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!

Two Days in Tremezzo

I LOVE Italy’s mass transit system.  Functional AND beautiful, Milan’s train station mixes old architecture with modern technology.  How appropriate to have an Apple sculpture in front of that classic building!  

This was my starting point for my two day solo adventure to Tremezzo.  Never heard of it?  Neither had I, prior to planning this trip, but Rick Steves recommended it, and I figured he knew what he was talking about.  The Hotel Villa Marie was reasonably priced, highly rated by Trip Advisor, within walking distance of the ferry and bus line.  It sounded like the perfect spot to, as they say in Italy “fare niente”, do nothing.

Well, I didn’t exactly do nothing, but I DID take it slower than usual.

This lakeside park is located between the Villa Marie and the center of Tremezzo.  I didn’t stop at the cafe in the park—there were too many other choices, but had I stayed in Tremezzo a few more days, I would have savored a Bellini by the shore.

Had I known there were going to be fireworks, I would have climbed to the terrace to watch the show.  Instead I leaned out my window and tried out the fireworks setting on my new point and shoot Canon.

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The tower made it easy to identify the Villa Marie

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The terrace is a romantic spot.  Too bad I was here without my sweetheart.

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I have no idea what we were celebrating.  My visit?

The Grand Hotel is indeed quite grand.  At €600 per night, I decided I could do without the grandeur.  I DID, however, have lunch there.   Soup, one Bellini and a bottle of water came to €52, but the view and the music were free.  A high point was when the pianist looked at me, played “New York, New York” then waved.  How did he know?  I hung around to watch him play the sax, but left before he got to the guitar.

My favorite spot was the majestic Villa Carlotta.  According to guide books, most people spend 45 minutes there.  For me, it was two and a half hours, wandering along the trails, ogling the flowers and exotic plants, and visiting the mansion.

The entrance, as seen from the villa.

Lucky for me, there was a free concert, with different orchestras,  playing very different music—from the Beatles to the William Tell Overture—during my visit.

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Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Tremezzo, I much prefer traveling with a buddy (or buddies).  It just is more fun making memories with someone else by your side.  And, I will confess, after navigating the train, ferry and metro with back pack and wheeled carry on, I very much like having someone else handle my luggage and logistics.  It was a great two days,  but I was quite ready to meet up with my man in Milano!

I’ll end this post with a few random photos of lovely Tremezzo.

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Two Days in Milan

Day One

I’ll be honest.  The first day of every overseas trip is always a wipe out, which is exactly why we  try to arrive before a tour begins.  So, not too many photos from day one, but a couple of tips.

The train from the airport to Milan’s central station is an easy and inexpensive option.  Just be sure to buy your ticket in advance.  We were feeling pretty smug when we walked by the long line at the ticket window.  Although you select a particular time, fortunately you don’t have to get it right.  You can take any train within a three hour window of the time on your ticket.  Our flight arrived early (how often does THAT happen?), so we were able to board an earlier train than the one we were ticketed for.

We stayed at the Hotel Sanpi, which is within walking distance of the train station, although we opted to take a taxi.  Those €6 were well spent!  We were TIRED.  The Hotel Sanpi was recommended by one of the posters on the OAT Forum (thank you, Ted).  It was a great choice.

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After a quick nap and lunch, we headed to the nearby public gardens.  We walked past an art museum,  a planetarium, and the Museum of Natural History, whose exterior reminded me of a Muslim mosque we’d seen in Spain.  We didn’t have the energy to go inside ANY of those places.  In fact, a good part of the afternoon was spent on a park bench, staring glassy eyed at I can’t remember what.  

There are lots of restaurants close to Hotel Sanpi.  We didn’t like Il Carpaccio, where we had our first bad meal in Italy  (I make better risotto), but the Azzurra Grill more than made up for our lousy lunch.  The veal chop with white wine and artichoke sauce was amazing, as were the profiteroles.

Day Two

Mike was up and out early, headed to Cremona to spend the next three days hanging out with his violin buddies.  As for me, I planned on going wild in Milano.

