Even at 7-30am driving though Naples is not exactly calming but we thought we might find a little beach just North of the city and have a snooze. Wrong. The coast North of Naples is the pits! We had meant to stay in Caserta for a couple of nights but it meant I had to drive over 850km in one go afterwards so we decided to cancel the booking. Sue called the B&B but whoever answered only spoke Italian (what is the country coming to) so we did not think they understood.
We wanted to find a WiFi to send them an email and Sue had the bright idea of finding a Macdonalds who usually had free WiFi. Now I hate the products of that organisation with a vengeance but thought I might just be able to suffer a burger if we were able to get on line so we asked Daphne SatNav to take us to the nearest one which she did. Imagine my frustration when I discovered that unless I had a cell phone from Italy, Germany, France or Greece, yes Greece, I could not obtain a password to connect with their network due, they said, to legal requirements, and there was a British Telecom logo on the login page? We actually had to force down their awful food into the bargain! I bet American tourists get really pissed off when they don't have a cell phone from one of those countries although the French will be pleased!
Another disappointment was that the Lions lost the second test with Australia in Melbourne by one measly point. Two close games and the coaches coming in for a lot of stick for the selection of teams that have so much of a Welsh bias. Fact is that the majority of the players on tour are Welsh so most of the test teams selected were bound to be Welsh. Head honcho Gatland was the Welsh coach before he joined the Lions so he is bound to be biased, but then he picked the best players he could from all the countries and the Welsh players were certainly better than most in the six nations games. The decider will be up in Sydney.
We decided that we had to find a touristy area to get WiFi so headed on up the autostrada to Orvietto where we found a room in an hotel with WiFi and emailed our cancellation which will no doubt cost us a few bob. Never mind because we renewed our acquaintance with this perfect hilltop town with its beautiful Duomo and discovered the Trattoria La Pergola in Via dei Magoni which served us a splendid repast of lamb chops and filet steak charcoal grilled to perfection followed by the creamiest pannacotta you have ever tasted. We were also introduced to Orvietto red wine. The Bianco is famous but we had never drunk the Rosso before and it is surprisingly full bodied, in fact we voted it the best we had drunk on this trip. There was a couple of very nice Romains at the next table who gave us a taste of their red wine which was equally good.
We had never been to Lucca before so the next day we went there and checked in to a really nice hotel called Villa corte degli. The hotel had a really nice swimming pool so after a hot walk around the city it was well used by many of the residents and breakfast was served beside the pool. The only complaint was the soundproofing which was almost non-existent and they even had a warning in the room requesting guests to act with discretion. Fortunately we did not have any randy noisy neighbours!
Lucca itself did not disappoint but once again the outstanding architecture was to be seen in the churches, particularly the San Michelle in Foro, built of white marble in the Pisan style, the ornate facade must be seen to be believed.
Lucca became a Roman colony in 2C BC and the city has Vauban style ramparts right around it, I suppose dating from Napoleons Italian escapades and indeed his sister Elisa ruled the city for a few years.
The old city is interesting to walk around and the Piazza del Anfiteatro was built inside what was the Roman amphitheatre. It is now full of restaurants and we ate here in the evening. The starter special on the menu was deep fried stuffed courgette flowers, something I had never eaten. They were nicely cooked with a light tempura batter but were stuffed with a ricotta cheese which had no flavour.
Our final port of call in Italy was a pension in the Funes valley and once again we had a room with a view, this time the spectacular Odle mountains in the Dolomites. On arrival we were greeted by Conrad Kofler, the owner of Pension Sonia at St. Magdalena who suggested a walk to a little church up the mountain above us, then around the panoramaweg before returning to the village. It was certainly a panorama path as you can see from the photo above. Spectacular was certainly not the word to describe this view, unbelievable more like.
The Odle Mountains are part of the Parco Naturale Puez-Odle which covers all the Dolomite ranges between the Val di Funes in the North and the Val Gardena in the South.
We were now in the South Tirol, a semi autonomous region of Italy mostly speaking German with a minority speaking Ladin (a language based on vulgar Latin) which used to be part of Austria. After WW1 it became part of Italy with the border at the Brenner Pass as it still is today. When Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party came to power in the 1930's they adopted a policy of Italianisation and tens of thousands of Italians moved into the region. The German language was banned and German speaking officials removed from office. Eventually Mussolini and Hitler agreed that all ethnic Germans could be transferred to Austria or Germany, however, only 75,000 people were actually relocated before the start of WW2 intervened.
