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!

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!

The Land of The Lombards

When you think Italy, what comes to mind?  Art in Florence, Rome’s colosseum, the Amalfi Coast?  Bet you didn’t immediately think of the Lombard region, and that’s too bad, because it is pretty special. This post will introduce you to three gems of Lombardy: one well known, the other two less so.

Lake Isola
Remember Christo, whose 2005 spectacular Gates in Central Park had New Yorkers smiling even during a frigid February?  (If you don’t, that’s okay. It isn’t essential to the post. I just happen to have fond memories of the event, so why not throw it in?)
Well, in 2016, he created the Floating Piers in Lake Isola. So, ya gotta figure this area must be pretty terrific for Christo to travel all the way across the Atlantic to Italy to create one of his massive installations.

These posters give you an idea of the scope of Christo’s project.

Even though our visit was post-Christo art exhibition, it was still worth spending time in the Isola Lake area. Check out what the little island looks like “unwrapped”. It was once a monastery, but now it probably is privately owned, by someone who is fantastically wealthy, who wants to escape people like us ogling his/ her (probably his) property.

Almost everyone has heard of Prosecco.  But what about Franciacorta?  This sparkling wine, made from the Franciacorta region’s grapes, is equally delightful.  I suspect that, like the Lombardy region, it just hasn’t been successfully marketed.

We walked through the Berlucci Vineyards, to their winery, where we enjoyed a tour, wine tasting and a great lunch.

Our hotel, the Relais Franciacorta was absolutely beautiful. It was rather far out, in the countryside, which was fine with us. We loved the gardens and all the hotel’s little nooks and crannies, one of which was the perfect venue for sharing the bottle of Franciacorta purchased at the vineyard.

And, as a bonus, a huge motorcycle group was holding an event at the hotel, giving us an opportunity to view totally unique bikes, like this one. I’m guessing that’s the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) riding shotgun (or would that position be called “front gun”? They didn’t have motorcycles during those Wild West days, so who knows.)

One of the big attractions in Verona is “Juliet’s Balcony”. Yeah, Shakespeare’s Juliet. There was a long line at the entrance to the jam-packed courtyard where Roméo was supposed to have stood while gazing at Juliet, who was above, on that legendary balcony. But this “balcony” was actually a movie set, created several decades ago. We figured if we wanted to see movie sets, we could go to Universal studios, so we skipped that attraction. Instead, we visited the Juliet Society.

The Juliet Society is a group of volunteers who answer letters written to Juliet that come from all over the world, like the one below.

Still, even we couldn’t escape Hollywood’s reach. You see, the Juliet Society was used as inspiration for the movie, Letters to Juliet.  
Okay, I’ll confess, when I got home I borrowed the movie from our library, and it was really, really sappy. It’s all about a letter that had been lost for several decades, was found by a volunteer, who then went on a mission to find and reunite both the writer and the intended recipient of the letter. I don’t have to tell you how it ends. I’m sure you just know.

The actual site, the one WE visited, bore no resemblance to the movie set. For the movie, the Juliet Society was housed in a gorgeous villa, complete with mamas in an adjoining kitchen, cooking great lunches for the volunteers. How surprising that Hollywood’s “take” is so very, very different from reality.

When in Italy, I usually find it difficult to decide which meal was THE BEST and which restaurant experience was THE BEST, but this time I had no problem proclaiming that Il Punto Rosa Hosteria deserves both titles. This little gem is on a side street, and it isn’t very big, but between Google and Trip Advisor, I’m sure you’d be able to find it. If we ever get back to Verona, you can bet we will be having dinner there!

Time for a couple of random photos of Verona, a heartfelt confession, and we’ll call this post done.

First the confession. I am a lazy blogger, who lives the Quaker philosophy of “when the spirit moves you“. (Okay so that’s one of the only two things I know about Quakers. The other being that they are pacifists. Oh wait. I just thought of one more. Richard Nixon was supposedly a Quaker. But I digress.) The point of that digression is I blog when the spirit moves me. And it didn’t move me last October, during the second half of our trip. It took a frigid January day in New Jersey to get me hankering to revisit those glorious Italian fall days. What could be better than reliving wonderful days in Italy when it is icy outside? Nothing, right?
We were in Verona on day 9 and 10 of a 15 day trip, so who knows? If it is cold again this week, we may just taking another trip down memory lane, to Brixen, Bassano del Grappa and the Dolomites.

Okay, so here are those random Verona photos I promised earlier.

We walked past the mob waiting to get in to see the fake Juliet balcony. What’s with the sticky notes, you ask? The sappy movie erroneously led viewers to believe that the Juliets pluck them from the wall, then answer them. They don’t.

As with most Italian cities, Verona has its share of beautiful buildings, and statues, but hey, just look at what else you can experience while there.

Verona has it all. Go shopping for cannabis “light” first, then wander down to the Colosseum. Yes, Verona has one too. If you get wasted enough, you might actually believe you are in Rome, doing battle with gladiators. One more thing to cross off your bucket list.

Speaking of bucket lists, I sure hope Lombardy is now on yours.

Torino and the Bernina Express

Why visit Torino, a charming little town close to the Swiss border?  How about vineyards, apple farms, lakes, mountains, a beautiful cathedral, archaeological sites, cobbled streets and a train station from which you can board a single gauge train?  Are those reasons enough?

Enroute from Milan, we stopped at Orrido di Bellano, to view the gorge and waterfall,then headed to Varenna for lunch alongside Lake Como.  Dinner was in the wine cellar of a restored old Torino villa.

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The first two days were great and action packed, but the BEST day was the third, when we boarded the Bernina Express.  Theoretically, we could have ridden it all the way to St. Mortitz, but instead we disembarked in Diavolezza to take a cable car part way up the mountain to a terrace and restaurant.


The view was spectacular from there, but some of us wanted an even better glimpse of the glacier, so off we went.   I was very glad I had packed my hiking boots, because  we had to get past a couple of icy patches to reach the summit.


From left: me, Ellen, Julie and Elisa.  Can you figure out which one is the guide?

What a great place for a photo op!

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.

The tower made it easy to identify the Villa Marie

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

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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