The Four B’s: Brixen, Bressanone, Bolzano, Bassano del Grappa

There is something about a snowy day in New Jersey that gets me thinking about our Northern Italy trip, which is a good thing, because those days wandering among these “B” towns definitely belong with my on-line memories.

Our base for our last days was the Goldene Krone Vital Hotel in Brixen/Bressanone. Yes, the town has two names, an Italian one and a German one. Like a few other areas on our lovely planet, this ground had been fought over many times, with the conquerors imposing their language and customs on the conquered. For the current inhabitants of German/Austrian ancestry, the preferred name is Brixen. The Italians opt for Bressanone.

Regardless of what you call it, the town is absolutely charming. We were lucky enough to be there during some kind of street fair. There was music, food and of course, lots of beer.

This alpine town is famous for its very realistic wood carvings. Admit it, if you look quickly, doesn’t this man and his dog look real? I was almost fooled. (But then, that’s not all that difficult to do.

At night, the streets quieted down, but the shops and restaurants were still open and within walking distance of our hotel. We took advantage of a “dinner on our own” night to enjoy a fantastic wine cellar type meal with two of the new friends we made on this trip–Julie and Roger. My only regret is I didn’t write down the name of that fantastic restaurant!

Our first hike, oh so many days ago, was in the Swiss Alps. Now we were given the opportunity to experience the Dolomites. We could either ride a lift way up the mountain to a station hiding in the cleft between the two peaks on the right, or we could go for a hike –but we clearly wouldn’t get as far up. Mike rode; I hiked.

It was hard to believe that it had snowed two days before we arrived, unless you chose to walk–then you were slipping and sliding on a trail that was quite muddy. Any guesses as to who ended up with a muddy butt?

This was the first year the trip was offered by OAT, so the itinerary was still being modified, based on feedback from prior travelers. One wonderful addition was a visit to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, home of Otzi, the “ice man”.

Otzi was found by two German hikers in 1991. What the archaeologists have been able to learn from that discovery is truly amazing. From his remains, they were able to recreate a model showing what they believe Otzi looked like. His tools, weapons, clothes and even the contents of his stomach were incredibly well preserved–for about 4,000 YEARS! Yikes.

The exhibits are accompanied by interesting explanations of what you are viewing. I apologize for the crooked photos that follow. I didn’t want to be a jerk, blocking the exhibits while I attempted to grab a perfectly centered, nicely squared off photo, but I figure you’ll get the idea.

The researchers finally determined Otzi was murdered, and that he probably bled to death from the arrow wound in his shoulder. But Otzi didn’t give up without a fight. From DNA analysis, scientists determined that there were traces of blood from at least four other people on his knife, coat and an arrowhead. Can you tell I really loved that museum?

Fast forward several thousands years to Bassano del Grappa. Over all those centuries, man’s inhumanity to man hasn’t changed.

You can still see the bullet holes in some of the the buildings in Bassano del Grappa’s old town from WWII, when the Italian partisans battled the Nazis.

This plaque tells the story about what happened along the river in 1944.

The trees from which the young Italians were hanged have been turned into memorials.

We all know how devastating WWII was, but when you see the long row of trees, each festooned with photos, names, dates and flowers, you get a feel for the very personal pain felt by the families in this area.

The town of Bassano del Grappa is also noted for (guess what) grappa, and we got to sample some after lunch at the Nardini Distillery. I’ll be honest. I didn’t like it. I’m more of a Franciacorta girl.

Overall, this was a wonderful trip to a part of Italy that I knew very little about. Next trip– to a different continent!

Maximizing Your Travel Dollars

We LOVE to travel, so I’m always looking for ways to maximize our dollars without sacrificing our experiences. Now that we are rapidly approaching the three quarters of a century mark, some of the things we found satisfactory when we were much younger aren’t quite so appealing now. These days, we are not interested in hostels or camping, but fortunately there are many other ways to make travel more affordable. One of them is find a travel company that meets your needs and then stick with them. More and more are offering loyalty programs to encourage you to look no further than their offerings.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that Mike and I have used a variety of companies, but lately we have found that OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) has been providing maximum value for our travel dollars. We like the small group size, the itineraries, the guides, the activity level, and for us, the right balance of free time and structured activities.

It also doesn’t hurt that they have a great loyalty program. Here’s how theirs works. When you take a trip with OAT,(or with their sister company, Grand Circle) you earn a 5% credit toward a second trip, if taken within a 12 month period. If you take two trips within a calendar year, you get a $250 per person discount on the second trip.

Another way to save is to pay by check, 12 months in advance. That will earn you a 7.5% discount. Of course, if you do so, you don’t get the points on your credit card, and you may forgo some of the benefits you card offers. It isn’t hard to do a quick cost/benefit analysis. If you have one of the premium credit cards, it is worth checking out whether it offers generous trip insurance benefits. If yes, those benefits could outweigh the 7.5% savings for advance cash payments.