Today the population consists of about 69% German, 26% Italian and 5% Ladin speaking. Our host spoke Italian, German and English but not Ladin and just couldn't do enough for us including making reservations at local restaurants and taking us there and back in his car. Breakfast was a feast and set you up for the days walking because there was not much else to do.
We set off the next day and parked the car at Zanzer Alm which is at an altitude of 1685m. We followed the CAI marked route 33 through pinewoods then flower filled alpine meadows up to the Rifugio Gampenalm at 2062m where we stopped for a large cool Forst lager before tackling the steep zig zag path 35 climbing up to Rifugio Genova at 2297m where we had lunch with a carafe of the local white wine.
I took the photograph below of the Rifugio for old times sake as 30 years ago, my old mate Mike Palmer and me were attempting the Alta Via 2, a high altitude long distance path running North/South along the Dolomites. Having completing the Alta Via 1 the previous year we intended to tackle all six Alta Vias in order but we are in danger of running out of time and energy if we don't get a shuftie on soon!
It was about this time of the year and we had started the walk by spending the night at the Rifugio Plose at 2446m on top of the mountain of the same name.
When we awoke it was snowing which turned to rain as we lost altitude walking down the mountain. The path drops down to about 1850m and then begins the climb up towards the Rifugio Genova over the Forcela de Putia at 2357m. Once we were above 2000m again the rain turned to snow and we had to abandon the walk as route finding was impossible in the conditions. We had to walk out about 20km down to Brixen and I'm knackered just thinking about it! So, 30 years later I finally reached the Rifugio Genova by a different route.
Up until then there was not one "how much further" from Sue which was some sort of world record but on the final part of our ascent following Alta Via 2 she did admit she was very close to it!
The path climbs up round the flank of Bronsoi at 2339m and gets a bit vertical and exposed in places. On reaching the ridge at 2421m you are rewarded with a fantastic view across to the Puez mountain range of which the Piz de Puez 2846m dominates while to the East the whole of the Dolomites as far as the highest of them, the Marmoloda, are on view.
We rested here with several other walkers including a mad Italian who we had passed on the way up and was overheating. In order to cool down he ripped off his shirt and threw himself down on a heap of snow, the first sign of mountain madness! He made an interesting picture with the huge lump of rock behind known as Sass de Putia 2875m.
Rifugio Genova is hidden behind the spur behind his head and you can see Alta Via 2 snaking down from Forcela de Putia at the base of the mountain to the hut.
From this viewpoint the path then continues along the ridge dropping down to Forcela de Furcia at 2297m where we left Alta Via 2 to descend down path 33 back into the Funes valley. You could see the Alta Via snaking round the screes below the Odles and climbing up a snow slope to the Forcela de Roa at 2515m.
The photo below looks across to the Forcela de Roa from the Forcela de Furcia and you can see Alta Via 2 traversing across the scree slopes then zig zagging up the snow slope to the top. Ice axes, rope and crampons would probably be needed to cross the forcela that day.
At the ripe old age of 72 and not being exactly walking fit, I was quite pleased at this stage with my progress but the descent took its toll and my legs were decidedly wobbly towards the end. It is amazing how a large cold beer at the Rifugio Sass Rigais can revitalise one though! That is the great thing about walking in the Italian Dolomites that you do not have to carry food and drink around apart from emergency rations and water as there are rifugios strategically sited which can usually provide a very civilised meal including beer and wine! Indeed we discovered many rifugios that were not on my 30 year old maps so I had to buy a new one! Sass Rigais by the way is the highest mountain in the Odles at 3025m and there is a Via Ferrata route to the top.
The Giesler range has a Via Ferrata (literally Iron Way) running along the length of the ridge. Via Ferrata are climbing paths which have steel cables, ladders etc. for protection so that the climber and mountain walker can experience exposed routes which they would otherwise not be capable of climbing. They can be graded as those suitable for:
1) Footsure mountain walkers, children on a rope and beginners.
2) Experienced mountain walkers who are unaffected by vertigo.
3) Additional mountain experience and climbing ability necessary.
4) Climbing technique on very exposed rock necessary.
