mountain cycling" and secondary "water based" activities. It is amazing where we meet these almost extremely cyclists, often on climbs on which the car takes it's time. There is a massive industry built around it from supply, to cycle tours and even shuttles to other associated areas? Our campsite is located off the northern shore just behind the small old port, built once to support the fishing industry now as in many regions, pleasure.
The small port is very attractive, surrounded by mountains, their tips still covered in snow in areas.
The entire lake is covered in beauty, our imagination is called upon at times due to the amount of low cloud etc.
The town boasts a small pebble beach, being extended as we pass, that, plus lakeside cafes add to its attraction.
Garda, as all of these lakes, is serviced with numerous ferries and water taxi, all adds to the character.
The small town is extremely clean and well maintained, maintaining it's true Italian look while modernising and keeping up with the demand of the growing public with hotels, bars and restaurants - very pleasant!
Log Entry Sunday 28th April - We drive to Lake Garda, still very wet!
We have had at Lake Maggiore now three days and nights of almost non-stop, torrential rainfall, so heavy during the night at times the noise of the rain hitting the tent wakes us up? The tent has however kept us warm and dry, we have been holding on for a promised break in the rain to allow us to visit the beautiful islands of the lake but today's forecast promises more thunder storms for the next 3/4 days. Looking ahead to our next intended stop, Lake Garda's weather is looking only slightly better so we decide to make a move and head for Garda rather than sitting here for a further 3/4 days with fingers crossed? We pack up in between the heavy showers and pack the car best we can to take us the next 160 miles to Lake Garda.
The drive was a complete mix of weather from downpours, showers, very low cloud as we climbed into the mountains, but no sunshine - what a place?
Our route was to take us south, then just north of Milan we would turn east driving along the base of the mountain range. In time we then turned north heading back into the mountains to the very north section of Lake Garda.
As the day passed the traffic gained in volume and the weather improved, eventually arriving in Torbole at the very northerly point of Garda.
The campsite we were heading for "Camping Al Porto" was easy to find and very pleasantly located, central to the town and backs onto the lakeside. Kevin soon makes new friends (poor boy, I worry about him?) then it's off to town for our first true "Italian Pizza".
Log Entry Friday 26th April - We drive to Lake Como - it is now very wet!
We had torrential down pours all through the night, lightening lit the tent up numerous time, Ann and I were dry and warm so that is all that mattered? The rain is ahead of us too for the next couple of days, our next stop was to be Lake Como (Italy) then on to Garda - whether we sit in rain here or there is irrelevant to us? We are awake to the sounds of a delivery being made to a house on the hillside, a delivery by helicopter. It was hard to see what it was but the helicopter made several visits dropping of some thing on pallets. We have seen fires extinguished in many countries using helicopters but never deliveries, I suppose wagons could not make it, must be expensive?
We had planned to stop next at Lake Como, the lake is only just over 20 miles away, so to pass the time in the current bad weather we thought we would drive there, have a look around and return later that evening. The drive would take us around the south of Lake Maggiore and then over the hillside allowing us to see a bit more of the local area from the dry car. As we approach Luino (Italy) we pull over and take some more pictures, the interesting thing is that in the 9 miles between our site in Switzerland and Luino in Italy, we pass through 3 boarder control stations, each one manned by Swiss and Italian, not once are we asked to pull over just waved through in a very polite manner.
We make Lake Como in about 40 minutes, this lake unlike Maggiore is very densely populated, both living and commercial, the roads are badly congested, you can tell when you are approaching a built up area as the traffic begins to "gather". We drive through Maroggia, Melide and Casore before we decide "enough is enough" and turn around, the congestion is annoying, and we have "rush hour" only a couple of hours away? We stop for a coffee and have a very interesting conversation with Italian proprietor, he tells us the weather has been very bad this year and is damaging his business, we debate whether it is global or not? We then decide to try and make our way through the suburb developments, fantastic areas once through the commercial areas to find the lakeside itself.
We manage to find a small hamlet by the lake side and take some lunch and of coarse take pictures. We are quite disappointed with this area, we much prefer Lake Maggiore where we are pitched, the Como region appears to have developed beyond belief, without a following infrastructure? We say our goodbyes to the area and return to our site in Switzerland.
When we return to the our pitch it is clear that the rain is here to stay for some time, just a case of keeping ourselves busy until it passes or we decide to move on.
Log Entry Thursday 25th April - We drive around Lake Maggiore to Lucano.
We wake to a glorious morning, warm sunshine bright and early, we sit out and enjoy our breakfast.
Always jobs to do, feed our friends, the Sparrows and chaffinch can be coaxed almost to our feet, we put plant in the sunshine to warm up.
We drive across the other side of Lake Maggiore to Lucano, we need a couple of things from a hardware store and some more fruit and bits and pieces. There are supermarkets here, the small shops where we are pitched are extremely expensive as one would expect?
As we pull up and park just off the town quay, the car tells us it is now 31C - we can live with that! Lucano has a sizeable ferry port servicing the lakeside towns and three islands on the lake, Isola Bella, Isola Dei Pescatori and Isola Madre.
Due to the temperatures there is plenty of activity on the water, even the odd luney in the water?
The lakeside promenade is a very attractive place to walk, beautifully maintained, pretty to the eye. We check out ferry times to visit the islands, it is too late in the day to visit today, perhaps tomorrow, weather permitting?
So, it is back to the campsite, sit back and relax with a couple of beers, and watch the world go by, time to relax!
Log Entry Wednesday 24th April - We leave Basel, Switzerland and head south towards the Swiss/Italian lakes.
The drive from Basel to Lake Maggiore is about 4 hours, the main issue ahead is where to cross the Alps, we hope for one of the scenic crossings, but as a "backstop" we head towards the "St Gotthard Pass" providing us with a guaranteed crossing without too much of a detour.
We head south, staying off the majority of the motorways, taking in some of the Swiss countryside, in time the Alps come into view
As we approach the Gotthard Pass the mountains become much better defined, their beauty not really captured fully in the photographs?
We head off into the hillside, onto our intended scenic crossing, from where we were it did not look too bad, not a great deal of snow?
Then to our disappointment we round a corner, passing one of the many picturesque hydro-electric power stations unfortunately we are stopped by a barrier closed across the road in front of us - our target pass closed!
We turn our trusty little car around and point it towards St Gotthard Pass, time passes quickly now as we travel through the many tunnels cut through the mountains, one 7km long.
We arrive at our target lakeside site and are very pleased with it, well except for the price, 43 Swiss Francs per night, approximately £30/night? We haggle a little and make a little reduction, this is an expensive area, and of coarse it is in Switzerland! We were charged €55 for the car, said to be a road tax as we crossed the German/Swiss boarder. Amazing when you think most countries have some form of fee for using their roads, rightly so, but a foreign car coming into the UK is free!
I ask the lady in the office, just for clarification, "are we in Switzerland or Italy?" as every one for some miles has been talking Italian, but taking our Swiss Francs, I apologise for my ignorance. I am told "we have Swiss here that think they are in Italy just because every one speaks Italian!" Well, it made us laugh?
We very quickly settle in, the proprietor is extremely helpful which always helps - I very quickly make friends and even "Baylis" our meercat seems quite settled here?
We sit outside and watch the sun set.