ITALY, Sep. 2008

Photos © Ruud Leeuw

In September we drove down to Italy and visited some cities in this beautiful country. Most family holidays with my parents were spent in Italy, but that was some 35+ years ago. My last visit, a short romantic holiday, had been to Rome in the early 1980s. Time to revisit.

Click on the thumbnail images to view a larger image

We stopped for the night in Stans, Switzerland and while walking to a restaurant, I snapped my first photos of this trip.


Gotthard pass Driving to the Gotthard pass I noticed this ruin, so I quickly shot a photo.

The traffic was blocked from the Gotthard Tunnel, so there was quite a bit of traffic going up the mountain.

When we arrived on the top, we stopped for a brief walk. We stood in awe of the granite rocks of the Alps.
The Alps
The Alps


Gotthard pass: road with a view St. Gotthard Pass (Italian: San Gottardo) (el. 2108 m.) is a high mountain pass in Switzerland between Airolo in the canton of Ticino, and Göschenen in the canton of Uri, connecting the northern German-speaking part of Switzerland with the Italian-speaking part, along the route onwards to Milan.
[Source: Wikipedia]

Swiss-Italian Border Open borders, but still a traffic jam..

During the afternoon we arrived in Bologna, where we stayed for three nights. We had not made any advance hotel bookings but found lodgings (2 nights) in Bed & Breakfast "Magnolia" on the Via Andrea Costa, and Albergo Centrale (1 night) in the historic center. Both I can recommend!
Photo below is from our balcony in the Albergo Centrale, looking down in the Via Ugo Bassi.

See my report on our visit to BOLOGNA


On the Road

San Marino
We made a brief stop at San Marino, had a pizza for lunch and a quick look around.
Impression: tourist trap..

San Marino
San Marino

Driving from San Marino to Perugia

Nice, winding, local roads through Marken province

Driving on the E78 we passed Urbino, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But we had our sights set on Perugia and continued our way. Urbino has to wait for another day.
Urbino from a distance



Perugia It was a long day and a long drive, from Bologna via San Marino, to Perugia.

We arrived around sunset and I tried my luck in the small streets, but my car almost got stuck in these narrow passageways..

When I untangled myself from the medieval alleys, I found myself at the doors of Hotel Europe.

This hotel offered affordable bed & breakfast rates, but the best thing probably was that near their location, escalators swiftly lifted us to the elevated center of Perugia!

Soon we found ourselves exploring on foot the tiny streets, with an eye for a place to have dinner.



We left Perugia for Florence/Firenze but noticed we were passing Siena (Sienna) and decided to have lunch there and see a little bit of this town.

Siena is located in Central Tuscany, of which the Lonely Planet guidebook writes: "buildings the colour of ripe corn, hills with gentle curves and folds scored here and there by steep ravines, as scarred and eroded as any cowboy badlands; here in the countryside beats the heart of rural Tuscany".
I found it a pity the high fences on the Autostrada obstucted many a good view into the countryside. And these toll roads have limited on- & off ramps so a quick detour to have a closer look at a castle or viewpoint is not possible. Pity.



Next stop was Firenze (Florence). Unfortunately the weather changed to drizzle and rain. But there is much to enjoy in museums, history has made a very rich deposit in Firenze..

Unfortunately the crowds were not deterred by the rain either..





More or less by accident (if reading in the Lonely Planet guide about Pistoia and deciding to go there is an accident) we included an afternoon and night in this charming town. The town has an interesting historic center with fascinating architecture and historic churches, in part surrounded by a medieval curtain wall.






Next stop was only a short drive from Pistoia: Lucca !



After leaving Lucca we headed for the mountains, driving inland. We came to this most exquisite bridge and I slammed the brakes..Ponte della Maddalena
ponte della Maddalena Ponte della Maddalena (also known as Ponte del Diavolo, the 'Bridge of the Devil') is a bridge which crosses the Serchio river near the town of Borgo a Mozzano in the Italian province of Lucca. It was a vital river crossing on the Via Francigena, an ancient road to Rome for those coming from France and an important medieval pilgrimage route.
Steep curves! The bridge is a remarkable example of medieval engineering, probably commissioned by the Countess Matilda of Tuscany circa 1080-1100. It was renovated circa 1300 under the direction of Castruccio Castracani. The largest span is 37.8 m. The bridge is also described in a of 14th century novel by Giovanni Sercambi.
Circa 1500 it took on the name of Ponte della Maddalena, from an oratory dedicated to Mary Magdalene whose statue stood at the foot of the bridge on the eastern bank.
In 1670 the General Council of the Republic of Lucca issued a decree prohibiting passage over the bridge with millstones (ceppi) and sacks of flour in order to preserve the structure.
In 1836, after being badly damaged during a flood, the bridge underwent urgent repair work. In the early 1900s in order to make room for the surfaced roadway an additional arch was added to the right hand section, considerably altering the original design.
[Source: Wikipedia]


Like I said: we headed for the mountains..

The Apennines or Apennine Mountains (Italian: Appennini) is a mountain range stretching 1000 km from the north to the south of Italy along its east coast, traversing the entire peninsula, and forming the backbone of the country.

Abetone We drove the Passo Abetone, a wonderful drive over switchbacks and fairly steep grades at times.
Abetone is a municipality in the Province of Pistoia in the Italian region Tuscany, located about 60 km northwest of Florence and about 30 km northwest of Pistoia. As of 31 December 2004, it had a population of 699. We were fortunate with sunny weather and unlimited view over the surrounding countryside.
Note the ski facilities on the photo, visible in the distance.
We had lunch here at Abetone, but since we were in a bit of a hurry we felt uncomfortable for once with the slow pace the Italians consume their antipasti (hors d'oeuvres, appetizers), primi piatti (first courses -singular is primo-, usually soup, pasta or risotto dishes) and secondi piatti (the meat section; some restaurants also include fish dishes here).
More info on Italian dining habits HERE.
I was also reacquainted with that uncomfortable Italian habit of toilets-without-a-seat in public places (museum, restaurants). It is a leftover from feudal times, very 'third-world' in my opinion.


After another brief visit to Bologna, we set a course for home. But we weren't finished yet with Italy. I had decided I wanted to have a look in a village where I had spent so many summer holidays when I was a kid, with my pareNts. This place is Iseo, on the Lago d' Iseo...

Lago d'Iseo




Departing Iseo we initially took the byroads, but they were not scenic at all. Au contraire. Maybe the best looking were the hookers near the off- and on ramps to the Autostrada. Maybe their distraction was the cause I had difficulty finding the highway.. Actually, at first I thought 'hey, a pretty hitchhiker..' but then there were two more and another one! And their attire were far from defensive. Guess I am a little naive..
When we approached the Alps again, things became pretty again.



Creative farming
What a remarkable sign...


Castle in the Alps
Seeing the castles from the road in Switzerland & Germany I always think 'next time'.. Maybe.

The End

Immediately after we had crossed the Alps the weather changed; the Mediterranean sun changed to a Lowlands drizzle so we stowed away the camera, cancelled our plans for a hotel near Zurich but continued driving... Home was only another 8 hours away.