Many of these routes were initiated during WW1 when mountain ridges became the front line in the battles between Austrian and Italian mountain troops. In later years more routes have been added by climbing clubs and the Giesler Via Ferrata is one of these. Named after the famous mountaineer Gunther Messner who came from the area, the complete circuit will take about 13 hours in good weather so not for us! Messner was the first to climb all fourteen 8000m high mountains and died 30 years ago while descending Nanga Parbat with his brother so it is fitting such a difficult via ferrata route should bear his name.
The next day the weather had deteriorated which meant a less strenuous shorter walking route was in order so we headed up to the Erbe Pass at 2000m and set off around the 8b path which circumnavigates the Sass de Putia at the Eastern end of the Giesler range. The complete circuit takes about 5 hours but we contented ourselves by walking through the pine forest for a couple of hours until it came on to rain and we sped back to the car.
We continued by car over the pass and round to the Gardena Pass. This is where the majority of the Ladin speakers live. We were here last in 1974, just back from Australia and about to begin another life in Scotland. Looking up at the imposing towers of the Sella Group rising above us was just as imposing as I remembered that first encounter. We stopped down at Selva in Val Gardena which is the other side of the Oldle Mountains to where we are staying in Val di Funes. You can get a hiking bus round from St. Magdelena then get a cable car from Ortisei up to Seceda at 2450m and walk back down into Val di Funes. Costs about €30 if you fancy a one way trip.
Anyone wanting a base for a walking holiday would find Val Gardena a good option as it is basically a popular skiing centre and has 30,000 rooms for rent. Val di Funes is by comparison little known and only has 1500 rooms for rent so you pays 'yer money and takes 'yer choice.
Driving back though Austria cost about €30 what with the vignette and motorway tolls. One tunnel we came through was 15km long. Into Germany and along the North shore of Lake Constance we found a nice little village for lunch beside the lake if a little expensive. The traffic was horrendous once we had left the autobahn with lots of trucks, even on the minor roads.
Our final destination was the Black Forest and Bad Peterstal in particular where we had rented a nice apartment for a couple of nights. The apartment had every modern convenience including a washing machine so we were surrounded by wet washing in no time! We drove up the mountain above the town where we joined the scenic B500 road to Baden Baden. On the way we made a detour to the Allerheiligen waterfall, parked and walked about 1.5km and 200 steps down to the falls and back. On arriving at the car I discovered I had lost the car keys and reasoned they had dropped out of my pocket as I took out the camera at the waterfall so we began to walk back down. On the way we met a German couple who told us that a Dutchman had asked them if they had a Daihatsu and had lost their keys? And there he was by the miracle of Sues prayer to St. Anthony. I did ask him if he would mind if I kissed him but he said there was no need!
Onwards to Baden Baden, an elegant Spa town oozing wealth. We wandered round the town, had a Black Forest Gateau and a coffee as you do and walked along the famous "Lichtentaler Allee" beside the river. We had planned to travel on to Strasbourg but we would have been better staying here as the Summer festival had started and there were lots of tented restaurants set up in the gardens with live music featuring an Abba revival band that day. But we had decided to visit Strasbourg which was where we were originally planning to cruise with Harmonie until the weather changed our mind and we headed for Italy.
Strasbourg was a disappointment. I expected Colmar on steroids but Colmar wins hands down, fewer tourists and prettier. The Cathedral was of course the exception. All the churches in the city seem to have been built of a dark sandstone which made them stand out from other buildings. The facade and spire were to be admired and the ancient stained glass windows were beautiful. My attention was drawn to the magnificent organ which was hung high on the wall since the 14th century.
We wandered around Petit France expecting to find loads of restaurants but eventually returned to the cathedral area where we had problems finding a dry white wine with our meal. We plumped for a Pinot Gris which the waitress thought half dry and fruity but we thought sweet. Give the owner his due he came out and enquired if we liked the wine and when we said no it was too sweet he promptly changed it.
And so our holiday was over, driving back through France and Luxembourg to Belgium finding Harmonie a little grubby after a month of neglect but Jan Harris had been watering our plants so they were in good nick. We had a wonderful holiday and to finish on a high note our brilliant Lions hammered the Aussies in Sydney 16-41. It was a well deserved win and clinched the series 2-1. Leigh 1/2penny played out of his skull but everyone had a hand in the win and it was a genuine team effort.
Another historic effort the next day but this time by an individual, was Andy Murray winning Wimbledon. First time a Brit male, let alone a Scot, has won for 77 years. Roll on the Ashes series.