On your FIRST OAT trip, an easy way to save $100 per person is to be referred by another OAT traveler, so check with friends and family to discover if they have ever taken an OAT trip. When you make your reservation, you simply give their traveler number, and voila, you and your friend have both earned a $100 credit toward future trips. If you don’t have a friend who has traveled with OAT, I would be delighted to be your friend. Here’s my number: 001564068. After YOUR first trip, YOU can refer travelers, which will earn YOU a $100 credit toward your next trip. Easy, right?

More information about all of these programs is available on the OAT website.   Once you get there, click on the “Why OAT” bar at the top of the page and this is what you will see:

In addition to “Ways to Save”, you should also check out “Last Minute Travel Deals” if your schedule is flexible.

Normally, I plan our international travel MANY months in advance, usually well over a year, so we can take advantage of that prepayment discount. But there’s another reason. Because OAT groups are limited to only 16 travelers, the popular times fill up quickly. It seems we all want to travel when the weather is most favorable for our destination, but when it is not over crowded with tourists.

This year, however, we decided to do something different. A trip we have been wanting to take popped up as a “Last Minute Travel Deal” and it just happened to be the ideal time of year for us to visit South America. Sometimes, the last minute deals are for less popular travel times.

This last minute deal saved us $1,000 per person. And because we are taking another OAT trip later this year, we saved an additional $250 per person, for a total of $2,500. These savings really DO add up.

I was a little concerned that the airfare would devour all of our savings because we were booking so late. Fortunately, OAT was able to get us great seats on a direct flight to Santiago with LATAM Airlines.  Yeah, I never heard of them either, but a quick internet search allayed my fears.  It is the result of a recent merger between LAN Argentina and LAN Chile. Let’s hope it is a HAPPY union.

We are arriving a day early, just in case we get uncooperative weather –not unheard of in the New York/New Jersey area in winter. If we luck out, and arrive as scheduled, we will have an extra day in Santiago to combat jet lag and see the sights.

So, what about you? Do you have a favorite travel company? Ideas for extracting the most value from you travel dollars?

Mantua and Trent

Well, we are getting ready to hit the road (the one that leads to the airport) soon, so I figured if I had anything further to say about last fall’s trip to Northern Italy, now is the time to say it.

My last post was about the city of Verona. Although it was a lovely city, it was a bit crowded, so when we had the choice of spending another day in Verona, or going on an optional trip to Mantua, we (and everyone else on our tour) opted for the optional, and we were glad we did.

Yes, Mantua had the requisite castle, with beautiful frescoes, but the castle also had something I’d never seen before — a moat with lovely sculptures plopped in it. Were they ballerina or fairy costumes? I have no idea; either one works for me.

Mantua also had the mandatory clock tower, but this one was so beautiful, I felt compelled to include two photos of it- the one below to give you a sense of its placement and scale, and the one atop this post to show the beautiful craftsmanship. Just think how amazing it must have been before the frescoes were damaged.

Can you tell this tower has been repaired more than once?

Like other cities, Mantua has an object, which, if rubbed, promises thAt the rub-ee will grant the rub-er good luck. In Verona, it is Juliet’s right breast. In Mantua, it is Rigoletto’s hump. We avoided the fake Juliet balcony and statue, but we ladies couldn’t resist Rigoletto.

What was MOST memorable to me, however, was the “relic” in the Basilica of Saint Andrew. According to the plaque, the soldier that stabbed Christ (Who later became a saint –Longino– but not all that popular, because I’d never heard of him before. Had you?) was prescient enough to know that the blood soaked earth was worth preserving, so he did. For thousands of years. Quite a story, and I’ll leave it at that.

The legend
The relic repository
The artist’s interpretation of the event

Our next stop was Trento, the site of the Council of Trent, where Catholic bishops got together and did something important that I learned about in high school but have since forgotten. Here too, we encountered a magnificent cathedral. Could this be The Stairway to Heaven that Led Zeppelin sang about? Take a look. It sure doesn’t seem to lead anywhere else. If you took a tumble from the top, Heaven may be where you’d land, but probably only if you went to confession first.

Right outside the church, beside Neptune’s fountain, it was quite festive. Lots of young people holding flowers and plaques, wearing laurel wreaths on their heads were milling about.

Our group is nothing, if not astute. We immediately figured this was some kind of commencement celebration. I’ll tell ya, if I had been given the choice, I definitely would have gone with the laurel wreath instead of the mortarboard monstrosity we had to put on our heads.

If this cold weather continues, I may get it together to do one final post: the last days of our trip in the Dolomites and Alpine villages. Ciao!