Step 1: purchase the €4.50 24 hour metro pass, and head for Milan’s hot spot—the Duomo.  Hey, you go wild YOUR way, and I’ll go wild mine.

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My Destination

With my iPhone in hand, eyes fixed on my downloaded google map, I was able to find my way to the metro station a few blocks away.  For a normal person, it would have been an easy task, but I have always been directionally challenged. 

As I was headed toward the Duomo’s ticket window, a young woman representing Gladiator Tours, wearing killer palazzo pants (I really should have gotten a photo of them) sold me a package tour, including  “skip the line” for the terraces, the cathedral and the museum, all for €30.  E1D4D8B3-8E8B-42D7-A247-4166AF23807CWas that a good deal?  Initially I didn’t think so, after I saw the prices at the ticket window, AND learned that my ticket didn’t include the elevator.  (180 steps to the top).  BUT, I was mistakenly sent to the wrong door, so as an apology, Gladiator Tours gave me the elevator ride for free.  All good, so far.

But wait, there’s more.  “Skip the line”doesn’t mean that you actually don’t wait in ANY line.  You still have to go through security, being wanded, one by one, AND then you wait for the elevator, which fits ten people at a time (one of the ten being a staff member).  THAT took almost 20 minutes.

Here’s what I saw when I exited the elevator.  

Yep, lots of repairs.  After walking as far as I could, I encountered yet ANOTHER line.  This one was for the elevator down.  Well, I backtracked, and when I did, I discovered you could walk through a passage to get to the Duomo’s OTHER side, which was FAR more interesting. If you took the stairs up, that is the side you would have initially encountered.  

If you are so inclined, you can climb 80 more steps to get to the rooftop.  (Yes, I have a thing about counting steps.  I can’t help it.  It’s what I do.)  

Ready for the GOOD photos?

I decided to REALLY skip the line, and walk down the steps to meet the Gladiator guide for the tour of the interior of the Duomo.  She was FANTASTIC, even though she wasn’t wearing gorgeous palazzo pants. Of course, our OAT trip will include a Duomo tour, (but not the roof), so I can do an instant replay.  I’ll wait till then to share my interior photo, even if I decide to skip the tour and go to the mall for gelato and people watching.  It never gets old.

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Wonder if they do your “make over” while still on skates? I wasn’t curious enough to find out.

Anyway, after the interior tour (with “whisperers”, so we could easily hear the guide), I figured that the €30 was not such a bad deal.  I skipped the Duomo museum, opting instead to take advantage of my metro pass to cruise around Milan on the tram and underground.  

I THOUGHT I’d prefer the tram.  Nope.  You can’t really see THAT much.  It is impossible to understand what the conductor is saying, plus there are no maps on the trams, AND the stops are not clearly marked.  So yes, I got lost.  But no big deal. I hopped off, crossed the tracks, and kept walking till I found another stop.  I had MUCH better luck with the subway, which WAS clearly marked AND had maps.  

Rick Steves suggested visiting  Naviglio Grande, which he described as “Milan’s old canal port — once a working-class zone, now an atmospheric nightspot for dinner or drinks”.   Who am I to ignore a recommendation from Rick?  So, off I went.  

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The canal was interesting, for about five minutes.  I admired the “love locks” that European cities seem to fancy. 

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Not so sure about the nightlife.  Maybe I was too early.

Here’s the only other patron at my sidewalk cafe.   Looks like he is also drinking an aperol spritzer.  

Check out the buildings across the way.  Don’t you want to do unspeakable violence to the inventor of spray paint?  (And I’m a pacifist at heart.)  What possesses someone to mark up buildings and other random surfaces?  Makes me think of dogs,  trees, and fire hydrants.  But I digress.

Including my little jaunt to the canal, I ended up getting 5 trips out of my 24 hour pass.  That’s much better than paying  €1.5 per trip, wouldn’t you say?  Bet you didn’t expect math would be in this post.

I’ll leave you to ponder graffiti, sidewalk cafes and metro passes.  On to Tremezzo…